Daniel Crowley and the Ghosts

The Twelve Days of Christmas come to an end soon; just time for one more winter tale to close out the season. This particular story, I’m afraid, is not especially wintry, or scary. It’s a humorous folktale, no doubt derived from an oral telling, and well, I just like it.

Party skeletons guadalupe posada

Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906) was an American ethographer and folklorist. He collected mythologies, folklore and other ethnological information from various Native American tribes, from various peoples of Russia and Eastern Europe, and (most relevant to us today), from Ireland. “Daniel Crowley and the Ghosts” comes from his 1895 folktale collection, Tales of Fairies and the Ghost World.

Daniel Crowley is a coffin-maker who claims to prefer the company of the dead to the living. One evening at a wake, he drunkenly extends an invitation that he probably didn’t expect anyone to take him up on. Surprise!

You can read “Daniel Crowley and the Ghosts” here.

This story has no connection to Christmas, New Year’s or winter, but it is a fun and festive tale, and I can imagine telling it to friends around a fire. It’s also the second year in a row that I’ve closed out Winter Tales season with a story about dancing skeletons. Maybe this will be a trend.

2021 marked the tenth year that I’ve been sharing Christmas ghost stories. The past decade has seen a revival of the tradition, it seems to me; or maybe I’m just more aware of it now than I was ten years ago. Sometimes my choices have wandered a bit outside the lines, but I hope that they’ve all added to your winter reading pleasure. I also hope that you’ve all enjoyed reading these tales as much as I’ve enjoyed finding and sharing them.

All the best to all of you, for 2022.


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

Featured image: El Jarabe En Ultratumba (loosely, Dancing in the Afterlife), José Guadalupe Posada (1910). Source: Wikimedia. Jarabe is a style of mariachi music; the Jarabe Tapatío is the national dance of Mexico. [Citation]

An elegantly dressed male and female skeleton arm in arm, José Guadalupe Posada (ca. 1890-1910). Source: metmuseum.org.

A Ghost’s Revenge

Today, a New Year’s Eve winter tale from Lettice Galbraith! Last year, I shared a Christmas tale of occult detection by this delightful author; this year’s story runs along more classical lines.

Standing windowsill 768

Gerald Harrison was a skeptic about the supernatural, until he encountered Mallowby Rectory. Now it’s a race against time. Can he save his best friend before an angry ghost takes its New Year’s revenge?

You can read “A Ghost’s Revenge” here.

In general, I consider Lettice Galbraith’s ghost stories rather modern for their era, which is part of what makes her interesting to me. “A Ghost’s Revenge” is more traditional than much of her other work — it’s a good old-fashioned haunted house yarn. But it’s also energetic and suspenseful, and just a lot of fun to read. I hope you like it.

May you all stay dry and warm, and please enjoy the last winter tale for 2021! There will be one more, in 2022, before the Twelve Days of Christmas end.

Wishing everyone a Happy and healthy New Year.


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

Featured Image: New Years New Moon, Theodor Severin Kittelsen. Source: WikiArt

Illustration by Émile Bayard for Contes et romans populaires by Erckmann-Chatrian (1867). Source: Old Book Illustrations.

Crowdy Marsh

In keeping with my tradition of the past few years, I’m sharing a lighter, less scary winter tale for Christmas Eve. As with last year’s Christmas Eve offering, this one is more of a fairy tale. It’s by the minister/scholar/folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924).

Thomas Rowlandson Bodmin Moor Google Art Project

The narrator goes hunting with a friend out on Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall. They get lost after sunset, and wander into the boggy mire of Crowdy Marsh. After being separated from his friend, the narrator stumbles upon a mysterious, lonely cottage on the edge of the Marsh.

You can read “Crowdy Marsh” here.

Like many of Baring-Gould’s supernatural stories, “Crowdy Marsh” has a bit of a moral to it, but it’s not heavy-handed, and it feels rather appropriate to the season. Baring-Gould also gives us a nice interpretation of the Wild Hunt, specifically the version of the Wild Huntsman named Dewer.

Here’s hoping you’re enjoying my winter tales in your cozy abode, not a cold damp marsh! I wish a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.


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

Featured image: A walk on Bodmin Moor, 30 Sept. 2010 by Phillip Capper (License CC-by-2.0). Source: Wikimedia. It’s not marked, but I believe that’s Brown Willy in the background.

Detail from Bodmin Moor, by Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1825). Source: Wikimedia

The Four-Fifteen Express

Since I have a little extra time, I’ve decided to post an “extra” winter tale this week: namely the one I meant to post the first week of December! I originally chose “The Four-Fifteen Express” as this year’s opening story, because it’s a good transition from the Classic Crime series to Winter Tales.

Clerkenwell tunnel 768

William Langford returns home from business abroad just in time to spend December with some old friends in East Anglia. A chance encounter on the train ride to his hosts’ home leads to a mystery, a scandal, and maybe more….

You can read “The Four-Fifteen Express” here.

Writer and Egyptologist Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) might be best known today for her ghost story “The Phantom Coach” (which is also set at Christmas). In addition to ghost stories, her short fiction includes “whodunnits,” as well as other types of crime stories and tales of the macabre. Many of her supernatural stories have a strong crime fiction sensibility. That’s a good combination, as far as I’m concerned. If you agree, then I hope you will enjoy “The Four-Fifteen Express.”

And be sure to look out for my Christmas eve tale, later this week.


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

Featured Image: Train in the Snow or The Locomotive, Claude Monet (1875). Source: WikiArt

Metropolitan Railway at Clerkenwell Tunnel, P. Broux, Illustration for Les nouvelles conquêtes de la science, vol. 2 by Louis Figuier. Source: Old Book Illustrations.

A Sworn Statement

Today’s winter tale is by California poet, translator, and author Emma Francis Dawson (1839–1926). She wrote it for the Christmas 1881 edition of The Wasp, a satirical weekly San Francisco periodical, at the request of The Wasp‘s editor, Ambrose Bierce.

The Grand Court of the original Palace Hotel, San Francisco c 1895
The “Grand Court” of the original Palace Hotel, San Francisco, c. 1895. Source: Wikimedia. The Palace Hotel is the scene of a key episode in this tale.

In “A Sworn Statement,” the valet Wilkins relates the story of his former employer, Mr. Audenried, and his relationship (or non-relationship?) with the mysterious silent woman who seems to co-inhabit their dwelling.

You can read “A Sworn Statement” here.

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Winter Tale Time! Croglin Grange

I’m a bit late getting started this year, for which I apologize. A combination of work and a terrible cold that hit me last weekend are to blame. But I hope my selections this year will make up for my tardiness!

Snow bound

Today’s tale isn’t actually set around Christmas, or even in the winter, but it’s a short and quite fun little story that I think would be delightful read aloud. Indeed, it’s set as a story told by one person to his friends around an evening fire, which makes it appropriate as a winter tale, in my opinion.

A young woman and her brothers rent a delightful one-story house in Cumberland, called Croglin Grange. At first things go swimmingly: they love the house, their neighbors love them. Then one sultry summer evening, the young woman sees something coming across the lawn–and straight to her window. Scratch, scratch, scratch… will it get in? And what will happen if it does?

You can read “Croglin Grange” here.

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The Dance of the Dead

I’m closing out this year’s Winter Tales season with a dark and delightful German gothic tale, as filtered through the pen of British author Dick Donovan. “The Dance of the Dead” is apparently based on one of the German folk legends about the mountain spirit Rübezahl, which means either “turnip counter” or “turnip tale.” He was originally a weather spirit who sent mountain storms, but evolved into a guardian of the poor who lived on his mountain. Like many a good fairy, he can appear to a person as an old man or old woman in need, to test if that person has a kind heart or not. If so, the person is rewarded. This is closer to his role in this story:

Dancing skeletons, Dance of Death

A young artist falls in love with Brunhelda, the lovely daughter of the hateful mayor of Neisse. The mayor has big marriage ambitions for Brunhelda; she’s too good for a penniless painter. But Robert’s “foster father,” the strange old Willibald, is a bagpiper of such amazing abilities that he can make anyone dance—even the dead. Can he help the young lovers out?

Yes, this is a ghost story. Since one could make the (admittedly tenuous) argument that the main action takes place around January, I judge it a fitting tale to finish this season’s Winter Tales series, and kick off the new year.

You can read “The Dance of the Dead” here.

Dick Donovan was the pen name of J. E. Preston Muddock, a British journalist and author who wrote in a number of genres, including non-fiction. He was particularly well known for mystery and detective fiction; most of his stories featured a Glasgow detective named Dick Donovan, who was so popular that Muddock began publishing under that name. He produced two collections of macabre fiction: Stories Weird and Wonderful (1889), and Tales of Terror (1899), from which “The Dance of Death” is taken.

[UPDATE June 29, 2021 — Purely by chance, I’ve discovered the original of this story: it’s “Der Todtentanz” (The Dance of Death) by Johann August Apel, from Gespensterbuch Vol 3 (c. 1812).]

I had originally gone to Tales of Terror for another story that is genuinely a ghost story set at Christmas, but I like this story better. Not just because its folkloric nature appeals to me, but also because the contrast between Robert’s kindhearted (but naive) model of human nature when compared to Willibald’s cynical (but realistic) perspective resonates with me right now.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this round of Winter Tales. Best wishes to all of us for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2021!


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

Featured Image: Dance of Death, Henri Charles Guérard (c. 1888). Source: Wikimedia

Dance of Death from Folio CCLXIIII of Liber chronicarum, aka Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1493). Source: Wikimedia

Fladda Light

As we head into the twelve days of Christmas, here’s another winter tale to usher in the New Year. “Fladda Light” actually takes place in late November, but it’s a stormy and wintry and spooky tale that feels appropriate to the season.

Hudson Burke is the new keeper of Fladda Light, a lighthouse with a dark reputation.

Neapolitan lighthouse 1842 jpg Large

‘It was not a good place for men to be in,’ the informant would say; and then he would lean over to his hearer in an infectious ecstasy of fear. ‘There were things that came out of the sea that it was not good for men to be with.’

Will Burke survive with body and mind intact?

“Fladda Light” appeared in Cornhill Magazine in 1924. I came across it a few years ago, and loved the story, but it did not go into the US public domain until 2020, and so I had to hold on to it. I hope you agree with me that it was worth it.

You can read “Fladda Light” here.

The story’s author, Hilton Brown, was a Scottish poet, biographer, and novelist who wrote extensively about both Scotland and South India, where he served in the Indian Civil Service during the British Colonial period. Though he apparently didn’t write often in Scots, there is a touch of dialect in this story, which adds nicely to the atmosphere.

Brown wrote at least one other ghost story that I know of: “The Fourth Man,” an excellent, darkly humorous tale set in South India and published in 1930. You can find it in The Penguin Book of Indian Ghost Stories, which is a collection of tales in the “Classic English Ghost Story” tradition, some penned by Indian authors and others by British authors, but set in India. Both stories are great, but “Fladda Light” (in addition to being US public domain) is a better tale for this time of year.

And speaking of the season: have a Happy New Year, and enjoy this winter tale!


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

Images

Neapolitan Lighthouse, Ivan Aivazovsky (1842). Source: WikiArt

Longship Lighthouse, Lands End, J.M.W. Turner (c. 1834-1835). Source: WikiArt

Oberon Road

Happy Christmas Eve! It’s become a custom for me to share lighter winter tales on Christmas Eve, to match the festive spirit. Today, I’m sharing a story by A. M. Burrage.

Burrage’s best known Christmas tale is, of course, “Smee,” which is as dark a winter tale as you could want. Last year I shared Burrage’s “The Fourth Wall,” which is not quite as dark, but still has a grim undertone.

Opera rainy day 1909 jpg Blog

But today’s tale, “Oberon Road,” is more like a fairy tale, or a gentler version of A Christmas Carol. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Michael Cubitt is a bit of miser, a man neither good nor bad.

He had no friends and no enemies, because so far as could be discovered, he had never done anybody a bad or a good turn. … He had no apparent vices and no apparent virtues. Nobody but himself knew exactly what he got out of life.

But then one rainy evening just before Christmas, Cubitt meets an odd little man who (literally) sets Mr. Cubitt on a new path.

You can read “Oberon Road” here.

Whether it’s sunny or rainy or snowy where you are, I hope you enjoy this sweet little tale. Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.


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

Images

Featured Image: Columbus Avenue, Rainy Day, Childe Hassan (1885). Source: WikiArt

Opera, Rainy Day, Pierre Dubreuil (1909). Source: WikiArt

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.

Sir john sherard jpg Large

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