Graymalkin October

It’s not like you need an excuse to read ghost stories in October.  At least that’s what I hoped other passengers on the bus would think.  Yesterday on my way into and out of New York City I read the next in the series of Ed and Lorraine Warren books, this one titled Graveyard, and written by Robert David Chase.  Now, you need to realize that I’d heard of the Warrens long before The Conjuring came out.  Those of us curious about ghosts to the point of reading at least semi-serious books on them know the brand.  What I don’t know is how to find out much about what “the Warrens” actually wrote.  These books are being (have been) republished by Graymalkin Media, after having originally been published by mainstream publishers.  This one was originally released by St. Martin’s Press.  Those of us in publishing believe that stands for something.

Loosely tied together around graveyard stories, featuring for half the book Union Cemetery near the Warrens’ Monroe, Connecticut home, the book ranges far and wide concerning ghosts.  Here we meet a man or two who turned into demons—I wonder how that works?—and a good demon punishing an evil person.  Some of these stories seem straight out of the high school scare-your-date playbook, while others are actually pretty scary.  A mix of accounts by either Ed or Lorraine, and stories embellished, it seems, by Chase, this book is like a trick-or-treater’s Halloween bag—you never know what you’re going to get.  It’s a little too bad because I’ve read some sober, and serious treatments of ghosts over the past several autumns, and with the Warrens’ vast experience, it’s a unfortunate that the accounts had been so dolled up.

It’s a shame that scholars of religion can’t be more forthright about their interest in the spiritual world.  I know many that I won’t call out here that are secretly—some openly—exploring these kinds of questions.  That won’t get you tenure anywhere (something the Ghostbusters reboot got right).  Even in the world of science there are forbidden topics.  That’s because, as this little book points out, spirits creak open the doors to all kinds of uncertainties.  I suspect that’s a similar reason that scholars of religion are treated with a certain mistrust by other guilds within the academy.  We need to play it straight and prove that we aren’t given to flights of fancy that might suggest something as unsophisticated as belief.  Still, as Graveyard shows, ghost stories are extremely common.  In fact, no October would be complete without them.  So I hope the other passengers think.

Con-Ception

Sometimes you see something so often it become invisible. I pass by a local cemetery every day, and it wasn’t until a friend from out of town came to visit that I knew of the irony of its iron gates. Immaculate Conception Cemetery is one of several Catholic cemeteries in the area. In a deeply symbolic gesture, most cemeteries are designed as the ultimate gated communities. One of the great thrills for the young is to hang out in graveyards at night to test their mettle and for boys to impress the girls and each other with their bravery. But this can lead to vandalism issues. I remember how distressed I was, upon visiting a cemetery in upstate New York on a genealogical trip, to find a family marker for several of my ancestors heartlessly toppled over. I wrote to the cemetery custodian (people still used letters in those days), and the next time I visited, it was, to my utter relief, repaired. Part of my past had been restored.

None of this, however, was what my friend pointed out. When the gates to the Immaculate Conception Cemetery are opened, the left hand gate reads, “Immaculate Con.” My curiosity aroused, I walked over the next morning to look. Indeed, “Immaculate Con” standing just beneath the cross. The right hand gate, cross-less, reads “ception Cemetery.” Without treading the road to Inception, I stood before the openly inviting gates with some wonder. Is there something deeper to this Immaculate Con? Is there something the church wants to tell us? Were the iron-mongers insinuating something covert? Or is it just the giddy over-imagination of yet another overstimulated religionist?

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Surely this is just the case of pragmatic spacing and pacing. The dead lie here in faith that they are counted among the chosen. Across town is a cemetery where, I noticed some years before, one half contains headstones facing east and another half has headstones facing west. Those facing east are inscribed with Roman letters, those toward the west with Hebrew. The Jewish and Christian dead lie next to each other, facing opposite directions.

Cemeteries say, despite their silence, volumes about what we believe. We put our dead out of our midst, but our cities grow and consume our necropoli, forcing us to face our beliefs yet once again. Do our deepest hopes and fears, tied so intimately with our mortality, make us who we are? We will all face death at some time. When we face the iron gates before the pearly ones, what will we see? If the gates are open, it might be that we’ll read, with our undead eyes, “Immaculate Con.”