WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Twitter

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Twitter

2021 edit: I’ve a family member who went into hospital rather suddenly this weekend, so no new post from me. Instead, a classic from the archives, with updated graphics.

I’m not the least bit superstitious or afraid of black cats, but I do love a good scare. Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year simply for the candy pumpkins, costume parties, and horror movies. Blood and guts aren’t spine-chilling to me: give me a good overnight camp in the woods, broken-down car, or haunted house, if you please. It’s one week til All Hallow’s Eve, so that means it’s time for nerve-wracking, suspenseful, alone in the dark movies!


All in a twitter; in a fright.

A few years back I wrote a post about The Regency Era Horror Movie. I want to expound on it a bit this week. And anytime I get to use Disney gifs to illustrate the historical, well, game on.

Although still half a century from the inception of the moving picture, the Regency did have its own visual amusement: the Phantasmagoria. People gathered in parlors and drawing rooms with only a few flickering candles barely preventing the space from being entirely pitch. Mysterious noises without source began: rattling, scratching, whispering. The level of excitement and fear grew with each sound. Suddenly, a ghost swooped across the room while a skeleton gamboled in a corner. The crowd gasped and some screamed or swooned.

Les Fantasmagories d'Etienne-Gaspard Roberston, 1 January 1831.

Les Fantasmagories d’Etienne-Gaspard Roberston, 1 January 1831.

The Phantasmagoria owed its attraction and success to two things: the magic lantern and Étienne-Gaspard Robert. The magic lantern had been around since the late 15th-early 16th century. It consisted of a box holding a concave mirror situated in front of a candle; the gathered light then passed through a decorated glass slide.

A magic lantern demonstration, from Wonders of Optics.

A magic lantern demonstration, from Wonders of Optics.

This lighted image was then reckoned through a lens, and a larger version of the likeness could be projected anywhere in the room. The darker, more menacing the image, the bigger the scare.

Étienne-Gaspard Robert was a Belgian physicist and stage magician (in addition to being one of the foremost balloonists of his day). He elevated the magic lantern to sublimity by turning a relatively simple parlor trick into an encompassing performance.

A Phantasmagoria: Scene, Conjuring Up an Armed Skeleton, by James Gillray, 1803, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A Phantasmagoria: Scene, Conjuring Up an Armed Skeleton, by James Gillray, 1803, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He wrote scripts with multiple scenes and employed actors to dd to the realism. He used smoke, multiple light sources, and even rear-projection magic lanterns to create a lifelike production that immersed attendees in the horror, and he loved to stage his events in abandoned buildings. By 1801, the Phantasmagoria was well-known in England, as theatres large and small began projecting Banquo’s and Hamlet’s ghosts about the stage.

It was a fantastic time to be alive to be scared: in an era of post-enlightenment realism, where phantoms and bogey-man were relegated to children’s tales, adults were lining up to pay good guineas to see unexplainable spectres, implausible ghosts. They clamored to experience irrational fear. Audiences did not care that the terrors were explained with scientific methods at the end of the evening; they took swings at imaginary wraiths and delighted in the spectals created by smoke and mirrors.

The Phantasmagoria at the Lyceum Theatre, The Picture of London, 1802.

Curious about the realistic nature of the Phantasmagoria? It’s alive and well – so to speak – at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction. A group of strangers are locked in a room whose walls promptly begin “stretching,” with the seemingly benign photos on the wall revealing tragicomic and sinister aspects as they “grow.”

haunted mansion stretching room

Strolling deeper into the mansion reveals more creepy “living” pictures…haunted mansion lantern effect medusa

and a talking head inside a crystal ball.

haunted mansion talking head crystal ball

Undead dancers waltz away their eternities…

haunted mansion dancers

while an eerie coachman can’t decide the best place for his head.

haunted mansion hatbox ghost

And the usually somber graveyard has turned into a “lively” playground.

ghosts in the graveyard

Just remember not to pick up any hitchhikers on your way home.

haunted mansion hitchikers

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Michaelmas

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Michaelmas

There are some holidays that are universal, such as Christmas and Easter, despite the differences in some customs connected with them from country to country. Most everyone knows something about those holidays, whether they observe them or not.

Then there are the quarter days in England.

These holidays have long fascinated me because they seemed so aristocratic, so fancy. Just the name “Lady Day” or “Midsummer” sounded far removed from my American and, let’s face, pedestrian likes of “Groundhog Day” and “Ask a Stupid Question Day.” Don’t get me wrong: part of what makes America, America, is its celebration of all things ridiculous and not taking itself too seriously. But there is something alluring and delightfully posh about English holidays.

And yes, I realize these quarter days are not exclusively English. For the purposes of my post, however (and my life, honestly), they are.


The feast of St. Michael, September 29.

Michaelmas is celebrated every September 29th, and is the third of the quarter days (Lady Day on March 25th, Midsummer on June 24th, and Christmas on December 25th, being the others). As these dates were spaced three months apart, these were the times servants were hired, rents came due, and contracts and leases began. Michaelmas in particular was the time for electing magistrates, as the harvest was to be finished and preparations for the winter season of farming begun. Everyone had time to dispute and haggle now, so someone was needed to mediate.

September 29th also marked the beginning of university terms. As such, it was also said to be safe to begin hunting and house party season. With the young males dispatched to university, they were unable to disrupt grouse or single ladies, in turn.

Fowl Shooting by Henry Alken in The National Sports of Great Britain, 1825.

To commemorate the day, a goose was grazed on the leftovers in the fields from the harvest. On the 29th, families ate their fattened goose to ward against financial need during the upcoming year. In the United Kingdom, tradition related “Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, Want not for money all the year.” Goose Fairs sprang up all over England; today’s fairs that still hold such names have moved to October and no longer sell geese, but they do offer plenty of rides, games, and deep-fried foods.

Michaelmas is named for one of the seven archangels of the Bible; Michael was the fierce warrior who fought Satan and the angels he persuaded to leave heaven. Because this holiday occurs as nights are growing longer, and dark forces stronger in the dark of night, it was believed that Michael’s stronger defenses would be needed during this season. Look no further for the dark deeds afoot this time of year than what Michaelmas was formerly known as: “Devil Spits Day.”

After the calendar reform of 1752, several activities associated with Michaelmas moved forward eleven days to October 10, which became known as “Old Michaelmas Day” (just to muddle the situation). So… Devil Spits Day? According to folklore, September 29 is the last day blackberries should be picked, because Old Scratch was kicked out of heaven on this very same day. He fell to earth and landed in a blackberry bush. Being terribly angry and, well, the Devil, he cursed the fruit, scorched them with his heated breath, and finally stomped and spat on them. The legend continues that the curse renews annually, and to eat blackberries after Michaelmas is unwise.

Devil’s Blackberries.

But while the Devil stirs up the evil, beauty is blooming in the form of the Michaelmas Daisy. In the language of flowers, a daisy means farewell; perhaps a floral goodbye to a good year. From an Irish proverb:

The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.

European Michaelmas Daisy Aster Amellus by Andé Karwath.