Scary tales of eerie things encountered and imagined

October 30, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk

Who believes in ghosts?

"Everybody does," says Brad Leithauser, editor of "The Norton Book of Ghost Stories."

Whether you agree or disagree with him, you don't want to miss his anthology of short stories guaranteed to send chills up and down your spine.

It's one of many books on the market today guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back on your neck and make you look cautiously over your shoulder.

Of course, there are the old favorites: Bram Stoker's "Dracula," Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" and Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire," plus scores of true-life accounts.

Just in time for Halloween, though, several new books also give you that delicious sense of apprehension, as the harvest moon rises and the neighbor's dog -- or is it a werewolf? -- howls eerily in the night.

* "The Norton Book of Ghost Stories," edited by Brad Leithauser (W. W. Norton and Co., $25, 430 pages) pulls together a collection of ghost stories penned by some of English and American literature's top writers, from Henry James to Edith Wharton to John Cheever.

This is the book to read when in search of a good scare. Maybe life should imitate art.

There are 28 short stories guaranteed not to put you to sleep. Some are unsettling psychological chills, as in James' "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" and Cheever's "Torch Song." Others just give you goose bumps, such as M. R. James' "Casting the Runes."

* In "Spirits between the Bays: Pulling Back the Curtain, Volume 1" by Ed Okonowicz (Myst and Lace Publishers, $8.95, 55 pages), the Cecil County resident doesn't have to go far to find ghosts. They're lurking on the Delmarva Peninsula.

He shares stories about friendly ghosts and not-so-pleasant spirits. But, for the most part, the slim book offers nonviolent tales that stir the imagination.

One of the spookiest stories involves the author, after a visit to a haunted mansion on the Sassafras River. He writes: "Suddenly, I froze as the reflection in the mirror met my eyes, drawing my attention to the words carefully written in smooth script across the back windshield of my car: Please help me!"

* Another book on spirit sightings and hauntings tackles a broader area, "from sea to haunted sea." The authors, Michael Norman and the late Beth Scott, traveled throughout the United States and parts of Canada to compile "Haunted America" (Tom Doherty Associates Inc., $23.95, 411 pages).

Every state is represented in these compelling chapters. The Maryland stories are probably familiar to most Baltimoreans, but still fun to revisit.

One recounts the mystery of the unknown visitor to Edgar Allan )) Poe's grave, who has made an appearance on the author's Jan. 19 birthday for the past 50 years. The other centers on the frigate Constellation at the Inner Harbor, where moans and cries have been heard, among other unexplained occurrences.

Supposedly, the ghost is that of a hapless crewman who fell asleep on his watch and was ordered slain by the ship's captain.

The most harrowing tale in the book, though, occurred more recently in Wisconsin, where a young couple and their children moved into their dream home, only to flee in terror after being tormented by an unknown presence. The authors write: "What )) Allen heard had nothing to do with furnace pipes or anything else of a mechanical nature. For the first time Allen saw the face of the evil on Larabee Street."

* "Lost at Sea: Ghost Ships and Other Mysteries" by Michael Goss and George Behe (Prometheus Books, $22.95, 359 pages) deals with -- what else? -- nautical goblins.

But, make no mistake, this is a serious look at ghosts and boats.

The book delves into premonitions, forebodings and paranormal interpretations surrounding such maritime disasters as the USS Thresher, the Lusitania and the Titanic.

The authors turn to scientific explanations, firsthand accounts and research to document -- and sometimes not document -- strange occurrences associated with these, and other, vessels.

For instance, the Thresher, a sleek, nuclear-powered submarine, went to its watery grave in 1963 after equipment failure. Several accounts eventually surfaced about crew members' fears.

" 'Thresher's a coffin,' [Machinist's Mate 2nd class George] Kiesecker told his wife a few days before the submarine was scheduled to sail, 'I don't want to go on it. I'm scared to death.' "

* "The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead" by J. Gordon Melton (Visible Ink Press, $16.95, 852 pages) is a monster of a book that can be, um, savored all year long. It's easy to read and offers a range of bloodthirsty topics, from

characteristics of vampires to psychological perspectives of vampire mythology to Elvira, "Mistress of the Dark," complete with photo.

It lists various fan clubs, including one for the old TV show "Dark Shadows," and a compilation of vampire novels and filmography. We've come a long way from Transylvania.

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