Reading Ghosts from the Library

For a few years now, I’ve been happily devouring Tony Medawar’s anthology series Bodies from the Library, which presents lost and forgotten, previously unpublished, or never-anthologized stories and radio plays by well-known Golden Age mystery writers. So I was excited to discover that Medawar has branched out, with a new anthology called Ghosts from the Library, featuring more lost works from Golden Age masters of mystery — only these stories are supernatural! My two favorite genres, combined!

GhostsFromTheLibrary

Much like the recent Agatha Christie collection The Last Seance (which I reviewed here), the stories in Ghosts from the Library are a mix of truly supernatural tales, and mysteries that only appear supernatural until solved. There are also a few mysteries with naturalistic solutions, but that retain the suggestion of “true” supernatural phenomena, a variation that I don’t recall from the Christie collection.

As always, Medawar adds some notes about the author and the story after each piece, which I find helpful when I’m not familiar with the writer in question, and interesting even if I am.

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The Tale of a Gas-Light Ghost

As Epiphany draws near, I have one last haunting. “The Tale of a Gas-Light Ghost” is a short, enigmatic tale that first appeared anonymously in an 1867 Christmas Annual.

246px Gentleman s formal attire MET DP804842

Mysterious Gregory Barnstake comes to live in rural Mapleton, keeping largely to himself. Why does Barnstake avoid society? What’s his secret?

You can read “The Tale of a Gas-Light Ghost” here.

This story is generally credited as coming from “The New Christmas Annual for 1867,” which is true, as far as it goes. The actual title of the annual is Ghosts Wives: A String of Strange Stories Told Round a Christmas Fire by Six Young Widows and a Spinster Lady of a Certain Age. This explains the opening of the narrative, which has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

It is a somewhat unusual story, and I like it! I hope you do, too.

And with that, Winter Tales season 2022 comes to an end. Best wishes to all of you for 2023.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured Image: Rural Landscape with Village, Theodore Slafter. Source: Wikimedia

Gentleman’s formal attire, Serge Sudelkin. Source: Wikimedia

A Curious Experience

Winter Tales continue through the twelve days of Christmas, until Epiphany, so we have a couple more to go! Our first post-Christmas tale is “A Curious Experience,” by Ellen Wood (1814-1887), editor and owner of Argosy magazine.

Schiele s room in neulengbach 1911 jpg Blog

Johnny Ludlow accompanies his friend John Whitney, and John’s mother, to the seaside spa town of Pumpwater. It’s supposed to be a rest vacation for the sickly John to recover his health. But there’s something not right about John’s beautiful bedroom.

You can read “A Curious Experience” here.

The story is another selection from Ellen Wood’s long running Johnny Ludlow series; I shared a great Johnny Ludlow Halloween tale about two years ago. To quote myself from that blog post:

Johnny Ludlow is the narrator and attributed author of several stories that Wood wrote for the Argosy, starting in 1868; apparently she published anonymously to hide the fact that she was in fact the primary contributor to the magazine that she also edited. She acknowledged her authorship when she began to publish the stories in book form.

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Things I’ve Learned from Reading Ghost Stories

Some useful life lessons:

  • If the rent or sale price seems too good to be true – it is.

  • Don’t blow old whistles.

  • Found an ancient artifact? And it’s got a Latin inscription? Don’t read it out loud!

  • Ditto for old books.

  • Just put it back where you found it. Seriously.

  • Beware of “persons” in flappy flowy hooded garments.

  • Beware your child’s “imaginary playmate.”

  • If the mirrors are covered – leave them that way.

  • Ditto for paintings.

  • Ditto for plastered-over murals.

  • Never scoff at “old wives tales.”

  • There is no cat in the house.


Originally posted to Short Thoughts.

Squire Humperdinck and the Devil

Following my custom of many years, today I’m posting a lighter-hearted story for Christmas Eve. Today’s offering is a delightful fairy-tale like piece from 1913, called “Squire Humperdinck and the Devil.”

Christmas Bells with Ribbon svg

Greedy, grasping landowner Squire Humperdinck owns everything—and for all intents and purposes, everybody—in the village of Humperdunken. When the Squire’s mischevious employee Chuck discovers that the Squire is secretly the devil’s minion, it’s up to him and his faithful friend the crow to save the village. It all comes to a head on Christmas Day.

You can read “Squire Humperdincken and the Devil” here.

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Sister Johanna’s Story

I’m sharing two stories this week, as we lead up to Christmas Day. The first one is another Christmas-season tale by Egyptologist, world traveler, and author of both crime and supernatural fiction, Amelia Edwards. You may recall that last year I featured her ghostly crime story, “The Four-Fifteen Express.”

Woodcarver of obermmergau jpg Blog

This year’s story is set in the village of St. Ulrich (or Urtijëi), in the Grödner Thal (called today Val Gardena, or Gröden), located in the Dolomite Alps region of Northern Italy. Gröden is known even today for its woodworking, both statuary and wooden toys. In fact, Amelia Edwards herself referred to St. Ulrich as “the capitol of Toyland” in her book Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873).

Sister Johanna’s Story” was also published in 1873, obviously inspired by Edwards’ travels through the region. Woodworking features prominently in this narrative of an artist blinded to what’s happening around him by his passion for his work.

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The Ghost of Charlotte Cray

This week I’m featuring another Christmas-season ghost story by a woman author: “The Ghost of Charlotte Cray,” by Florence Marryat (1833-1899).

Florence Marryat
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sigsmund Braggett is a healthy, successful, newly married middle-aged man. To all appearances, his life should be going great; and yet he is troubled. Why, you ask?

Most of us have our little peccadilloes in this world-—awkward reminiscences that we would like to bury five fathoms deep, and never hear mentioned again, but that have an uncomfortable habit of cropping up at the most inconvenient moments; and no mortal is more likely to be troubled with them than a middle-aged bachelor who has taken to matrimony.

In certain aspects of his life, Mr. Braggett was not a very nice man. And now he’s afraid that it’s coming back to bite him.

You can read “The Ghost of Charlotte Cray” here.

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Number Two, Melrose Square

This week’s winter tale is a haunted house story by Theo Gift, the pen name of Dora Havers (1847-1923). I have a soft spot for a Victorian ghost story with an independent female lead character, and “Number Two, Melrose Square” happens conveniently at Christmas, so how could I resist?

"charcoal drawing of a haunted drawing room" - generated by Stable Diffusion

The protagonist, who seems to make her living as a translator and scholar, arrives to London to work on her latest project. A friend has found her a furnished house on Melrose Square, conveniently near the British Museum. Perhaps it’s a bit dreary, but for a furnished house, with housekeeper included, it’s quite a bargain!

Oops. Naturally, our heroine soon discovers that a bargain is never as good as it initially seems.

You can read “Number Two, Melrose Square” here.

Dorothy “Dora” Havers was the daughter of a colonial governor, and lived in the Falkland Islands and then Uruguay as a child and young woman. After her father died, she returned to England, working as a writer and journalist. She wrote novels, short stories, ghost stories, and children’s fiction, all published under the name Theo Gift. In 1879 she married botanist George Simonds Boulger, Professor of Natural History at the Royal Agricultural College. Hence, the name “Theo Gift” is sometimes listed as the pseudonym for Dora Boulger.

“Number Two, Melrose Square” originally appeared in All the Year Round, vol 24, 1880. The version that I’m sharing today is from Theo Gift’s collection Not for the Night-Time, published 1889.

Enjoy!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured image: “Dark and Winding Streets,” Charles-François Daubigny, illustration for Les mystères de Paris, vol 1 (1843). Source: Old Book Illustrations.

Post image generated by Stable Diffusion (prompt: “charcoal drawing haunted drawing room”)

Winter Tales Time! A Musical Mystery

It’s time for Winter Tales! To commemorate the old tradition of telling ghost stories around Christmastime, I’ll be sharing mostly winter-themed spooky stories here from the beginning of December through Epiphany. So grab a hot drink and curl up in your favorite armchair to savor some old-fashioned thrills and chills!

Graveyard Under Snow, Caspar David Friedrich (1826)

My first story this year is “A Musical Mystery,” an anonymous contribution to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, for April 1875. It’s the tale of a creepy winter night visit to a mortuary, when a mysterious customer comes to purchase a coffin. For himself. A coffin shaped like a violoncello-case.

You can read “A Musical Mystery” here.

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Before Kolchak II: Dark Intruder

Part of my series on never-made occult detective TV shows.

Dark Intruder (1965)

What it was supposed to be: Black Cloak, a period occult investigator series.
What we got: Dark Intruder, the pilot, reframed as a 60 min “movie” packaged as part of as a drive-in double feature.
Investigator: Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen)
Why the axe:  “Too scary for TV.”
Dark Intruder Blu ray Review cover
Source

In public and to his friends, Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen) is a wealthy playboy socialite in late 19th century San Francisco. In private, he investigates cases of the occult. Police Commissioner Harvey Misbach asks for Kingsford’s help with a series of brutal killings. At every murder scene, the killer leaves behind a mysterious carving of a two-headed Sumerian god — and each time, the second head emerges a little further out. At the same time, Kingsford’s friend Evelyn expresses concern about her fiance Robert’s strange mood and erratic behavior.

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