Cemeteries, Ghosts & Death Discussions

Spirit Photography in the Museum


Last October 2021, we gathered some friends, historians, a museum curator, and fellow spectrophiles to run an experiment at the Museum of the Home in London. We wanted to see if we could recreate spirit photographs using historically accurate Victorian methods.

This post contains three parts. First, a short history of spirit photography. Second, an interview with our photographer Selina Mayer. And finally, our Spirit Photography Album with the outcomes of the experiment.

Read more…

‘Dickens, Mesmerism & Ghosts’ VIDEO for the ‘Dickens-to-Go’ Project

I made this video with The Dickens Project out of University of California, Santa Cruz for their Dickens-to-Go project.

Just in time for Halloween, Dr. Romany Reagan explains how the Victorian revival of Mesmerism of the 1830s allowed Dickens to explore “ideas about the workings of the mind [that] come through in his work when you start to see his characters and their hauntings through the lens of his mesmeric philosophy.”

VIRTUAL TALK: ‘Hail the Highgate Vampire! Goth kids, cemeteries & the search for the secular sublime’

I’ll be giving a virtual talk Sun 27 Sept 10pm BST for the #RuralGothic conference. There will be lots of amazing speakers over the course of two days! All for a tenner!

My talk closes out the conference:
‘Hail the Highgate Vampire! Goth kids, cemeteries, and the search for the secular sublime’

Through repetition and shared community lineage rituals become codified in society. The lines between acceptable and unacceptable ritual tend to follow the law of established shared-heritage practices going unquestioned, winning validity over recently invented rites. From media-hungry occultists battling it out with mock satanists in Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s to 21st-century wiccan white witches in Abney Park cemetery today, older sites of ritual continue to draw new practices. Our Victorian garden cemeteries offer the pull of an historical site with the aesthetics to match. From their crumbling chapels to their Egyptian follies, new rites fit into the old ways. This talk will take you on a journey through alternative meanings of space as practitioners search for the secular sublime.

PODCAST: ‘The Romany & Sheldon Death Show’, by Cemetery Club

In May 2020 Dr. Romany Reagan shared a Facebook status posing a scenario: the events experienced by a hypothetical person born in 1900. Aged 14, World War One begins. When you’re 29: The Great Depression hits. Aged 62, you have the Cuban Missile Crisis. This led Cemetery Club founder Sheldon K.Goodman to question: how sheltered are we from death nowadays? How has Coronavirus changed our attitude towards it? How are cemeteries adapting to changing ways of memorialisation and remembrance? Are they even needed any more? Join cemetery historians and guides Romany and Sheldon in a friendly death-positive conversation that we’d love you to get involved with.

Listen on Spotify.

Listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen on Radio Public.

Spectral Animals: Ghost Pets to Hellhounds

Edited photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash

“If the study of ghost belief lacks academic respectability, the study of belief in non-human ghosts is still more beyond the pale.” (Knox 262)

There are countless historic newspaper reports on ghosts of pets or animals. In fact, a quick look through the archives showed me there is way too much source material on the subject to delve into for a quick blog post.

The vast majority of these sightings occurred in the latter part of the 19th century. This sharp uptick in ghostly pet encounters coincides with the surge in interest in Spiritualism during this time. It could be a case of correlation not causation, but it’s worth taking note.

Grey Ladies in the Crumbling Stones—our love affair with the uncanny gothic feminine

‘Grey Lady’, William Boxall, 1830

We love our ghost stories. We love to share them, analyse them, hunt for them, and hopefully even capture them with our cameras. But therein lies the troublesome aspect of ghosts—because our search is the pleasure, there is no joy in the answer.

There is in an excitement in these feelings; as a child, many of us remember the sudden horror, then the thrill, of walking through a cemetery and imagining a hand creeping out of a cracked grave. Or walking through an old ruin, forgetting the heritage of the place to instead imagine deep tragedies of our own invention, wishing for glimpses of the ghostly Grey Ladies who cry for justice amongst the stones.

Dancing with Death: A short history of funeral feasts & merry wakes

A detail from an 18th-century oil painting depiction of the Dance of Death, Wellcome Images, London

From lavish feasts to naked mock marriages, death has long been an excuse for a party, even in the Christian era. This tension between life and death, celebration and grief, is marked by communities in different ways through the ages, but one common theme throughout is the need to come together, to strengthen the bonds of the community as a whole when one of their number is lost.

Abney Park Cemetery Audio Walk: ‘Abney Rambles—Woodland Networks’

Photo by Romany Reagan, Abney Park Cemetery

This audio walk is part tour of some of the veteran tree specimens in Abney Park Cemetery, but also part exploration of the unseen nonhuman networks at play in this ancient and diverse nature preserve.

Abney Park Cemetery Audio Walk: ‘Abney Rambles—Woodland Magick’

Photo by Michal Huniewicz http://blog.m1key.me/

This walk is a dark allegorical tale of what lies behind the uncanny mystery that envelops Stoke Newington – and lies beneath Abney Park Cemetery…

Abney Park Cemetery Audio Walk: ‘Abney Rambles—Thoughts on Mourning’

Photo by Romany Reagan, Abney Park Cemetery

This audio walk is a meditation on modern versus Victorian mourning practices. Interweaving quotes from then and now, with stories, the walk is set to the music of The Black Heart Procession, with exit music ‘Dance While the Sky Crashes Down’, by Jason Webley.

Abney Park Cemetery Audio Walk: ‘Abney Rambles—Love, Wrath, Death, Lions: A performed history of Frank & Susannah Bostock’

Photo by Romany Reagan, Abney Park Cemetery

This audio walk is the performed life story of Frank and Susannah Bostock, a famous travelling circus and menagerie couple, buried in Abney Park Cemetery. Frank was a famous lion tamer, and the Bostocks were part of the founding members of Dreamland Amusement Park, Coney Island, New York.

This walk is a love story, but not a simple one.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Audio Walk: ‘Sea Widow—All is lost for she’

This is a fairly short (12min) walk through Tower Hamlets Cemetery telling a love story of ancient woodland gods, a sea widow, her sailor love & the sea siren who stole him away………..

Folklore, legends, myths, and lost histories from the British Isles – collected by Dr Romany Reagan

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