As we count down the days to Christmas, here’s another winter tale: a haunted house story by Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon. I found it in Tim Prasil’s interesting Chronology of early Ghost Hunter fiction. The story opens with a critique of the genre:
The only objection I have to ghost stories,” said young Sanford, “is from a literary point of view. They’re so badly done, you know.”
Specifically, young Sanford asks, how do all these people in haunted rooms get scared to death? Why doesn’t anybody ever rescue them? Why don’t they scream?
This sarcastic complaint is a bit too much for a stranger in the room.
“Do you suppose they don’t try to scream? Do you suppose they don’t think they’re screaming?”
And so the company learns the tale of a haunted mill, where manifestations occurred every Christmas Eve for nineteen years, and three separate ghost hunter parties were driven to madness while investigating. But, of course, there had to be a fourth attempt. It went about as well as you would expect.
According to Wikipedia, American writer Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon (published as Josephine Dodge Daskam) is known “chiefly as a writer who made the point of having female protagonists” — although “The Maid of the Mill” features only men (not counting one of the ghosts). Daskam was active in the Girl Scouts movement, and compiled what I believe was the original Girl Scout Handbook, the 1920 Scouting for Girls.
She was also a bit of an antifeminist, at least to go by this New York Times article on her 1912 speech to the Pilgrim Mothers’ Society (founded by, among others, women’s suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton). The speech contains such gems as “I would advise [a woman] to hang on her privileges and let her rights go,” and “If you can’t get your vote, you can always get your voter, and you can influence him in his vote.” It did not go over well with the audience.
“Maid of the Mill” is from Daskam’s collection Whom the Gods Destroyed, which Book News at the time described as “Dramatic studies of the artistic temperament, illustrating in every case some one of the almost inevitable tragedies that attend this temperament.” I’m not convinced that this situation was inevitable, but “Maid of the Mill” is certainly an intense and rather brutal haunted house story.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Image: Mill in the Evening, Piet Mondran (1905). Source: WikiArt