Saturday, April 30, 2011

Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849, 33rd Best Scary Story


I place The Death's Head in spot 33 of my countdown of the Top 40 ghost stories for the first half of the nineteenth century. Published anonymously in 1827, "The Death's Head"--this particular "species of phantasmagoria"--is perhaps the first short story that contains a talking skull. It also the only scary story in this countdown that involves ventriloquy. The scene where spirits are conjured is heart pounding horrific. I hope you enjoy it.   

Best Horror Stories 1800-1849 ebook Price Dropped to $.99 for a Limited Time


I am in a horrific mood of late and as a result have just dropped the price of The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Horror Anthology to $.99 on: Best Horror Stories on Kindle Enjoy!

Best Ghost Stories 1800-1850 Scary Story 34 of the Countdown

It's time to get back to my countdown of the Top 40 scary ghost stories from 1800-1849. Some of you may be wondering when Edgar Allan Poe will make in appearance in the countdown. Well, you do not have to wait any longer. At spot 34 in the countdown is Poe's best ghost story--Ligeia. The tale was first published in the September 1838 issue of the American MuseumIn two volumes of the Broadway Journal that Poe gave to Sarah Helen Whitman, one of his fiancés, he noted a reference to “Ligeia” and “To Helen”: The poem which I sent you contained all the events of a dream which occurred to me soon after I knew you. Ligeia was also suggest by a dream. Observe the eyes in both tale & poem.

Poe gained ownership of the Broadway Journal for a three-month period (Oct. 25, 1845 – Jan. 3, 1846). It closed given financial troubles. As Poe proved time and time again throughout his life, he was a great literary artist and poor businessman. “Ligeia” is Poe at the height of his gothic powers. The narrator indulges in opium, the beautiful Ligeia dabbles in alchemy and her room is shaped like a pentagon. Best of all for our countdown, this tale ends in ghostly twist. Poe thought highly of it. You will be surprised to hear me say that (omitting one or two of my first efforts) I do not consider any one of my stories better than another. There is a vast variety of kinds and, in degree of value, these kinds vary–but each tale is equally good of its kind. The loftiest kind is that of the highest imagination– and, for this reason only, “Ligeia” may be called my best tale. In my view it was Edgar Allan Poe's best ghost story and perhaps his only ghost story. I argue that "Morella" is not a ghost story and neither is the creature in "The Masque of the Red Death," but rather a monster foretelling doom.

Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849 Countdown - Scary Story 35 Link


As the author of the fictional Edgar Allan Poe biography Coffee with Poe and editor of Edgar Allan Poe Annotated Short Stories and Poems, I am sometimes asked if Poe had a favorite ghost story. Truth be told, Poe was quiet clear on his favorite ghost story--or at least his favorite by an American, which I believe is a dig at Charles Dickens and his bias toward British literature. It is by William Gilmore Simms and is titled: Murder Will Out. I don't, however, agree with Poe since I have placed it in spot 35 in my Top 40 countdown of the scariest ghost stories from 1800-1849. This is what Poe had to say about it in his review (published posthumously in 1850) of Simm's collection of short stories: "The Wigwam and the Cabin."

     All the tales in this collection have merit, and the first has merit of a very peculiar kind. “Grayling, or Murder will Out,” is the title. The story was well received in England, but on this fact no opinion can be safely based. “The Athenæum,” we believe, or some other of the London weekly critical journals, having its attention called (no doubt through personal influence) to Carey & Hart’s beautiful annual “The Gift,” found it convenient, in the course of its notice, to speak at length of some one particular article, and “Murder Will Out” probably arrested the attention of the sub-editor who was employed in so trivial a task as the patting on the head an American book — arrested his attention first from its title, (murder being a taking theme with a cockney,) and secondly, from its details of southern forest scenery. Large quotations were made, as a matter of course, and very ample commendation bestowed — the whole criticism proving nothing, in our opinion, but that the critic had not read a single syllable of the story. The critique, however, had at least the good effect of calling American attention to the fact that an American might possibly do a decent thing, (provided the possibility were first admitted by the British sub-editors,) and the result was first, that many persons read, and secondly, that all persons admired the “excellent story in ‘The Gift’ that had actually been called ‘readable’ by one of the English newspapers.”

Now had “Murder Will Out” been a much worse story than was ever written by Professor Ingraham, still, under the circumstances, we patriotic and independent Americans would have declared it inimitable; but, by some species of odd accident, it happened to deserve all that the British sub-sub had condescended to say of it, on the strength of a guess as to what it was all about. It is really an admirable tale, nobly conceived and skilfully carried into execution — the best ghost-story ever written by an American — for we presume that this is the ultimate extent of commendation to which we, as an humble American, dare go.

The other stories of the volume do credit to the author’s abilities, and display their peculiarities in a strong light, but there is no one of them so good as “Murder Will Out.”

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William Gilmore Simms - Author of the 35th Best Ghost Story 1800-1849


William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) is little read today, but was known in the first half of the nineteenth century as the leading novelist of the Southern United States. His novels include the all but forgotten "The Vision of Cortez" (1829), "The Tricolor" (1830), and "Atlantis, a Story of the Sea" (1852). But he penned an excellent ghost story that Edgar Allan Poe called "the best ghost story ever written by an American. . . ." Tomorrow I will post a link to it as I continue counting down the Top 40 scary ghost stories from 1800-1849.

The 36th Best Ghost Story 1800-1849 Posted


Some of the scariest ghost stories are found at sea and the 36th best ghost story of 1800-1849 is no different. The Strange Sail is its title and it is very strange indeed. In the first paragraph readers are greeted with a wave crashing over the deck of the ship and it only gets scarier from there. When a white sail is seen during the storm, the sailors witness something supernatural that they will never forget. "The Strange Sail" was published anonymously in Atkinson's Casket of1839. It is one of best ghost stories of the sea during the first half of the nineteenth century. I hope you enjoy it along with the rest of my countdown of the Top 40 ghost stories from 1800-1849.

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Edgar Allan Poe Biography Novel "Coffee with Poe" Interview by Author Andrew Barger


The kindle price on my novel Coffee with Poe: A Novel of Edgar Allan Poe's Life has just been dropped to $2.99. It recently placed as a finalist in the USA Best Book Awards Historical Biography Category. To celebrate, I am republishing an interview I did on the fictional Poe biography. I hope you enjoy it! Andrew Barger
Q1: Let’s start with the title. Why Coffee with Poe: A Novel of Edgar Allan Poe's Life?
A1: There’s a funny story behind that because I don’t drink coffee, but I love the smell.  My wife, who did the great cover photography for the novel, tells me that doesn’t count. She has an entire kitchen cabinet devoted to her coffee paraphernalia. I’m banned from looking inside because of my jokes about all the sifters, grinders, roasters, and foamers.  Anyway, I could think of no better coupling than books and coffee … well, actually I can.  In truth, the title is derived from a letter that Sarah Helen Whitman (one of Poe's fiancées) wrote to John Ingram on December 13, 1874, which speaks of Poe's penchant for coffee: "Mr. Bartlett has never seen him inspired by any more dangerous stimulant than strong coffee, of which he was very fond & of which [he] drank freely. MacIntosh says that the measure of a man’s brain is the amount of coffee he can drink with impunity."

Q2: Coffee with Poe is one of the only--if not the only--novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s life viewed from his own eyes. What made you write Coffee with Poe from Poe’s first person perspective?
A2: I wanted readers to get inside the head (however frightening that may be) of one of America’s best-loved and most mysterious writers. I wanted readers to live Poe’s life instead of learn about it. That’s the only way you can truly understand his horror stories and where he’s coming from. There are so many boring biographies out there.

Q3: And what an interesting and tragic life it was. You use a number of actual letters to and from Poe, including letters from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving. How did this come about?
A3: In researching Coffee with Poe I was surprised to learn that there were so many conflicting accounts of his life, so I went straight to the letters and used these as a framework to construct the novel. I was able to incorporate many of the people mentioned in the letters as characters. The novel to me is more compelling when you read Poe’s letters from his pen after experiencing the events that prompted the letter.

Q4: The letters of his three fiancées are especially interesting.
A4: Poe got around!

Q5: In one chapter Poe meets Charles Dickens. Was that hard to write?
A5: It was difficult to capture the personalities of both of these great writers as they would have interacted at this point in their careers, but it was a lot of fun to try. When they met in Philadelphia, Dickens was finishing a trip to the U.S. He was as popular across The Pond as he was in England. Poe, on the other hand, had yet to write The Raven and was not nearly as well known. Poe solicited Dickens at this time to get his works published in England but it never panned out. Poe thought any author as popular as Dickens could easily get him published in Europe. Poe thought Dickens never really tried and Poe held a grudge against Dickens until his death. Poe lampooned Dickens in his short story Thou Art the Man.
Q6: Where did Poe get his idea for The Raven?
A6: Many think it was from Dickens’s use of a talking raven in Barnaby Rudge. Poe felt the bird should have had a much larger role and I imagined Poe gently telling him such in Philadelphia. Dickens’s in turn based the raven in Barnaby Rudge off his own pet raven named Grip. There is a hilarious account of Grip’s death that Dickens gave in a letter to a friend and I included that statement as he retells it to Poe.

Q7: Was Poe strung out on drugs when he did most of his writing?
A7: It’s doubtful. Even Poe’s bitter literary enemies—and he had quiet a few—never accused him of taking drugs. Many of these enemies were also medical doctors, so they would have detected this state. I believe people over the years have confused narrators in Poe’s tales, many of whom are crazed or tripping on drugs, to be Poe himself. What these people are doing is taking credit away from a highly talented author and assuming he could only have experienced these states to write about them. Poe also wrote about being buried alive, but that never happened either!

Q8: What about drinking?
A8: Poe most certainly drank, but a medical condition caused him to have a sensitivity to alcohol. One or two drinks a day in our society, which is acceptable in certain circles and even claimed as good for the heart by the medical community, would have branded Poe as being prone to excess over a hundred and fifty years ago. As you know, I have my own theory regarding Poe’s drinking problem in Coffee with Poe and how this sensitivity came about.

Q9: Why did Poe write horror short stories?
A9: Because he could and because he was the best. I recently edited The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 and Poe wrote one third of them. It is amazing at how Poe towered above all other writers in this genre for those fifty years. There is a fine art to scaring people to death and Poe took it to levels unseen. The time was ripe for his tales. Snake oil salesmen roamed the country. Prominent doctors of the day routinely practiced bloodletting and people were buried alive because their faint pulse could not be detected. Then you have everyone frightened of reanimation by galvanic batteries thanks to Mary Shelley. Poe thoroughly enjoyed getting a rise out of people. This was evidenced by his many pranks as a child, his biting reviews of the "Literati of New York," and, of course, his horror tales. Poe had a very humorous side despite his circumstances and many people don’t realize this.

Q10: A few more questions?
A10: Okay, but I’m about to turn into a pumpkin and orange is not my color.

Q11: Speaking of horror, who do you think are the Big Three?
A11: In order of appearance: Edgar Allan Poe. H. P. Lovecraft. Stephen King. The problem is that the first two died in abject poverty and Stephen King has made slightly less money than God. Not that I’m taking anything away from King, but the other two should also have been rewarded handsomely for their work. Poe only made $15 off the entire publication history of The Raven. There are injustices in this world, and then there are outright tragedies.

Q12: Going back to your comment on Poe using deductive reasoning to craft some of his stories, he obviously used this in his mystery novels.
A12: Poe is actually the inventor of the mystery genre, or at least the closed room murder mysteries. Many people overlook this and focus only on his horror. His fmystery stories were The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, and The mystery of Marie Roget. Sir Conan Doyle got his idea for Sherlock Holmes based partly off Poe’s mysteries. Thou Art the Man is another fine mystery of his and the only one where he satired another writer (see the previous Dickens discussion).

Q13: What were Edgar Allan Poe's favorite things?
A13: Color-Black; Drink-Strong coffee; Song-"Come Rest in this Bosom"; Animal-Cat (Poe had one named Catterina with his wife Virginia and also had a black cat that he wrote about); Poem-He had many. Orion by Richard Horne was his favorite epic poem. A few years ago I edited a new edition since is had been out of print for 80 years. In it I included Poe's fine review of Orion; Place-the South in general.

Q14: Final question: Did Edgar Allan Poe father a child with Frances Osgood?
A15: That is some last question. I believe that he did. In the Kindle edition of Coffee with Poe I added a number of sections that include their relationship. There are simply too many references in Poe's Ulalume and the poetry of Frances Osgood to not believe that Fanny Fay Osgood, Fances's third child, was fathered by Edgar Allan Poe. In Edgar Allan Poe  Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems I included, in chronological order, all of the poems with a lot of background information.

Author of the 37th Best Ghost Story 1800-1849


Just like a number of early stories in my countdown of the Top 40 ghost stories from 1800-1849, the 37th best ghost story in the list was published anonymously. To whet your appetite, here is the illustration that was included with the story. It is one of the oldest pickax murder stories I have found in my research. Tomorrow I will provide a free link to it. 

Edgar Allan Poe Biography - "Coffee with Poe" by Andrew Barger - Receives USA Best Book Awards Historical Biography Finalist Award


I interrupt my countdown of the best ghost stories 1800-1849 to let everyone know that my most recent historical novel: Coffee with Poe was selected as a Finalist in the USA Best Books Awards Historical Biography Category. Edgar Allan Poe was the early king of scary short stories and the story about his life is no less frightening. "Coffee with Poe" is an Edgar Allan Poe biography that brings Poe to life within its pages as never before. "To give us a historical fiction look at Edgar Allan Poe is great. The start where we are at his mom's funeral gives a little insight into why he may write the way he does. It is very interesting the ideas the author has put into the story about Poe. I like the idea of detailing the life of Edgar Allan Poe into a historical fiction novel. . . . A great idea to give us some insight into why Poe may be the way he is." AMAZON BREAKTHROUGH NOVEL AWARD EXPERT REVIEWER

Orphaned at the age of two, Poe is raised by John Allan—his abusive foster father—who refuses to adopt him until he becomes straight-laced and businesslike. Poe, however, fancies poetry and young women. The contentious relationship culminates in a violent altercation, which causes Poe to leave his wealthy foster father’s home to make it as a writer. Poe tries desperately to get established as a writer but is ridiculed by the “Literati of New York.” The Raven subsequently gains Poe renown in America yet he slips deeper into poverty, only making $15 off the poem’s entire publication history. Desperate for a motherly figure in his life, Poe marries his first cousin who is only thirteen. Poe lives his last years in abject poverty while suffering through the deaths of his foster mother, grandmother, and young wife. In a cemetery he becomes engaged to Helen Whitman, a dark poet who is addicted to ether, wears a small coffin about her neck, and conducts séances in her home. The engagement is soon broken off because of Poe’s drinking. In his final months his health is in a downward spiral. Poe disappears on a trip and is later found delirious and wearing another person’s clothes. He dies a few days later, whispering his final words: “God help my poor soul.” 

Coffee with Poe is available in print or as en ebook at major online retailers. Buy this Edgar Allan Poe biography today and relive Poe's life from his perspective.

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The 38th Best Ghost Story 1800-1849


Let's get on with my countdown of the Top 40 best ghost stories published in the English language from 1800-1849. I am still early in the countdown, but some solid ghost stories have already made the list. The classic ghost story filling slot 38 is no exception. As you know from my last post it was published anonymously. If you like ghost stories on the sea, this is the ghost tale for you. Without giving any too much of the story, it centers around The Flying Dutchman--the infamous ghost ship that is doomed to continually round the Cape of Good Hope in a storm with Vanderdecken as its captain. I found the story in the May 1821 issue of Blackwood's. The awkward title of the story (Vanderdecken's Message Home; or, the Tenacity of Natural Affection) does not diminish the strong storyline and "creep factor." It is perhaps the first ghost story that focuses on the futility of the dead when trying to contact the living and deserves to be remembered. As late as 1860 horror author brothers, William and Robert Chambers, included this story in their collection titled: Shipwrecks and Tales of the Sea. Enjoy!

Author for the 38th Best Ghost Story 1800-1849


We are told that all cats are grey and I am convinced that all ghosts are grey, too . . . even ghosts on the sea. The author for the 38th best ghost story 1800-1849 is anonymous. Tomorrow I will post a link to the story online. If my hint about ghosts on the sea was not enough, this illustration from the nineteenth century should give you a clue as to what the next story in the countdown is about.