Creature Feature: Elemental Devils

 

goblins pink fairy book 1897

The month of October always seems to me to call for some overarching paranormal theme, mostly so I have a goal and a framework to work within, like some fortean squirrel assiduously storing up odd tales against the long winter’s nights.  The theme this year is “Creature Feature,” with posts treating paranormal entities: ghosts, Men (and Women) in Black, banshees, goat men, centaurs, giant snakes, wildmen, and whatever other monsters strike my fancy or show up in my nightmares.

We open the series with, well, a goblin orgy. I’ve been sitting on this piece for several years, somewhat appalled by the frankness of the language and what is suggested by what is not said. Usually you only see the phrase in puris naturalibus in the more discreet medical texts or in pornographic works for the Cambridge Don market.

I have no idea if any part of this story is literally true–it starts with a standard-issue poltergeist infestation and degenerates from there. I was most interested in how lurid and explicit it was, even for a fictional piece in a nominally family newspaper, let alone something the author may be trying to sell as a “real” ghost story. And it even has that old horror movie standby–blood spattered all over everything. It reminds me of a book about a haunted funeral home written by the “Demonologists” Ed & Lorraine Warren, chockful of necrophilia and randy corpses. Nasty, prurient stuff.  Perhaps the most reliable thing that can be said about this tale is that it is in the vein of the New England Gothick.

POWERFUL AGENTS OF THE UNSEEN.

THEY DESTROY HOUSEHOLD EFFECTS OF A FAMILY.

CAUSE A BASIN OF WARM BLOOD TO EXPLODE, PRODUCE HORRID VERMIN FROM ARTICLES OF FOOD, AND TOSS FIREBRANDS AND OTHER MISSILES TO THE IMMINENT DANGER OF MORTAL MAN.

New England is full of quaint old villages with cobblestone fences, irregular streets, gigantic shade trees and pretty gardens and most of them are full of romantic legends and mystic lore. One of these, situated among the hills of Worcester County, Mass., was a few years ago the locale of three haunted house, two of which have been destroyed by lightning. That which is left stands among the residences of the best citizens, sadly dilapidated, with ragged roof and windows, in an inclosure, overgrown by brush and weeds, at the mercy of the elements, for nobody enters its creaking doors nor approaching it nearer than necessity demands. To old and young alike it is the abode of mystery and dread—of specters to torment and vanquish the strongest man! These people have had sufficient proof of the vicious devils who dwell in the ancient house about whose reality they permit no one to doubt, and that others may understand the logic of such faith it is only necessary to make a brief appeal to facts.

IN ONE OF THE HOUSES

Mentioned there transpired the phenomena which are described as follows: A Mrs. Dane, descended from Puritan ancestry and a rigid Presbyterian, was one day sitting her parlor, when she heard much of the crockery and glass in a china closet fall and break. Almost at the same moment a servant entered and announced that the dishes in a kitchen pantry were leaping from the shelves, and being smashed upon the floor. There had been other disturbances in the house on former occasions, but nothing like what was now occurring, and, the women were much frightened. An additional cause of alarm was gathered from the fact that as fast as the pieces of glass and crockery were gathered up, they were seized by unseen hands and thrown about the room with violence, striking and cutting all the inmates. This frightful performance was continued until the women desisted from meddling with the debris. Later in the day a servant undertook to sweep the rooms thus littered, whereupon the broken bits sprang up from the floors, as if endowed with independent motion, and began another attack upon the people. When

THE MEN OF THE FAMILY

Came in from their work and ridiculed the fears of the weaker sex another attempt was made to clear away the fragments of glass and delft, but the result was even greater disaster. The pieces not only flew about with renewed force, but they destroyed windows, mirrors, paintings and vases and placed everlasting marks of identification upon all the furniture. They also cut rents in the carpets.

The fragments of glass and china were not further disturbed and soon the conditions appeared to be normal. But in about a month there was a fearful disturbance all over the house. It began at 11 o’clock in the night and called all the family from their beds at the first shock, for the house vibrated upon the foundation walls as if shaken by an earthquake. The noise awakened the neighbors and they flocked to the beleaguered habitation to witness a strange and unaccountable sight, but not only everything of a fragile sort, but the furniture which was mostly of the ponderous kind used by our ancestors, was being broken and the fragments hurled about in the wildest confusion. Bedsteads, bureaus, tables, sofas, chairs, all the belongings of a substantial household, were going to pieces without making visible the agent of destruction, apparently without cause or motive, and it seemed to the spectators that the besom of destruction was wielded by the powers of the air, incited to the act by pure malice. All the furniture, bedding, carpets, drapery and other belongings of the household were rendered worthless in the space of three or four hours, and the work of those who had sought to save several sacks of what by conveying them to another building was rendered useless by an agency which dragged the sacks from their hidden repository and emptied their contents into a near-by pond!

THE FAMILY WAS COMPELLED

To seek quarters elsewhere, and went to the dwelling of a Mr. Graham, a relative. Late next day a large concourse of citizens, headed by the clergyman and Magistrates, visited the Dane house and saw “evidences of devastation more thorough than could have been accomplished in the same time by 50 able-bodied men.” It was a complete wreck.

On the third night after the Danes were domiciled at Graham’s sounds of chopping, sawing and breaking furniture were heard all over the house, accompanied by laughter, loud and shrill, but upon striking lights the terrified people found all the furniture in place and intact, and there was nobody in sight or hearing so long as the candles were alight. When darkness filled the room the racket was resumed and in little time it became necessary to the repose of the family to keep the house fairly illuminated during sleeping hours. Even then they were sometimes awakened by strange voices in conversation, singing and laughter, and occasionally they heard threats against the various occupants of the house, calling them by name and relating incidents in their private history which they would rather have had untold.

Matters proceeded upon these lines till a night in August, known locally as

“THE BLACK NIGHT,”

When, in the climax of a terrific thunderstorm, the candles were extinguished and the imps of darkness took full possession. When lightning projected vivid flashes into every nook and corner of the Graham domicile it was found to be peopled with an innumerable multitude of gnome-like creatures, with large eyes and noses, perpendicular mouths, a superabundance of hair on heads and chins, and complexion of bright green. These monsters laughed grimly and made threatening gestures. As an evidence that they prided themselves upon their hideousness the most grotesquely hideous among them were the leaders of their orgies, and gave the word of command, supplemented by voluminous profanity.

The Danes felt that they had brought calamity to the Grahams, and proposed to seek an asylum elsewhere, at which there was a shout of laughter from the invited crowd. All occupants of the dwelling were up and dressed, but suddenly they were propelled toward the beds, upon which they were thrown and deprived of the power to rise. One, who afterward described his sensations on this occasion, said he could not have been more completely deprived of the power to act had he been held by a score of giants.

Then began an orgy of grosser kind than can be risked in a description for the public eye. Truthfully might these devoted people have felt that “Hell is empty and all is devils here,” for in the bottomless pit no darker devilments are devised. The house was suddenly illuminated by phosphorescent gleams, making the green gnomes still greener, and at once their acts were of the grossest and most utterly indescribable obscenity. Those old tales of phallic orgies in Pompeii seem to have been rendered tame and semi-decent in comparison with some legends preserved of these doings on “the Black Night,” when the outraged modesty of the enforced onlookers displaced fear by detestation and inexpressible disgust. The language of the hideous devils was consonant with their acts, foul beyond expression, and they capped this preliminary enormity with a song so gross that our informant made many apologies for remembering a single couplet. The sooner he forgets it the better for his mental health.

At this point several of the mortals found they were able to move, and, although the storm was still raging, got up with the intention of leaving the house. The laugh from the fiends when this purpose was announced was the essence of mockery. They could leave if they so desired was plainly intimated by their tormentors, but there were five females in the house, and they were still bound by the spell which had been upon all the mortals. Soon they were calling for release and it was found that the fiends had devised for them

A SPECIAL TORMENT

A severe castigation with little bundles of what our informant describes as “illuminated wires,” while the women were in puris naturalibus. Their natural protectors made a rush for their rescue, when instantly darkness enshrouded the scene, and every man and boy was knocked down with such force as to leave him insensible to subsequent proceedings. It was upon the rays of pleasant morning that their eyes reopened when they found themselves lying upon the floor, the furniture in disorder and nobody stirring. The women had all fled to one room, where it was found two were sick with fright and abuse. By a comparison of experiences, it was learned that all had seen the occurrences of the night in the same way, and in proof of the reality of the vision, two of the women carried the marks of the devil’s flogging as long as they lived.

We have given only the beginning of the trouble at Graham’s but the most abhorrent feature, according to our information, leaving much to be inferred. Upon every recurrence of a thunderstorm there was another visitation and upon every visitation there was a variation of the phenomena and the phenomenasts, if the term is allowable. But always there were devils in the crowd, indicated by the deeds they committed, on one occasion sprinkling the people with a fluid which looked like blood, but caused the flesh where it lodged to break out in virulent sores; at another time, after requesting food, causing the bread to assume the form of rats, and the meat to evolved a nest of hissing serpents; again, throwing simulated firebrands among the inflammable materials and preventing everybody from interposing to avert disaster. One a fiend affrighted Mrs. Graham into a fit and her husband, a doctor, resorted to blood-letting for her relief.

THE OPERATION COMPLETE

At which the foul devils jeered, the blood stood in the basin a moment and then was thrown out with great force, accompanied by a sound like a violent explosion and a hissing as of steam escaping without the assistance of any discernible power. It bespattered everything in the room with an indelible stain, where it was seen as long as the house stood.

It was finally concluded to lay the demons by a prayer meeting in the house, and a great number of devout people were invited to join in the supplication for relief. Many attended and the prayers were long, eloquent and to the point. Although these exercises continued till a late hour of the night, they were undisturbed by an uncanny manifestation. In those days, however, it was customary to serve refreshments at the close of every meeting at a private house and this occasion offered no excuse for an exception. Wine and cake were offered first to the pastor of the congregation. He raised the glass to drink, but by a volition not his own it was carried above his head and drained of the last drop before he had the power to prevent. Then he said: “Good friends, we must continue in prayer. The power of the evil one is not yet abated.”

All knelt and supplications were renewed. While the good pastor was in the midst of his effort he was overturned bodily and his chair piled upon him and in a trice everyone in the room was similarly served. Prayers were not resumed that night. The wine had mysteriously disappeared, s they took their cake dry and adjourned sine die.

DURING A THUNDERSTORM

Which occurred after this trial of prayer the demonstrations against the Graham residence were the most severe it had yet suffered. Great bowlders, one of which weighted more than 12 pounds and several exceeding eight pounds were hurled against the house and through the windows and three were dropped down the chimney into the large fireplace. So fierce was this bombardment that most of the shingles on the house were broken, necessitating replacement by new ones and many weatherboards were similarly shattered. Strangest of all, a bowlder, which displaced several bricks in one of the chimneys very neatly fitted the aperture it had made and remained in that place till the dwelling was destroyed and it is now preserved as an invaluable relic by a scientist of the this village.

During this same storm it is said that a luminous apparition appeared and denounced those extra-judicial murders for witchcraft which for more than 100 years had drenched in blood the religio-legal records of New England, but immediately upon a report of this phenomenon reaching the public it was denounced as an attempt to defend his own, and, therefore, was not effective. But, in the light of the present time, it seems reasonable to conclude that no work of his agents could have been more pleasing to the devil than that done for the suppression of so-called witchcraft.

The Dane house was the first which lightning destroyed. It was struck early in a July evening, and immediately burst into flame. A few citizens attempted to save it, but without the last hope of success. Two of these left strange testimony as to what they saw in the eager element as it wrapped its far-reaching tongues around the beams and rafters of the old structure. With astonishment they beheld creatures with the form and stature of men and women, unclothed, of a bright green color, nimbly climbing about the place, pulling down boards and studding into the fiercest part of the burning and laughing with glee as they saw them lapped by the seething waves of destruction. T.P.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 6 July 1895: p. 6.

Might the ending be a bit derivative from “my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder–there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters–and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “HOUSE OF USHER.”?

You also have the obligatory luminous apparition, as well as the hurled bowlders found in many lithobolic narratives. “The Black Night” seems modeled on the Dark Day of 1780. Little green men (and women) suggest the heartless realm of the Gentry.

We really have to applaud the ingenuity of the author for appending so many work-horse elements of horror, the supernatural, and Gothic fiction. The only things lacking are a mad baron and a throat-cut nun’s ghost, but perhaps they were displaced by the sexual innuendo.

And who, exactly is the author? He—I am assuming it is a male, although this might be a long-lost thriller of Louisa May Alcott—signs himself only “T.P.” on this and on a whole series of bizarre and thrilling stories, each of which seems to have been created by picking weird or supernatural incidents and characters out of an assortment in a hat. There are well-worn individual themes, but none of them really fit with the others. For example, one tale features a train wreck, a gallant engineer–and demonic possession. There is also a kind of loopy Theosophical bent to the series, coupled with an unwholesome interest in sex and demons that reminds me of Elliott O’Donnell and (to ram home my point) the Warrens.

If you know who “T.P.” was (and early dictionaries of pseudonyms do not offer any plausible candidates.) please share at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com  I’ll continue my research into the author and, in the future, share more of these mad classics of the American Gothic.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.