A Ghost Light in 19th Century Bristol, CT

Sometimes when doing research on one topic, you come across an unexpected find, such as this account of a ghostly light in 19th century Connecticut:

In 1822, a woman named Stiles, who lived in the Gideon Roberts house, called one evening, at the home of my father, who was then nine years of age. Later in the evening her family heard groans outside the door,and found her in an unconscious state from which she never rallied, but died soon after being taken into the house. Medical aid was summonsed, but nothing could be done to relieve her. A postmortem examination revealed the fact that she had been assaulted and outraged by a number of fiends in human shape, the scene of the assault being traced to an orchard some distance north of my father’s residence, in what has long been called the Bunker Hill lot, on the Barnum farm. That she had been carried from the orchard to her home was shown by her shoes having been removed and left under the trees, while her stockings were not soiled. The criminals were never detected. Some time afterwards, at night, when any one came up Peck Lane past the scene of the crime, a light would appear, which would keep along abreast of the traveller, but inside of the fence, and when nearly out to the comer of the mountain road, it would turn eastward toward the deceased woman’s home, and disappear. I have talked with one or two persons who solemnly declared they had seen this light, beside my father, who remembered it distinctly. The lane ceased to be used as a thoroughfare for some time afterward, by the timid, after nightfall.

From Bristol, Connecticut, in the olden time “New Cambridge” which includes Forestville. (1907)

I find this an especially interesting account is that it links a haunting to a specific murder victim, rather than the sort of nebulous causes usually proffered in ghostly tales, and that it is recorded in an early 20th century town history rather than a cheaply printed unproofread book by Schiffer.

In a brief survey of the usualparanormalwebsites, I don’t see any modern references to a haunting on Peck Lane in modern Bristol… lots of highly dubious fact-free online claims of other hauntings, but nothing on Peck Lane.


Young and Felton, carvers

As a side project I’ve plotted out the rough (very rough) distribution of stones carved by two of my favorite gravestone carvers, William Young (aka the Thistle-Carver of Tatnuck) and the Ebenezer Felton. I’d like to include notes about identifying carvers in my graveyards book, so I figure I’d better learn to identify them myself first. I like these particular carvers because they are idiosyncratic. Young’s work is amateurish, irregular, and has a very personal touch. Felton, while being more regular, is very different than almost any stones I’ve encountered (though the Sikes family shares some similar qualities). Out of curiosity I plotted out what cemeteries – roughly – that these carvers have stones at. For a start I used the Farber collection, since it is easy to search and sort, though I have made some additions based on my research. The photos are taken from Farber, since my files are currently buried in my office.

Here is a sample stone by Young: As you can see, the human head is very crudely rendered, almost abstract. Still, I find it charming.

Probably the best source on Young is Forbes’ Gravestones of Early New England and the Men Who Made Them though she was writing in 1928; there is also a good profile in Markers #4 starting on p. 138. See the complete set of Farber images here.

Here is his map.

As for Mr. Felton, here is a sample:Wacky, no? Flying hair, mouthless face, almost like an alien.

The best source for Felton is a short piece in Markers #4, p. 169; here is the Farber images for Felton.

Here is the Felton map:

Question Time: Research and source material for the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion

M.J. Medwick asked:

I’m interested in your research process for emulating period-specific media – are there particular online resources the authors tend to favor, or is much of that work done “boots on the ground” in libraries and archives?

Speaking personally, I used a mixture of my personal library, internet research, and a few jaunts to the libary.

My personal book collection includes:

  • My mostly complete collection of Call of Cthulhu titles.  Great for finding scenario connections and to see what has come before.  In this case I made use of Secrets of New York, The London Guidebook, Green and Pleasant Land, Kingdom of the Blind, The Cairo Guidebook, Secrets of Kenya, Terror Australis, Delta Green: Countdown, and (of course) Masks of Nyarlathotep.  There were probably more…
  • The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia by Dan Harms.  This is the one book to get.  It summarizes all the major (and minor) elements of the Mythos plus a helpful guide to the relevant fiction and it is where I turn first.
  • Ex Libris Miskatonici by Joan Stanley.  A fictive catalog of the Miskatonic University library special collection, it was one of the primary inspirations to my approach to tomes in the Companion, treating them as real books, not just generic bits of treasure that confer a few spells and points of Cthulhu Mythos skill.
  • Period guidebooks (Baedeker, Rand McNally, Muirhead) to London and New York.  Those before 1923 can sometimes be found in Google Books, which is also a great place to check.  Also a 1927 World Gazetteer, basically a very small atlas with some national stats in the rear; I used this to double-check placenames… which are often different than modern ones, especially outside of Europe and the Americas.  Ditto for archaic transliterations in Asia (Wide-Giles in China, for example).

Beyond this on specific points it was a lot of internet searches reenforced by trips to the library as needed… the internet, despite certain advantages, has its limits.  Google books is a helpful resource, especially since books up into the 20s are now in the public domain and therefore are available in full text, searchable form.

Finally, the Library of Congress photo archive is fantastic, with lots of high resolution TIFF images available to you the tax payer.  Similar archives exist for the UK and Australia.  I’ve used it as the source for the image on this page, for example.


Any more questions?