The Ghost of Dr. Harris by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850s)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror December 9, 2014
Ghost stories for Christmas are as traditional as mistletoe and roast turkey. This ghost story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Ghost of Dr. Harris, is reportedly not fiction and his original handwritten copy is not dated. The story was published as one of his “sketches” (scenes from daily life); this genre was in the fashion of the British essay. If you know anything about Hawthorne, you know he had fascination with the supernatural. The thumbnail backstory is the curse on the Hawthornes. Nathaniel’s great-great grandfather Colonel John Hathorne (different spelling) condemned over 100 women to death as witches in Salem, Massachusetts. He was famous for riding out to Gallows Hill to watch the hangings. One of the witches, before her death, put a curse on the Hawthorne family. Nathaniel is said to have carried the guilt of this family curse his whole life. Did it influence his writing? Certainly. Did that make him susceptible to believing in ghosts? Seems so.
During Hawthorne’s years in Boston, he frequented the Boston Atheneaum, a reading room, on Pearl Street. It is here that Nathaniel encounters his first ghost. He writes about this experience in Tales & Sketches, The complete writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1856).
I love Hawthorne’s clarity of voice and how real this ghost is presented while still creating a dreamy atmosphere. What is more impressive is that it was not just a fleeting ghostly moment. There is a subtext of communication here that reaches deep.
Hawthorne does not express much fear in this story, but it leaves a lasting impression. What a perfect ghostly tale to read while sitting by a fire, Christmas tree, with a cup o’ hot spiced cider. I can tell you that the prose works magnificently as a read aloud.
Dr. Thaddeus Mason Harris
Read The Ghost of Dr. Harris as a PDF at Anibalan Files.wordpress.com
Or, you can read this published account in the original Tales & Sketches, The complete writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1856) In Google Books page 244.
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