I have gained some new followers on social media, so I thought I might spend some time diving into the archives. Y’all have missed a lot! Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up…
Some time ago, I did a series called A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge. This series explored the paranormal basics: key terms, classifications, theories, and schools of thought. The idea was to prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. I might bring the series back some day. For now, let’s enjoy some past posts!
It is almost July and I’m burning a pumpkin scented candle. Too soon? My friends are watching their pumpkin seeds become seedlings, so I can start shoving pumpkin knowledge into your faces. Right? I will start slow with a short list of pumpkin superstitions. Enjoy!
Carrying a hollowed-out pumpkin on Halloween will protect you from evil spirits.
Eating a pumpkin stalk will make you foolish.
In China, the pumpkin is a symbol of fertility.
Pumpkins are best planted on Good Friday.
Once growing, never point at a pumpkin! It will cause them to rot.
Eating pumpkin seeds can quiet “an excessively passionate nature.”
Pumpkin seeds, when mixed with oil to create a paste and then rubbed on the skin, will eradicate freckles.
“Plant pumpkin seeds in May / And they will all run away. Plant pumpkin seeds in June / And they will come soon.”
Eating pumpkin seeds will cure worms.
If cows eat pumpkin seeds, they will go dry.
Carroll, William. Superstitions: 10,000 You Really Need. Coda Publications, 1998.
Daniels, Cora Linn. Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World: Volume 2. 1903.
Little Giant Encyclopedia of Superstitions. New York, The Diagram Group, 2008.
Pickering, David. Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions. London, Cassell, 1995.
I am obsessed with short story anthologies on anything spooky; they take up 70% of my book collection (I’m guessing). One of these days I will share my favorite anthologies of ghost stories, but that is a challenge. I’m going to get more specified for now.
I have been trying to seek out anthologies with very specific themes, because so many of my anthologies were overlapping in content. I probably have 10 anthologies with M.R. James’s story “Lost Hearts,” for example. Below are three that I have enjoyed.
Please note: I shared Amazon links so you could learn more about the books, but I always recommend supporting small business!
The Haunted Dolls (Selected by Seon Manley & Gogo Lewis, 1980)
This book is rare and I probably paid too much for it, but I loved it. This 318-page anthology has an introduction for each story with interesting historical tidbits about dolls and their folklore. There are also fun illustrations sprinkled throughout the book.
In some stories, dolls are terrorized by their human owners. In other stories, the dolls cause havoc in their homes. This book will not cause sleepless nights, but that does not mean the stories are not haunting. I thought the entire book was an interesting look at the intimate relationship between humans and dolls and the anguish dolls must feel when left behind.
Favorite Story in the Book:A tie. “Feathertop” by Nathaniel Hawthorne & “The Doll” by Terry Tapp
Lighthouse Horrors (Selected by Charles G. Waugh, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Jenny-Lynn Azarian, 1993)
Stories by: Rudyard Kipling, Henry Van Dyke, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe…
This 256-page anthology starts with a short introduction on lighthouses and the four basic variations of horror stories. Each story opens with a short biography on the author along with some contextual information on the story. Overall, I like the psychological elements of these stories. I think that much solitude could make anyone mad.
One story worth mentioning is Edgar Allan Poe’s unfinished “The Light-House,” which is finished by American fiction writer Robert Bloch.
Favorite Story in the Book: “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury
Into the Mummy’s Tomb (Selected by John Richard Stephens, 2001)
Stories by: Ann Rice, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Peters…
First off, this anthology has a substantial introduction about mummies. My favorite part is the long list of people affected by the curse of King Tut.
Second off, this 368-page anthology has a variety of genres (mystery, horror, travel lit, etc.) and, along with famous authors, perspectives from Egyptologists, archeologists, and even an ancient Egyptian priest.
Y’all. I started this book with a whatever perspective on mummies and finished it wanting to get my hands on any literature on the subject.
Favorite Story in the Book: “Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse” by Louisa May Alcott
This is a work in progress. A (much) better version of this post appeared in Dirge Magazine when it was alive (RIP!). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to save the final, edited version before the site went down. I had some really great editors! Nevertheless, I find the topic interesting and thought I would share. I’ll probably make further improvements in the future!
On September 27, 1726, a young woman in rural England gave birth to three legs of a cat, one leg of a rabbit, and the backbone of an eel. Over the next month, Mary Toft gave birth to around a dozen rabbits. Due to a theory that emotions could cause birth defects, this birth seemed plausible and Mary became a local celebrity. Eventually, mounting evidence and the threat of court-appointed and experimental pelvic surgery led to Mary’s confession that it was indeed a hoax.
How does one fake the birth of animal parts and full-grown rabbits? After a miscarriage, Mary hid the animal parts while her cervix was still open. For future births she sewed a pocket in her skirt where she hid the rabbits. While the doctor was distracted, she placed the rabbits inside her and faked birth.
This would not be the last time a woman put a peculiar thing in her vagina to trick the men of Science. At the height of Spiritualism (late 1800s and early 1900s), or the belief that the living could communicate with the spirit world, mediums put on entertaining seances with knocks, moving tables, and a mysterious white substance called ectoplasm that sometimes came out of their vaginas.
Spiritualism and Female Sexuality
Spiritualism was a movement that did not discriminate based on socioeconomic class or gender, and most mediums were women. People looked to women for a peek into the afterlife, giving them substantial power and respect. It is no surprise then that many members of the American suffrage movement were also Spiritualists and even Susan B. Anthony supported the assertion that Spiritualism was the only religious sect to acknowledge the equality of women (Dickey 74).
Spiritualism gave women the space to move their bodies and speak in ways they had not before. In Ghostland: An American History of Haunted Places, Colin Dickey writes, “Spiritualism tended to valorize traits that were elsewhere labeled as women’s psychiatric diseases, including convulsions, incoherent babbling, open displays of sexuality, and other violations of Victorian decorum” (74). Behaviors that would usually get a woman institutionalized became evidence of otherworldly communication. Mediums’ open displays of sexuality during seances also revealed to observers another mystery of the universe: the vagina.
Science was already confused about female sexuality and was using new tools and procedures to explore what Freud called “the black continent.” In “Bawdy Technologies and the Birth of Ectoplasm,” Anne L. Delgado writes:
Ectoplasm emerged at a time when women’s bodies were under special scrutiny: surgical gynecology allowed physicians to examine pathological conditions hidden within the female body and medical practitioners had devised and made use of gynecological instruments like the speculum that could reveal female interiors. It was also during this period that parts of the female anatomy were being removed through procedures like the ovariotomy, a surgery designed to treat phantom ailments like nymphomania and hysteria.
Society’s misconceptions about female bodies and desire to understand the afterlife set the stage for a fascinating elaborate hoax. Using the tool of ectoplasm, women convinced many they were giving birth to a new biological order.
With any threat to patriarchy comes a wave of backlash. Although, it did not help matters that mediums were using fraudulent practices. Two key figures in the ongoing public discussion concerning Spiritualism’s credibility were magician Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Harry Houdini, using his knowledge of illusion creation, developed a task force to disprove dishonest mediums. Doyle, on the other hand, was a huge proponent of mediumship and a believer of ectoplasm.
Ectoplasm: The Magician’s Secret
Ectoplasm, a term coined by French physiologist Charles Richet, is the materialization of spiritual energy that extrudes from a medium during a seance. This milky white substance varies in description and its make-up may change throughout the ectoplasmic process, beginning as a vapor or solidifying into a plastic substance (Doyle). It may be snake-like, web-like, sticky, airy, smokey, doughy, moist, dry, cold, or warm. Furthermore, ectoplasm is sensitive to light and any flash of light might “drive the structure back into the medium with the force of a snapped elastic band” (Doyle).
Ectoplasm enters the world of the living through orifices of the medium’s body: pores, mouths, ears, nipples, and vaginas. Once ectoplasm is released from the body, it may transform into limbs, faces, or entire bodies. During one seance led by medium Madame d’Esperance, observers watched as a cloudy patch moved along the floor, gradually expanding. Then near the center, something began to rise from underneath the material, forming what looked like to be a 5-foot humanoid figure. In another example, Mina Crandon produced a ectoplasmic hand from her navel.
Ectoplasm was later proven fake as spiritualists were using cheesecloth, egg whites, or other this-worldly materials. You know that hand that came from Mina’s navel? It was animal tissue and trachea cut and sewn together.
The Queen of Ectoplasm: Eva Carrière
Like the mystery of female sexuality, ectoplasm baffled science, resulting in many intrusive experiments involving the examination of orifices for hidden “ectoplasm.” It was not uncommon for mediums to have their vaginas searched before mediumship experiments. No one was more intimately studied that French Spiritualist, Eva Carriere (1886-1943).
Eva Carrière (born Marthe Béraud) was so prolific in producing ectoplasm and ectoplasmic bodies that she was nicknamed the Queen of Ectoplasm (Jaher 47). Her most notable seance character was Bien Boa, a 300-year-old Brahmin Hindu that would rise from her ectoplasmic emissions. She attracted the attention of many critics and believers, including Houdini and Doyle.
Physical researcher Juliette Bisson and German physician Bardon Albert von Schrenck-Notzing would perform the most thorough and titillating examination of Eva’s body and vaginal excretions in the early 1900s. They took turns before sessions examining her vagina for any evidence of hidden material. Sometimes, even after Bisson thoroughly checked her genitalia, Eva would invite Schrenck-Notzing for a second examination.
In a letters to Schrenck-Notzing (Delgado), Bisson describes the erotic dance between Eva and the spirit world.
On my expressing a wish, the medium parted her thighs and I saw that material assumed a curious shape, resembling an orchid, decreased slowly, and entered the vagina. During the whole process I held her hands. Eva then said, ‘Wait, we will try to facilitate the passage.’ She rose, mounted on the chair, and sat down on one of the arm-rests, her feet touching the seat. Before my eyes, and with the curtain open a large spherical mass, about 8 inches in diameter, emerged from the vagina and quickly placed itself on her left thigh while she crossed her legs. I distinctly recognized in the mass a still unfinished face, whose eyes looked at me.
And months later in another letter:
Yesterday I hypnotized Eva as usual, and she unexpectedly began to produce phenomena. As soon as they began, Eva allowed me to undress her completely. I then saw a thick thread emerge from the vagina. It changed its place, left the genitals, and disappeared in the navel depression.More material emerged from the vagina, and with a sinuous serpentine motion of its own it crept up the girl’s body, giving the impression as if it were about to rise in the air. Finally it ascended to her head, entered Eva’s mouth, and disappeared. Eva then stood up, and again a mass of material appeared at the genitals, spread out, and hung suspended between her legs. A strip of it rose, took a direction towards me, receded and disappeared. All this happened while Eva stood up.
Bisson and Schrenck-Notzing also took a number of erotic photographs of Eva (you know for science), including Eva naked with fake ectoplasm dripping from her breasts. Many argue that Bisson and Eva were romantically involved, creating elaborate ectoplasmic performances to seduce and trick a male audience. Were Bisson and Eva using sexuality as a method of distraction? Were they exploring new sexual desires? We’ll never know their intentions.
Photographic evidence eventually revealed Bisson and Eva as frauds. Prior to this, Schrenck-Notzing and other male researchers found out about the hoax, but kept quiet because they believed in mediumship so strongly. After one observation of Eva, Houdini said both women had taken “advantage of the credulity and good nature of the various men with whom they had to deal” (Delgado). Basically, women were lying seductresses and men were victims of sexual misdirection.
The Witch of Lime Street: Mina Crandon
Another famous medium known for her alleged sexual behavior and vaginal ectoplasm was Mina Crandon (1888-1941) of Boston, known by her followers as Margery and by newspapers as the Witch of Lime Street. In The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, David Jaher describes Harry Houdini’s witch hunt against lauded medium Margery. She had convinced Boyle of her skills, so much so that he urged her to enter a contest sponsored by Scientific American. The publication promised a sizeable monetary award to the first authentic medium. This began a publicity war between Spiritualism and Science, and all eyes were on Mina’s body.
While Mina was never examined to the extent of Eva, her vagina was still under scrutiny. One member of the Scientific American committee, psychologist William McDougall of Harvard, said she concealed fake ectoplasmic hands in her vagina. He also said that her husband Dr. Crandon must have surgically expanded her vagina. Houdini also said she was in bed with investigators, winning their silence. Whatever way you look at it, Jaher writes, she was considered a “loose woman” by committee members. She did not win the award.
Maybe these mediums were protesting the rigid scientific analysis of female anatomy by male-dominated medicine. After all, mediums were convincing otherwise educated men that a piece of cheesecloth was a manifestation of spiritual energy. Maybe these mediums wanted the opportunities men had: captivated audiences, money, and respect. We praise Houdini for his illusions, but these mediums were just as intelligent and creative. History portrays these women as seductresses, loose women, and sexual deviants, but maybe they should be honored as Magicians of Matriarchy.
All photos from Wikimedia Commons. All Public Domain.
Delgado, Anne L. ““Bawdy Technologies and the Birth of Ectoplasm.” Genders, no. 54, 2011.
Dickey, Colin. Ghostland: An American History of Haunted Places. Viking, 2016.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The History of Spiritualism, vol. 2, 1926.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Facts on File, 1992.
Jaher, David. The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in The Spirit World. Broadway Books New York, 2013.
Reilly, Lucas. “The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits.” mental_floss, 28 January 2014.
The Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana (incorporated in 1881) has fully embraced their ghost(s). They allowed websites to place cameras in the library so internet users could watch and capture possible paranormal activity 24/7. These sites gave me a chance to ghost hunt from the safety of my computer chair and, although I could not watch at night (I was a teen with a bedtime after all), I was able to see what other users had captured during their “investigations.” The whole thing was wild to me. People from all over the United States and beyond were watching this library in my home state Indiana, waiting to spot something off.
My husband told me recently our friends were moving to Evansville. Of course my response was: “Let’s visit. I can finally go to Willard Library.” I began to reminisce about the hours I spent on AOL looking for the Grey Lady of Willard Library. Lucky enough, these sites are still up and running.
Put up your metaphorical away message and take a trip with me down memory lane…
*BRB* Watching ghosts on Willard Library’s Ghost Cam. =-O
About the Ghost
The Grey Lady Ghost of Willard Library is believed to be Louise Carpenter, the daughter of the library’s founder. Some say she harbors resentment for the library, because her father left much of his estate to it. First seen by a custodian in the 1930s, the ghost was last seen in 2015 (arguably):
[…] two library staff members in the children’s department noticed a security camera showing a strange woman looking out a glass door. She turned to look at the camera, but then her image began pixelating on the video. (Source)
The ghost has been spotted throughout the library, even the elevator (spooky!). Some paranormal activity attributed to the ghost include: water being turned on and off, cold temperatures, the smell of perfume, odd noises (including the clinking of typewriter keys), hair and earrings being touched, new objects appearing, and objects being moved (Source).
The Web Cams
There are two different websites with Willard Library webcams (both linked on Willard Library’s main site). Both sites’ cams provide different angles and capture entities other than the Grey Lady. The first site is Library Ghost, which has cameras in three locations: (1) the children’s room, (2) the basement hall, and (3) the research room. The site is hit-and-miss now; sometimes the cams don’t work. This site also hosts a forum, but no one really moderates or participates anymore (Some robot posted about bathroom faucets 300 times. Maybe it’s the Grey Lady? She does play with faucets at the library).
The second site, Willard Ghost, has recent user interaction (last post was this month). The three camera locations in the library include: (1) the main room , (2) the children’s room, and (3) a stairwell. You can capture shots of the ghost and submit them to the moderator, who then posts them on the site with comments. The site also shares audio captured on microphones placed in the library.
These sites are not as active as they were in my childhood, but are still running! Take a few minutes (or hours!) today to catch a ghost, before these sites become ghost towns.
Happy Hollow Park is a 81 acres of forested park in West Lafayette, Indiana. If you are lucky enough, you might spot a fox on your hike through the park. If you are luckier, you might hear the trees tell the story of The Hermit of Happy Hollow.
A walking path plaque in Happy Hollow Park touches briefly on the life of Jennie Jahonica, The Hermit of Happy Hollow. She was known for simply wanting solitude.
With the little slithers of free time I have in my life, I try to learn more about Jennie Jahonica. Unfortunately, my research has only led me to sensationalized newspaper articles. Therefore, please take the following information with a grain of salt. I will share edits and updates when they become available.
Jennie Jahonica was born in Huff, Holland. She started working in the fields around the age of ten and, for the next eleven years, “worked as hard as any man” (Indianapolis Journal) She married a man named Kineff (last name) and they had a child. He died when the baby was only a few months old. Around 1850, she came to America with her brother and settled on a farm near Chicago, IL. She met and married a man with the last name Jahonica. He unfortunately died shortly after they were married. She then moved to Lafayette with her daughter where they found work on a farm.
Then, as the Indianapolis Journal describes, “came the tragedy that blasted her life and caused her to withdraw from her friends and associates to seek peace of mind the lonely ravine.” Jennie’s daughter died in 1875. Heartbroken, she moved into a deserted structure (allegedly made of mud and straw) in Happy Hollow. She lived there for four years until a fire destroyed her home. She made due with what she had until the women of German Reformed Church (some sources say Holland Reformed Church) built her a new home. When her health began failing, she moved into the county asylum. She eventually ended up at the County Farm (also called the Infirmary in some sources). She died December 22, 1903.
Some other interesting tidbits I came across:
“Children spoke of her as a witch and she was believed by the superstitious to have mysterious powers of working good and evil.” (Indianapolis Journal, December 23, 1903).
“She visited nobody and desired no visitors. She regarded all comers as intruders.” (The South Bend Tribune, December 23, 1903)
“No favored Swiss scene could be more enchanting than Miss Janeke’s medieval abode with her cow, chickens, bees, grapevines and fruit trees, isolated from the distraction of a civilized world. Her attire was of the traditional Dutch linsey and wooden shoes.” (The Indianapolis News, August 14, 1952)
During the summer of 1896, a new streetcar line began construction through Happy Hollow (connecting Lafayette and State Soldiers Home). This would disrupt her home, so “the hermitess protested” but “eventually reconciled to it.” (The Indianapolis News, August 14, 1952)
Where does my research go next? I would love to find out more about Jennie Jahonica’s life beyond the headlines. I would also like to find out where she is buried. Unless, as in life, she wanted to be buried away from and unbothered by the public.
“In My Commonplace Book” is a regular series in which I share the recent scribblings from my commonplace book. Opposed to my well-researched posts, these are simply interesting things I have been reading about. To learn more about commonplace books, you can read a general introduction here. Each of these posts will include a writing prompt to get you writing in your own notebook/commonplace book.
In between titled entries in my commonplace book are random pages filled with quotes that I come across while reading. I thought I might share some of my favorites.
“All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.” – Samuel Johnson on ghosts
“Ghosts — if they cannot exactly be described as living history — certainly personify our shared past by replaying it. They are so valuable to us because they are externalised memories, reminding us of the layers of history beneath our feet, of the old stories that refused to be erased” – The Ghost by Susan Owens (page 12)
“‘Think of it Ben,’ she said. ‘Controlled multiple haunting. Something absolutely unique in haunted houses: a surviving will so powerful that he can use that power to dominate every other surviving personality in the house.'” – Florence in Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)
“Fear seemed to exude from the walls, to dim the mirrors with its clammy breath, to stir shuddering among the tattered draperies, to impregnate the whole atmosphere as with an essence, a gas, a contagious disease.” – Ella D’Arcy’s “The Villa Lucienne” (1896)
“It seems rather to be more like a memory image of the person, as if some startling or highly dramatic event had left such an impact that the house is impregnated with it. The theory is: during acts of violence great waves of hysteria or emotion-laden thoughts are released, which somehow seem to photograph the actual event just as if a movie had been take at the scene. This ‘physic film’ is capable of being seen when conditions are just right, or by especially sensitive people.” – Susy Smith on ghosts without a purpose in Haunted Houses by the Millions (page 15)
“Certainly poltergeists seem to like company, while the more normal ghosts generally prefer solitude.” – Joseph Braddock’s Haunted Houses of Great Britain (page 82)
“The room itself might have been full of secrets. They seemed to be piling themselves up, as evening fell, like the layers and layers of velvet shadow dropping from the low ceiling, the dusky walls of books, the smoke-blurred sculpture of the hooded hearth.” – Edith Wharton’s “Afterward”
I am currently working on a long-form blog post about haunted offices (is there anything scarier?) and I came across this interesting news clipping about “The Chopper.” If going to the dentist wasn’t scary enough…
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 September 1983, page 3.