Sunday, June 19, 2011


Elliott O'Donnell is known today as a ghost-hunter; apparently in his day he was a journalist with a strong interest in ghosts and the occult, and he wrote a number of books on the subject.

This one is a collection of short stories describing various "true" hauntings that he'd investigated first-hand or otherwise researched in some way. While I seriously doubt any of them are really true, it's still an entertaining read.

Each of the stories is brief, something that might make a reasonable magazine article, so there's not always a lot of background, but O'Donnell's journalist creds show through as he makes the most of what he writes. He doesn't waste much time on purple prose and long descriptions.

Some of the tales, like "The Screaming Skulls of Calgarth Hall," are little more than retellings of popular ghost stories. This is also true of "The Legend of Cooke's Folly", "The Phantom Drummer of Cortachy", and "Pearlin Jean of Allanbank." No real investigation going on there, except perhaps for him cracking open a book or listening to someone else's tales of the haunting.

Some are those he claims to have investigated personally. One of my favorite tales from the book, "The Grey Horror," actually takes place in the US, and tells of a grisly ghost that supposedly haunted a dreary location in the Hudson River valley. It's a sort of grey ghoul that rose from a reportedly bottomless pit to roam the valley at night, especially focusing its haunting energies on an abandoned house. Of course, by the end the pit is filled in and the haunting ends, with no real explanation other than that it must be some sort of infernal elemental.

Another good one, "The Phantom Clock of Portman Square," is naturally about a house haunted by the sound of a ghostly clock that strikes thirteen...and then strikes again to indicate the number of days before death strikes a member of the household. Another tenant claims that upon sleeping in a haunted chamber, he has a vivid dream of being taken down to a chamber deep underground, where he meets the spirits of others who met their deaths because of the clock, and all now under the sway of some sort of half-human, half-animal entity that is sheer and utter malignance.

That's one of the fun things about O'Donnell; his ghosts aren't just the spirits of the dead, but also spirits that were never alive, "elementals," forces of nature themselves. (In other works he classifies them; he gave the term "Vagrarian" to a sort of wandering nature-spirit, and I liked it so much I've adopted it as my online moniker.)

But O'Donnell's descriptions of hauntings are vivid and sometimes almost cinematic. Murders are re-enacted and ghosts take on bizarre forms. Sometimes it gets a bit repetitive; there's two cases of ghosts of women drowning their unwanted babies. But the titles of the articles/stories are all wonderfully lurid: "The London Villa of Ghostly Dread", "The Man in Boiling Lead," "Ghosts and Murder," and "The Castle Terrors" all promise enjoyable shudders.

It's a good for bedtime, for the commute, or even the bathroom. The short, compact stories all have good shudders. Just take 'em with a grain of salt...if even half these stories are true, then we live in a world overflowing with supernatural terrors. And I haven't seen 'em.

Sunday Afternoon at the Movies

I'm back, after the madness of a few weeks, including insanity at work. This time, we're spending a steamy Sunday afternoon at our favorite theater...

After a filling brunch and good conversation, we head down the block and duck thankfully into the air-conditioned comfort of the theater...

First up is a short film from 1908, Le Spectre Rouge.

And for a bonus, here's a brief bit from the Lumiere Brothers...

Both are examples from that early era of filmmaking when folks were in love with the form and having far too much fun experimenting with the medium and what it could do. That recklessness can be found in so many of the experimental and avant-garde films of the early era, part of which makes them so enjoyable for me to watch.

OK, show's over, and there's some cool drinks waiting for us at the cafe down the street...

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Quick Note

I really turned it up last month, and it was my biggest month so far, 13 postings. (The significance of that number is not lost on me.)

I've been a bit slower this month so far. I've been distracted by a couple of things, mainly my niece's wedding. She graduated college (bachelor's degree in chemical engineering), and is about to go into the Navy (nuclear officer candidate), so in between she got married. Seemed like the thing to do.

I've also had some medical issues; an eye infection gave me a sleepless night and led to me madly scrambling around the DC area last Friday to find an ophthalmologist who was open. (Turns out to be minor and I'm much better.) Plus I'm now on cholesterol meds plus fish oil, which I was initially wary of but it turns out to be clinically proven to reduce triglycerides, so I'm going with it. And I've been trying to eat better, although I did indulge today in a food-truck sub.

I'm also taking a drawing class which just started Wednesday, so I actually have homework (five half-sheet drawings) to turn in, and I'll be working on those this weekend in between going to DC's gay pride festivities. And I'm also beginning to seriously think about what I'm going to do with my future; my office is going to be moving to Columbia MD or the BWI area at the end of next year, so I have a year and a half to decide if I'm going to stay with the job and commute, stay with the job and move, or find another job.

But never fear, I'm not abandoning you. I may slow down a bit this month but I'll still be around. In the meantime, here's a photo of me at my niece's wedding, in a vintage linen suit...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Phantom Recital

It's a warm summer evening; our little group has heard about this house, but have never ventured near. It's been standing empty for a number of years, a victim of a poor real-estate market and a bad reputation. It's in a nice neighborhood, and in its day must have been quite lovely, but now is shabby and rundown.

We pick our way through the overgrown garden in the back, trying to keep quiet lest we rouse the neighbors. The idea was just to get a peek, but as we get close, we stop dead in our tracks. In the window of the downstairs parlor, an eerie blue-green light is shining, and music is playing.

As it finally stops, the light fades, and we find ourselves able to move again. You fish a flashlight out of your pocket and shine it in the window, only to see this:

What, or who, made that music?
We hasten out of the garden, and make our way up the street to find a place where the lights are bright and the drinks are strong. None of us will forget that recital any time soon.