A Minor Gem: Julian Hawthorne’s “The House Behind the Trees”

Unearthing the UnearthlyJulian Hawthorne’s literary career never really got out of the shadow of the literary career of his revered father, Nathaniel. It’s tough to compete when one’s daddy wrote The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, after all. This is despite the son’s having written considerably more: “He out-published his father by a ratio of more than twenty-to-one,” says Gary Sharnhorst in a biography of the younger Hawthorne.

Sharnhorst also describes Julian as “a writer of modest talent . . . who tailored his tales to the demands of the market in the heyday of sensational fiction.” This is evident in “The House Behind the Trees,” a ghost hunter tale that is probably more interesting for the parentage of the author than for anything in the story itself. Continue reading “A Minor Gem: Julian Hawthorne’s “The House Behind the Trees””


Dolly Desmond: Reporter and One-Time Ghost Hunter

Dolly Desmond was the lead character in a 1914 movie serial titled The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies. There were twelve episodes in this series, produced by the Edison Company and directed by Walter Edwin. In the title role was Mary Fuller, who also happened to star in what is considered the very first movie serial, What Happened to Mary (1912).

As were a few other serial heroines from the 1910s, Dolly Desmond was “noteworthy less for her extraordinary beauty than for her daring and resourcefulness. This woman would often perform her work in a male-dominated arena, winning the day with confident self-reliance and an imaginative capacity seemingly unavailable to her male peers.” Specifically, Desmond was a reporter in that era of brave, adventurous reporters carving a place for professional women, journalists who included Nellie Bly and Ida Tarball.

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Deceived by H. Macaulay’s “The Detective” (1870)

Unearthing the Unearthly

Skimming through an 1870 short story called “The Detective: A Tale of the Old Walton House,” I spotted clues of supernatural events occurring. Given the title, I felt very hopeful that I had come across yet another piece of fiction that crosses supernatural and detective genres — ideally, resulting in another early occult detective to add to my Chronological Bibliography thereof.

But I had been deceived. Tricked. Bamboozled even. The title detective in H. Macaulay’s tale is actually the supernatural being, and it’s called “the detective” because it haunts — or shadows — the protagonist as a detective might do. This is all explained up front: Continue reading “Deceived by H. Macaulay’s “The Detective” (1870)”

Sarah P.E. Hawthorne’s Mr. Curtis: Poster Boy for Novice Occult Detectives

Unearthing the Unearthly

I added yet another character to the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives a few days ago. His name is Mr. Curtis, and he’s one of the fairly few occult detectives who’s also a professional detective (albeit in the crime-solving business).

For a moment, I wondered if he might be the list’s first professional detective. But, no, this honor belongs to Mr. Burton from Seeley Regester’s The Dead Letter, which was published in 1866.  Mr. Curtis appeared in 1888 in Sarah P.E. Hawthorne’s short story “The Ghost of the Grate.” Still, unlike Burton’s use of his daughter’s clairvoyance and his own semi-psychic abilities to conduct a criminal investigation, Curtis confronts a supernatural manifestation — and he accepts the reality of it before solving the mystery. In fact, in the concluding paragraph of his first-person narrative, he says: “I had never been a believer in the supernatural, and this was my first and only experience with the great unexplainable.”

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“This Thing Ought to Be Reported to the Psychic Research Society”: Henry C. Mercer’s Charles Carrington

Unearthing the UnearthlyI was reading Henry C. Mercer’s November Night Tales (1928) because I knew that at least one character appeared in at least two of these spooky stories. I wanted to see if perhaps this Charles Carrington fellow might be an occult detective in some form.

Yes, it turns out that Carrington acts as a ghost-hunter in “The Dolls’ Castle,” though he’s more or less an astonished bystander in “The Blackbirds.” (He doesn’t appear in any of the other stories. Another character named Pryor, a painter, also appears twice. While Pryor faces the strange and even the supernatural, he’s much more a victim than a detective.)

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Enough to Unnerve the Most Hardened Investigator of the Unearthly: Henry S. Whitehead’s Gerald Canevin (and Lord Carruth)

Unearthing the UnearthlyA couple of my colleagues in detecting occult detectives suggested I take a look at Henry S. Whitehead’s Gerald Canevin. The character appears in fifteen tales. They’re very well-told stories with a fine balance of setting, character, and creepiness. Though from the U.S., Canevin is mostly found in a Caribbean milieu of Voodoo practices and local folklore, reflecting Whitehead’s own years spent on Santa Cruz. However, without much explanation, the character also springs up in England and in New England.

For the most part, Canevin is not an occult detective per se. Though he does have a strong interest in studying the supernatural, weird things just seem to pop up around him. And he chronicles them. In fact, in “The Projection of Armand Dubois” (1926), “The People of Pan” (1929), and “Passing of a God” (1931), Canevin has no real role other than narrator. I’m tempted to say he’s less an occult detective and more an occult reporter — or even an occult neighbor, since he so often unintentionally finds himself in the company of the haunted.

Continue reading “Enough to Unnerve the Most Hardened Investigator of the Unearthly: Henry S. Whitehead’s Gerald Canevin (and Lord Carruth)”

A 1787 Chapter on Ghosts — and the Fiction that Followed

I stumbled upon a very interesting overview of ghosts that was published in 1787. It appears in the last section of Francis Grose’s A Provincial Glossary with a Collection of Local Proverbs, and Popular Superstitions, which also summarizes folk beliefs about witches, sorcerers, fairies, second-sight, and more. It’s a very useful source for learning what the general take on such subjects were among the English in the late 18th century.

Grose offers several curious, even humorous, bits of ghost lore. For example, being born on Christmas Eve reduces one’s ability to see a spirit, and if a candle burns blue, it means a ghost just might be in the vicinity. (Apparently, the latter idea still carries weight with some 21st-century ghost hunters!) Grose adds, “Dragging chains is not the fashion of English ghosts,” a matter of spectral style that poor Jacob Marley defied.

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Dents: In the History of Occult Detective Fiction — and in My Poor Heart

Unearthing the Unearthly

It looks as though my Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives might have made a dent in a scholarly treatment of the evolution of this body of fiction. I’ve added a new source to my Critical Histories of Occult Detective Fiction page, and it certainly appears to have been partly shaped by the work that I’ve reported here at The Merry Ghost Hunter.

That source is Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend (Greenwood, 2016), an encyclopedia that covers topics ranging from Animal Ghosts and Blithe Spirit to What Lies Beneath and the Witch of Endor. Though editors June Michele Pulliam and Anthony J. Fonseca have cast a wide net — and inevitably many ghostly topics will slip through the holes of that net — it is certainly a work that’s relevant to the interests of visitors to The Merry Ghost Hunter.

Continue reading “Dents: In the History of Occult Detective Fiction — and in My Poor Heart”

A Ghost Hunter Exemplar: Antoinette du Ligier de la Garde Deshoulières

Unearthing the UnearthlyAntoinette du Ligier de la Garde Deshoulières (1638-1694), an important French poet and philosopher, appears to have been very interested in revealing the natural causes behind what seems to be supernatural or spiritual. At the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, John J. Conley explains that Deshoulières “employed verse to argue that natural causes can adequately explain such apparently spiritual phenomena as thought, volition, and love. In metaphysics, Deshoulières argues that the real is comprised of variations of matter and that material causation adequately explains observed changes in the real.” Deshoulières held that instinctual behavior explains human behavior much more than many of us like to admit, and that “[m]aterial organs, and not the occult powers of a spiritual soul, produce such human phenomena as thought and choice.”

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“Equal to All of the Ghosts”: Clark Ashton Smith’s Ghost Hunter Character

Unearthing the UnearthlySome writers of speculative fiction become best remembered for one, maybe two, of the many works they wrote. With Mary Shelley, it’s Frankenstein. With Bram Stoker, it’s Dracula. M.R. James: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Shirley Jackson: “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to name even a single title of something written by Clark Ashton Smith before discovering his 1910 tale “The Ghost of Mohammed Din.” I knew his name as one of those pulp writers from the heyday of Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. Though I’m curious about this wave of speculative fiction, my tastes keep dragging me back to the Victorian and fin de siècle stuff.

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