I have a ghost story book that is very dear to my heart. It’s called “The Fireside Book of Ghost Stories” and is edited by Edward Wagenknecht and published by Grosset & Dunlap, New York in 1947. I believe this book is the partner book to “The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories.” Most of the stories are based in England and on the habitats therein.
Each October as tradition would have it I take the time to read as many stories as time will allow. I begin the first day of the month and end on Halloween. I then put the book back on my book shelf until next year. There is no possible way I would think of reading it any other time and yet I always hate putting it back up. It’s like I am saying good-bye to a very dear friend knowing I won’t see them again for a very long time.
The stories are written by well-known and established authors such as Daphne Du Maurier, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. There is also a story by the book’s editor and also a story from the First Book of Samuel in the Bible. The stories are distributed into ten sections. For instance, there is a section called “Missioned Spirits”. According to the text, missioned spirits are those that “may be trying to right a wrong, or “bring some benefit to the living.” The story, The Corner Shop by Cynthia Asquith gives us a story dealing about a man that accidentally comes across a “curiosity shop”, a shop that deals in antiques, collections, and all kinds of used items.
The customer makes a transaction with the shopkeeper only to come back to the store a few days later to find out that the shopkeeper had died several years ago. His son tells the customer that his father, although deceased, has been reported to occasionally come back to sell items or make a deal with those that venture in. The son tells the customer that transactions with the deceased shopkeeper always went well for the customer, financially speaking, as in the case of this particular customer. This was because the shopkeeper was paying pittance for what he considered crimes he had committed many years ago.
“The Green Scarf” by A.M. Barrage is one of my favorites. It has to do with an old country house and it’s past. Apparently a long ago owner of the house was a Royalist after the fact (his side lost). He had to leave his house and stay in hiding most of the time occasionally returning if his servants sent words deeming safety at home.
However, one of his servants betrayed him. This servant through prior words with the now in favor troops waved a green scarf at an upstairs bedroom window indicating his master was home. Consequently, the troops stormed the house, captured the Royalist and executed him.
The present day owner and his visitor found the old worn out green scarf inside a long closed window seat. Upon retrieving the scarf the two began to come down with a serious illness, chills – fever – the gamut. Then they started to hallucinate or so the story goes, seeing men dressed in very old military garb carrying muskets and lanterns lit up all around the property. In their delirious state they crawled up into the attic of the old house staying there all night, scared out of their wits and feverish.
The next day they retrieved the scarf putting it back in its place. They instantly felt better physically and never witnessed those terrifying images of musket fire and ghostly lanterns coming at them again. It’s a story that is fun to read at night sitting in my comfortable present day living room, especially if the fireplace is lit.
I’m not entirely sure what draws me to this book each year. I believe it may have something to do with the fact that most of the stories are about people living in peaceful picturesque villages in the English countryside and what awaits them. Or it is possibly the way that most of the stories are told, slowly building in suspense and yet sharing some type of thought provoking message. Many of the stories seem to question what is real, what is important, and although about the dead, what gives us the strength to face future dilemmas and problems.
So, if you get a chance to find a copy of the book and you enjoy ghost stories, particularly philosophical and whimsical ones, I guarantee you will enjoy this book. Don’t pass it up, buy it. And if it is sold to you by an old kind gentleman with an English accent, don’t question and don’t try to go back to speak with him about the stories. He may not be available.