Another ghost witch, overlooking Montego Bay

Rose Hall before restoration

So far, this year’s Hallowe’en story (link and link) has focused on an eighteenth century New England woman, Elizabeth Blachford, whose neighbors caricatured her as the witchy Liza Tower Hill, a fictional character which survives to this day. Elizabeth’s case raises a follow-up question: Is that rare? Have long-lived supernatural tales constellated around other ordinary people?

Meet Rosa (Kelly) Palmer, 1718-1790, Elizabeth Blachford’s contemporary. Rosa lived in Jamaica. Her alter ego is named Annie Palmer. Annie was a wicked slave mistress, a sadistic sexual glutton who murdered two or three of her husbands. Her fourth fled for his life. Annie was herself murdered, strangled by her righteously vengeful slaves. And then the story got better! Annie ruled her plantation by witchcraft until she was defeated by a local adept in Obeah (Jamaica’s African-derived folk magic, comparable with Haitian Voodoo), but not before Annie had killed his granddaughter with the help of a blood-sucking demon. Now Annie’s ghost haunts a Jamaican tourist destination, soon to be the setting for a major motion picture (maybe, the project’s been in development for years).

Spoiler alert: Rosa’s real life story can’t compete with Annie’s legend.

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The ghost witch of Barnstable, continued

lady and devilThe previous post (link) told how Elizabeth (Lewis) Blachford, 1712-1790, had acquired notoriety among her neighbors in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She kept strong ties with the local church, was an exemplary wife, mother and grandmother, and enjoyed neighborly involvement in the life of her community. Despite that, a delusional accusation, a few marginally mysterious events around town, her own assertiveness and a residence literally off the beaten path (if only by several dozen paces) combined to launch a local cottage industry of spinning tall tales about her alter ego, the powerful and vengeful Liza Tower Hill, the Witch of Halfway Pond.

In part because the prime audience for such folk stories included children, the tales survived into the next generation after Elizabeth died. One of those children who heard the fables grew up to be the premier Barnstable genealogist, Amos Otis. Seventy years after Elizabeth’s death, Otis published in the local newspaper some of what he had heard as a boy, with the intention of entertaining a new generation. He also published many facts about the real Mrs. Blachford, whom he believed (mistakenly) to have been a distant relation of his wife.

Otis notes in passing that something he’d said about Elizabeth had soured his relationship with one of her grandsons. The grandchildren stuck up for their beloved grandmother, but they were dying off as Otis was writing in the early 1860’s. By 1900, it was no longer seriously possible that anybody who had actually met Elizabeth was still alive. The stories about Liza Tower Hill had long since detached themselves from anything that really happened. With nobody left to distinguish Elizabeth Blachford from the vivid folk character Liza, the stage was set for a twentieth century woman single-handedly to make church lady Elizabeth over into the devil’s very own femme fatale.

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The ghost witch of Barnstable, Massachusetts

pond view

Mary Dunn Pond

In the charming Cape Cod district of Yarmouth Port, a street actress entertained patrons of a twenty-first century haunted house tour. She played Elizabeth (Lewis) Blachford, 1712-1790, who lived just across the town line in Barnstable. Michael Feist (link) describes the performance:

… satanic Elizabeth Lewis … invited us to watch her stir fish scales into an already merrily boiling pot sporting ear of warthog and eye of newt. “My mother died when I was young,” she explained, to furnish living proof of why she had lived in the woods of those days alone with her father. Now, she cackled, she stays totally alone on Mary Dunn Road, next to Halfway Pond, where strange dancing lights are wont to hover.

Ms. Lewis unwound the yarn of how she had turned herself into a cat for swimming across the ocean. “All witches wear red shoes,” she hissed in near-feline abandon…

However, about 140 years earlier, Cape Cod historian Frederick Freeman wrote of this same woman,

[William Blachford’s] wife was of good order of mind, connected with the best families in town, and 53 years (to the day of her death), a member of the Barnstable church, ” exemplary and pious.” Thirty-five years she was a widow, and, left with a young family and small estate in an obscure portion of the township, contrived by rare industry, uncommon energy, and good management, to bring up her children respectably, she at last going to her grave under the weight of nearly four-score and ten years, 1790, honored and commended by her pastor.

How could a pious church lady and community pillar in real life be remembered in death as a reclusive shape-shifting minion of Satan? Could it be because her ghost seduced a midnight visitor to her former home who’d unwittingly summoned the devil?

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Mark dramatized “If Paul had met Jesus”

Paul and Jesus are said to be contemporary figures. Nevertheless, Paul’s surviving writings never say whether he ever met the natural Jesus. In a usual “argument from silence,” scholars generally conclude that Paul probably didn’t meet Jesus, assuming that Paul would have said so if he had. Furthermore, Paul strongly suggests that his first-ever meeting with any associate of Jesus (although Paul doesn’t identify them as such) occurred years after his conversion (Galatians 1:17-18). The absence of Paul as a character in any of the canonical Gospels reinforces the impression that he never met Jesus.

Mark wrote his Gospel approximately one or two decades after Paul’s letters. A major theme of Mark is the breathtaking variety of human reactions to Jesus’ earthly ministry of wisdom, signs and wonders.

A literary problem arises from the gap between when Mark was writing and when his story is set. Both Paul’s churches and the disciples’ disciples are presumably contending for prominence within the second-generation movement, but Paul has no role in the story Mark is writing. Peter, James, John and the other “inner circle” disciples who traveled with Jesus dominate Mark by default. Mark has no simple way to include both “sides” of the subsequent drama playing out around him.

The principal finding of this post is that Mark found a solution to maintain the timeliness of his story. He represented a hypothetical “Paul’s” reaction to the natural Jesus using the character of an unnamed scribe at verses 12:28-34. This character more readily understands and appreciates Jesus’ message than the probably mostly younger and less educated disciples. However, the scribe declines to join Jesus. If he did join the movement later on, he may well have required some additional sign first, just as Paul himself did.

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The longer ending of GMark, III: Verses 8 to 14 cohere

portrait of Mark

Mark – moody loner with a pen?

The previous post in this series discussed how Mark twice used a literary device, the “Markan hand grenade,” to continue his story beyond a satisfactory stopping place. The apparent third use of that device at verse 16:8 supports the hypothesis that an “authentic” performance of Mark may include the verse but needn’t end there.

Suppose Mark doesn’t end at 16:8. If Mark‘s true ending is simply lost, then there is nothing concrete to discuss. Of what is available to us, no argument is made here against the scholarly consensus that 16:15-20 is inauthentic, for reasons presented in the series’ first post. There is no constituency for the Freer Logion or the so-called “Shorter Ending,” either. That leaves only verses 16:9-14 to search for a satisfactory ending.

As argued in the first post of the series, 16:9-14 form a recognizable unit of Markan composition, a “build of three.” The finding of this post is that the seven verses 8 to 14 form a compound unit, grenade then build, that executes a purposeful and coherent development of the story beyond the rousing announcement that Jesus has left the tomb. Therefore, verse 14 is an admissible, even attractive, candidate for Mark‘s authentic ending.

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The longer ending of GMark, II: Mark’s many boffo curtains

Joseph tomb JerusalemThis is the second post which searches out an “authentic” ending of Mark. Twice in chapter 15, Mark could have finished his Gospel to hearty applause, but he didn’t. What we read both times is what we see for the third time at 16:7-8. No sooner has Mark reached a fine place to send the audience home than he immediately brings up some new issue that justifies the show continuing.

We’ll call that abrupt new development a “Markan hand grenade.” Think not of a loud BOOM, but hear instead the tinny ping of a pulled pin hitting the floor and then something solid rattling around down there. However satisfied the audience was just a moment before, now they want to hear what happens next.

The finding of this post is narrow: just as acceptably real Mark doesn’t end some place in chapter 15, it probably didn’t end at verse 16:8, either. That’s weaker than finding that real Mark continued on to 16:14 specifically, but there is good reason to estimate that if true Mark made it as far as 16:8, then it also continued on to somewhere. The case for that somewhere being 16:14 will be for a future post.

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