Sunday, July 29, 2012

Macabre Mansion: A Place to Free the Imagination

Back in the old days--before the advent of the entertainment industry as we know it today; and yes, even before television itself, broadcast radio experienced a heyday--the "golden age of radio," as some like to call it. From the 1930's to the early 50's it was the primary source of entertainment for a large segment of humanity as families and friends would often gather together in the evening to listen the latest episode of The Lone Ranger or The Invisible Man. It was a time when unseen actors, actresses and narrated descriptions set the imagination in motion. While everyone listening to a broadcast might be entertained, no two people would visualize the setting, occurrences and players in the same way. There's a certain magic in that.

Interestingly enough, a generous amount of dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi apparently made its way onto the airwaves during both radio's golden age and later attempts to revitalize that time period. You can imagine my excitement then when, two or three years ago, a friend made me aware of a website called Macabre Mansion. It's a place from which many of the darker radio programs of times past are streamed 24/7 over the net. It's a place that once again allows our imaginations to run wild.

In the mansion's archives lies an impressive selection of original horror programming. Some productions, such as those broadcast over the CBS Mystery Theater, a program hosted by E.G. Marshall, were fairly popular. Others however, have fallen much deeper into obscurity. Included among these are a program called The Weird Circle, which aired from 1943 to 1945 and a show heralding from South Africa called The Creaking Door. It's believed that the latter hit the airwaves some time around 1950. Other horror and sci-fi productions streamed from the mansion include The Inner Sanctum, The Haunting Hour and Lights Out, a program which focused on the supernatural.

The folks at Macabre Mansion have also done a couple of their own productions, which include Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and Charles Dickson's A Christmas Carol. Both are available for download or can be purchased on CD. According to the website, work has started on a third production.

It goes without saying though, that most of the programming heard at the mansion is quite old. The vernacular and style of delivery are somewhat dated. Still, the good folks behind this project present the listener with an opportunity to let his dark imagination run free at any time of the day or night. I recommend nighttime listening for obvious reasons.

As I look at what's currently playing, I see that it's an episode of Dark Fantasy entitled, The Thing From the Sea.  It might be a good time to turn off the lights, fire up a candle or two and listen in.

Here's another link to the Macabre Mansion website.

Photo is from the mansion website.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Wolf Gift: A Review

When Anne Rice announced her break with Christianity a couple of years ago, I became hopeful. It wasn't because I care all that deeply about her personal spiritual beliefs and practices because after all, her philosophy is just that--personal. Rather, it was because back in 2005 this popular author, who once penned the novel, Interview With the Vampire, had announced that she would henceforth, only write novels inspired by her belief in Christianity and the Bible.

During the five years following the change in format, Rice wrote three novels she designated as the Life of Christ series and two more belonging to her Songs of the Seraphim category. For awhile it looked as though she had forever abandoned her darker proclivities and the Gothic novel. So, after the writer's 2010 break with organized religion, my hope arose out of the ashes of literary despair as I pondered her possible writing plans and the potential this new situation presented. I doubted that there would be any new additions to the Vampire Chronicles because she had long ago declared a finish to that series. Still, I took solace in knowing that her creative impulses were once again free to roam--free to travel where they might and hopefully, devoid of restrictions imposed by dogmatic doctrine. I took a wait and see position--and I didn't have to wait very long. 

Back in April I was enjoying Happy Hour at my regular watering hole when an acquaintance handed me a book that was enclosed within a secondary cover.. "Happy World Reading Day," he told me. After quickly but gently removing the outer cover, which had been designed by a mutual friend who is a local artist, I read the Title. Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift. The wait was over; the popular author's latest novel had arrived.

The Wolf Gift, published by Alfred A. Knopf this past January, takes place in Northern California where a young and promising reporter named Reuben Golding is on assignment to write a story for the San Francisco Observer about a large and elegant house that is going up for sale after a settlement of the estate. The current owner is a somewhat older but very attractive woman named Marchent Nideck, with whom the aspiring journalist quickly becomes enamored. Tragedy strikes that evening however, as both host and hostess come are assaulted in the darkness by a couple of intruders, which in turn, quickly meet their own fate at the hands of something strong, powerful and unexplained. Reuben, for reasons he doesn't at first understand, survives the attack in spite of serious injury. His remarkable recovery becomes even more pronounced however, when changes in appearance, increases in sensory perception, physical strength and the emergence of intense but previously unknown desires merge to become a part of his persona--the personality of a man wolf, as the author prefers to describe it.

Rice weaves a compelling tale as Reuben learns that he must keep himself from the clutches of law-enforcement agencies that don't understand him and two Russian doctors of malicious intent. And then there is Reuben's own search for the mysterious Felix Nideck, Marchent's long believed dead uncle! As with her vampires, the author causes her character to wrestle with the morality of what has become his nature. He seeks solace through interaction with his brother Jim, a somewhat reluctant Catholic priest who knows the truth but because of his priestly vows, must remain silent. He confesses his sins; yet, cannot assuage his dark desires.

Eventually, the story comes to its climax and Reuben learns the truth of what he has become and how the wolf gift came into being.

If Rice intends to show that she is still capable of writing dark novels, I believe that The Wolf Gift is proof enough. And as if this novel weren't enough, there is a planned release for a second one, which is scheduled to go on sale this coming November. It's name is Interview With the Vampire: Claudia's Story. I can't wait to read it.

Welcome back to the dark side Anne!   
Jacket photograph: iStockphoto
Jacket design: Carol Devine Carson



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cemetery Restoration: An Update

About two weeks ago I did a story about one of the nearby cemeteries and plans for its restoration. I considered that with the weather being as hot as it has been that the project might be put off until things cooled down a bit. I was wrong however, and the restoration project got underway just a couple of days ago. So, I just thought I'd provide a few photos for those interested in seeing how they're going about it.

The above picture, although taken from too great a distance perhaps, shows a cemetery with all of its decorative iron fencing removed. The damaged barricade has already shipped to a place where hopefully, sections of it that bent under the weight of fallen trees will be properly straightened and returned to their former structural integrity. 

Already two of the brick-lined tombs have been dismantled with their collective pieces placed nearby. The pieces that served as the foundation had been anchored a few inches below the surface of the ground. I'm not sure what purpose the rocks to the left of the grave have. It's definitely something I should ask about.

When I first laid eyes on the brick vaults some years ago they were still completely enclosed and I entertained the possibility that the bodies of the deceased had been kept above ground. It's obvious now that they were not. I'm not sure what the rectangle in the center is all about; but more likely than not, it simply represents the care with which the bottom bricks had been removed. The workers are trying their best to disturb these final resting places as little as possible.

Watching this process is an intriguing affair and I may have a few more photos of interest for you along the way.   

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ozark Hauntings: The Legend of Ghost Hallow

Inside the Ozark Mountain region of Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri is a cultural heritage rich in folk tales and legends of the supernatural. Perhaps this is the case because many of the early European settlers to this area were of Scottish and Irish ancestry; people that migrated to North America with stories and songs that often spoke of otherworldly encounters, and whose beliefs and practices were still steeped in the old ways of paganism and witchcraft. It may also be the case that closeness to Nature and the observation of its intricate workings inspires human beings to weave tales of the occult. Then again, it may really be true that other existences parallel our own and at certain times the veils that separate the worlds from one another become exceedingly thin or are somehow cast aside long enough to give us a glimmer of the beyond.

Whatever the explanation, the legends of old persist and are still today, supported by fresh reports of ghostly sightings and encounters with unseen entities and nature spirits. Paranormal investigators have no trouble keeping themselves occupied here, and it's not unusual for them to travel to this very spot on East Mountain as they continue with their never ending quest to verify the supernatural. East Mountain is of particular interest, not only because of its history and the existence of so many cemeteries, both maintained and abandoned, but also because of an occurrence that took place many years ago.

Ghost Hallow is a rather isolated and rugged tract of private land that is situated due east of the Walker Cemetery, of which I posted last week. More than anything else, it resembles a heavily forested ravine and dry creek, which seems to extend southward as far as the eye can see when viewed from the large rock formations, which stand like a fortress on its north end. Considering how close the hallow is to the center of town and one of its busiest thoroughfares, it is amazingly secluded and lends to the occasional visitor a sense of being in the middle of nowhere. 

Not far from Ghost Hallow stands the Walker Mansion, which was built after the Civil War by Judge David Walker for his daughter Mary and her husband, James D. Walker. Before that, only a log cabin owned by an attorney named Matthew Leeper stood on the site. Accounts vary as to the time during which the events I'm about to describe took place, but the general consensus and the progression of area history point to the early 1850's; more specifically, the winter of 1853. 

Mr. Leeper, who was likely also an Indian agent Commissioned by President Jackson, was planning to depart from the area for a while. Rather than leave his East Mountain cabin vacated for an indeterminate amount of time, he decided to allow a newlywed couple from Forth Smith to occupy the structure during his absence. As the story goes, the young bride began cooking in the fireplace without having removed her wedding dress. While she was tending to her tasks, the young woman got a little too close to the fire. One of the crackling logs suddenly sent out a barrage of sparks, which quickly ignited her dress. In a panic, she ran out the back door and into the hallow screaming as she burned--perhaps hoping against hope that she could find some water in the dry creek. 

The unfortunate lady died that night, and her body was stored on site until the arrival of spring, at which time some say her grieving husband brought her remains back to Fort Smith for burial. No one knows what happened to the young man after that, but there are those who say that the young bride can still be still seen from time to time, running with her clothes afire, her screams audible.Others say that an unknown young woman can sometimes be seen walking the grounds surrounding the Walker Mansion. There are also those who consider the mansion itself to be haunted. I have never asked its current residents about that however.

It's easy to discount such legends as the result of vivid imaginations or superstition. In all honesty, I cannot say that I have either seen her or been witness to her screams; but then again, I have only been in Ghost Hallow two or three times.and I live approximately a quarter mile's distance from it. Still, I have spoken to folks who claim to have heard her anguished cries and I have no reason not to believe them. After all, how can I discount their stories when I myself had what I consider a ghostly encounter one summer night? How can I disregard their accounts when I have received independent validation of other paranormal occurrences previously related to me? 

Those stories however, are for another time.



Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Restoration of an Historic Cemetery

As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I'm involved with the care of a small but historic burial ground that is situated on the slope of a hill, which during the time of the cemetery's creation in the 1800's,  used to be called East Mountain. Buried within the confines of the iron fence that surrounds the small graveyard are some of this Northwest Arkansas community's earliest inhabitants of European ancestry. Essentially, they were pioneers who settled here when the Ozark region was still a forested wilderness. They established a community that eventually became the seat of county government, and took part in political decisions that affected the entire nation.

In recent years, the Walker Cemetery has sustained a considerable amount of damage due to the remains of Hurricane Ike, which in September of 2008 came up from the Gulf of Mexico and violently collided with an advancing cold front, and a catastrophic ice storm in January 2009 that destroyed roughly one-quarter of the area's tree and forest canopy. The graveyard has also sustained a certain amount of damage at the hands of either vandals or the curious, who move broken pieces around in order to get a better look inside the graves.

For a long time the Walker Cemetery's legal status remained in a state of limbo, so to speak. No one knew who it's rightful owner might be. County records told us nothing and the local historic society was unable to be of assistance either. Finally, and after a great deal of detective work, we learned that the deed to the property was in the hands of one of the deceased--one of the Walker family members forever interned here on East Mountain. After further consultation with lawyers and surviving family members both locally and around the country, the burial ground was officially deeded over to the Southern Memorial Association, which quickly made the decision to request that the property be placed on the National Register of Historic Places - Arkansas.

More recently, a member of the Walker family, who resides out of state, offered to finance a badly needed restoration of the burial ground, which is tentatively set to begin at almost any time now. Still, with a decision on the site's historic status scheduled for early August, it is vitally important that the cemetery be restored according to National Register guidelines, lest all efforts will have been in vain. Now, I'd like to showcase some of the damage sustained in recent years as well as discuss a little about some of those interned here.

  This is the monument for Judge David James Walker, who is undoubtedly the best known and most influential member of the family. Born in Elkton, Kentucky on February 19, 1806, he arrived at what is now the City of Fayetteville around October 30, 1830. He was a Whig and a jurist who became an associate justice of the state supreme court. Most notably, he called the second Secession Convention in Little Rock, during which delegates from around the state overwhelmingly voted to join the Confederacy on May 4, 1861. Neither his grave nor monument has suffered any storm damage. 

 These two brick vaults belong to Judge David Walker's parents, Jacob Wythe Walker (1778 - 1838) and his wife Ann (1782 - 1851). The tomb on the left, which belongs to Jacob, represents the first burial on the property. As is obvious from the photo, it has sustained considerable damage. Both of these, as well as three other similar graves on site, are typical of a popular nineteenth century burial style. 

Correspondence from a mother in Kentucky to her daughter living in the wilds of Northwest Arkansas during the 1830's provides a valuable link between the Walkers and another well known American family. The small monument on the left belongs to that of Rebecca Washington, who as Rebecca Smith in Kentucky, married Whiting Washington, General George Washington's first cousin once removed. Her correspondence with daughter Jane, who married David Walker, eventually led both her and husband, Whiting to the vicinity of East Mountain where they are now buried close to Jane, the grand daughter of our first president's cousin. Notice what appears to be a crack about two-thirds of the way up the monument. In actuality, it's a clean break, which provides more evidence that major restoration is needed. 

In the background is the vault in which Jane Lewis Walker, the wife of David Walker was laid to rest. The two smaller tombs in the foreground contain the remains of two children born to Erastus and Courtnay Duncan. One of the children, an infant, died in 1844 while the other left this world in 1850.
All three of these bricked vaults are damaged. The child's grave on the right has, for all practical purposes, lost its protective cover. Bricks have begun falling away from the siding on Jane Walker's enclosed vault. They are currently sitting on top of the grave awaiting restoration as is the broken cover of the child's tomb.

 With a view from the rear or east end of the cemetery you can see the grave marker for Captain John J. Walker, a Confederate officer who died of natural causes in 1886. His monument is tilting somewhat..

James David Walker was a United States Senator. He's buried here with his wife, Mary.

What was once described as an "ornamental fence" now lies on its side severely damaged. In other places, the fence is bent and warped due to the sheer weight of the trees that fell upon it. The fencing behind the David Walker monument is also bent and leaning toward the ground. It cannot be replaced however; at least not if the graveyard is to gain a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Instead, it can only be repaired. Portions of this one may be going to a blacksmith in Southern Missouri for restoration.  

Finally, here's another partial view of this historic graveyard in which some of our community's earliest pioneers lie in rest. While I'm not going to mention the names of all those interned here, there are a few more worth mentioning. 

Captain  Jacob Wythe Walker was a CSA army captain who was killed at the Battle of Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas on May 21, 1864, and the remains of Rebecca Washington's sister, Lucy Smith, lie close to that of her sibling.

From time to time this afternoon, I found myself running back into this final resting place in order to verify some piece of information that I wanted to provide you. On one of these visits I  read the inscription on the grave marker belonging to John James Pope, who passed away in 1861. Sometimes the epitaphs we find in these places speak volumes, in spite of their brevity. This one did. It simply said, "Jamie, the only son of his mother and she was a widow." 

The living and the dead await the revitalization of this historic property. When the work is completed, I hope to provide you with photos of the upgrade.