In Print : Spirited tales
"Vineyard Supernatural, True Ghost Stories from America's Most Haunted Island," by Holly Mascott Nadler. Down East, 2008, 174 pages, $13.95.
More than a simple collection of things going bump in the night, author Holly Nadler's latest offering, "Vineyard Supernatural," is a sweeping and spirited compendium of Island history, places and people - both living and dead. A slim soft-bound book, divided into 21 chapters that include ghostly episodes in restaurants, inns, and private residences all around Martha's Vineyard, it is a well told and crafted accounting that entertains rather than persuades - although it is difficult to dismiss, at the very least, the possibility of the paranormal. As Ms. Nadler writes: "...let us exercise good judgment, but at the same time let us leave ourselves open to the possibility that something truly weird and wonderful could happen to any one of us."
The charm of the book is in the telling. Anyone who has ever engaged Ms. Nadler, whether at her former Oak Bluffs bookstore, Sun Porch Books, or in her role as an Island freelance writer, has been privy to her witty and literate banter. She writes as she speaks, complete with humorous asides and trilling descriptions of "lost souls imprinted on the air like a tiramisu of sugar, cake, and mascarpone cheese all squashed in a glass bowl."
With her perspective as a long-time Islander, she presents attitudes as well as scenes: "Living here feels like a doomed love affair; it brings you no peace, but you know your lover is more beautiful, more exciting, and infinitely more kind than anyone else in the world."
And so come contemporary tales of the ghostly apparitions in trophy homes with torment in their histories, strange nudgings and appearances, smells and sounds at The Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, The Ritz and in the Campground cottages in Oak Bluffs, at The Square Rigger in Edgartown. Each is expressed in a refined, conversational manner - no attempt to superimpose artificial drama.
Ghostly sightings, unexplained movements and sounds, a push here, a shove there are all gently offered in firsthand reporting - a family member who remembers a relative's ghostly stories, the person whose shoulder was tapped, the renter who put it here and it wound up there, a night watchman, a hotel maid who can't offer explanations, but who tell the tales: "On the third night, the freezing cloud again entered the room, but now a noise came with it! I don't know how else to describe it except to say that it reminded me of a ceramic bowl, filled with silverware, being jostled on top of a tumbling clothes dryer."
In impressive detail, Ms. Nadler recounts the shipwreck of the steamer City of Columbus on Devil's Bridge off Gay Head, and recounts the aftermath. Her descriptions are so vivid, the images so effective in conjuring the scene of mayhem, it alone warrants reading the book.
But there's more. The author, who names names when the subjects allow themselves to be identified, describes her friendship with the late Steve Ellis with whom she shared hot chocolate and debates over Nathaniel Hawthorne, Italian history, and their first-person tales of the supernatural. Mr. Ellis's story of ghostly apparitions in an old monastery outside of Boulder, Colo., where he stayed is recounted in a style that makes the experience worthy of a scary black-and-white movie.
This is Ms. Nadler's third literary foray into the subject. All published by Down East, she wrote "Haunted Island" in 1994, and "Ghosts of Boston Town" in 2002. In 2006, she wrote an even more frightening book: "Vineyard Confidential: 350 Years of Scandals, Eccentrics, & Strange Occurrences." During the summer season, Ms. Nadler, lantern in hand, leads ghost tours through Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.
And there is no doubt that she is a believer. But while readers of this latest offering may still harbor some doubts, they will be treated to an entertaining, well-researched, and well-written book - just in time for Halloween.