Friday, October 29, 2010

Creepy Encounters

There are those moments, albeit infrequently, that we discover something among our research that sends a tiny little shiver down the spine.....or gives us goosebumps.....or makes us pass by it quickly because it's just plain creepy. History is full of genuine horror stories and unexplained phenomenons, and although I have never encountered the paranormal during my two decades worth of research, I have had my fair share of creepy encounters. For fun, I will include a few examples of what I mean.....tis the season to share the creepy....or put the family skeletons in the front room window!

Cemetery Creepiness:
These places are chock full of creepy. After all, as my mother always reminds me, I'm playing among the dead when I have to visit one for research. She uses the word "playing" because I actually enjoy roaming among these peaceful and beautiful places full of life memorials. However, there are times when we run across the death reminders, and they can be a little disconcerting.....

Here are a couple of examples of what I like to call the faceless figures. Time and weather have worn away the stones to the degree that no facial features remain....only a silent figure that stands guard over the lost loved one.....reminding us that time marches on and renders everything and everyone to dust.

Sometimes the site of a fresh grave with a mound of wilted flowers gives me a little shiver of creepy, but this photo below seemed to have a little dash of creepiness on the side. We were visiting Daniel Boone's grave in Frankfort Kentucky when I walked around to the backside of the monument. In the back corner of the iron fence that surrounds the rectangular tower, was this wilted token of remembrance. I suspected it was left by someone who had been in the cemetery for the purpose of funeral attendance and had this little rose leftover.....but then, it could be someone locally who does this regularly for old Daniel's tomb.....either way, the rose in wilted form on that dreary day was another reminder of our being like the flower that quickly fades.
And let us not forget the cracked above ground tomb.....getting the zombie vibe!

Those Eyes!
Let's face it.....we can all remember those odd family photos where the person's facial expression or fathomless eyes have almost made us jump back in startled response......

As exhibit A, I have this nameless, but pretty girl from my family. I know she is from my mother's side of the family, but from what branch, I am at a loss. However, those wide, pale eyes, while wearing white, among a white utterly ghostly!
And speaking of ghosts! From now on, when I read about Jacob Marley in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I am going to picture this face forever. Poor guy.....Jonathan Harrington is actually one of our nation's heroes as he fought at the Battle of Lexington as a young man in 1775. You can read about his life in Maureen Taylor's book The Last Muster - pg. 75.

The Headless/Faceless:
After generations of relating stories about headless horsemen and apparitions, finding a photo that has carefully had the face or head removed speaks to a certain level of creepy. In my opinion, the physical act of intentionally removing that face or head from the photo is evidence of a tremendous emotional moment from the past. Either great grief, or rage spurred that type of action, and an object that has been the recipient of great human emotion from the past, kind of makes my creepy meter go off......and then there is the obvious creepiness associated with a headless figure. Double whammy in my book!

My first example comes from the Library of Congress' newest digitized acquisition: The Liljenquist Collection. This photo of the unidentified Union Soldier with his headless lady was quite a shocker while perusing this magnificent collection. Perhaps because they couldn't just cut out the woman's head, but they had to sit and scrape away the image of her face.....evidence of a pretty disturbed individual?

My second example is from our family collection - little Granville Hampton. I am well aware of the special challenge that had to exist back in the day when photography lacked any high-speed capability. This meant children were hard moving targets to capture on what was a mother to do? Drape herself in a bold fabric of course and hold the child still. Sorry, this registers on my creepy meter.
Open Caskets/Post Mortem:
Open casket and post mortem shots are pretty high on my creepy meter.....but I know it was highly popular once upon a time. The example below is the only open casket photo we have in our family collection. As you can see, it is of a baby, which removes the creepy, and replaces it with a twinge of sadness.....children in the caskets are hugely tragic, and due to the year range of the 1920s, I will not reveal the name of the little infant. As far as I can tell, she was not a family member, but a close neighbor from the northern part of Kentucky. Animals:
Yes, we have photos of dead moose from Canada in our family collection, and even a dead skunk that great grandpa John was skinning while drunk.....but those never creeped me out. This little guy below was a little creepy, because, how did they manage to capture his ears and tail in this perfectly erect state? And on second thought.....what did he see that made him so scared? Sure looks like he sees a ghost! For immortality purposes, the little guy's name was Spot...of course.
Hope you enjoyed this macabre posting.....what sort of creepy have you encountered? CD
Sepia Saturday #47


sEAN bENTLEY said...

Very apropos post for Halloween! I love the cemetery typology.

Greta Koehl said...

Love this post - a wonderful meditation and demonstration of things in genealogy that can be creepy! And I like the idea of a "creepy meter."

Nancy said...

This is such an interesting post. I'm sorry to say that I haven't discovered any creepy things in our photos -- at least not yet!

I have two thoughts about the C.W. photo in which the face is removed: My mother or sister scraped off her own face in a class group photo. She didn't like it. Perhaps the lady removed her own face. On the other hand, perhaps the young man removed it when he married someone else. Who knows. No matter what happened, it's still sad to see no faces where faces should be.

Thanks for the interesting read and photos.


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