Author Archive | Haystack

Inside the Deep Web

Chris 73 (CC)

Shawn Wasson at The News Junkie describes his journey into the other Internet:

The Internet has evolved quite a bit since I first logged on to CompuServe in 1994. I’d spent a few years tooling around on BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) connections throughout the country at that point and the most visible portions of a forming World Wide Web were quite innocent in appearance. But as I ramped up my father’s 4600 baud modem and looked around at the fringes of online existence, I unknowingly caught a glimpse at the Web’s early underbelly. From there, pornography, craziness and illegal activities were easily accessible. There weren’t many people logging on so, naturally, there weren’t many people to police this new digital space. Eventually, as AOL, Prodigy and other ISPs became more mainstream, the more nefarious outlets vanished into the shadows. But where did it all go? I recently took a plunge into the ‘Deep Web,’ a sub-surface area of the Internet not indexed by search engines and only available to those on the forefront of technology, namely people connected to the Tor Network.

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Queen Rat: Victorian London’s Sewer Succubus

Toshers were scavengers who explored the vast, ancient sewers of Victorian London in search of lost coins and salvage, but even greater rewards awaited those fortunate enough to encounter the legendary Queen Rat. As Mike Dash of Smithsonian Magazine reports:

…A second myth, far more eagerly believed, told of the existence (Jacqueline Simpson and Jennifer Westwood record) “of a mysterious, luck-bringing Queen Rat”:

This was a supernatural creature whose true appearance was that of a rat; she would follow the toshers about, invisibly, as they worked, and when she saw one that she fancied she would turn into a sexy-looking woman and accost him. If he gave her a night to remember, she would give him luck in his work; he would be sure to find plenty of money and valuables. He would not necessarily guess who she was, for though the Queen Rat did have certain peculiarities in her human form (her eyes reflected light like an animal’s, and she had claws on her toes), he probably would not notice them while making love in some dark corner.

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The Exegesis Of Philip K. Dick

Philip K DickPhilip K. Dick’s innovative science fiction is best-known for its portrayal of characters trapped in Gnostic false realities which they may unravel by way of divine or god-like helpers, mystical experiences, and active paranoia. As his career progressed, his novels became increasingly bizarre—and increasingly autobiographical. By the time he died in 1982, he had come to regard his collected work not as the production of his own fertile imagination, but as a kind of Scripture; the novelization of essential truths revealed to him in a series of visionary experiences with a higher intelligence.

A new window into the intense process of dizzying introspection by which Dick struggled to explicate his mystical experiences has recently opened with the publication of a 900-page collection of his private papers. As Daniel Karder of The Guardian puts it, “…if you want to know what it’s like to have your world dissolve, and then try to rebuild it while suffering mental invasions from God, Asklepios or whomever, you should read The Exegesis:” 

Philip K Dick rewired my brain when I was a mere lad, after I plucked Clans of the Alphane Moon at random from a shelf in my local library.

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Varney the Vampire’s Feast of Blood

Varney_the_VampireThe fictional vampire may have made his debut at the Algonquin Round Table, but he flourished alongside the cave-dwelling cannibals and homicidal maniacs who introduced the British working class to the magic of reading. The 1845-1847 penny dreadful Varney the Vampire was penned by none other than James Malcolm Rymer, who created the character Sweeney Todd. Victorian Gothic writes:

James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire has been described as the worst book of the 19th century. Introduced in 1845, the completed serial consists of over 600,000 words of tedious dialog, aimlessly meandering storylines, maddening repetition, and enough kernels of genius to consistently inspire horror fiction into the present day. Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Russell T. Davies and Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau are just some of the writers and filmmakers who have been indebted to concepts originated in the pages of Varney, making it easily the most influential vampire story that nobody reads.

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Crafting With Human Hair

CooperHairBoquet

Victorian Hair Wreath

During the 19th century it was fashionable to incorporate human hair into brooches, watch chains, wreaths, and other objects that could be worn or displayed. Victorian Gothic explores the lost art of sentimental hairwork:

Mrs. Hamlin of Omaha, Nebraska left a rather curious heirloom to her descendants—an intricately woven bouquet composed entirely of human hair. Buried deep inside, each of its flowers is numbered with a tiny label corresponding one of fifteen names written on a separate index card; those of herself and her loved ones. More than a century ago, each of these people offered up their locks of brown or gray—literally, pieces of themselves—to provide the material for what would become a lasting symbol family unity.

The weaver need not have been the eccentric that one might suppose. On the contrary, she was likely to have been a conventional middle class lady going about her fancywork.

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Who Haunted Betsy Bell?

Betsy Bell

Betsy Bell

An alternate reading of M.V. Ingram’s history of the infamous Bell Witch haunting suggests a sinister secret at the heart of the mystery. This from Victorian Gothic:

The visitations began with sightings of strange animals about the Bell homestead, and of a unknown girl in green swinging to the limb of a tall oak. Soon there came an unaccountable knocking about the door and exterior walls of the house, followed by scratching and gnawing sounds that searched from room to room. It assaulted the boys in the night, ripping the sheets from their beds and pulling their hair as they tried to sleep. Whenever candles were lit to investigate, they would soon hear screams coming from their sister’s room.

Betsy Bell was 12 years old in 1818 when she became the thrall of an unseen tormentor who, for some three years, relentlessly beat her, mangled her hair, pinched and pricked her skin, and once caused her to vomit pins and needles. 

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Archaeologists Reveal Neanderthals to Have Been Even More Badass Than Previously Thought

mezhirichIt turns out they built ornate homes out of bone. This from Richard Gray of The Telegraph:

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 44,000 year old Neanderthal building that was constructed using the bones from mammoths. The circular building, which was up to 26 feet across at its widest point, is believed to be earliest example of domestic dwelling built from bone. Neanderthals, which died out around 30,000 years ago, were initially thought to have been relatively primitive nomads that lived in natural caves for shelter.

The new findings, however, suggest these ancient human ancestors had settled in areas to the degree that they built structures where they lived for extended periods of time. Analysis by researchers from the Muséum National d’Histories Naturelle in Paris also found that many of the bones had been decorated with carvings and ochre pigments…

[Continues at The Telegraph]

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Walter Potter’s Taxidermy Wants to Swallow Your Soul

Walter Potter’s collection of anthropomorphic taxidermy included cigar-smoking squirrels, athletic toads, and a kittens’ tea party. Victorian Gothic writes:

While the preservation of hunting trophies may be the best-known use of the taxidermist’s art, fans of Walter Potter’s anthropomorphic tableaux can attest to the fact that it has its other, more silly uses. Potter (1835-1918) was a self-taught taxidermist who grew up in the rural community of Bramber, Sussex, at a time when stuffing dead animals was considered to be a suitable hobby for young boys. For technical assistance, he would have had any number of popular manuals at his disposal. For inspiration, he had his younger sister’s illustrated nursery rhyme books and the Great Exhibition of 1851, where anthropomorphic taxidermy was first displayed to the British public.

Potter'sRabbitSchool

His first major contribution was an elaborate diorama depicting the death and burial of Cock Robin, which he began at age 19 and took seven years to complete.

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The Lesbian Vampire Story That Inspired “Dracula”

CarmillaIn composing his novel Dracula, Bram Stoker drew heavily upon an earlier, more seedy story in which a young woman succumbs to the attractions of an undead countess. Victorian Gothic reviews J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla:

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was destined to become the universally-acknowledged masterwork of vampire fiction, but it was not, by any means, the first of its kind. Stokers genius consisted not in having invented the modern vampire monster, but in the imaginative way he synthesized and expanded upon the ideas that prior authors had already been exploring.

One of these was J. Sheridan Le Fanu, whose 1872 tale Carmilla provided a template for many of Dracula’s best-remembered characters and motifs, including the occult doctor (Dr. Hesselius), and the lonely Gothic castle set in a barbarous region of Europe. Many of the proper names in Dracula, in fact, are direct allusions to Carmilla’s characters and settings: “Karnstein” became “Carfax,” “Reinfeldt” became “Renfield,” and so on.

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