If you’re looking for a fun read for the Halloween season, Sam & Dean & I Colin Dickey’s brand new book, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places.

Husband and I were lucky enough to hear Dickey talk about this work in progress last year at Death Salon Mutter in Philadelphia. I’ve been waiting impatiently to finally get to read the book not just because it sounds cool, but because I’ve been working on revisions to an article on the socio-cultural and social justice implications of ghost tourism and historical ghost narratives. (One of the many reasons I’ve been neglecting you, my devoted readers).

Now I’m going to neglect you further so I can go finish reading this book!

Sandy, the impending Frankenstorm, is bad for all kinds of reasons. It’s also annoying, in that I couldn’t’t hang the ghosts I made last year out on the porch. I’ve realized I can hang them in my office window and light them up so they look super-creepy from outside. Bonus: the only window I could hang them up in is the window where Ghost Cat makes his appearances.

It’s only a matter of time before I forget that they’re in there and scare myself witless.

If it’s the worst thing that happens during the storm, I’ll be fine with that.
We’ve stashed the stuff in the yard, filled the water containers, tested the emergency radio, checked on the strategic bourbon reserve, charged the kindles, and all that other stuff that Native Floridians are born knowing how to do.

I suspect at the very least we’re in for a lengthy power outage. The most fun part of any power outage is this:

We have two bathrooms. The one downstairs is below the level of the city sewer connection so it has an electric pump. When the power goes out, the 1st thing I do is grab a flashlight and go downstairs and pull that door shut so that I don’t forget and use that toilet.

Later, I forget I did this and go downstairs for candles or one thing or another, see the shut door and scare myself witless wondering what sort of ghost or serial killer snuck in and pulled the door shut. It’s a pocket door, it can’t just blow shut.

I’ve usually just scared myself witless happening upon the lifesize sarcophagus at the bottom of the basement stairs. The one that’s always there.

Then I remember why the door is shut.

Then I laugh at myself.

Then I do it again 2 or 3 more times over the course of the evening.

I do this every time. Every. Time.

Recently, a loyal reader assured me she’d keep my secret.

“Which one?” I asked, mostly joking.

“That you’re also Andrea Janes, of course!” was his reply.

This was, in part, his evidence:

Andrea Janes is a native of Canada now living in New York City, where she spends most of her time writing ghost stories and dark fairy tales. She is obsessed with dreams, monkeys, rare diseases, and slapstick. Her writing can be found at www.cabinetdesfees.com and on her blog at bourbonandtea.blogspot.com

I checked out Andrea Janes and was quite taken with her work, but alas, I am not she. Nor, for that matter, is she I.

Sorry, been reading a lot of Lovecraft of late and it’s seriously screwing with my linguistic faculties.

Speaking of Lovecraft, did you read the profile of Guillermo del Toro in last week’s New Yorker? It covers, amongst other things, his quest to bring Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness to the screen. Good article.

Where was I? Right, so I’m not Andrea Janes. Clues include that I’m not living in New York City. Nor am I Canadian. Although I am from Florida, which was annexed by Canada some years back a winter breeding ground for free range Canadian retirees, so that may count for something.

At any rate, learning about Andrea Janes led me to this delightful review she wrote for the Rumpus, Corine May Botz’s Haunted Houses.

Technically, I started this little adventure with the Rumpus piece, since that’s where that bio blurb is posted. Whatever.

The review about Botz’s work reminded me of something I need to speak to Doctor Birdcage about.

That may be the worst conclusion to a post, ever, but I’m sick and this is all I’ve got today. Sorry, kids.

Today I’m enjoying the nice weather and finishing a very entertaining book, Mary Roach’s Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. If Roach’s name is familiar, it might be because she’s back on bestseller lists with her latest, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void.

The chapter (in Spook) on EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) was one of my favorites, for audio-technology-geekery reasons, and also because I was recently reading up on new archeological research regarding the Donner party. I don’t think you can do a graduate degree in audio technology without being asked 10 million times about EVP. I know I couldn’t.

There’s a nice excerpt from this chapter on Roach’s website, so I’m very happy to be able to share it with you:

From the chapter “Can you Hear Me Now?: Telecommunicating with the Dead”

“The National Forest Service has a fine and terribly dark sense of humor, or possibly they have none at all. For somebody, perhaps an entire committee, saw fit to erect a large wooden sign near the site where fourteen emigrants bound for California were eaten by other emigrants bound for California when they became trapped by the savage snows of 1846 and starved. The sign reads: DONNER CAMP PICNIC GROUND. I got here on a tour bus chartered by Dave Oester and Sharon Gill, founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society. IGHS, one of the world’s largest (14,000 members in 78 countries) amateur paranormal investigation groups, sponsors ghost-hunting trips to famously and not-so-famously haunted sites. By and large, we look like any other tour group: The shorts, the flappy-sleeved tees, the marshmallow sneakers. We have cameras, we have camcorders. Unlike most visitors here today, we also have tape recorders. I am facing a pine tree, several feet from a raised wooden walkway that guides visitors through the site. I hold my tape recorder out in front of me, as though perhaps the tree were about to say something quotable. The other members of my group are scattered pell-mell in the fields and thickets, all holding out tape recorders. It’s like a tornado touched down in the middle of a press conference.

A couple and their dogs approach on the walkway. “Are you taping bird calls?” I answer yes, for two reasons. First, because, well, literally, we are. And because I feel silly saying, “We are wanting to tape the spirit voices of the Donner Party.”

Thousands of Americans and Europeans believe that tape recorders can capture the voices of people whose vocal cords long ago decomposed. They refer to these utterances as EVP: electronic voice phenomena. You can’t hear the voices while you’re recording; they show up mysteriously when the tape is replayed. If you do a web search on the initials EVP, you’ll find dozens of sites with hundreds of audio files of these recordings. Though some sound like clearly articulated words or whispers, many are garbled and echoey and mechanical-sounding. It is hard to imagine them coming from dead souls without significantly altering one’s image of the hereafter. Heaven is supposed to have clouds and bolts of white cloth and other excellent sound-absorbing materials. The heaven of these voices sounds like an airship hanger. They’re very odd.”

Good stuff.

I couldn’t find video of her talking about this book, so here’s her delightful recent appearance on the Daily Show, where she and Jon Stewart gab about pooping in space and other weighty (weightless?) issues.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mary Roach
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Happy haunting!

Every day is Halloween in our house, but since it’s October 1st I’ll define today as the “official” start of the Halloween season.

Every year I try to stick to an overall theme in my October entertainment blogging. I was very excited about the theme I chose this year: ghosts, hauntings, and other things that go bump in the night.

I was momentarily disappointed when I remembered that I also chose ghosts and haunted houses as my 2009 Halloween theme. Then I double-checked and saw that I was too busy to keep up with the theme last year.

    It’s okay either way, for the following reasons:
    a) this is my blog and I rule it with an iron fist
    b) “a” doesn’t apply to me, only you
    c) the amount of stuff I added to my netflix queue would take a lifetime to watch, so I’m sure I could do this theme every year and never repeat myself
    d) I repeat myself all the time because I’m becoming my mother, so “c” is pretty much irrelevant
    e) I’m forgetful, see also: “d”
    f) I almost never stick to my theme anyway
    g) this justifies all the time I’ve spent watching Scooby Doo over the last few weeks
    h) I think “h” was going to be a punchline relating to “a” and “b” but I’ll be damned if I can remember where this was headed
    i) see also, “e”

So there you have it. And if you have it, you should get it treated right away before it spreads.

I have to take back every mean thought I’ve had about the Carolina Inn in the last year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic place to stay (as well it should be, it’s a bit expensive) and I highly recommend it, but there’s been something odd going on.

The problem has been that since I wrote about our rather strange stay at the Inn last year for our anniversary, I’ve been getting random emails every couple of months from people explaining it’s haunted.

Sure. Fine. Whatever.

I think alcohol consumption by the idle rich (explaining the sounds of breaking glass at all hours and the bottles of very expensive champagne on the room service trays in the mornings) and an extremely attentive staff (explaining the constant appearance of clean sheets and towels 4 or 5 times a day) could also explain the oddities of the place. But what do I know?

What’s odd is that these messages almost always mention the exact room number of the room we stayed in, or, in the case of two of the messages, the room next door. The messages come months apart so I always vow to send the Inn a nastygram about this and then forget again. I just keep assuming it’s a practical joke being played by student employees doing things they shouldn’t with guest records.

It seems I was wrong. I had no idea how well-known the Inn was as a haunted structure until I saw a mention in the Washington Post two weeks ago followed by a message the next day clearing everything up. [dead link]

Coincidence? You decide!

This may just explain everything. [dead link, replaced by this one in 2011]

Or not. But in the spirit of Halloween I thought I’d post it anyway.