The First Wives Ghost Club

Second wives often find their marriages haunted by the first wife, metaphorically and—in the cases I share today—literally.

During a recent newspaper archival session on a Saturday night, I fell down a new rabbit hole: first wives haunting second wives. These first wives cannot rest in peace while their husbands and children welcome a new woman into their home. Sometimes, these spooky spouses are successful in separating the living couples.

I was finding article after article, filling up my commonplace book. Below are five of these articles with images of the clipping and accompanying OCR text.

I have more newspaper stories about deceased wives haunting their successors. I will be sharing more in a printable zine coming this April. Stay tuned. 👻

“Ghost of His First Wife Throws a Flat Iron at No.2” (1922)

OCR: GHOST OF HIS FIRST WIFE THROWS FLAT IRON AT NO. 2. MERIDEN, Conn. March 10—Rheingold Kirshstein is a ghost victim night and dav. All night he worries lest the ghost of his first wife return and throw another flatiron at her successor. All day he frets over newspaper reports from Nova Scotia, where a ghost taming scientist, newspaper reporters, camera men and natives are complaining because the local spook refuses to return to his regular haunt. Kirtshstein cannot understand their attitude toward ghosts.

He is serious about it. and so is Rev-Willis Samuel F. Glaser, pastor of St John’s Lutheran Church. The pastor heard the reports of Kirshstein and Mrs. Kirshstein and the three Kirshstein children by Mrs Kirshstein No. 1 and felt impelled to exercise the priestly office of exorcising evil spirits. The ghost of Mrs Kirshstein No. 1 was banished by something.

Kirshstein’s first wife died in January, 1921, and in July he married a young German girl who had been a war nurse at home and came over to visit relatives in Bridgeport. In November Mrs Kirshstein No. 2 told her husband that a wraith that passed through walls, doors, and ceilings and has been around, acting very hostile.

She said she “knew it was the ghost of Mrs K. No. 1. Kirshstein did not want ‘ 1 believe that and stalled off the Inevi-the table till Feb 8. Then Mrs K. No. 2 reported the wraith had been around again and had wound up an unpleasant call by picking up a flatiron and throwing it at Mrs K. No. 2.

The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, Sat, Mar 11, 1922 (Page 6)

“Ghost of First Wife Scrambled His Honeymoon” (1923)

OCR: GHOST OP FIRST WIFE SCRAMBLED HIS HONEYMOON (By the Associated Press) WHITE I’LAINS, N.Y,. Dec, 22.—”On the second night of our’ honeymoon, my husband told me that he would have to leave me because he was haunted by the spirit of his first wife.”

This statement together with other evidences of incompatibility she related to Supreme Court Justice Tompkins here today resulted in a separation decree for Mrs. Ida Chabet Wesier, thirty and attractive.

She married Samuel Wciser. president of the Arnherst Knitting Mills September 7 and immediately after the ceremony left on a honeymoon. On the night of September 8, while at-Millwood, Pa., Mrs. Weiser says he told her about the return of his first wife’s spirit and the next morning she left him to live with her sister.

After a few days, according to Weiser, her husband came around asking forgiveness and she returned with him to his home in this city but upon arrival there his son, seventeen and daughter, fifteen, shunned her and asked her how dare she marry their father without sisters, consent. She returned to her sisters, then, and repulsed Weiser’s subsequent attempts to affect a reconciliation.

The Bee, Danville, Virginia, Mon, Dec 24, 1923 (Page 9)

“Ghost of First Wife Haunts Second Wife Into a Divorce” (1911)

Quick note. Although the title says first and second wife, the accompanying text says it was actually the second and third wife.

OCR: Ghost of First Wife Haunts Second Wife Into a Divorce.

Wealthy Philadelphian sue’ for divorce. On the left is Mrs. Ethel Coles Dodge, now deceased, who was the second wife of Walter Phelps Dodge, the wealthy Philadelphian. On the right is Mrs. Helen Steck Dodge, the third wife of Dodge, who is now suing him for divorce. Below is Walter Phelps Dodge. Mrs. Dodge No. 3 said she was haunted out of her marital happiness by the “ghost” of her immediate predecessor. She averred that more than $50,000 worth of jewelry which had been given to her by Dodge had been gradually taken away from her because, as she said, her husband told her that he had been commanded to do so by the wraith of his second wife.

El Paso Herald, El Paso, Texas, Thu, Oct 19, 1911 (Page 19)

“Ghost Breaks Up Home” (1911)

OCR: GHOST BREAKS UP HOME It Visited Husband, So Wife Asks A Divorce. Hutchinson, Kac. Dec. 1—Because her husband persisted in seeing the ghost of his wife hanging around the house, it got on the nerves of Mrs. F. II. Wahl. of Neckorson. She stood it as long as she could, however, but now, the family having recently moved from Nickerson to Oklahoma City, she has brought proceeding in the court at the latter city for a legal separation.

The court has awarded her $2,000 alimony and the custody of her minor son. According to the story as told by a press dispatch from Oklahoma City her husband tried to frighten her by saying that his first wife was haunting her, after which he poured out a cupful of carbolic acid before her and threatened to drink it, and “end it all.”

Mrs. Wahl is an attractive look ing woman and her husband seemed to be insanely jealous cf her. for she says that he was continually accus- in her of indiscreations with other men, 11 of which she denies. She alleges that he woke her up in the middle of the night, told her that his first wife was in the room haunting her cn account of her unfaithfulness, and that he then slipped outside and knocked on the window.. He then came back into the room, poured out a cupful of carbolic acid, and, raising it to his lips, threatened to drink it.

Dissatisfied with farm life, ne moved her to Gairviel, Okla.,. then to Nickerson, Kas., and then a short time ago to Oklahoma City. During this time, she states that it was nothing unusa! for him to throw her out of bed, strike her and kick her. She says that he bought a flat wonh fl.’i.OOO at Oklahoma City, and ordered her to show the apartments to callers. When she would show her own room, he would acuse her of undue familiarity with the callers, and when she would not, he would berate her for not doing her duty by him.

The Salina Daily Union, Salina, Kansas, Fri, Dec 1, 1911 (Page 1)

First Wife’s Ghost Halts Chinese Wedding” (1924)

OCR: FIRST WIFE’S GHOST HALTS CHINESE WEDDING (By Associated Press to Tribune-Herald) PEKING—Claiming that she was pushed by the ghost of her prospective husband’s deceased wife, a Chinese bride-to-be caused a sensation in the street outside Hatamen gate recently by leaping from the bridal sedan chair in which she was being conveyed to her prospective husband’s home.

As the girl sat weeping in the dust she explained to the go-between representing the groom’s family, and to the crowd which gathered, that as she was entering the chair at her own home she observed a disheveled woman following her. Suddenly she felt herself propelled out of the chair. She felt convinced, she said, that she was under the spell of the first wife who naturally felt annoyed at seeing her former place about to be usurped. After much persuasion the bride was induced to’ proceed to the ceremony, and there was no further mishap.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Hilo, Hawaii, Fri, Jul 18, 1924 (Page 5)

Using Commonplace Books to Study (Save?) Halloween

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. 👻

Featured Photo by Andyone on Unsplash

My Commonplace Book Routine


This blog began as a way to share the contents of my commonplace book. I thought I might discuss my routine for keeping a commonplace book. If you are new to commonplace books, I recommend reading my post “A Brief Guide to Keeping a Commonplace Book.” It provides a brief history and introduction, along with tips for starting one. 

Now, I use the word “routine” lightly. Sometimes I stray from my usual routine. Sometimes, I’m not feeling it. Your process for keeping a commonplace book will be unique to you as a writer, reader, thinker, notetaker, and learner. I am sharing my process merely as an example; a process which took years to develop. I am very scattered generally, so I need to have habits in place. 

The Sorting Weeks

During the sorting weeks, I gather preliminary research. I write about topics of interest to me. I email myself links. I take screenshots of tweets (especially during #FolkloreThursday). I take notes during public lectures, television shows, movies, etc. My method is chaotic and I have “notes” floating around everywhere. I takes notes on whatever is available. 

At the end of the week (usually Sunday), I sit down with my pile of notes. I sort through them; placing them in four separate piles

  1. Purgatory: Topics that need further research, but are placed on the backburner
  2. In Between: Facts and bits that don’t need their own section heading
  3. Finished: Full articles or finished notes
  4. To Pursue: 1 – 3 topics to pursue in the following week

I first put the purgatory topics on post-its and then place them inside the cover. I’ll return to those another day. 

During the process of filling in my commonplace book,  I’ll often begin entries before finishing prior ones, so I have to guess how much buffer pages I need between entries. I don’t stress about guessing correctly, because any leftover pages are perfect for those “random bits”: facts, new words and definitions, images of paintings I love (with artist name, date, etc.), quotes I love, and more. Those interesting enough to make the book, but don’t require its own entry (or listing in my table of contents), are called “In Between” pages (creative, I know). I usually put these in the book directly after obtaining them, or wait until the Sunday of a sorting week to write them in. 

Sometimes I find articles that are so great that I want to keep them for future reference. Or, I took notes from a book that does not need further research.  I put any finished or full-length articles in the book, making sure to update my Table of Contents. I just cut (if necessary) and paste (with a glue stick or tape) the articles into the book. 


The Research Weeks

During the research weeks, I pursue a topic(s) of study. There won’t be a test at the end of this, so I’m merely pursuing a topic for the love of it. These topics have their own individual heading/section and are placed in my table of contents (my first blog post breaks down what an entry might look like). 

What Commonplace Books Do

Commonplace books help with the following:

  • Establishing habits of reflecting on interesting things you learn each day/week. 
  • Inspiring you to pursue a new area of study at any stage in your life 
  • Documenting and (loosely) organizing new knowledge sometimes lost in the inundation of daily (especially online) information 

Commonplace Books for Lifelong Curiosity 

Even after leaving academia, my desire to be a student, teacher, and researcher stayed with me. While I do have dreams of writing a book someday, I also love the idea of researching for the hell of it and with no final destination. I have always thought my time on earth would be best spent shoving as much knowledge into my head as possible. This is a worthy endeavor, but my brain can only hold so much. Enter: my commonplace book. 

I love school. I love the process of solitary learning: reading/listening, taking notes, reviewing notes. There’s something about writing down what you just learned, like making a pact with history. I don’t think such habits or pursuits are just for academics or scholars. If you have a desire to learn, grab a blank notebook and start writing. 


Commonplace Books as Ritual 

Writing in my commonplace is a Sunday ritual. I light my favorite candle, make a cup of tea, and tidy up my workspace. Sometimes, I’ll do a quick 3-minute meditation. I have a playlist for this intellectual endeavor (Usually classical music. So, predictable right?). It is my time to focus on intellectual curiosity. When you want something to happen, you carve out time for it. 

Commonplace Books in a Digital Age 

I, like my reading habits, use a mix of digital and print during the process of commonplace booking. I read digital sources and I take notes using digital tools (emailing myself links, using iPhone Notes to collect info, voice recorders). I also take notes throughout the week using post-its and  scraps of paper. My commonplace book ritual is a mix too. I cut, draw, write, turn the pages, pull books from my shelves. I also use the internet to research or print accompanying pictures. 

You can  keep a digital commonplace book (using programs such as Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Mac Notebook, etc).  

For me, I enjoy the ritual of physical book. It’s a time to step away from the screens for a bit. 


Some Tips

I want to make one important point: commonplace books must not be pretty. 

And by pretty, I mean those beautiful bullet journals you see on Instagram. Of course, you can make your entries a piece of art (I sometimes draw pictures or add stamps and stickers). Just don’t feel pressured to have the final product meets a particular standard. Don’t worry if your handwriting is not perfect. Enjoy the process of building a repository of knowledge! 

If you do make a huge mistake, just glue some paper on top of it and make it a fun text box. 

Find different ways to organize and highlight your data.  

I love organizing complex information. I will organize content into tables and graphs to make the information easier to find later. I will also highlight, circle, or underline key terms or phrases (sometimes during a second reading). Other design elements you might incorporate: bullets, pull quotes, text boxes, sidebars, endnotes, footnotes, mindmaps, etc. 

Don’t be afraid to  “continue on page ___.”

My commonplace book can be rather chaotic. I’ll return to subjects later, only to find there’s no room left to continue that endeavor. Thus, I’m often continuing on future pages. Embrace organized chaos, just put guideposts along the way. 

Your book should have your personal stamp. 

Everyone learns differently. Maybe a commonplace book isn’t for you? Maybe you want a purely digital one? Maybe you want it a bit more organized than mine? Your book will be a representation of you, so do you! 


If you start or already have a commonplace book, I’d love to see it and hear about your methods. Comment below or tag me on Instagram!

In My Commonplace Book: Miscellaneous Ghost Quotes I


“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”

In My Commonplace Book: Monsters of the Midwest


“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. 

I was driving through Elizaville, Indiana recently and remembered the 7-foot tall man beast that is allegedly tied to a list of disappearances in the community. I was inspired to see what other monsters roam the Midwest, so I began to fill the pages of my commonplace book. After googling what states are considered the Midwest (ha ha), I documented each beast with name, location, and description. Here are five of my favorites.†

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A not-so-glamorous desk shot of my commonplace book.

  • The Phantom Kangaroo (Nebraska): People have reported a hopping kangaroo that will suddenly disappear. Interestingly enough, phantom kangaroos have been spotted all over the United States. The kangaroo likes to chase and eat dogs.
  • Loveland Frogs (Ohio): These 4-foot tall frog humanoids were first spotted in the 1950s by a businessman late at night (there are various versions of this story). Three frog dudes were conversing; one was holding a wand that shot sparks. The scared businessman ran quickly away from the scene. They were spotted again in the 1970s by two police officers on two different nights. During the second sighting, the creature was shot. It turned out that it was not a Loveland Frog, but a large iguana without a tail.
  • The Mill Race Monster (Indiana): 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.
  • Space Penguins of Tuscumbia (Missouri): During an early winter morning in 1967, a farmer spotted a UFO sitting in one of his fields. Accompanying the mushroom-shaped spacecraft was a group of tiny green creatures with hand-less arms and large black eyes (or were they goggles?). Located where their nose or mouth would have been were dark protuberances (part of their actual face or maybe a mask for breathing in earth’s atmosphere). The farmer described them as “green space penguins.” After several failed attempts to hit the craft with rocks, due to the force field, the farmer watched the UFO and the penguins fly away.

Source / Source / Source 

Please note these are legends and facts are very fast and loose, especially when circulated on the internet. So, enjoy the stories and do your research if you want to learn more! 

Grab a notebook. What monsters inhabit your state or neighboring states?

A Brief Guide to Keeping a Commonplace Book


I had the opportunity to write for Dirge Magazine while it was still online (Rest in Peace). I learned so much as a writer from the editors, so I wanted to make sure I was able to save my favorite and proudest piece. I grabbed the following article from the depths of Wayback Machine. The article was published in Dirge Magazine with the original title “Before Bullet Journals, There Were Commonplace Books” on January 8, 2017. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

The latest trend in self improvement is the bullet journal or the “analog system for the digital age.” The system, invented by digital product designer Ryder Carroll, allows users to turn a blank notebook into a to-do list, diary, notebook, and sketchbook. The bullet journal is especially helpful for those with tasks coming from multiple directions, and who need an organized plan of action that favors rapid-fire note-taking and prioritization. With the increasing number of technological ways to store information, it is nice to see the traditional blank notebook receiving fresh attention.

While the blank notebook basks in the limelight, I thought it might be fitting to discuss the commonplace book, the long tradition of using a blank notebook for storing and organizing information for later use. The commonplace book differs from bullet journals in that it is devoted to knowledge-making, and not necessarily planning out one’s life. A commonplace book is not a journal at all, as John Locke writes: “Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective.”

The commonplace book is an excellent tool for readers, helping memorialize words, phrases, quotes, passages, and images. Further, it creates an accessible reference book you can use forever and pass along to others. After providing an introduction to the commonplace book tradition, I will introduce my own experiences to help you start your own commonplace book. Like the bullet journal, you only need a blank notebook and a pen.

James Blake’s commonplace book on constructing sundials (1745). Image credit:

What is a Commonplace Book?

A commonplace book “contains a collection of significant or well-known passages that have been copied and organized in some way, often under topical or thematic headings, in order to serve as a memory aid or reference for the compiler” (Harvard University Libraries). These books are traditionally handwritten and may include drawings and clippings from outside sources. Organization is as unique as the writer, but information is arranged so as to ensure accessibility. As writer and poet Jonathon Swift explains in “A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet,” the commonplace book keeps the remarkable in our memory:


Commonplace books are a tradition spanning from the Middle Ages to today. The concept originated from commonplaces in ancient Greece and Rome, categories under which orators could place ideas, arguments, and rhetorical turn of phrases for later use.  As most concepts in antiquity have, commonplaces would be re-purposed. In the middle ages and early modern period the florilegium (gathering of flowers) collected passages from religious and theological works (Harvard Libraries). The zibaldone appeared in fourteenth century Italy and was used by merchants to keep records of daily life and activities.

Its height of popularity was during the Renaissance and early modern period, where “students and scholars were encouraged to keep commonplace books for study, and printed commonplace books offered models for organizing and arranging excerpts” (Harvard Libraries). Although focused on the individual, commonplace books have been both published and passed down to later generations, a sort of autobiography of the mind.

A page from a commonplace book to which Patrick Branwell (brother of Emily and Charlotte Bronte) contributed to. Image Credit: University of Texas at Austin.

Many famous thinkers and leaders kept commonplace books, including the following:

  • Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft kept a commonplace book filled with “ideas, images, & quotations hastily jotted down for possible future use in weird fiction.”
  • Thomas Jefferson kept two commonplace books for literary matters and another for legal matters.
  • Writer and activist Nancy Cunard kept a commonplace book full of quotes and poems by her friends.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau shared a commonplace book about poetry.
  • American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton kept a commonplace book with “private notes, correspondence (to and from Elizabeth Cady Stanton), diaristic writings, literary transcriptions, and pasted-in engravings of various European tourist sites” (
  • Scientist Carl Linnaeus kept commonplace books to help systematize his findings.

Elizabeth Cady Stranton’s Commonplace Book (1831). Image Credit:

How to Create A Commonplace Book: One Example

To keep a commonplace book you only need a blank notebook and a writing utensil; the content and arrangement is up to you as the compiler. I found my method has been developed through time and influenced by other commonplace books. Thus, I thought my own experience with this genre might provide you some ideas for starting your own.

As a child, I spent a lot of my time researching paranormal history and reading ghost stories and folklore. I was overwhelmed by the terminology and theories, and began keeping a notebook filled with handwritten notes, drawings, and articles I printed from the internet. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized I was participating in the tradition of commonplace books. I still, to this day, keep a commonplace book on the occult.

My Commonplace Book. I was researching Ouija boards and then haunted bridges.

When I approach a blank commonplace book, I designate two sections in the front (table of contents) and back (glossary). Then, I number the pages accordingly. Whenever I am ready to start a new subject of inquiry, I write a title in bold at the top of the new page and make sure I repeat that title in my table of contents. Other practices I have developed over time include:

  • Instead of a glossary (in some cases), I made text boxes with key terms throughout the book, and then made an index in the back with the words and page numbers.
  • For information that doesn’t fit into a current section and does not warrant a new section (I call this “purgatory information”), I write it on a post-it and place it on the inside back cover. When its time has come, I simply move the the post-it to its new section.
  • To highlight key materials, I use highlighting and color-coding.
  • To enhance my understanding of complicated material, I occasionally create visual maps, tables, infographics, etc. For example, when reading about types of ghosts, I created a table that outlined their characteristics into columns.
  • When a desired passage from a source is too long, I am not afraid to print or make copies of the material. I tape or glue it into my commonplace book, and then write notes in the margins or highlight.
  • Materials I include in my “commonplace book pouch”: colored pencils, a nice pen (I like Sharpie black pens), tape, scissors, stickers, and highlighters.
  • I have used different notebooks for different commonplace books. My notebooks are usually lined, because I prefer writing. Though, I have used sketchbooks when my commonplace books incorporate more visuals than text.
  • I always recommend using a sturdy notebook so your commonplace book will last (and may appear in an archive someday).
  • I have been inspired by textbooks, so I often incorporate text boxes, sidebars, headings/subheadings, bulleted lists, etc.
  • I have, inspired by Virginia Woolf, kept a list of books I have read and a list of books to read in some of my commonplace books (as a sort of appendix).

This is one compiler’s approach to keeping a commonplace book. I suggest looking through examples online for ideas (I have linked some examples earlier and there’s I also suggest letting your first commonplace be a trial run. You will develop your own unique system over time, and you may create different systems for different types of commonplace books you keep. There are some rather dated guides for writing commonplace books too, if you are so inclined (You could start with Locke’s A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books or Eramus’ De Copia).

In The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, Robert Darnton speaks to me in regards to why we keep commonplace books:


There is no system for keeping a commonplace book, like the bullet journal. The reasons to keep one are so varied and the subject areas so diverse. And, I fear promoting one might interfere with your own personal “stamp.” Although you’ll be inspired by a mix of compilers, this book in the end will represent you.


Blair, Ann. “Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 52, no. 4, 1992, pp. 541-551.

Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. Deaf Subjects: Between Identities and Places. New York University Press, 2009.

“Commonplace Books.” Harvard University Library Open Collections Program

Darnton, Robert. The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future. Public Affairs, 2009.

Locke, John. A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books, 1706.

McKinney, Kelsey. “Social Media: Nothing New? Commonplace Books As Predecessor to Pinterest.” Harry Ransom Center: University of Texas at Austin, 2015.

Swift, Jonathon. “A Letter of Advice to Young Poets.” English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard Classics, 1909–14.

In My Commonplace Book: Electromagnetic Fields & Ghosts


When I was a child with a commonplace book full of ghost research (written in gel pens of course), I asked Santa Claus for an Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detector. I thought I could wave it around my friends’ houses and catch ghosts. I never got one. Bummer.

Flash forward to today: I’m more skeptical than I used to be and I have no idea what EMF means or how it works. So, I did some research for you/us. I am not an expert on the subject or claim to be, so please share any insights or articles in the comments. I’d love to learn more!

The following are notes from my commonplace book.

Definition of EMF: “a physical field produced by electrically charged objects” (Wikipedia).

A more detailed definition of EMF: “Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. EMFs are typically characterized by wavelength or frequency into one of two radioactive categories:

What causes it? Where can it come from? EMFs can be produced from conventional power sources: computers, power lines, cell phones, home appliances, x-rays. etc (there’s a nifty chart in this article). Also, the further you are from the EMF-producing source, the less harm it does to you.

What effects does it have on humans? Ghosts?k2emf_animated

EMFs can affect the brain (and body) in many ways: shred your DNA, alter your morality, train you off food and water, cause seizures, etc (io9).

Research shows compelling evidence that EMFs can induce panic, disorientation, deep fear, and hallucinations–all things associated with hauntings. Though, research cannot 100% prove its validity.

One study published by Michael Persinger (a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada) in a 2001 Perceptual And Motor Skills article followed the experience of a 17-year-old girl who claimed to receive visits from The Holy Spirit. She also felt the presence of an invisible baby on her left shoulder. An investigation revealed that the electric clock she slept 10 inches from was producing “electromagnetic pulses with waveforms similar to those found to trigger epileptic seizures in rats and humans” (Marcus, Scientific American). The clock, along with a minor brain injury in her youth, were the cause of her nocturnal visits. The visions stopped when the clock was removed.

My Commonplace Book
My Commonplace Book

For another study, psychologist Christopher French (Goldsmiths, University of London College in London) created a “haunted” room in an apartment building, which was filled with electromagnetic producers and infrasound generators (it is believed that extremely low frequencies can cause strange experiences). French and his colleagues invited 79 people to spend time inside this dimly lit room, warning them that they might experience some strangeness. Participants were also given a psychological evaluation to understand their paranormal beliefs. French said about their findings: “Most people reported at least some slightly odd sensation, such as a presence or feeling dizzy, and some reported terror, which we hadn’t expected” (Scientific American). French and colleagues could not 100% determine that these feelings were attributed to the EMFs.

Some researchers have also theorized why these alleged hallucinations (hauntings) happen most often at night: “Because of the way the solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, the planet’s magnetic field stretches out on the side that’s in darkness. Some researchers hypothesize that this expanded field interacts more strongly with people’s brains” (How Stuff Works).

Some paranormal investigators will say ghosts cause high EMF levels. Another possibility is that high EMF levels create an ideal environment for actual paranormal activity. I once heard that some paranormal investigators will create high levels of EMF so to produce more activity during an investigation.

Photo by Mar Newhall on Unsplash

In My Commonplace Book: Two Mausoleums and a Bottle of Wine

IMG-8001I was recently invited to a friend’s home on a Wine Wednesday to share some ghost stories . She thought a live version of my #humpdayhaunts series (on Instagram) would pair well with wine.

This was my first time being a “guest speaker” on a paranormal subject, so I was very anxious! I decided to narrow down my subject to Indiana ghost stories. I also used the opportunity to find new material. For a few nights, I put aside time to fill my commonplace book with Hoosier folklore.

The night of the event, I came equipped with homemade bookmarks, zines on Haunted Indiana bridges, my commonplace book, and pictures for my “presentation.” I thought if I bored them to death, I could at least send them home with some goods.


I shared about five ghost stories with two focused on mausoleums (because I love a haunted mausoleum). Funny enough, both haunted mausoleums are located in Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, IN (which I’ve added to my cemetery bucket list).

Well, I’ll get to it…

Sheets Mausoleum

So, there was a wealthy businessman named Martin Sheets who lived in Terre Haute in the 1900s. Martin had an intense fear of being buried alive. He had a reoccurring dream that he was unable to move or scream when the doctor pronounced him dead, and he then regained consciousness in a coffin deep in the dirt. Luckily, Martin had some money to insure this did not happen.

Martin first had a coffin custom made with latches on the inside, so he could easily open his coffin. To make sure he didn’t have the pressure of dirt on his coffin lid, he had a mausoleum built. Lastly, he had a phone installed in the mausoleum that could make calls to the cemetery’s main office. Imagine getting that call: “Hi, y’all. It’s Martin. Can you come get me? I seem to have been buried alive.”

In 1910, Marin died and was placed in his mausoleum. The phone connected to the cemetery office until they got a new phone system, but they did keep the phone connected and active (it was in his will and paid for after all).

Several years later, Martin’s wife passed. She was found dead in her home, clutching her telephone tightly. Family members assumed she was calling for help. They held a funeral and prepared her to join her deceased husband in the mausoleum.

When cemetery workers went to place her coffin in the mausoleum, nothing seemed unusual or out of place…except that the phone was off the hook and hanging from the wall…

Did Martin call his wife from beyond the grave?

Heinl Mausoleum and Stiffy Green

In 1920, an elderly man named John Heinl passed away. The citizens of Terre Haute liked him very much, but his dog loved him the most. Wherever John went, so did the dog. Everyone in town called the bulldog “Stiffy Green,” because he had green eyes and walked with a stiff leg.

When John died, he was placed in a mausoleum and Stiffy Green was placed with a friend. The mournful dog would run away often and was always found on the steps of his deceased owner’s mausoleum. Eventually, everyone decided it would be best if Stiffy Green just became a cemetery dog.

Stiffy spent the end of his days in the cemetery. When he passed away, he was stuffed and placed next to the tomb of his owner.

Several months after Stiffy Green’s death, the cemetery caretaker heard a dog barking on the way to his car. He instantly recognized it as Stiffy Green’s bark coming from the direction of John’s mausoleum. Along with the phantom barks, people also reported seeing the figure of an elderly man strolling the cemetery with a small ghost bulldog following along.

Both stories are some fun Indiana folklore. Please note there are multiple versions of each story and some details have been proven false over time. But, I’m not here to ruin a perfectly good story. 

In My Commonplace Book: The Stone-Throwing Devil

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This past week, I have been filling my commonplace book with eclipse folklore, my favorite #FolkloreThursday tweets, creepy dolls, and some new ghost stories. I had an especially fun time writing about The Stone-Throwing Devil of Great Island, New Hampshire.

George Walton, a wealthy landowner, and his family were tormented by an invisible force from May to August in 1682.

One Sunday night in May (about 10 PM), the Walton household heard loud pounding on their roof. George and several others went outside to investigate, only finding that the fence gate was taken off its hinges. Then, they were pelted by stones thrown by an unseen source. After running back inside, they witnessed rocks being thrown at the window and falling through the ceiling. This went on for several hours.

The next day, servants noticed there were many objects missing from the house. During their investigation, they found some of the household objects in the yard and other odd places. Stones also continued to drop from the ceiling and down the chimney. A black cat was seen in the orchard and everyone started to speculate it could be witchcraft.

That night the stone throwing continued. A hand was even seen thrusting out from a hall window and dropping stones on the porch.

Then, on June 28th, the stone throwing got intense. During supper, rocks fell onto the family while they ate. The dining table was smashed into pieces.

The rock throwing continued and sometimes stones were up to 30 pounds! George Walton was pelted by so many stones that he suffered from chronic pain the rest of his life.

The witch suspected of this aggressive behavior? It was an elderly neighbor woman that lost land during a feud with George Walton. After he took her land, she was heard saying he would “never enjoy that piece of Ground.” George and company believed this was clearly a curse.

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I drew some spilled urine.

So, George Walton though he’d fight witchcraft with witchcraft. With the guidance of a witch expert, George decided to cast a spell on his neighbor. This involved boiling urine and crooked pins in a pot. Before the pot could boil, though, a rock fell from the ceiling and knocked the pot’s contents all over the floor. He tried it again; more spilled urine. Then the handles fell off and the pot split into pieces.

The stone throwing continued.

George ended up lodging a complaint against his neighbor with the council in Portsmouth.  The council’s decision is unknown. We do know George was hit by rocks on the way to the hearing.

This story is documented by various sources, including a first-hand account by a Richard Chamberlain, which you can read HERE.

During my research, I learned the term lithoboly or a mysterious hail or rain of stones that pelt victims and property and is usually caused by witchcraft or demons. I added the term to my glossary page for future reference. Side note: you might keep a glossary in the back of your commonplace book.

Source: Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. 1992.

Commonplace book exercise for this week: Find a historical account of someone allegedly attacked by witchcraft. Maybe you might find some accounts on Like the story I shared above? You might read and write about The Bell Witch.

In My Commonplace Book: Japanese Ghost Diseases


As some of you know, I keep a commonplace book and it is the very reason I started this blog. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the concept or would like to learn more, I wrote about the brief history and use of commonplace books in Dirge Magazine.

I consider myself a lifelong learner and I am, like all of us living in a digital world, constantly bombarded with interesting information. The commonplace book provides a way to capture and reflect on the (spooky) things I learn everyday. My commonplace book is strictly about the occult, so I thought I might share what I’m writing about in it on the blog each week (Update: I know, I have not done so. But, expect it to pick up early August).


This week, I filled my commonplace book with Japanese spirits that cause infection and diseases. 

Long ago in Japan, human illness was caused by tiny creatures that crawled into your body and wreaked havoc. According to one source I found, there was a book written in 1568 titled Harikikigaki (author unknown), which delineated 63 of these types of creatures and ways to fight them off with herbal remedies.

Another source and a favorite of mine provided details on these types of spirits (although not necessarily outlined in the book mentioned above). is an online encyclopedia on Japanese ghosts and demons with beautiful illustrations and detailed entries. You can easily get lost in there for hours.

I filled my commonplace book with notes from this site, and wanted to share the most interesting ghost disease I came across.

So, the GYŌCHŪ is a intestinal worm with six arms and red tongues. It is sexually transmitted and lives and breeds in the host’s sex organs. It reproduces on Kōshin night (from the ancient Kōshin religion), which occurs every 60 days. On these nights, the Gyōchū left the bodies of their hosts to visit the King of Hell (and Judge of the Damned). These worms were very gossipy and would tell the King all their host’s sins. The King of Hell would then punish hosts for their sins. To avoid having this gossipy worm in your body: don’t have sex on holy nights.

Commonplace book exercise for this week: Check out and take some notes on some of your favorite yokai.