October 28, 2022
Every October when I was young, I would head to my local library branch to check out a certain vinyl record—yes, you could check out records just like we do CDs today. Funnily enough, I can’t actually remember its name. But I do remember clearly what was on it: ghost stories.
My favorite was The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall by John Kendrick Bangs. It was the story of a woman who drowned in the sea after jumping off a cliff. As a result, she was doomed to return every Christmas Eve to haunt her descendants at the family manor, soaking everything in her wake. The narrator’s voice always sent chills down my spine.
That particular story was set during Victorian times. In fact, when you look at some of the most memorable ghost stories, a lot of them date from the time of Queen Victoria. There is just something about that period in history that creates the perfect environment for ghosts.
Take, for example, The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens—the atmospheric story of an unnamed narrator who visits a signal-man (a person who would signal trains in the days before electronics). The signal-man claims that every time his bell rings, a phantom appears to warn of an upcoming tragedy. He also believes that one chime will herald his own death. The narrator thinks he is mad, but is he?
Another Victorian favorite of mine is The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde. Both spooky and humorous, it tells the tale of a pompous ghost who is condemned to haunt his own castle after killing his wife. When an American family takes up residence, his attempts to scare them fail because the family just won’t be frightened. This makes him one very frustrated ghost.
The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe combines horror and spookiness after a man murders his cat only to have a similar cat show up. When his wife tries to stop him from killing the new cat, he kills her. How the police end up finding her body is very reminiscent of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James may be more familiar to people because an adaptation was just released on Netflix titled The Haunting of Bly Manor. A novella rather than a short story, The Turn of the Screw recounts the tale of a nanny who comes to look after two children. Both are being haunted by their former caretakers. The question is can she save them from their ghostly corruption?
These tales are all perfect for these chilly October nights. Since most are short stories, many are available in collections. The Phantom Coach by Michael Sims and Haunted Tales, edited by Lisa Morton and Leslie Klinger, include many classic Victorian ghost stories. And Ghostly by Audrey Niffenegger has both older and more recent hauntings.
Classic ghost stories are a great alternative to the slasher horror that seems so prevalent today. So, stop in to your local MCPL branch, or visit the Library’s collection online, and find your next spine tingler.
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