from vampire burials to conservative witch hunts, boys in the refectory 1859, haunted by the letter B

Buried with a stake through a heart: the medieval ‘vampire’ burial

The discovery of a skeleton found with metal spikes through its shoulders, heart and ankles, dating from 550-700AD and buried in the ancient minster town of Southwell, Notts, is detailed in a new report.

It is believed to be a ‘deviant burial’, where people considered the ‘dangerous dead’, such as vampires, were interred to prevent them rising from their graves to plague the living.

In reality, victims of this treatment were social outcasts who scared others because of their unusual behaviour. Only a handful of such burials have been unearthed in the UK.

[  ]….”Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the punishment of being buried in water-logged ground, face down, decapitated, staked or otherwise was reserved for thieves, murderers or traitors or later for those deviants who did not conform to societies rules: adulterers, disrupters of the peace, the unpious or oath breaker.


I also read this story a few days ago – The Witch House of Salem – The only structure left with direct ties to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. Thinking back on first learning about the Salem Witch Trails in elementary school, even at that age I thought – how primitive humans used to be and look how advanced we are now. We have print and digital media, telephones, television, the lessons of the Enlightenment and the scientific method. As I got older I realized that many of those same superstitious attitudes and mystical standards of proof were still around, like a basement corner of mysterious mold. The light of rational empiricism has not reached everywhere. Hidden Tapes & Secret Emails: Right Wing Now Throwing Kitchen Sink At Obama On Benghazi, Libya. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), conservative conspiracy theorists Frank Gaffney, John Bolton and Aaron Klein, the best wives are the newer ones without cancer Newt Gingrich,  the factually challenged Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), Sean Hannity and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) know that they are not held to the standards of legal or scientific truths. They can point, yell witch and the rhetorical burning starts. There are also issues of character and ethics, but these modern-day descendants of witch hunters and stake bearing vampire hunters do excel at self delusions and creating caricatures of what integrity looks like. They’re a medieval court version of the Looney Tunes. All they need are some hoods and axes and they’re living their dreams.

boys in the refectory stonyhurst,1859 by Roger Fenton. a refectory in this instance would have been the dining hall at  Stonyhurst boarding school and college. Fenton (28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869) is often referred to as a pioneering photographer. His subjects ranged from studio portraits to historical sites and landscapes, and was among the first official war photographers ( Crimean War). Fenton is still making the news. In a recent story about the history of faking photographs ( something that started long before the invention of digital photo software)  Documentarian Errol Morris found that Fenton’s famous Crimean War, the photo — titled “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” might have been the first faked war photograph ( pictures at link). Though Morris did start looking into Fenton’s photograph because Susuan Sontag thought Fenton had staged the second photograph – the one that became famous. Faked or not it is a powerful photograph.

Evelyn Nesbit about 1900 by Gertrude Käsebier. I’ve written about Nesbit before and the scandal involving her, architect Stanford White and her husband Harry Kendall Thaw. She was brought to  Käsebier’s studio by White.

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.” —Emily Dickinson

The Ghost in Master B.’s Room by Charles Dickens. Excerpted from ‘The Haunted House‘, first published in All the Year Round, 1859.

When I established myself in the triangular garret which had gained so distinguished a reputation, my thoughts naturally turned to Master B. My speculations about him were uneasy and manifold. Whether his Christian name was Benjamin, Bissextile (from his having been born in Leap Year), Bartholomew, or Bill. Whether the initial letter belonged to his family name, and that was Baxter, Black, Brown, Barker, Buggins, Baker, or Bird. Whether he was a foundling, and had been baptized B. Whether he was a lion-hearted boy, and B. was short for Briton, or for Bull. Whether he could possibly have been kith and kin to an illustrious lady who brightened my own childhood, and had come of the blood of the brilliant Mother Bunch?

With these profitless meditations I tormented myself much. I also carried the mysterious letter into the appearance and pursuits of the deceased; wondering whether he dressed in Blue, wore Boots (he couldn’t have been Bald), was a boy of Brains, liked Books, was good at Bowling, had any skill as a Boxer, even in his Buoyant Boyhood Bathed from a Bathing-machine at Bognor, Bangor, Bournemouth, Brighton, or Broadstairs, like a Bounding Billiard Ball?

So, from the first, I was haunted by the letter B.

Chuck could riff for a Victorian dude.