Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Good Purchase or Not?

For the past six weeks or so, I've kept my eyes on a pair of combat boots, which suddenly showed up at my favorite resale and vintage clothing shop. In spite of having some reservations about buying them, due to factors that I'm about to explain, I purchased them Friday morning. I'm just thrilled to have them, but the fact of the matter is, they are between two and a half to three sizes too large for me. Why did I buy them? Here's my logic:

For whatever reason, I tend to have problems with almost any shoes that I buy. I walk a lot and before long, I either get friction burns on my feet somewhere or even more frequently, the shoes that fit comfortably when I first put them on grow tighter and tighter until eventually, they seem way too small. 

The boots I just bought, on the other hand, feel very comfortable and provide me with a lot of extra space; there's no way they're going to feel too small for me and may even fit a bit better after I've been walking or standing in them for awhile. A pair of thermal socks over another pair in cold weather might even help them fit more as well as providing a bit of practicality. These should provide me with plenty of traction on slippery landscapes during the winter months and truth be told, I've wanted a pair of boots like this for a long time, even if they do make my feet look bigger than they actually are due to their extra size. Most importantly, they were priced at $20.00; and after discussing their advantages and disadvantages with the store clerk, he sold them to me for $15.00--along with the offer that if they didn't work out for me, I could return them and trade for something else. Finally, I'm really glad to finally have a good pair of boots that can supplement my style.

Here's my question to you the reader: All things considered, do you think I made a good purchase or not? I'd be interested to hear what you think about this.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cemetery Update

I haven't come up with very much to talk about this week but fortunately, the work crew has repaired and reinstalled the iron fence at the Walker Cemetery; so that gives me something to write about, even if this post will be kind of short.  

While this development doesn't signal the end of the restoration project, it does mark a major cornerstone as straightening an entire cast iron fence and anchoring it to its former cement-encased moorings can't be easy. The work took months to complete. 

I am very happy to see this gate restored. Before the restoration work began, this opening portal was resting upon the ground and was basically, preventing the collapse of the adjoining fence structure.   

This is just another shot looking toward the north. I'm really amazed at the craftsmanship it took to bend back into shape and evenly align the entire barricade. 

Next, the work will likely refocus on the graves, some of which are still in need of reassembling. You can view photos of the burial ground before restoration began by going here.


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Cellar: A True Story

It was a dark and dreary night
Around the campfire bright
The captain said Antonio
Tell us your most fearful story
And Antonio, he began.

I don’t remember how I caught on to the fact that some mysterious and yes, even frightening occurrences had been witnessed by members of my nuclear and extended family. Perhaps it was one of the many conversations that I used to have with my Dad when one of those dreary and rainy New England afternoons descended upon us.

My father had a workshop in the basement where he used to sharpen saws, lawnmower blades, knives, and other such things; this, as a sideline to his regular day job. He spent many long hours there at night and on weekends. I could always tell what he was doing, even if I wasn’t with him; each of his machines had its own sound and personality.

The basement itself—no cellar, because that’s the word New Englanders use in describing such lower chambers, was a marvel to behold—at least for a child. A flick of a light switch from the kitchen illuminated the steps and their immediate surroundings, where stood two washing machines and a sink to the right. So much for the mundane, I guess. On the left stood an old coal furnace, which had been converted to oil-burning capacity. Behind it, and a bit closer to the workshop, stood a similar burner. It belonged to my aunt and uncle, who lived on the second floor.

The rest of the cellar maintained an ambiance that was unlike any other in my experience. The rooms contained within it held mysteries of their own—relics from years gone by. An old hand-cranked adding machine that once belonged to my grandfather sat in the shadows. I would sometimes play with that machine, but it stood in the darkness—that off to the side part of the basement where even the light dared not go.

The closer to my Dad’s shop you got the more interesting, yet ominous, the cellar became. On the left, just in front of the workshop, was a narrow room that contained shelving, upon which lay carpentry tools and supplies. At some time in the distant past it served as a dark room—a place where my father practiced his photography. At the far end of this over-sized closet was a collection of old-time sheet music.

The dark room was a peculiar setting. When the light was on it could be an intriguing place. When the light was off or the door shut however, it evoked a feeling of foreboding and dread--as if some unidentifiable, yet unspeakable horror lurked just beyond its wooden gate. In the dreams that would later come to me, it did.

There were other frightening corners in that cellar as well, but I lay no blame upon it for the things that transpired down there. No, it wasn’t the cellar; it was the knowledge. Once I knew—once I had knowledge as to the events and occurrences that had taken place…well, it opened a portal to another world—a world of frightening and almost unimaginable terror, whose spirit entities visited the darker regions of the cellar from time to time. AND THEN, THERE WAS THE CELLAR OF MY MIND!

I still remember the dreary afternoon upon which I relentlessly pressed my father to reveal the secrets—to speak to me of the unexplainable occurrences of which I had inkling. “If I tell you it will frighten you,” he would say.

“No! No it won’t scare me. I’m not afraid of that stuff.”

“It was a dark and dreary night…around the campfire bright…” he responded.

This process kept repeating itself; my frustration with it growing.

“It was a dark and dreary night…”

Why does he keep repeating that poem? I thought to myself, it doesn’t go anywhere!

“It was a dark and dreary night…around the campfire bright…”

“Why do you keep repeating that poem Dad? Can’t you just tell me?”

Then…he suddenly…RELENTED!

I listened to the stories as, one after the other, they spoke of things more horrible than I had ever imagined. Perhaps they were horrible because they were real. How could they not be? Had I not been relentless in pressing my dad to tell them? Had he not been reluctant to speak of them?

Where do I even begin to describe the horrors—the otherworldly phantoms that assaulted me from some dark and forbidden place? How do I relate the feeling one gets knowing that something kept walking up Aunt Elsie’s stairwell—that kept attempting to open her door—ALL NIGHT LONG!

Then there was the priest with a horse’s hoof instead of a foot—a priest that was standing in a closet when someone tried to open the door!

As my father continued on with his telling of these tales, I remained transfixed. I learned of the clock that no longer worked, yet chimed just at midnight one Christmas Eve. “Someone is going to die within the next year,” it was proclaimed, and someone did. The following Christmas Eve the non functional clock, as if arising from its own death, struck twelve once again. That was when my great grandfather, who had once lived in the same cellar that I was now sitting in—that’s when he departed from this world.

Most hideous and unnerving of all however, was the alarm clock. Oh yes, the alarm clock. It wasn’t my alarm clock—the one that woke me for school most mornings. No, it was the one of which my father spoke—the one that rang without being asked to—the one that also didn’t function!

I didn’t know who that hellish clock belonged to or where it was physically located, but I understood its power—ITS POWER TO TERRIFY! It haunted me in my dreams—ringing and spinning—ringing and spinning on some unknown ledge as it hurled its spine-tingling waves of terror at my very soul. Still, even that repellent clock, with all the evil it could cast, was not the worst of it.

Once I learned the secrets my world changed. My nights alone—those nights when my folks would go out--they became fearsome things. On those nights I would hear objects moving around in the darkness of the cellar. Something would slide; there would be a crash. I intuited that the sounds came from the wooden flats, upon which mason jars filled with nails, screws and washers stood. These would slide and crash—slide and crash. Yet, whenever my father next returned to his shop NOTHING WOULD BE OUT OF PLACE—NOTHING!

At times I told my parents about the sounds in the basement, but they didn’t believe me. How could they? After all, nothing was out of place Still, I knew, and just about every time they would allow me to stay home alone for part of an evening, I would hear the sounds.

Yes, the cellar was a dark, mysterious and frightening place. Still, when it entered my dreams, it was even worse—much worse! On those nights I slowly walked the cellar’s ominous dreamscape. At times it was well lighted and it was on the first of these nights that I discovered the circle—a red circle. Within its perimeter was the head of a bull; its horns were prominent and I knew they signified something sinister. The bull’s head was a passage way to the lower levels. Yes, below the cellar with which I was familiar there were lower levels—subterranean chambers that contained the dark secrets ordinarily masked by the one above. These deeper recesses were places I dared not explore; after all, I had enough to contend with.

There were times when I was compelled to traverse that loathsome place while knowing full well what awaited me. On these nights, there was only the dim light emanating from the bulb by the stairs. I would see no bull’s head, for the darkness would increase with every step—STEPS TOWARD THE DARK ROOM—careful steps taken so as to not alert my presence to that which lurked just beyond its door.

Alas, my efforts of nonchalance were never of any avail, for each time I attempted to pass by that frightening space its door would fly open without warning—unleashing a blood-curdling scream so hideous as to strike debilitating fear into the very demons of hell; this while THE STIFF BODY OF MY DECEASED GREAT GRANDMOTHER—HANDS BY HER SIDE, WOULD FALL IN MY DIRECTION!

At those moments—those nanoseconds of sheer terror, I would suddenly escape from that nightmarish landscape and safely land in the everyday world—a world however, in which the cellar, which caused in me so much discomposure, lay only a few feet below my bed!

Every time I disclosed the re-occurrence of this horrific dream to my father, he would simply chuckle and repeat his observation that my great grandma would never hurt me. Although I really didn’t remember her, in my conscious mind at least, I had no reason to disbelieve his claim. Still, at those times when her stiff body fell out of the dark-room door; this, accompanied by that god-awful blood curdling scream…at those moments it was difficult to recall his words.

As I grew into my teenage years the cellar remained a constant; yet, its effect upon me lessened as I spent less time at home and instead, assumed the independence that was my birthright—that is every young person’s birthright. Still, upon the figurative eve of my departure from the old homestead the cellar offered me one last glimpse at the phantoms that resided within it—one last glimpse into the horror that it could inflict upon a vulnerable soul.
I married early. In order to help us get a better start, my parents came up with an idea. My father would fix up the large unused room in the basement that my mom once used for her hairdressing business. It was the room close to the stairs and washing machines. I thought about the possible horrors that I might face residing down there; oh yes, I thought about them! Still, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I felt that the subterranean chambers’ influence on me had diminished. I agreed to take the risk, and my partner, having never felt the horrors that the cellar could inflict, went along with the scheme.

One summer night, she and I retired to the room and climbed into bed. We were engaged in conversation when suddenly we both heard it. It was a sound that, to the best of my knowledge, had never been heard within the confines of the family residence. It was the ticking of a clock—A GRANDFATHER CLOCK! 

TIC…TOC…TIC…TOC. Slowly, steadily and methodically it sounded. TICK…TOC…TIC…TOC…She grabbed on to me as if holding on for dear life on some roller coaster; a roller coaster of horrors perhaps! The drone of the clock’s ticking came from just the other side of our door.  


As quickly as that grandfather clock from hell began the ticking it stopped—momentarily at least, but only for a moment of reprieve; then, it renewed its assault upon us. Thoughts of the ticking clock that foretold my great grandfather’s death ran through my terrified mind. Did this mean that someone else would soon pass from this world? Was my great grandfather, who passed away before my birth trying to communicate with me?

Finally, the hideous sound ceased. For a few moments, I remained in the room—not wanting to face that which may lie just beyond the door. Feeling the need to put on an act of bravery I finally opened the door and looked around. All is as it should be, I thought to myself, just as I suspected there is no clock here.

There never was a grandfather clock—at least not in the physical realm--not during my time on this Earth. Such relics from the past were neither in the cellar nor anywhere else in the house; yet, I heard its terrifying voice as did my young bride. My parents believed neither my sisters nor myself about the ghosts that existed in our basement, but now there was another person who experienced—who now believed.
That was the last horror inflicted upon me by the cellar. Soon we moved out and I started upon life’s adventure with all of its twists and turns—with all of its sorrow, pain and yes, happiness—all of its victories and defeats.
Of course, there were the occasional visits to the old house; after all, my parents still lived there. At times, my mother asked me to get something for her from the basement. Jokingly, I would remind her of the presence I believed still haunted that place. Never was there a time during which I didn’t feel it upon descending those stairs and casting my eyes into the darkness.

Eventually, my parents sold the house and moved to the southern end of the state. Still, I wonder. I wonder what experiences the new owners may have had with that dreadful cellar and its phantoms. Could our family ghosts be the reason why the first buyers eventually re-sold the house, or were the nightmares and crashes in the night only for us—a part of our shared history—something not intended for anyone else? There are those who believe that certain spiritual entities follow families, tribes and cultures from one place to another; particularly, when the people who believe in their existence. Perhaps it is the belief of their existence that inspires them to continue on.

As for the cellar, all I am left with are memories and speculation—memories of pure horror and speculation as to how that subterranean place of horrors got its power. While I may never know the answers to my questions, I do know what I believe, and I am convinced that by telling me those family secrets—those tales of the so-called supernatural, my father unwittingly set a series of events in motion. A portal between the worlds opened on that dreary afternoon, and it was through that doorway that the phantoms of the past traveled in order to take residence in the cellar.  

Copyright © 2010 Al Vick: All rights reserved  

 The above photo entitled Kellerloch is the property of Johannes A. Frostfeuer and is published here with permission. Visit his gallery at:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Walk Through the Evergreen Cemetery

There is another totally awesome burial ground in my town that I haven't mentioned yet. The Evergreen Cemetery, which is much larger than the ones I'm associated with, is located very close to both the University of Arkansas and our downtown entertainment district. Although Evergreen is close to the action, so to speak, it is a very quiet and peaceful place-- an historic oasis of tranquility graced with many shade trees, birds, red squirrels and many other delightful aspects of Nature. 

My original idea was to wait until fall before posting photos from this special place; but then, it occurred to me that the camera I've been using is borrowed and that the person loaning it to me might want it back before late October. So I decided to take a walk around this wondrous graveyard late this morning in order to showcase it as this week's regular blog entry and photo journey.

It was hard to decide which grave markers I wanted to use for this exhibit because truth be told, I could have stayed there all day finding unique and beautiful grave markers. This was the first one to catch my eye.

Some of you may remember the brick vaults that are undergoing restoration in the Walker Cemetery on East Mountain. This one is different in two ways: First, this type of crypt was common during the nineteenth century. The one pictured here however, dates to around 1945. Also, there is no cement slab covering the top; instead, the deceased is entirely bricked in. somehow, this particular crypt seems stronger than the ones I'm familiar with.

Pictured here is the largest marker in a family plot. While I don't know much about the McIlroy family, I do know that until just several years ago, there was a local bank named after them.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture calls Judge Lafayette Gregg "One of the most enigmatic, if relatively unknown, figures in Arkansas history." Born in 1825, he is best known as an important figure in the location of the Arkansas Industrial University to Fayetteville. That institution later became the University of Arkabnsas.

Archibald Yell (August 9, 1797 to February 22, 1847) was both a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the second governor of Arkansas. His remains have been exhumed and relocated three times. Hopefully, Evergreen will be his final resting place.


Shown here is the grave marker of Sophia Sawyer, who was actually born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1792. Sophia arrived in the area around July 1, 1839 and almost immediately set about the task of founding the Fayetteville Female Seminary, which served as an educational facility for not just women of European stock, but Cherokee heritage as well.


This is just a small section of the cemetery facing south.

Finally, here's an interesting mix of monuments and smaller grave markers.

It had been a long time since I'd visited the Evergreen Cemetery. I think I should go there more often. I'll definitely go back there when autumn comes.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The First Breath of Autumn

Today was another hot and sticky day. A stray thundershower skirted by us, but it only served to make the day more humid--more uncomfortable. We sweltered when the sunshine returned. 

Then, late in the afternoon the clouds reappeared and rapidly thickened. The sky darkened  as lightning began to flash in the northwest and the sound of thunder reverberated across the Ozark landscape. Suddenly, strong and refreshingly cool wind gusts blew in from out of the north, causing great trees to sway back and forth; signs fell to the ground and lighter objects, picked up by the gale, rose into the air above the treetops. 

The landscape darkened to the point of twilight and behind the tempest's darkest clouds was a sky of green--threatening and foreboding. All of a sudden and with another flash of lightning, the rain began falling in torrents, riding on the back of the powerful gale. Within moments wind-driven sheets of water assaulted the dry Earth. 

After ten or fifteen minutes had transpired, the storm passed and the rain slowed, leaving behind only a light sprinkle and the occasional roaring of thunder as it receded into the distance. The air however, was cooler--much cooler. A change had taken place.. 

Oh yes, this first cool spell will pass and within a couple of days, summer will return. But late this afternoon the first cool breath of Autumn abruptly made its way into Northwest Arkansas. The season of cooling winds, swirling leaves, death, decay and Jack o' Lanterns will soon be upon us.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

What Makes Music Sound Gothic?

Before I present this topic I'd like to make a certain distinction. If you look at the title of this entry you'll notice that I used the word Gothic as opposed to Goth. Blogs and forums written by and for Goths are ripe with discussion about music and very adequately cover the topic of what's Goth and what's not; this, even though there's not necessarily much agreement on the subject.. That's not where I want to go with this entry however. Instead, I want to discuss some of the actual mechanics--the styles of musicianship and musical tricks that lend to the dark, melancholy and despairing sound that we love so much. Keep in mind that the same principles apply regardless of whether the music type is classical or neo-classical, dark ambient, Goth rock, dark wave, electronic or metal  Sure, each genre mentioned here has qualities that make it unique and recognizable, but there are certain things composers/musicians can do to lend a darker ambiance to their creations.


Of course, a song's lyrics speak for themselves; both literally and figuratively. There is little doubt that the words in a musical piece lend to its overall mood. Take, for example, an album created by the Alan Parsons Project in 1976 called Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The collection was a musical retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's horror stories and poetry. Although I cannot speak to most of the songs in that particular collection, I am familiar with the track entitled The Raven; but while that song quotes Poe to a certain extent and even incorporates a segment of choral-like vocals, I wouldn't call that particular song Gothic. So, what in my mind, prevents that well done song from sounding truly Gothic? It contains too many major chords and not enough minors.

Minor Chords 

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a chord as "three or more musical notes sounded simultaneously." While various types of chords exist it's the majors and minors that are the most common. For reasons I'll never be able to explain or completely understand, major chords sound upbeat while minors offer a much more melancholy flavor. It goes to reason then that a composer of Gothic music would use lots of minor chords. These will work with or without the accompaniment of compatible lyrics.

The Tri-tone 

Believe it or not, in Europe during the eighteenth century the use of certain musical intervals (the distance between notes) were prohibited from classical music. The tri-tone, which is nothing more than two notes spaced three whole tones apart, was considered as belonging to the Devil when expressed musically during that time period. Tri-tones are dissonant in nature and must be resolved by more harmonious chords and melodies. Although it might seem silly to ban certain musical notes, tri-tones really do sound somewhat evil and are well suited for Gothic music when used skillfully. The tri-tone has been used successfully by classical composers such as Giuseppe Tartine, Nicolo Paginini and Richard Wagner as well as a host of metal bands including Black Sabbath. 


The skillful use of choirs and Gregorian harmonies lends a wonderfully Gothic feel to any piece of music. One of the things that first impressed me about The Sisters of Mercy was the incorporation of choral sounds into songs such as This Corrosion. Any of you who either attended, watched or listened to Within Temptation's Black Symphony which was performed at the Ahoy in Rotterdam, know how much Gothic atmosphere was created by the talents of both the Pa'dam Choir and the Dutch Metropole Orchestra with its use of the tri-tone; especially during the overture.  


If you're in a band and don't have access to a choir you can always create somewhat similar harmonies with your keyboards. While there is noting like a Grande Piano in the performance of classical music, the keyboards are an amazingly versatile instrument capable of creating a wide variety of musical sounds. With their ability to sustain notes and chords indefinitely, the keys can add an amazingly atmospheric and eerie background to any musical piece. 

As always, I'm using this blog entry to express my opinion as to what makes music sound Gothic. If a group mixes the above-mentioned ingredients skillfully, it's music ought to sound pretty damn good--and dark. Below I'm including a couple of videos that are representative of what I've been discussing here. 

This first song, Mephistorium, is performed by a Gothic-doom band from Serbia called Tales of Dark. This hauntingly beautiful piece is loaded with tri-tones, minor chords, vocal and keyboard harmonies as well as a well done beauty and the beast effect. How will I identify the tri-tones, you might ask? Trust me, you'll know them when you hear them. 

Next we see the Vampire Lestat (played by Stuart Townsend) performing the song Slept So Long with his band in Death Valley in a scene from the film, Queen of the Damned. Listen closely to the dark-sounding tones as the band performs. Incidentally, that particular soundtrack was created by Jonathon Davis, formerly of the nu metal group Korn. The vocals were performed by Jay Gordan.    


Top photo source: Gothic Pictures Gallery.
Artist unknown