The Face in the Fresco

I found this antiquarian ghost story at the Ghosts & Scholars website; it just barely qualifies as a winter tale by virtue of a passing line: Here he paused and took off his hat; the day was warm for December. That’s good enough for me. This is a fun one.

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The story concerns bachelor schoolmaster Mr. Jones, who takes a Saturday excursion to visit a newly discovered twelfth-century fresco at the Godstanely village church (which you reach via a path over Terrible Down. How perfect). The church is near the ancient, possibly Stone Age road known as Pilgrims’ Way, and appears to have been built over an old burial mound. Oh, and the fresco….

“Ah!” said Mr Jones, “I understand that the fresco represents a crude but vigorous conception of Hell.”

“Well, it aren’t what I calls right, sir – that picter.”

“Not right? In the old times when the fresco was painted the clergy used to think such representations very good for you. People couldn’t read or write, you know. No education in those days as there is now! They tried to frighten people into goodness by showing them what would happen to sinners hereafter.”

“May be, but it aren’t to my way of thinkin’, sir, beggin’ pardon for the liberty of contradictin’, and it weren’t to the way of thinkin’ of them as put plaster over the thing. Best have left the devils under the whitewash.”

What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

Doctor S.’s Story

The third and last of the “true” winter tales from Catherine Crowe’s Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas. Doctor S. tells this tale on the fifth of the eight evenings of fireside ghost stories. As with Colonel C.’s tale, it’s a first-person account.

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“Some years ago there was a house in the suburbs of Dublin that had remained a long time unoccupied, in consequence, it was said, of its evil reputation—the report was, that it was haunted. People who had taken it got rid of it as soon as they could, and those who lived in the neighbourhood affirmed that they saw lights moving about the interior, and, sometimes, a lady in white standing at the window with a child in her arms, when they knew there was no living creature, except rats and mice, within the walls. The wise and learned laughed at these rumours; but still the house remained empty, and was getting into a very dilapidated state.

A haunted house, ghost hunters, and a lady in white. What more could you want on a cold dark December evening? This one is short and sweet. Not all the loose ends are tied up, but that makes it feel more like real life.

You can read Doctor S.’s Story here.

Enjoy.


Read the intro to my selections from Ghosts and Family Legends at here.

A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years, including the two previous stories from Mrs. Crowe’s collection, is on my Winter Tales page.

Image: Moonlight, the Old House (1906), Childe Hassam. Source: WikiArt.

Colonel C.’s Story

This little “true” winter tale is again from Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas by Catherine Crowe. A certain Colonel C. tells it on the third of the eight evenings of eerie fireside anecdotes. It’s not a ghost story, as Colonel C. himself admits, but it has a supernatural flavor to it, and unlike many such tales, it’s a first-person account, from the Colonel’s boyhood.

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Poor Farmer Gould has an accident riding on the road late at night.

“We breakfasted at nine o’clock, and I was getting up, and about half dressed, when one of my sisters burst into my room, crying, ‘La! Fred., such a shocking thing has happened! poor Farmer Gould was found dead in the road this morning; they think his horse ran away, for it’s not to be found; and the chaise was upset and lying on its side. How lucky, papa did not get the mare!’

Or is it an accident? Karma suggests otherwise. It’s interesting to note that Mrs. Crowe herself suggests a (perhaps farfetched) naturalistic explanation for what happens.

Again, not a ghost story, but a crime story with supernatural overtones. Nicely told.

You can read Colonel C.’s Story here.

Enjoy


Read the intro to my selections from Ghosts and Family Legends at my previous post, along with Madam Von B.’s story.

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

Image: Carriage Drawn by a Horse, Vincent van Gogh. Source: WikiArt

Winter Tales Begin: Madame Von B.’s story

Every year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I like to share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around. This year I’m starting the series a little differently, by sharing a few “true” ghost stories, rather than explicitly fictional tales.

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I’m taking these stories from Catherine Crowe’s 1858 book, Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas. Those of you who have read the adventures of Vera van Slyke in Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted know that Mrs. Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature was Vera’s trustiest reference tome. Ghost and Family Legends was Mrs. Crowe’s sequel, in a way: a collection of true (or at least truthy) anecdotes told around the fire over a course of a week at a December house party in 1857. Anonymized, of course, because who wants to admit to believing in ghosts?

“But there are no ghosts now,” objected Mr. R.

“Quite the contrary,” said I; “I have no doubt there is nobody in this circle who has not either had some experience of the sort in his own person, or been made a confidant of such experiences by friends whose word on any other subject he would feel it impossible to doubt.”

After some discussion on the existence of ghosts and cognate subjects, it was agreed that each should relate a story, restricting himself to circumstances that had either happened to himself or had been told him by somebody fully entitled to confidence, who had undergone the experience.

Continue reading

Creepy TV and other Thanksgiving Fun

Back from Thanksgiving weekend with my parents: four days of non-stop eating and family and wine (I blame my sister for that last part). It was the first time in a long time that we, my parents, my sister’s family and my closest first cousin’s family were all in the same place at the same time, to celebrate the birth of my youngest nephew (or whatever the proper term is for my first cousin’s child).

We happen to be a family with strong introvert tendencies, even the men who married into the family, and we are also very loud, in that stereotypical ethnic family sort of way. So periodically, certain people would disappear from the gathering, to be found hiding in another room with a device of some kind…

Which is a long-winded way of saying that my ten year old niece has started me down a wormhole of recreational reading and tv-watching time sinks, just in time for the holidays. Follow me down the path: Continue reading

Hummingbird and Fly: A Keresan Folktale

Next in the hummingbird folklore series, as a followup to our previous story from the Hopi of Arizona: a story from the Laguna (Kawaik), one of the Keresan speaking Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. As in the Hopi story, Hummingbird, this time with Fly, must save the settlement from starvation.

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Long ago, the people lived at White-House, a settlement so vast that they had seven different kinds of shaman to perform ceremonies to bring food for the people, and to cure disease. After many years of success, the shamans became so proud of their abilities that they thought they were more powerful even than Mother Nautsiti, who brought life. In their hubris, they mocked her. She heard, and she got angry. In her anger she hid the rain, and so the crops died. For five years (some say seven), the people starved. Some say the people got so desperate that they even killed and ate their children…

As the situation got more dire, the shamans and the chiefs called a meeting to discuss how to find the Mother, and ask her to bring back the rain and the food. As they met, they remembered Hummingbird, who slept in an opening in the middle of the south wall. In the midst of all this famine, Hummingbird remained healthy and well-fed.

Continue reading

How Hummingbird Saved the Children: A Hopi Folktale

A new installment in the hummingbird folklore series! This story is from the Hopi people of Arizona. Here we learn about the desertion and subsequent repopulation of the Oraíbi (Orayvi) settlement at a time of great famine, and hummingbird’s role in saving two children — and ultimately, the village.

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The time of great famine began with the frost which killed the corn, just as it began to ripen. Luckily, the people of Oraibi had food stored by from previous years, so that first year, they didn’t go hungry. But the drought began, too, and slowed down the growing of the corn plants, so the ears were just forming when the winter frost came back and killed them. And the third year, with no rain, the corn grew slower yet, and again the frost killed it. The fourth year was even worse, and some of the villagers began to move away, in search of kinder land. By the fifth year with no rain, the corn withered and died almost as soon as it was planted. By now, the food reserves were gone. With no choice, the remaining villagers left; Oraibi stood deserted. Continue reading

Another Budget of Book Reviews

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October has always been a busy month for me, which is why I’ve been not so vigilant about blogging — I’ll get back to my Hummingbird Folklore series, promise! But I’ve still been reading. In time for Halloween (and rolling into Winter Tales season), here’s my take on three excellent short story anthologies that I finished recently. Continue reading

Not Holmes: American Detective Stories from a Century Ago

American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

Several years ago, at a wonderful, now gone bookstore called Outerlands, I found a collection called The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Hugh Greene (one-time Director-General of the BBC, journalist, and Graham Greene’s brother). The book is one of a series of “Rivals of Sherlock Holmes” anthologies Greene edited in the 1970s. Most of the stories, as you would expect, are of the whodunit or puzzle variety.

What’s especially interesting is the difference in subject matter between typical stories in the Holmesian style and these contemporaneous American offerings. British mystery stories from this period tend to be about interpersonal crime: crimes of passion, crimes over money or jewels, or jealousy. There is the occasional case of international espionage, but the criminals are almost always individual actors. Many of the stories in this collection are American transpositions of these classic themes, but others go beyond the personal to corporate or political crime.

Here’s Greene:

Sometimes one realizes with a sense of shock how modern these differences make them appear. We find a brutal and corrupt police force, corrupt politicians, bugging, big and wealthy corporations using their power to cheat the Federal Government or to put small competitors out of business, methods used by political parties in elections which are extraordinarily reminiscent of Nixon’s CREEP.

Rereading these stories this past month, I found a particularly interesting theme running through several of these now century-old stories.

  1. Big business routinely engage in corrupt practices for the sake of the bottom line.
  2. When caught, only the little guys (those who implemented the crimes) get punished. The corporate officers, who instigated, or at least encouraged the crimes, get off lightly, or perhaps even completely.
  3. That the big guys get off is wrong. But there are members of the Government — Senators, Federal Agents, and others — who are intent on making the big guys pay.

The first two points still sound awfully familiar, and far too topical, a century later. The last point, I fear, we no longer believe. Do these stories mean that we once trusted more in the State to protect the public’s interest against big business? Or does it mean the opposite: were these stories escapist fantasy about the world we wished that we lived in?

It is the strong hope of the country that there is justice and fairness and sane commonsense at the American bottom of us, if you can only get at it.

— Francis Lynde, “The Cloud-Bursters” Continue reading

East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon

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I recently saw a reference to the wonderful illustrator Kay Nielsen. I didn’t remember his name, but I recognized his illustrations immediately. Gorgeous! And it helps that East o’the Sun, West o’the Moon is one of my favorite fairy tales. Nielsen is almost one of the reasons I love that tale so much.

Almost: Continue reading