Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Something About Cemeteries

I was about eight years old when my father took me exploring on the hill. It was essentially a wooded place with baseball fields and a small pond at its base, a ski jump and  grassy slope suitable for winter sledding, a road generally used for parking (petting purposes) just below the summit, and a lot of forest. The hill was situated just on the outskirts of the city--a stark point of delineation between that metropolis and the country setting that began just to the west. The day my dad took me up there was a day of exploration--my first day of inquest into the deeper recesses of the mount that seemed to have an almost inexhaustible number of mysteries to explore. I was after all, a child.

We walked way into the woods on that afternoon--to places that were as yet unfamiliar to me. At some point my father stopped to look at an object. "Will you look at this!" he exclaimed. Situated right before him was a cemetery--a very small cemetery. Although my memory of it is vague, I seem to remember the largest grave marker as being inside a fenced-in area; If my memory serves me correctly, there were maybe three graves contained within a narrow space. That was it; that was the extent of the cemetery. 

Even at that young age I felt a deep sense of melancholy standing there in the quiet of the forest, reading the names and epitaphs inscribed upon the stones. The family's name was King and I quickly realized that the pond upon which I skated during the winter months had been named after these people; yet, here they were, lying in a tiny graveyard that had long ago been abandoned--long forgotten and only embraced by the towering trees whose leaves sometimes rustled in the wind as if conveying into the present the voices and spirits of the past. 

Cemeteries tell stories, and to read the inscriptions upon any grave marker or monument is to learn a piece of history--to learn of the joys and struggles of those who came before us. Since that day in the woods with my father, I've always maintained a keen sense of respect; even reverence, for these special places.

I feel very fortunate, because not only is my current living space adjacent to several graveyards of historic significance, but I have involvement with the maintenance of at least a couple. There's a deep sense of history here; and most every day, I walk or drive by the final resting places of early pioneers--people who migrated to this area from places far away in times long ago--people who founded what is now a thriving community and helped shape it into what it is today. 

While a couple of the cemeteries here have been maintained as much as possible with a limited budget, there are others farther back in the woods that have become overgrown with vegetation and damaged by both the remnants of a hurricane and the ravages of a January ice storm. To walk among the departed in these areas is to look upon grave markers with inscriptions long ago compromised by wind and rain as well as hallowed out strips of Earth that designate the inevitable collapse of caskets placed into the ground during centuries past. No one seems to know much about those buried in these plots, even those whose monuments are still legible. 

Yes it's true, many of those who once loved and worked, laughed and cried, raised families and bravely blazed trails where no one had gone before have been completely forgotten. Now, only the trees that defend them from the hustle and bustle of the outside world--the trees that have shared this tiny piece of Earth with the departed for decades know their secrets--their happiness and sorrow--their triumphs and tribulations. 

There are legends and ghost stories associated with both this mountain and general locale as well. I even had my own experience with something one summer night. I'll leave the story of that occurrence and the other tales for another time perhaps. Still, just last week I was made aware of something potentially significant regarding the neighboring graveyards. 

There is a grave marker back in the woods that now stands all by itself. On the front of the stone is inscribed the name "Sally." That's all it says; there's no last name or date of birth and death--just Sally. Given the fact that I live in the American South, the history of this mountain and the family that once owned most of its territory, I assumed that Sally must have been a slave before or during our War Between the States. I would think about her from time to time and long considered her the "Forgotten Woman," titled after a poem written by a friend.  

There is a local group that has taken an interest in cleaning up and restoring the abandoned burial plots here, including the area under which Sally is interned. The person heading up the project has a ten year-old daughter whom he occasionally brings along with him. A few days ago, he informed me that upon his first visit here and his discovery of the abandoned burial plots, his daughter saw a little girl by the marker inscribed with the name Sally. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with the girl and asked her if she could describe the person she saw. She was about ten years of age, I was told, was wearing a pink dress and had brown hair, which was tied back into two pigtails. 

As the young lady was telling me this, she had no way of knowing that it was just last summer when I learned that Sally may not have been a slave after all. You see, at a ceremony during which one historic cemetery was deeded over to the association I'm involved with, I was handed a composition that had been written by the founder of the county historical society in 1951. The essay finished with these words: 

"I was about to leave the gloomy thicket when I spied a little headstone, all alone, almost buried under the creeper. I brushed the vines aside and read on the sandstone slab the single name 'Sally.' I was still thinking of the unknown little girl when I passed the Senator's grave on my way out of the historic but neglected graveyard."  

The above photo of a friend was taken during a photo-op in one of the neighboring cemeteries.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In the Spirit of H. P. Lovecraft

I absolutely hated junior high school. The time I spent there has to count as one of the overall worst experiences of my life. I didn't like the other kids very much as most of them only seemed to think about  hanging out on street corners and picking fights. They didn't like me very much either; so the feeling was mutual. When my three-year stint there was finally drawing to a close, I had the option of attending any one of four high schools in the city. Not wanting to spend another three years with the kids from my area, I chose to attend Hope High School, which is situated on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island; on College Hill.

To this day, I consider my determination to attend that school as one of the best moves of my life. Although unbeknown to me at the time of my decision, that part of the city would soon reveal itself as an alternative universe of sorts. College Hill is the home of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. People there didn't want to hang out on street corners. Instead, they were interested in current events, science or were creating art, literature and music--and the local shops along Thayer Street reflected and still do mirror those interests.

Overall, Providence's East Side maintains an ambiance unlike that of any other place I've ever been to. From the ivy-covered buildings on the Brown campus to the old colonial-style homes on Benefit Street, by which the great American horror writer Edgar Allan Poe once walked, the place strikes you as not only historic, but occult. It holds it own dark secrets that perhaps, have only been detected by a select few.

I don't remember when I first heard of Howard.Phillips Lovecraft, but it was likely some time during my high school years. By that time I was already a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and was aware that Providence had once been home to another great horror writer in Mr. Lovecraft, but I was otherwise unfamiliar with him. I didn't know at the time that, although he and I didn't quite share the same Alma Mater, he did attend my school's predecessor long before I was born. It wasn't until years later however, that I delved into Lovecraft's writings and learned about his life.

The writer was born in his east-side family home at 194 Angell Street on August 20, 1890. Upon marrying in 1924, Lovecraft and his bride moved to her apartment in Brooklyn. Financial problems soon drove the couple apart however, and the writer, totally disenchanted with life in New York, returned to Providence's East Side, where he remained until his death.

It is my opinion that a big part of the author's genius was his ability to capture the darker, more occult essence of the area in which he lived. Oh yes, he took the reader beneath the pyramids of Egypt and to a multitude of subterranean caves, in lands real and imagined, where unspeakable horrors lied in wait for the curious. Many times he concerned the reader with strange civilizations and beings of the Mythos, which although worshiped by their minions, were hostile to humanity. Yet, as a person who has personally experienced the ambiance of Providence's College Hill, it is very easy to visualize the young Charles Dexter Ward's occult experimentation, which eventually drove the lad into madness.* It is not difficult to imagine that in some unremarkable house on Benevolent Street an inventor, driven insane by the nature of his work, might invent a machine by which his victims would view ghastly and frightful beings ordinarily obscured from the human eye.**  

In a piece called The Shunned House, Lovecraft showcases a still-existing structure called the Stephen Harris House, named after a successful colonial-era merchant. After Harris constructed the Benefit Street dwelling in 1763, he and his family fell on hard times and suffered adversity after adversity. It is reported that the couple lost several children while yet others were stillborn. Allegedly, Mrs. Harris went mad and was confined to an upstairs room, from which neighbors would occasionally hear her shrieking in French; a language that she did not herself speak.

In his fictitious account, Lovecraft described a deserted dwelling: "What I heard in my youth about the shunned house was merely that people died there in alarmingly great numbers. That, I was told, was why the original owners had moved out some twenty years after building the place. It was plainly unhealthy, perhaps because of the dampness and fungous growth in the cellar, the general sickish smell...

"...But after all, the attic was not the most terrible part of the house. It was the dank, humid cellar which somehow exerted the strongest repulsion on us..."

What is it about that house, and especially its basement, that inspired Lovecraft to describe horrifying occurrences from within its walls? To the casual passer by, the old Stephen Harris House, now painted yellow, may be just one of a number of colonial-era structures in a historic part of the city. Still, it is likely through that same building that the spirit of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his tales of madness, the sightings of ghouls in cemeteries and musky cellars holding dark secrets live on.

As a small child Caitlin Rebekah Kiernan migrated with her mother to the southern United States from Dublin,  Ireland. After spending much of her earlier childhood in Leeds, Alabama she spent her teenage years in the town of Trussville, in that same state. Although a trained paleontologist, Kiernan turned to fiction writing in 1992 and was awarded the International Horror Guild Award in 1998 for first best novel and the James Tiptree Junior Award in 2010.

The Green Man Review has called her "a successor to the traditions of H.P. Lovecraft;" and to anyone familiar with the writing styles of both authors, the similarities are obvious.

In a manner similar to that of her predecessor, Ms. Kiernan delves into subterranean places where frightening creatures await those caught unaware. Although her earlier fiction takes place in the deep south and might be described as southern Gothic, she now lives in Providence and some of her settings are quite similar to those of Lovecraft. In her novel entitled Daughter of Hounds, the protagonist is taken to a yellow house on Benefit Street. It is a house under which various hounds, ghouls and vampires lurk within a dank and musty cellar that is interconnected with an entire network of passages leading to graveyards, subterranean arenas and abandoned railway tunnels. The house and its gruesome inhabitants feature in some of Kiernan's short fiction as well.

It's hard to imagine that this brilliant writer, who is known to regularly visit Lovecraft's headstone in Providence's Swan Point Cemetery, is not aware of the early twentieth century author's shunned house; and although she only refers to a yellow house on Benefit Street, I strongly suspect that her gruesome abode, which is inhabited by a ruthless bailiff as well as the creatures in the cellar, is one in the same with his.

Of course, she has a great imagination of her own, is influenced by other writers as well as Lovecraft, and is an author in her own right. Still, if there is anyone today who continues on in the spirit of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, captures the feel and sometimes dark essence of Providence's East Side and embraces the overall culture of Rhode Island as a whole, I would offer the more recent works of Caitlin R. Kiernan as evidence.   

* The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

**  From Beyond

See also The Shunned House.

Further information on Caitlin R. Kiernan   

Thursday, January 12, 2012

When the Wind Whistles

They said it was coming--the wind that is; and a January tempest can be a fearsome thing to behold.

Yesterday, the day began with a thick gloom hanging over our small city. By mid morning however, the fog had cleared off, allowing the sunshine to create yet another unusually pleasant and warm day for the month of January. Sometimes such pleasant conditions can be a rarity at this time of year--something longed for rather than experienced. Still, they said that the north wind--a strong north wind, and a band of snow were on their way. It was so hard to believe. 

By late afternoon the clouds began moving in ominously from the west, blocking the descending sun's rays and casting a renewed sense of gloom over the city. I left the town square long after the darkness had descended. That's when I felt it--a chilling wind surging down the building-lined street, turning it into a wind tunnel--strengthening its icy grip with every gust. After crossing the highway I walked down the steep hill leading into the hallow; where the creek crosses under the road. For a few moments I was below the grasp of the intense wind, but as I began the walk up the mountain upon which lies my cottage--my place of refuge from the cold, I once again felt the frigid gale upon my skin and its penetration through my leather jacket--a barrier against the cold that now felt insufficient. As I reached the wooded areas and the burial grounds that surround my living space, I could hear the moans of the trees- hardwoods stretching, as they swayed in the wind. 

Upon reaching the cottage, I quickly re-built the fire and savored the heat emanating from the wood stove. Soon the smell of food filled the air. I was safe from the wind and the cold and settled in for the evening.

The wind produces a variety of sounds. There are times when you can hear the rustling of newly fallen leaves as they swirl and then scatter across the fields and the pavement. Then there is the wind-driven rain that splatters forceably across the window pain--the sound of a torrent of both wind and water. It is a special wind indeed however, that whistles between window and pane and moans along the corners of the abode during the darkest hours of the night. It must blow the right way; it must come from exactly the proper direction; but when it does, it invokes images that most minds do not ordinarily consider--images of long abandoned houses, visions of burial grounds where the spirits of lost souls roam in the night--images of horror!

I don't remember how long I sat in front of the computer last night as the wind howled all around me, but eventually I settled into my warm bed and fell asleep. It was a short-lived slumber however, as the restless gale outside the confines of my abode spread its message: Awaken! Feel my strength. Behold the images I invoke!

I got out of bed and changed the station on my radio, substituting classical music for a popular late-night talk show. Jumping back under the covers, I turned off the light and listened. The topic was Creation and Ancient Origins. Where did we come from, the host wanted to know. All is not as it seems his guests asserted. The Bible is only one part of the mythology. 
The wind continued to blow threateningly through the nearby forest--past the grave markers, whistling as I laid there in the dark. 

They spoke about the ancient Sumerians, those keepers of secrets dating back into antiquity--the secrets of human origin, of deities--gods and goddesses, dangerous spirits; all of whom even now inhabit other dimensions--the ether regions. 

My cat companion, big and fluffy as he is and generally of a nature to spend the nighttime hours outside, declined the opportunity on this blustery night; instead, preferring warmth and protection within the four walls of the cottage. He sat in the other room with eyes open and ears on the alert--watching--listening to the wind and the creaking of the house as it bucked against the tempest. 

Eve was not to blame for mankind's downfall, one of the guests pointed out. It's not fair that womankind takes the blame for our state of affairs. The serpent was more than he is now portrayed to be.
The temperature started to drop inside the cottage. I arose again, throwing another log on the fire. This was no night to let the flames get low. The icy wind was penetrating.
Things had occurred in the Pleiades star system. Long ago some of its inhabitants came to Earth from that distant place. The sons of God that took the daughters of men, were not necessarily evil. They had a purpose. As for those who manipulated the DNA of earlier evolutionary manifestations such as the neanderthals, thus paving the way for modern man perhaps 200,000 years ago, the Sumerians didn't say if they were extra-terrestrial or from other dimensional realities. 

Restless and stirring yet again, I looked outside the windows to see that a light dusting of wind-driven snow had stuck to the ground, somewhat illuminated by the waning, but still nearly full gibbous moon; though it remained obscured behind the angry clouds. The wind howled and I returned to bed, wrapping myself completely beneath the covers.

During the so-called lost years before he returned to the Holy Land, Jesus studied all the mystical arts in Alexandria they said. He knew the secrets of Sumer. Christianity was divided among two trains of thought. Mysticism was opposed by patriarchy and dogma. Patriarchy won out. 

As the northerly gale groaned and whistled mournfully past my windows--just outside the door, its sound filled my mind with images of haunted structures, where ghosts and other spirits still roam. I thought of trees silhouetted in the light of the full moon, swiftly moving clouds running across its face; vampires lurking in the dark.     

 The radio show ended at its appointed time and eventually, I fell into a somewhat uncomfortable slumber. At the crack of dawn I was awakened by the cat's antics by the door. He was ready to go outside and brave the cold--and the wind. Night turned into day and I arose to make my morning coffee. 

It's late afternoon now and the sky is still overcast but with enough clearing in the west to offer a colorful sunset. The wind is still blowing, but is expected to slowly lose its fury. A warming trend will begin tomorrow and more delightful weather is on the way. Still, I for one will always remember the images induced by the sound of the whistling wind, ancient stories of man's origins, extraterrestrials, lost souls wandering in the night, deities that still inhabit other regions--other places, and the secrets of ancient Sumeria.  

Copyright © 2012 A.D. Vick, All Rights Reserved


Sunday, January 8, 2012


Through the various comments existing on one of my favorite blogs, The Ultimate Goth Guide, it appears to me that quite a few members of the Goth community suffer from a sense of isolation. They are alone in their communities, appearing to their classmates, co-workers and neighbors as outside the mainstream. Yet, they lack the much-needed support and camaraderie of other like-minded folks. For these people most interaction with fellow darklings takes place through the internet, which to a great extent, helps alleviate the situation.

Eventually, many of these folks, especially the younger ones, will become more able to visit clubs in other cities. They will have the option of moving to or visiting places where the scene and alternative culture thrives. The mobility and financial independence that comes with adulthood makes it all possible and those desiring personal interaction and friendship with other Goths will likely find it. They and their circle of friends--their common experience in the lifestyle, will allow for the development of a shared history, that will link them together culturally and socially for a lifetime. 

My own dilemma stems from the fact that I don't have that shared history; and while I'm certainly old enough to be an elder Goth, I cannot lay any claim to such a title. Then again, I'm certainly no baby bat either.

Perhaps because of geographical location and my own personal responsibilities, I didn't discover the world of Goth until nearly twelve years ago when a new university radio station took to the airwaves and every Saturday night broadcast a program entitled From the Crypt, hosted by a young lady who called herself The Death Mistress. I listened to her program almost religiously; and in return, she treated me to the wonderful sounds of Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division and Type O Negative. I was also very surprised to learn that the Cure, some of whose music I already owned, was a vital part of this compelling subculture. 

If I had been behind the curve for considerable part of my lifetime, I remained in stuck mode for several years after From the Crypt disappeared from the Saturday night lineup. It seemed that I was always trying to play catch up. For awhile, I had no idea where local Goth events were being held. Admittedly though, I tend to get reclusive and can very much be a creature of habit, always going to the same places in which I feel comfortable. 

At some point I heard that events were being held at a venue on the west side of town. I had no sooner figured out where the place was located however, when it shut down. Again, I was left for an extended period of time without a clue. At the time I worked for the local school system. One day a student, who mentioned that her parents were Goth, told me about a new club where occasional gatherings were taking place. I had friends who sometimes frequented the same establishment for other programs who related that the venue was extremely smoky. As a non smoker and a somewhat reserved person who doesn't like going to new places alone I hesitated; not for very long, but I hesitated nevertheless--and the place shut down!

It is only during the past year or two that I have finally made the acquaintance of a few similarly inclined folks from the general area. Most of my developing friendships center around a tea society that meets once a month at the local library or Facebook friends who happen to show up at special metal events. Most of these people, wonderful though they are, tend to be considerably younger than me; so what's missing is that shared sense of history, that common experience, the camaraderie borne from people of a certain age drawn together by similar interests. Sure, the love of dark music, styles of dress and literature we hold in common; but it can be hard to fit in--to really fit in, when the age difference goes beyond a certain point. It's just natural. 

Yes, I have friends with whom I occasionally get together, so it's not like I'm dying of loneliness or anything. I tend to be fairly solitary anyway, but I remain somewhat isolated in my gothiness; if I can use that word. My friends and other associates ask me questions about it from time to time, but they really don't understand it or relate to it in any way. They don't like horror movies, vampires, stories of deceased souls lurking in cemeteries, old-school Goth music, metal, dark ambient or black clothing; at least not clothing sporting vampires drinking from wine glasses filled with blood or other aspects of the macabre.

Although I'm sure that I'm not alone in my predicament, I do feel that my situation is somewhat unique. It would be great if I could eventually find the other older darklings who still reside here. I know they're around. But in the meanwhile, what's a person like me to do? Well, I guess I can be grateful for one thing; at least there's the internet.

Photo source: Gothicpictures.org. 
Author: Unknown



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Metal's Place in the Subculture

Of all the discussions that take place within the Gothic scene, the one I find most difficult to stay out of is the debate over where metal fits into the subculture. On the one hand, there are the more traditional folks who rightfully insist that Goth culture grew out of the punk and post-punk scenes. Metal, they like to point out, has very different roots and it's hard for me to disagree with that assessment. On the other hand, there are many similarities between the Gothic and metal scenes and crossover between the two subcultures is not at all uncommon. For what it's worth, this is my take on the whole thing: 

Merriam-Webster Online defines the word Gothic this way: "of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents"

Since there's no mention of music in the above definition, let's substitute the word fiction with music instead. Would Merriam-Webster's definition not still be correct; a statement of truth? Shouldn't Gothic music then, invoke the darker aspects; the macabre, desolation, despair, melancholy and the more occult aspects of our personalities, psyches and very souls? Doesn't it often do just that; and doesn't some metal accomplish the same thing? If so, then how can it not fall under the definition of Gothic? 

Admittedly, I have a bit of prejudice in this regard. I listen more to metal than any other genre of music; partly because so much of it does invoke the above-mentioned feelings in me. I would go so far as to argue that certain sub genres of metal come across as considerably more Gothic than much of the so-called old-school Goth. In other words, as much as I love Siouxsie Sioux and her music I would have to categorize her style as post punk. Siouxsie herself has actually denied that either she or her music are Gothic.So while I really enjoy the music and bands that started it all and those who carry on in the same vein, it's metal that generally brings me to that special place--to that desolate landscape in which waits the dark goddess of my dreams awaits me. Not all metal brings me there, and not necessarily that which is referred to as Gothic metal either. After all, labels are an inexact tool at best.

That said, there is a lot of Gothic metal that I believe does accomplish the mission--and it does so exceptionally well. And then there's doom metal with its various sub genres, such as Gothic doom, funeral doom and death doom which never fails to take me into that realm where I so often need to go. I would recommend, just to mention a few, the following bands for a truly Gothic experience: 

Draconian, Tales of Dark, Wine From Tears, Nox Aurea, The Sins of Thy Beloved, Tristania, Sirenia and Forest of Shadows. 

Perhaps I don't view Gothic music as traditionally as some because I wasn't there when it all happened. Oh, I'm old enough that I could have and perhaps should have been; but for whatever reason, I remained unaware of Goth culture until about twelve years ago. It's true, I was totally oblivious to it even though I was listening to The Cure--even though I loved Dead Can Dance, Loreena McKennitt and dark ethereal music in general. In any event, I'm a music lover who is more than ready to proclaim some metal genres as a type of Gothic music, even as I readily acknowledge that it sprang from different roots.

As Exhibit A, I offer you the following video. The song, which is performed by Amederia, a Gothic/Doom band from Russia, is entitled Doomed Ground. Enjoy!

Top Photo: The Pianist - Author unknown. 
Source: Gothicpictures.org