“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die,
but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.
Nothing is dead.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nominalist and Realist Essays: Second Series, 1844.
Many readers ask me why I wrote The Dazzling Darkness, a supernatural mystery that takes place in Concord, Massachusetts. The recurring question is about the famous transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). “Is Emerson a ghost?” they ask.
Yes. And no. Mr. Emerson is not a ghost in the traditional sense. One of the first elements that sparked The Dazzling Darkness was a line Emerson wrote in his address Nature in 1849:
“Even the corpse has its own beauty.”
Kind of shocking, right? It certainly stopped me on the page. Oddly, this line of prose carries a certain passion, as if Emerson somehow connected to death. He points out that there is “no object so foul that intense light will not make it beautiful.” Of course, Emerson was being emblematic here as he did in so much of his writing. Or was he?
Haunted for weeks by this line of a corpse having its own beauty, I began reading more of Emerson’s writings. When I looked deeply into his personal life, I discovered that he did indeed have a strong connection to death.
Emerson lost his young wife Ellen to what was then called consumption. Driven by his intense grief over Ellen’s death, one day he entered the family graveyard and opened Ellen’s coffin to view her corpse. It was only a year after her death. What did he see? His journals say nothing more, except that he did this act. And then, some twenty-five years later, he opened the coffin of his little boy, Waldo, who died at 5 years old.
Could any of us view our beloved dead in the grave even once, let alone twice? Heart-wrenching to say the least. And yet, this experience certainly did connect him to death in a unique way.
For me, these images all connected. A story emerged. Images of a cemetery. A little boy named Henry appeared. Coffins began opening. The dead suddenly became physically visible.
A mysterious woman named Dorothea began speaking from the cemetery.
The story unraveled and I met Elias Hatch, owner and keeper of Old Willow Cemetery in Concord. Elias is the last of modern-day transcendentalists. During the 19th century, Concord was the center for the new thinking of transcendentalism, and even today the town still carries all that transcendental history. The transcendentalists honored intuition, insightfulness, and creativity. As I wrote my modern story I began to see these themes emerging through the characters and especially in the mind of Detective Mike Balducci. Old Willow Cemetery and the statuary there began to haunt Mike and one day, he decides to dig up a grave of a woman known as the Weeping Woman of Old Willow.
The idea of a corpse having ‘beauty,’ as Emerson said, crystallized in my mind. I didn’t know quite where I as going during the drafts but in the end, I had a ghost story, a supernatural mystery about the Brooke family, Antonia and Adam, who confront long-buried secrets of the dead while they endure a tireless search for their lost child Henry.
And the ghost of Mr. Emerson seemed to speak
from the very pages I was writing.
A secret lies buried beneath the haunting statuary in Old Willow Cemetery. The surrounding woods are alive with the spirits of transcendentalists Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. Elias Hatch can sense their presence. Does he know the secret power buried in Old Willow Cemetery? Would he ever reveal it?
If there is a secret, that all things subsist and do not die, as Emerson wrote, that secret lies in Old Willow Cemetery.///////
The Dazzling Darkness (print edition published by Crispin Books) hit the Amazon Kindle Best Seller List for 17 weeks in Mystery/Thriller ghost stories. The novel continues to sell in the top 150 in this category.
BRONZE MEDAL WINNER, Readers’ Favorite International Book Award for Supernatural Fiction, 2014. “Beautiful and high standard writing style from start to finish.”
MIDWEST BOOK REVIEWS ★★★★★ “Paula Cappa is a master of the metaphysical mystery genre … an extraordinary and original storyteller of the first rank. Very highly recommended.”
GOTHIC READERS BOOK CLUB CHOICE AWARD “Dazzling sums up Paula Cappa’s paranormal/supernatural novel … an elegance and grace that seduces you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson Organization Website
Transcendentalist Trail in Concord, MA
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, MA
The Colonial Inn, Concord, MA [Emerson is said to haunt Room 24 in The Colonial Inn.]
Ghosts in Concord at TheConcordWriter.com
Ralph Waldo Emerson House, Concord, Massachusetts.
Visits and tours at NPS.gov.