Three macabre tales where presidential history meets the paranormal.
We’re back with a brand new season of the podcast and we’ve got some exciting stories for you!
With Halloween approaching and offering a nice distraction from the hellscape of the coronavirus and the election, we’re fully embracing the spooky.
When I went digging for presidential stories from the beyond, I found so many I liked that I couldn’t contain them all in just one episode. So in the first part of our paranormal two-parter, we dig into three stories.
The Apparition of John Adams
The first story comes from a letter that Abigail Adams wrote to John Adams while they were dating – I first wrote about this letter in the post Abigail Adams and The Ghost of John Adams. This bizarre apparition of John Adams and his “double cousin” Zabdiel (that appeared while Adams was still alive) poses more questions than it answers, but it’s clear that the New England of the Adamses was a haunting place.
Bier Right, or The Ordeal of The Touch
In the second story, we look at a trial where John Adams served as the defense attorney for Elizabeth and Jonathan Eames, just a year before the Boston Massacre. In this trial, a medieval ritual called “bier right” AKA the ordeal of the touch AKA cruentation was almost used to determine the guilt of an alleged murderer.
According to proponents like King James I, if a murder victim’s body is handled by the murdered, it will gush blood “as if the the blood were crying out to heaven for revenge of the murdered.”
Adams’s trial is said to be the last time this ritual was ever attempted in Massachusetts.
Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Then for the final story, we look into the lost folkore behind the nursery bogey Rawhead and Bloodybones, a bugbear that crept up in several founders’ letters. In 1818, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “there are fanatics both in religion and politics who, without knowing me personally, have long been taught to consider me as a rawhead & bloody bones.”
This legend is considered to be an example of lost folklore, as we have traces of it being referenced by name going back to the 16th century but the original details of the story seem to be lost. We dig into examples of the story throughout time, and Jess even creates her own based on a writing prompt I gave her before we recorded to create a folklore tale based solely on the name “Rawhead and Bloody Bones.”
Jess’s version owes much more to the Spanish film The Orphanage than to Clive Barker’s Rawhead Rex.
We’ll be back next week with two more paranormal presidential stories – one about a battle with a famous witch and another about an epic autobiography written by a president…from beyond.
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The Apparition of John Adams:
“Abigail Smith to John Adams, 12 September 1763,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-01-02-0010
“Abigail Adams to John Adams, 20 September 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-02-02-0084
Bier Right, or the Ordeal of the Touch:
Ordeal By Touch by Lawrence B. Custer, AmericanHeritage.com
How ‘Talking’ Corpses Were Once Used To Solve Murders by Erika Engelhaupt, NationalGeographic.com
John Adams and the American Revolution by Catherine Drinker Bowen
The Lawyers Who Signed The Declaration Of Independence by Harry J. Lambeth, American Bar Association Journal, July 1976
The Ames Murder by Sidney Perley, The Essex Antiquarian Volume II No. I, January 1898
Legal Papers of John Adams Volume I, Massachusetts Historical Society
Murder and Mayhem in Essex County by Robert Wilhelm, 2011
Rawhead and Bloody Bones:
“Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 26 February 1818,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-12-02-0411
“To John Adams from Benjamin Rush, 8 September 1810,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-5560
“To John Adams from Benjamin Lincoln, 30 May 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-0593
Bloody Bones: A History of Southern Scares by Scott Poole, Deep South Magazine
An Essay on the Archaeology of Our Popular Phrases and Nursery Rhymes, Volume 1, by John Bellenden Ker, 1837
Raw-head, bloody bones, and other terrors of the nursery by Eleanor Maier, Oxford English Dictionary
Somerset Folklore by Ruth L. Tongue, 1965 (as quoted in The Fairies in Tradition and Literature by Katharine Briggs)
Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies by Mary Hamilton, 2012
Raw Head and Bloody Bones: A Missouri Ghost Story retold by S. E. Schlosser, AmericanFolklore.net
“Two Versions of Rawhead and Bloodybones” from the Farmer-Muncy Family,” Perspectives on the Jack Tales And Other North American Märchen, 2001
Mules and Men by Nora Zeale Hurston (Chapter 10)
The Truth about RAWHEAD REX Part II – Awakenings by Jim Moon, hypnogoria.blogspot.com
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