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.

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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).

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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.

Friday Video: Une Excursion Incohérente

I recently discovered the silent film director and special effects master Segundo de Chomón, who produced a number of outstanding short “trick films” in Barcelona and in Paris for Pathé Frères, mostly in the period from about 1903 to 1912. He’s been favorably compared to the more famous French special effects filmmaker Georges Méliès.

I had a hard time choosing which de Chomón film to feature first; they’re all wonderful, and more of them will surely end up on Friday Video. I finally decided on the 1909 Une Excursion Incohérente for its sheer absurdity, with a touch of surrealism.

The film shows off different aspects of de Chomón’s technical wizardry: animation, mirror (or possibly double exposure) illusions, pyrotechnics. It also features one of his favorite themes: the mischievous haunted house.

Length: 8 minutes, 15 seconds.

Enjoy.

Winter Tale Time! The House on the Cliff

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It’s that time of the year again! Winter tale season is here!

There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories– Ghost Stories, or more shame for us–round the Christmas fire; and we have never stirred, except to draw a little nearer to it.

— Charles Dickens, “The Christmas Tree”

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. Every year, I try to share a few good winter tales, and other Christmas-related stories, to celebrate the season.

This year, I’ll start with a story from W. J. Wintle’s Ghost Gleams (1921), which I’ve posted about previously. The stories in this collection were originally tales told ’round a campfire to the boys who attended the school at Caldey Abbey, in Wales. Not all of the stories are creepy, but of the ones that were, my favorite was “The House on The Cliff”.

Cyril stood there as the sun sank down in a bed of opal grey flushed with purple sapphire; and long flashing feathers of ruby played across the drowsy waves. A passing boatman saw him from the distance outlined against the sky, and wondered who it could be: and that was the last time that any human eye saw him alive.

Poor Cyril. All he wanted was some peace and quiet. Normally, a week at a quiet cottage by the sea with nothing but my books would be my ideal getaway — which just added to the creepiness of this story, for me. To be honest, I think that Wintle could have dropped the last paragraph, but overall, this one is pleasantly shivery, especially when read alone in bed late at night.

Enjoy.


You can read more about the Ghost Gleams collection (including where to download it) in this previous post.

You can find all the winter tales that I’ve shared on my Winter Tales page.

The image above is from the cover of The Cottage on the Cliff (1834) by Catherine G. Ward. Courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library.