Posts Tagged ‘seance’

Echoes of the Eddys

February 1st, 2011

Henry Steel Olcott

A friend recently sent me a link to a story about a woman who had found some grace in the course of her husband’s passage through alzheimer’s.  I could relate, because my parents, as eachof them went through cancer, similarly exhibited clear-eyed courage and reaped its benefits for themselves and for us who journeyed in their company.  Ram Dass nailed the basic attitude in the title of his book, Be Here Now.  In the clipping my friend sent, the woman refers to our society’s attitude towards death and illness as “phobic.”  She got that right, but ‘twas not always thus.

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago, describing some events that actually happened in Vermont in the latter half of the 19th century.  Joseph Citro used a few lines from my poem at the head of one of the chapters in his excellent book, Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls and Unsolved Mysteries, which is only right, because the poem was indirectly inspired by hearing Mr. Citro on Vermont Public Radio before his book was published, reading about the goings-on at the Eddy farmhouse.  I was so intrigued that I went to the library and borrowed the source from which much of Mr. Citro’s information came.  My poem grew from Col. Olcott’s memoir of those strange evenings:

We are pusillanimous in the face of ghosts.
Think of that woman at Tanglewood, too seized up
to scream one summer afternoon, in a hallway,
when her hair that had hung limp on her neck was brushed
swiftly across one shoulder and then the other
by unseen hands.  Later, she said it was like a
playfully affectionate child, and innocent;
but no way would she spend the night in that house, no.
Her companions, though untouched, had abandoned her.
They ran.  I never have felt my hackles rise
except in thinking of such things, mere thinking of
the dark figure that waits on the couch beside me,
the hand that may reach from behind to stroke my cheek.
Then I read Colonel Olcott’s account of doings
a hundred years ago in Vermont, upstairs at
the Eddy brothers’ ramshackle farmhouse where he
and many other guests lodged – ate and slept – for weeks.
The ghosts they’d come to meet there had cold, sweaty skin.
A woman passed her hand beneath one’s shirt, and ran
fingertips across breasts she said swelled chill and damp
as ocean waves.  To Olcott’s disappointment, he
never was allowed to dance with that spirit, a
gay, lively squaw called Honto, although others were;
also, the room was too dark to make out faces;
also, he wasn’t allowed in the chamber where
William Eddy sat alone, summoning dozens
of humanly shaped shades each night but Sunday to
brief visits with audiences of dozens of
the quick.  Once, weakening before she could pass back
through the sole, curtained door to William’s cubicle,
Honto sank to her waist in the floor, laughed, and slid
to the drape like a footless chess piece.  Pawn or queen?
Sustained at first by skepticism, Olcott measured
rooms, sealed windows with gauze and wax, swished back cobwebs
in dusty attics, sought trapdoors and costume trunks
without success, counted the cast of characters,
painted scales to record the apparitions’ heights
(from two-and-a-half feet to a bit over six)
and hauled in scales to weigh them (Honto averaged
sixty pounds or so, but fluctuated wildly).
At last he was reduced, like the newly bereft
mothers who came to wail at one last vision of
babies doubly torn from the body, to belief
at once grudging and enthusiastic.  “Wonders,”
he called them, beyond his powers to explain or
more than describe.  He recounted but one stab of
fear: sitting in the loft’s blackness, they felt beams shake
that were trees when the land belonged to those who now
danced, stomping and whooping, among their silent chairs.
(No, two: an elderly woman, Honto’s willing
partner in most hijinks, scrambled atop her seat
to escape a mouse that Honto let skitter loose.)
But when Olcott, having formed an unspoken wish,
felt it answered by the lips of a child he knew
to be dead softly kissing his face, there was none,
no more than the frisson of hope unexpectedly
blossoming.  We can’t bear such breathless affection,
we, in whose days corpses are bulldozed to mass graves
and not allowed to linger for farewells at home.