Macabre Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Ahhhhh, season’s greetings, folks! This year finds me feeling slightly grumpier than usual. I have a cold, my husband has a cold, and our 18-month-old has the croup, which is a thing I didn’t realize people got after 1905. I’m also compiling this list for the 4th year in a row, and at this point every morbidly ironic prayer candle, Victorian-inspired hair jewelry, literary t-shirt, taxidermy anything, skull anything, antique surgical anything, tentacled anything, Krampus anything is starting to look the same to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s just something about the horrendous mood of 2017 that makes me feel like anything that isn’t absolutely essential isn’t worth our time right now.

However, I am embarking on a rather enormous hot toddy at the moment, so my mood might improve enough over the course of writing this post to result in a genuinely cheerful outlook (and probably some enthusiastic online shopping) before the night is out.

Given that I have clearly become a bit stuffy about everything, I think it’s best for me to begin with something I really love — books — and keep going in that vein, focusing on museums and cultural institutions, education, experiences, and yes, some handmade and really very lovely crafts.


I was excited to find out that Valancourt Books was bringing out a follow-up to their first collection of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories. Volume Two mines the same rare 19th century periodicals to find under-the-radar gems of spectral fiction by underrated and/or forgotten writers. It’s the perfect little curio to give to anyone with a penchant for genuine gaslight-era ghost stories. According to the publisher they “represent a mix of the diverse styles and themes common to Victorian ghost fiction and include works by once poplar authors like Grant Allen and Eliza Lynn Linton as well as contributions from anonymous or wholly forgotten writers.” This also represents my first purchase of the evening. Sold!

Speaking of authors overlooked, anonymous, and forgotten, I highly recommend Michael Sims’ anthology of Victorian science fiction, Frankenstein Dreams. If you’re interested in stories about cryogenic freezing from 1870, bat-men on the moon and other hoaxes, and dream fantasies from Emily Dickinson’s editor, you’ve come to the right place. An insightful introduction ties these stories together as a reflection of the century’s sense of discovery and anxiety, and this book should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the roots of contemporary science fiction.

Fans of both gaslamp fantasy and Boroughs of the Dead will be thrilled to know that our guide Leanna Renee Hieber has another book out this year! Eterna and Omega is the second book in the Eterna Files saga and the action ramps up in this second installment. In New York City, fearing the dangers of the Eterna Compound–supposedly the key to immortality–Clara Templeton buries information vital to its creation. The ghost of her clandestine lover is desperate to tell her she is wrong, but though she is a clairvoyant, she cannot hear him. In London, Harold Spire plans to send his team of assassins, magicians, mediums, and other rogue talents to New York City, in an attempt to obtain Eterna for Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria… and the hidden occult power that menaces both England and America continues to grow.

For those more interested in those newfangled moving pictures, you’ll love Kier-La Janisse’s Yuletide Terror. I’m a huge fan of the sub-sub-genre of Christmas horror movies, and this book is a huge treat for me. From the BBC’s A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS series to SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (and the ensuing controversy), from Eastern European folk-horrors all the way up to the seasonal succubi of the “New French Extremity” — followed by a compendium of over 200 Christmas horror film reviews — this is a bracing but incredibly welcome surprise for anyone who thinks they’ve seen every scary Yuletide movie ever. Highly recommended. I already bought my own personal copy but I’m hoping to snag a few more at her upcoming reading in NYC on December 12th to give as gifts.

Noted taphophile Loren Rhoads has compiled possibly the ultimate guide to cemetery tourism in 199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die. Besides having one of the best titles ever, this book is indispensable for anyone who has an ambitious bucket list and a budget to match, or simply for the gawkers like me who want to see the world from the comfort of an armchair, gazing at the 300-odd photos in this gorgeous tome. It is, according to the publisher, “a hauntingly beautiful travel guide to the world’s most visited cemeteries, told through spectacular photography and their unique histories and residents,” and we couldn’t agree more.

From Joanna Ebenstein, the mastermind behind Morbid Anatomy, comes Death: A Graveside Companion, a lush new art book. At nearly 400 pages, it contains over 1,000 images, many never before published, which trace “humankind’s attempts to imagine and that great, inevitable unknown mystery of human life: namely, death.” Accompanying the images are a series of essays penned by a veritable who’s-who of the world of death (if there is such a thing) including including Mel Gordon (author of Voluptuous Panic and Grand Guiginol), Michael Sappol (formerly of the National Library of Medicine), Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor, cultural critic Mark Dery, and John Troyer of the Centre for Death and Society.


Wellllll, now I’m warming up. This hot toddy is kicking in and I’m feeling generous. And what does one do when feeling generous? You support your local history museum, that’s what! Obviously there are far too many to choose from here in NYC alone not to mention nationwide, so to keep the focus on those that are either a) haunted or b) cemeteries, may I suggest a donation or membership to one of the following institutions to give to your loved ones this winter holiday. Many of the larger institutions also have gift shops, of course, and there’s really no better place to purchase something than at an institution whose programming will actually do some good in the world. A small smattering of my beloved favorites include the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA, the Green-Wood Historic Fund, the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, the Merchant’s House Museum, and the Morris Jumel Mansion. A special appeal on behalf of the Merchant’s House Museum: In April 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a plan for construction of an eight-story hotel next to the 1832 Merchant’s House, a federal, state, and city landmark. The fragile 185-year-old landmark House will be damaged during construction, possibly irreparably. They are currently raising funds to hire a lawyer to fight the proposed development, but as you can imagine, it’s not free. Consider the old house your Tiny Tim and make like a reformed Scrooge and donate to the worthy cause of saving this splendid home from destruction.

And readers, if you have a suggestion for a worthy institution, please let us know in the comments and we’ll add it if appropriate.

Education and Experiences

Of course, a year or so ago, one of my favorite museum recommendations would have been Morbid Anatomy. They’ve since closed down their physical location in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but they continue to offer a number of events, including lectures such as their current Utopia/Dystopia Series. If attending a historical or educational lecture doesn’t sound thrilling to you, well then I just don’t know how to help you (also, you probably stopped reading after the last section). But if it does sound thrilling to you (and regrettably this section of the list is woefully NYC centric, for which I apologize to my out-of-town readers) then be sure to give the gift of knowledge by sending your friends and loved ones to amazing events, lectures, and discussions, such as those found at The New York Academy of Sciences, who are offering a talk called “A Touch of Awe: Crafting Meaning from the Wonder of the Cosmos” (which Poe would definitely have been into) or a course like “Tarot Card Basics” at Brooklyn Brainery or a lecture by Boroughs of the Dead’s own Marie Carter at QED, where our guide lectures on topics such as ghosts, murders, and the history of ghost hunting.

If you really love someone and you’ve got the money to prove it, gift them with an Atlas Obscura trip. Some of the most exciting trips for 2018 are sold out already (I lament not being able to go on their “Ghosts of the Northwest Passage” excursion) but I wouldn’t be upset at receiving a ticket to their “Secrets of Newfoundland” jaunt, where I could really get in touch with my Janes heritage.

And of course there is no better gift (none!) than a Boroughs of the Dead Gift Card. Better indeed than even the gift of life itself! Buy lots and lots and give them to everyone you know. You’ll be keeping my baby in croup medicine. (Disclaimer: there is no such thing as croup medicine. It’s just steroids, which open the airways. Actual steroids that make a toddler jump on the couch like a crazed macaque.)

Other Pretty Things

This year, the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot Deck really stood out to me as being something I’d like to own both to use and simply to look at, as it is very pretty indeed. According to the creators, the deck is “inspired by the visual beauty of nature, early Celtic mysticism and the luminous beauty of Renaissance paintings.” I personally love its understated palette and delicate lines. Perhaps I’m especially drawn to divination this year as I’m hoping that 2018 will be a less horrendous parade of human garbage and that these cards perhaps will sustain me in that hope. If not, they are awfully lovely to look at.

Happy Holidays, everyone.