Historian of Horror : Down to the Sea in Ships

Eventually, one comes to the realization that not everything from childhood is worth clinging to. I have, for example, lost my taste for sugary breakfast cereals. It’s been decades since I’ve stood on a skateboard. And, as much as it pains me to admit, the original Lost in Space absolutely sucked.

I’m not all that crazy about the most recent incarnation, either. What sort of idiot takes his family into a space storm without securing all the large, heavy boxes in the room?!?!?!?

Anyhow. The show started out well, back in 1965, but by the third season, it had long since jumped the shark. Being as how the theme this time out is haunted lighthouses, I had planned to write this on the seventh episode from that year, called, coincidentally, “The Haunted Lighthouse”, which aired on October 18, 1967. It concerned the Robinson clan encountering a spaceship that acted as a sort of lighthouse and is kind of sort of haunted, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you much more about it than that, as I found it completely unwatchable.

So, instead, let’s take a look at a house of another kind, one I’ve mentioned before.

I hope the populace has had a chance to watch the utterly delightful Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”. If so, you will have met Cain and Abel, the caretakers of the Houses respectively of Mystery and Secrets. I wrote about Abel’s domicile recently. This column concerns Cain’s.

Unlike House of Secrets, there was no hiatus for House of Mystery after the old days of cheesy superheroics ended and Cain took the abode into a much darker direction, beginning with issue 174, dated May-June, 1968. I had previously read the title occasionally, but my first experience with the new style came not quite a year later, with issue 179, dated March-April, 1969. 

The issue is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. It contains the earliest known professional work of iconic artist Bernie Wrightson. And it has a story drawn by Neal Adams, whom I believe I have also mentioned before.

In addition, I have noted my love of Victorian architecture, especially those designated Second Empire. One of the features commonly seen on that type of house is a widow’s walk, a sort of fenced-in area atop the upper levels of the Mansard roof that is the defining characteristic of Second Empire. From such a vantage point, the wives of seamen would watch for their husband’s ships to return from lengthy voyages, as long as they have had the foresight to construct said edifice within viewing range of the nearest body of water capacious enough to contain docking facilities for such vessels. Thus it is with the final story of the comic book, other than a single-page reprint.

“Widow’s Walk” has sailor Angus Beame marrying the daughter of a shipping magnate in hopes of inheriting the family fortune. However, after engineering his father-in-law’s untimely demise, he is furious that he is cut out of the will, other than the ship he has been captaining for the firm. He sails off in a huff, which is not a kind of sailing vessel. His abandoned bride lays down a curse upon him to the effect that Angus will not be able to return to his home port, nor any other, until she dies. She stands on the widow’s walk every subsequent day of her very long life, reiterating the malediction. There, she eventually collapses and dies of extreme old age, upon which her husband’s ship floats up from Davy Jones’ Locker, where it has been berthed since the curse was put upon him. He stands at the wheel, more than a little the worse for wear.

The story was written by Howie Post, best known for humorous comic book stories but who did spend some time on the horror comics published by Atlas, the precursor to Marvel Comics. It was inked by Joe Orlando, whose own horror pedigree is rather more impressive. He spent time on the EC horror comics of the 1950s, including Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and Vault of Horror, as well as numerous Atlas titles. By 1968, he was an editor at DC Comics, including on House of Mystery.

So, not a lighthouse, but the topic is maritime-related. Close enough for government work, as we used to say back when I worked for the government.

Our next venture into the outre from this space will concern legendary horror anthologist Peter Haining, a man possessed of great vision that was not always 20-20, but whose is? Join me then, won’t you? A good time will be had by all, I assure you.

And, as always, my dear raconteurs of the repugnant…

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

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