Between the Lines: The Dead Season

There’s something about fall in New England that makes it more than a brief flaming of arboreal colors. It’s hard to put a finger on. It’s a feeling more than anything.

Walk down a street on a windy day and the leaves move in packs, scraping around for all they’re worth. Maybe they mean to cause trouble. Even the light changes, and evenings crowd in earlier and earlier.

Put with all that autumnal restlessness the fact that New England has been populated by Europeans longer than anywhere else in the country, and you get a unique collaboration of very old farmhouses, graveyards full of mossy stones, and forests full of cellar holes from habitations long gone. It’s no wonder that our region is awash in legends, purported hauntings and spooky tales. We’ve got the gold standard with the Salem witch trials, Lizzy Borden and stories of vampirism in Rhode Island. We pretty much own Halloween.

The tradition of fiction about the supernatural is long entrenched here, too, with the likes of Hawthorne’s devilish stories and H.P. Lovecraft’s adjective-drenched goings-on in the imaginary Arkham, Mass. More recent years have seen plenty of horror on the page, too, with Maine’s Stephen King looming large, and even the very recent, very local blood-sucking tale by Holly Black, Coldest Girl in Coldtown, in which Springfield becomes a city of vampires.

As the nights get longer yet in their march toward dead winter, the pull toward cob-webbed recountings of New England lore is readily indulged via some recently published books.

Bringing word of the Bay State’s plentiful hauntings of higher learning is Renee Mallett’s Haunted Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, covering a variety of dorm room suicides and ghosts of academics past. Local colleges on her list include Mount Holyoke, Smith, Springfield College and Western New England University.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Roxie Zwicker, author of many similar titles, recently offered The Massachusetts Book of the Dead—Graveyard Legends and Lore from the Bay State. If you’re in her neighborhood, it’s worth checking her website for word of tours of graveyards and reportedly haunted spots.

The list of such books is very long, but perhaps the best is the well-researched and engaging Passing Strange, by Joseph Citro, which includes standard-issue hauntings, but also tales that defy categorization (the 1977 tale of a mysterious square object producing a round hole in a pond, for instance).

A quick search will provide plenty more chilly reading for chilly nights, and turn your thoughts to the many generations who watched the swirling leaves of New England autumn long before us.•

Author: James Heflin

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