Wisconsin, Monster Capital of America?

Forget football and cheese. Maybe it should be famous for its shaggy werewolves and shape-shifting schoolteachers! The Pine Barrens of New Jersey may reverberate with the fetid screams of the cloven-hooved demon known as the Jersey Devil. The redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest may shake from the footfalls of the 9-foot, fur-covered primate known[…]

An Indonesian Island Where the Dead Live with Their Loved Ones

“It is our Torajan culture. It is what we do.” By Tommy Trenchard and Aurélie Marrier d’Unienville As a host, 90-year-old Alfrida Lantong is somewhat passive. Lying resolutely on her back and gazing up through a pair of thick, dusty spectacles, she roundly ignores her son’s murmured greeting as he enters the room, and she[…]

How the Paris Catacombs Solved a Cemetery Crisis

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris—the Catacombs—was started as a solution to the intrusion of death upon daily life. By Allison C. Meier Recently the Guardian reported on a British health expert’s proposal to bury bodies alongside roads. The idea of lining thoroughfares with corpses may seem macabre, but it could promote the[…]

Photographing the Dark: Félix Nadar’s Descent into the Paris Catacombs

Today the Paris Catacombs are illuminated by electric lights and friendly guides. But when Félix Nadar descended into this “empire of death” in the 1860s artificial lighting was still in its infancy: the pioneering photographer had to face the quandary of how to take photographs in the subterranean dark. Allison C. Meier explores Nadar’s determined[…]

Zombie Flu: How the 1919 Influenza Pandemic Fueled the Rise of the Living Dead

The 1918-1919 flu claimed millions of lives worldwide. Could it also have given birth to the viral zombie? Introduction Zombies have lurched to the center of Halloween culture, with costumes proliferating as fast as the monsters themselves. This year, you can dress as a zombie prom queen, a zombie doctor – even a zombie rabbit[…]

Victorian Penny Dreadfuls

Examining what made these cheap, sensational, highly illustrated stories so popular with the Victorian public. By Judith FlandersHistorian Introduction In the 1830s, increasing literacy and improving technology saw a boom in cheap fiction for the working classes. ‘Penny bloods’ was the original name for the booklets that, in the 1860s, were renamed penny dreadfuls and[…]

When Bram Met Walt

Before conjuring Dracula, Bram Stoker poured his soul out to America’s poet. Introduction Ever since Bram Stoker unleashed Dracula on readers in 1897, the undead have been stalking literary and pop culture with abandon. At first it was a slow trickle, as others imitated Stoker on the page, but once Hollywood sank its teeth into vampire mythology,[…]

How a French Ghost Story Influenced Dickens

A Christmas Carol isn’t the only spine-chilling Christmas ghost story from the pen of Charles Dickens. Introduction In 1850, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Tree, a nostalgic collection of anecdotes inspired by the sight of “a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree.” In the course of the short[…]

Try Hawthorne for Halloween . . . But Leave the Light On

Young Goodman Brown is one of the scariest stories in American literature. Halloween is a great time to read—or reread—Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” one of the scariest stories in American literature. Lots of readers first delved into Hawthorne’s work because they had to, not because they wanted to. The Scarlet Letter, his 1850 novel about[…]

Fantasmagoriana: The German Book of Ghost Stories in 1812 That Inspired Frankenstein

The Shelleys, Byron, Polidori, and the birth of a timeless tale. The story of how Frankenstein was born is well known, and largely relies on the account given by Mary Shelley in her preface to the 1831 edition to her novel. She and her (soon-to-be) husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, were summering on the[…]