According to AAA, 53.4 million people will travel next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. That is up 13% from 2020—a sure sign that people are ready to travel. Moreover, a recent The Vacationer survey found that 67% of the respondents were planning on driving. That’s a lot of time couped up in a car. Here are 3 paranormal themed cozy murder mysteries to get you through.
I listen to Audible.com (and sadly not paid for this plug). I found that I’m able to relax, to create art, or to cruise on my Electra when I’ve got a great book playing. I can also tell you that the narration sells it. I’ve returned a few audio books where the narrator was not the right fit. For these series, the narrators enhance the stories. Through their voices (taking on different characters accents and all), I can visualize the stories and thoroughly enjoy the stories.
Up until this year, I maneuvered past the cozy mystery genre. Even when I was reading print editions, I rarely read one. For me, the time was not right. This changed after I finished a run of hard-boiled murder mysteries, fiction and non-fiction. I was looking for stories where the gore and sex was off the page. I sought protagonists who were amateur sleuths in tiny hamlets similar to the British crime shows my husband and I binge on Acorn, BritBox, and PBS. In the last 2 months, I’ve discovered three series I want to share:
- The Accidental Alchemist Mysteries written by Gigi Pandian and narrated by Julia Motyka. A 300-year old alchemist, Zoe Faust, relocates to Portland, Oregon and mistakenly ships the animated gargoyle, Dorian Robert-Houdin, who seeks Zoe’s assistance in finding a remedy to keep him alive. This series delves deep into the world of alchemy. It also includes vegetarian recipes, which sound scrumptious, but I have not made. I have listened to the first 3 books in the 5 book + 1 novella series. For more information: https://www.gigipandian.com/books/the-accidental-alchemist-mysteries.
- The Salem B&B Mystery written by Traci Wilton and narrated by Callie Beaulieu. Recent widow Charlene Morris escapes the city and purchases an historic Victorian home in Salem haunted by the former occupant. Charlene intends to open a bed and breakfast when she feels compelled to help solve the previous owner’s murder. The stray cat has a minor supporting role. Each book features a new murder. I’ve listened to the first book in the 5-book series. For more information: https://cozy-mysteries-unlimited.com/salem-bb-mystery-series.
- The Vampire Knitting Club written by Nancy Wilson and narrated by Sarah Zimmerman. This series is set in Oxford, England with the American raised protagonist Lucy Swift arriving to visit her grandmother, Agnes Bartlett, owner of Cardinal Woolsey knitting shop. Lucy learns her grandmother died a few weeks earlier and has been turned into a vampire. Each book features a new murder. This series also has Nix, Lucy’s new cat familiar. (I’m a sucker for a cat. Also my mother’s family has a long line of females named Agnes.) I’m presently listening to book 3 of the 13-book and 2 novella series. For more information: https://www.nancywarrenauthor.com/vampire-knitting-club-series/.
In the late 1800s, America was in the midst of a vampire panic. This was directly linked to the outbreak of tuberculous, or consumption as it was called then. The undereducated citizens didn’t understand epidemiology. And people, especially those in rural communities, distrusted medical doctors. It was easier to believe that a person who died from consumption yet seen walking through the cemetery was a vampire than to come up with another, more logical reason, for supposed hauntings. Thus was the case of Mercy Lena Brown, forever known as the “Last New England Vampire.”
Throughout history, civilizations battled outbreaks of horrible and deadly diseases. In the 1800s, it was tuberculosis, also known as TB. At that time, there wasn’t a cure for TB. The survival rate was 20%. Entire families were decimated. And towns attempted to thwart and to explain why people were dying.
In Exeter, Rhode Island, George and Mary Eliza Brown were farmers. They had 7 children, 6 girls and 1 boy. On December 8, 1883, Mary Eliza succumbed to TB. By June 6, 1884, the eldest daughter Mary Olive (2.17.1864-6.6.1884) was dead, as well. Both were properly interred into the family plot, resting in peace in the ground.
When Edwin Atwood, age 24, became ill, he and his young wife, Hortense, headed to a mineral spring in Colorado Springs, Colorado for 18 months. Edwin seemed to improve a bit; however, by the time he returned to Rhode Island, he had already relapsed.
By then, Edwin’s other sister Mercy Lena was ill. Born on August 2, 1872, Lena, as she was called, died on January 17, 1892, in the dead of winter. Her body was stored above ground and in a mausoleum. Edwin’s health was declining so much so that he began to hallucinate. He claimed that Lena was sitting on his chest. Others in the community started telling stories of seeing Lena walking through the cemetery. Within a very short time, vampire panic had taken over Exeter, and the community sought answers.
George Brown was placed in the precarious position of honoring his deceased daughter or allowing her to be exhumed. He was convinced of the latter. On March 17, 1892, Lena’s body was removed from the coffin, and the town folk gasped in horror. Unlike the decomposed bodies of Mary Eliza and Mary Olive, who were also exhumed, Lena’s corpse seemed fresh. It was documented that she lay on one side with blood still within her veins and heart. A mob mentality took hold. And they demanded an offering.
Regional superstition stated that the heart and liver of a corpse must be removed and burned to permanently kill the decedent. Lena was sliced open, her heart and liver removed, and set upon the blazing bonfire. However, that would not calm the folks.
Lena’s cremated remains were mixed with water to make a tonic that was given to Edwin to drink. And drink he did. Yet, it was to no avail. Two months later on May 2, Edwin joined his family in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
The surviving heirs retell this horrible violation and desecration by keeping Lena’s memory alive. On Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, when people visit and decorate the gravesites of relatives, specifically military members, relative tell her deeply dark tale.
Mercy Lena Brown’s death is a lesson. Pandemics happen. As we work to survive, we should look to the past. We should trust scientists, medical doctors, and epidemiologists. We should also know statistics. Even though vampires may exist (depending on the definition used), the odds of the recently deceased person actually being one is small. Very small. We should also let victims of these heinous desecrations rest in eternal peace.
American writer Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948) is studied in nearly every public high school in the U.S. The short story was published on June 26, 1948, in The New Yorker, and generated so much hate mail, that the magazine had parcels sent up to Jackson. Although Jackson lived her adult life struggling with severe anxiety and depression, she is one of America’s premier American Gothic writers. Her stories remain popular, with several adaptations produced. For Halloween, read one—or more—of her stories.
Shirley Hardie Jackson’s stories are dissected and studied, as is her unhappy and albeit short life. Shirley was born on December 14, 1916, in San Francisco. Her relationship with her mother, Geraldine, was acrimonious and strained. Jackson fled to Syracuse University, graduating in 1940. Shortly thereafter, Jackson married Stanley Edgar Hyman, replacing her mother’s verbal abuse with his infidelity. They had 4 children. On August 8, 1965, Jackson died unexpectedly from heart failure at the age of 48. Her journal entries provide much insight into her struggle with mental illness. However, it seemed she may have been turning a new corner and writing in a new genre at the time of her death.
Jackson’s legacy is her writings. She considered herself a “practicing amateur witch” and was curious about witchcraft. Her most well-known novel is probably The Haunting of Hill House (1959) which was made into 2 full-length motion pictures and adapted into the 10-episode Netflix series created by Mike Flanagan in 2018. (Note: Start with the 1963 movie titled The Haunting and work from there.) I’m drawn to 2 lesser-known stories: Hangsaman (1951) and “The Missing Girl” (1957).
Jackson begrudgingly accepted her open marriage to Hyman. His infidelity is notorious; however, there is much speculation that he had numerous affairs with students while employed as a faculty member. He taught at Bennington College in Vermont. Bennington was founded as a liberal arts, all-female college in 1932. In 1969, it became coeducational.
Both stories touch upon the mysterious disappearance of Paula Jean Weldon, a sophomore at Bennington College who went for a hike and never returned. Weldon was born on October 19, 1928 and declared dead as of December 1, 1946. Her body has never been discovered. During the span 1946-1950, at least 4 other people disappeared. In 1992, Joseph A. Citro coined the term “Bennington Triangle” to include these disappearances and other folklore.
Ghost stories and horror stories are part of our Halloween tradition. This year, read a story you haven’t read before. Start with one of Jackson’s.
Read “The Lottery” here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/06/26/the-lottery
Halloween is a great time to sell a house, especially if it is associated with a movie franchise worth over $457 million dollars. The 1919 Dutch Colonial from Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is for sale.
Located at 1428 N. Genesee Avenue in L.A., this 2-story house has ample room. The main house has 3 bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms. Leading outside passed the pool, a smaller guesthouse comes complete with a kitchen. However, the house has not always looked so enticing.
In 2006, Angie Hill purchased the neglected home and began renovating. Once the home was modernized—even though it had a 1960 vibe—Ms. Hill sold the home for $2.1 million in 2013.
The listed selling price is $3.25 million, with offers due at midnight on Halloween. The listing agency has embraced Freddy Krueger, the killer in the films, and has a person dressed as the murderous janitor posing in some of the publicity photos. Quite clever!
This may be my favorite Halloween tradition story. In America, we owe our Halloween traditions to the Irish. Halloween was not celebrated as extensively in America until the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852), where 1.5 million Irish people immigrated to America bringing their rich traditions. One story was “Stingy Jack.”
The reason Jack placed pieces of burning coal inside smaller root vegetables is because pumpkins were not available in Ireland. When the Irish settled in America, they preferred to use the larger fruit. Today, pumpkins are used for carving and lighting the paths for trick-or-treaters.
I was honored to present “Haunted Halloween: Traditions, Superstitions, and True Crime” last week for Ghost Education 101. If you missed it, check out the Facebook link, https://www.facebook.com/GhostEducation101/. I was a last minute substitution; however, I was ready!
The three rituals I discussed were made up to help ease a female’s mind when she was worried about whom she would marry. The “Finding a Suitor” was done after the young adults played Snap Apple. Snap Apple was a game where an apple was attached to a stick or a string and lowered in front of couples. The first female and male (which did not need to be already a couple) to bite into the apple were headed to alter for marriage. Or so the legend told.
Here is a lovely oil painting by Daniel Maclise called Snap Apple Night (1833). In 1832, Daniel attended a Halloween party in Blarney, Ireland. The painting inspired the lively work of art.
It’s worth noting that these rituals were created for the purpose of marrying off women. They are when women were told that their worth was intrinsically linked to a husband. This is no longer true. In fact, I would love for these games to be updated, reflecting our changing attitudes regarding gender identity.
The image is from Gecko Galz, an online digital products company found on Etsy. The image is a cabinet card, a photographic portraiture consisting of a thin photograph mounted on card stock. It was popular from 1870 until 1924, when people desired varying sizes for displaying and keeping photographs, specifically in photo albums. The origins of the name is unclear; however, it may have become vernacular as people originally displayed these photographs in their parlors. By the early 1900s, the Eastman Kodak Company was selling an inexpensive portable pre-loaded camera. People wanted to take their own pictures. This led to the cabinet card demise.
I’ll be sharing more Halloween tidbits and factoids in the coming weeks. If you’re looking for Halloween and Horror movie suggestions, check out the ones I’ve posted in prior years. I’ve broken the films down into different genres and types. There’s something for everyone! Happy Halloween!