Hi! Yes, I know what it says. “Book Review”!
Well, the book review is coming. In fact, I’m not sure why it isn’t already up, because I finished this book a while back. I probably lost the recording of the review when my computer crashed, because I remember recording it. Oh, well. I promise you that I either have or definitely will review this book
, assuming I don’t collapse or die quietly without anyone noticing. Maybe a few people. Fine, okay. But enough about all that.
This excerpt is actually a series of posts. You might even call it a web series, because it is on the Web (we used to capitalize it, remember?).
The authors are also giving away three copies of the book (which I highly recommend or will, at any rate
, at some point). Just email your entry to David Bushman at email@example.com.
So … get ready for the excerpt from the book that was the inspiration for one of my own favorite shows, Twin Peaks!
Here we go then:
What’s the first “ghost story” you remember? One that left marks, if not scars. That gripped you with your singular chill of mortality introducing itself.
Mine came by way of my maternal grandmother – one for whom the words ‘colorful’ and ‘strange’ don’t begin to do justice – a more than apt stand-in for the archetype of the crone, one of mythology’s eternal guides to the underworld. Former head of the WPA’s Music Division and a charter member of the OSS in London during WW2, Betty Lawson Calhoun was brilliant, complicated, queer, and an inveterate fabulist.
Her family were city folks, her father an accomplished engineer and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, a then thriving industrial hub just upriver from Albany. When the Spanish Flu pandemic devastated the country in 1918, Thomas Lawson decided to move his wife and two young daughters to the country. On a rustic, rugged, heavily wooded plateau 20 miles to the southeast, near the shores of an idyllic, arrowheaded alpine lake, he bought a decaying 18th century farmhouse. He transformed it into a substantial ten-room home, bought up most of the raw acreage around the shoreline, built roads and a windmill, selling lots or cabins to friends and colleagues, soon creating a lively, upper middleclass summer retreat community.
Life for the fortunate families on the shores of that lake changed forever and for good. For the mountain folk surrounding them, who’d been living in isolation on that plateau for seven generations, little changed. They worked for the newcomers, but kept their distance, eking out a hardscrabble living from the land, logging, making charcoal, and, during Prohibition, moonshine. Two different worlds.
Legends abounded. These mountain families, nine of them in particular, were said to be descendants of Hessian mercenaries, deserters from the British army during the Revolution, drawn to this area for its resemblance to their ancestral Black Forest. The one the Brothers Grimm made famous as the source of all that’s sinister. A more local talent, Washington Irving, captured the same eerie mood of these upstate woods, hills, and ponds, where the indifferent savagery of nature infected those who dared intrude and try to tame it. Whenever thunder rattled the panes, Betty always referenced the local lore; it was the sound of Rip Van Winkle’s eerie Dutchmen, bowling nine-pins in their mountain lair.
When we were youngsters, the locals were presented to us as peasants out of Russian literature; colorful, dim, loyal, with an edge of uncivilized danger. A more prosaic explanation, learned later, is that two centuries of deprivation, ignorance, intermarriage, alcoholism, madness and incest yield little but pain and tragedy. We heard constant whispers of terrible things that happened “up the mountain” and met many of these folks throughout childhood. A few chilled me to the bone; let’s just say, when I later saw the picture, the locals in Deliverance seemed familiar to me.
So, to Betty’s ghost story: two local laborers, hill folk, staggering back up the mountain after a payday pub crawl in town – a weekly ritual – encounter something uncanny.
Full moon. Clear, still night, early fall, with a whisper of winter in the air. As the men approach a small cow pond on the right, a desperate, loud, lowing moan fills them with fear. And then, hovering above the water in the moonlight, a glowing apparition that in their pickled minds assumes the shape of a struggling human form. The two drunks sprint home in terror, instantly sober, pledging to reform their ways.
Our eyes were like saucers. We drove by that cow pond every day on our way up and down the mountain. Haunted? Damn.
And then, with a cackle, Betty reveals that the next day a nearby farmer discovered one of his Guernseys had wandered off and gotten stuck in the shallows.
So I ask, innocently, why did they think it was a ghost in the first place?
Oh. Ten years earlier the body of a young woman, a murder victim, had been found floating in that pond. Betty offers this as a throwaway, a punchline, the end.
I didn’t take it that way. A real person died in that water. She never mentioned a name and, when pressed, remembered no details. As time passed, without knowing a single fact about her – or if this story was entirely invented – the image of that poor forgotten soul lodged in a corner of my mind.
Two years later in California, that feeling hit much closer to my life. While away at boarding school in Canada, a girl I knew well – Susan Freschi, 14, daughter of my father’s boss and sister to one of my best friends – was assaulted and killed by a deranged young man. As time passed, and I learned more about the pervasive threat of sexual violence that women face on an everyday basis, these two dreadful events coalesced in my mind.
Twenty-five years these conflated memories found fictional life as Laura Palmer. Or rather, Laura Palmer became a way to explore, and explain what might have happened to that lost girl in the pond.
After the show went off the air, I bought a place on that lake myself, and began spending summers there for the first time in decades. It turned out a fellow I’d known since childhood, John Walsh, a local jack-of-all-trades – one of the hill folk; his grandfather had worked for my great grandfather and Betty – had been equally obsessed with this story, and for years had been digging to learn more.
She was real. She had a name. Twenty-year old Hazel Drew – beautiful, blonde, and connected to a number of powerful men – died in that pond one hot July night in 1908. She was a local girl who’d moved to the city, a new way of life, and got caught up in the fast lane. Her story became a regional and then a national scandal. Even Betty’s tall tale of the two drunks, ten years later, mistaking a lost calf for her ghost, turned out to be true.
More to come! 🙂
To enter the giveaway, just email David Bushman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You could be a lucky winner!