According to Ovid, the month of May was named for the ancestors (maiores) and on May 9th, 11th, and 13th, the Romans celebrated the festival Lemuria (or Lemuralia). The term Lemuria is connected to lemures: “angry or overlooked spirits, who could cause trouble for the living” (AshLI).† The festival sought to appease these spirits through offerings. Ovid describes one type of offering ritual, or exorcism, performed at midnight in Book V of Fasti.
He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods,
Rises (no fetters binding his two feet)
And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers,
Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence.
After cleansing his hands in spring water,
He turns and first taking some black beans,
Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing:
‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’
He says this nine times without looking back: the shade
Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen.
Why Beans? According to scholar Robert Schilling, “This food was considered a powerful attraction for the Lemures, for in archaic times beans constituted a food par excellence.” So in preparation for Wednesday, stock up on some beans!
† Not to be confused with manes: “ghosts [that] were members of the natural, and ever-increasing band of dead ancestors and close relatives, who functioned as guiding and protective forces in Roman daily life.” They were celebrated in another festival in February called the Parentalia (AshLI).
I recently finished The Monk by Matthew Lewis and was drawn to the Bleeding Nun character. This ghost of a sinful, murderous, and heartbroken nun walked the halls of a castle, wailing and praying. Her spirit was only put to rest when her bones were found and given a proper burial. “That’s it,” I thought, “I need more ghost nuns.”
I started scouring the internet and my books for ghosts nuns throughout history. I noticed I had covered this topic in an old commonplace book, which was hidden away in my closet. Obviously, this topic has always haunted me.
The following are ghosts of nuns (except one) that still walk the earth today, each with their own interesting backstory. Grab your rosary and holy water. Let’s do this…
The Faceless Nun of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Terre Haute, Indiana)
A faceless nun haunts the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. According to legend, there was a nun who worked there with great skills in painting portraits. She believed the face was the most important part, so she always saved it for last. One day, she decided to start a self portrait. Before she could start the face, she died of an unknown sickness. Since then, a faceless nun has been seen walking around Foley Hall and its courtyard.
One day a Sister heard crying coming from the room that held the unfinished portrait. The Sister went inside the room and found a nun crying in front of the painting. She approached the nun so to comfort her. The crying nun turned around and instead of a face, there was only darkness. DARKNESS.
The Nun with Roses (Würzburg, Germany)
An abbey in Würzburg, Germany has a scandalous history (the best ones do). Maria Renata Von Mossau was a nun accused of mixing herbs into food so she could bewitch other nuns. After the nuns exhibited odd behavior, Maria was caught and sentenced in court. They decapitated her and burned her to ashes, which were then scattered. The ghost of a nun believed to be Maria has been seen walking down the halls. The ghost picks petals off a bouquet of roses, leaving a trail of petals behind her.
The Headless Nun of French Fort Cove (Miramichi, New Brunswick)
In the 18th century, a nun named Sister Marie Inconnue was beheaded (Inconnue is French for “unknown”). There are two legends behind this: (1) a “mad trapper” cut off her head and ran into the woods, or (2) two sailors decapitated her when she refused to give the location of buried treasure. Her head was never found and she now walks around looking for it. The ghost has even asked late night visitors for help finding her head. Other versions say she actually walks around holding her head.
The Famous Ghost Nun of Borley Rectory (Essex, England)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (you probably have). The Borley Rectory is was the most haunted house in England (it was demolished in 1944). The house was the subject of a very famous Harry Price investigation.
The house was constructed in 1862 by Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull near the Borley Church. The location was the site of a previous rectory that burned down in 1841. The property already had a ghost nun, which locals saw walking the grounds. Legend says that a nun and monk fell in love and were planning to marry. They were caught and executed: the monk was beheaded and the nun was buried alive in the cellar walls.
The Bull family witnessed a phantom nun walking the grounds on several occasions. Henry even went to talk to the nun, but she disappeared. They also reported a phantom carriage driven by two headless horsemen.
The Bull family left and the rectory sat vacant until October 1928. Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved in and the paranormal activity started soon after. Smith’s wife reported finding a woman’s skull in a cupboard. They also reported bells ringing, phantom lights, phantom carriages, and unexplained footsteps. The Smiths got the Daily Mirror and Society for Physical Research involved and this is where Harry Price came into this very spooky picture.
In 1929, the Smith family left and Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster and his wife Marianne moved in, along with their daughter Adelaide. The Foyster family reported frightful activities just as the families before them: bells ringing, rocks thrown by disembodied hands, windows breaking, and vanishing household items. On one occasion, Adelaide was locked in a room. She was also attacked on another occasion. The wife reported being thrown from her bed, slapped, and almost suffocated by an unseen presence. Mysterious writing also appeared on the walls (see below).
Price believed the writing on the wall was written by a Catholic woman, most likely the nun of local legend. In 1935, the Foyster family moved out and Harry Price moved in. Time for some old fashioned ghost research!
Price recruited some students and observers to help with the research and they began to uncover the nun’s backstory (allegedly). The investigation involved some insightful spirit communication:
During a sitting with a planchette, an alleged spirit named Marie Lairre related that she had been a nun in France but had left her convent to marry Henry Waldegrave, a member of a wealthy family whose manor home once stood on the site of Borley Rectory. There, her husband had strangled her and had buried her remains in the cellar. (Prairie Ghosts)
Five months later, another spirit said the house would burn down that night, revealing proof that the nun was murdered. The house did not burn down that night, but rather 11 months later when an oil lamp was knocked over. Harry Price investigated the cellar and found bones that belonged to a woman: the nun he believed. She was given a proper burial in the small village of Liston a few miles away.
If you are not familiar with the history of the Borley Rectory: read this (I’ll wait). FYI: many people consider this a hoax, but have your fun.
The Nun of Saint Anne’s (aka Pine Glen Cove, Utah)
This property is located deep in the Cache National Forest and Logan Canyon. The site was a private retreat for rich businessmen (from 1910 to the 1950s), until it was donated to the Roman Catholic Diocese. It was used later as a summer camp for children and then eventually ended up in private ownership.
The property is dripping with folklore and is a popular destination for legend trippers. One legend tells of a pregnant nun secretly giving birth on the property and then drowning her newborn in the the property’s pool. Distraught with what she did, she ended her own life. Visitors say you can see the nun looking down into the pool. They even may have caught her image on an episode of Ghost Adventures.
Other paranormal activity on the property include hellhounds, along with rumors of satanic worship (of course).
I’m going to go off track a bit, because the property also has modern frights. In October of 1997, 38 teenagers visited the property around 4:30 AM. Three security guards were hired to watch the private property, which was a popular destination for those hoping to get a scare. The teenagers were confronted by the three security guards with loaded guns and knives. The guards tied up two groups of the teenagers, one in the empty pool and the other group in a cabin. The teens were verbally harassed (threats of violence, racial slurs) and sexually harassed for three hours until cops arrived (which were called by the security guards). The group in the cabin was tied together by their necks and told that any sudden movement would set off explosives. The three security guards pleaded guilty and accepted a plea bargain. Just a reminder that humans will always be scarier than ghosts.
The Nuns of Black Mass (Montpelier Hill & Stewards House, Ireland)
Around 1725, William Conolly (famous Irish politician) built a hunting lodge on Montpelier Hill. Builders supposedly disrupted a cairn while building (maybe even using some of its stones to build the lodge). Shortly after construction, the roof blew off. Revengeful spirits, obviously.
In the 1730s, the Hell Fire Club used the lodge for their gatherings. What is the Hell Fire Club you ask?
The club was founded in 1735 by Richard Parsons, a known dabbler in black magic. The members met at locations across Dublin and were known for their amoral behaviour and debauchery involving alcohol and sex. The secrecy surrounding the club members led to speculation that they were Satanists and Devil-worshipers. The president of the club was named ‘The King of Hell’ and dressed like Satan, with horns, wings and hooves. The members were said to set a place at each meeting for the Devil, in the hope that he’d attend. They were also said to hold black masses in the lodge during which cats – and even servants – were sacrificed. Some say the building was deliberately set on fire in order to enhance its hellish atmosphere. (Source)
At some point the lodge was damaged in a fire and the Hell Fire Club moved to the nearby Stewards House, which seemed to absorb most of their occult energy. According to legend, a giant black cat haunts the area. Could it be a cat that had been sacrificed by the club?
Two nuns, Blessed Margaret and Holy Mary, also haunt the area. Well, they may be women dressed as nuns. Nevertheless, these two women are believed to have participated in the black masses at Montpelier Hill. They can be seen walking the grounds today.
The Bleeding Nun of Wymering Manor (Portsmouth, England)
The Wymering Manor dates back to 1042 with King Edward the Confessor as the first recorded owner (though the current structure dates back to the 16th century). It is no surprise that a house with so much history is filled with so many ghosts. There have been reports of a ghost nun on the top of the stairs near the attic bedroom. She stares down the staircase, hands dripping with blood. One occupant of the house, Mr. Leonard Metcalf, reported occasionally seeing a choir of nuns walking across the manor’s hall at midnight and chanting.
Bonus: Haunted Railroad Tracks (San Antonio, Texas)
OK. This is a bonus entry, because the ghost is not a nun. But, there’s a nun involved. Stick with me (it is a sweet ghost story).
There are haunted railroad tracks in San Antonio, Texas with various legends and versions of such legends. One story grabbed my attention. In the 1930s or 40s, a nun was driving a school bus of sleeping children after a school trip. The bus stalled in the railroad tracks. The nun saw a train coming down the tracks in the distance. She tried desperately to get the bus started again, doing so not to wake the children. The train hit the bus, killing all the children. The nun survived after having flown through the windshield.
The nun returned to the scene after the accident full of guilt and with thoughts of suicide. She parked her car on the tracks and waited for a moving train. Before a train could hit her car, she felt something pushing the back of her car. Eventually the invisible force moved the car completely off the tracks. Bewildered, the nun exited the car and checked the back of the car. She saw tiny hand prints on the trunk. Grateful that her schoolchildren had saved her, she devoted her life to helping other children. She chose to live and open a school for orphans.
If you visit the tracks today and park your car on the tracks, you will be pushed over by the caring ghost children. Some people even put baby powder on the trunk to capture the hand prints.
When I was young (maybe 12ish), I wrote down everything concerning the occult in a black-paged notebook with Gelly Roll pens. I kept a dictionary in the back with all the new terms I learned. I wrote down every haunted location, glued every ghost photo, and copied down interesting quotes on the occult into my small spiral notebook. While the library provided me a plethora of literature on all things spooky, I spent most hours doing internet research. I read online forums, About.com, and many sites hosted by Angelfire. Angelfire launched 22 years ago and (at least when I was using it) provided users free web-hosting. These websites were a wild 90s ride with crazy backgrounds, colorful fonts, annoying banner ads, guestbooks, visit counters, and much more.
(insert dial up noise)
I was mostly intrigued by websites about haunted places in Indiana (my home state). I would fill my notebook with places I hoped to explore someday. Although I could not drive yet, I could visit these haunted locations from the comfort of my father’s computer chair. Further, I was happy to know there were other people out there just as weird as me.
Many friends tell me that they too loved these sites and would visit these haunted locations with their friends on weekend nights. There is not much else to do in Indiana when you are a teenager, after all. You cannot help but think that teenagers had a hand in creating and circulating some of the legends on these websites.
When the weather is warmer, I plan on visiting some of these haunted locations. 12-year-old me will be very pleased.
Below are some more screenshots of my favorite Indiana-specific websites. These websites are still online today. I recommend proceeding with caution, because some of these websites have pop-ups and you never know about viruses (or whatever).
For the past few weeks, I have been sharing my favorite stories from these Angelfire sites on my Instagram as part of #humpdayhaunts. I have posted them below for your reading pleasure. Please excuse any errors as I am usually typing these with my dumb thumbs.
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.
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:
A COMMON-PLACE BOOK IS WHAT A PROVIDENT POET CANNOT SUBSIST WITHOUT, FOR THIS PROVERBIAL REASON, THAT “GREAT WITS HAVE SHORT MEMORIES;” AND WHEREAS, ON THE OTHER HAND, POETS BEING LIARS BY PROFESSION, OUGHT TO HAVE GOOD MEMORIES. TO RECONCILE THESE, A BOOK OF THIS SORT IS IN THE NATURE OF A SUPPLEMENTAL MEMORY; OR A RECORD OF WHAT OCCURS REMARKABLE IN EVERY DAY’S READING OR CONVERSATION.
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 zibaldoneappeared 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.
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 Cunardkept a commonplace book full of quotes and poems by her friends.
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.
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.
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 archive.org). 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:
READING AND WRITING WERE THEREFORE INSEPARABLE ACTIVITIES. THEY BELONGED TO A CONTINUOUS EFFORT TO MAKE SENSE OF THINGS, FOR THE WORLD WAS FULL OF SIGNS: YOU COULD READ YOUR WAY THROUGH IT; AND BY KEEPING AN ACCOUNT OF YOUR READINGS, YOU MADE A BOOK OF YOUR OWN, ONE STAMPED WITH YOUR PERSONALITY.
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.
While not too much of a shock, the blog is taking a hiatus until February. This will give me time to finish work and school projects, while also giving me the opportunity to plan future posts for this site.
Sorry for the delay and thanks for being a friend!
This December, I am embracing the holiday spirits. I have decided to (1) read a ghost story every day until Christmas and (2) learn more about the pagan origins of the holiday. Any excuse to buy more books right? The following are books I plan on reading this month. I have also included some online articles for those interested in additional and shorter readings on the season.
I ordered two books from my favorite online used book seller La Creeperie: Christmas Ghosts and Mistletoe Mayhem. Both books are anthologies filled with short ghost stories. I mostly purchased these books because of the covers. I mean…
I highly recommend La Creeperie for rare anthologies and some fun covers (along with any horror and occult books you desire). The store gets most of my paycheck. 🙂
My favorite anthologies from the batch are The Valancourt Books of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories. The stories chosen did not overlap with my many other ghost story anthologies, so I was extremely happy. Each story comes with a brief introduction about the author and where it was first published. Each volume also comes with an interesting historical overview of the Victorian tradition of ghost stories at Christmas.
I am also reading some Charles Dickens’ ghost stories for obvious reasons.
In an effort to learn more about the pagan origins of the season, I purchased two Llewellyn books. While I have not had the chance to to read The Old Magic of Christmas, I flew through Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore, which is part of their Sabbat Essentials series. Even if you are not a practicing pagan, the book reveals the reasons behind some common traditions and gives you ideas for some new ones.
I unknowingly read a Christmas ghost story at the very end of November. Richard Matheson’s Hell House is a Christmas ghost story like Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The book follows two mediums, a parapsychologist and his wife on a investigation of the “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses” during the days leading up to Christmas. This novel is a mix between The Haunting of Hill House and Eyes Wide Shut.
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!
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:
Non-ionizing: low-level radiation which is generally perceived as harmless to humans
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?
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.
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.
This October I had many hours of reading time available as I was recovering from surgery (I’m feeling great, by the way). I thought I would give myself a challenge: read a spooky short story each day this October.
I had no method when choosing a story each day. Sometimes, I would reread an old favorite. Sometimes, I would randomly choose a title from the table of contents. Sometimes, I thought a title was seductive. Thus, this is not a formulated reading list or one I would put forth as canonical. It was just random fun!
I shared my choice each day on my Instagram stories, but the entire list is also below. I highlighted a few in orange that were standout favorites (even though I enjoyed most of the stories!).
Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman, “The Shadows on the Wall”
M.R. James, “Casting the Runes”
Lady Wilde, “The Horned Women”
Amelia B. Edwards, “The Phantom Coach”
T.E.D. Klein, “The Events at Poroth Farm”
Louisa May Alcott, “Lost in the Pyramid, Or the Mummy’s Curse”
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Oval Portrait”
Wilkie Collins, “The Dream Woman”
Richard Matheson & Richard Christian Matheson, “Where There’s A Will”
Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Body-Snatcher”
Ray Bradbury, “Heavy Set”
Mark Twain, “A Ghost Story”
J.S. LeFanu, “An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House”
Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Tennessee Williams, “The Vengeance of Nitocris”
H.P. Lovecraft, “The Evil Clergyman”
Charles Dickens, “The Lawyer and the Ghost”
Lisa Tuttle, “The Third Person”
Bram Stoker, “The Judge’s House”
Washington Irving, “The Adventure of the German Student”
Tanith Lee ,”Perfidious Amber”
Richard Matheson, “Long Distance Call”
Jerome K. Jerome, “The Haunted Mill or the Ruined Home”
M.R. James, “Lost Hearts”
Fritz Leiber, “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes”
Kelley Armstrong, “Dead Flowers by the Roadside”
Sharon Webb, “Threshold”
J.S. LeFanu, “The White Cat of Drumgunniol”
Manly Wade Wellman, “School for the Unspeakable”
E. G. Swain, “Bone to His Bone”
Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (read multiple short stories in this one)
In Bag of Bones, Stephen King writes “The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.” In this case I share today, the disembodied muse was very much invited, through means of the Ouija board. This is the story of the spirit Patience Worth and her earthly transcriber Pearl Lenore Curran.
I came across this story on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. You can watch the episode here (the Patience Worth segment is at the 23:39 mark). Anyway, onto the story…
Many of the sources I came across portrayed Pearl Lenore Curran (1883-1937) as a rather basic woman with less than average intelligence. While she never fulfilled her dreams of becoming a singer, this housewife began her journey into stardom on July 8, 1913 when she received a message through the Ouija board.
Many moons ago I lived. Again I come—Patience Worth my name.
From that point on, Pearl began to receive words, messages, and prose from beyond. At first she had to use the Ouija board, but soon the words would appear without the use of ritual.
Together, Patience and Pearl wrote several novels (The Sorry Tale, Telka, Hope Trueblood, The Pot Upon the Wheel, Samuel Wheaton, An Elisebethan Mask), short stories, and poems. Their work received positive reviews. As Smithsonian Magazine writes:
“Patience Worth[’s] messages out of the darkness never sink to the commonplace level, but always show high intelligence and sometimes are even tipped with the flame of genius,” said the New York Times, echoing other newspaper reviews across the country.
While many found the literature of Pearl and Patience remarkable, other literary critics and scientists thought it was unimaginative and/or a fraud. Several psychologists and scientific researchers studied the phenomenon. Was Pearl smarter than she was putting off? Who was really writing this material? Is there life after death?
While I could go on all day about this, there are already two excellent articles (below) that go into great detail about Patience and Pearl. I have also included some works by Pearl and Patience (maybe you can decide their literary worth). I recommend reading/browsing through them and writing notes in your own commonplace book!
I’d like to, though, finish with the death of Pearl Curran. It is a very curious story. The last (documented) communication with Pearl was November 25, 1937. Pearl told her friend Dotsie:
Oh Dotsie, Patience has just shown me the end of the road and you will have to carry on as best you can.
It is finally October, the best month of the year and the beginning of Halloween (because it is a season, not just a day). I have already blew my paycheck on Halloween decor and pumpkin everything (cookies, tea, body cream, candles, figurines, etc). I am just so damn excited and wanted to share a quick glimpse into my daily spooky life outside the notebook.
I made a cemetery terrarium or a cemeterrarium! I am always saying I wish our property had a small cemetery, so I decided to create one. I found some small figurines (a cat, gravestones, skulls, and bones) at Michael’s (a craft store) and plants from my local greenhouse and my yard. This is my first of many. I plan on putting some of the bones and skulls in the soil to create the look of buried bodies with the next one. You might also consider adding small LED fairy lights and/or glow-in-the-dark fillers/sand.
I have decided to read a spooky short story each day this October. The short story is my favorite genre and I have so many anthologies on occult fiction. I really have no plan; I am just picking up a book and reading what grabs my attention. I will post a final list early November, but will share what I’m reading daily in my Instagram stories.
Since most of my October involves surgery recovery and a couch, I’m really excited about Turner Classic Movies’ Halloween Marathon (here is the schedule). I will also be reading through past collections of Jezebel readers’ scary stories (all the links are on my Library page).
I have been buying so many Halloween items to decorate my writing space (for the entire year). Below are some pictures. Not pictured: my ridiculous drawer full of Halloween office supplies and stickers.
What have you been doing to get in the Halloween spirit?