Wednesday, October 31, 2018

CELTIC PUMPKIN CLASSIC REWIND: The Glorious History of the Bedsheet Ghost

This episode of Classic Rewind takes us back to 2011 as we explore the CP's first foray into the whole bedsheet ghost obsession.  Enjoy, kiddies...

It is as classic an image of Halloween and trick or treat as any Jack O' Lantern, hobo, gypsy or kid bleeding from the mouth after biting into an apple full of razor blade...the bedsheet ghost!

Cute, non?
Iconography such as cats, bats and pumpkins are common for Halloween and are culturally part of the American Halloween tradition.  Ghosts are a part of the Halloween tradition due to their connections with the spooky in general and the fact that Halloween has its origins in a festival wherein the return of the dead is a major part of the lore.
"Ghosts I get", you say, "but what gives with the bedsheets?"
Aha, I've got you covered on that one.  Despite being a complex, intelligent and linguistic species, humans do a fair amount of their communications through non-verbal means, including body language and visual imagery.  Images (pictures, signs, diagrams) act as a visual shorthand for complex concepts that might be too large to effectively convey quickly and succinctly.  The bedsheet with two black holes where the eyes should be is the visual shorthand for ghost.  Is this sensible?  Possibly, if we do a little research, which I have done for us.  
Belief in ghosts is, apparently, ancient and varied.  Culturally we can call them shades, spirits, phantoms, wraiths, or any number of foreign words I won't reprint here.  In Appalachia the term haint is popular (a corruption of haunt).  Anyone who grew up playing RPGs on tabletop or video may be familiar with many of these terms but may also be laboring under the impression that each describes a unique creature.
The one on the left is a shade and the one on the right is unfortunate.

I digress.  Various cultures have held various beliefs in the afterlife at various times, subject to their religious views, scientific knowledge, and superstitions.  A common belief that can be found in multiple cultures at various times is the notion that ghosts are composed of insubstantial vapors, mists, ectoplasm, or energy.  In some times or cultures ghosts appear in the clothing they wore when they died (complete with death wounds) and in others ghosts appear in their grave clothes.  In this case the burial shroud, a cloth that was wrapped around the body in lieu of clothing, would be represented as the grave clothes on the returned spirit.  This would, one reasons, be not unlike a sheet.
Truuuust meeeeee...I'm spooooooooooky.

The Wikipedia  says, in its article "Ghost", that in the 19th century theater the "sheet ghost" rose to prominence as the archaic "armored ghost" was no longer capable of providing the requisite "spookiness" it once commanded.
Read the article:

If we combine multiple ancient notions of shades being insubstantial, garbed in burial shrouds and unhappy, we can see how a sheeted ghost becomes a good visual shorthand for ghostly phenomena.  The total number and make-up of features changes, but a pair of eyes (or at least shadowy impressions where eyes should be) is de rigueur.  In order of personally observed frequency from greatest to least common the features are:
Eyes (most commonly a simple set of black holes, but can be made expressive or glowing)
Mouth (most commonly a black hole resembling a stylized O, but can be jagged, wavering or even smiling)
Nose (either an impression in the sheet suggesting something underneath or another hole, very rarely is it something else)
Hair (humorous facial hair or more rarely head hair, which is often used to denote a "female" ghost)
Ghosts having a meeting, probably to plot the violent overthrow of the household inhabitants, thankfully 4 Jack O'  Lanterns and a live pumpkin guard the living, thus the ghosts are stuck outside, talking shite and biding their time.  Note the O-shaped eyes and mouths.
Another reason, albeit a meta-fictional reason for ghosts in sheets is to make them visible to mortals.  In Beetlejuice the ghosts of the Maitlands don sheets with holes cut out for eyes as they cannot be seen by the adult mortals in the house, who they desire to scare away.  Not only do the sheets provide a form, draping over their spirit bodies, but act as a visual shorthand for "ghost".  That it does not work is part of the humor of the scene.  In Disney's Haunted Mansion dark ride the ghosts are invisible to the mortal riders' eyes until Madame Leota's seance brings their wispy forms into focus.  As the doombuggies take the riders into the graveyard dozens of "sheet ghosts" can be seen flying about the sky as a backdrop to the ghost "personalities" (such as the opera singer and the headless knight).  None of these were visible to the naked mortal eye prior to Madame Leota's establishing contact.  In this meta-fictional sense the spirit, invisible to the mortal, needs the "sheet" to be seen (but can presumably be "seen" by other spirits with no artificial aid required).

As ghosts go, the little guy to the left is atypical.  He has expressive eyes, an elongated ovoid mouth in a surprised pose and eyebrows (a rare quality indeed).  Clearly he's surprised, perhaps even spooked by you mortals looking at him.  The fingers are not uncommon either.  He's a cute little guy and I get the impression that this is his normal look.  The visual imagery we have is most definitely a ghost, we have no questions about that.  Is he friendly?  He certainly seems to be.  Why so vague a form?  We don't want to have to identify him with a single personage, which is the great thing about the bedsheet ghost; it can be anybody or nobody at all.  Yes, spooky pun! 

In Beetlejuice  and the Haunted Mansion rides the ghosts, when visible, look like normal people (bearing their death scars in the Burton film, although the Maitlands are not eternally soggy even though they died by drowning, which if the pattern of death scars held true they would be, or at least blue) or like stylized monsters.  For example, in the Haunted Mansion the fully visible ghosts are blue and glowing and look like humans, if somewhat caricatured and Betelgeuse looks like a disgusting clown-man, pale of skin, patches of mold on his dead skin, and disgusting hair and nails, while the Maitlands look normal.  Betelgeuse is  able to alter his form, change his clothes and alter his appearance drastically, while the Maitlands seem to wear only the clothes in which they died, save for when Otho summons them into their bridal clothes.  The ghosts in the Haunted Mansion all wear appropriate costumes and never change ever.
The bedsheet ghost is a contrast to this.  Rather than attempting to scare us with garish death wounds or date itself by wearing the appropriate period clothes, it is a formless blank, with only the bare minimum of features required to let us know it is was a person at all.  This is part of the great visual shorthand that immediately sums up all the notions of "ghost" without having to use the words.

This fellow to the right is a "scary bedsheet ghost" type 5, Wavering Moaner (all of these are classifications I just made up on the, non?).  His features are simplistic and evoke both skull and Jack O'Lantern imagery, stronger with the skull.  The jagged mouth, gaping open as it does, tells us that he moans with a regularly oscillating vibrato.  Probably.

Some sheet ghosts work by going light on the details and allowing shadows and the mind to fill in the horror, others work by adding the blank staring holes-for-eyes that tell us much by their absence.  After all, if the eyes are the windows to the soul, what do the empty eye-holes of a ghost's sheet show us? 

This is a ghost costume with some unfortunate implications
So that's the bedsheet ghost in all his glory.  Possibly the single easiest Halloween costume any kid can ever make, yet immediately detailed in its simplicity and charming in its ancient evocations of memories we don't know we have.  Here in this modern age we have long since stopped using burial shrouds, yet year after year new children are conditioned into recognizing the bedsheet ghost, which makes it a classic piece of the lore, right up there with the Jack O'Lantern and superfluous bathroom amenity yard redecorating.  Whether it is cute and spooky or disturbing and ooky, the bedsheet ghost is a perennial favorite at Halloween and long may it remain so.
Taken from the classic brochure from the Gatlinburg, TN attraction that scarred me for life...

Until next time keep your pumpkins lit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Rather, How Am I To Know That Is A Ghost?

Please draw your attention to the image below:

Am I being picky?
Well, no.  As I'm always saying you have a very brief span of time to make an impression and you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.  Whether you are at the door begging candy, giving out candy, or at a party getting sloshed, you have to be instantly recognizable.  People don't need to hear a 5 minute backstory where you explain your costume, or worse where you have to show how clever you think you are for making a bad joke.  Remember what we learned last year with the Stranger Things costumes!
Our model is wearing a tattered poncho.  It's just a poncho.  It's not even well-tattered.  This poncho comes with a chain.  Our model is wearing black pants and shoes.  Is this a ghost that is into separates or are we to ignore her legs entirely?

Yeah, is that what we are supposed to see represented?
Okay, that would be okay.  Not good, not bad, just okay.  It's decent.  

Now go back to the top picture.  How are we to know she's a ghost and not just, well, a fashion victim?

Keep your pumpkins lit...maybe it will keep this sort of travesty away from your porch.

Monday, October 29, 2018


Today's Classic Rewind feature is a piece from the second Halloween season highlighting your humble host's complete and total inability to pick a costume.  This also features my earliest addiction to pun reliance.  Won't you come with me down memory rabbit hole as we completely fail to answer that age old question...

What the Hell am I going to be for Halloween this year?
I've been saying and thinking for a few years now that I would be a ghost, but then I end up not.  I'm not sure why this is other than my being "inspired" at the last minute by some other idea or my dissatisfaction with ghost costuming.  The really good ones are wicked expensive or require the use of a shimmering make-up, to which I might be allergic.  I had an incident a few Halloweens back where make-up made my lips go numb, my face tingle, and made me dizzy.  Pretty scary actually.
I am not one to wait until the very last minute.  I might change my mind a few times and spend weeks agonizing over choices, but I like to get started and get done, at least with the bulk of the work, well prior to the event.  I find planning is often the hardest part.
Just the other day, as Frau Punkinstein and I were looking at Halloween decorations at Michaels, I asked her what she wanted to be this Halloween and we briefly kicked around a few ideas.  Again the notion of my ghostly aspirations from years past came back to haunt the conversation, which is most apropos, I should think.
Obviously a costume is a prime example of visual shorthand.  It must be obvious that my costume represents a ghost, otherwise I will spend all night explaining it to people, which is not top of my list of fun things to do.  Like one year in college when I dressed up as Beowulf.  I thought it was perfectly obvious given the huge severed monster arm I was carrying.  Then when I told people who asked, "I'm Beowulf" and showed them the arm, they either nodded quietly as if to say, "Very droll, English Major" or just wandered off somewhere leaving me feeling quite the fool.
I quite liked my Beowulf set up.  The next year when I wrapped some tartan around my waist, painted my face blue and strapped a sword to my back there was no explanation needed.  Lesson to be learned: you have to work with cultural expectations and zeitgeist in these matters.
So again I am thinking ghost.  Mostly because I can't find a traditional undertaker's suit that I like (not that sodding wrestler, but a funeral director).
See, in my mind's eye a ghost should either look like this:
Wallpaper image courtesy of, THE best HM tribute site I know, please check out Chef Mayhem's excellent webpage

Or failing that awesomeness, this:
Awwwww, the Littlest Ghost, he's just so vulnerable and cute
Which means I have a hard time getting a costume I really like.
I'm fond of this one:

Comes with mask, which is nasty, but not pants or cane
It has a real "Grim Grinning Ghost" vibe going on, which I like, being a huge Haunted Mansion fan.

I also like this one, but it might have "unfortunate implications" if you get my meaning
Then there are the really expensive ones that require make-up, which I have stated before, might not work.
Comes with sodding everything
$130.00...BLOODY AMERICAN DOLLARS!!!  So, not so much.
Out of luck maybe?

But then again, I do like scarecrows...
And really it's just a sack on your head and some dirty clothes, right?  Who am I kidding, I nuke it every time.  I will end up wanting that "personal" touch, which means no simple sack for me.

So really the problem is not in the least solved and August is already in its second week.  Bloody.  Hell.

Any guidance would not be frowned upon.  Keep those pumpkins lit.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

PUMPKIN SEEDS: CP Classic Rewind: A Ghost With A Lantern

Here's a classic originally written in December of 2015, but as it is about ghosts, I think it's a great choice for our Classic Rewind.
Journey back to my mind of 3 years ago as I ponder why a ghost would need, or even want, to carry a lantern...

I was looking at some old D&D stuff and I came across this image in the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual.

It's a ghost.
That is the illustration for the ghost entry, I mean.  So you have this ghost, running about in what I assume is a graveyard from the faint images behind it, and it's carrying a lantern.  This struck me as odd.  Why would the ghost be carrying a lantern?  Can it not see in the dark?  Note that the handle of the lantern can be seen through the ghost's translucent fingers (unless I'm imaging it), so that means it is an actual lantern, not a ghost lantern.
Is this something a player can leverage?  Like, we don't want to carry torches because then we can't carry a weapon and a shield and you can't cast spells holding a torch and the thief certainly doesn't want the light when she's all hiding in shadows, so let's hire a ghost, they carry lanterns.
Curiosity getting the better of me, I read the entry on ghost, to see if there was something about this lantern.  Nada.
I did learn that ghosts just flat out age people 10 years unless they make a saving throw (and in 1st edition any Cleric above 6th level was immune to it).  And that they all attack with a magic jar spell to attempt possession.  Failing that they semi-materialize and start wailing on people.
This is one of those things that youngsters, spoiled by their more modern editions always fail to appreciate.  Undead would seriously hurt you in the old days.  Age you, drain your levels, and other nastiness, and they were almost always impossible to hurt without a bit of magic.  This is why the Cleric's Turn Undead ability was actually useful.
Magic Jar was one of those spells that seemed to exist to give the game flavor.  It's almost never used by PCs because it is almost unusable.  First the wizard has to get a gem or something, this is the "jar" in question, and put his soul into it.  Then when something living comes near the gem the soul inside can attempt to possess the body, effectively booting the owner's soul out, or at least putting it into passenger mode.  Only the gem cannot detect what the body actually is that is near it.  When are you going to use this?
Well, it is one of the spells required to achieve Lichdom...but outside of that?  I suppose if you were really sneaky you could sneak into the dragon's lair while it was out looking for cattle, cast Magic Jar on one of the gems in the horde and then wait for the dragon to come home and try to possess it.  I don't know what you'd do then.  I guess commit dragon suicide, go back into the gem and then go back into your own body.  Possibly.

Since the ghost does not have a gem or anything it's just an attempt at possession, but the DM is supposed to use the magic jar spell rules to "simplify" things.

Not the point.  So I was wondering if this ghost with lantern thing was common and I did some Google searching and did not find much.  The odd story here or there, but no, ghosts running around in graveyards carrying helpful lights not high in the search results.

So I ran over to AD&D 2e to see if the ghost there kept its lantern.  Instead I got this:

No lantern.
Not particularly scary either.  Then I remembered my New Dungeon board game from back in the day and with the help of BGG I found this:

Aha!  Lantern!  And possibly tits.  It might be the light, but I think that sheet ghost has both booty and boobies.  It seems a bit feminine.

But then we have Classic Dungeon released only three years after New Dungeon in 1992 (because TSR knew how to milk a cash cow before WOTC ever did).  Kind of creepy, that one.  It's doing the whole, "I've come for YOUooooooooooooooooo!" pointing thing and it is vaporous with a skully face and I think it's wearing a Celtic cross.

Reminds me a bit of my favorite Gatlinburg brochure.

So here's what I think happens.  You die, and you become a ghost, and there is this Ghost Relations Bureau and you have to get a Ghost Job.  They probably look you over and if you died in some gruesome way connected with say, a bridge or a tree or something, they just send you back there to scare people.  Then after a certain number of years, if you work hard and age enough people, then you get to move up to some other position.  Maybe a house haunting or something.  Now, if you die and you don't look gruesome or impressive, like say you had a heart attack while playing WoW or something, your lame ass has to wear the sheet.  And carry the lantern.  It's like they really want you to have a chance at this whole ghost thing, so they give you a ghost uniform, which is a sheet, as we established years ago, and then you get the lantern and off you go; a haunting, so to speak.  Then, if you manage to survive, as ironically as that sounds, enough adventurers and what have you, you get to qualify for a better job.  But you never forget the lantern.  Oh no.  You tell stories to the younger ghosts about the "good old days" when all a ghost needed was a sheet and a lantern, none of this hi-tech CGI nonsense you have now days, no siree, just a sheet and a lantern, that's how we did it in the old days.  You showed up, waved the lantern, aged a few adventurers, maybe possessed the Fighter and chopped up the Cleric.  Back when haunting was real haunting and a ghost was a real ghost and your hits aged 'em and they could only attack you in the ethereal state, even if they had magic.  None of this namby pamby shit you kids have now.
Nope, you never forget the lantern, kids.

So, keep your (pumpkin) lanterns, lit.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


I always like to give you good and bad examples during the season.  
This is just horrible.  Not the least of which, it is horrible for what you DON'T GET when you pay for it.
Click to enlarge for the full love.

Keep your pumpkins lit.


This costume is not good by any means...

But at least you get a basically complete costume for your money.  A very common problem with costuming, and I believe I have mentioned this before, many times, is that the picture on the web page or in the catalog and what you get are two different things.  To be sure, the companies are honest about this.  They list what you get for your money in the item descriptions and even upsell you with suggestions to make it look like the picture.  On the other hand, much like food modeling, this is still modeling.  Professional makeup, lighting, and models are used to sell the product.
In the example above most of what you see is what you get.  You will need to do your own white facepaint and if you really MUST go all Johnny Depp with the wig and beard that's on you, but you don't need to do that.  This means that you get a decent outfit that works as pirate or colonial gentleman ghost.  70 bucks and for another 30 you can trick it out as you like.  It's not false advertising.

Unlike this crap.
With this weirdo Jacob Marley rip off you get only the hat, the jacket, and a scarf.  If you want the ridiculous facial hair and wig you have to provide that, and the jacket's attached waistcoat is too long and full.  It is crap and what you save compared to the above you will spend to finish the costume, and then some.  

Get a sheet.  Cut some eyeholes in it.  Viola.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

Friday, October 26, 2018


That is a Jawa.

Far be it from me that I should give Disney a dollar, but let's be honest here.
That's a Jawa.

Keep your pumpkins lit.