Fall of the house of Francis


   And travelers now within that valley,
   Through the red-litten windows, see
   Vast forms that move fantastically
   To a discordant melody;
   While, like a rapid ghastly river,
   Through the pale door,
   A hideous throng rush out forever,
   And laugh –but smile no more.

To celebrate All Hallows Eve, I would like to share with you a true story. It’s one of those “just plain creepy” stories, and it took place near Halloween of 1987.

I was a junior in college at St. Bonaventure University (Go Bonas!), and that semester I was taking a course in American Literature. It was the later half of October, and the class was doing a unit on Edgar Allan Poe. (I strongly suspect the professor did that deliberately.) That semester I was fortunate enough to not have any early morning classes, so I tended to study until around 2 AM. Even now I’m a bit of a night owl.

This was during one of those late night study sessions. Picture one of those hopelessly cliched “dark and stormy nights,” with liberal amounts of sheet lighting and thunderclaps. That’s a perfect atmosphere for reading Poe, wouldn’t you say?


It gets better. The dormitory I lived in for most of my college years was at one time a seminary, so it had a lot of character. Like some other buildings on campus, Francis Hall was rumored to be haunted. Stories spoke of the spirits of long deceased friars still lurking around the old place, and the ghosts of seminarians who died before completing their studies. I don’t know about ghosts or poltergeists, but one thing that Francis Hall did have, at the time, was an outdated furnace that would periodically make very obnoxious noises. On this particular night the furnace was acting up, which resulted in loud, echoing, banging sounds traversing the pipes and air ducts of the old building. Truth be told, I rarely noticed it, but on this night I certainly did.

Upon this backdrop of rain, lightning, thunder, and irregular banging sounds from the bowels of the building, I was in my dimly lit room reading the words of Baltimore’s master of the macabre. Specifically The fall of the house of Usher. Think about that for just a moment. After a few perfectly timed thunderclaps (nice touch…) I was certifiably creeped out. When another perfectly timed thunderclap and lightning strike hit just as Roderick and Madeline relieved each other of their mortal coils, punctuated with a bang and shimmy from the basement, I decided enough was enough.

It was time to switch from American Literature to something far less scary: calculus.

One of the other dorms on campus, Devereux Hall, the oldest and wildest one on campus, was also rumored to be haunted. The fifth floor of Devereux had an especially colorful reputation, given the crazy stuff that was supposed to have taken place up there. That floor was known to have shimmering lights on at strange hours of the night, even when the campus was experiencing a blackout! According to campus legend, at least three students were reported to have died there, all under suspicious or extraordinary circumstances. Personally, I attended many social events in Devereux, but I never encountered any ghosts.

I encountered plenty of spirits, though, and typically regretted it the next morning.

Happy Halloween everyone, and beware of ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night!

But if you really want some more of that stuff…

The image of a common raven is a stock image, while the photo of Francis Hall was pilfered from a slideshow. It’s a better photograph than the one at the University’s official site!

House of Supers

For the past few weeks, my home has been hosting a group of superheroes. Well, actually one super villain and two superheroes.

Lady Loki costume

Lady Loki

First, we have Caitlin as Lady Loki, a variation of the intergalactic mischief monger from The Avengers. For most of this year, Caitlin was unsure of what she wanted to be for Halloween. After seeing The Avengers in early September, that was instantly decided. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the twisted Norse demigod Loki sent the imaginations of both her and Lisa into high gear, and this amazing costume is the result.

For the basic structure of the costume, Lisa adapted a cos-play pattern she found on Deviant Art. I lost track of how many times she had to run to one of the various craft supply stores in the Piedmont area to get the materials she needed, but the result is a real eye-popper! At this writing, Caitlin has worn the costume (in whole or in part) to three different Halloween parties, and each time she was lauded with complements.

Total construction time for the costume was 30-some hours, spread over a six week period. That does not include the travel time to the various supply outlets. I won’t even guess what that came to. The costume was made from pieces of flannel and leather sewn or glued to a jacket-vest foundation. The various metallic highlights and accessories were made from poster board and matte board, painted with a mix of silver and gold. The helmet was made using paper mache and poster board on a toy construction hat. The horns were made from a Styrofoam, heart-shaped wreath base. The staff is a painted wooden dowel, with the head being made of reinforced poster board and plastic sheeting. A bluish penlight with a tiny crystalline charm completed the “Glow Stick of Destiny.”


The Incredible Hulk

Then we have Michael as the bestial half of the modern-day Jekyll & Hyde character, The Incredible Hulk. Michael’s costume was much easier: we ordered it from an online vendor. A few minor adjustments were made so that it would fit better, and on the whole it turned out great! Given that Michael is playing a character known for his ability to smash, he looks very cute! The costume came with a skull cap that would have made his face green, and given him a bush of black hair. A feasibility study was made to determine what it would take to make the cap not only fit better, but make the hair look more like that of the Hulk. Unfortunately, all attempts at having Michael wear the cap resulted in failure, because he found it inherently uncomfortable. Being just under two years old, there was no way in this or any other universe that he was going to tolerate such a thing being strapped to his noggin. So, the customization of the skull cap never came to pass.

But no matter, he looks both cool and cute.

2014-10-28 09.47.10

Raven pumpkin

Earlier this month, Caitlin acquired a pumpkin as a door prize, and our original plan was to carve it. Instead, it became the subject of a pumpkin decoration contest through her school. Her paint scheme of choice was the character of Raven from the Teen Titans animated series. It should be noted that Caitlin – my daughter the artist – did all of the painting herself. The rind of the pumpkin was cleaned and dried, then she applied tempera paints directly to it. It took almost three coats of paint before the colors finally started to hold. I suspect the rind was sucking up the paint like a sponge. But, she was ultimately successful!

Azareth Metrion Zinthos!

In hindsight, it’s probably a good thing that Caitlin opted to paint the pumpkin instead of carve it. The house is currently awash in scraps of cloth, sheet plastic, old newspaper, and bits of other materials left over from the construction of the Lady Loki costume. But even so, my two girls really showed off their creativity!

Happy Halloween, 2014!


The core costume design for Lady Loki came from the Deviant Art user The Lighted Soul. Within her gallery she provides a tutorial for the coat and cape, and the shirt and tunic.

The Woodland Elf features patterns and instructions for the staff and bracers, and while Crafty Mischief provided instructions for the helmet.