Archive for October, 2016

The Pumpkins of Park Slope

Posted in BROOKLYN, Halloween with tags , , , , on October 31, 2016 by travsd

Just a little photo essay of Jack O’Lanterns I saw just now at the brownstones around my neighborhood. Happy Halloween! And now, meet my neighbors — the Carvers!

































At this point I had to do an intervention on myself and get my butt home. It was gettin’ outta control and it looked like I was gonna break my phone. But I sure do have some talented neighbors!

Family in 50 States #1: Nevada

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , , , on October 31, 2016 by travsd


This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

October 31, 1864 was the day Nevada became one of the United States.

In the silver boom of 1864, three of my heroes converged and overlapped while touring on the Nevada circuit, which ranged from mining camps to boom towns like Virginia City: Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Adah Isaacs Menken. All three of them just coming into their own, becoming nationally known figures and making piles and piles of money.

Virginia City! The home of Bonanza’s fictional Cartwrights and their Ponderosa ranch. NBC’s longest running western, it ran from 1959 to 1973 and thereafter eternally in reruns.

Las Vegas! a desert flower which wouldn’t properly bloom until nearly a century after statehood. Perhaps the only place in the world where variety entertainment still flourishes as it had in the days of vaudeville. 

And Lake Tahoe, where Michael whacked Fredo!

My third great uncle Horace Cady from Wrentham Massachusetts got married in Walla Walla, Washington  in 1863, and then passed away at the age of 42 in Elko, Nevada in 1872. These two locations and these dates suggest the trade of gold and silver mining to me. His death at such a young age, suggests a shoot-out! But only because I have been watching too many movies. I have no details as yet as to how he died, or anything else except these beguiling times and places. It could well have been sickness or a workplace accident took him at such a young age.

Cady had two daughters. Clara Jane married a Virginia chap named Jim Pritchett in a town named Tuscarora in 1882, at a time when it was a silver boom town with a population of 4,000 — half of them Chinese. The town had a newspaper, stores, every thing a small city might need.  It is now a ghost town and looks like this:


The town started a slow death in the mid 1880s. The population went down to around 1,000 at about that time, although the community managed to hang on for another 20 years or so. The Pritchetts had four children while living there and remained as late as 1891. At some point over the next few years they moved to Arizona, where Clara Jane died in 1903 at the age of 39.

Clara’s sister Cora married a gent named Oliver La Man in Tuscarora in 1895. The pair had a daughter named Florence and moved to Los Angeles sometime before 1921 (that’s when and where Cora died — I want to know more!)

Horace’s wife, the mother of both the girls, was an Indiana gal named Julia Ann West. She passed away in Tuscarora in 1905.

People still live there — here’s a great photo essay of how it looks today:


Scenes of the Houdini Museum (on the 90th Anniversary of His Death)

Posted in EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Halloween, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on October 31, 2016 by travsd


90 years ago this very night, Harry Houdini shuffled off this moral coil. I happened to find myself near the Houdini Museum today, so I popped in to remember him (it’s located in the Fantasma Magic Shop, across the street from Penn Station.) Here are some snaps I took:




This bust, modelled from life, was removed from Houdini's grave monument in Queens

This bust, modeled from life, was removed from Houdini’s grave monument in Queens







For more on Houdini, magic, and vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous

Vampires, Ghosts and Witches Among My Relations

Posted in Halloween, Horror (Mostly Gothic), ME, My Family History with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2016 by travsd


Happy Halloween!

Today we continue our series of family background posts by relating some relatives with a spooky connection. I’m not really close kin to most of these characters, but I’ll lay death’s heads to door-knockers I’m closer than most. So if I happen to get menaced by actual Halloween monsters this year, I am hoping I can drop the names of these supernatural relations to talk my way out of it. (Although I hasten to point out that in just about every example below, it was a less a case of someone being a monster than an example of ignorant, paranoid relatives, neighbors and strangers terrifying themselves, pointing at someone or something else and screaming “Monster!” — which is essentially the story of mankind.)


Actually both of these famous Rhode island vampires I’ll be discussing are closer to “nosferatu” than they are conventional vamps as codified in films, i.e. they were “plague-bringers” as opposed to “blood-suckers” . But just as undead, baby, just as undead! Both of these legendary tales are lain in the town of Exeter, which is about 15 minutes from the house where I grew up. (As it happens, my parents are buried in Exeter, although in different graveyards from the legendary creatures)

Why such an inoffensive little stretch of road as Exeter would be home to the walking undead at first seems mysterious, but scholars have been working on this a while, and I found this 2012 article from Smithsonian to be most illuminating.

It turns out 19th century New England “vampires” (especially Rhode Island vampires) are a thing. The scholar in the article has identified upwards of 80 cases similar to what you’ll find described below. The participants most likely never used the word “vampire” — that terminology was imposed by outsiders and the press in describing the strange goings on. It’s a phenomenon not unlike the witch hysteria of a century and more earlier, although with a different set of contributing factors, which are these:

Consumption. The microbes that cause the horrors of tuberculosis were unknown at the time. People saw their friends and neighbors wasting away, feverish, fatigued, pale, sweating and red-eyed. They drew conclusions about the cause that were within their own belief system, which was steeped in…

Superstition. Naturally rural folk are more more prone to be superstitious, but there was a particular reason for those of Rhode Island to be even more superstitious. An ironic one. Rhode Island had been founded as a refuge for dissenters, with complete religious freedom. In the early years it was no less a religious place than the surrounding colonies, just with far less official oversight about personal belief. Providence became the birthplace of the Baptist church; Portsmouth and Newport were havens for Quakers and Anabaptists. But that also meant that folks were also allowed to worship NOTHING. Unlike most of New England, Rhode Islanders were not required to attend church, let alone a certain church. In time, a situation existed where the vast majority attended NO church. This left room for a vacuum of sorts. While many modern people make a false assumption which equates religion with superstition intrinsically, Protestantism (in the period after the witch trials, at least) was theoretically about reason, regarding superstitious beliefs as false and unenlightened. In Rhode Island, however, all bets were off.

A couple of potential sources for the ritual practices mentioned below exist. One, is (as a newspaper quoted a local man of the time as saying) that the beliefs came from local Indian Tribes. Another (and I find this one especially compelling given the time line) is a “mysterious foreign quack” who appeared in the town of Willington (Northeastern Connecticut) in 1784, and whose ungodly prescriptions were condemned in the pages of the Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer.

Thanks to Rory Raven for having first introduced us to these local legends during our walking tour a couple of years ago. These are just two of the most famous cases of the so-called New England vampires. I’m likely to be related to others, but I haven’t looked into their coffins yet.



I am one of the thousands descended from Pardon Tillinghast, one of Rhode Island’s earliest settlers and an important minister at the famous Baptist Church of Providence. And so too is the family in question:

In 1799, Rhode Island farmer Stukely Tillinghast had a dream that half the trees in his orchard had failed. Like Joseph in the Old Testament, this dream was taken to be a portent; even more would be read into it later…after he lost half his family. Sometime after the dream, Tillinghast’s 19 year old daughter Sarah contracted consumption and died. Shortly thereafter a son James also came down with the disease. But (undoubtedly in a delirium) he also made the nettlesome claim that the recently deceased Sarah had visited him in the night. And you can see where that might cause trouble. James died. Then four other of the Tillinghast children (of a total of 11) also became ill and died — after claiming that the dead Sarah had also appeared to them. And this happened to some of their neighbors, as well. By the time Tillinghast’s wife Honor came down with consumption and claimed to be seeing her dead children, the farmer decided something must be done. (He was a Yankee farmer — it took him a while to get off his butt).

We don’t know where Stukely got the idea, nor even how true it is, we only know the lore. And according to the story, he exhumed the coffins of his recently dead children and Sarah’s was found to be curiously…well-preserved. In comparison with the remains of the others, there was a troubling lack of decomposition. And (this is the oft quoted detail I find hard to give any credence to) “the heart was full of fresh blood”. Oh, yes — did I mention that Stukely cut the heart out of his own daughter’s corpse?  And then, as someone told him to do, he then burned it, to make Sarah’s spirit go away. And as the story goes, Honor recovered after this measure was taken, and there were no more illnesses or deaths.

The family is buried at Rhode Island Historical Cemetery #14. Stukeley’s headstone has been removed, and the children have stones with no writing on them, but you can find Honor’s, which is marked only with “H.T.” Go to this link and a man will take you right there. 



This next story happened in the same town of Exeter almost a century later. Almost everyone who tells these stories has a weird, infuriating tendency to either gloss over or ignore what I take to be a highly significant fact: same thing, happened twice, same town. Naturally these two stories are far more related to one another than people tend to stress. I hardly think it is a coincidence that a second outbreak of the same hysteria occurred in the same tiny town as the initial one. I’d go so far as to speculate that the 1892 incident was inspired by surviving local stories of the 1799 one.

Yes — 1892. One might think that that is very, very late for something of this nature to be happening in the civilized Northeastern United States. But then, yeah…no. Guess what? Where I live (New York City) scarcely a year goes by that one doesn’t read in the paper about some superstition-based murder, often linked to voodoo, or Santeria. I cast no aspersion against those fascinating religions, especially in light of the bloody lapses of those who practice my own faith. (Conversion by the sword, anyone?) I’m just referencing a parallel, similar phenomenon — there are still people around who believe in evil spirits that much.

And as for the “civilized Northeastern United States” — here’s a little known fact. In the late 19th and early 20th century, New England’s population outside the cities had drastically declined. Evidence of that is still with us. Walk through any New England forested area and before long you will run into a stone wall.  (Don’t run too hard!) You also see stone walls surrounding houses and farms, of course, but how mysterious to find them in the middle of the woods. The explanation is that those wooded areas were once farms, which subsequently were abandoned, became overgrown and reverted to nature. Population in the area was lost due to westward migration and the Civil War. And while immigration later increased American population overall, rural New England was not where most of the newcomers settled, at least not for a long time.

It’s gradually dawned on me that an unlikely reporter on this phenomenon is H.P. Lovecraft. For the longest time I would read his stories and not go along for the ride because I couldn’t imagine the New England countryside being as eerily secluded as he describes it. But it seems that in his time it was, after all.  This makes for an interesting parallelism between the European and American Romanticisms. The Europeans had their ruins; and we too, after a fashion, had ours.

So Exeter, Rhode Island, a backwater to begin with, was an even worse one at the time of which I write. Its population in the 1820s had been well over 2,000. By the 1890s it was down to only about 900. This is why I’m pretty comfortable speculating that I’m related to this family of Browns. Brown is a much more common name than Tillinghast, but like the latter family, it is also the name of one of the founding families of Rhode Island (who started Brown University and much else). I am related to these Browns; and I find it likely that so are the Browns of Exeter, a town with so little population influx prior to the late 20th century.

The Keep, where the corpse was kept at the Exeter cemetery prior to Mercy's examination

The Keep, where the corpse was kept at the Exeter cemetery prior to Mercy’s examination

The Brown story is remarkably similar to that of the Tillinghasts. It began with Mary the mother‘s death by consumption in 1883, followed by the death of a daughter, also named Mary, six months later. Then nine years passed. Mercy came down with consumption and passed away in 1892. Her older brother Edwin came down with it a few months later, and that’s when the hysteria broke out this time. In this case, the community demanded an exhumation. Mercy’s father George Brown didn’t believe in the superstition and agreed to it only reluctantly. In an interesting and modern, if somewhat illogical, twist, a physician was called to examine Mercy’s body. He noted that her hair and fingernails had continued to grow after death. (Though that happens to most bodies). Be that as it may, Mercy’s heart was cut out, burned, mixed with medicinal herbs and put into a potion for Edwin to drink to ward off the bad spirits. He died anyway.

1892 is essentially the modern era. The difference between this case and most of the earlier New England vampire cases is that this one was widely reported. Newspaper men from the Providence Journal were on the scene and papers carried the story around the world. Soon the 20th century would dawn: movies, radio, television. Even rural places like Exeter began to have some dim awareness that such things as vampires were not real. And perhaps the wide reporting on the Brown incident was something of an embarrassment. So no similar incidents followed. Because of this, Mercy Brown is often known as the “Last New England Vampire.”

H.P. Lovecraft’s story The Shunned House appears to draw from both the Tillinghast and the Brown incidents, and some of have speculated that news of the Mercy Brown story had also reached Bram Stoker, whose Dracula was first published in 1897, just five years later.  And there are those later tales of New England vampires, Dark Shadows and Salem’s Lot to chew on…




This house was the real-life basis for the 2013 horror film The Conjuring. I’m going to bore you by sticking closer to the known facts than the film, books about the topic, and lots of what you will find online will tell you; my main source for the factier facts is this investigative web site.  Also, most accounts of the story start with the haunting (1970-1980) and work backwards and keep it vague. I’m going to go chronologically and try to be a little more specific.

What I know is that the Old Arnold Estate was built in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1736. Harrisville is part of Burrillville, and adjacent to my mother’s hometown of Putnam, Connecticut. Many, many generations of Arnolds lived on the farm. And tragedies happened to at least three members of the family, although not all of it happened on the property. A Susan Arnold hung herself in the house in 1866. 11 year old Prudence Arnold was raped and murdered (throat slit) by farmhand William Knowles in 1848 (this happened across the state line in Massachusetts). And an Edwin Arnold was found frozen to death on the nearby property of Smith Aldrich after a night of carousing at the pub.

Then there is the case of the Arnold’s next door neighbor Bathsheba Sherman (1812-1885). If you squint at the photo above, which was taken on the Arnold estate, some have speculated that the woman in the center foreground is Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the daughter of Ephraim Thayer and Hannah Taft, and the wife of Judson Sherman. She had four children, only one of whom lived past early childhood. About Bathsheba there is much lore, most of it of recent vintage: that she was secretive, evil, mean, a witch, a Satanist, and that she killed a baby by driving a knitting needle into the back of its skull. There doesn’t seem to be evidence for any of this. When she died, she was given the usual Christian burial next to her husband, although it seems as though some puddingheads decided to vandalize her grave marker:


At any rate in 1970, a nice modern American family named the Perrons acquired the Old Arnold Estate and, by their testimony, things began to happen. Objects, including beds, levitated. Voices and noises were heard. A woman in a grey dress appeared and said “Get out!” People were slapped and pinched by unseen forces. And one of the family was stabbed by an invisible needle which drew blood. Who you gonna call? Why Ed and Lorraine Warren, of course, America’s most famous psychic investigators, and the folks who also cleaned up the cobwebs at the Amityville Horror House. The Perrons and the Warrens seem to have decided many things about whom those spirits may have been and then decided to tell the world. Andrea Perron wrote her three volume account House of Darkness, House of Light. And Hollywood made The Conjuring, which turned into an entire multi-million dollar franchise.

What’s my connection to all this? Well, as I mention above, my mom is from just a few miles away and I am related to all of those families historically connected with the house and the area: the Arnolds, the Shermans, the Thayers, the Tafts, and even the Aldriches. all of them are names in my family tree. All of them, it seems, but the Perrons and the Warrens — and that’s okay by me.


59 Church Street, Charleston, said to be haunted by Ladd


My great-great-great grandmother Almira Kirtland Ladd of New London was one of a hugely prolific clan of New England Ladds. These Ladds were fruitful and multiplied. Many of them were famous (I’ve written about some, and I’ll write about others). And, it turns out, my first crush in high school was also one of them! And, so too was Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd (1764-1786). Ladd was born in Newport, Rhode Island but through a curious set of circumstances he would go on to become one of the most famous ghosts of Charleston, South Carolina.  (Only yesterday I read of another Rhode Island family with a foothold in Charleston, the Hazards, founders of the village of Peace Dale. A likely explanation for a social corridor between the two distant locations is the slave trade, which flourished in both locations in the 18th centuries, though I hasten to point out that the Hazards would come to be prominent slavery opponents in the 19th century. But this is a digression!)

Ladd apprenticed to a local Rhode Island physician at age 15. By 1783 he was a doctor himself, and moved to Charleston with references from Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene, one of the most prominent Rhode Islanders of the time. (The war had ended just a weeks before Ladd made the move) But, when Ladd relocated to Charleston left something behind. He loved a young lady of Newport named “Amanda” (or so he calls her in his writings). He pursued her with all the fervor of youth. The love was not requited (largely through the interposition of Amanda’s unscrupulous guardian), and Ladd’s reputation was besmirched, so moved to Charleston. But he could not forget her. He wrote numerous poetic epistles to her which he called “The Letters of Arouet to Amanda.”

Ladd was well-liked and successful in Charleston. Unfortunately his easy progress got on the nerves of one of the first friends he’d made there, a man named Charles Isaacs who’d saved him from a robbery when he first arrived in town. In the intervening months, Isaacs decided Ladd was getting too big for his britches. It came to head one evening after the two met following a performance of Richard III at a Charleston theatre. The men quarreled over an actress in the play. Isaacs made unkind insinuations and then insulted Ladd publicly. To save his reputation, Ladd was forced to duel. In the exchange his kneecap was shattered, a wound that was painful, possibly crippling but also maybe survivable. But it is said that he refused treatment and died a few days letter in his rooms at 59 Church Street.

Today his spirit is said to haunt both the Church Street address and Philadelphia Alley, also known as Dueler’s Alley, where the fatal contretemps went down. Ladd is known as the “Whistling Ghost” or the “Whistling Doctor” after his lifelong habit of whistling. Because of the sad affair with Amanda, his is thought to be a mournful spirit, forever walking the earth in sadness.



This is a bit farther back, but the connections are just as real. It’s well known that the former fortification and prison is reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of the unhappy souls who were locked away and executed there by their enlightened monarchs. As a descendant of Royal Stewarts and other nobility I am related to many of the famous ones, including King Henry VI; the “Two Little Princes” killed by Richard III (Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury); Queen Ann Boleyn; Margaret de la Pole, Countess of Salisbury; Lady Jane Grey; and Lady Arabella Stuart. It must be crowded there, what with the bunch of them roaming the halls and moaning and sobbing and playing ninepins with their heads or whatever they are said to do. Learn more about the specifics here. 



There are too many ghosts nicknamed “The White Lady” in the world to count. This one is said to reside at Highlow Hall in Heathersage, Derbyshire, where my (15th) great grandmother Elizabeth Eyre (1470-1495) is from. Highlow Hall was the ancestral home of the Eyres from 1340 to 1842.



Sir Thomas De Ashton (born circa 1403)

Sir Thomas is unique in history for having been licensed to practice sorcery or something like it. In 1446, he was given special dispensation by King Henry VI, to transmute precious metals, i.e. practice alchemy, often considered a dark art in those times. The document states that the King’s subjects are forbidden to molest Ashton for flouting God and the natural order in this way. I imagine he was counting on getting some of that gold for himself.

Alice Young (ca. 1600-1647)

A distant relation, Alice (also rendered as “Alse” or “Achsah”) Young was the first person executed for witchcraft in Colonial America, at least in the written record. Young was born in England, and moved to Windsor, CT sometime prior to her daughter Alice’s birth in 1640. She was hung for witchcraft in Hartford’s Meeting House Square in 1647. This was nearly a half century before the witch hysteria in Salem. Learn a (very) little more about her here. 

Alice Young Beamon (1640-1708)

My (13th) great grandmother, accused of witchcraft in Springfield, Massachusetts circa 1677, and acquitted.

Alice Ireod Lake (1616-1651)

My (10th) great grandmother, who claimed to have seen her dead baby come back to haunt her was accused of witchcraft, compounded by the crimes of pre-marital sex and attempted abortion. She was executed at Dorchester; follow the link above for more on her.

Robert Williams (1607-1693)

My (9th) great grandfather twice over (I am descended from two separate lines leading from him, one from each of his daughters, both converging in my maternal grandmother’s line, the Cadys). He was the first accused witch I discovered in the family tree, although very little is known about him. (Though he’s mentioned in many books, including one that used to be on my shelf, Drawing Down the Moon). Williams was accused and acquitted in 1669, but convicted and punished for lying. These events took place 23 years before the Salem trials.


Susanna North Martin (1621-1692)

I wished I known about this one on our recent trip to Salem, I would have done more fact-finding with respect to her. Oh, well, all the more reason to go back! I hadn’t found her earlier because she’s not a direct relationship…she was the mother-in-law of my (9th) great grandfather James Hadlock (his second wife — after my own 9th great grandmother had died — was Abigail Martin. Still a relation, if by marriage!). This is through my maternal grandfather’s line, the Herindeens.

Susanna had first been accused of witchcraft (and of giving birth to a bastard and an IMP) in 1669. Her husband died in 1686, leaving her poor and unprotected at the time of the witch hysteria. She was 71 years old when she stood in the docks, and was not about to take any shit. Among other things, they accused of her of changing herself into a cat, jumping through a window and strangling a man while he slept. Cats aren’t generally known for their strangling abilities. but sense was not on anybody’s agenda. They also accused her of changing into many other animals, including a black hog. By all accounts she was a tiny woman. I’m sure there were many times when she would have LIKED to have been able to transform herself into a nice large, intimidating hog.

By all accounts, she laughed at her accusers, called their bluff, and never caved in as so many did to the fiction that was going on all around her. Further, she quoted the Bible in her defense. But to no avail. They hanged her in July of 1692. Read more about the brave old gal here. 


Sarah Good (1653-1692)

Likewise, I only discovered this one recently. Sarah Good was one of the most famous of the Salem “witches” and one of the first three accused. I am related to her by marriage. She was one of the village cranks: homeless, in debt, angry, and just in general an inconvenient person to have around, one of the explanations for her having been one of the first accused. Read more about her at the link above.

Captain John Alden, Jr. Accused

John Alden, Jr. (1626-1702)

No less than the son of Pilgrims John Alden and Priscilla Mullins was accused of witchcraft! He was the brother of my (8th) great grandfather David Alden. Fortunately he broke jail and ran for his life. But clearly nothing was sacred, if they were accusing HIM. Learn more about him here .


Okay, that about wraps it up! And speaking of which, “Aren’t you related to any mummies?” you may well ask, “I mean, after all, you have vampires, ghosts and witches, surely there’s a line or two that leads back to Imhotep!” Undoubtedly, but it’s four thousand years back. Give me time, give me time!

Keats: The Eve of St. Agnes

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS with tags , , , , on October 31, 2016 by travsd
Happy birthday to the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). It being also Halloween, today we share a narrative poem from his quill we found to be especially Gothic, the 42 stanza Spencerian “The Eve of St. Agnes” :
St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
       The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
       The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
       And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
       Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
       His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
       Like pious incense from a censer old,
       Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.
       His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
       Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
       And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
       Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
       The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
       Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:
       Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,
       He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.
       Northward he turneth through a little door,
       And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue
       Flatter’d to tears this aged man and poor;
       But no—already had his deathbell rung;
       The joys of all his life were said and sung:
       His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:
       Another way he went, and soon among
       Rough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,
And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve.
       That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;
       And so it chanc’d, for many a door was wide,
       From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
       The silver, snarling trumpets ‘gan to chide:
       The level chambers, ready with their pride,
       Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
       The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
       Star’d, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.
       At length burst in the argent revelry,
       With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
       Numerous as shadows haunting faerily
       The brain, new stuff’d, in youth, with triumphs gay
       Of old romance. These let us wish away,
       And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,
       Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
       On love, and wing’d St. Agnes’ saintly care,
As she had heard old dames full many times declare.
       They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,
       Young virgins might have visions of delight,
       And soft adorings from their loves receive
       Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
       If ceremonies due they did aright;
       As, supperless to bed they must retire,
       And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
       Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
       Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:
       The music, yearning like a God in pain,
       She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,
       Fix’d on the floor, saw many a sweeping train
       Pass by—she heeded not at all: in vain
       Came many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier,
       And back retir’d; not cool’d by high disdain,
       But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere:
She sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.
       She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,
       Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:
       The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighs
       Amid the timbrels, and the throng’d resort
       Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
       ‘Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,
       Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,
       Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.
       So, purposing each moment to retire,
       She linger’d still. Meantime, across the moors,
       Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
       For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
       Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and implores
       All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
       But for one moment in the tedious hours,
       That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss—in sooth such things have been.
       He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:
       All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
       Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:
       For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
       Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
       Whose very dogs would execrations howl
       Against his lineage: not one breast affords
       Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.
       Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
       Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
       To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,
       Behind a broad half-pillar, far beyond
       The sound of merriment and chorus bland:
       He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
       And grasp’d his fingers in her palsied hand,
       Saying, “Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!
       “Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
       He had a fever late, and in the fit
       He cursed thee and thine, both house and land:
       Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
       More tame for his gray hairs—Alas me! flit!
       Flit like a ghost away.”—”Ah, Gossip dear,
       We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
       And tell me how”—”Good Saints! not here, not here;
Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier.”
       He follow’d through a lowly arched way,
       Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
       And as she mutter’d “Well-a—well-a-day!”
       He found him in a little moonlight room,
       Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.
       “Now tell me where is Madeline,” said he,
       “O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
       Which none but secret sisterhood may see,
When they St. Agnes’ wool are weaving piously.”
       “St. Agnes! Ah! it is St. Agnes’ Eve—
       Yet men will murder upon holy days:
       Thou must hold water in a witch’s sieve,
       And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays,
       To venture so: it fills me with amaze
       To see thee, Porphyro!—St. Agnes’ Eve!
       God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
       This very night: good angels her deceive!
But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.”
       Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
       While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
       Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
       Who keepeth clos’d a wond’rous riddle-book,
       As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
       But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
       His lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brook
       Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold,
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.
       Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
       Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
       Made purple riot: then doth he propose
       A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
       “A cruel man and impious thou art:
       Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep, and dream
       Alone with her good angels, far apart
       From wicked men like thee. Go, go!—I deem
Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.”
       “I will not harm her, by all saints I swear,”
       Quoth Porphyro: “O may I ne’er find grace
       When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
       If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
       Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
       Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
       Or I will, even in a moment’s space,
       Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen’s ears,
And beard them, though they be more fang’d than wolves and bears.”
       “Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
       A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
       Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
       Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
       Were never miss’d.”—Thus plaining, doth she bring
       A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
       So woful, and of such deep sorrowing,
       That Angela gives promise she will do
Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.
       Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
       Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hide
       Him in a closet, of such privacy
       That he might see her beauty unespy’d,
       And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
       While legion’d faeries pac’d the coverlet,
       And pale enchantment held her sleepy-ey’d.
       Never on such a night have lovers met,
Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.
       “It shall be as thou wishest,” said the Dame:
       “All cates and dainties shall be stored there
       Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
       Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
       For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
       On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
       Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
       The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
Or may I never leave my grave among the dead.”
       So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
       The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;
       The dame return’d, and whisper’d in his ear
       To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
       From fright of dim espial. Safe at last,
       Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
       The maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d, and chaste;
       Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.
His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.
       Her falt’ring hand upon the balustrade,
       Old Angela was feeling for the stair,
       When Madeline, St. Agnes’ charmed maid,
       Rose, like a mission’d spirit, unaware:
       With silver taper’s light, and pious care,
       She turn’d, and down the aged gossip led
       To a safe level matting. Now prepare,
       Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;
She comes, she comes again, like ring-dove fray’d and fled.
       Out went the taper as she hurried in;
       Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
       She clos’d the door, she panted, all akin
       To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
       No uttered syllable, or, woe betide!
       But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
       Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
       As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.
       A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
       All garlanded with carven imag’ries
       Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
       And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
       Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
       As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
       And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,
       And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.
       Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
       And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
       As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
       Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
       And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
       And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
       She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
       Save wings, for heaven:—Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.
       Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
       Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
       Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
       Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
       Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
       Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
       Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
       In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.
       Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
       In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,
       Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
       Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
       Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
       Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;
       Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
       Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.
       Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
       Porphyro gaz’d upon her empty dress,
       And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
       To wake into a slumberous tenderness;
       Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
       And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
       Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
       And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
And ‘tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo!—how fast she slept.
       Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
       Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
       A table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereon
       A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet:—
       O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
       The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
       The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet,
       Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:—
The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.
       And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
       In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
       While he forth from the closet brought a heap
       Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
       With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
       And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
       Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
       From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.
       These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand
       On golden dishes and in baskets bright
       Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
       In the retired quiet of the night,
       Filling the chilly room with perfume light.—
       “And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
       Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
       Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes’ sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”
       Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
       Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
       By the dusk curtains:—’twas a midnight charm
       Impossible to melt as iced stream:
       The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
       Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:
       It seem’d he never, never could redeem
       From such a stedfast spell his lady’s eyes;
So mus’d awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.
       Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,—
       Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
       He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
       In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy”:
       Close to her ear touching the melody;—
       Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:
       He ceas’d—she panted quick—and suddenly
       Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.
       Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
       Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
       There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d
       The blisses of her dream so pure and deep
       At which fair Madeline began to weep,
       And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
       While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
       Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.
       “Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even now
       Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
       Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
       And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
       How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
       Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
       Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
       Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thy diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”
       Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
       At these voluptuous accents, he arose
       Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
       Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose;
       Into her dream he melted, as the rose
       Blendeth its odour with the violet,—
       Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
       Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St. Agnes’ moon hath set.
       ‘Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
       “This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!”
       ‘Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat:
       “No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!
       Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine.—
       Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?
       I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine,
       Though thou forsakest a deceived thing;—
A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.”
       “My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
       Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
       Thy beauty’s shield, heart-shap’d and vermeil dyed?
       Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
       After so many hours of toil and quest,
       A famish’d pilgrim,—sav’d by miracle.
       Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest
       Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st well
To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.
       “Hark! ’tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
       Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:
       Arise—arise! the morning is at hand;—
       The bloated wassaillers will never heed:—
       Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
       There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see,—
       Drown’d all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead:
       Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,
For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”
       She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
       For there were sleeping dragons all around,
       At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears—
       Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found.—
       In all the house was heard no human sound.
       A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;
       The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
       Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.
       They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
       Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
       Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
       With a huge empty flaggon by his side:
       The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
       But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
       By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide:—
       The chains lie silent on the footworn stones;—
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.
       And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
       These lovers fled away into the storm.
       That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
       And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
       Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
       Were long be-nightmar’d. Angela the old
       Died palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform;
       The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.

Tomorrow: Addams Family Bash at Loew’s Jersey

Posted in Halloween, Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies (Contemporary), PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , on October 28, 2016 by travsd


Four of the Three Musketeers: A Valuable New Book About the Marx Brothers

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Marx Brothers, PLUGS with tags , , , on October 26, 2016 by travsd


I was too busy getting married on October 15 to notice the big news that THIS masterwork had finally come out. Rob Bader provided a privileged few of us with some memories to last a life time at Marxfest…like a comedy star Columbo he ran down some answers to questions that most of us figured would be forever lost to time. Now it looks like his big book has hit the stores. Trust me, if you’re a fan, this won’t just be the kind of book that comes out once in a blue moon — this book contains original research that, for a fan, is once-in-a-lifetime. Valuable, valuable contributions to the study of the Marx Brothers, vaudeville and early 20th century theatre in general. This is one I can’t wait to read. Get it here:

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