September 19, 2018

Did H.P. Lovecraft Witness An Alien Autopsy?

Did H.P. Lovecraft witness an alien autopsy? I cannot tell you how happy I am to type that sentence. It's an absolutely insane question even to pose, but it brings together two things I love: horror master H.P. Lovecraft and UFOs. And some people think the answer is "Yes!"

As many people know, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was one of the world's most influential horror writers. Lovecraft spent most of his life in Providence, Rhode Island and loved New England deeply. He incorporated New England locations and folklore into stories like "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."

Image from the H.P. Lovecraft archives.
Dreamers, dream-worlds and nightmares also appear often in his work, and many of his stories were even inspired by actual dreams he had. Lovecraft could recall his dreams in great detail and they provided the basis for stories like "Call of Cthulhu," "The Statement of Randolph Carter" and others.

In early 1920 Lovecraft had a dream that he later referred to as the "Eben Spencer plot" because he hoped to use it as the basis for a story. He never did, but the dream is interesting on it's own. In the dream Lovecraft was an army lieutenant and surgeon named Eben Spencer. The year was 1864, and Spencer/Lovecraft was on furlough in his hometown in upstate New York after being injured in the Civil War. While out for a walk he meets a friend:
Soon a very young man of my acquaintance came up to me with an air of anxiety and began to speak in guarded accents. He wished me to go with him to his brother - my professional colleague Dr. Chester - whose actions were greatly alarming him. 
... The doctor for the past two years had been conducting secret experiments in a laboratory in the attic of his home, and beyond that locked door he would admit no one but himself. Sickening odours were often detected near the door... and odd sounds were at times not absent.
Eben Spencer is taken to Dr. Chester's laboratory, where the sinister Dr. Chester shows him something grotesque:
Soon he emerged, bearing on a large glass slab what appeared to be a human arm, neatly severed just below the elbow. It was damp, gelatinous and bluish-white, and the fingers were without nails. 
'Well, Spencer,' said Dr. Chester sneeringly, 'I suppose you've had a good deal of amputation practice in the army. What do you think, professionally, of this job?' 
I had seen clearly that this was not a human arm, and said sarcastically, 'You are a better sculptor than doctor, Chester. This is not the arm of any living thing.' 
And Chester replied in a tone that made my blood congeal, 'Not yet, Spencer. Not yet!' (Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 1, Arkham House, Sauk City, Wisconsin, 1965, pages 100-102).
From behind a curtain Dr. Chester then brings out another, even larger arm. Ominously, Dr. Chester tells Spencer to "Watch the curtain!" but here the dream begins to fade. Lovecraft awoke in his bed, noting "I have never seen Dr. Chester, or his young brother, or that village since. I do not know what village it was. I never heard the name of Eben Spencer before or since. Some dream!"

Civil War surgical instructions from the Mutter Museum.

I agree! That is some dream, but perhaps not an unprecedented one for a writer of horror stories. And since this post has the words "alien autopsy" in its title, what if anything does it have to do with aliens? It seems more like a rehash of Frankenstein than anything else.

In 1997 Joseph Trainor, editor of the now defunct UFO Roundup magazine, decided to investigate what inspired Lovecraft's dream. Trainor thought the severed arms sounded like they could have been from extraterrestrials, and he also knew there had been sightings of strange flying craft in upstate New York in the 1860s. Was there some hidden truth in Lovecraft's dream?

Trainor conducted research in New York and consulted with New York state historian Carol Maltby. He found the following:
  • A young army surgeon and lieutenant named Elbridge Gerry Spencer lived in the New York village of Brockett's Bridge in the 1860s. He went by the nickname Gary. He was briefly furloughed with a minor injury around 1862.
  • Nearby lived an herbalist, Dr. David Chester Smallwood. Smallwood had a younger brother, just like in Lovecraft's dream. Dr. Smallwood also owned a three-story house with an attic. 
  • Spencer left Brockett's Bridge in the late 1860s. His departure was sudden; his sister's obituary notes that he "disappeared from the area..." Searching through census records, Trainor found an E. Gary Spencer in  Iowa working as a farmer. By 1880, Spencer was working as a "commercial traveler," or traveling salesman. 
  • Trainor could not ascertain what happened to Dr. Smallwood. 
Trainor speculated that while gathering herbs in the woods Dr. Smallwood found a damaged UFO that had crashed - and some of its injured occupants. Perhaps he showed the remains of the aliens to Lt. Spencer, who fled town soon after seeing the strange limbs. At one point Trainor thought that Lovecraft's dream was some kind of past life memory, but he developed another theory later. He speculated that while working as a traveling salesman Spencer met Lovecraft's father, who was also a salesman. He told the strange tale to Lovecraft's father, who in turn told it to his young son. Lovecraft perhaps did not remember the story consciously but it appeared in his dreams.

I can hear you asking, "Is any of this true?" I honestly can't say. It sounds like Trainor found some interesting information that is similar to Lovecraft's dream, although the names don't quite match entirely. I suppose your acceptance of this story hinges on your feelings about UFOs in general. I just find it fascinating whether or not the story is true.

What I find particularly interesting, though, is that this is another myth that's developed around H.P. Lovecraft's life. Although there are probably others this is the third one that I've encountered. The other myths are:
1. Lovecraft's stories contain real occult knowledge. In this myth, Lovecraft either consciously or unconsciously (through his dreams) incorporated actual magic and occult secrets into his stories. The Necrononmicon is real, entities like Cthulhu exist, and Lovecraft traveled to other dimensions in his sleep. This myth started to form while Lovecraft was still alive but was popularized by the British occultist Kenneth Grant. Thanks to Grant's influence, you can now buy many books about Lovecraftian ritual and magick online and in New Age bookstores. 
2. The Necronomicon is hidden under the campus of Bradford College (now Northpoint Bible College) in Haverhill, Massachusetts. According to this legend, Lovecraft dated a co-ed at Bradford College and hid a copy of The Necronomicon, a book of blasphemous knowledge, in one of the tunnels underneath the school. 
I think the alien autopsy story fits in nicely with those other two, don't you?

I don't like to debunk stories on my blog. Instead I like to think about what they mean and what they say about New England. Myths are stories that people find meaningful and that are important, regardless of their literal truth. Why do people create these myths around H.P. Lovecraft and his fiction? Clearly people still find his stories to be powerful and convincing. And something so convincing can't just be fiction, can it?

September 09, 2018

Malicious Pixies on the North Shore: A Story from Marblehead

What comes to mind when you hear the word 'pixie?' I tend to think of cute things that are boyishly feminine like pixie haircuts or manic pixie dream girls like Zoey Deschanel. I remember from my distant teenage Dungeons and Dragons days that pixies were little flying fairies similar to Tinkerbell. Our culture tends to portray pixies as twee and sparkly. 


I like twee and sparkly, but those may not be the correct words to describe pixies. Like most fairies, older legends often describe them as ambiguous beings whose relationship with humans can be problematic. They like to have fun at the expense of humans. Here, for example, is some fairy folklore from 19th century Marblehead, Massachusetts:

The pixies, on the contrary, were malicious. They, too, were tiny, but of a brown color; they delighted to bewilder people; a person who was "pixilated," as they called it, would wander about for hours. The only remedy for such afflicted persons was to turn their garments. The belief in this was very strong. I knew a woman fairly well educated, as the education of women went sixty years ago, who told me in perfect good faith that she herself had been "pixilated" and had wandered an hour or more unable to find her home, until at last, recognizing that she was in the power of the little brown people, she turned her cloak, when the glamor vanished; in a moment she saw where she was, and was soon in her own house. (Sarah Bridge Farmer, "Folk-Lore of Marblehead, Mass.", The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 7, No. 26 (July - Sep., 1894), pp. 252 - 253.)

This account probably comes from the 1830s, but in the 19th century fairy folklore was quite rare in New England among those of European descent. Most of the region had been originally colonized by Puritans from England's East Anglia region, which while rich in witch-lore was poor in stories about fairies. The coastal town of Marblehead, on the other hand, was founded by fishermen from many parts of England, including some with rich fairy folklore. In England, stories about pixies are most common in in Devon and Cornwall. 

Turning your garments (i.e. wearing them inside out) is a well-knonw defense against fairy enchantment in English folklore, and is summarized in the rhyme "Turn your cloak/For fairy folk." It was apparently well-known in Marblehead, if this note from Caroline King Howard is any indication:

Judge Story used to tell with great delight, that when he was a boy living in Marblehead, his mother always warned him, when he went to the pasture, to drive home the cows, to turn his jacket inside out for fear of the pixies. (Caroline King Howard, When We Lived in Salem, 1822 - 1866)

It's my understanding, and I could be wrong, that fairies become confused when you wear your clothes inside out. In their confusion they break the spell and set you free. Causing some confusion of any kind will often break a fairy spell. For example, a famous folktale tells how a woman's child has been replaced by a fairy changeling. When the woman brews egg shells in a pot (which is unusual) the changeling becomes amazed and disappears. Her child reappears in its place. Yay! A happy 
ending!


The Native Americans in this region told (and still tell) stories about small magical beings similar to European fairies. Like their European counterparts, these small beings love to mislead travelers and sometimes even kidnap them. Belief in these beings was widespread across the New England tribes and almost certainly predates European colonization. While it is possible that current Native American stories about them show European influences, it is also possible that Europeans and Native Americans encountered similar beings but on different continents. Perhaps there is some truth behind those old folk tales. If you get lost in the woods get ready to turn your coat inside out...

September 03, 2018

Death's Head, Cherubs and Urns: Gravestone Art in Bradford Burial Ground

This past Saturday was cool and pleasant, and you could sense that fall is on the way. So why not get into the autumnal mood and visit a historic old cemetery? We decided to visit Bradford Burial Ground in Bradford, Massachusetts.

In 1665 settler John Heseltine gave land to the town of Bradford to be used for a church and a cemetery. The church is long gone, but the cemetery still remains and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest gravestone is from 1689, but it is believed that there are older burials in the cemetery along with multiple unmarked graves. The Burial Ground is sometimes called the Ancient Burial Ground, which is kind of a nice name.

Walking through the cemetery we noticed the three major motifs you see on old gravestones in Massachusetts: death's heads, cherubs, and willows and urns. Death's heads are the earliest motif of the three, appearing first in the 1600s. Cherubs appeared by the mid-1700s, while the willow-and-urn motif became popular later in that century. Some historians have argued that the evolution of New England funerary motifs arose from changes in New Englanders' religious views, with the death's head representing the grim Puritan world-view, the cherub a more humanistic approach to religion, and the willow-and-urn a more intellectual one. Others have claimed this is not true and that the motifs just changed with the fashions of the time. Specific motifs lasted longer in some towns than others due to the influence of local stone carvers, and there is quite often chronological overlap between the motifs in the same cemetery. 


DEATH'S HEADS

The Bradford Burial Ground has a nice assortment of stones engraved with death's heads. There's something morbid but also charming about these stones. Maybe because this motif is frequently used to illustrate books and on Halloween decor I've just gotten used to it. It also is one of those quintessentially New England things, like clam chowder made with cream or old white wooden churches. 




This stone is beautiful and very well-preserved. 

The flowers carved on the side borders contrast with the winged skull. 

This death's head is more abstract than the others and its wings are replaced with flowers.  The stone also has what looks like a typo: "Hear lyes buried...", but spelling was less circumscribed in the early 18th century. 
What looks like another abstract death's head, but without the typo. Is this  even supposed to be a skull or is it a face?

CHERUBS

In my mind cherubs are those cute little angels that appear on Valentine's Day cards and in Renaissance paintings. The cherubs in Bradford Burial Ground are definitely not cute. They're actually quite grim. Latin inscriptions (memento mori) appear on the cherub stones, but not on the earlier death's head stones. 




Similar to the cherubs are these carvings, which are sometimes called "portraits." They aren't supposed to actually look like the person buried under them, but are symbolic representations of a human. Like the cherubs they are somewhat grim and have the Latin "memento mori" under them. 



WILLOW AND URN

These stones are less morbid and grim than the earlier stones. They are more melancholy. The willow and urn were symbols of mourning from the ancient Mediterranean and appeared in New England as part of the Classical revival in art and architecture. 


A more ornate carving adorns this stone. 


Although they are more gracious, some of the willow-and-urn stones are inscribed with dire warnings to the living. For example, one stone has this carved on it;

Think blooming youth when this you see
Tho young yet you may die like me
Like you a rosy youth was I
Yet in my youth was called to die

Another stone tells us this:

Think, friends, when you these lines have read
How soon we're numbered with the dead
Our years are few and quickly fly
O friends remember you must die

Consider yourself warned. Carpe diem! 

AND THE REST...

Not every gravestone fits into one of those three categories (and maybe those portraits are really a fourth category). For example, some are just decorated with a floral motif: 



Others feature just a name but with no decoration at all, not even a death date. Were these the graves of paupers or people whose families couldn't afford more elaborate gravestones?



And this headstone features a finger pointing heavenward, letting us know where the grave's occupant has gone. This is a motif I've seen in a few other cemeteries in this area, but it's not as common as some of the others. 


I hope you had a great summer and are excited for the coming of autumn!

August 28, 2018

A Mountain Lion in Brookline Massachusetts?

If you ever want to read strange things you should look through your town's police blotter. Many unusual occurrences happen every day and most people don't even notice - except for the police. For example, here are a few interesting things reported in the August 16, 2018 edition of The Brookline Tab, the local newspaper for Brookline, Massachusetts.
"Tuesday, Aug. 7 - Suspicious person on Harvard Street: At 7:28 p.m. a caller reported that a man wearing mask, aviator glasses, a skull head necklace and an American flag pin was harassing the caller's girlfriend.  
Wednesday, Aug. 8 - Assault and Battery on Beacon Street: At 5:31 a.m. a caller reported that at midnight  his roommate threw a jar of mayonnaise at the back of his head."
Those aren't the worst of it. Next to the list of police incidents is an article titled "Police: Man wearing nightgown and garter gropes woman." It describes how a "stocky man in his 20s wearing a black dress or nightgown with a lace garter belt" grabbed and groped a woman at the intersection of Washington Street and Salisbury Road early on the morning of August 6. Yikes!



Perhaps the summer heat is driving people to commit weird crimes. But I'm not sure what to make of this report:
"Wednesday, Aug. 8... Strange looking animal on Addington Road: At 10:01 p.m. a caller reported a strange looking animal walking back and forth in the area. The caller thought it might be a mountain lion as it was too big for a fox or coyote."
Brookline has a lot of wildlife (rabbits, geese, turkeys, coyotes) but as far as I know there aren't any large carnivorous cats roaming around. And to make things stranger, Addington Road is in the densely settled Aspinwall Hill area. It's only a few blocks away from the Green Line. It is definitely not a rural area. Could there really be a mountain lion in Brookline?

There are a few possible answers:

1. The caller was mistaken.
If you're a natural skeptic you'll find this the most appealing explanation. Ordinary things often look very different in the dark, and the caller probably really saw some other animal (a dog or coyote). Maybe they just saw a raccoon or skunk which looked bigger in the dark, or misperceived the shadows thrown by leaves and streetlights. 


Addington Road in Brookline
Humans have an innate tendency to see living beings in inanimate phenomena. For example, have you ever seen a stick in the grass and thought it was a snake? This psychological trait is called pareidolia and it seems to be an evolutionary survival from a time when humans always had to be on the lookout for predators. It's safer to think something is a mountain lion rather than assume it is just a shadow. You wouldn't want to blunder into a large hungry cougar!



2. It really was a mountain lion. 
Mountain lions were once common in New England but were exterminated by the European settlers. There are still mountain lions in the western parts of the country and in Florida, but none around here. Despite this New Englanders report seeing mountain lions to the present day. For example, in 2014 citizens of Winchester, Massachusetts reported seeing a large feline creature in town, as did people in Rhode Island, while in the 1980s a mountain lion reportedly terrorized parts of Cape Cod. There's even a bulletin board for New England mountain lion sightings.



However, local wildlife authorities claim there are no mountain lions in New England. Well, to clarify, they say there is "no evidence of a reproducing mountain lion population." To quote this official Commonwealth of Massachusetts site:
Mountain Lions became scarce in the East after a bounty system wiped out most predatory animals. Today, Mountain Lions are found in the mountainous regions of the West. There is also a small population in southern Florida. 
Despite this fact, Massachusetts residents continue to report Mountain Lion sightings. It is difficult to know if someone saw a Mountain Lion without any tangible evidence. 
Nowadays, many reports include photographic evidence, thanks to camera phones and trail cameras. There have been only two cases where evidence supports the presence of a Mountain Lion in Massachusetts. All other reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts have turned out to be other animals.
In April 199, a hunter found unusual animal scat near the Quabbin Reservoir; lab tests confirmed it came from a mountain lion. In March 2011, a forester photographed animal tracks in the snow near the Quabbin, which were again confirmed to be from a mountain lion. Those are the only two cases of authenticated mountain lion evidence in modern Massachusetts.


Totally excited for monster-hunting - just as long as I never find one!
However, in June 2011, a male mountain lion was struck by an SUV and killed in Milford, Connecticut. DNA testing showed that the animal had traveled all the way from South Dakota to Connecticut, a distance of 1,800 miles. Most mountain lions don't roam that far. Still, I suppose there is a very, very slim chance that a mountain lion made its way from a western state to New England and came into Brookline. 

3. Manitous, witches, phantom animals.
Maybe it was really a mountain lion. Or maybe the caller was totally wrong and mistook something ordinary for a large predator. It was either real or it was not. The answer is either yes or no, right?

I think there is a third possibility, though, somewhere in that weird realm where myth, folklore and psychology collide. People in New England have been seeing unusual (dare I say unnatural?) animals for centuries. For example, the Algonquins believed the forests were haunted by a black fox. The fox was often glimpsed by could never be captured or killed, even by the most skilled hunter. It was a manitou, or spirit-being. 



The Puritans saw equally strange creatures. Puritans didn't believe in manitous, so they associated these strange animals with witches and the Devil. Witches and their familiar spirits were said to assume the shapes of cats, pigs, birds and strange bestial hybrids. For example, on February 27, 1692 Elizabeth Hubbard was walking home from her uncle's house in Salem Village when she realized a large animal was stalking her. She thought it might be a wolf, although wolves were rare even in the 1690s. There was something unnatural about the creature and although it didn't harm her she thought it might be a witch in animal form.

On April 19 of that year, Abigail Hobbs mentioned unusual animals in her testimony before the Court of Oyer and Terminer:
"I will speak the truth," she said. "I have seen sights and been scared. I have been very wicked. I shall be better, if God will help me." 
"What sights did you see?" asked Hathorne.  
"I have seen dogs and many creatures." 
"What dogs do you mean? Ordinary dogs?" 
"I mean the Devil." 
(quoted in Marilynne Roach, The Salem Witch Trials. A Day-By-Day Chronicle of A Community Under Siege, 2002)
Even in our modern, post-Puritan world people continue to see animals. Cryptozoologists and paranormal researchers often call them phantoms since they leave little evidence behind. For example, in 1976 a large black dog terrorized the town of Abington near Massachusetts's infamous Hockomock Swamp. A police officer shot at the beast after it killed two ponies but it ignored the bullets and walked off into the swamp. 


I didn't see a mountain lion, but there were a lot of wild turkeys down this path. I turned back!
Perhaps more relevant to the Brookline sighting, phantom animals of the feline variety have also terrorized towns near the Hockomock Swamp:
In 1972, in Rehoboth, Mass., a "lion hunt" was organized by local police. Residents of the area had been terrorized by what they said was a large cat or mountain lion. Cattle and sheep n the area had been mysteriously killed and carcasses were discovered raked with claw marks. Police took casts of the animal's tracks and used dog and helicopter in an attempt to track it down. Nothing was caught. But similar incidents involving phantom cats have occurred in other places throughout the Bridgewater Triangle and across the nation. None of these mysterious felines has yet been captured. (Loren Coleman, Mysterious America, 2007)
Spirits, witches, phantom cats - I don't know what these strange animals are, but New Englanders have seen them for a long, long time. I think they'll continue to see them in the future. Perhaps the caller who reported seeing the mountain lion on Addington Street was just part of this long tradition. Weird things happen in New England all the time, even close to the MBTA.


Animal graffito in Brookline

August 20, 2018

Something Grisly From Cape Cod: The Forgotten Bonnet

I was on Cape Cod recently and had dinner with friends who live in Wellfleet. I really recommend visiting Wellfleet if you can. It has beautiful old buildings from the 18th and 19th century, a bustling little harbor, and lots of green space. Wellfleet has everything you could want in a small New England coastal town, even a pretty white wooden church. But as readers of this blog know, quaint old towns often are the scene of gruesome stories, and sometimes bad things even happen in pretty churches. 

I've mentioned a few spooky Wellfleet stories on this blog before, like those about the witch Maria Hallett (who is still remembered in Wellfleet to this day) or accounts of the mysterious Tarzan of the 1930s (who seems to have been forgotten). But while we were in Wellfleet my friend David told me a story I had never heard before. And it's not just spooky, it's downright gruesome. Hearing a new story always makes me happy, and David swears this one is true. He works at the Wellfleet Historical Society and has written a book about town history so I believe him.

The story is about the Gross family, a large and prominent clan in Wellfleet's past. Many of the Gross men were famous sailors, and one of them even married a Hawaiian princess in 1789. But the family members best remembered today are the ten Gross sisters who posed for this photo in 1850 or 1851:

Photo of the Gross sisters from Wellfleet Historical Society
The sisters were  famous on Cape Cod because there were ten of them and they all lived long healthy lives, which was quite rare at the time. Tbe oldest sister, Lurania, was born in 1767. The youngest, Maria, was born in 1794. Photography was relatively new when this photo was taken, and the sisters had to travel all the way to Boston to pose for it. Clearly they were an important family if they could afford to have their picture taken and travel to do it. 

In addition to being numerous the Grosses were also devout. They belonged to Wellfleet's Methodist church where all the sisters were members of the choir. The Methodist church still exists in town, although the current building is of a more recent date. 

Wellfleet Methodist Church
The sisters faithfully attended choir practices, which were held in the church in the evening. This is where the gruesome story begins. One evening one of the Gross sisters walked all the way home after choir practice when she suddenly realized she had forgotten her bonnet at the church. (I wasn't told which sister it was, so let's just call her Ms. Gross.) Ms. Gross remembered that she had left her bonnet in one of the pews. How embarrassing! No proper woman would dream of being seen without a bonnet. She turned and began the long trek back to church.

She lived quite a distance from the church, and in the time it took her to walk back the sun had set. Everyone else had already left the church, and its windows were dark. Unfortunately Ms. Gross had not brought a lantern, but she bravely opened the door to the church and stepped inside anyway. She spent a lot time inside the building and thought she was familiar with every inch of it. What could possibly go wrong?

The church was pitch black. Ms. Gross walked cautiously down the aisle, guiding herself by holding onto the backs of the pews. She remembered which pew she had left her bonnet in and when she reached it she began to feel along the seat. But much to her surprise she didn't find her bonnet. Instead she found the face of a man who was lying in the pew. His face was cold, and it was wet.

Ms. Gross screamed in surprise and horror. She backed out of the pew in a panic, but then tripped and fell into another pew across the aisle. As she fell she steadied herself with her hands - which came to rest on another man. She felt his wet, soggy clothes and his cold, inert body. She smelled the ocean.

Sobbing, Ms. Gross stumbled down the aisle, feeling her way along in the darkness. She tried to keep her hands on the backs of the pews, but occasionally she slipped, and each time she did she felt another corpse, touching here a cold face, there a wet foot or a clammy hand.

When she finally escaped the church she ran to the nearest house and pounded hysterically on the door. The family inside took her in and listened to her tale. When Ms. Gross had calmed down they explained to her what why the church was full of corpses. 

After choir practice had ended, a wagon had come up to the church from the harbor. It had been filled with dead bodies. Apparently a ship had sunk of the coast of Wellfleet and the crew's bodies had washed ashore in the harbor. The Methodist minister agreed to store them overnight in the church while the townspeople decided where to bury them. The minister certainly didn't think anyone would come stumbling in to find them. After all, everyone had left after choir practice. 

That's the end of the story, but I wonder how Ms. Gross felt. Was she relieved to know there was a logical explanation for all the corpses which suddenly appeared in the church? Or was she saddened and horrified to realize she really had been touching the dead bodies of men who drowned at sea? I also wonder how she felt about her bonnet. Did she vow to never forget her bonnet again, or did she instead vow to never wear one again? Significantly, in the photo of the ten sisters the youngest one, Maria, is not wearing a bonnet... 

This story reminds me of that old Halloween game for kids, the one where you are blindfolded and touch various things that are supposed to be body parts. You touch cold grapes and someone tells you they are eyeballs, you touch spaghetti and someone tells you it is intestines, etc. In Ms. Gross's case, though, she actually did touch dead bodies. If there's any lesson to be learned it might this: gruesome things can happen anytime of the year, and they even happen in small towns with pretty white churches.