Saturday, May 30, 2009

Elliott O'Donnell

His books scare the hell out of me. O'Donnell (1872 - 1965) became famous, after working at various odd jobs, as a ghost hunter and writer on various subjects of the supernatural.

O'Donnell liked to relate the story of his father's death, which occurred when Elliott was only six months old. The O'Donnell family was haunted by a banshee, which woke the whole house with its shrieks one night. His mother asked one of the servants what the noise was; the servant replied that one of the O'Donnell's had died that night. The following night, the family heard his father's footsteps ascending the stairs to the nursery. O'Donnell's nurse heard the nursery door open, then saw a light and heard a voice, which she recognized as her employer's, speaking; the voice was too fast, however, and she was too frightened, to make out anything he said. The voice stopped, the light went out, and the footsteps went downstairs again.

These events occurred at the same time the following night, and each subsequent night, for six weeks. At no time was anyone able to speak to the ghost, or to understand what it said; they were overwhelmed with fear. Finally, Mrs. O'Donnell received a letter informing her that her husband was dead, under suspicious circumstances. On vacation, and having taken it into his head to visit Abyssina (as it was then called), he was later found in the town of Arkiko, on the coast of the Red Sea. Mrs. O'Donnell heard later from people familiar with the area that they had no doubt he had been murdered by a local gang, one who murdered and robbed any foreigner with money.

Henry O'Donnell's murder occurred around noon of the day the banshee made itself heard at his home in Ireland.

O'Donnell claimed that the banshee next manifested itself to his youngest sister. As she was climbing the stairs one day (years after Henry O'Donnell's death), she saw a head looking at her from above. The head was so frightening that O'Donnell's sister was frozen to the spot, but finally, she turned and rain downstairs. As she did, laughter echoed after her, so loudly that everyone in the house could hear it. A few days later, one of their aunts (on his father's side) died, and a week after the appearance, Mrs. O'Donnell was dead.

This is a pretty good background for someone who would later become well-known for his supernatural experiences and writings. O'Donnell was always ready to check out stories of hauntings; to hold vigils in abandoned houses; to talk to those who had tales to tell; to take a look at haunted rooms.

I will say that I've discovered quite a few discrepancies in his stories. In one book, he writes a few stories in the first person, as if they happened to him. In another book, he writes them as having been related to him by the person who experienced them. His stories are so detailed, too, that I wonder how much he just invented - after all, the man must have been very aware of the power of a good story. He must have listened to a hell of a lot of people, too, to be able to come up with so many compilations. He also wrote fiction (well, stories that he admitted were fiction, anyway). He was very interested in folklore, too, and wove it into his works. Some of his writings deal with the "classic" stories, such as Raynham Hall, Borley Rectory, and the like. (More on these in other posts, by the way.)

His stories were highly regarded by horror author August Derleth, who wrote that he used to wait for Sundays to come so he could read another story by O'Donnell in The American Weekly. Harry Ludlam edited some story collections of O'Donnell's, and Bernhardt J. Hurwood was another fan.

He did a series of radio shows based on his works for CBS in the 1930s, and if anyone knows where I can get copies of those shows, I'd be very grateful.

When I started reading him, his books were out of print, and hard to find. As it is, even now his books often sell for staggeringly huge prices. Fortunately for all of us who love a good ghost story, many of his books are now in print again. They aren't cheap, but it's a far better alternative than paying eight hundred dollars for one of his works.

O'Donnell heads my list of a good, scary author of ghost stories.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The ghost of Valentino

Rudolph Valentino died suddenly of complications due to a perforated ulcer in 1926, at the height of his popularity. Fans around the world committed suicide when they heard the news. He was only 31 at the time of his death; the hysteria surrounding his funeral was something to see. Since Valentino died in New York, his body had to be sent (by train) back to California for his burial. Crowds surrounded the train at every stop on the long trip across the country, climaxing in Pola Negri's antics (she claimed they were engaged) when it finally arrived in California.

Valentino's house, Falcon Lair, was reported afterwards to be haunted by his ghost; one woman even claimed that he had chased her through the hallways. Another claim is that he haunts a Hollywood hotel.

Falcon Lair, like so many of the grand homes of the once-great Hollywood, is no more. It went up for sale in 2006 and was then destroyed the same year. When Valentino first came to the States, he was often homeless. Now, he is again.

The address of Falcon Lair was 1936 Bella Drive. Here is how it looks today:

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Urban legends

Okay, we all know that urban legends aren't true, or at least, we should know that they aren't true. I'm not claiming any of these stories as fact. I'm just retelling them here because of their enduring popularity.

The Vanishing Hitchhiker
Yes, it always happens to somebody. A young man (always a young man, never an older man or a woman) is driving along a deserted highway late one night during a rainstorm. He is flagged down by an attractive young woman wearing a light-colored dress. He gives her his jacket to wear, since it's so cold and wet, and she gives him directions to her house. On the way, wondering why she's so quiet, he glances over at her... and she's gone.

Either that same night or the following day, he travels to the house where she claimed to live. The door is opened by her elderly parent, usually her mother, who listens wearily to the young man's story before telling him that her daughter died some years ago, in a car accident on the way home from a party. The parent tells him where the daughter is buried, and the disbelieving young man visits the cemetery.

On the gravestone, he finds his jacket.

Chicago lays claim to having the original Vanishing Hitchhiker, known as Resurrection Mary, after the cemetery (Resurrection Cemetery) where she is buried. Unusually for the story, Mary has also been spotted inside the gates of her last residence, peering out.