Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Ghost Story; The Lost Christmas Tradition

Xmas Ghost

The Christmas traditions we keep are mostly personal. The type of food we make or eat, the gifts we give or receive they way we decorate our homes. Many of the general traditions we observe come from the Victorian era, the Christmas tree, stockings, ornaments, fruitcake and a long list of other traditions. But one I’ve noticed that hasn't been kept is the telling or ghost stories. I began to wonder why and started to think of the reasons why they did in the first place and why don’t we now.

I then came across this story that sort of explains a bit of what I was thinking.


While reading a list of all the modern Christmas traditions that were either borrowed from pagan winter festivals or invented by the English during the mid-19th century, it's remarkable to see how little Christmas has changed over the past 160 years.

People still send Christmas cards, decorate evergreen trees, go door-to-door caroling and stuff stockings with candy. Christmas, at least as most Americans celebrate it, really is a product of Victorian England.

In the last few decades, though, perhaps one of the most interesting Victorian Christmas traditions has been almost completely lost from memory.

“Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories,” wrote British humorist Jerome K. Jerome as part of his introduction to an anthology of Christmas ghost stories titled “Told After Supper“ in 1891. “Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters.”

The practice of gathering around the fire on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories was as much a part of Christmas for the Victorian English as Santa Claus is for us.

Traces of this now-forgotten tradition occasionally appear in noticeable places at Christmastime, although their significance is generally overlooked.

One verse of Andy Williams’ classic Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” for instance, clearly says, “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”

The most obvious example of how Victorian ghost stories have persisted to some degree in modern Christmas celebrations, however, is of course Charles Dickens’ own “ghostly little story” (as he calls it in the introduction) “A Christmas Carol.”

Some argue that Dickens’ Christmas ghost story single-handedly saved the winter holiday from dying out during the Industrial Revolution. At a time when England was no longer celebrating Christmas, Dickens reintroduced many centuries-old traditions with his instant holiday classic. It has become so much a part of Christmas in its various film adaptations and theatrical versions that people don't even wonder why Dickens chose, of all things, four spectral visitors to bring about Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from miserly curmudgeon to selfless philanthropist.

Isn’t there something inherently unseasonal about ghosts? Don’t ghosts belong with all the ghouls and goblins of Halloween? Not so for Victorian England.

“There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas — something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails… For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated,” Jerome wrote.

He continues, “So what is it about Christmas that goes so well with ghosts? Such a question inevitably brings up the issue of why we celebrate Christmas in December at all.”

As Lord Protector of England during the mid-17th century, Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell was perhaps not entirely without justification when he tried to abolish the celebration of Christmas. As he argued, nowhere in the Bible does it tell Christians to celebrate Christ’s birth on the 25th of December. Nor, in fact, does it mention any “holy day” other than the Lord’s Sabbath.

On top of that, the 25th of December was not an arbitrary choice for early Christians. Rather, it was selected because of its connection with pagan festivals like Yule and Sol Invictus (the birthday of the Unconquered Sun), both of which commemorated the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

These festivals celebrated the death of light and its subsequent rebirth the following day. It was for the obvious symbolic connotations that early Christians adopted dates significant to pagan Romans and Northern Europeans.

In addition to being the longest night of the year, however, winter solstice was also traditionally held to be the most haunted due to its association with the death of the sun and light. It was the one night of the year when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the deceased was thinnest. On Christmas Eve, ghosts could walk the earth and finish unsettled business, as exemplified by the apparition of Marley in Charles Dickens' Christmas masterpiece.

In short, the Victorian Christmas celebration, which drew heavily on pagan symbols like yule logs, holly berries and Father Christmas himself, also embraced the winter holiday’s associations with the supernatural to create one of its most popular annual traditions.

Unfortunately, of all the traditions and rituals that have survived through the generations, the Victorian custom of recounting blood-curdling ghost stories with friends and family around the fire on Christmas Eve has been almost completely forgotten.

So if you decide to watch "The Others" or "The Sixth Sense" this Christmas Eve instead of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” or “Elf," you'll be keeping alive a Victorian Christmas Eve tradition.

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News


The Victorians where very aware of their mortality they loved Spiritualism and often conducted séances or searched out mediums in hopes of communicating with the dead.  They honored loved ones recently past by photographing them and taking clips of their hair to produce hair woven lockets, bracelets and necklaces. It would seem fitting to tell a ghost story or two during the bleak month of December.

Todays sensibilities we focus more on getting the right gift, spending time with friends and family, food, shopping, church, decorating and trying to recapture the love and magic of Christmas from our youth. We no longer have time to dwell thinking about the supernatural. Ghost stories are a much apart of the season as in any other time of the year. They are perfect for the season because what a better way to demonstrate the moral tale then through a ghost story.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Creative Spaces and Far Away Places


There is something wonderful about having a creative place of your own. A place to daydream, a place to get your hands dirty, to think, a place to pursue the most  strange and bizarre ideas and a place to fall into the depths of your own thoughts and feelings, a place to allow your creative spirit to run free.

For me I’ve always needed such a place. A creative place to surround myself with things I love and give me inspiration to allow my dark side run uninhibited. I’ve always had a fascination with things of horror and macabre. This past year I began adding to my collection new items like a hypnosis machine, gas mask, vintage embalming bottles, Ouija Boards and a framed movie poster of the 1928 silent film “The Haunted House”.

Strangely enough these items have given me much needed distraction from such a very troubled year. This year has been a roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. As I look back I’ve noticed I’ve shot very little in the way of photography but I have remained busy exploring other projects and talents.

As this year winds down I’m making new plans for 2013 and I’m excited for what the future holds. Conventions, travel and new explorations of haunted places are just some of the items on the calendar.

This weekend I traveled to my hometown in Illinois for a funeral of a family member. Despite the bad circumstance for me leaving my home I was glad to venture past the borders of Wisconsin for the first time this year to see family and have dinner with a good friend. As I was driving I realized how much I’ve missed traveling and experiencing new things. Plus eating at places that are not available at home. I also remembered some of the “rules” I set for myself when I travel. They are not much but they add to the excitement and experience of what Traveling is all about.

(1) If I see something interesting along the side of the road, I take the time to stop and check it out. I’ve met and seen some of the most interesting things and people doing this.

(2) I NEVER eat at a restaurant that’s available in the town you live in. Part of traveling is the new experience. Eat somewhere that is normally not available to you. It keeps the trip fresh and exciting.

(3) I NEVER watch TV or the news during traveling (except for weather reports). The idea is to unplug a bit from the negativity and reality of life. I do plenty of TV watching at home I don’t need to spend allot of money on hotels, gas, airplane tickets and meals to go far away from home just to sit in a hotel to watch TV. To kill down time I like to sit in cafes, visit local book and antique stores, blog, read, write in my travel journal or just walk around the town or city taking pictures.

(4) I Travel light. I Don’t bog myself down with a ton of bags. When I travel I carry two bags my camera bag and travel bag. ALL the clothes I carry for a week is in one carry-on bag. If at all possible I never check a bag because I believe a checked bag is a lost bag. Traveling is stressful enough and I don’t need the added burden of locating a missing bag and being SOL with no clothes or personal items. I walked up the side of a mountain in Germany to my hotel carrying a backpack full of camera equipment and a travel bag around my shoulder. By the time I reached the top I was exhausted but if I was carrying anything more I don’t think I would have made it.

I try to keep my mind active and open minded constantly with inspiration and new experiences. Traveling and finding things that inspire me is truly rewarding. There is nothing more satisfying then finding an item or photographing something to add to my ever growing collection. In the end all my collections of items, photographs and written experiences are part of me and who I am.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Beginning of a Ghost Ship

70 years ago today the RMS Queen Mary accidentally sank one of her escort ships, slicing through the light cruiser HMS Curacoa off the Irish coast with a loss of 239 lives. Queen Mary was carrying thousands of American troops of the 29th Infantry Division to join the Allied forces in Europe. Due to the risk of U-boat attacks, Queen Mary was under orders not to stop under any circumstances and steamed onward with a fractured stem.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Inspiration from Above

It's been so dry and hot that I can't remember the last time I had see rain. Lately I've been in the mood for a good thunderstorm and looking at the weather tonight I just might get my wish.

For me thunderstorms have always inspired me in some way. Maybe it's the foreboding dark clouds, the sound of the rain and thunder, the arcs of lightning lighting up the sky that gets my creative mind going. But come to think of it, it's the whole experience.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Weird is the "new" Wonderful

Michael Weschler for The New York Times
MODERN REBELS Collectors like Hollister, left, and Porter Hovey, sisters with an appetite for late 19th-century relics like apothecary cabinets and dressmakers’ dummies, are turning their homes into pastiches of the past.

Published: July 29, 2009
FOR many, it seems, the smooth surfaces of modern design have lost their allure.

Michael Weschler for The New York Times
Hollister, left, and Porter Hovey, are sisters with an appetite for late 19th-century relics like apothecary cabinets and dressmakers' dummies.

Hollister and Porter Hovey, sisters age 30 and 26, used a chain from Home Depot to lash a crystal chandelier to a crossbeam in the ceiling of their loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But it is one of the few contemporary objects in a habitat that embraces, among other cultural touchstones, W. Somerset Maugham’s last days of colonialism, Victorian memento mori and the Edwardian men’s club. There are also apothecary cabinets, fencing masks and pith helmets, stacks of antique luggage and a taxidermy collection that would make Teddy Roosevelt proud.

Hollister Hovey has been blogging for two years about what she considers a personal passion for this “new vintage” style. Yet the sepia-toned and “extremely previous lifestyle” that she and her sister lead, in the words of Megan Wilson, 43, a book designer and blogger with a similar world view, is one that is gaining traction beyond the Hoveys’ living room.

Taxidermy, clubby insignia and ancestral portraits have been decorative staples at trendy Lower East Side restaurants and clothing stores for a while, but now they are catching on at home.

It was probably inevitable. Consider the example of new-vintage merchants like J. Crew Liquor, the men’s wear store housed in an old TriBeCa bar. Or Freemans Sporting Club, the “gentleman’s” clothing store created by Taavo Somer, the architect and restaurateur responsible for Freemans, the taxidermy-bedecked hot spot on the Lower East Side. The recently opened bar at the Jane hotel, created by Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson, is a mash-up of an English country estate, the set of “The Royal Tenenbaums” and an interior landscape imagined by Joris-Karl Huysmans, the author of “Against Nature,” the 19th-century decadent’s manifesto.

It was only a matter of time until the “dark nostalgia” of such environments — as Eva Hagberg, a design writer, characterizes it in a book of the same name, out this fall from Monacelli Press — made its way home.

Not since Ralph Lauren moved into the Rhinelander mansion more than two decades ago have so many merchants focused on exhuming the accouterments of the turn-of-the-19th-century leisure class. But while Lauren’s market was Manhattan’s Upper East Side establishment (or those who wished to belong to it), the current one lives miles south of East 72nd Street and couldn’t care less about social provenance.

“My interests are old things from different periods,” said Sean Crowley on a recent steamy Friday night. Despite the heat, Mr. Crowley wore a pink gingham dress shirt, khaki pants and black velvet loafers with green and black striped socks. While this uniform has traditionally signaled conservatism, Mr. Crowley’s politics cleave determinedly to the left.

Mr. Crowley, 28, is a neckwear designer at, in fact, Ralph Lauren, and his apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, looks like its rooms were plucked whole from the National Arts Club. (His cellphone ring tone is Mouret’s “Rondeau,” the old Masterpiece Theater theme song, and his e-mail address is mrwooster, a nod to the P. G. Wodehouse character.) But the link between Mr. Crowley’s objects and his impulse to acquire them isn’t nostalgia, he said. It’s “the draw of authenticity, whether it’s an aesthetic, a recipe or a technique.”

That is how he explains a voracious interest in, for example, the restoration of English and French umbrellas from the 1930s and ’40s (his collection numbers 16). “Finding the right black silk with the right selvage was a whole saga for me,” he said.

Mr. Crowley lives with his girlfriend, Meredith Modzelewski, 26, who works in public relations for sustainable brands and corporations, and a collection of arcane cocktail ingredients, including seven kinds of bitters, that threatens to colonize half their apartment, which is already chockablock with Edwardian-style portraits, heraldic devices and mounted antlers.

“I like to cook, I like to sew, I can fix things with my hands,” Mr. Crowley said. “There’s so much to learn. I am curious — ravenous, really — about everything.”

It is true that the sort of collecting he, the Hovey sisters and their blogosphere brethren do requires a lot more engagement than a similar passion for midcentury furniture, which operates more on a cash-and-carry model — particularly when it comes to the taxidermy, osteological antiques like monkey skeletons and other Victoriana that draws the attention of tinkerers, armchair scientists and artisans like Ryan Matthew.

Mr. Matthew, 29, is a silversmith with a knack for articulating, to use the expert’s parlance for rigging and displaying skeletons; for creating the tiny domed vignettes the Victorians were so fond of (artful arrangements of taxidermied squirrels, for example, in twiggy settings); and for making delicate pencil drawings that look like old photographs. His apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is accessorized with mummified hunting dogs, wax figures and Black Forest taxidermy. There is also a bone saw from the Civil War and a cabinet full of antique medical specimens.

“I wish I had a leg, though I do have a lot of feet at the moment,” Mr. Matthew said proudly. Growing up in Woodstock, N.Y., he used to collect plants and “things the dog had eaten,” he said, “which my parents would find under my bed.”

Mr. Matthew’s collections will find their way into his shop Against Nature, opening in mid-August on Chrystie Street. Inspired, just like the Jane hotel, by the Huysmans novel of the same name, it will look an awful lot like Mr. Matthew’s apartment. “We’ll have barristers’ shelves and old leather chairs and two albino peacocks I have in the basement here.”

The store — which will carry tailored suits by Doyle Mueser, custom denim by Simon Jacob and jewelry and leather items by Mr. Matthew — is perfectly sited to snag new-vintage consumers on their way to Freemans, around the corner on Freeman Alley.

Many, in fact, point to Mr. Somer’s restaurant, open since 2004, as the catalyst for the latest round of interior decay and decorative revisionism, and for making taxidermy, as Caroline Kim, editorial director for LX.TV, a lifestyle division of NBC, said recently, “a hip-yet-comforting decorating trend.”

Mr. Somer seemed bemused by his role as a tastemaker but gamely explained the thinking behind Freemans, which began life as a party location. “The idea was to make this clandestine Colonial tavern,” he said, “the sort of place the founding fathers would have conspired in.” The look, he added, reflects his assumptions about their tastes, as refined Europeans living in a rough new world: “Taxidermy was a symbol of that wildness.”

Asked why Freemans has a look that young Brooklynites like the Hovey sisters might want to replicate at home, he suggested that his own anti-modernist impulses may be shared by many others. “I look at all the glass buildings and think, who wants to live like that?”

Mr. Somer, who grew up in a Swiss-modern household and once worked for the architect Steven Holl, said the perfectionism of modernism had begun to grate. “I got fed up and rebelled,” he said.
Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, offered a different explanation. “It’s way more than anti-modernism, this sort of deep spelunking into the past,” she said. “It’s not aspirational and it’s not nostalgic. It’s a fantasy world that is almost entirely a visual collage. It’s a stitched-together, bricolage world, an alternative world.”

“Authenticity is such a fed-up idea,” she continued. “But collecting these old things, it’s like there is an aura attached to them. It’s not some prepackaged product being foisted on you by a big corporation. Too bad it’s going to be commodified. Everything in the fashion world gets hoovered up.”

Marketers, in fact, are already paying attention. Steven Grasse, chief executive of the advertising and branding agency Quaker City Mercantile in Philadelphia, said he recently sent a sample of a new product, a vintage-styled liquor called Root, to a few retro-loving bloggers like Hollister Hovey.
“Hollister’s blog is extremely influential to the sort of people we want to discover our product,” Mr. Grasse wrote in an e-mail message, by which he meant young consumers with a taste for vintage barware and letterpress stationery, some of the retro items sold at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, a store he owns in Philadelphia.

“Root fits very well with the Art in the Age brand,” he continued, “because that brand is all about restoring the ‘aura’ that has been lost with the mass commodification of our lives. Our job is to restore the aura that has been lost by strip malls and cheap junk from China. The approach is particularly appropriate right now because everything has collapsed. The old notions of luxury have crumbled. People are looking for what is real.”

Or at least looking for a good story. “Your imagination can run wild with the taxidermy,” Ms. Hovey said. It can be challenging, though, to get it home, she admitted, particularly when that means carting it through the streets of New York. Recently, she said, she had an eBay purchase — an entire taxidermied sheep — shipped to her Midtown office, terrifying her co-workers. (Ms. Hovey has a day job in medical public relations; her sister works in a management consulting firm and is a photographer.)

The Hovey sisters sat recently on their tufted leather sofa and recalled their childhood in Kansas, growing up surrounded by ostrich eggs and old steamer trunks, with a mother who sent them to grade school dressed in Ralph Lauren cricket jackets and a father who mowed the lawn in a pith helmet (he had passed some of his early years, like a character from a Maugham short story, working in a Bolivian gold mine and on a cattle boat in the South Pacific, and had the gear to prove it).
“We spent Saturdays in flea markets,” Porter said, “when we were in second grade.”

Now the sisters are watching their antiquarian interests crest in their hipster-Brooklyn neighborhood, where every act seems framed in quotation marks. While Hollister’s blog started as a way to curtail her purchases — sharing an item instead of bidding on it — as well as linking to a community of anachronistically inclined friends, she said: “now it’s given me street cred. My neighbors used to glaze over when I talked about this stuff. Now everyone is dressing like Ulysses S. Grant.”

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Projects and Explorations

My schedule and personal life has been nothing short of crazy since the last time I updated is site almost a year ago. As I enter into the summer months I plan on dedicating much more of my time to updating and reworking parts of the website in hopes to improve the look, accessibility and organization. One thing you may have already noticed is I have a new web address.
This site under its new URL name will be the mansion, if you will, that will provide rooms for all our other areas of interest; Facebook, Blogger, Flickr, Fine Art America, Zazzle, Cafepress and any other projects and products that we will produce related to our subject matter of ghosts, haunted houses, cemeteries, monsters, séances, the macabre and anything else I find strange and bizarre.
I photographed very little this year but I’ve been exploring other areas that have captured my interest and creativity. I will and always photograph and record haunted legends, myth and folklore. Haunted and macabre history has always been my obsession since I was a child and I love sharing stories that give others nightmares and sleepless nights.  Over the past few months I have begun finding interest and talents in other areas of paper and wood craft. As I hone my skills in these areas I hope to provide special objects of desire to those that find interest in my work. Each piece will be unique limited editions. 

I’m currently working on a shadow lantern prototype. My goal is to recreate the look of what a phantasmagoria show might have looked like. Taking my time planning, designing, cutting, gluing and constructing this lantern I'm having such a wonderful time exploring this side of myself that hasn't been explored before. When complete I hope to offer limited editions of these lanterns on my website and Etsy site. I will post more photos of the project as it nears completion. I will provide color photos of the finished piece and if my technical skills work a video of the working prototype.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Begining of the End

I recently have been going through a huge life change and it's been a big readjustment for me mentally, emotionally and physically. Over the past few months I've had to keep control of my sanity and try to focus on what's important in my life and relearn who I am as a person and artist. To be honest I'm excited for what the future may hold but at the same time scared of the uncertainty. I've always been someone with a vision and a plan. I've always been able to achieve what I set myself to do. Being in a much better place mentally and emotionally I'm able to concentrate on my passion for my artwork. I have several projects lined up and look forward to begin working on them. Drawing, woodworking and paper craft are just a few topics I will be sinking my fangs into in the next few months. As things progress I will be more then happy to share what I'm working on and welcome feedback from anyone.

A few weeks ago I moved into a new place and I'm eager to decorate and surround myself with all the books, oddities, movie posters and antiques that I've been collecting over the years to help inspire my art. With school at an end for me till the fall I'm planning on devoting my extra free time to my photography and tall things related to it. One item on the top of things to do is to blog regularly, or at least twice a month. I have several ideas on what to write about, some related to my photography some about the strange and macabre world we live in. I'm also planning on blogging during my travels to haunted places. With the use of the Blogger iPhone app I'm excited to blog using this app because it will allow me to write about things I find interesting along the way with out having to find a place that has free Wifi so I can use my computer. During the past few months I've been evaluating my website and I came to realize that it needs some reworking and updating to make it look more organized, cleaner and better to navigate.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Couple rents house didn't know ghosts where included

I saw this news item from author Varla Ventura's blog and thought it was interesting enough to share:
Haunted House Lawsuit

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jonathan Frid died on Friday the 13th

Jonathan Frid
(Barnabas Collins)
December 2, 1924 - April 13, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cabin Fever

With the weather turning to the high 70s low 80s I just couldn't stand to be cooped up in the old dark house any longer. Braving the sunlight I grabbed my camera and head out to a near by cemetery to work on a project idea that I hope will be successful.

While walking along the tombstones I wondered what the appeal of vandalizing and tipping headstones is when grave robbing is so much more fulfilling. Granted its more work but thats half the fun!