The Dream House: From Fireside Tale to Fiction

Augustus John Cuthbert Hare (1834-1903) was an English writer who wrote mostly, it seems, about his travels and his family. Why he thought anyone would be interested in his six volume autobiography (The Story of my Life), I don’t know; but from it, we do learn that he had a lot of friends who liked to tell ghost stories. And Hare wrote them down.

John Augustus Cuthbert Hare
Augustus Hare (1834-1903). Source: Wikimedia

In that roundabout way that happens while doing research for a potential post, I found myself browsing the last three volumes of The Story of my Life. And I came upon an oddly familiar story, one that Hare records from a “Miss Broke,” the niece of the Gurdons, a family that Hare is staying with in Suffolk.

A woman living in Ireland begins having frequent dreams of “the most enchanting house I ever saw”—detailed dreams, about walking through all the rooms of the house, its garden and conservatory. Eventually the family decides to leave Ireland and move to England, and they proceed to search for a house in the vicinity of London. During their search, they learn of a house near Hampshire.
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A Ghost Story from C. G. Jung

I recently spent an evening listening to Andreas Sommer’s three-part YouTube series, Poltergeist Phenomena and the History of Science. The series is based on an early post from Sommer’s Forbidden Histories blog, “The Naturalization of the ‘Poltergeist‘” (the linked article also posts to the YouTube videos). Really interesting article and video series; I recommend it.

Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). Source: Wikimedia

One of the things Andreas mentions in passing (in Part 3, if I remember correctly) is the real-life haunted house experience of noted psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung eventually wrote about this experience as a chapter of Spuk. Irrglaube oder Wahrglaube? (Hauntings. False Belief or True?), a 1950 collection of case studies of hauntings and poltergeists edited by the zoologist and researcher of paranormal phenomena Fanny Moser.

Jung had this experience in the summer of 1920, when he was in England to give a series of lectures. His host, “Dr. X,” arranged for Jung (and himself) to spend weekdays in London for the lectures, and weekends in the country at “a charming cottage” that rented for “a ridiculously low price.”

No regular reader of ghost stories will be at all surprised at what happens next.

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The Ghosts at Grantley

As Christmas week rolls around I’m switching to a couple of gentler, humorous ghost stories. This may or may not be in keeping with the traditional customs of winter tales, but it’s been my custom. This is my regular story for the week, and I’ll present another one on Christmas Eve.

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This week’s tale is “The Ghosts of Grantley,” by Leonard Kip. Grantley Grange boasts not one, but two remarkably similar ghosts: one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs. They show up regularly every Christmas, and they don’t seem to know that they’re dead! Can our hero convince them of this unpleasant reality so that they can move on?

You can read “The Ghosts at Grantley” here.

Given the setting of the tale, I was surprised to discover that the author, Leonard Kip, is an American. He seems to be chiefly remembered today for his memoirs of his experiences in the California Gold Rush. This is a bit ironic, since he disliked California and returned to his native New York, settling in Albany for a career in law. He did, however, continue to write, and “The Ghosts at Grantley” was originally written for one of the Christmas numbers of The Argus, an Albany, NY periodical. I couldn’t figure out the exact first publication date of the story, but four of Kip’s Argus Christmas contributions, along with two other stories, were collected into the volume Hannibal’s Man and Other Tales in 1878.

As I mentioned, this story is played for humor, but it is a real ghost story, with a fairly grim story behind the haunting. I hope you enjoy reading it as you get ready for Christmas week.


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

Images

Portrait of Sir John Sherard, John Riley (c. 1675) Source: WikiArt

Featured image: Locksley Hall, illustration by William Goodrich Beal for Tennyson Gems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (c. 1889). Source: Old Book Illustrations

The Maid of the Mill

Mill in the evening 1905

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. Continue reading

Dark Christmas

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This next winter tale is a good old-fashioned, creepy haunted house story — but a modern one, by Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and The Passion.

I found it as one of five Christmas ghost stories (all excellent) published by the Guardian Weekend magazine in 2013. Each of the stories has its own strengths; I liked them all. I chose Ms. Winterson’s story because of the five, it feels the most traditional to me.

We had borrowed the house from a friend none of us seemed to know.

A lone narrator in a mysterious, isolated house; footsteps in empty rooms; bats; flakey electricity, and of course (that modern touch) a phone that gets no signal. Oh, and an incomplete Nativity scene. What more could you want for a Christmas ghost story?

Reading this called up a lot of my favorite ghost stories, like Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” and M.R. James’ “Lost Hearts” — not that this story resembles either of those. There are just passing moments in “Dark Christmas” that brought those other stories to my mind. A good thing, in my opinion.

You can read “Dark Christmas” at Jeanette Winterson’s website. [EDIT 24 Dec 2021: Since the old link no longer works, I now link to the Wayback Machine’s archived copy of the original link.]

Enjoy!


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

Five modern Christmas ghost stories (including this one) from The Guardian.

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.

The Italian’s Story

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I’ve been reading Catherine Crowe’s Ghosts and Family Legends (1859) over lunch break the last several days. Those of you who have read Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted, the chronicles of the ghost-hunting, turn-of-the-twentieth-century journalist Vera van Slyke, know that Ms. Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature was Vera’s trustiest reference tome. I believe she actually wore out her copy at some point in the book. Like The Night Side of Nature, Ghosts and Family Legends is a collection of “true” ghostly anecdotes, in this case told over the course of several evenings at a Christmas gathering.

Though it may surprise some of my readers, I’m not actually that interested in true ghost story anecdotes, at least not as reading material. Most true ghost anecdotes — most true anecdotes, period — lack narrative structure, and almost always have no closure. They may be great recreation when told to you by your grandmother, or by your friends on a dark winter’s night while drinking hot toddies, but fiction generally makes better reading. Most of the stories in the first half of Ghosts and Family Legends are no exception. Still, I’m always on the lookout for novel stories to share with you during the winter tales season, and a few of the anecdotes are well-structured enough (and fun enough) that I may feature them come December.

The second half of the collection is called “Legends of the Earthbound,” and (so far) these seem to be fully structured stories. It’s not clear if these are still stories told to Ms. Crowe by others, or whether they are fiction written by her (I assume the second). Either way, they are enjoyable reading, and I thought I’d share one with you today.

Our family claims to be of great antiquity, but we were not very wealthy till about the latter half of the 16th century, when Count Jacopo Ferraldi made very considerable additions to the property; not only by getting, but also by saving—he was in fact a miser. Before that period the Ferraldis had been warriors, and we could boast of many distinguished deeds of arms recorded in our annals; but Jacopo, although by the death of his brother, he ultimately inherited the title and the estates, had begun life as a younger son, and being dissatisfied with his portion, had resolved to increase it by commerce.

So begins the story of Count Francesco Ferraldi, about his ancestor Jacopo Ferraldi, a truly detestable man. This one is kind of two ghost stories (and two haunted houses) in one, but it isn’t the ghosts that are scary. It’s the man.

You can read “The Italian’s Story” here (a pdf download), or you can download the entire Ghosts and Family Legends from Project Gutenberg.

Enjoy.


Image: The Letter of Introduction, David Wilkie (1813). Source: WikiArt. It may seem an odd choice of image, but it’s relevant to the story.

The Half-Haunted

Christmas is past, the days are getting longer again, but winter is still here! Today, a winter tale set on New Year’s Eve: “The Half-Haunted” by Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986), writing as Gans T. Field. And some literary gossip, too.

600px WeirdTalesv36n1pg085 Half Haunted

Manly Wade Wellman wrote science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, young adult adventure stories, and history, mostly of the South and the Civil War. He was fond of the occult detective genre, and is perhaps best known for his three occult detectives: Silver John (or John the Balladeer), Judge Pursuivant, and John Thunstone. Silver John is my favorite of the three.

Wellman is also notorious for having beat out William Faulkner for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine award in 1946, with a tale featuring one of the earliest fictional Native American detectives, David Return. The story was called “Star for a Warrior.” Faulkner, already a highly-regarded literary author (He won the Nobel Prize for Literature just three years later, in 1949) was not too pleased at taking second place in a “manufactured mystery story contest” behind a mere pulp writer. However Faulkner’s story, “An Error in Chemistry,” had been turned down nine times before he submitted it to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and EQMM would only take it after Faulkner cleared up a plot point. So perhaps it wasn’t his best work. I’ve read it, it’s quite good, though the ending feels a trifle contrived — but then again, so does the ending of “Star for a Warrior.”

Anyway, back to our winter tale. “The Half-Haunted” was originally published in the September 1941 issue of Weird Tales. It is the last of the Judge Pursuivant stories.

For six months Judge Pursuivant had intended to visit that old dwelling with the strange history but Judge Pursuivant often has trouble finding time to do what he most wants. The fall passed, the winter came. He spent Christmas, not very joyfully, helping the widow of a friend repossess some property at Salem. New Year’s Eve found him at Harrisonville, where de Graudin and Towbridge wanted his word on translating certain old Dutch documents better left untranslated. Heading west and south toward his home, he passed Scott’s Meadows. And, though it was nearly dark and snowy, he could not resist the opportunity to visit Criley’s Mill then and there.

The site of a Revolutionary War era murder still holds its memories — and more.

This story is more action-packed than spooky; the tagline in Weird Tales was “Judge Pursuivant Routs a Murderous, Hunchbacked Hulk of a Phantom!” Yes, with exclamation point. But it’s fun.

And did you notice? The pair “de Graudin and Towbridge” sound awfully like Jules de Grandin and Dr. Trowbridge, the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of occult detectives, created by Seabury Quinn. An almost cross-over! I wonder if Quinn ever reciprocated.

You can read The Half-Haunted at Wikisource, here.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year.


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

You can read some of my previous posts about Wellman’s Silver John stories here and here.

The illustration is by Hannes Bok (Wayne Francis Woodard), from the original Weird Tales publication. Image sourced from Wikisource.

You can read Wellman’s “Star for a Warrior” here. The only link I could find for Faulkner’s “An Error in Chemistry” looked a bit sketchy, but the story was reprinted in both The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories and The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. Tony Hillerman edited both of those collections, and neither one contains “Star for a Warrior,” so obviously Mr. Hillerman did not agree with the judges of that first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine award.

You can read an account of the great Wellman versus Faulkner showdown at The Passing Tramp blog here and with further details here. The second link is the only version I can find online to the Oregon Literary Review article that The Passing Tramp references.

The third finalist for the EQMM prize that year was T.S. Stribling, who wrote mystery and adventure for the pulp magazines, and serious novels about the American South. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for his novel The Store. His story was called “Count Jalacki goes Fishing,” from the September 1946 issue of EQMM.

Thirteen at Table

This week’s winter tale, by Lord Dunsany (1878-1957), is a bit of a companion piece to last week’s sinister Christmas dinner.

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In front of a spacious fireplace of the old kind, when the logs were well alight, and men with pipes and glasses were gathered before it in great easeful chairs, and the wild weather outside and the comfort that was within, and the season of the year—for it was Christmas—and the hour of the night, all called for the weird or uncanny, then out spoke the ex-master of foxhounds and told this tale.

What starts as a paean to the English countryside and the fox-hunt in Spring turns into a tale of haunting; but is it supernatural, psychological, or both? Mr. Linton, the narrator of the tale, gets lost while chasing a fox and must ask the reclusive Sir Richard Arlen for an evening’s shelter. Reluctantly, Sir Richard allows Mr. Linton to stay, and invites him to a most interesting dinner party….

Rats in the wainscoting? Bats in the belfry? Too much champagne? You decide. A beautifully worded, slightly creepy but gently humorous tale, told as only Lord Dunsany could.

You can read Thirteen at Table, here.

The story was collected in Tales of Wonder (1916), and I would guess that it is set about five or ten years before that, so the reference to Sir Richard’s “‘Varsity days” (I always wondered where the term “varsity” came from) in the early seventies would have been about thirty-five or so years previous.

Enjoy.


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

Image: Original photo by Jorge Royan, some rights reserved. Photo remix by Nina Zumel, distributed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Winter Tales Time: Number Ninety

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. I’m a bit late getting started this year, but I’m starting with a classic: a haunted house story by Irish writer Bithia Mary Croker (1848-1920).

Dark mansion by jailem d32bfx0

For a period extending over some years, a notice appeared periodically in various daily papers. It read:

“To let furnished, for a term of years, at a very low rental, a large old-fashioned family residence, comprising eleven bed-rooms, four reception rooms, dressing-rooms, two staircases, complete servants’ offices, ample accommodation for a Gentleman’s establishment, including six-stall stable, coach-house, etc.”

This advertisement referred to number ninety.
[…]

I knew better. I knew that it would never, never find a tenant. I knew that it was passed on as a hopeless case, from house-agent to house-agent. I knew that it would never be occupied, save by rats-and, more than this, I knew the reason why!

John Hollyoak, skeptic, agrees to spend the night in Number Ninety, a house of “such a desperate reputation, that even the adjoining mansions stood vacant.” Does it change his mind? Of course it does.

You can read Number Ninety here.

Enjoy.


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

Ms. Croker lived in British-occupied India for 14 years with her husband, and much of her fiction is set there. To Let is the tale of a haunted bungalow in the Himalayas. It’s a good one.

Image: Haunted Mansion by Jailem, some rights reserved.