Thursday, November 2, 2017

... more subdued celebration of death on All Souls' Day...

Today is All Souls’ Day, a holiday that is celebrated quite differently depending on one’s religious background and upbringing. Some say prayers for all deceased souls and visit loved ones who have passed.

While I’m frequently in the cemetery, I often visit other people’s families. Today I have a long to-do list and an evening class. I need to make appointments, grade papers, and prepare course lectures and activities. But, this is not what I need to do today.

Elementary School- we're in the middle with our brothers on top of the eagle
I want to go see Susan since she has been on my mind lately. She was my self-determined sister. We were childhood best friends forever with necklaces to prove it; then, before our thirtieth birthdays, birthdays that because they were only two weeks apart were celebrated together throughout grade school, she abandoned me to grow old alone. She drowned in a boating accident with her new husband. The captain of the ship lived to tell the tale of how her husband lied to her when she asked if they were going to be okay, and how she sang before hypothermia took over. 

child's grave at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA
I try to remember such things when I'm walking through any cemetery. These people were loved fiercely by others.  The best inscription that I have ever read in a cemetery was for a little child in Hollywood Cemetery. Like family plots of the time, she is buried in a small cradle grave behind the other family members. With the elaborate fencing and the large grave markers before hers, it took me years to even notice she was there. If you look carefully on the foot-stone below the curled up animal statue you will see the epitaph which reads:

How many hopes lie expired here

Susan's church
Susan and I had had talks about being two old ladies sitting in rocking chairs together discussing life.  We were the first ones of our friends to get married; we were the first of our friends to divorce. We were often grouped together for Girl Scouts, Oratory, and Drama. When my first husband cheated on me right after my employer went bankrupt, she was the first to call me. She made me feel better when her first husband turned out to be a common robber. None of it seems real.

Now, she’s dead buried in a small graveyard at a church where she attended as a child. I would go to that church with her sometimes. I saw her get married there. I watched her funeral, and her father’s funeral there just a few years later. I sat in the very same pew.

6th grade
October was frazzled. It was too busy. I have made promises to myself about not over-committing myself next year. Fall is supposed to be a time of contemplation. Perhaps it was our summer-like temperatures or perhaps it was just all the Halloween activity but I did not think about the season changing. I was not reminded of death or transition. November changes everything.

This week I mourn the end of Hallowmas and I re-mourn my friends who were lost to this world. But, I’m also reflecting on my own soul. What does my spirit need? How should I nurture my spirit? What do I need at this moment? What would bring me peace and joy?

Thomas Moore writes, “Let us imagine care of the soul, then, as an application of poetics to everyday life.” 

How will I be more authentic today? 
How will you?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

... Poe, a historic graveyard, a haunted tavern, and one spooky event...

Don't we always write that October is terribly busy? I have so much to share. 

To start, last night, the River City Cemetarians, the MeetUp group that I host, attended the St. John’s Church Foundation and the Poe Museum’s “Fancy Me Mad,” their fall event “honoring the spirits of the season, All Hallow’s Eve, as well as master storyteller, Edgar Allan Poe.” While Poe isn’t buried at St. John’s church, his mother is.

This is the second year that I have attended the event. Last year was fantastic but this year they added more ambiance, a few more spirit-actors, and two storytelling sessions. Last year we were packed into the church; with the additional storytelling sessions, we had more room to relax. It also made it so that we were not so pressed for time.

Before we headed over to St. John’s Church, the group met at Patrick Henry Pub & Grille, which is one block from the graveyard. Patrick Henry Pub & Grille was built in 1850. According to Style Weekly, the location used to be a brothel and a speak-easy. And, like so many old buildings from that time, it also is allegedly haunted. The only spirits we saw were those placed on the table by our waitress.

After an amazing dinner where I was thankful that my friends let me try their onion rings, fries, and roasted vegetables which were all so delicious, we headed over to historic St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his famous Give me Liberty or give me Death speech.

We were each given a self-guided tour that included a map and an itinerary. We followed the pathways to various spirits who recounted stories of their lives and times. As we meandered our way through the churchyard there was tons of ambiance and even some fun puns, including the parish hall being named the perish hall for the evening. 

My coffin selfie
The event concluded with us entering the church to listen to the organist play some spooky music. Finally, we heard tales from Mr. Poe himself.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

...haunted, haunting, and a local haunt...

It’s been years since we have attended any of the local haunts, even though we are friends with Haunters! The last time we went to an actual haunt for Halloween was 2011. Since then, we have been going to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, and Kings Dominion in Doswell for their haunted attractions; and, since I worked at Kings Dominion in my youth and one of my good friends is the Human Resources Director there, we have also enjoyed watching Kings Dominion surpass their big-budget competition. The last time we went to a local haunt, we went to Ashland Berry Farm. I remember us having fun but we also had to crawl through part of the haunted house and it was pitch black. That part wasn’t fun so fun and total darkness isn’t scary. It’s cheap.

Over the years, we have gotten tired of jump-scares in movies. I think that also applies to haunted attractions. I understand they have to move the masses through the attractions but banging something close to my ear does not terrorize me; storylines do!

With the master minds of Red Vein Haunt
Last night we attended The Red Vein Army’s haunted house, Red Vein Haunt. It was so much more than we expected. We figured it would be good but my fella, who typically just laughs when something scares him, was startled no fewer than three times. We jumped; we laughed; and, I nearly cried at the end of the evening because it was so good. And, it was also super funny to me that my fella did not recognize some of our friends who are actors in the haunt. I mean, they were in costume but he’s often the guy who points out movie actors asking if I recognize them. I always respond, “No! Shhhh, don’t ruin it!”

I worried that KNOWING some of the actors would make things less scary. I was completely wrong. Let me tell you, walking through a haunted attraction where people know who you are and know your name (and USE your name) makes it scarier! You cannot run away from them because they know you’re coming. It felt more like, “Hey, I just sat by him during the RVA Horror Movie Club when we watched IT. Now something has gone terribly wrong… and what’s wrong with his face.” And, “we just had breakfast with ----- a few weeks ago. His eyes don’t look quite right.” I wanted to stare at them longer but they freaked me out! I need to say it was a dream come true to hear my name rising from creepy voices in a cornfield.

Overall, the actors were amazing! No silly masks but actual make-up and spooky contacts. “Look into my eye!” Eeek! No, thank you!

The haunt is in the middle of nowhere aka off a rural, country road where all truly good haunts are supposed to be located. It’s deserted; you can hardly see where to park (except for the attendants in orange vests). You walk down to the tractor and take a hayride to the actual haunted attraction. As you approach, you’re going to see a large skull that appears to be floating in the air. In a way, this reminded me a bit of Halpole’s The Castle of Otranto. But, don’t worry. That is just the start of the queue, which is part of the attraction; and, the first actor, one of the scientific researchers from Unexplained Virginia attempts to reassure you that everything is okay. “See, locked. No one can come in or go out,” he reassures while muttering about the shadows, rabbits, and something being radioactive. He told me that I had good veins. I didn’t take that as a compliment. But, he was great! I mean, he was really believable. As we head in, we become “volunteers” to assist with the experiment. This is where I will stop by play-by-play.  

Emily Redvyn
Emily Redvyn
What I absolutely loved- there was a story line. You don’t necessarily have to follow it; but, personally, I think it makes it better. You can read a bit about the legend on the Red Vein legend page. Even better, they have a book! Yep, you read that correctly. This haunted attraction comes with their own “diary” from 1688. The Diary of Thomas Redvyn by Nathan Barnes and Joseph Meddle or rather, by Thomas Redvyn, the poor husband of Emily. Again, this novella was much better than it needed to be. It complements the haunted attraction but it can be read separately just to get you into the mood of the season.

There were so many great visuals to point out but I want you to be surprised. I will say that there was an impressive coffin, a gorgeous cemetery gate, and paintings throughout the house. My fella and I continually talked about how amazing it was while we were walking through it.

It’s a long haunt. When you finish with the corn maze, you enter the house. Then you keep going. When you think it’s over, you keep going. Altogether, it took us about 40 minutes to go through the attraction without the hayride or the lines.

Holy moly, there were two effects we had not experienced before. You’ll think you’re falling (okay, maybe Disney’s Haunted Mansion has something a bit like this but they have an amazing budget… for a local haunt, this was insane!)

They do not overuse strobe lights. I have Meniere’s aka mad-vertigo issues and strobe lights force me to either close my eyes or look down to keep my balance. There were a few strobe lights that had scenes in them but overall, I didn’t feel like I missed out. The scenes were eerie and they were designed to be looked at. The tone was more psychological thriller from yesteryears. But, don’t look too long because there are actors everywhere.

Umm, when they asked you if the baby is beautiful, know that whatever you say won’t be the right answer. Just keep moving.

Umm, when you’re asked to sing along, whatever you decide is probably not going to be right.

Some people leave with red marks. My fella ended up with a red splotch on the back of his neck. We do not know how. It got on his white shirt; it completely washed out! Thanks, design team.

When you’ve come to the end, you’ll know! That was another thing I have never seen. I’m pretty sure it showed up in my dreams last night.

After the scares, I had a home-made Italian ice that was one of the best things that I have ever had. Trust me when I recommend you going for three scoops. I opted for one cherry scoop assuming it was ice with that syrup poured on it. I was so wrong so when my fella wanted lime, he got three scoops. He had his dinner there too (chicken tenders and fries). Together we shared an amazing funnel cake.

It was a great date night and we’re planning to go again before the end of the season.