It's once again the start of one of my favorite months of the year, October. October over the years has had a lot of meaning for me. I closed on my house in October several years ago. I became engaged to my wife Katie on Halloween and we were married nine years ago on October first. Our daughter was born on the fifteenth of the month. Last but not least, most of the jobs I have ever been offered were in October.
Besides all of these personal milestones for me, October is also that month when we turn to all things spooky and ghostly, another favorite interest of mine. Tomorrow I am offering a lecture on coal mining ghost stories at Eckley Miner's Village, and will be appearing with my good friend and fellow historian Bob Vybrenner who is giving a lecture as well on coal miners and mining. That presentation is at 2 p.m. Later in the month, I am hosting for the third year an evening of Summit Hill ghost stories at the Summit Hill Heritage Center on October 26th at 7 p.m. It will be a busy month bookended with both of these free presentations.
In fact one of the scariest movies I remember seeing was "Halloween" and "Magic". When we were young, my mom and dad had PRISM and my neighbor Aunt Lilly had Home Box Office. Her nephew Bill and my brother and I watched lots of movies together, but I can remember being huddled in the dark in her living room watching Anthony Perkins and that maniacal vent figure in "Magic" reigning mayhem down on their victims. As if that wasn't scary enough, the three of us followed that show up with "Halloween" and really scared the dickens out of us.
My favorite horror movies though are the original Universal ones. Nothing compares to the black and white images of horror slink across the screen. Many Saturday afternoons were filled with the local schlockmeister, Dr. Shock, and his Horror Theater. Dr. Shock portrayed by magician Joseph Zawislak had me tuned in every Saturday for the occasional magic trick, a lot of shtick and the main event the horror double feature. After Dr. Shock left the airwaves, WPVI picked up the slack with a midnight movie and Uncle Ted's Ghoul School hosted by Ted Raub. While he showed horror movies, he also mixed it up with some science fiction as well.
I love reminiscing about those days as my dad, my brother Jeff and I spent those couple hours each Saturday sitting in the living room watching all of those spooky movies. I learned to like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman from those days. They also introduced me to Abbott and Costello who made a series of comedy movies with these monsters and more. Those were some of my favorite films on Saturday afternoon although I never understood how the movie "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" managed to have Dracula and the Wolfman guest star. Of course I was only 10 at the time so that probably lent to my confusion.
How many of you can still picture those classic movie scenes? How about the one where Frankenstein's monster gets jolted to life with millions of volts of electricity and he shrieks "It's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!!!" Or how about the famous scene in "Dracula" when the count descends down the staircase to greet Renfield and pauses to utter that famous line as only Lugosi could do, "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make!"
Do you remember the old gypsy sitting in at the table speaking to Lawrence Talbot? That poem is embedded in my juvenile psyche even to the present. "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." The interesting thing about this verse is that many believe it relates to the actual werewolf mythology, but in actuality it was written specifically for the movie.
These were just three of the classic films that were shown during those afternoon and late night theaters. The actors were like horror movie rock gods to me. Of course Count Dracula was Bela Lugosi for years. No one could touch him, his accent or his stark appearance. Then there was Boris Karloff who became famous as Frankenstein's monster. Most people mistook the Monster as Frankenstein but the monster never really had a name. Last but definitely not least was Lon Chaney, Jr. He and his father Lon Chaney, Sr. were a horror movie dynasty.
What is more amazing is the filmography of these three icons. Karloff not only portrayed the Monster multiple times, but in 1970 he also played Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Lugosi best known as Count Dracula also played the Monster in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman". Chaney however scores the hat trick though of portraying not only The Monster, The Wolfman and Dracula in separate films, but a variety of other monsters and hoodlums as well. These three were icons of the classic horror film, staples of Universal's monsters and my childhood favorites. By today's standards those movies were tame and short, but yet curling up and watching one takes me back to the good old days, those Saturday afternoons with Dad, my brother and I. Great times.
Til next time …