March 28, 2009

The REAL New England Vampires

From Michael Bell's Food for the Dead.

The Boston Globe ran several articles this week about a vampire rumor sweeping through the student body at Boston Latin, the oldest public school in the US. (It was founded in 1635!) It turns out the rumor was being spread about a Goth girl by a clique of bullies. Oh, the joys of high school. A related rumor was that the vampire girl's boyfriend, who was a werewolf, was going to wreak his vengeance on the school. Again, not true. However, I do find it interesting that Boston Latin's official seal features a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.

There may not be any vampires at Boston Latin, but there were vampires in New England's past, according to Michael Bell's book Food for the Dead. On the Trail of New England's Vampires. Bell has a Ph.D. in folklore and is the official folklorist for the state of Rhode Island.

Unlike Hollywood vampires who have fangs, wear capes and suck blood, the New England vampires were much more understated. Usually the victims of tuberculosis, they were blamed after their deaths for spreading TB from their grave among family members. They were believed to be feeding off the life essence of their relatives.

Unlike Hollywood vampires who are dispatched with a stake through the hear, the proper way to stop a New England vampire from spreading disease and death was to unearth their body and burn their heart. Sometimes there variations on this theme. In Woodstock, Vermont, the blood of a young bull was sprinkled on the vampire's grave. In Connecticut, an alleged vampire's skull and thigh bones were arranged in a skull and crossbones position.

The New England vampire tradition ended in the 19th century, as tuberculosis became less of a problem. Michael Bell lists at least 20 cases of vampirism in his book, from Rhode Island to Maine. None of them happened at Boston Latin.

March 16, 2009

Indian Pudding!

It's been a while since I've posted anything. I could tell you it's because work has been so busy, but there's another reason - it's because I've been busy making Indian pudding!

A quick FAQ about Indian pudding:

- It's not from India. That delicious pudding you get in Indian restaurants is called kheer.

- American Indians didn't create it, either. But, since it is made with cornmeal, the Puritans called it Indian pudding. (What modern Americans call corn, a.k.a maize, was originally called Indian corn, to differentiate it from what the English called corn, which was really any grain. Hopefully, that's not too confusing!)

- Indian pudding is a dessert that has been made in New England for hundreds of years. The basic recipe involves cornmeal, milk, molasses, and some spices. There are lots of recipes floating on the Web: traditional, microwave, and even vegan.

- I think it's one of those dishes, like baked beans, that a Puritan housewife could just throw in the stove while she went to church for a long, long time. Then, when church was over, she could come home and make herself feel better after all the damnation talk by eating slow-baked cornmeal sweetened with molasses.

- When I was in middle school, it was sometimes served for dessert as part of the hot lunch program. I don't remember any school lunch desserts except this one, and that's because it's so darn delicious.

- When I was a kid, you could also buy it canned in any supermarket. Now, the only place I've seen it is Whole Foods, where you can buy Bar Harbor brand Indian pudding. I've never tried it, but there's no such thing as bad Indian pudding.

- Although, these taste testers at the Onion really don't like it. I can tell they're not from New England, though, because they had never even heard of Indian pudding. I don't think you should trust their opinion.

- Indian pudding is sometimes called hasty pudding, which is also a venerable Harvard theatrical troupe known for its comedic drag productions. They serve Indian pudding at all their banquets.

March 01, 2009

Is The Necronomicon Hidden Under Bradford College?

Photos from the Institute of Urban Speleological Studies and Archeology.

At a party last night I met someone who graduated from Bradford College in the 1980's. Talking with him reminded me of my favorite piece of modern folklore floating around the Web - The Necronomicon is hidden under Bradford College! Cue dramatic music.

For those readers not well versed in nerd culture, The Necronomicon is a book of evil magic that first appeared in the short stories of horror writer (and Rhode Island native) H.P. Lovecraft. Although Lovecraft died in 1937, his fiction grew in popularity posthumously, and other writers imitated his style and adopted his monstrous deities as their own.

Strangely, copies of The Necronomicon, began to appear for sale. In the 1940's, ads in book-seller's guides requested copies of it, or advertised copies for sale at high prices. In the 1960's, a copy of The Necronomicon was printed in a limited edition of 600, and by the 1970's several different versions of the cursed tome could be purchased in paperback. Although most of these are clearly hoaxes, the pagan author John Wisdom Gonce III claims that the most popular of these Necronomicons, writen by Peter Levenda under the pseudonym Simon, actually contains harmful magickal instructions. The Necronomicon has also appeared in countless horror movies, most famously The Evil Dead series. (The Necronomicon Files by Daniel Harms and John Gonce III is a great source for details about all this.)

But again, The Necronomicon is just fiction, isn't it? Lovecraft just made it up because he needed a spooky magical tome for his stories, right? Some modern occultists have disagreed. For example, Kenneth Grant claims claims that Lovecraft was a natural born adept, although he didn't know it and traveled in his dreams to astral realms where he found The Necronomicon. He then used materials from this book in his fiction, not realizing he was transmitting true magickal knowledge. Others think that although Lovecraft wrote fiction, he was actually a powerful occultist, and incorporated real occult lore into his stories for the initiated to find.

Even if The Necronomicon is real, why would it be under Bradford College, a small liberal arts school that closed in 2000? Well, according to the story floating around the Web, Lovecraft hid the book in one of the college's tunnels while he was dating a Bradford co-ed. (Apparently, even demented evil geniuses need to get out and date.) Recent Bradford students seem to have accepted the story as part of the college's lore. You can see some photos by ghost hunters of the tunnels here.

Bradford College closed in 2000 due to fiscal problems, and is now the campus of Zion Bible College. It seems ironic that a school training Pentecostal preachers would be located on top of the world's evilest book, but stranger things have happened.