Parenting, Reading

It’s Worse Than You Think – Cautionary Tales From Childhood – In Recognition Of Halloween

I’ve been, since age 5, an avid reader. Once I discovered the worlds that existed inside books, they have been my constant and steadfast companion. I most always have a book that I’m in the process of reading, and when I don’t….my life seems thrown into a chaotic miasma that I need to quickly find an escape from by simply picking up another book. My childhood memories are filled with colorful tales from glossy storybooks.

A great aunt of mine had a full set of hardcover books with the written counterparts to several Disney film adaptions that I used to pore over when we’d visit her. There were many photos from some of the live action films or drawings for the animated films, and even though I knew the endings to the stories (The Wonderful World Of Disney was Sunday night must-see-t.v. in my childhood, and at the end of the school year my elementary school had a film day with offerings such as Old Yeller and the like), I still read them – at least the Disney versions of them.

I’ve retained many of my childhood books over time. Some I had, when I became a parent, hoped to pass on to my own kids to read and enjoy themselves. Unfortunately in the age of video games and mutant teenage sponge wizards the books I enjoyed so much in my youth (The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, The Great Brain series, Matthew and Maria Looney’s adventures, etc.) hold little interest for the boys. No matter – they should find and read things they, themselves enjoy.

There have been, however, stories that they’ve enjoyed that are universal and long-lived. Stories that have been in existence for generations before the boys or myself or even my grandparents. Stories that, over the years, Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks have adopted and adapted, sanitizing and whitewashing what, if you read the original source material, are some pretty horrific tales.

Many of these are what are known as Cautionary Tales. Stories that were written not only to entertain but to inform and teach someone about a potential danger they could encounter.

Cautionary tales involve three essential elements:

  • A ‘taboo’ – some place, act, or thing that represents danger to a person.
  • A disregard of the taboo/danger – violation of the warning that has been handed out.
  • A horrific fate/conclusion – often quite grisly in nature.

The concept has been replicated time and again through the years in a variety of mediums. From the original folk tales verbally recounted to the written word being used as a method of recounting these stories to the ‘School Scare Films’ and ‘Army Training Films’ of the mid-20th century that warned young hitchhiking boys that ‘homosexuals were lurking on the highways to offer them rides and corrupt them’ and cautioned young soldiers that ‘fast and easy women would give them social diseases’. Youngsters were warned of the dangers of drug use and disobeying their parents.

Even the film ‘Gremlins’ is a cautionary tale, in which are laid down three very precise rules to be followed (without deviation) by the owner of a Mogwai – with the accompanying warning of dire consequences if you did not follow these rules -and the ensuing mayhem when the rules were (as expected) not followed.

As I said, my childhood is filled with many memories of these cute, cuddly tales with fleeing princesses finding friendly, hardworking midgets to shack up with and puppets who come to life as companion to a lonely old man who not only has an insect problem, but the insect talks and wears a top-hat, and all sorts of other squeaky-clean enjoyment to be derived from them.

What’s even more fun? Reading the un-sanitized versions of these tales as an adult and realizing what the real story was and the ‘lesson’ it was supposed to teach. When all the singing animals and flying throw-rugs and dancing dinnerware are removed, what you are left with are some pretty horrifying and often tragic tales.

If you’d like to investigate some of, in my opinion, the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) examples of this…I highly encourage reading the original Pinocchio story, the original Little Red Riding Hood story, the story of the Pied (which means multi-colored, by the way…it has nothing to do with pastry) Piper, and Cinderella. You’ll find far more blood, gore, and mass-kidnapped children than Disney will ever show you. Another example is the book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by Heinrich Hoffmann. In this book, originally published with the sub-title ‘Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6′ – the stories center on such toddler-centric tales as ‘The girl who played with matches and burned to death’, and ‘the boy who sucked his thumb too long so a scary man with giant scissors cut his thumbs off’.  Just imagine conveying that one to your 5 year old just before you turn out the lights and close the door for their young mind to mull over until they fall asleep – if they can. Makes an episode or two of The Walking Dead before bed seem not quite so terrible now, doesn’t it?

There are also loads of good websites to check out as well. I have listed a few below:

http://www.ancient-origins.net

list25.com

and a pretty entertaining article from ET Online, called Peter Pan and 6 other beloved Disney movies based on dark horrifying books.

There are many others to be found in your favorite internet browser. If you really want a good scare for tomorrow night – read a few of them. They’ll put a chill in your blood if the change of seasons hasn’t done that already.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween full of spooks, specters, and spirits.

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Miscellaneous, Reading

Reputedly Haunted Places Around Boston

In honor of it being Halloween, I wanted to post something about ‘haunted’ places.

My friend Judy and I both have a desire to visit a REALLY spooky place….like an old asylum….or an abandoned prison….but most of these places are gated off and trespassers are prosecuted.

Many (too many for my liking) people flock to Salem during the month of October to channel their inner witches and wraiths…and Salem is a great destination to see a lot of spooky costumes and visit some spooky destinations.

If you can handle being elbow to elbow with thousands of people, that is. Me? Not so much.

There are, however, a few locations you can visit in Boston that are reported to be haunted. I cannot speak to the validity of any of these claims, but….perhaps by visiting them yourself, you might just have your own paranormal activity to add to the already existing claims.

The Charlesgate Hotel

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I’m starting with this one because the current season of the television series American Horror Story is set in a hotel in Los Angeles. Too bad they couldn’t have filmed in Boston. The Charlesgate Hotel, while labeled as a former house of ‘ill repute’, also has a history of death attached to it. The architect, J. Pickering Putnam, died in the building on February 23, 1917…sixteen years after the building was completed. A suicide in 1908, which was attributed to melancholy (depression) brought on by ‘nervous trouble’ and insomnia related to this, is also part of this location’s history. Twice purchased for and used as dormitories (Boston University in 1947 and Emerson college in 1981), students have reported feeling ‘bad vibes’ in the building, and have claimed to communicate with a restless spirit via a Ouija Board.  One student reported being ‘attacked’ by a spirit who caused a lightbulb to flicker in the bathroom and when he went to change it (while standing near a pool of water on the floor), his roommates were using a Ouija Board that was spelling out ha-ha-ha-ha-ha….and when asked why the spirit was laughing, the reply they allegedly received was ac-dc-ac-dc-ac-dc. There are reports of a child dying in the elevator shaft during this building’s time as a boarding house, as well as sightings of spirits of horses and the young men who died trying to save them from the former basement stables, the building has also been rumored to have been the site of black Satanic Masses (complete with human sacrifices) in the basement.  Quite a history for a place that is presently being sold as condominiums.

Emerson Majestic Theater

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The Majestic Theater in Boston claims to have a permanent audience member. A former mayor of Boston (I cannot locate a name) is said to occupy the seat he died in while attending a performance one night to this very day. A child’s ghost has been reportedly ‘seen’ in the theater, as well as a married couple in turn of the century clothing that supposedly haunt the unused balcony.

The Everett Theater

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Take this one with a grain of salt, as there is limited information available to authenticate the claim that during the 1700’s an entire audience in the balcony of this theater was slaughtered one night during a sold out performance. Rumor has it their ghosts can be seen running and screaming up in the balcony.  The theater is closed and in disrepair, but is undergoing renovations to re-open at some future date.

Fort Warren Boston

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Reported to be haunted by the wife of Lt. Andrew Lanier. Lanier was incarcerated in the fort/prison and his devoted wife snuck onto Georges Island dressed as a man to break him out. When cornered during their unsuccessful escape, Lanier’s wife’s gun misfired and he was killed. She was then sentenced to death for her attempt to break him out, and her one request was to allow her to die dressed as a woman instead of her masculine disguise to try to liberate her husband. As the story goes, the widow was allowed to wear a black dress that had been used as a theater prop by performing soldiers on the island, and Mrs. Lanier was hanged in it. She supposedly walks the island at night, and gunshots and screams have been said to be heard. This island is open to the public and able to be reached via Boston Harbor transportation. If nothing else, it’s worth a day trip as an historic landmark.

The Parker House Hotel

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Lastly, one of my favorite places in Boston – The Parker House hotel. This was the favored destination of author Charles Dickens when he visited Boston. The ‘haunted’ history of this site pre-dates the Parker House and ties to a soldier who fired his gun into a crowd of children, killing several of them. The founder of the hotel, Harvey Parker, is said to haunt the 10th floor, and employees have reported doors opening and closing, even slamming shut, without human intervention as well as the sound of a rocking chair creaking without an occupant. The elevator in the hotel is said to stop at the third floor even without that floor being selected, perhaps being the ghost of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow inviting people to stop and say hello, as he was a frequent visitor to the third floor of the hotel, along with Emerson and Thoreau, who would gather for their Saturday Club meetings where they would read poetry and debate timely topics from the news. Also notable is that a nineteenth century actress, Charlotte Cushman, who resided in the hotel’s Charles Dickens suite (also on the 3rd floor) where she died in 1876 is said to haunt the place as well. Whether you see/experience ghosts here or not, it’s still a nice place to get a Pear Martini and sample the gin punch in the Parker House restaurant at Christmas time, and enjoy being in the very place where Charles Dickens gave the first American public reading of the seminal classic ‘A Christmas Carol’. An excellent history of the Parker House can be found at www.omnihotels.com. The place, haunted or not, has quite a history.

Happy Halloween to one and all, and may your evening be as safe as it is spooky!

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