October 27, 2011

(At the Monkey's Paw, we love the twilight season. We love dead leaves, dead poets, dead books; we love women in masks, men in dresses, children in black cat costumes; we love neglected graveyards and cheap candy. Yes: we love Halloween!)


Laughlin, Clarence John:
Bonanza Books, New York, 1961 (Revised Edition). 

Decades before Louisiana produced superstar bloodsuckers like the Vampire Lestat or Bill Compton, its macabre reputation as the home of "plantation gothic" was firmly established by an eccentric photographer from New Orleans. In his visual study of the region's rotting and moss-draped antebellum mansions, Laughlin produced 100 images of grandeur and decay, and (subtlety be damned!) added splendid theatrical titles: "The Shadowed Pillars," "The Spectral Fans," "Enigmatic Urn," "Mementoes of Unreturning Time," etc. As an approach to architectural history, Laughlin's explicitly "poetic" style might be disdained by dry academics; but romantic souls attuned to the mildewed moods of the Deep South will find themselves transported. Happy Halloween, y'all!

Price, Vincent and Mary:
Ampersand Press, [n.p.], 1965.

So what if your séance fails to raise the spirit of Vincent Price? You can still dine on his version of "Cornish Hens with Sauce Diable." In this enormous vanity-published compendium, the horror actor and his second wife gathered hundreds of recipes from their favorite swanky restaurants around the world, and dressed them up with facsimile menus and a glib text by Vincent himself. The whole production reeks of jet-set exotica and Hollywood connoisseurship, particularly the autobiographical photos: breakfast in the dark-panelled library; high tea beside the swimming pool; curry served before a Mayan idol; wine on board a Clark Cortez mobile home; etc. The master lives!

Browne, Thomas; W.A. Greenhill (ed.):
Macmillan & Co., London, 1896.

Seemingly obscure, and decidedly difficult, this strange essay is actually a stealthy classic, savored for centuries by literary melancholics from Poe to Borges. Originally published in 1658 after the discovery of a Roman grave in Norfolk, "Urn Burial" is more than just a survey of ancient burial customs. Browne's meditation veers into the deepest shadows: he obsesses on the relentlessness of time, the inevitability of death, and the pitiful transience of all human accomplishment. Whether you actually grapple with the text, or just feel comforted by its mortal weight in your hand, this little book will make an elegant accessory to that goth librarian costume you're putting together. [Bound with "The Garden of Cyrus," Browne's truly cryptic essay on the mystical geometry of the number five.]

Habenstein, Robert W., and William W. Lamers:
First Edition. National Funeral Directors Assoc., Milwaukee, 1955. 

True or false: In 1882, Albert Fearnaught of Indianapolis patented a "Grave-Signal" device to summon help in the event of accidental burial alive; at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, a manufacturer exhibited a purple hearse, but the style never caught on; Dr. Thomas Holmes, "the father of modern embalming," also developed a formula for tasty root beer; a proper Victorian lady in her first year of widowhood was expected to write on stationery with a 1/4" black border… (These and thousands more sepulchral facts can be found in this illuminating book, along with over 100 solemn illustrations.)

Sante, Luc:
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1992. 

It's standard practice at Halloween to treat the subject of death as spooky entertainment; but "Evidence" raises those stakes considerably. Here, the image of a blood-spattered corpse on the floor of a saloon qualifies as truly profound art. The 55 graphic crime-scene photos in the collection (murders, mostly) were shot by NYPD technicians in the nineteen-teens; Sante discovered the pictures in the archives, and recognized them as exquisite, if inadvertent, dramatic tableaux. The accompanying text -- Sante's search for answers both literal and aesthetic within the mute, dispassionate photos -- should be shown to every snide kid who thinks history is boring.

[** end Microcatalogue #16: Halloween 2011 **]