After the Dash: Ten Literary Epitaphs

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It’s Halloween!  In honor of the creepiest of holidays, why not contemplate your own mortality? GOOD TIMES!

Here are ten well-written or interesting conceived final goodbyes from folks (or folks who knew them) who have shuffled off this mortal coil.

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1.  William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
[Gravestone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon]
GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE
TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE
BLESTE BE Y MAN Y SPARES THES STONES
AND CVRST BE HE THAT MOVES MY BONES

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2.  Edmund Spenser (1510-1596)
Here lyes
(expecting the second Comminge of our Saviour Christ Jesus)
the body of Edmond Spenser, the Prince of Poets in his time;
whose divine spirit needs no other witness
than the works he left behind him.

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Erudite Frights for All Hallow’s Night: Ten Spine-Tingling Lines from Literature

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Here at eNotes, we would NEVER let Halloween pass without a few good scares from the masters of horror!  Let’s all take a break from the tedious terror of government shutdowns and 404 Errors of the new healthcare law and enjoy some scares that are a lot more fun.

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1.  “The shortest horror story:   The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
― Frederic Brown

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2.  “At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens as all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. And that is what the Pulse exposed five days ago.” –   from Cell by Stephen King 

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FOR SALE: Dracula’s Birthplace

Here’s something you won’t find in Craigslist’s classifieds…

The writing desk at which Bram Stoker created the bloodcurdling modern myth of Dracula will soon be up for auction.

Looking at the ornate desk today, which seems so fitting as the gothic setting for the creation of perhaps the most chilling book in English literature, it’s hard to believe it was salvaged from near ruin not very long ago. Yes, this artifact, like all good curiosities, has its very own story…

After Stoker completed Dracula in 1897, he gifted the writing table to his good friend JSR Phillips, editor of the Yorkshire Post. According to an article in that same newspaper, the desk was later passed down at Phillips’ death to his son ER Phillips. Unfortunately, the younger Phillips’ wife so disliked the relic that she banished it from the house to rot in the garden for years.

It was the Phillips’ son Guy, grandson of JSR, who saved the desk from complete ruin by taking it with him to London. But though he knew the history of the Dracula desk, Guy then left it behind in that London apartment when he moved away. Its next owners, the Brodericks, had no knowledge of its famous origins until they received a note from Guy Phillips later, explaining its history and hinting at its dark powers.

“I loathed the Dracula desk. But it is a fact that after leaving it behind, I and my family suffered misfortune after misfortune. I had two coronaries and my wife died suddenly of a stroke.”

Even after receiving the note, the Brodericks almost relegated the desk to destruction, casting it off to their neighbors the Yulls. At this point, the desk was in such bad shape that Mrs. Yull very nearly cast it off to a bonfire. It was only saved by her husband, who insisted it be put in his study and used as his computer desk. Interestingly, it was at the Dracula desk that Yull wrote his first book, a novel about Nazi fascination with the occult.

Eventually, the antique made its way into caring hands. As of today the desk has been restored to more than its original glory by master furniture artist Mark Brazier-Jones, whose restorations can be found at none other than The Louvre and The Victoria & Albert Museum. He explains his reimagining of the Dracula desk below.

Even as a new desk, in its day, this was a modest item of furniture, a place for a man to work, and yet possessing a noble honesty. I wanted to keep the desk complete and intact, to save all its scars and broken varnish, this history alive with its gnarled textures…I decided to attach, via callipers and clasps the necessaries to regain functionality.  To this I have also embroidered imagery appropriate to the great man’s inspirations and imaginings.  I visualize Stoker sat pen to paper contemplating a moonlit rose garden, breathless milk white cleavage and blood soaked lace.  All the fixtures and fittings I have created are in bronze and burnished steel. He has also leather lined two secret compartments I have devised (the position of which will only be revealed to the final owner of the desk)…

The face panel of each drawer is acid etched through to copper and nickel layers.  The effect is to subtly represent a misty tableau of Whitby Abbey by moonlight, surrounded by gravestones and bats.  Over these drawer fronts are five bronze handles, each one different.  On the lower left, a bat, to the lower right, a savage hound (in Stoker’s book Dracula arrived in Whitby as a giant dog).  The three upper drawers consist of scrolling rose thorns and buds. The interiors are lined in deep buttoned blood red velvet.  The baroque rose motif is used again where they seem to crawl up and across the table top frame giving the feeling time has stopped like an overgrown grave.

So, gone is the humble and battered desk of Stoker’s time, replaced by an ornate piece of art that certainly lives up to the gothic nature of its history. Hopefully some of the desk’s mysterious powers remain intact beneath all those coats of varnish, least of which is its uncanny ability to escape bonfires and garbage heaps.

The Dracula desk can be yours, courtesy of the Profiles in History Hollywood Auction for a mere $60,000 to $80,000. Look for it on sale between December 15th-16th.

Happy Halloween eNoters!


Top Ten Famous Last Words and Final Stops: Writers and Their Gravesites

Halloween draws near, and with it, the reminders of our own mortality.  Ghosts and goblins are ways of coping with what George Bernard Shaw called “that troublesome business”: death. And, as Jim Morrison aptly noted, “No one here gets out alive.” So on that cheerful note, here are some of the last words of famous writers and images of their final resting places. At eNotes, we only haunt you with the very best!

1.  Ernest Hemingway  (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961)

“Goodnight, my kitten.” ~ To his wife, before he shot and killed himself.

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2.  L. Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 – May 6, 1919)

“Now I can cross the shifting sands.” ~ Referring to the desert that surrounded his fictional city, Oz. Baum suffered a stroke from which he never recovered.

3.  Dylan Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)

“I had eighteen straight whiskies…I think that’s a record.”  While alcohol probably hastened the poet’s demise, new theories attribute undiagnosed pneumonia as the more likely cause of death.

4.  James Joyce  (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941)

“Does nobody understand?” No direct cause has ever been attributed to Joyce’s death but his heavy drinking almost certainly played a prominent role.

5.  Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

“Is it not meningitis?” ~ It was not, actually. Alcott died as a result of mercury poisoning.

6.  Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

“I want nothing but death.”  ~ To her sister, Cassandra, inquiring if she wanted anything. (It has never been determined from what, exactly, the 41-year-old author succumbed to (speculations have included stomach cancer, Addison’s disease and bovine tuberculous) but the latest research suggests arsenic poisoning may have been the culprit.

7.  Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910)

“Goodbye. If we meet…” ~ To his daughter, Clara. Twain died of a myocardial infraction (heart attack).

8.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832)

“More light!” ~ The cause of Goethe’s death is unknown.

9.  Henrik Ibsen (20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906)

“On the contrary!” ~ Ibsen’s response to his nurse, who remarked that he seemed better. Ibsen died as a result of complications from a stroke.

10. Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005)

“Relax — This won’t hurt.” ~ Thompson’s final line in his suicide note. The author shot himself. An iconoclast to the end, his widow said Thomas wanted to go out with a bang, and he did. On a platform he personally designed, Thompson had his ashes shot from a cannon to the music of  Norman Greenbaum‘s “Spirit in the Sky” and Bob Dylan‘s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” You can watch a video of Thompson’s final farewell here.


That’s a Fact, Jack: History of the Jack-O-Lantern

Have you ever seen a flickering light, perhaps over a foggy river or hovering above a misty hilltop, that seems to recede the closer you get to its source?  For hundreds of years, this phenomenon was referred to by several names: Will O’ the Wisp, Ignius Fatuus, and, Jack O’Lantern. In 1750, a printed mention of a Jack-O-Lantern referred to a nightwatchman toting a lantern.  All of these incarnations, including our modern use as a fun, often comic, Halloween decoration, actually has very ancient Celtic origins.

The old folktale goes like this.

Jack, an Irish blacksmith, had the misfortune of running into the Devil in a pub on Halloween.  Jack had drank a bit too much that evening and the Devil thought him easy prey, but the clever trickster made a bargain with the Devil.  In exchange for one last drink, Jack offered up his soul.  Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a sixpence that Jack could use to buy their drinks.  The Devil changed his form to make payment to the bartender, but Jack pocketed the coin in a bag with a silver cross with the knowledge that the cross would prevent the Devil from changing back.  Once in his purse, Jack only freed the Devil after he agreed not to claim his soul for ten years.

Ten years later, the Devil met Jack walking on a country road and told him that he was there to collect his soul.  Jack, feigned compliance, but asked the Devil if he would first climb an apple tree and get him an apple.  The Devil, having nothing to lose, climbed the tree, but as he reached for the apple, Jack pulled out his knife and carved the sign of the cross in the tree’s trunk. The Devil was unable to come back down until he had agreed never to claim Jack’s soul.

Some years later, Jack died and went to Heaven.  But he was dismissed from St. Peter’s gate because he was too much of an unsavory figure to allow in.  He then went to Hades, but the Devil was bound never to claim his soul, and so would not allow him to enter.  Instead, he sent him away with only a burning ember to light his way.  Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been doomed to roam the Earth in darkness ever since. The Irish began to refer to his damned soul and ghostly light as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’ Lantern.”

It has been believed for centuries that on Hallow’s Eve, evil spirits roam the Earth, “Stingy Jack” among them. For hundreds of years on that frightening night, the Irish carved scary faces into potatoes and turnips and placed them in windows and doorway to scare away Jack and other spirits.  When the Irish immigrated to the United States, they brought their tradition with them, with one amendment. They discovered that pumpkins had the perfect surface for carving the best frightening faces.

Glowing Jack-O-Lanterns came much later, most likely  because of an article published in the New York Times in 1900 which recommended lighting a pumpkin as part of the festivities. The suggestion, of course, caught on and now millions of us scoop out pumpkin “guts,” put a candle in its hollowed-out interior, and wait for our ghosts and goblins to arrive. 

Bonus Fact:

What was the original reason for “dressing up” on Halloween? Apparently evil spirits aren’t all that bright. A simple mask was thought to be able to fool those troublemakers into believing we are not who they think we are.  And… maybe we’re not.


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