Those of you reading these columns in chronological order may be wondering how we got from Christmas to Halloween in one jump!

Well . . .

Suffice it to say that, as far as candidates for reprinting / expansion go, 1988 ended up being the motherlode of folkloric fodder! The first five columns of that year were all worthy of online reprinting, and in most cases I expanded them to finally turn them into the columns I wanted them to be all along.

As I may have already mentioned, we decided as of January 1988 to go bimonthly, so for the first six months there were only 3 issues. The January / February issue featured a look at Abe Lincoln, in honor of February's President's Day (and in memory of the fact that Lincoln's Birthday used to be celebrated on its own - also in February). We looked at the darker side of the man, the seances and premonitions, and I couldn't wait to expand it properly, which I finally did in April of 2001.

The March / April column, which featured April Fool's Day, was later earmarked (and indeed submitted) for online publication in March of '99. However, we ran into severe server difficulties and the piece never ran. Upon my return from self-imposed exile in April this year (2003) it seemed all too appropriate to start thing off with this "lost column".

Finally, the May / June column featured a new look at Independence Day, something I'd wanted to do for some time. It was a natural for online publication, which took place in July 1999.

Now, you may have wondered why I would throw a "Fourth of July" column into a May / June issue. Well, between the vagaries of printing schedules and the adjustments to the new bimonthly schedule, I'd discovered that the columns were typically reaching people on or just after the holidays they dealt with - not the most ideal of situations.

Therefore, I was determined to get the July 4th column out to our readers well in advance, hence its May appearance.

Naturally, Mom subsequently decides to return to a monthly schedule right after that issue went to print.

And so it was that the year 1988 gave us two Independence Day columns in a row! Fortunately I was able to come up with some fun facts about Ben Franklin for our July '88 issue - it turned out so well, in fact, that I couldn't resist expanding it and sending it into cyberspace for our July 2000 issue.

August came around, and this time I had a really good one. Mike and I had just gotten back from a visit to an old, old house in New England, which had turned out to be haunted. It was a natural.

It was also a natural for expansion when I put it online in May / June 1998.

Now, September's column has never been reprinted, and almost certainly never will. You see, it wasn't really a column, per se - at least not in the sense of telling any sort of a story. I started it by doing a sort of follow up on a few previous columns, such as the Queen Mary, and by the time I'd finished I'd run out of room. You see, I had to leave space for brother Mike's column.

Yes, Mike had returned to Book Again that Summer, and we now had air conditioning as well! Quite an eventful time . . .

And so it was now October, and time for our third Halloween column. This one came to me from one of our best customers, who was a folklorist himself - Ben Keller.

Two years of this Newsletter?? Impossible. I won't believe it - it seems like only yesterday when -

Sorry, I did that bit last year, didn't I?

Ahem . . . Halloween already?? Impossible. And yet you can always tell when Fall whispers in around these parts - our Newsletter pages take on a rosy orange hue.

Two years of this and we haven't figured out anything more original.

This is, of course, my favorite time of year, Halloween being a folklorist's delight in terms of its vast anecdotal possibilities. What, after all, is more quintessentially folkloric than the image of a small gathering in front of a fiercely burning Autumn fire, all eyes transfixed and held in thrall by the telling of some old forgotten hair-raising legend . . . of footsteps with no feet, invisible laughter, and rappings in the dead of night . . .

No, there is nothing quite so evocative of this time of year as the picture of a storyteller, splendidly anonymous yet wielding all the magic of the Ancients, heir to wizard, witch and warlock, conjurer of Older Days and Secret Rites, and keeper of the keys to mysteries as remote as a 5000 year old mummy, and as close as your cellar door.

There are those who would argue that by that definition I've been celebrating Halloween for quite some time now, and I have promised Mom - I mean, them - that this column will be the final and I do mean final column to delve into the supernatural for at least a month, if not longer.

I was just beginning to dig for an appropriate ghostly tale to commemorate this issue, when I received a letter from one of our regular customers. In addition to following this very column he is something of a folklorist himself - the tale he had to tell, however, was his own, and I reprint it here verbatim . . .

A Halloween Story


My mother's family were of Delaware and PA, and their idea of heaven was and is a farm near Dover. They have owned the farm since 1786, and one nice story has clung to the 200 year old house since before I was born.

Six or eight generations ago, Great Great Aunt Nancy fell from the second story - down the stairwell, and broke her neck when she landed.

Until the 1940's the farm had neither electricity nor phone, which made the place a haven of peace for many of the kin. We loved visiting the farm, and would do so on the slightest pretext. It was illuminated at night by kerosene lamps. And this was to avoid using candles, for candles created a problem.

When bedtime came, if one traipsed up the stairs with a candle, Great Great Aunt Nancy's ghost would blow out the candle. Everyone knew this, so one always used a lamp if going upstairs.

Of course, we all suspected that the stairwell created some sort of draft, but we kept up the pretense of believing it was the ghost - especially if guests were present. So much for the legend part of the story.

Came 1926, and this brash teenager had just received a birthday present of a beautiful 3 cell Eveready flashlight. It was my pride and joy. I slept with it at home, and the first time a gang of us went to the farm I took the precious flashlight with me. It came time to retire and someone - one of my thirteen cousins, no doubt - reached for a lamp.

It was my moment to shine (pardon the wordplay). "You don't need that lamp" I said, and brandished my flashlight. So I led half a dozen cousins and guests into the hall and started up the stairs. But could I let well enough alone? No. Raising my voice to speak over the babble of the other people, I said "this is ONE light the old lady won't blow out."

But the light went out. Instantly. Voices in the darkness accused me of a deliberate prank, called me some names I won't repeat here, and wouldn't believe it when I swore I couldn't get the thing to light again. Next day I found that I had a burned out bulb.

Ghosts have wondrous powers I guess.


Ben Keller

Well, that about wraps this month up - Mike will return next month to help bail me out of my yearly what-in-Powhatan's-name-can-you-write-about-Thanksgiving predicament.

But no more ghosts. Really. Nevermore. Not for all the tea in China.

You do believe me, don't you?

Heh, heh, heh . . .