American Forteana

Front Cover

Robert Damon Schneck. The President’s Vampire. Anomalist Books, 2005.

This is a fine collection of Fortean episodes from American history, ranging from the paranormal to historical enigmas. The two chapters which are most likely to interest Magonia readers are the first. which deals with the phantom siege of Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1692 and the sixth, which deals with phantom intruders.

The Gloucester siege in which people claimed to have seen strangers, feared to be the French and their Indian allies, lurking round their neighbourhood, strangers who seemed curiously immune to bullets who left no unambiguous physical traces and mysteriously disappeared is an early example of the a whole range of stories in which people, usually on isolated farms and like properties become the target of all sorts of mysterious goings on. Schneck draws the parallels with the tale of the Kelly-Hopkinsville humanoids and Fred Beck’s siege by phantom bigfoot. One possible explanation is mass hysteria, but as Schneck points out this can leave many questions unanswered.

The chapter on phantom intruders features stories very reminiscent of Spring Heel Jack, centred around a Baltimore housing project in 1951. It was a tall thin figure dressed in black which sprinted across the rooftops, grabbed people, enticed a young girl to crawl under a car and played music in the graveyard. Schneck notes a similar case from America in 1981 and Santa Fe, Argentina in early 2005.

In other chapters there is an account of John Murray Spear’s magical machine, a revisionist look at the Casper, Wyoming mummy, the title chapter which shows how a black sailor who killed a shipmate in anger was given the reputation of a cannibal serial killer found chewing on his victims remains in the hold of the ship, and the case of the mysterious disappearance of five black teenagers in Newark, New Jersey in 1978.

By far the longest chapter, a story told by a personal friend, of a trio of young people contacting a living serial killer through an Ouija board, strikes me as the least interesting, it’s an obviously example of an adolescent gross-out story which despite the author’s attempt to find significance strikes me as entirely pointless. However the rest is really good.  -- Peter Rogerson

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