#25SpookyStories: A 2020 Christmas Reading Challenge

Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood. – Jerome K. Jerome, Told After Supper (1891)

The following post is a recycled and polished version of the challenge from last year. I have added some more books and free readings. I will continue to update the post with readings I come across.

Christmas is a time for ghost stories. It’s true! The tradition of telling ghost stories around Christmas time probably came before the holiday itself and definitely before the commercialized version of today.  The origins, as Kat Eschner writes, are “about darker, older, more fundamental things: winter, death, rebirth, and the rapt connection between a teller and his or her audience. But they’re packaged in the cozy trappings of the holiday.” The tradition never really made it over to America (Puritans ruin the party again), but ghost stories around Christmas were especially popular in 19th Century British books, periodicals, homes, and theatres. In 2017, Ghostland author Colin Dickey made a call to resurrect the tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas, so I’m challenging y’all to read 25 ghost (or just scary) stories this Christmas season (or 12). Maybe you’ll read them in your comfy chair with hot chocolate or wassail. Maybe you’ll read the stories aloud around the fire with family and friends (via Zoom of course). Whatever you need to do to bring this tradition back to life and hopefully start a new spooky tradition in your home. (To learn more, please check out the two articles below that ground this tradition in interesting historical research.)

If you participated in #31SpookyStories, it is basically the same thing. You’ll read 25 spooky short stories each day this December until Christmas. Or, if you are busy (or preoccupied/stressed because 2020), you can choose to read 12 stories instead.

Below I have provided some books and FREE sites where you can find some spooky Christmas stories (I’ll continue to update this list throughout December). Feel free to read whatever spooky stories you want, Christmas-themed and otherwise.

Your reading style and availability may be different than mine, so I gave the challenge additional options:

  • You might read from one anthology/story collection or multiple anthologies/story collections.
  • You might double, triple, or quadtrouple stories on slow days or makeup days. Hell, you could read 25 (or 12) stories in one week.
  • You might choose to read fiction and/or nonfiction spooky stories.

The goal of this? To have fun, resurrect an old tradition, and to introduce yourself to new writers. Below are some ways to join the fun on social media, some sources on the history on the tradition, and possible stories to read.

Join the Fun on Instagram

Some challenge readers (me included) will be sharing our daily reads on social media. Follow me (@notebookofghosts) for fun Story templates, my daily reads, available anthologies from some of my favorite online sellers, and more!

We’ll be using the hashtag #25SpookyStories!

Some History About the Tradition

Books You Might Purchase

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FREE Reading List

Below are links to some anthologies online. I haven’t read all of these, so I’m sorry for the lame ones! πŸ™‚  Please note: Most of these links take you to Project Gutenberg, which gives you multiple formats to read it in. HTML is best for reading on your computer. You can also send it to your Kindle (I use this email method). 

Happy Reading!

Happy Halloween! My Top Five #humpdayhaunts

One my favorite ways to keep the Halloween spirit going all year long is through my Instagram series #humpdayhaunts. Every Wednesday (well, sometimes Thursday), I share haunted history. I always look forward to the opportunity to research a new haunting. In a chaotic world, it is indeed my constant!

I was recently looking through my archives and began reminiscing about past posts. I thought I might share some of my favorites in preparation for the Halloween weekend.

I hope you enjoy this spooky trip down memory lane. Have a hauntingly splendid Halloween!

-Ash πŸ‘»

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#humpdayhaunts is BACK!! Skinwalker Ranch lies southeast of Ballard, Utah with 480 acres full of #paranormal activity. The property has also been dubbed "UFO Ranch," because of the high number of #UFO sightings. This place is basically Fox Mulder's Disney World. πŸ‘½ There are a number of stories associated with the place, so let's get to it. (1) A family that lived on the property reported cattle mutilation. Some cows had no sign of injury or blood other than a hole "drilled" into the eye. Other cows had organs carefully removed. (2) The same family had issues with a wolf repeatedly killing their cattle, so they shot it…multiple times and on several occasions…with no luck. A bulletproof wolf folks! (3) There has been poltergeist activity including objects moving in the home, unpacked groceries being repacked into grocery bags, and disembodied voices in an unknown language. My guess is UFO ghosts, because fun. (4) The same family from before reported lethal blue orbs on the property. One night they saw the blue orbs floating on the property. They let 3 of their dogs loose to chase the orbs, and the orbs led the dogs further and further from the house. Eventually the owner heard dog yelps in the the distance, but did not go see what was wrong out of fear. The next day, they found 3 spots burned into the ground with a weird gooey substance in the center. It is believed to be the only thing that remains of the dogs. (5) There are a lot of weird animals on and near the property, including a very muscular hyena, giant sea snakes, and a mysterious squid. (6) There's a humanoid figure called The Dark One that peers into another dimension or something. (7) Crop circles of course! Do Do Do Do Do Doooooo [#xfiles theme song] (8) Wait there's more…BIGFOOT sightings. πŸ‘½ In 1996, the The National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) purchased the property. The NIDS was founded by Las Vegas hotel owner Robert Bigelow with "the purpose to research and advance serious study of various fringe science, and paranormal topics, most notably ufology" (Wikipedia). The same year Bigelow received the Pigasus Award from skeptic James Randi. (CONTINUED IN COMMENTS)

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And here's another #humpdayhaunts for #Halloween. Also check out my post from this morning! 🐰According to legend, a bus of convicts crashed in Fairfax County, VA in 1904. Convicts fled from the bus, but were quickly rounded up by police. All of them…except one. BOOOOO! 🐰 The people of Fairfax County started to notice skinned and half-eaten bunnies hanging in trees, specifically in the wooded area around (then-called) Fairfax Station Bridge. One Halloween night, some teenagers decided to hang out under the bridge. In the morning, they were found in the same condition as the bunnies, hanging from the bridge. Police and concerned citizens assumed this was the work of the escaped convict. The convict became known as The Bunny Man, because he ate bunnies and also killed his family on Easter Sunday (we got some creative legend makers in Virginia). OK so there's the legend. Wanna hear some factual creepy stuff? OK! 🐰 Fairfax County Archivist Brian Conley decided to do some research on this popular local legend. He found its beginnings in the 1970s. As reported in the Washington Post, Air Force Academy cadet Robert Bennett and his fiancΓ©e were sitting in their car on Guinea Road in Fairfax Co around midnight. A man appeared in a white suit and tall bunny ears wielding an axe. He yelled at the couple to get off his property, eventually throwing the axe through the front car window. Luckily the couple was not seriously injured. Two weeks later and a block away, the bunny dude was spotted by private security guard Paul Phillips on the front porch of a new, yet unoccupied house. Phillips began to talk to the bunny, which only angered him. Phillips reported to the Washington Post that the bunny said: β€œAll you people trespass around here. If you don’t get out of here, I’m going to bust you on the head.” He then began chopping at the porch. The police looked into these reports, but nothing substantial came out of the investigation. As you can tell, locals took these facts and ran. 🐰 Virginians of Fairfax are warned to stay away from the bridge tonight. At the stroke of midnight, they may face the same consequences as those teenagers (and bunnies).

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It's a whole week of #humpdayhaunts! I'll share a haunted place or legend each day this week, because #HALLOWEEN. πŸ‘» Have you heard about the β€œTHE SHIP OF DEATH” in Wyoming? About every 25 years or so, a phantom ship appears on the Platte River. Witnesses of the ghost ship report a thick fog and a ghost crew covered in frost. The unfortunate witness that pursues a closer look might see the corpse of a still-living loved one lying on the deck. Sometimes the crew is surrounding the person or the captain is motioning towards the loved one's body. This loved one always dies soon after. πŸ‘» 100 or so years ago, a trapper named Leon Webber saw the ghost ship (this is the first reported sighting). When he got closer to the ship, he saw his fiancΓ©e lying on the top deck. She died that same day. The next reported sighting was 25 years later (1887) when Gene Wilson, a cattleman, saw his wife lying on the ship's deck. She too died the same day. The last reported sighting was in 1903. Victor Hiebe was chopping firewood one autumn day at his residence along the river (or he was a lumberjack). He saw the fog and then the ship…and then the body of his good friend hanging from a noose. This friend had been convicted of murder, though Victor believed in his innocence. Victor last heard his friend escaped from prison. The same day of the sighting, Victor's friend was captured and put to death. πŸ‘» There have been no reported sightings since, but I recommend avoiding the Platte River on foggy days. . . . . . #halloween #scarystory #scarystories #fall #autumn #october #ghost #ghostship #ghosts #paranormal #supernatural #hauntedplaces #haunted #folkore #history #urbanlegend #Wyoming #scary #horror #writersofinstagram #spooky #paranormalactivity

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#humpdayhaunts | Next week I'm in New Orleans, so I'll be taking a break from #humpdayhaunts and #occultmondays. πŸ’€ Today, I'm sharing the story of The Black Carriage of Overton Landing (Missouri). "Overton Landing was a small, isolated farming community scattered along the bluffs and flats of the Missouri River near today's Interstate 70. As with many villages, everyone in Overton knew everyone else, helped out when needed, celebrated the harvest and passed along gossip" (Mary Collins Barlie). πŸ’€ One older couple did not fit in with the rest of the community. They lived in a wooden house off the ferry path, which they ran a tavern out of for weary travelers. Their business wasn't successful, because their reputation as being sour and cruel made travelers avoid it. πŸ’€One night they murdered a merchant with an iron poker and threw his body in the Missouri River. They, of course, kept his money and pricey belongings. They told the community they had inherited the money. With their new fortune, they bought new clothes (the old woman bought a black crepe gown), fixed up their tavern, and bought a fine black carriage. πŸ’€ Three years later, the old woman became ill. On her deathbed she rambled on about blood and an iron poker to neighbor women. She, about to die, asked her husband one last thing: to never remarry and finish his life alone. He promised. πŸ’€Well, he did not keep that promise and married a young woman in St. Louis. The night he brought her back home, neighbors made a ruckus outside his house. Holding torches and lanterns, they shouted loudly. The old man came outside and angrily screamed, "Get out or I'll…" He was interrupted by a carriage coming down the drive. The carriage was black with lanterns as red as blood. The carriage wheels and horse hooves did not make a sound. The crowd and the new young wife watched in silence as the old man looked inside. There sat a woman in a black crepe gown. The coachman convinced the old man to enter and shut the door. The old man and his deceased wife disappeared into the night. As recently as 2012, people have reported seeing a black carriage on the road. It is considered a bad omen so beware!

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Today's #humpdayhaunts comes from my signed copy of Jeffrey Introduces 13 More Southern Ghosts (it's even signed by the ghost Jeffrey). This story comes from Gallatin, Tennessee. On September 23, 1880, Mrs. Lang sat on her front porch watching her children play. She was waiting impatiently for her husband, Mr. David Lang, to finish his farm work so they could go into town. He explained he had to check on the horses and then they would be off. He began walking across his wide pasture, when his name was called from a buggy on the nearby road. He looked up and waved to his friends. Mrs. Lang was watching the scene from the deck and watched as her husband VANISHED in thin air. One second he was waving, and the next second he wasn't there. β–ͺ️ His friends jumped from the buggy. The wife jumped from the porch with the kids following. They went to the spot of his disappearance. All that was left was grass crushed from David Lang's feet. Friends and family began a search. There were no sinkholes, crevices, wells, or large shrubs. People began digging on the spot he last stood. The well-digger even brought his equipment to dig a hole, but he soon hit limestone. Bloodhounds were brought out to search for his scent, only to whimper and turn away when they reached the spot of the disappearance. β–ͺ️ Friends and family stayed with the distraught family each night and each night they heard "Help me! Please somebody, help me.” They searched the darkness for the source of the cries, but they only seemed to come from that tainted spot. Each night the cries grew weaker and eventually they never heard from David Lang again. Mrs. Lang agreed to finally hold a funeral. β–ͺ️ The following spring, the mysterious spot was marked by nature with brown grass 15 feet in diameter, a perfect circle. What ever happened to Mr. David Lang? πŸ‘»πŸ‘½πŸ•³

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From the Newspaper Archives: More Midwest Monsters

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Today I share three more Midwest monsters from the newspaper archives. As we saw in the last post, old newspapers have an interesting and witty way of investigating the supernatural. It always makes for some fun reading, especially when the current news is stressful. Enjoy the following stories and say safe, my friends!

Michigan’s Bigfoot is Good for Business (Michigan)

During the summer of 1964, the “Sister Lakes Monster” (or “Monster of the Sister Lakes”), also called “The Dewey Monster,” terrorized Michigan. The 10-foot monster weighed more than 500 pounds with long black/brown hair (the description of the monster changed article to article). He ran on his hind legs and was notably aggressive. These sightings occurred near Dewey Lake in Dowagiac, Michigan and close neighbor Sister Lakes, Michigan.

The monster made national news and soon the region was a hot spot for curiosity seekers and monster hunters. Local business capitalized on the busy summer. Drugstores sold “monster kits” for $7.95. Items included: “a wooden mallet, a net, a baseball bat, an arrow, a squirt gun and a flashlight.” Gas stations sold “getaway gas,” which helped cars easily escape the monster or possibly reach to the nearest drive-in quickly for a Monster Burger.

Source: “‘Monster’ Drawing Tourists.” The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana, 14 Jun 1964, p. 1.

Is Michigan’s Bigfoot at it Again? (Monroe, Michigan)

The “Monster of Sister Lakes,” which caused a flurry in this area last summer, has apparently packed his bags (or whatever monsters pack) and headed to Monroe, Mich.

– The News-Palladium (August 1965)

Mrs. George Owens (age 38) and daughter Christine Van Acker (age 17) were attacked by a monster, believed to be “The Monster of The Sister Lakes” of the summer prior, on August 13th, 1965. According to my calculations this was Friday the 13th!

A 7-foot, 400-pound monster with hair “like quills,” jumped onto the side of the car and grabbed Christine’s head through the open window. The monster slammed Christine’s head onto the door until she was unconscious. Christine luckily survived but suffered a black eye. This was not the first sighting of the monster, there were 16 other sightings that summer. Search parties were created to track down this monster.

The mother and daughter took two lie detector tests. They passed the first test, taken for a radio show, but failed the polygraph test given to them by the police department. The police deemed it a hoax, but the mother and daughter stood firmly behind their story.

Sources: The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan, 17 Aug 1965, Tue, p. 9 // The South Bend Tribune, South Bend, Indiana, 24 Aug 1965, Tue, p. 3.

Momo, the Shapeshifting Speedy Monster (Illinois & Beyond)

Two days ago Momo the mysterious monster was black, hairy, orange-eyed, pumpkin-headed, reeking of sulphur and skulking around the hills of Missouri. Now, he has grown several feet, acquired extra toes, learned to swim fast and cavorts about Illinois.

When a 1972 article from The Indianapolis News starts like this, you keep reading. You had me at pumpkin-head!

The Momo monster, according to the article, was first sighted by an 11-year-old boy in Louisiana on July 11th. Then the article, which was published on a Friday (July 28th), stated the monster was spotted on Wednesday night in Louisiana by an elderly women. At this point, the monster was 7 feet tall with black hair and an awful smell. Minutes later, the monster was spotted in Creve Couer, Illinois, now gray and with 3 more feet added to his height. Instead of thinking that maybe this monster was two separate monsters, the article put forth the theory that the monster swam 120 miles up the Mississippi River in mere minutes.

On July 27th, the monster was spotted in East Peoria by “two reliable citizens.” The monster had “gray U-shaped ears, a red mouth with sharp teeth, thumbs with long second joints, and ‘looked like a cross between an ape and a cave man’.” So, this monster was fast and a shapeshifter.

Those who report seeing the Momo monster have to take a breathalyzer test, the article stated.

Source: The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, 28 Jul 1972, p. 4.

From the Newspaper Archives: Hoosier Monsters

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One of my favorite activities as of late is browsing the newspaper archives with a cup of tea or a pint of pumpkin beer (depends how my day was). My most recent rabbit hole was reports of monsters in Indiana, which eventually opened up to surrounding states. Two pints of beer later, I realized I had a couple blog posts. Today, I will start with historic reports of monsters in Indiana.

In a prior post, I shared casual internet research I had done on monsters in the Midwest. The newspaper archives add another interesting, sometimes witty, layer to this topic. Hope you enjoy these historical tidbits as much as I did!

The Mill Race Monster (Columbus, Indiana)

I discussed the Mill Race Monster in the prior blog post and #humpdayhaunts (on Instagram). I will quote my past post to catch you up.

In the 1970s, Columbus, Indiana was tormented by a large, green, and bipedal monster (described by some as amphibious). The monster was tied to Mill Race Park, a park with lush forests, winding rivers, and two lakes. On November 1, 1974, two different groups of teenagers spotted the large beast. The second sighting was by far the scariest. Two young women spotted the monster while sitting in their car at night. The monster ran over and started banging on their windshield, leaving a thick mucus on the glass. They were able to turn on the car and drive away.  There were other sightings reported and many enthusiastic monster hunters headed to the park with baseball bats and guns. The city eventually closed the park to the public at night.

I thought I was done with the monster, but he reappeared during my monster search. I came across an article with the title “Monster-ous Thing At Columbus Is Green, Hairy And Scares Cats,” which on its own is pure gold.

As stated above, there were multiple sightings of the creature. On November 8 at around 9:00 a.m., the city’s dog catcher Rick Duckworth (and John Brown) went to the park to rescue two cats from a tree. While trying to figure out the best way to get the cats down, the men spotted the monster about 200 feet away. Duckworth moved towards the monster, but it ran quickly into the forest.

The cats, when put back down on solid ground, ran off. Duckworth told the paper: “They were really scared.” Duckworth also told the paper he would use his tranquilizer, the same one he uses to catch dogs, to take down the monster if he witnessed it again.

The paper also shared a theory on the identity of the “monster”: “Police and a dogcatcher believe the monster is a man wearing green blankets and a green mask enjoying a frolic in balmy Indian summer weather and by the light of the harvest moon.”

Source: The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 09 Nov 1974 (pg. 1).

The Square Lake Monster (Portland, Indiana)

Five youths had their fishing trip at Portland, Indiana’s Hollow Block Lake cut short when a square-shaped monster with the scream of a banshee emerged from the water. The monster, half the size of a car, came from the water like a submarine. The police found the youths trustworthy, especially since this was not the first monster sighting at the lake; this was the third sighting in two years.

Some theorized this monster was the same monster that appeared earlier that summer in Lynn, Indiana (about 30 miles south of Portland). Some believed the “monster of Craig’s Well,” as it was named, moved to Portland after too many curiosity seekers came to visit the well.

I would love to see how the monster got from the well to the lake!

Sources: Muncie Evening Press, Muncie, Indiana, 04 Aug 1960 (pg. 2) // The Commercial-Mail, Columbia City, Indiana, 05 Aug 1960, Fri (pg. 4) // The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 05 Aug 1960, Fri (pg. 5).

Snake Monster? (Indianapolis, Indiana)

In 1946, Indiana received an increase in monster sightings, including giant snakes. Window shoppers in Indianapolis reported a giant snake in the side walk grates. Police started poking the beast with their guns, but “The snake didn’t budge. It was a novelty ash tray with a stuffed snake on it.” Mystery solved!

Source: “Stories of Monsters Spreading in Indiana,” Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, Indiana, 13 Aug 1946, Tue (pg. 1).

Monster Captured (Lebanon, Indiana)

In the same year (1946), tales of a monster that lived in a gravel pit, cried like a baby, and killed livestock spread throughout Lebanon, Indiana. The monster met its demise in September of 1946. Harry McClain and his assistant Roy Graham shot the monster with a rifle after a 15-mile chase through the woods. According the McClain, “It was definitely a black panther.” The Vidette-Messenger of Porter County reported on the hunt:

“We chased him out on the tip end of a big tree and he fell in a creek after Roy shot him.” The mud was so sticky and the water so deep, McClaln added, that It was” impossible to recover the body of the panther. “He’s probably floated Into the next county by now,” McClaln said. 

McClain assured the people of Lebanon that they were no longer in danger: “If anything else shows up to scare people, it’ll just be imagination.” He also said, since there had been many monster sightings in Indiana, that he would start out again if there was an emergency.

Sources: “Stories of Monsters Spreading in Indiana,” Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, Indiana, 13 Aug 1946, Tue (pg. 1) // “Hunter ‘Slays’ Monster; Corpus Delecti Missing,” Vidette-Messenger of Porter County, Valparaiso, Indiana, 05 Sep 1946 (pg. 4)

The Monster as Big as a Jail (Indianapolis, Indiana)

There were multiple monster sightings in a field near the Castleton neighborhood of Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965. The monster was described as very large. One witness said, “It was big, about as large as the Marion County Jail.” The monster was black and made sounds like screeching tires.

Source: “Monster is as Big as Jail, 3 Report,” The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, 02 Oct 1965, Sat (pg. 2).


In my next post, I will talk about the Monster of Monroe, Michigan and other interesting monsters from the Midwest.

Yesterday, I shared a FREE Patreon post on hosting your own cemetery tour. Enjoy!

#31SpookyStories: October 2020 Reading Challenge

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I asked my friends on Instagram if they would be interested in bringing back #31SpookyStories and the response was more than expected. Let’s do this! πŸŽƒ

Last year, many committed to reading 13 or 31 spooky short stories during the month of October. This challenge is not only doable, but it is accessible as I provide free resources. I find this tradition an excellent way to introduce yourself to new writers, folklore, genres, and more.

When choosing the next story for this challenge, I usually grab one of my favorite short story anthologies and randomly pick a story. I usually read nonfiction pieces and I never go a challenge without reading M.R. James. Your reading style, interests, and availability may be different than mine, so I gave the challenge additional options:

  • You might read from one anthology/story collection or multiple anthologies/story collections.
  • You might double, triple, or quadtrouple stories on slow days or makeup days. Hell, you could read 31 stories in one week. I find I read most my stories on the weekend.
  • You might choose to read fiction and/or nonfiction spooky stories.
  • You might not have time for 31 stories, so let’s swap the numbers around and make it 13. I’m cool with that. I’m actually doing that this year, because I am setting the bar low during a pandemic.
  • You might choose to participate with your children (I sprinkled in some children’s books below).

Make this challenge your own. I look forward to seeing what you do with it and what stories you recommend! πŸ‘»

Join the Fun on Instagram

Some challenge readers (me included) will be sharing our daily reads on social media. Follow me (@notebookofghosts) for fun Story templates, my daily reads, available anthologies from some of my favorite online sellers, and more! 

We’ll be using the hashtag #31SpookyStories!

Documenting Your Reads

You can keep a list of what you read in a planner, journal, or notebook. You don’t have to be public about it.

But, if you would like to share your reads on social media, here are some ways:

  • Post your daily reads (story, story writer, book title, and book editors) on Twitter or in your Instagram stories. Instagram users: I made you templates. Just check my highlights! You might also create your only highlight to archive your daily reads!
  • Share a picture of your book piles periodically.
  • Share your method for picking stories.
  • Write down and share your favorite stories.

Recommendations for Fiction

(That aren’t already in the Free Section)

Recommendations for Nonfiction

Free Stories

Below are links to some anthologies online. I haven’t read all of these, so I’m sorry for the lame ones! Please note: Most of these links take you to Project Gutenberg, which gives you multiple formats to read it in. HTML is best for reading on your computer. You can also send it to your Kindle (I use this email method). 

Keep Notes in a Commonplace Book

Commonplace books are an excellent tool for writing down your favorite quotes and excerpts! To learn more about commonplace books, readΒ this post (and this post). To learn more about keeping a Halloween commonplace book, read this post.

I look forward to reading along with you. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments below!

Happy Reading!

Using Commonplace Books to Study (Save?) Halloween

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This Halloween will definitely be interesting as we create new traditions in response to COVID-19. What is great about Halloween is that it has always adapted to societal challenges and in impactful (and sometimes questionable) ways. Did you know that haunted houses have roots in the Great Depression? Instead of lamenting the fact that some traditions might be put on hold (i.e. trick-or-treating), let us celebrate the fact that this Halloween’s adaptations may inspire new traditions and activities.

With that said, I have an exercise that will (1) aid in exploring the history of Halloween, (2) help with inspiring new traditions for your own family in quarantine, and (3) introduce you to a new hobby. I am asking you to start a Halloween commonplace book.

What is a commonplace book? I explain more in the next section, but commonplaces books “serve as a means of storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work” (Harvard University Library). I sometimes describe them as DIY textbooks with one reader in mind: you.

Now, before you are scared off (Boo!), commonplace books are accessible to everyone. You simply need the desire to learn. You will not be tested on the material. There will be no final paper! You are simply researching and documenting for the sake of learning.

You can start a commonplace book on any topic, but today I challenge my spooky friends to study Halloween. By looking back you might feel rejuvenated in a time when everything seems “on pause.” History reveals, though, that nothing is really dormant.

In the following post I briefly introduce the topic, explain how to start one, and list general tips, topics, and resources to get you going. Also, please check back to this post at a later date. I will update it with more information and resources as it comes up.

What is a Commonplace Book?

The commonplace book, not be confused with a journal, organizes information by topic (rather than by date) so that it can be easily accessed at a later date. This information includes research notes, clippings from newspapers, printed articles, collected quotes, readings notes, images/photographs, drawings, and more. Think of it as a repository.

These do not need to be beautifully designed and handwritten. Organized chaos is welcome here! So don’t feel pressured to make everything look neat. This book is meant for the individual’s learning.

I have always loved learning new things and have found commonplace books an effective tool in archiving that information just in case my memory fails me. We all absorb so much information each day, especially due to social media. Why not take time to learn something new and really sit with it? Commonplace books give me the opportunity to (slow down and) document and reflect on topics I am passionate about. In some ways, it is an act of self-care.

I have written about this topic at length before. I have covered the history (with pictures!), addressed how tech-savvy people can use commonplace books, and given so many tips on starting and maintaining your own. If you would like a detailed introduction, check out these two posts:

Starting Your Commonplace Book

I am going to explain how to start a physical commonplace book, but you can definitely make a digital version. I just prefer the “paper and pen break” from technology. Again, I have written about this topic at length, so check out those blog posts linked above. They even include photographs of commonplace books as examples.

  1. Find a notebook. You can use whatever type of notebook you like. I prefer sturdy, beautifully decorated notebooks. Picking out my next commonplace book is always a fun experience. I have a commonplace book for each subject. For example, I have a commonplace book just for spooky topics. You might have one strictly for Halloween, another for Literature, Occult History, Witchcraft, whatever!
  2. Create a Table of Contents. Save a couple of pages in the beginning for the Table of Contents. You will be adding entries as you go.
  3. Number your pages. You can number all the pages at once or you can number as you go. When you start a new entry, you will put the title and page number on the Table of Contents page.
  4. Start archiving! Sometimes I start an entry with a topic in mind. Sometimes I watch a show or find an article I want to take notes on. Sometimes my entries are just entire articles printed and pasted into my book for future reference (with all the citation information of course). I take my book along to paranormal conferences to take notes. The possibilities are endless, really.

This commonplace book will explore the topic of Halloween. What is it all about? What are its origins? How has it changed over time? Through the study of Halloween, you might feel inspired to create new ways or bring back old ways of celebrating the holiday (safely!). For example, by researching vintage postcards, you might feel inspired to design your own and send them to friends. And, Halloween has a long history of games you can bring into your own home as well. Maybe adding entries to this very commonplace book will be a new tradition.

An Example of a Table of Contents Page
An Example of an Entry

General Tips

Here are some general tips. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. I will address them in this section as well.

  • Your note-taking style will be as unique as you. My notes are truly inspired by my work in academia. I use lots of bulleted lists, highlighting, and tables. I sometimes create sidebars and text boxes (like a textbook). That’s just me though! Take notes in a way that works for you.
  • Make sure to write down where you get your sources. Do not worry! You do not need to follow the citation style taught in school. Just make sure to write as much information as possible so that you can find it again (if necessary).
  • Get creative if you want! I usually just fill my book with text. Sometimes I feel especially inspired and will add flourishes on my page with stamps, stickers, and colored pencils.

Possible Topics and Resources

Here are some possible topics to start with.

  • Origins of the Jack-o’-lantern
  • Origins of Trick-or-Treating
  • Interesting Halloween Festivals Across the United States
  • The History of the Haunted House
  • Halloween Postcards

Here are some possible resources to start with.


If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. This is a “living” blog post and I will update it if something comes up (a question, new resource I come across, etc.). Don’t hesitate to ask questions! I love talking about commonplace books. πŸ‘»

Interview with Leigh Paynter, Author of the The Pine Barrens’ Devil

Leigh Paynter provided me a copy of her book, The Pine Barrens’ Devil, to review. I enjoyed the book so much that I asked Leigh for an interview and I am thrilled she agreed. The Pine Barrens’ Devil is a collection of stories about the Jersey Devil, each set in a different time period. In Leigh’s book, the Jersey Devil is an intelligent, seductive, and manipulative being able to pinpoint and use the insecurities, desires, fears, and misdirections of his human prey as an opportunity to pounce. The devil, in this book, does not pull humans apart with his teeth or claws, but with psychological mind play.

The Jersey Devil is not the only central character of the book, but it is also the vast, confusing forest. The forest is a living being that seems to suck in the human visitors of each story. Get lost in the woods and you might find yourself trapped in another dimension, like a mouse in the Jersey Devil’s cage. After reading each story, you might find yourself reaching out for something tangible (a wall, a chair, your dog) to ensure you were not absorbed into the Pine Barrens as well.

The book, less than 150 pages, is a quick and spooky read, perfect for a stormy night or while sitting outside on a cool autumn evening. You could read it while camping but, after reading the book, I recommend you “Stay out of the forest!” (My Favorite Murder). With digital and print format under five dollars, this book is a spooky bargain.

I was excited to learn more about Leigh’s book and writing process. Enjoy the interview below and then check out the book for yourself!

For those unfamiliar with New Jersey, could you explain what the Pine Barrens is (and is like) and your experiences with the area? 

The Pine Barrens is 1.1 million acres of relatively untouched pine and cedar forest that stretches across the middle of New Jersey. The soil is sandy, so it’s not good for farming, but the water, despite being brown in color, is chemically pure. The U.S government describes it as being like glacial ice water.

Having grown up near the Pine Barrens, it can be scary because it’s very easy to get lost in it if you are not following the river. Adding to the creepiness are several abandoned colonial and mid-1800 era villages.

My favorite location is Batsto Village. It’s an old ironworks village from pre-Revolutionary times that has most of the original buildings still standing and is beautiful during the fall.

Who is the Jersey Devil? And, how much does the Jersey Devil permeate the culture of New Jersey? Your life?

Most South Jerseyans grew up hearing about the Jersey Devil. The professional hockey team is even named β€œThe New Jersey Devils.” The legend says in the 1700s the Jersey Devil was born a beautiful boy to a Mrs. Leeds, who didn’t want to have a 13th child. She cursed him during childbirth. Shortly after he was born, he started to turn from a chubby, blue-eyed baby into a demon who flew out the chimney and into the Pine Barrens.

The stories of missing livestock, strange tracks, odd noises and bizarre creature sightings all direct back to the mysterious Jersey Devil. There have been multiple newspaper articles written about the Jersey Devil, a few movies and books, and a diner called Lucille’s Country Cooking that has a wooden statue of the Jersey Devil outside.

My younger brother and I loved being scared and we would seek out books on cryptids and monsters at the library when we were kids. We both experienced night terrors and I started using those nightmares as inspiration for campfire stories.

In your stories, the Jersey Devil is sort of a chess player and the humans that wander into his woods are his pawns. What made you portray the Jersey Devil in such a way? 

My mother first told me the legend of the Jersey Devil and perhaps because of the way she told it – she sounded so sad when she said his mother didn’t want him – I always grew up seeing the Jersey Devil as a sympathetic character and more man than creature.

As a kid, I loved Washington Irving’s stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and I gravitated to the idea that the protagonists were not heroes, but flawed people.

While writing The Pine Barrens’ Devil, I used real people who had been in the subject of national news as inspiration. I’ve always been curious about what people are truly capable of – is evil something that will inevitably come out or does it take an experience, an opportunity, or a test to reveal itself?

What inspired you to write these stories? And, since each story is set in a different time period, what type of research did you do? How much were you inspired by Jersey Devil folklore? 

I first started telling these stories as a middle school-aged kid to entertain my little brother. Chapter Four I created in high school. They were always oral stories, but my brother asked me back in 2012 to write them down for him. He died in 2014 after a long battle with veteran’s PTSD.

Translating an oral campfire story into a written story required a lot more work, so these are not exactly as my brother would remember them. I needed to build out the characters and provide more detail for someone not familiar with New Jersey or the legend.

Being from New Jersey, I know that New Jerseyans would be very insulted if I did not accurately portray the history and geography of the state. I spent a whole year gathering research on what actually was around during certain time periods: what the towns’ original names were under British rule, dates of certain historical events, and how tall trees in the Pine Barrens could grow, for example.

I did change the original legend, because I learned that Benjamin Franklin may have made up the whole story to tarnish the reputation of Titan Leeds, a rival publisher. The strange sightings also predate Benjamin Franklin and the legend.

This is your first book (right?), could you share the experience of writing your first book for those that may be interested in doing so in the future? 

I never intended to be an author. This was a gift to honor my late brother, Jared. The whole process took two years, but mostly because I needed to do so much research on New Jersey’s history.

I wanted to keep it short for a first book, so it’s novella length – just slightly longer than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

For new writers, I highly recommend hiring a freelance professional editor. I hired two through Reedsy – the first was an editor from Simon & Schuster, who gave me an editorial assessment. Then after I made revisions, I hired a second editor from Penguin Random House to copy edit and proofread. I also hired a digital artist, who I discovered on Instagram to do my book’s cover art.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I saw an opportunity to get my book out right away by self-publishing through Amazon and hopefully reach people bored sheltering in place. Amazon has a user-friendly platform and you’re able to make changes and market on the website and Kindle. Amazon also did a great job on paperback publishing.

I set up a website to help further promote my book, but since the pandemic shut down many events this year such as cryptid and horror cons and Halloween book readings, the best help has been to find influencers that can introduce the book to a bigger audience.


If you are not already, follow Leigh on Instagram at @tainted_candy. Leigh also has a website: leighpaynter.com.

You can purchase the book on Amazon in both Kindle ($2.99) and print ($4.99) format. 

I’m Back! (& Haunted Post Offices)

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Hello! Thank you for your patience as I was launching my Patreon page. On my Patreon page, patrons pick a tier, pay a low-cost fee ($1-$5 a month), and receive exclusive content (more haunted history!). This was my first time doing such a thing, so it took more planning than expected! The experience has been great thus far and, now that I have an idea what I am doing, I can return to blogging my usual (free) content as well!

To thank you for your patience as I got my life together (πŸ˜†), my latest Patreon post is free to the public. Click here to read about haunted post offices!

I have some great things planned for September and October, so keep this page bookmarked!

Thanks for sticking around and for your continued support!

-Ash

πŸ–€

Ghosts in My Family Tree (Part I)

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My mother and I have recently started to build our family tree and my first thought was: Ohhhh. I wonder if I’m related to an actual ghost?! In this two-part series, I explore two haunted stories I came across during my genealogy research. We will start with The She-Wolf of France.

About the She-Wolf

I will briefly touch on the life of Isabella of France as (1) I am still learning about her and (2) much of her biography is contested. Isabella of France (1295 – 22 August 1358) was queen consort of Edward II of England and played a key role in his disposition in 1327.

After King Edward II’s favorite Piers Gaveston (earl of Cornwall) was murdered by a jealous baron in 1312, Isabella tried to make peace between the king and the rest of the barons. Instead, Edward started hanging out with the Despenser family and Isabella was not a fan. In 1325, she refused to return to England after taking a trip to France (with her son, Edward III) to handle a dispute. During her time away, she became Roger Mortimer of Wigmore’s mistress

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Isabella landing in England with her son, the futureΒ Edward III in 1326 // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1326, Isabella, her lover, and some barons invaded England. The Despensers fell and Edward II’s throne was taken away. Edward was eventually murdered and Roger Mortimer (and Isabella) were implicated. During this chaotic time, Mortimer basically ruled as king and made a lot of people angry. In 1330, Edward III (King Edward II’s son) had him seized, put in the Tower, named a traitor, and hanged.

Edward III basically sent his mother into retirement, ending up at Castle Rising Castle in Norfolk. It is a common misconception that Isabella was a prisoner. She actually roamed around and enjoyed “regal splendor” (Jones 74). According to legend, she was “racked by violent dementia” (Jones 74) and/or possibly had a breakdown due to the death of her lover. This is where the haunting comes in.Β 

Her Ghost

Although she died at Hertford Castle (also haunted), Isabella haunts Castle Rising where “the echoes of her last troubled years are still said to rebound through the corridors of the Castle” (Jones 74). Visitors have heard hysterical laughter. The village nearby has also heard screams and laughter coming from the castle in the early morning hours.

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Engraving of the ruined keep in 1782, by William Byrne // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I hope I can stay in the village someday and wake up to the sound of my very distant grandma’s ghost screaming into the morning.

Sources

Encyclopedia BritannicaΒ 

Johns, Richard.Β Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland. London, New Holland Publishers, 2005.

More Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

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I recently shared two haunted cemetery statues on my Instagram during my weekly #humpdayhaunts post. This took me down a spooky rabbit hole on the internet.

View this post on Instagram

I know, I'm very late with #humpdayhaunts. SImply put: I've been tired! But I'm here now with two haunted cemetery statues from Texas (see my Stories for images). Flora Charlotte Kemp (1890-1910) is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls, Texas. Her grave is marked with a beautiful monument of a woman walking down a short set of stairs. Local lore says Flora died on her wedding day when she tripped, fell down the stairs, and broke her neck. Local records say she died of typhoid fever. Regardless, the statue is called "The Crying Bride" and it is rumored to cry. πŸ‘» In Forest Lawn Cemetery of Beaumont, Texas stands a life-size statue of a couple hold each other's arms and looking towards the sky. If you are brave enough, take your car to the drive behind the cemetery at night. Then, shine your brights on the statue and wait. According to Weird Texas: "Witnesses have reported seeing the girl's face turning sideways toward her lover as his white marbled arms reach around to caress her back and the two share a long, spectral kiss." According to one internet comment: after the statues kissed, the man turned and looked at the witnesses. Sweet and spooky! πŸ“–: Find a Grave, Weird Texas (online) πŸ‘» I added a link in my Stories to a blog post on haunted cemetery statues if you’re interested! πŸ‘» . . . . . #halloween #halloweeneveryday #halloween365 #ghost #ghosts #haunted #spooky #halloweencollector #autumn #fall #october #hauntedplaces #october31st #halloweencountdown #trickortreat #pumpkin #halloweenobsessed #autumnnights #autumnvibes🍁 #bookworm #booknerd #ghoststories #texas #cemetery_lovers #cemetery #taphophile #graveyard #paranormal #supernatural

A post shared by π•Ήπ–”π–™π–Šπ–‡π–”π–”π– 𝖔𝖋 π•²π–π–”π–˜π–™π–˜ (@notebookofghosts) on

 

I have covered this topic before on the blog, but I thought I might quickly share some more haunted cemetery statues. I got a lot of these statues from one of my favorite websites: www.hauntedplaces.org. This website allows users to submit haunted locations and other users can share their experiences, ask questions, and/or share their perspective. My favorite feature of the website? The Random button. Click it and you will get a random haunted location. Mindless spooky fun.

With that said, I always try to find other sources to verify the legend (making sure it was not pull out of nowhere, that it has been established as lore). Regardless, it is a fun and interactive archive of ghost stories.

Some (More) Cemetery Statues

  • A statue of a woman comes to life and drowns herself in the nearby lake at La Belle Cemetery (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin). Legend says she died the same way. Some say the statue’s hands drip blood.
  • In Logan Cemetery (Logan, Utah) a statue of a woman weeps for her eight children. Legend says they passed after their father cursed them. Others say she lost her children to illness.
  • If you stand under a certain angel statue in Evergreen Cemetery (Judsonia, Arkansa) and stare into her eyes, they might turn red.
  • In Brunswick, New York’s Forest Park Cemetery (Pinewoods Cemetery), a decapitated statue bleeds from the neck.
  • A mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery (Muscatine, Iowa) holds a statue of kneeling woman with her right arm stretched forward. The statue is called the Blue Angel because a cobalt blue window behind her sometimes gives her a blue glow. Some say if you see the blue light hit the statue, you will receive good luck. If she comes alive, you might die. Some say she comes alive to chase away vandals. Her right hand is missing and it once held a rose. It was believed that if you witnessed her drop the rose at midnight on Halloween, you will die. Allegedly, someone took matters into their own hands and cut off the hand holding the rose. Although, visitors report still seeing the hand holding a rose.
  • A statue moves around at night in the back of Memory Gardens (Rensselaer, Indiana). The statue’s head, arms, or entire body will move to keep watch on people walking by. Maybe the statue is protecting the graves. Be on your best behavior!

For fun, here’s another cemetery statue from an old #humpdayhaunts.

Stay safe my friends!

Related Post: Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

 

Photo byΒ Haley OwensΒ onΒ Unsplash