Caedmon Records, founded in 1952, was the first company to sell spoken word recordings to the public; the predecessors of the audiobook, you might say. I spent most of this past Sunday afternoon listening to some wonderful Caedmon recordings from the 1970s, of ghost tales and fantasies read by Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. They were the perfect way to relieve the tedium of folding laundry and other chores.
The first one I listened to was A Graveyard of Ghost Tales (1974), read by Vincent Price. You can (at the moment, anyway) find the entire LP on YouTube; I’ve linked to it at the bottom of the post. Price’s smooth and expressive voice is always a pleasure to listen to, and the stories were engaging, more like ghostly folktales or urban legends than horror stories, but that suited me just fine. I especially liked “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House.” Price’s rendition of “The Leg of Gold” was fun to listen to, as well.
I was surprised, though, that neither this LP nor the second one I listened to (also read by Price) gave any credits for the readings. The listing for the album on Discogs gives editing and illustration credits, but very little information about who wrote the pieces that Price read. I couldn’t find any information on literary sources anywhere online. So I decided to do a little digging on my own.
I haven’t read most of the books or texts that I mention here, so I can’t one hundred percent guarantee my attributions. However, Jenny Ashford on the Facebook group Alone with the Horrors: Horror Fiction also did some digging (thank you, Jenny!), and her research seems consistent with mine. So, for now, here’s my best educated guess on the literary sources for A Graveyard of Ghost Tales :
A Graveyard of Ghost Tales: Tracklist
The Lavender Evening Dress – by Carl Carmer
Bond of Reunion – by Carl Carmer
Harp Notes in the Mist – by Carl Carmer
The Tale of the White Dove – by Carl Carmer
Magic Candle to Find Treasure – adapted from the Petit Albert, as quoted by Émile-Jules Grillot de Givry
Hand of Glory – adapted from the Petit Albert, as quoted by Émile-Jules Grillot de Givry
Protection Against the Hand of Glory – adapted from the Petit Albert, as quoted by Émile-Jules Grillot de Givry
The Ghostly Hand of Spital House – by Dorothy Gladys Spicer
The Leg of Gold – traditional French folktale, retold by Ruth Manning-Sanders?
Carl Carmer was, according to Wikipedia, “one of America’s most popular writers during the 1940s and 1950s.” He lived for many years in Alabama, and is possibly most famous for his book Stars Fell on Alabama. The Carmer stories that Price reads can be found in the 1956 collection The Screaming Ghost and Other Stories. They sound like literary retellings of folktales and urban legends, with lots of local color, in the Lafcadio Hearn vein. In fact, a few of the tales (either on this LP or on the following one) are set in or around New Orleans, where Hearn lived for a while, and I wondered while listening if they were Hearn stories.
The Petit Albert is an eighteenth century French grimoire attributed to Albertus Magnus. It has apparently never been translated into English, and it’s likely that the producers of this LP found the “recipes” for the Hand of Glory and the Magic Candle in Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy, the 1931 translation of Musée des sorciers, mages et alchimistes (1929) by the French historian and occultist Émile-Jules Grillot de Givry, which quotes the relevant passages from the Petit Albert.
Discogs credits “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House” to Dorothy Gladys Spicer, from her 1965 book 13 Ghosts. Unfortunately, Dorothy Gladys Spicer is not this Dorothy Spicer, the aviatrix and first woman to get an advanced certification in aeronautical engineering (go, women in STEM!). I can’t find any biographical information on the author of 13 Ghosts, so she will have to be known by her works. Here’s her book publication list from Open Library (click “everything” to get all the entries, and not just ebooks), and here’s her entry at the FictionMags Index.
“The Leg of Gold” is a French variation of the Aarne-Thompson type 366 family of folktales, usually known collectively as “The Golden Arm.” Obviously, different limbs feature in different versions of the story. Our best guess is that the version Price read is a retelling by Ruth Manning-Sanders, from A Book of Ghosts & Goblins (1968). You can find a less elaborate, but fundamentally equivalent, version in Wilson M. Hudson’s essay “I Want My Golden Arm,” from Folk Travelers: Ballads, Tales, and Talk (1953), edited by Mody C. Boatright, Wilson M. Hudson, and Allen Maxwell. The story, from Gascony, is on page 186 of the version of the book I’ve linked to, but I recommend you read the whole essay, because it’s quite interesting.
Whew! That’s everything for this LP. Next post, I’ll cover Tales of Witches, Ghosts and Goblins (1972). But for now, sit back and enjoy as Vincent Price takes you on a tour of his graveyard of ghosts: