Happy Month of Horror
Imagine enjoying life in New Hampshire, along with countless others like you, when suddenly you, your friends and everyone around you grows pale, turns yellow, then bursts into garish colors, dessicates and drops onto the ground.
And, as this happens, flocks of giant, weirdly garbed aliens transport in from far-distant realms to witness, applaud and chronicle your deaths.
All it takes is a simple change in point of view (and a little poetic license) to make leaf-peeping into the ghastly horror story it could be — if only leaves could speak.
New England, with New Hampshire at its heart, is a scary place. Perhaps it’s the presence of spirits of the earliest inhabitants, refusing to depart from it as their living bodies did, falling to disease and musket ball, and finally disappearing into the deep woods of history. Perhaps it’s the ancestral horrors deposited and then rooted here from Europe, the land of plagues, banshees and vampires.
Or maybe it’s just that writers of horror found so much raw material here for spinning their tales of terror and cosmic angst.
Our story this month about Stephen King and the role that New Hampshire plays in his sprawling empire of fear brought all this into focus for me. I was helping to gather leads for writer Kevin Flynn’s research when I came across “Horror Guide to Northern New England” by David and Scott Goudsward, with an introduction written by one of my favorite local authors (and a frequent contributor to this publication) J.W. Ocker. Along with the Kingsian references Flynn was looking for were hundreds of fascinating accounts of horror writers dipping their quills into the local blood supply to spin their spooky yarns.
Ocker resides in the Granite State when he’s not chasing other states’ Bigfoots, UFOs and lake monsters, and obviously has a deep and unsettling fondness for his home state. New Hampshire looms large in his “Horror Guide” introduction:
“It’s the state you only think about once every four years, as if it were some kind of strange Shangri-la. That’s why J.D. Salinger fled there to hide from the world. Why Sutter Cane holed up there to destroy it. Why Aleister Crowley magickly retired there to probe occult secrets. The Invisible Man was laid to rest there. Daniel Webster fought the Devil there. This is the spot aliens picked to start abducting and probing humans in the modern era. It gave the world one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history: Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes. Thanks, New Hampshire.”
The book’s main author, David Goudsward, a Haverhill, Massachusetts, guy who now lives in Florida, notes, “New Hampshire has a veneration for its past. Florida was settled by Spaniards in St. Augustine, but people tore down all those buildings in the 1950s. When tourists came looking for more historical landmarks, they found old photographs and built replicas.” The implication being that history in Florida draws as much from its theme-park present as from its distant past. “Name one town in New Hampshire that has no builiding dating back to 1700s,” he asks.
Goudsward has some local history of his own, having served for a couple of seasons as manager of the legendary Mystery Hill site in North Salem. “I was there for the year of the Harmonic Convergence,” he says, referring to the 1987 planetary alignment that sent New Age aficionados looking for the best place to catch a vibe shift. “Between that and Halloweens spent there, I spent more time than I cared to chasing witches off the hill or else telling people where to find the witches.”
And, like some old spirit in chains, he can’t seem to quit New England. He’s working on a second book on sightings of sea serpents off the coast (and in the mouth of the Piscataqua). Stories “accumulate” here, he says, making it a rich vein for his kind of research. “In Florida, you may cross a ‘haunted bridge,’ but in New Hampshire, you cross an ancient haunted covered bridge where your brother’s cousin’s babysitter once actually saw a ghost.”