The Condenser

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Posted by Dave
Well, here we are - and we still have plenty of material for you! We'll just have to sneak it into our posts over the next year. Below is a collection of Halloween traditions from Current Superstitions, Volume 4 (1896) by Fanny Dickerson Bergen and William Wells Newell. There's a lot here, so make sure to click "Read More" and check out everything after the jump. It's been a great Condenser Maga-Ween, but we'd be lying if we said we weren't looking forward to leaving that pun behind us. Have a great Halloween!

303. A Halloween custom is to fill a tub with water and drop into it as many apples as there are young folks to try the trick. Then each one must kneel before the tub and try to bite the apples without touching them with the hands. The one who bites one first will marry first. Alabama.

304. On Halloween hang an apple by the door just the height of the chin. Rub the chin with saliva, stand about six inches from the apple, and hit the chin against the apple. If it sticks to the chin, you will be married, and your true love will stick to you.

St. John, N. B.

305. A girl goes to a field on Halloween at midnight to steal cabbages. The first one whom she meets on her return will be her husband. Boston, Mass.

306. On Halloween at midnight a young lady in her night-dress walks backward into the garden and pulls up a cabbage. She will see her future husband over her shoulder.

Eastern Massachusetts. 307. I wind, I wind, my true love to find,

The color of his hair, the clothes he 'll wear,
The day he is married to me.

Throw a ball of yarn into a barn, old house, or cellar, and wind, repeating the above lines, and the true love will appear and wind with you. To be tried at twelve o'clock at night, on Halloween.


308. Shortly before midnight a pure white bowl is procured, that has never been touched by any lips save those of a new-born infant. If it is a woman whose fortune is to be tried (and it generally is) the child must be a male. The bowl is filled with water from a spring-well, after which twenty-six pieces of white paper about an inch square, on each of which must be written one letter of the alphabet, are placed in the bowl with the letters turned downward. These must be dropped in as the clock strikes midnight, or all will faiL All being ready, the maiden interested repeats the lines: —

Kind fortune, tell me where is he
Who my future lord shall be;
From this bowl all that I claim
Is to know my lover's name.

The bowl is then securely locked away, and must not be disturbed till sunrise the following morning, when she is placed before it blindfolded. She then picks out the same number of letters as there are iu her own name. After these are all out the bandage is removed from her eyes, and the paper letters spread out before her. SllS manages them so as to spell a man's name as best she can with the letters at her disposal. The name thus found will be that of her future husband. Trinity and Catalina Bays, N. F.

309. On Halloween a girl is to go through a graveyard, steal a cabbage and place it above the house-door. The one on whom the cabbage falls as the door is opened is to be the girl's husband.


1IO. On Halloween walk backwards from the front door, pick up dust or grass, bring it in, wrap it in paper, put it under your pillow, and dream. Pennsylvania.

311. On Halloween put an egg to roast before the fire and leave the doors and windows open. When it begins to sweat a cat will come in and turn it. After the cat will come the man you are to marry, and he will turn it. If you are to die unmarried, the shadow of a coffin will appear. Chestertownf Md.

312. On Halloween go upstairs backwards, eating a hard boiled egg without salt, and looking in the glass. You will see your future husband in the glass, looking over your shoulder.

St. John, N. B.

313. On Halloween go down the cellar stairs backward, carrying a mirror into which you look. A face will be seen over your shoulder which will be that of your future husband.

General in the- United States.

Halloween and other Festivals. 57

314. On the last night of October place a mirror and a clock in a room that has not been used for some time, and at a quarter to twelve take a lighted candle and an apple, and finish eating the apple just as the clock strikes twelve, and then look in the mirror and you will see your future husband. Alabama.

315. On Halloween put a ring in a dish of mashed potatoes, and the one who gets the ring will be married first. Boston, Mass.

316. On Halloween mash potatoes and conceal in the mass a ring, a coin, and a button. Divide it into as many portions as there are persons present. The ring denotes marriage, the coin riches, and the button misfortune. Massachusetts.

317. " Silent Supper." On Halloween set a table as if for supper, with as many seats at the table as there are girls, each girl standing behind a chair at the table. The one you are to marry will come in and take the chair in front of you.

Chestertown, Md.

318. On Halloween write names of three men on three pieces of paper, roll them into balls, put these into balls made of Indian meal (wet so as to roll up), put the balls of meal into a basin of water: whichever one rises to the top bears the name of the one you 'll marry. Salem, Mass.

319. On Halloween, girls place three saucers beside each other, two filled with earth and water, in the other a ring. They are respectively death, cloister or unmarried life, and marriage.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Being Comfortable In One's Skin

Posted by Dave
There's nothing quite like an intriguing footnote. The example below is taken from a chapter on Haitian superstitions in The Journal of American Folklore (1888); the French introduced the people of Haiti to the loup-garou, or werewolf, and it is to their nation of origin that the featured aside takes us:

Dogs, in France, have also an especial hostility to loup garous. A rustic tale relates how the mistress of a household asked a young girl in her service why the dogs made such a clamor on a certain night. "Oh," she said incautiously, "we were in our skins." Being urged, she confessed that her family were in the habit of wandering at night in the shape of beasts. To satisfy curiosity, she changed herself into a wolf, and her mistress was too frightened to effect the re-transformation in the manner directed. After this the evil grew worse, but was finally cured by a bullet of consecrated lead from the roof of a church, any other charge being a waste of ammunition. These nightly rovings are called courir le loup-brou. (Laisnel de la Salle, Croyances et Ltgendes du Centre, i. 182-189. Paris, 1875.)

Image of the Beast of Gevaudan (1764) courtesy of
Getty Images.


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920)

Posted by Meg
Here at Condenser Magazine, we feel that in order to completely enjoy a clip from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you must see all of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. So here it is. The whole movie. You're welcome.


Friday, October 23, 2009

A Multitude of Ghost Sightings from 1654

Posted by Dave
Richard Baxter's 1654 tome "The Saints' Everlasting Rest" is a thorough argument for the existence of an afterlife, made through a variety of means. Of course, it could be inferred that the evidence of a malevolent supernatural world would also imply the existence of a more righteous one - and with this connection made, Baxter takes the opportunity to deliver a breathless series of almost gossipy retellings of encounters with ghosts and the Devil. Give us the goods, Richard!

Many deny that the soul of man remaineth & liveth after death, because they see nothing go from him but his breath: And they come to that impiety, tht they laugh at all that is said of another Life. But we see not the Devils; and yet it is clearer than the Sun, that this air is full of Devils; because besides God's Word, experience itself doth teach it....
Luther affirmed of himself, that at Ceburge he oft-times had an apparition of burning Torches, the sight whereof did so affright him, that he was neer swooning; also in his own Garden the devil appeared to him in the likeness of a black Boar, but then he made light of it. Sozomen in his Ecclesiastical History writes of Apelles a Smith, famous in Egypt for working Miracles, who in the night, while he was at work, was tempted to uncleanness by the devil, appearing in the shape of a beautiful woman...
...Among the savages in America, nothing is more common than to hear and see Spirits in such shapes both day and night.
...Yea, godly, fober Melacthen affirms that he had seen some such Sights or Apparitions himself, and many credible persons of his acquaintance have told him that they have not onely seen them, but had much talk with Spirits; Among the rest he mentions one of his own Aunts, who sitting sad at the fire after the death of her husband, there appeared unto her one in the likeness of her husband, and another like a Franciscan Frier: the former told her that he was her husband, and came to tell her somewat; which was, that she must hire some Priests to say certain Masses for him, which he earnestly besought her; then he took her by the hand, promising to do her not harm; yet his hand so burned hers, that it remained black ever after, and so they vanished away.
...So Sleidan relates the storey of Crefoentius the Popes Legate, seared into a deadly sicknes by a fearful Apparition in his Chamber. Most credible and godly Writers tell us, That on June 20, 1484 at a town called Hammel in Germany, the Devil took away one hundred & thirty children that were never seen again.

Almost completely unrelated image of Macbeth seeing a ghost taken from


Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Slice of Halloween Doggerel

Posted by Dave
Here at the Condenser, our eyes rarely stray from the nonfiction stacks - and yet there is something intriguing in the almost blunt simplicity of this little poem from Alvin Lincoln Snow's Songs of the White Mountains, and Other Poems (1892). It appears, does its job, and leaves, establishing a classic Halloween cliché without bothering to add any twist or quirk of its own. A nice little artifact from a time when, perhaps, the idea of a haunted house was still fresh enough to stand on its own.


Gloomy, but grand, it rises nobly high,

Amid huge emerald circumambient trees.

Fair vines, whose beautiful blossoms scent the breeze,

Clamber till on its very roof they lie.

Proudly its cupola points to the sky!

Round it lie lawns as smooth as summer seas;

Nature and Art are there combined to please,

But none will dwell within those walls or nigh.

All there seems dead till midnight's solemn hour,

And then (so gossiping villagers declare)

A mysterious light at one high window gleams;

And by that light a form is seen to cower

Like one in mortal terror or despair,

Then fade away—like those beheld in dreams.

Incidentally, if you're a lover of bad poetry, keep an eye out for a copy of The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, recently reissued by the New York Review of Books - it's one of our favorites.

Image taken from


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Counting Down the Days: Condenser Maga-Ween

Posted by Dave
Ah, October - that month when the library starts to feel less like a prison and more like a refuge, the leaves fall from the trees, and thousands of children abandon hope that the school year thus far might have been just an unusually vivid dream.

Best of all, it's capped off
with one of our favorite holidays. This year, we're celebrating by doing what we do best - publishing as many posts on the macabre, grotesque and supernatural as we can find. Not exactly a departure, mind you, but an opportunity for our readers to enjoy the fruits of the Condenser when they are, well, in season. Halloween posts will feature the logo you see above, as well as the Halloween tag for easy reference. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the Art of Conjuring

Posted by Dave
From the Journal of American Folklore, Volume 13 (1900), we get a solid introduction to the placing of curses, also known as conjuring, in the American South. This account was taken from an interview with Braziel Robinson, a 75 year old freed slave with some interesting information about graveyard dirt. We may be seeing more from this fellow as Halloween approaches...

People gits most conjured by giving them snake's heads, lizards, and scorpions, dried and beat up into powder and putting it in the food or water they drink, and then they gits full of the varmints; I saw a rootdoctor cut out of a man's leg a lizard and a grasshopper, and then he got well. Some conjur ain't to kill, but to make a person sick or make him have pain, and then conjur is put on the ground in the path where the person to be conjured goes, it is put down on a young moon, a growing moon, so the conjur will rise up and grow, so the person stepping over it will git conjured. Sometimes they roll it up in a ball and tie it to a string and hang it from a limb, so the person to be conjured, coming by, touches the ball, and the work's done, and he gits conjured in the part that strikes the ball, the ball is small and tied by a thread so a person can't see it. There are many ways to conjur, I knew a man that was conjured by putting graveyard dirt under his house in small piles and it almost killed him, and his wife. The dirt made holes in the ground, for it will always go back as deep as you got it, it goes down to where it naturally belongs.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An Account of the Descent into Madness

Posted by Dave
From the July-December 1890 volume of Current Literature: A Magazine of Record and Review. While aspiring to be a "Radish King" might be a little eccentric, perhaps a knowledgeable reader can help us understand the apparent link between wanting to farm radishes successfully and being labeled insane. Personally, I would have waited until the cat-biting incident to pass judgment.

How it Feels to be Insane—From Pearson's Weekly

I was once insane, and I often muse over my experience. There are, of course, many kinds of insanity. Some mental disorders take place so gradually that even the closest companions of the victim are at a loss to remember when the trouble began. It must have been this way in my case. One evening, after an oppressively-warm day, a day when I experienced more fatigue from the heat than ever before or since, I sat in my porch fanning myself. " This arm that is now in motion," I mused, " must one of these days be dust. I wonder how long' will the time be." Then I mused upon the evidence I had of immortality. I could do things that other people could not accomplish. I had gone through battle after battle, and though bullets sang and struck around me as thick as hail, yet I remained uninjured. I had passed through epidemics of yellow fever. My idea gained strength as I mused, and I was convinced that I should live forever. No, this cannot be, for death follows all men alike. Yes, I am to die like other men, and I believe that it is my duty to make the most of life; to make money, and enjoy myself, and to educate my children. I wanted to be rich, and I began to study over an imaginary list of enterprises. At last I hit upon radishes. People must have radishes. They should be in every shop. They could be dried, and sold in winter. I would plant fifty acres with radish seed, and people all over the country would refer to me as the "radish king." I would form a radish syndicate, and buy up all the radishes, and travel, and be admired. I hastened to the house to tell my wife that she was soon to be a radish queen. At the breakfast-table I said: "Julia, how would you like to be a radish queen?" "A what!" she exclaimed. I explained my plan of acquiring great wealth, and during the recital she behaved so curiously that I was alarmed. I feared that she was losing her mind. Finally she seemed to understand. She agreed with me, but told me not to say anything more about it. After breakfast I saw her talking earnestly with her father, and I know that she was explaining to the old gentleman how she intended to pay his debts when I became known as the radish king. The old man approached me with much concern, and told me that I needed rest and that I must not think of business. He was old and sadly worried, and I promised him that I would not think of business. Pretty soon I went out to inspect my radish kingdom. Looking round I saw the old man following me. From the field I went to the village. I approached a friend, and I told him how I intended to become rich. He seemed grieved, and I saw at once that he was contemplating the same enterprise. It seemed mean that he should take advantage of me, and I told him so. He tried to explain, but he made me so angry that I would have struck him if my father-in-law had not come up and separated us. I tried to calm myself, but could not. Those who had been my friends proved to be my enemies, and I was determined to be avenged; but before I could execute my will I was seized by several men. My father- in-law did not attempt to rescue me, and I hated him. I was taken to prison. My wife came to see me, but she did not try to have me released.

I demanded a trial, but no lawyer would defend me. Then I realized that the entire community was against me. I became so wroth that my anger seemed to hang over me like a dark cloud. It pressed me to the floor, and held me there. Men came after a long time and took me away, I thought, to another prison. One day a cat came into my cell, and I tried to bite her. She made the hair fly, but I killed her. I don't know how long I remained here, but one morning the sun rose and shone in at me through the window. It seemed to be the first time that I had seen the great luminary for months. A mist cleared from before my eyes. My brain began to work, and suddenly I realized that I had been insane. I called the keeper, and when he saw me he exclaimed, "Thank heaven!" and grasped my hand. I was not long in putting on another suit of clothes, and turning my face toward home. A physician said that I was cured, and everybody seemed bright and happy at my recovery. I went home. My wife fainted when she saw me, and learned that I had recovered my mind. I asked for my little children, and two big boys and a young lady came forward and greeted me. I had been in the asylum twelve years.

Image taken from this site.

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