Sunday, August 23, 2009

Storied Visits: The Hand of Glory

This entry is taking a step away from the renovation on the house to tell you about one of my passions. That is, ghost stories. Ghost stories, which I have collected from my home state, WV - reflect so much about our culture and history that I insist they must be protected from dying out. In essence, they must be saved from being lost to time and neglect.

Also, one of my favorite times in history, the Victorian era, had a wonderful storytelling tradition. Some of this has passed on to us today, but there are few who recognize or who can say they have been part of a "storytelling visit". In the Victorian era, named for England's Queen Victoria (1819-1901, pictured below), was a time of great invention and exploration. Not only did it give the world some fabulous furniture and decoration, but also embodies a magical and mystical quality that few eras achieved (in my opinion).

During this time, some of my favorite things occured: West Virginia became a state in 1863. Alice in Wonderland (my favorite book - below) was written in 1865, among others.
But I want to focus on one particular - the visits that friends and acquaintances would make to each other's homes (sometimes grandiose two week or more visits). During these, they would have contests during which they would come up with stories - either originals or personalized versions of common tales. At the end of the visit, they would then vote and give a prize to the person who told the best story. This is similar to our modern storytelling festivals, but not as impersonal. These groups were often ten or less people, as compared to today's hundreds.

One of the most famous stories to come out of these "story visits" is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. She was married to Percy Shelley (of Ode on a Grecian Urn fame) and was spending time with him and some other literary friends, one of whom was none other than Lord Byron. They decided among themselves to write ghost stories for one another, and make a contest of it.

Mary (above), of course, felt completely out of her league, but one night she had a dream about a man who was creating a monster out of cadavers - and it scared her so much that she just knew it would terrify others. So she wrote the story, won the contest, and gave the world one of the greatest monster stories ever told.

More of these "story visits" are recorded in ghost story collections, such as The Ghost Book of Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax and The Ingoldsby Legends (1889). The Ghost Book is still in print - and The Ingoldsby Legends is now available online in pdf format.
The Jackdaw of Rheims and The Hand of Glory are two of the best-known of the Ingoldsby Legends. This collection of humourous and macabre stories in prose and verse was published in three series between 1840 and 1847 with splendid illustrations by Cruikshank and other artists.
The best of them are very superior light verse, marked by verbal cleverness, wit, elaborate rhymes and bi-lingual puns. They were very popular in the 19th Century and remained so until relatively recently, but are now out of print. Almost all the popular writers of the time were influenced by it and many refer to it explicitly or quote from it. Even Walt Disney used The Lay of St. Dunstan. However, it is now dificult to obtain in print and deserves to be better known. I bought mine at a used book sale years ago, and it is a rather neat original text with the first owner's name written on the front cover in fountain pen dated Jan. 27, 1891.

Those of you familiar with the Harry Potter series of books will recognize the mention of the Hand of Glory - which is a magical item featured in one of the books. This is where it originally came from - well, at least where it was first written down. And more observant readers of the series might note one of the illustrators of the original text - Cruikshank - as the namesake of Hermione's cat in the same series.

Here is the Hand of Glory, taken from the text, which you can find in full version here. It was originally told, my book says, by the nurse in residence at Tappington Hall when the "story visit" was taking place. Below is only the first few stanzas:


On the lone bleak moor,
At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand
The Murderers stand
By one, by two, by three!
And the Moon that night
With a grey, cold light
Each baleful object tips;
One half of her form
Is seen through the storm,
The other half 's hid in Eclipse!
And the cold Wind howls,
And the Thunder growls,
And the Lightning is broad and bright;
And altogether
It 's very bad weather,
And an unpleasant sort of a night!
'Now mount who list,
And close by the wrist
Sever me quickly the Dead Man's fist!
Now climb who dare
Where he swings in air,
And pluck me five locks of the Dead Man's hair!'

To read the full text (it's lengthy, but reads quickly and is worth it!)
So if you're looking for a way to lighten up your autumn, why not schedule a "story visit" - maybe not for a week or two, but a few days or hours? I think it's an idea well worth revisiting....

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Franklin Bedroom

I know that some of you think that I've been the victim of some sort of crime, but I've only spent the last few months renovating the house - which has taken up a lot of my time and energy. In addition, I took a summer class and worked full time. You can imagine that there was a lot more than blogging that fell by the wayside.

However, life has calmed to a stillness this last week, so I will update you on the second bedroom renovation. Here is the room before I started - white walls, the light fixture of depression, ugly white drop ceiling from a 1980s office, and a floor that was old fifty years ago. I'm serious when I say that it was missing chunks of wood in places. Whoever thought that soft pine would make a good floor??

Here is the room after demolition began - the light fixture, drop ceiling, and closet (which wasn't even deep enough for an entire hanger) disappeared. I did leave the chimney and refinished the door.

The previous owners had outfitted the closet with shelves - that was all it was big enough for. And those shelves were made of MDF (multi-density fiberboard) which had warped and broken over the years. NOT that they were put up correctly in the first place -

The walls of this house of course lacked any sort of insulation, so the holes you see were drilled in order to blow in insulation in the walls. That in itself was a hellish mess. But now it is done.
Did I mention that the walls are plaster and lathe, covered in drywall? Just finding a tool to cut through all that took an entire weekend.

Here is the other corner, with more holes. Once it was started, the cutting process went pretty well.

Here is the frame-out for the new closet. Notice how it sticks out from the chimney and actually has space in it for hanging things. What a novel concept.

Below you can see the thick plaster that was on the chimney. At first I was tempted to chisel it all off, but an initial test proved that the process would be long, messy, and difficult. Not to mention dangerous - I had a picture in my head of the entire chimney cracking and coming down around me. So I left the plaster on it, and drywalled around it.

And surprise, surprise, the ductwork was nonexistent to this room. This has occured in almost every room of the house. Whoever put in the ducts simply put a hole in the wall with a small duct line, just enough to cover what you could see, and then nothing - the hot or cold air was blowing up the walls of the house going nowhere! So, new ductwork had to be run from the basement to the second floor room.

As you can see, however, the work was all worth it. This is the new hardwood floor - white oak, grown, milled, and sold in WV -and sitting on top of it is the antique cherry wood library table that I bought off of Craigslist for $60.

The color is not nearly as blue as this - it is "Forget Me Not" from Olympic. Note the new crown molding. The corners are my favorite part of the room - that and there is no more drop ceiling or light of depression!
And if you look in the middle of the bed, you can see the room's namesake. He moved in as soon as the renovation was completed, and has staked his claim. It's fitting, since this was the first room he went to when we brought him home, so we let him stay.
Here is another corner of the room. The dresser is an antique oak piece. Above it hangs a picture of Chessie, the railroad cat.

Here you can see the closet, finished, with its white molding and new doors. Franklin is also peeking out of the bottom left corner of the picture.

Here is the new corner where the door is. Note the covered chimney, crown molding, and refinished door. I was able to find a skeleton key to fit it (after shaving the key a bit). And note also, throughout the entire photo essay, that Franklin did not move off the bed.

This is a better view of the chimney corner. Note the crown molding - my favorite part, and the light blue on the ceiling.

I hope you've enjoyed this entry into my latest renovation. I truly hope that my next entry will not take as long to blog, but you never know what life will toss at you. I've learned to roll with it. It's frustrating at times, when I can't do all that I want to do, but I suppose that's how it is.
Until next time, keep imagining and creating your world to suit you!