“Haunted Island: 20 Year Anniversary Edition,” Down East Books, Camden, Maine, Paperback $14.95. Available at Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books, The Secret Garden in Oak Bluffs, and on Amazon.
Holly Nadler likes to scare people. For years she operated a business conducting ghost tours around the Island. She’s also written three books dealing with the supernatural — two about Vineyard ghosts and one on of Boston’s more cosmopolitan spirit counterparts. Her latest offering is a revised and updated edition of the book that got her into the ghost business in the first place: Haunted Island.
But though Ms. Nadler has a fondness — and a real talent — for giving people goosebumps, you can always sense a twinkle in her eye and a sly giggle as she recounts the tales of the ghosts and ghoulies who, like many Vineyard transplants, have found a home on the Vineyard, and just can’t seem to tear themselves away.
It’s not surprising that Ms. Nadler has a tendency to find some lightheartedness in even the darkest of tales. A former television comedy writer (Laverne and Shirley, Barney Miller, etc.) Ms. Nadler continues to have a knack for looking at life from a somewhat skewed perspective.
Still, despite the fact that the stories in Haunted Island are told with wit and humor, there are some truly scary moments in the book. Some of the spookier tales involve a creepy quintet of ragged ancient mariners invading the bedrooms of young female visitors of a Victorian Inn, a half man/half beast creature roaming the woods of Aquinnah, and one particularly haunted house that seems to drive otherwise mild-mannered tenants to horrifically violent acts.
Haunted Island was originally published in 1994. Since then, Ms. Nadler has become, in her words, “a repository for Vineyard ghost stories.” Apparently, folks approach her all the time to unburden the personal stories that they almost refuse to give credence to themselves. In her second book, Vineyard Supernatural, the author mined this wealth of gathered stories. In the updated version of Haunted Island she has dipped further into that stockpile to add new tales, and has gone back to the sources of some of the original stories to provide updates and new information.
Haunted Island includes 27 stories set at locations all around the Vineyard. From Oak Bluffs cottages to old Edgartown hostelries (the spirit population seems to be particularly fond of the Island’s inns) to remote up-Island settings, ghosts appear in a myriad of forms, and with as many temperaments. There are sad ghosts still mourning some long-ago tragedy and helpful ghosts watching out for homeowners’ children, sparking romance or even, in one case, saving the lives of a young family. There are also a few genuinely malicious ghosts in Haunted Island.
Flesh-and-blood characters also populate the stories of Ms. Nadler’s book. And, just as she has a talent for bringing the dead to life (if you will), she is also adept at painting intimate portraits of the living population of the Vineyard. The book’s locales are also evocatively rendered and, when it comes to setting a creepy tone, Ms. Nadler is expert. In the first tale — a new addition about the old Marine Hospital — the author describes the archetypal dark and stormy night:
“A moonless night over Vineyard Haven harbor, late 1890’s. Wind has gusted all day, and now it plays havoc with the ink black waters, frothing them in every direction. Lightning discharges and fades, disclosing silver masts of ships anchored in these turbulent seas, sails furled, halyards clanging like bells rung by demons.”
In Haunted Island, we get a good glimpse of the Vineyard throughout many eras. With thorough researched (one can just picture Ms. Nadler poring over dusty old documents and outdated newspapers) she attempts to make some sense out of why some ghosts just refuse to rest in peace. Through a combination of factual information and speculation, in each story, the author conjectures on the possible causes of hauntings, but ultimately, she figuratively just throws up her hands and has to admit that the otherworldly just seem to have minds of their own.
Perhaps, like many of us, once they’ve managed to secure a home on the Vineyard, these ghosts just can’t seem to let it go.
Bunch of Grapes reading and signing, Friday, Oct. 24, 7 pm.
Oak Bluffs Library reading and signing, Thursday, Oct. 30, 6 pm.
The Anchors luncheon and reading about the ghost in the Anchors’ attic, Friday, Oct. 31, 1 pm.
Edgartown Books, book signing, Saturday, November 1, 11 am to 1 pm.