Well, here I go trying to create a new blog with WordPress’s Godawful new editor. Forgive me if this comes out crappy. It’s taken me forever to figure out how to switch back and forth between html editor and visual-nothing is clearly labeled or explained. I know this format is much uglier than the one I had previously. We’re all at the mercy of tasteless, unimaginative, homogenizing forces.
Anyway, let’s move on to a more enjoyable descent into darkness. Here’s a last gasp at wintry images with Part 2 of my report on the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams. Across the street from the original portion of the graveyard, lonely mountains rise up to close you you in and the rest of the world out on this grey day.
This is the newer portion of Hillside, and much more on an actual hillside. With the rolling slopes here, the graves, mostly 19th century, tilt and are almost upended as the ground has settled and shifted over the years-or is someone or something trying to push out?
And those slopes are pretty darned high, too, with gravestones and monuments, bleakly, implacably towering upward from an earth both browned by autumn and frosted by snow.
This cemetery has it’s share of intriguing, impressive statuary, but the brutal western Massachusetts winds, rain, and snow have not been kind to them, gradually wearing them down to softened blurs in many cases. The dove embracing this shrouded cross has lost its distinctive features and now softly merges into the cross’s drapery. The child and the lamb, representing her innocence, have melted into the seat of broken rocks symbolizing her life cut too short, too soon. A relief that should have preserved a woman’s identity in endurable stone for eternity has blurred her features into gentle vagueness. Even her identity in the form of name, family, and birth and death dates have been smoothed away to soft whiteness. A book of life’s secrets has subsumed its truths into a creamy blank of pages melted together, marked only by the stain of mold and decay. Or might this be an edition of the Necronomicon?
Of course there are also still striking images of angels and symbolic broken columns, some standing relentless against nature’s assault by winds, weather, and devouring by lichen and mold.
Some are less successful than others in resisting the assaulting elements, but are no less beautiful.
There was only one large mausoleum in this portion of the cemetery-but it is impressive, especially for the art deco angel guarding the resting bodies of the family beneath. There’s a wonderful starkness in its rising near the crest of the rolling hill, the dark tree grasping hungry branches at the sky beyond it.
And here is a closeup of the angel. Regard the myriad layers of feathers creating a shield of wings behind its head, seeming both like a peacock’s tail in full extension and a wall of tongues of flames.
The day had been cold, but not bitterly so. The ground betrayed the tracks of deer, racoon, and perhaps more predatory mammals. It was an isolated spot where no human seemed to have ventured to grieve or pay veneration for a very long time. In fact, this day this cemetery seemed like a place lost to time, to human connections. Thank goodness I saw this cute guy and not some colour out of space.
I promised you a second post on our adventures in the Lowell Cemetery, so here it is! This blog will concentrate on the unique statuary gracing the cemetery. However, to begin, I want to revisit two of the monuments I showed you last time out. I’ve done some additional research and discovered intriguing background on them.
First is this beauty. I wrote about it as a penitent soul being ministered by an angel. However, I found out that it has an intriguing back story. A mill girl had saved up a considerable sum over the years, planning for a special monument to be erected upon her death, which came to pass in 1886, after a long life. For various reasons, her plans weren’t implemented until some after her burial. Finally, when everything came together for the tomb stone to be created, there was $8000 available (lots of dough back then!), and those left in charge employed Daniel Chester French (creator of the Minute Man Monument) to create this work of art (Chris Camire).
This monument to the Bonney family has been the subject of all kinds of crazy stories about witches and hauntings. However, the truth is that it is just a remarkable monument to the Bonney family (“Mysterious Witch Bonney”). It was created by Frank Elwell, the director of the Sculpture Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He titled the monument “New Life”(Camire), no references to witchcraft at all! The tomb honors Clara Bonney, who died relatively young in 1894, as well as other members of her family (Camire) – which kind precludes the monument housing the remains of anyone executed in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s as some like to claim. I’m just saying . . .
Maybe the most remarkable monument, definitely the most well known, is this gorgeous recumbent lion. Called the Ayer Lion it memorializes James Ayer, a business man so prominent that he has a major street named after him in the city. The face is so powerfully expressive you almost forget it’s not a human. The lion is made of the finest Italian marble and was created in Italy, by Price Joy (“The Ayer Lion,” Lowell Cemetery).
I don’t have any back stories on the following statuary, but I think their beauty speaks for itself. I did note that books and publishing seemed popular, with two monuments taking the forms of volumes. I believe this one on the right honors two publishing partners. I also found the one below that showed the “open volume” of one man’s life, resting steadfast on a rock.
And below, is a closeup of the text of his life.
There were also some funky, creative shapes. I love the intertwining of initials here with what could be some form of a Celtic cross.
I can’t even begin to tell you what this thing is supposed to be – but it does have a kind of Lovecraftian flavor, does it not? Speaking of Lovecraft, there were some people taking pictures of a wonderfully goth-coutured wedding party. The groom had perfect H.P. hair, glasses, and suit! We exchanged conspiratorial smiles as Yang and I drove by!
Of course there were also plenty of angels, women ready to guide you to the unknown, and wise matrons. Something that gave many of these statues a wonderfully eerie quality was that, as Yang noted, they hadn’t been cleaned, so they frequently were aged with wear from the elements. This woman bearing a cross is a particularly good example. Is she coming to get me or guide me? Her blurred features make her seem unnervingly not quite human and her motives ambivalent.
Others could be put in unique settings like atop a tall monument or caged within the marble barriers of something like a spire. I see the woman above as a symbol of the heaven to which we all aspire above us. Holding a victory wreath, she implies if we reach her we can achieve the victory of salvation. Perhaps she is a guide waiting in a liminal space to lead us ever upward. Still, what about the woman encased in marble. Does she need to be kept in to protect us? Don’t blink!
Uh oh! Hope that Whovian reference wasn’t too unnerving! Here’s a picture of the victory lady in closeup to comfort you.
And what better way to end an October visit to a Romantic cemetery than with an autumn moon in a pure blue October sky? Keats would surely approve.
Below are the web sites where I found the background information not evident from just looking at the monuments. Check them out for more information and photos:
Chris Camire. “What a Site! The Lowell Cemetery Celebrates Its 175th Anniversary and ‘The Serenity of Nature.'” The Lowell Sun. 16 June 2016. http://www.lowellsun.com/lifestyles/ci_30022685/what-site
“The History of the Ayer Lion” Lowell Cemetery. 2015. http://www.lowellcemetery.com/
“The Mysterious Witch Bonney.” Atlas Obscura. 2017. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mysterious-witch-bonney
Every October, I like to have some bedtime reading that suits the season. I just finished two new books: Midnight Fires and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The first is a mystery by Nancy Means Wright that features Mary Wollstonecraft as its intrepid detective. Wollstonecraft is a great choice for the role, as anyone who has read her Vindications would agree that she has all the nerve, smarts, and wit to boldly ask the questions and dig the dirt necessary for an investigator. Her being cast in this role makes perfect sense. The novel is set during Wollstonecraft’s tenure as governess to the aristocratic Kingsborough family in Ireland and does a neat job of characterizing “the troubles.” We also get good views of the workings of the Kingsborough family, as well as how contemporary views of women have stunted and warped them – right in line with MW’s own writings. The descriptions of the landscapes are a pleasure to read as well. Not least of all, the mystery has some neat twists and turns.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a pleasantly amusing visit with the supernatural – a low key, smile-inducing progress of Lucy/Lucia Muir’s liberation from oppressive Edwardian propriety to become a mischievous, independent woman – with a little help from a frank and fiery sea captain’s ghost – though she was already well on her way to freedom before they met at Gull Cottage. There are some significant changes from book to film, but both work equally well. I do think that Gene Tierney gives Lucia Muir a bit more power than the character in the book.
There are four books that I usually return to once I finish any new prizes for the month: The Uninvited (Dorothy Mcardle), The Sign of the Ram (Margaret Ferguson), The Undying Monster (Jessie Douglas Kerriush), and Redeeming Time (me, unpublished – yet!). What I admire in the first three (and try to emulate in the fourth), is the depth of characterization, the creation of a powerful mystical/eerie atmosphere, the vividness of the landscapes, and the intelligence of the storylines. What makes them such a pleasure to read is their authors’ deftness with language: there’s enough detail to savor and shape your imagination but no excess or filler. Right now, I’m working on The Uninvited. I review it and The Sign of the Ram on this web site, under Golden Age Mysteries. The Undying Monster is part of the psychic detective genre, with a woman psychic brought in to help a scientist uncover the nature of the beast that has ravaged an ancient British family for centuries and now threatens to destroy his two close friends. The novel deftly captures the post WWI fascination with psychic phenomenon and leads characters and readers into the dark depths of ancient ruins, crypts, and family history to reach a final, mystical resolution – and it’s a fun ride!
What’s Redeeming Time about? Think H. P. Lovecraft meets film noir meets Indiana Jones meets Val Lewton.
Image of Gene Tierney from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir copyright 1946, 20th-Century Fox (http://classicbeckybrainfood.blogspot.com/2010/08/just-thought.html)
So, to keep you entertained while you breathlessly await the forthcoming blogs on my appearance at The Book Lover’s Gourmet and my adventures at the Shakespeare of America Convention in New Orleans, here’s a link to an audio interview with me by Pat Driscoll for The New Worcester Spy. It contains more details on my interests in film noir and horror, on film and on the page, and even a little more on my background. Just click here. It’s what Dusty would want!
The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA is celebrating the 125th birthday of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Providence’s own native son, with a week-long film festival. They kicked things off last night with two wonderful independent productions by HPLHS (the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society), adaptations of “The Whisperer in the Darkness” and “The Call of C’Thullu.” Both are done in vintage form, the first as a 1930s Universal horror film––complete with zeppelin rather than bi-plane circling the globe for the opening card/production logo, though the zeppelin moves with far more stateliness across the screen than that buzzing aeroplane (as our boy Lovecraft would spell it). The adaptation of Whisperer was superb, with the 1930s chiaroscuro black and white cinematography creating as much eerie, unsettling mystery as the films of the earlier era, also drawing on their use of canted camera angles and under lighting to evoke a strange blend of nightmare and melancholy that was highly effective for putting the strangeness of Lovecraft on the screen. The shots of Mt. Holyoke College for Miskatonic University were delightfully Gothic. Just one thing, why do college professors in films always have offices three times what I have––or what any one I know has?The adaptation of to film was faithful to Lovecraft’s actual writing, adding on only what rounded out his tale in the proper vein of horror. I was a little confused at the ending, but I can’t say too much without giving anything away. I do not want to spoil this film for Lovecraft, old movie, or horror devotes. Also worth noting is that the concessions to modern film making only improved on the old style, with the acting untroubled by the early thirties, “I’ve just come from Broadway and I am ACTING!” that undermines so many performances until the mid and late 1930s. The use of stop motion animation and CGI together creates delightfully creepy creatures! It is such a wonderful film. Find it and watch it –– the perfect treat for Halloween. It’s available in dvd and Blu Ray at the HPLHS web site, C’thullu Lives!
And your second feature should be none other than the same one we saw, The Call of C’thullu. Done as a silent film, this movie, uses the lighting and shadows, camera angles, sets, music, and such of silent era masterpieces like Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligeri, The Cat and the Canary, and Vampyr (actually partially sound) to convey the suspense, eeriness, and ambiguity of the era. Again, the acting is sound, like that of the good silent films––not over the top as people tend to stereotype all silent features. The visit to C’thullu’s island of R’lyeh was a tense and delightfully disquieting descent into horror. I vociferously applaud the HPLHS’s film making efforts and hope they keep at it. If you visit their site, you’ll also find great updates on all things (so to speak) Lovecraft, as well as Miskatonic paraphernalia and even sea shanties from Innsmouth on dvd. I’m inspired to go back and revise my own Lovecraft/film noir pastiche now!
Image of Lovecraft from Google Public Domain Images