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Even the Dead Tell Stories, or When the Clock Strikes Midnight, All the Evil Things in the World Will Have Full Sway

Scary cathedral

History books are filled with grisly tales of mysteries, monsters, murder and mayhem that make the subject matter of today’s horror films seem positively tame by comparison. In some cases, these dreadful stories have come to both appal and fascinate the public so much so that they have captured imaginations and served as the blueprint for legends still recounted to this day. Echoing down the centuries, many of these spine-chilling accounts continue to haunt us and have inspired some of our most thrilling, visceral and iconic legends. Below is a selection of works available at the Metropolitan Library covering historical horrors and “paranormal” occurrences, certain to transport readers to some of the most haunted and terrifying corners of the past and prove that fact is, indeed, more frightening than fiction.

 

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

It began in February of 1692. An exceptionally cruel winter was ravaging the coast of Massachusetts, when one dreary day Salem’s then vapid and irredeemable parishioner, Samuel Parris, began to witness his 9 year-old daughter Elizabeth along with his 11 year-old niece, Abigail Williams, commence to uttering peculiar sounds, throwing things about the room and contorting into strange positions. Not long after, another girl, Ann Putnam, age 11, began to experience similarly bizarre episodes with other young women in the village soon following suit. The girls complained of being pinched and pricked with pins, yet physicians could find no physical evidence of any ailment. Eventually, under pressure from local magistrates, the girls attributed their affliction to the witchery of three women: Tituba, the Parris' Caribbean slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman. Panic spread quickly, involving even the most educated of men as well as prominent politicians in the colony. Daughters accused mothers, who in turn accused grandmothers, who accused neighbors and ministers. Husbands implicated wives; nephews their aunts, and so on. With much haste, the inquisitional madness and communal hysteria reached feverish heights. Then, less than a year later, just as quickly as it had begun, the mayhem came to an end. But, not before fourteen women and five men were convicted of witchcraft and hanged in the town of Salem, with one more - a man who refused to plead guilty - being crushed to death, in a town a few miles away. Though only a brief episode in history, the impact of the trials would be significant. And, in curious ways, they would come to shape the future of the republic. The Witches is Stacy Schiff’s detailed chronicle of nine harrowing months in 1692, which began with the baffling afflictions of two and led, in the midst of frenzied accusations of sorcery, to the brutal killing of twenty.

Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House by Carolyn Morrow Long

The legend of Madame Delphine Lalaurie, a wealthy society matron and accused slave torturer, has haunted New Orleans for nearly two centuries. Throughout that time, the tale of the woman and her macabre misdeeds has been told and retold, the horror of her crimes considered shocking by even today’s gruesome standards. By early 1834, whispers could be heard on the streets and in the parlors concerning Madame Lalaurie’s especially nasty appetite for maltreatment. But only on April 11 of that year, when fire broke out in the kitchen of her French Quarter mansion would the true extent of her avid enthusiasm for cruelty be discovered. As the woman of the house frantically rushed to save her jewels and furs, onlookers began to hear faint moans and screams coming from the attic. Bystanders, intent on rescuing anyone still inside, forced their way past Lalaurie and her husband, the younger and weaker-spined Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, gaining access into the burning service wing. According to legend, what awaited the members of this concerned mob were scenes so grisly they would haunt each witness until the day they died. That night, amidst the mayhem and as the crowd’s temper quickly shifted from concern to outrage resulting from the horrific scenes inside the mansion, LaLaurie somehow managed to escape, fleeing New Orleans, never to be seen in the city again. Her guilt would go unquestioned, with tales of her actions becoming increasingly fanciful and grotesque over the decades. Stories of perverted tortures, live burials, amputations without anesthetic and other unspeakable acts have continued to haunt her legacy. But, was Madame Lalaurie really a sadistic abuser? Was she mentally ill? Or, merely the victim of an unfair and sensationalist press? Attempting to disentangle the threads of fact and legend that have intertwined over the decades, Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House explores this pivotal event in the Crescent City, a place that drips legend from every pore.

Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsebet Bathory by Kimberly L Craft

On December 26, 1610 or sometime thereabouts, Count Gyorgy Thurzo called upon Cachtice Castle in Upper Hungary on orders from King Matthias to investigate allegations regarding the suspected torture and murder of daughters belonging to the local gentry. For some time, rumors had been circulating concerning the lady of the castle, Elizabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory, and her particular proclivity for the torment and slaying of servants, peasants and the like, which was apparently fine by the King’s standards. Her title and high ranking had, to this point, ensured her protection from any sort of punishment, giving her free reign to do as she pleased. But, with human resources dwindling, Lady Bathory had been forced to begin making use of the slightly “higher born” in order to continue her nefarious pursuits. Despite her obvious ingenuity, to behave in such ways toward nobility was just not acceptable to the crown. When Thurzo arrived, inconsiderately interrupting the Countess in full stride as she directed a torture session of young girls, it was an intrusion that would, once and for all, seal her fate. Through the years, the legend of Elizabeth Bathory’s bloodthirsty activities has grown. Rumors such as the lady’s preference for frequently enjoying a soak in the blood of any one of the 650 girls she tormented and slaughtered have run rampant, leading many to cite her as perhaps one of the first vampires in history. Today, she is reviled by some as the World's Worst Female Serial Killer. But, who was Lady Bathory really? Based on newly-found source material such as journals, letters and trial transcripts, Infamous Lady explores the life of the 16th-century "Blood Countess" of Hungary, revealing the true details of her shocking story and perhaps shedding light once and for all on one of history’s most chilling and entrancing affairs.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Zona Heaster was born around 1873 in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Little is known about her early life, but in October 1896, she met a man called Erasmus Shue. Seeking blacksmith work in town, he was a drifter with an aim at starting a new life. With his rapscallion ways, Shue straight away proved intriguing to Heaster. The loner reciprocated interest and soon, despite the objections of Zona’s suspicious mother, the two wisely married. The couple lived together as man and wife for the next several months until, on January 23, 1897, Zona’s body was discovered inside of her home by a young boy that Shue had sent to the house on an “errand”. The death was immediately ruled to be of natural causes. But, was it? According to legend, over the course of four dark nights, the spirit of Zona Heaster visited her mother’s bedside, first appearing as a bright light then taking form, chilling the air in the entire room. Awakening her mother from her slumber, Zona would entreat her case that her husband had been abusive and cruel. As the story goes, one night Shue had grown irrationally upset that Zona had not prepared any meat for dinner, ultimately attacking her in a fit of rage and savagely breaking her neck. Finally, the mother capitulated to the ghost’s requests and upon, exhumation of the body, the truth was revealed. Although Zona’s ghost was never seen again, she left a haunting and historical mark on Greenbrier County. Across the United States, crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, spirits and legends such as this linger, continuing to capture the collective imagination, but why? From haunted mansions to cursed prisons to devilish burial grounds, Ghostland takes readers on a spellbinding journey across the continental United States, through some of the country's most infamously haunted places to decode and unpack the history repressed in some of the nation’s most intriguing paranormal legends.

The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow

128 years have passed since the unsolved Whitechapel Murders first invoked terror in the hearts of not only the East Enders of London, but residents of the entire city and beyond. Few stories have gripped public imagination as intensely as the notorious and gruesome legend that has grown out of this period. These heinous crimes, 11 murders taking place between April 3, 1888 and February 13th, 1891, struck at the heart of the most populous city on earth. However, it was in August of this period that a slaying, the fourth in this series of killings, would first be attributed to the hand of one of history’s most infamous butchers. Over the following months, 4 more similarly mutilated bodies would be left in the dark alleyways of Whitechapel, indicating the work of the same killer. Yet, there would be no clue as to the identity of the culprit. As newspapers fanned the public’s fearful anxiety with sensational headlines and minute details of each chilling and grotesque crime, the legend of an ominous monster was being invented, his name soon becoming familiar to millions around the world: Jack the Ripper. Despite precautions taken, or not taken as many would argue, by the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard as well as special police and citizen patrols throughout the district, the murderer was never caught. Nor would there ever surface a convincing identification of the man or, as some suggest, woman who stabbed and disemboweled a succession of East End prostitutes and left them bleeding in the gas-lit streets of Victorian London. From that time until today, a continuous stream of invention, misinformation, self-publicity and opportunism has kept this mysterious bogeyman alive in the darkest reaches of 21st Century imagination. In The Complete Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow presents all the known evidence in a summary of the facts and theories that have been written and spoken about the quasi-supernatural entity known as Jack the Ripper.

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