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Archive for October, 2011

Halloween

like scratches from a black cat’s claws

black & gold
lightning
sunders the sky

leaving
evanescent scars
on an orange moon

I watch
in sweet surprise
as phantoms

float & fade
exchanging
kisses of darkness

listen as my sisters
of the Sidhe
sob & mourn

their tears
opalescent
in the lurid light of jack o’lanterns

wave in wonder
to a lone shadow
flying across the stars

laughing as she goes.
Knowing that tonight
I can cross

a no-man’s land
I slip through gossamer:
tonight the veil is thinnest.

I can walk between the worlds.

Poem copyright 2007/2011 by Faire Lewis.

So ends Faire’s Fourth Annual 31 Days of Halloween.

There’s only one thing left to say:

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, MY PRETTIES!!! Bwahahahahahahahahahaha. . .

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I’ve noted before that, save in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia–the southernmost of the thirteen original colonies–we don’t have a great many stories that date to the Revolution in the South.

But there’s a tale from the days leading up to the great Battle of Kings Mountain, in South Carolina, that has resonances to this day. It begins with the British regular in command of Loyalist forces and a pair of couriers who make the fatal error of crossing a Patriot widow.

October 1780

Major Patrick Ferguson was contemptuous of the local Patriot militias, but at the same time uneasy; whispers and rumors and outright shouts were telling him that Patriots were coming over the crest of the Appalachians from what would eventually become the state of Tennessee in droves, to help their Carolina brothers fight off the hated Tories. Ferguson was in command of only a small number of British regulars and a fairly large group of Loyalists. He began sending out couriers to General Cornwallis, headquartered at Charlotte, North Carolina, with a request for additional troops–just in case.

Most of the couriers, alas, were well-to-do supporters of the Crown, and as such were regarded suspiciously by the local Patriots. None of them seemed to be reaching Cornwallis; some were reported dead, some captured, and others seemed to vanish into thin air.

So Ferguson decided that he would send out an odd pair: the Duncan boys, a couple of brothers whose illiteracy and generally loutish appearance would not call attention to them. They could, he reasoned, fit in among the locals whose perspicacity he so derided.

The Duncan brothers, therefore, set off, having memorized Ferguson’s urgent message to Cornwallis. And they made good time despite dark, rainy October weather until they developed a powerful thirst.

They stopped at a tavern on the South Fork of the Catawba River to have a drink.

The tavernkeeper was rather a handsome woman, but, sadly, a widow of some six weeks or so. Her husband had been killed by the British at the Battle of Camden in August.

Something about these two strangers set her teeth on edge. Perhaps it was the way they tried to flirt with her, despite her obvious grief. Perhaps it was their overdone expressions of sympathy for her loss and vituperative hatred for the Tories.

In any case she grew more suspicious of them as the evening went on. Trying to discover what their game was, she plied them with good whiskey. As the alcohol built up in their systems they injudiciously let drop that they were on an important mission and enough additional hints–with many a wink–that she soon realized they were, far from being Patriots, in fact Tories on some nefarious errand.

Just before they left–drunk, but not too drunk to ride–she gave them directions on which road to take to Charlotte. The directions would take them somewhat out of their way, but no matter.

And they didn’t leave unscathed.

As they mounted up to ride off into the night she ran upstairs with a brace of loaded pistols. As they clattered off she fired at them, first one, then the other. One of them seemed to stagger in the saddle, but their horses didn’t break stride.

Shortly before dawn the next morning a tavernkeeper near Salisbury, North Carolina, heard someone pounding on the door. He looked out a window, wondering who on earth could be out on such a rainy, cold, sloppy morning, but could see nothing in the pitch-dark; he could hear two men shouting at each other, though.

I told you we shouldn’t have listened to that damned woman! We should have turned east–

Well, let’s just take a look at this map here and–

The pair lit a lantern about then, and the tavernkeeper could see them and their horses. One man held the lantern, while the other spread a map on a tree stump, grumbling and cursing as he used a forefinger to trace some route on it.

The host put on a heavy dressing gown and went downstairs, picking up a pistol along the way. He unbolted the door and opened it to look out upon nothingness.

Men, horses, faint light from the lantern, had all vanished as if they were never there.

When he checked come morning, there were no fresh marks of men or horses in the mud, either.

They never reached Charlotte.

Absent extra troops from Cornwallis, and through the hubris of Major Ferguson, the Patriot militiamen laid a mighty whuppin’ on the Tories at Kings Mountain, killing Ferguson in the process.

Already, though,there were reports of two men on horseback who would stop travelers, usually at the forks of roads, and demand to know the nearest route to Charlotte.

Sometimes they were riding in the right direction; other times in the opposite. More than one traveler thus accosted reported seeing them light a lantern and consult a map.

And always, always, they told those with whom they met, we must be there by morning.

Horses and dogs went mad with fear every time they met the pair, and no wonder; they were ghastly to look upon, pale and greenish-looking, obviously long dead.

For years, one stagecoach driver through the area said, only half-jokingly, that he had met them, and given them directions to Charlotte, so many times that he was to the point of rolling his eyes and yelling not again! at them.

And there are those who say you can still see the two, on rainy nights in October, racing through the back country, still trying to deliver a dead man’s message to another dead man.

Never underestimate the power of a woman. . . 😉

Nancy Roberts tells this tale of the King’s Messengers in her books This Haunted Southland: Where Ghosts Still Roam (1970) and America’s Most Haunted Places (1974) with somewhat different details in each account.

I have to say, I’m irrepressibly reminded by this story of the New England tale of Peter Rugg, still trying to get to Boston–and of an old comedy routine called “Still Tryin’ to Get to Little Rock”, one version of which was performed by Carter and Ralph, the Stanley Brothers, before Carter’s untimely death nearly half a century ago.

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The Vanishing Hitchhiker motif is an old, old one, going back to the folklore of many nations. It’s been the basis for many a literary, TV and movie plot, and many a song; “Bringing Mary Home”, written by Joe Kingston, Chaw Mank and John Duffey, said to have been inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, and recorded in 1966 by The Country Gentlemen, is my favorite such.

Arguably the most famous Vanishing Hitchhiker is Chicago’s Resurrection Mary, who’s been picked up by cabbies along South Side Chicago’s Archer Avenue and carried to Resurrection Cemetery in Justice–where she vanishes–for nearly eighty years.

It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, to learn that she may be a Mary-come-lately. There’s another story of a Vanishing Hitchhiker in Chicago: a girl in 1920s flapper garb who made her first appearance outside the old Melody Mill ballroom on the South Side around 1933-34–earlier than her more famous counterpart.

The Melody Mill ballroom was a favorite spot for dancing couples from the 1920s right up until the mid 1980s, when it closed down.

In those early days of the 1920s, one of the most enthusiastic dancers was a beautiful young Jewish girl, whose name has been lost to time. She was said to have borne a strong resemblance to the silent movie era “flapper” star Colleen Moore.

Colleen Moore in "Flaming Youth" (1923)

Legend has it that the girl died young, in the late 1920s, of a ruptured appendix, and was buried in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery.

She made her first appearance at the Melody Mill ballroom in late 1933 or early 1934–before a young Polish girl named Mary Bregavy–the putative Resurrection Mary–was killed in an auto accident and buried in Resurrection Cemetery.

At first, her appearances were confined to the dance floor at the Melody Mill; within a very short time, though, several young men reported that they had offered the lovely brunette in flapper clothes a ride home–

rides she always accepted, and during the course of, vanished.

She always told the drivers to drive first east on Cermak Road, then north on Harlem. When they reached Jewish Waldheim Cemetery (now called, simply, Waldheim Cemetery), she would ask the driver to stop. She would walk into the cemetery and then vanish among the graves.

One young man claimed that she told him that she lived in the cemetery’s caretaker’s cottage. He watched her walk toward the building, then, rather than entering, she ran around the side of the house. Surprised, he followed her, only to see her disappear.

Another young man, upon being told the story about the caretaker’s cottage, visited the caretaker–during daylight hours–and was told that no such young girl lived there.

There were a spate of sightings of the Hitchhiking Flapper throughout 1933-34, years coinciding with Chicago’s Century of Progress. Then sightings became few and far between, although several were reported during the 1970s and early 1980s.

John O’Rourke, a policeman with the North Riverside PD, had an encounter with her in 1979. He was working the midnight to eight AM shift, and happened to pass the Melody Mill ballroom around closing time. There was rain that night, he recalled. He saw a woman walking by herself along the street, so he pulled up and asked where she was going.

“Home,” she said simply.

“Want a ride?” he asked. “Looks like this rain’s not quitting anytime soon.”

She got into the car with him, and directed him to drive east on Cermak Road.

He tried to make conversation, asking her the usual questions–what’s your name, where do you live?–but she chattered on about how she loved dancing at the Melody Mill, never giving him a straight answer.

He didn’t drive her all the way to the cemetery, though. They were passing a Ford dealership when she suddenly shouted, “Stop!”

As she was getting out, a passing semi backfired, and O’Rourke looked around to make sure it was only a backfire and not a gunshot.

When he looked back around,the girl was gone.

Strangely, he could never give a clear description of the woman with whom he rode that night; but, given that there have been no reports of any woman other than the beauty in flapper clothes haunting the area, chances are it was her.

She was sighted again in 1980, by a group of five friends sitting on a front porch not far from Waldheim Cemetery. There are actually two cemeteries, adjacent to each other, in the area: Woodlawn, and next over, Waldheim. The friends on the porch saw a woman wearing a strapless, knee-length dress with fringes and something on her head resembling a 1920s headband cutting through Woodlawn Cemetery.

The flapper must not have found a ride that night, and was taking a shortcut.

She was last reported in the autumn of 1984 by a couple who saw her by the main gates of Waldheim Cemetery. Coincidentally, this was just about the time the Melody Mill closed its doors for good.

Sources:

Richard T. Crowe and Carol Mercado, Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural (2000)

Dale Kaczmarek, Windy City Ghosts: The Haunted History of Chicago (2000)

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During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.

Yep, it’s that kind of day in Knobite Corner: rainy, chilly, no brighter than twilight–I’ve even been known to refer to weather like this as “House of Usher” weather. And it got me thinking about the sad, contradictory genius who wrote about that dreadful place–and so many other horrors.

Easy enough, after all, to imagine Poe as never having been a living breathing man, but merely a shadow who whispered and shouted, laughed and cried, loved and lost–a shadow with no peers as a chronicler of the macabre. Yet he did live and breathe.

Trouble is, he–and his loved ones–never left some of the places where they lived–in particular, a small house in a rundown area of Baltimore, Maryland.

The little brick townhouse on North Amity Street was built, most likely, sometime around 1830: a working man’s house in a working man’s district. With four and a half rooms–two on the ground floor, two upstairs, and a tiny attic where Poe himself wrote and slept–, it was a tight squeeze for the four people who lived there: Poe, barely into his twenties, his elderly paternal grandmother, Elizabeth, his aunt Maria Clemm, and Maria’s daughter, Virginia, the young cousin whom Poe married when she turned thirteen.

It was, possibly, the most settled period of Poe’s life. The four lived there quite happily from 1832 to 1835, leaving the place, never to return, after Elizabeth Poe died in 1835.

Yet this house seems to an alarming amount of psychic residue from Poe’s time there, despite having been inhabited by others until 1922. The house sat vacant from that year until 1949, when it became a house museum and historical site.

Some of the most compelling reports of ghostly activity in the Poe House come from 1968, when rioting broke out in many cities after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All electrical power on North Amity Street and the surrounding area was out, yet concerned neighbors summoned police when they spotted strange, flickering lights in Poe House. Unable to enter the house because they had no key, and–so they said–unwilling to break the door down lest they open the house to looters, officers waited until morning, when a tour guide arrived, to go in. A search found no evidence that anyone had been in the house at all during those dark hours.

That occurrence may be at the root of a report from the 1980s, when no less august a publication than the New York Times claimed that gang members in the area were being scared out of vandalizing the house by the ghost of Poe himself, whom the gang members referred to as “Mr. Eddie”.

But there have been other occurrences–so many that curator Jeff Jerome has on occasion been accused of putting about stories of hauntings to boost the tourist trade, although many of the events predate his tenure, which began in the 1970s.

During the 1960s, long before the flickering lights incident, tourists complained of being tapped on the shoulder by some unseen being. These taps were, without exception, reported from the bedroom that had been Elizabeth Poe’s.

In 1980, during a seance in the house sponsored by a local radio station, one pair of psychics–man and wife–complained to Jerome that he had promised “no tricks”–but they had heard voices and movement from Poe’s attic room while they were in the grandmother’s bedroom; investigation proved that no one living had been up there that night.

Psychics have also reported the presence of a heavyset elderly woman with gray hair–presumably the shade of Elizabeth Poe–in the back bedroom. After Mrs. Poe’s death, young Virginia lived in that room until she, her mother and Poe moved.

One of the most startling events happened in 1984, when a dramatic production of Poe’s story Berenice, which he had written while living in the house, was being presented. The actress playing Berenice was dressing in the upstairs back bedroom when Jeff Jerome, downstairs, heard a loud crash. He ran upstairs to find the actress near panic; a window in the room had fallen out and smashed on the floor–a window that could only have been removed by someone physically lifting it out of the frame and dropping it.

In addition to the little house in Baltimore, Poe is said to haunt at least a half-dozen sites in New York City’s Greenwich Village. One of those sites is a little house on West 3rd Street, where he, Virginia and Mrs. Clemm lived during 1844 -45 and where Virginia died.

Another place he’s said to haunt is the once-infamous General Wayne Inn–now a Jewish cultural center, from what I understand–in Merion, Pennsylvania. Poe dined there a number of times while living in nearby Philadelphia, and is said to have written several stanzas of his most famous poem, “The Raven”, while sitting by a window there. In 1843, he carved his initials into the window sill by his table.

Patrons at a pub in Baltimore’s famous Fells Point district claim to have seen Poe’s ghost there. Poe died in delirium on October 7, 1849, in a hospital nearby; he was last reported having been seen drinking in the pub, now called The Horse You Came In On, before being found in a gutter and taken to the hospital.

Sources:

Arthur Myers, The Ghostly Register (1986)

Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (1992)

Michael Norman and Beth Scott, Haunted America (1994)

————. Haunted Historic America (1995)

Dennis William Hauck, Haunted Places: The National Directory (1994 edition).

The quote from “The Fall of the House of Usher” comes from The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe (1983).

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last Poe mystery: the “Poe Toaster”, a man dressed in black who, from 1949 to 2009, visited Poe’s grave–a saga in itself–every January 19, Poe’s birthday, leaving a fifth of cognac and three red roses before calmly walking out of Westminster Churchyard in Baltimore, not to be seen again until the next year. He was last seen in 2009, on Poe’s bicentennial, and one can only wonder if, someday, someone will resume those mysterious visits.

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In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Wellington Barracks, near St. James’s Park in London, was known simply as the Recruit House, and was home base for the renowned Coldstream Guards unit.

There are a couple of ghost stories attached to Wellington Barracks. One of them begins on a bitterly cold January morning in 1804, when a young Welsh sentry named George Jones got the fright of a lifetime.

Private Jones had been in the Army some eight months, and was not happy with having to walk sentry duty in the chime hours of a snowy morning. His only contact with another living being, during those hours, came when he and, that particular morning, a fellow Welshman called David Rees stepped out once an hour and paced a couple hundred yards, passing each other, turning back, and passing again before each returned to his sentry box.

George had just settled back into his box when barely four feet in front of him, he saw a ghostly figure rise up from the ground. The moon was full, and by its light he could see that the figure was female, and wearing a dress of cream satin with red stripes. Against the cream background between the red stripes ran a vertical pattern of red spots.

The gown was not the most striking thing about the woman, though.

She was headless.

As she continued to rise from the frozen ground, an odd phosphorescent light surrounded her. In that light, Jones could see the stump of her neck, raw and bloody, rising above a lace collar that hung limp with the blood it had absorbed.

George Jones would later say that he and the apparition stood facing each other for a good two minutes before the ghastly figure turned and walked slowly across the parade ground. Some fifty yards from the sentry box, she vanished.

Jones promptly deserted his post and ran toward Rees’ sentry box, shouting David! DAVID!

Rees tried to tell him that it was only a trick of the moonlight; but by then the ruckus had brought out the officer and sergeant of the guard. They listened to Jones’s story and noted it in the incidents book, gave Jones a dressing-down, and forgot about the matter. . .

until three nights later, when another sentry was found in that same sentry box in a dead faint. When he was awake and coherent again, he told the same story of a headless woman in a red and cream satin dress, who rose up from the ground in bloody majesty and vanished while crossing the parade ground.

It was suggested to this recruit that he had been unduly influenced by Jones’s story, but he hadn’t heard it; other than David Rees and the officer and sergeant of the guard, Jones had not shared his story with anyone, and had in fact sworn Rees to silence.

Within the week of this second encounter, yet a third Guard on sentry duty saw the woman rise from the frigid ground and walk across the park, only to vanish.

The colonel in charge of the base finally had enough and requested help from civilian authorities in figuring out who this woman was and why she was terrifying the men of the Coldstream Guards.

Fortunately, the case was assigned to a magistrate and longtime resident of the area called Sir Richard Ford. Sir Richard told the colonel he remembered that, some twenty years before, there had been some scandal or other involving a member of the Guards; give him a very few days and he would have the particulars.

Sir Richard’s memory was correct. In 1784, a sergeant of the Guards had murdered his wife. A sordid little affair; he had decapitated her to make identification impossible and then dumped the body in the canal that ran through St. James’s Park. Unfortunately for him, some inquisitive soul fished the remains from the canal, and, when the news got out, no fewer than five witnesses came forward to say that the sergeant’s wife had owned a dress like that in which the corpse was clothed: cream satin, with a lace collar and red stripes and spots.

The husband was hanged.

Sir Richard’s one question–indeed everyone’s one question–was this: why had her spirit never been reported before that snowy morning when she scared half the life from a Welsh private?

To that, there was no answer.

The sentry box where a petrified George Jones had first watched her rise from the ground was relocated, and a clergyman called in to say prayers for the soul of the headless woman.

The holy man’s prayers seem not to have worked, however. She was most recently seen in 1975, by a cab driver passing the park in the wee hours.

Sources:

Ronald Seth, in John Canning’s 50 Great Ghost Stories (1971)

and Sarah Hapgood, 500 British Ghosts & Hauntings (1993).

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There are legends from various parts of the world of places where bones of many, many individuals of the same animal species are found–elephants in Africa, mammoths in Siberia, and so on. Some such places are probably the remnants of human butchery; in others, causes of death are not so clear. Over time these places have become known as “graveyards” or “places where [name the species] go to die”.

There’s a story of such a place where wolves went to die. It comes from south-central Ohio, where the gray wolf once roamed, but was wiped out in the early nineteenth century by settlers.

I was reminded of it, last night, by a program on National Geographic Wild Channel about the extinction of the giant Ice Age predator the dire wolf.

Originally, the dying place of wolves–a flat-topped granite hill in Pike County, Ohio–was known as Great Buzzard’s Rock. Perhaps that was too much of a mouthful to say, for eventually its name was shortened to Big Rock. It was a strange place, where no settler and no dog liked to go, for on its flat top were scattered the bones of many, many gray wolves, some of them obviously centuries old.

As settlers moved into southern Ohio, bringing along cattle and killing deer–the natural prey of wolves–, the wolves in the region began taking cattle for food. And, of course, the settlers retaliated. With dogs and guns they hunted down and fatally wounded many wolves who, dying, made their way to Big Rock.

By 1796, only one pack was left in the area: a pack led by an almost humanly intelligent alpha male they called Old Raridan. Huge, old, and preternaturally observant, he, his mate and their pack eluded dogs and guns for nearly five years.

Unfortunately, for all his smarts, Old Raridan was facing an opponent who had smarts, dogs, guns–

and was too damned stubborn to quit.

By 1801, only Old Raridan and his mate remained of a pack that had been the terror of cattle throughout the region.

And the stubborn settlers, knowing they now had the upper hand once and for all, went after wolf and mate with renewed fury.

They brought Old Raridan and his mate to bay a short distance from Big Rock.

Up to that point it had been a running battle, begun in low hills near the river. Both Old Raridan and his mate were wounded, but Old Raridan had killed a number of hounds.

He seemed to know, though, that the end was not far off, and he and his grievously wounded mate began to make their way toward Big Rock.

Surrounded, near its base, by a circle of hounds, his mate dying and himself torn nearly to pieces, Old Raridan made his last stand. He threw back his head and, with a howl of pure rage that terrified both settlers and dogs, rushed the hounds.

He hadn’t a chance in hell of survival, but suddenly the hunters realized what he was doing: as he fought, he was backing up to the path that led to the top of Big Rock–

a path where no man or dog would dare to follow him.

A single shot finally killed his mate. That shot was followed by one that inflicted a last wound on Old Raridan from which he could never recover: his right hip was blown to shards of bone.

He stood there for a moment, staring at hunters and dogs, his back to Big Rock. Before that stare, and facing the dying place of wolves, men and hounds fell back.

Old Raridan raised his head and one last time gave a long, lonesome howl.

OOOOOOooooooowwwwwwwhhhhhhhoooooooooooo. . .

To the hunters’ amazement, that howl was answered.

Somewhere above them, on Big Rock, an answering howl came, from a place where no living wolf ever walked.

ooooooooowwwwwwwhhhhhhooooooo. . .

Old Raridan didn’t leave his dead mate, even then; he caught her by the scruff of the neck and, limping as he went, dragged her into the brush at the foot of Big Rock.

Not one hunter, nor one dog, stirred to follow him.

They say, even now, two centuries and more after his last battle, Old Raridan’s howl can be heard on the wind.

And sometimes, they say, you can look up at the night sky, when the moon rides full over Big Rock, and see the silhouette of a giant wolf: Old Raridan, king of the dying place of wolves.

The story of the dying place of wolves and Old Raridan’s fight to the death comes from Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s book Haunted Heartland (1985).

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They were seven young men from various parts of England and various colleges at Cambridge, who, in 1738, formed a club: the Everlasting Club.

The oldest of the seven was a thirty-year-old from Ireland, who already had attained an undergraduate degree and was working toward a graduate one; the youngest was twenty-two, the heir of a long line of carousers and duellists, and a Fellow of Jesus College. In between these two were a young doctor of medicine, a Cambridgeshire squire’s son, and three Fellows of other colleges at Cambridge.

They were all young, all reckless, and all rather easily led by the eldest of them, the Irish lordling. His name was Alan Dermot, and it was under his influence that they formed the Everlasting Club.

The Everlasting Club was modeled somewhat along the lines of the better-known Hellfire Clubs of the era, but considerably more anemic; the Everlastings didn’t parody the Catholic mass while dressed as priests, or hire whores to dress as nuns for horizontal entertainment. The Everlastings drank and ate and drank and sang and drank and blasphemed and–you get the picture: losers and boozers.

The rules of the club were fairly simple: the most sinister one being that the club literally was everlasting; no member, once inducted, could ever drop his membership, and there would be no members admitted after the induction of the seven originals. If living, they were called Corporeal members; after death, they were referred to as Incorporeal. Alan Dermot was president for life; the next eldest Corporeal would be the secretary, and keep a scrupulous Minute Book; as members became Incorporeals, the next in age would become secretary. Although they would meet at other times of the year, the most important Everlasting meeting was a dinner, to be attended by all seven, on November 2, the Feast of All Souls in the old tradition. This dinner would be held at the residence of each member in rotation, beginning at ten PM precisely, and would be held yearly unless at least four of the members met during the last week of October and formally voted not to have a dinner that year. If any Corporeal failed to attend the dinner, he would be fined by the President, although what that fine was, Lord only knows.

After the first couple of years, the various colleges were so scandalized by the drinking and eating and drinking and singing and drinking and blasphemy and drinking of these youngsters blowing off steam that all of them were expelled from the university altogether. Yet, for five years, they observed that yearly feast on November 2, taking it turn about to host.

Things began to go horrifyingly, supernaturally wrong at the dinner of November 2, 1743.

They met, that year, at the home of the young Cambridge doctor. Alan Dermot and five of the others were present; Henry Davenport was off with the army on the continent. His absence was reported by the secretary at the beginning of the meal, and a fine was imposed by the President. Each of the others wrote his name and address in the Minute Book, signifying his presence.

So the dinner began, and all was well until their plates were served by very correct Georgian servants. The President told the servants they would pour their own wine, and a decanter on a silver coaster was pushed around until it came to the empty chair set for Henry Davenport.

Out of the soft candlelight there came a hand that lifted the decanter and filled the glass set by Davenport’s plate. As the others watched in growing horror, Davenport himself slowly, slowly took form before their very eyes, his uniform bloody. He was grinning, though.

He said, Gentlemen, I kept my promise. I was killed in a skirmish today, yet here I am, Incorporeal though I may be. I’ve kept my promise; will you keep yours?

Well.

In the Minutes, written the following day, the Secretary noted: Hen. Davenport, by a Cannon-shot, became an Incorporeal Member. . .

Even that was not the biggest shock to come from that dinner of November 2, 1743. Alan Dermot, the President, had been living on the continent as well, at the court of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart pretender to the throne. He had been present, at the dinner, his old drinking, eating, laughing, singing, blaspheming self–had signed his name, with address, with a flourish, at the top of the page for November 2: Alan Dermot, President at the Court of His Royal Highness.

On November 10, the Secretary added another note to the Minute Book: This day. . .we received word that the President was become an Incorporeal. . .in a duel with a French chevalier. . .28 October 1743. . .Good God, shield us from ill!

Dermot had been dead five days when he took his seat at the head of that table–yet he had seemed very much a living man. Henry Davenport could have been a trick of the wine and the candlelight, but not Dermot.

The five survivors did what any sane men would do: they met yearly in October and formally voted not to have a dinner that year, for the next five years.

At the end of five years, another member became an Incorporeal.

For eighteen years, the four Corporeals met yearly to record their vote against a dinner that year.

In 1766, on January 27, the Secretary of eighteen years standing, Francis Witherington, died.

And then there were three.

The Minute Book was passed on to the next eldest Corporeal, James Harvey.

Harvey lived only a month after his elevation to Secretary of the Everlasting Club. On March 7, William Catherston became Secretary. He died in May.

And then, there was one: the youngest of the seven, Charles Bellasis, wrote on May 18, 1766, that he, the last surviving Corporeal, was now Secretary of the Everlasting Club.

Bellasis, in the twenty-odd years since that dreadful dinner in 1743, had become a model citizen: in fact, a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, the college from which he had been expelled so many years before.

He knew that the dinner could no longer be put off by vote. He knew that Harvey and Catherston had both died–one, possibly, by suicide, the other from sheer terror–in dread of the very idea of facing a dinner with four ghosts.

Bellasis lived in rooms at the top of a staircase that was, oddly, called Cow Lane, leading up from street level one door over from the Hall of Jesus College. On November 2, 1766, he quietly settled into his rooms, locking both the inner and outer doors, and waited.

Dead on ten o’clock, the whole college was roused by the ruckus coming from Bellasis’ rooms at the top of the stairs. Breaking glass, smashing chairs, drunken shouts, blasphemy–

The racket stopped at midnight, but not until the next morning did the Master and dons of the college mount the stairs to check on Bellasis. The locks of the outer and inner doors were destroyed with sledgehammer and crowbar, and the party entered.

They gasped and retched at the smell of death in the air.

Charles Bellasis was sitting at the head of a long oak table, his head bent forward and his eyes shielded by his arms, dead and already cold.

On the table before him lay the Minute Book.

For the first time since 1742, under the date 2 November, the names of all seven Everlastings, in their own individual hands, were written, signifying their attendance, although none had included his present address; Bellasis’s signature was there, same as them all.

Underneath that list, in Alan Dermot’s bold hand, was posted a fine, in Latin: Mulctatus per Presidentem propter neglectum obsonii, Car. Bellasis.

Fined by the President for neglect of his obligations, Charles Bellasis.

Although there were, in the Everlasting rules, no provision for continuance of the November 2 dinners beyond the death of the last member, it’s recorded that, for nearly two centuries after, no student was allowed to live in Charles Bellasis’ rooms at the top of Cow Lane.

The only one who tried was nearly killed when he flung himself down the staircase, one November 2, when the rooms were suddenly invaded by seven exceptionally noisy, blasphemous ghosts, at ten PM.

There have been no reports of the Everlasting ghosts of Cow Lane, however, since the 1940s.

This story of the Club of Dead Men has an interesting provenance; it may be one that began as a composed story and entered Cambridge ghostlore thereafter.

Under the name “The Everlasting Club“, the story was published in a very bland, almost clinical form by Sir Arthur Gray (1852-1940), Master of Jesus College for nearly forty years, in a 1919 book called Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye.

Nearly a half-century later, the journalist and ghost story collector James Wentworth Day (1899-1983) told the story in a much more vivid and disturbing form in an article called “The Club of Dead Men”–from which I cribbed the title–published in John Canning’s 1971 volume 50 Great Ghost Stories. In his version, Day claims he first heard the story of the haunted chambers in Cow Lane from the the late Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, under whom he studied at Cambridge, in 1920.

Altogether, a chicken or egg conundrum.

As to its truth as a genuine Cambridge ghost story, Day quotes none other than Gray:

. . .I have before me a transcript [of the Minute Book] which, though it is in a recent handwriting, presents in a bald shape such a singular array of facts that I must ask you to accept them as veracious.

When all’s said and done, I’ll say this: if it’s not a true story, then dang it, it ought to be. 😉

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