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Posts Tagged ‘ghost stories’

Ghost Stories

October 20, 2016 | by

Seeking out spirits in one of New York’s spookiest bars.

Photo: Alex Strada.

Photo: Alex Strada.

You’d think it’d be relatively easy to pin down a ghost in this town, with all of its historic buildings and unsettled scores. Most of the haunts frequented by the city’s cognoscenti are said to have an apparition or two knocking around, if you believe in that sort of thing. There’s the shadowy figure that paces the shore of Rockaway Beach. A young girl’s screams are sometimes heard coming from within McCarren Pool. And from the stories told about the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d think its walkway would be incandescent with floating orbs and strange lights.

After hearing that a glamorous specter often manifests and smokes sullenly in a corner of the women’s restroom at the Astor Room in Queens, I drank far too much wine and drifted in and out of the bathroom stalls a few weekends ago, but to no avail. And returning home in the early hours that morning, I thought of the original owner of my apartment building, who hanged himself from the front-door frame in 1890. He, too, has yet to materialize.

So I stopped by the perennially spooky KGB Bar in the East Village after work one night last week to see if Dan Christian, the longtime bar manager, might act as my spirit guide. I’d always heard that the bar was very haunted. Read More »

Gothic Tale

January 27, 2016 | by

I don’t believe in evil, I believe only in horror. In nature there is no evil, only an abundance of horror: the plagues and the blights and the ants and the maggots. —Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

This is my second post about Karen Blixen this week, and you’d be forgiven, when you see that I’m about to share a Karen Blixen documentary, for thinking I’ve really fallen down a rabbit hole. You’d also be correct. I’ve long been an admirer of her work, and I find her personal history fascinating, but this film is something different entirely; I had to direct your attention to it. Read More »

Spirited Ghosts

January 15, 2016 | by

Elizabeth “Mrs.” Gaskell.

The other evening, my friend Patrick was telling me about his recent visit to Plymouth Grove, the Manchester home of the Victorian writer Mrs. Gaskell. The house was restored and reopened to the public in 2011; it contains many of the author’s personal effects, as well as period interiors. It’s now, he says, evocative and interesting and, appropriately, haunted. Or so the docents say.

In addition to her novels—socially conscious books like Ruth and North and South, or the beloved Cranford—Mrs. Gaskell wrote ghost stories. And she liked to tell them, too: an article written later in Putnam’s Monthly describes tales of “Scotch ghosts, historical ghosts, spirited ghosts with faded uniforms and nice old powdered queues.” Her Gothic Tales is a must for any aficionado of intricate Victorian ghost stories. Read More »

Ringing the Changes

October 30, 2015 | by

There’s always the temptation, when recommending anything, to go only for the deep cuts. It’s true that Robert Aickman wrote several volumes’ worth of “strange stories,” many of them very good. It’s also true that “Ringing the Changes,” from 1964’s Dark Entries: Curious and Macabre Ghost Stories, is probably the best known, or the “most anthologized,” or however people like to subtly dismiss anything with a certain profile. Read More »

Casting the Runes

October 9, 2015 | by

From Night of the Demon, a 1957 film loosely based on M. R. James’s “Casting the Runes.”

I love being read to. I could pretend it’s because it takes my mind away when I have a migraine or because it allows one to appreciate the aural poetry of writing—and that would be partially true. But the appeal is more elemental, more regressive. When you’re being read to, you’re being taken care of.

Perhaps by the same token, something scary can be magnified in the hearing. Ghost stories are meant to be told orally, after all, and when you are listening to something recorded, you have the option of doing so in the dark. When October comes, no matter if it’s more Indian summer than crisp fall, I want nothing so much as the occult and creepy. And so I walk through the city or work in the kitchen or stand on line at the bank, with M. R. James playing in my ears. Read More »

Ghosts on the Nog

December 19, 2014 | by

The great English tradition of Christmas ghost stories.

One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842.

I’ve long thought of Christmastime as a season of mostly pleasant intrusions: thirty or so days of remembering to tend, checklist style, to the latest pressing bit of Yuletide business that comes racing back to you. The well wishes. The trip to the Home Depot. The seasonal ales.

This is the Fezziwig side of Christmas, that portion that makes you look up the word wassail when you encounter it and think, Ah, that would be fun. But what of the darker elements of Christmas—and what of Christmas for those people who enjoy making merry most years but may have hit upon a bit of a tricky patch? What succor of the season might they find at the proverbial inn?

Having experienced both sides of Christmas, there is but one constant I am aware of that serves you well both in the merriest of times and in the darkest: the classic English Christmas ghost story. You’d think Halloween would be the holiday that elicits the best macabre stories, but you’re going to want to check that opinion and get more on the Snow Miser side of the equation. Time was the English loved to scare you out of your mind come December, but in a fun way that resulted in stories well afield of your typical ghost story outing. Read More »