Today I Learned …

The naked mole rat can survive for nearly twenty minutes without oxygen — by effectively turning itself into a plant. It is able to change its normal metabolism so that its body cells are powered by fructose rather than glucose, a process that requires no oxygen. (From Ripley’s Believe It Or Not: A Century of Strange)

Today I Learned …

A typo helped the Allied forces crack the famous Enigma code and ultimately defeat the Germans in World War Two. The UK Ministry of Defense recruited Geoffrey Tandy to work at its top-secret Bletchley Park headquarters in Buckinghamshire, England, in the belief that he was an expert cryptogramist — someone who deciphers codes — when in fact he was a cryptogamist, an expert on mosses, algae, and seaweed. Despite the mistake, he stayed, and when a German U-boat was sunk in 1941 and its cryptic documents captured, his knowledge of preserving water-damaged specimens proved invaluable in making the papers readable. (From Ripley’s Believe It Or Not: Beyond the Bizarre)

Today I Learned …

George Romero, famous for his Living Dead zombie movie franchise, also made videos for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

When Romero got out of college, he and a few friends started a movie company called The Latent Image, and billed themselves as “Producers of Industrial Films and Television Commercials.” Some of Romero’s earliest jobs were short films commissioned by the show, shown on Picture Picture: “Things With Wheels”, “Things That Feel Soft”, and “How Light Bulbs Are Manufactured”. (Romero still jokes that the scariest film he ever made was “Mr. Rogers Gets A Tonsillectomy.”) With the experience he got on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Romero scraped up $114,000 to make Night of the Living Dead, helped by volunteers and free entrails from a local butcher shop. He really wanted Betty Aberlin, the human actress in the Land of Make-Believe, to play Barbara, the lead in Night of the Living Dead, but Mr. Rogers put his foot down and said NO. (And by the way, Mr. Rogers saw Night of the Living Dead — and loved it.) (From Kindness and Wonder: Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, by Gavin Edwards.)

Lights Out: The Watseka Wonder

I KNOW, I know, it’s been positively AGES since you guys have enjoyed an episode of Lights Out! (Unless you’ve been watching or listening to past episodes, in which case, good for you!) I’ve got a great excuse — I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a new book for you all, so that’s why I’ve been slacking off a bit on the podcast/YouTube front. But fret not! Here is a brand-spanking-new episode of your virtual campfire.

We’re headed to the town of Watseka, Illinois, for a bit of Victorian-style ghost hunting at the Roff House. Enjoy!

Today I Learned …

When King Louis XVI of France was a child, an astrologer warned him to be on his guard on the 21st day of each month. Consequently, he never conducted any business on that date. Even so, on June 21, 1791, following the French Revolution, Louis, and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were arrested in Varennes while trying to flee France. Then on September 21, 1792, France abolished the monarchy, and finally on January 21, 1793, Louis was executed by guillotine. (From Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Beyond the Bizarre)

Today I Learned …

Salmonella is a bacteria in the Enterobacter family that causes food poisoning — we all know this. But here’s something you might not know: salmonella lurks not only in raw chicken, but also on the skin of reptiles. Which is why you really should wash your hands after handling, say, a red-eared slider turtle or an iguana. It’s also why the FDA came up with the “4-inch law” in 1975. It says that any turtles sold in the US have to have a shell length of at least four inches, because that makes it harder for a child to stick the turtle in his or her mouth. (Do you need to sit down for a minute? It’s okay, take your time…)

2022 Calendars Still Available!

Are you still looking at your 2021 calendar? The year is over (and thank goodness for that!).

There’s a great way to get your spooky fix for all of 2022. I’ve put together a new calendar, using twelve of the 366 stories in Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories. It’s bigger than last year’s calendar, so you’ve got lots of room to write down dentist’s appointments, swim meets, class reunions, stuff like that. $18 gets a calendar sent right to your door.

And here’s what else that $18 gets you: when you order a calendar, using the Contact Me link at the top of the page, tell me a date that’s special to you. Come closer … whisper it in my ear. It could be your birthday, or the day you brought your furbaby home, or the day you watched a really pretty sunset. Tell me about it, and I’ll write a special message on that day in your calendar.

So click that Contact Me button, and get ready to make every day spooky!

Welcome — I Think? — To 2022.

What can I say about 2021, besides things that would probably get my mouth washed out with soap? Good grief. (Literally. We lost many family members this past year, including a sweet dog.)

But life does have a way of going on. For instance, there are now two MORE places you can listen to my true ghost story podcast, Lights Out. It can now be found on Amazon Music/Audible (, and at ( So go, check it out, subscribe if you like. I’ve been promising a new episode for, like, forever, but I have several good excuses, including the fact that I’ve been working really hard on a new book for you guys. More on that later.

For now, go out and sneak your way into the New Year. Remember, no sudden movements. (It can’t see you if you hold still, or does that only work for T-Rexes?)

Also remember: I love you guys. Stay safe.

Today I Learned …

When John Williams was tapped to compose the music for “Schindler’s List”, he was really intimidated. (Imagine, John Williams having imposter syndrome…) During an early meeting about the project, Williams told Steven Spielberg, “You need a better composer for this.” Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.”

Today I Learned…

Of the billions of letters sent to Santa each year, most of them come from France. An incredible 1.7 million letters are written to the jolly old elf from the good boys and girls of France. Canadian kids send 1.35 million letters to him (using postal code H0H 0H0). Just over one million letters show up at the North Pole from children in America. Mexico and Latin America aren’t even on the list, but this may be because kids in those countries don’t send letters to Santa. They put their letters in helium balloons and release them.

Merry Christmas 2021!

Thanks for being a vital part of this blog! You guys all rock. I appreciate you tuning in every Monday morning for Today I Learned, for Lights Out episodes, and for whatever other thoughts are running around my brain. Here’s a little extra Christmas present for you guys this year: links to a couple of Christmas shows I’ve done recently.

The Christmas episode of “Right Now” (host Mia Johnson says, “Could listen to your stories all day…”) :

Into the Parabnormal:

On Ron’s Amazing Stories we have something special. We play the classic old-time radio version of A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens. This adaptation is performed, written, and directed by Orson Welles. The part of Ebeneezer Scrooge is played by actor Lionel Barrymore who has performed this role more than once during his historic career. Also, on the show, Sylvia Shults and I preview next week’s groundbreaking podcast which will be focused on A Christmas Carol.

On Ron’s Amazing Stories this time we are presenting a follow-up to what we played on last week’s show. Call it A Christmas Carol – Part Two, with a twist. Sylvia Shults and I are going to take and turn the classic story on its head with real ghost stories, Victorian oddness, Historical observations, and much more. We have skits, gripping discussions, and a whole lot of fun. So press that play button, this is going to be something special. RAS522-Xmas2021-122321.mp3

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Twelve: Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle rises above Krakow, Poland, the symbol of Polish national identity for centuries. Nestled in a bend of the Vistula River, it sits proudly atop Wawel Hill.

The castle was built by King Casimir III the Great, who ruled Poland from 1333 to 1370. It was in the early 16th century that the castle became a symbol of the political and cultural heart of Poland. King Sigisimund the Old and his queen renovated the 200-year-old castle into a splendid Renaissance palace. The monarchs hired native and foreign craftsmen to decorate the castle, turning it into a showplace for the talents of Italian, German, and Polish artists.

But Wawel Castle, as beautiful as it is, is not the only area attraction. The Dragon’s Den is a cave in the western slope of Wawel Hill. The cave’s evocative name comes from the legend that a dragon once terrorized the countryside from that cavern. The monster stole livestock and rampaged through towns, leaving a dragon-sized path of destruction behind it.

A local shoemaker had a brilliant idea — he left several sheep, gutted and stuffed with sulfur, in a field. The dragon swooped down and devoured the sheep. As soon as it started to digest the meal, the sulfur hit the dragon’s fiery innards. The dragon, who had been napping in the cave after its meal of mutton, crawled out with a massive tummyache. Deathly ill, it dragged itself down to the Vistula River and guzzled gallons of water. The drenching did no good — shortly afterwards, the dragon exploded. The shoemaker was rewarded for his ingenuity; he married the princess and became the prince of Wawel Castle.

Every Christmas Eve, all the ancient kings of Poland gather in the vault under the castle. In Krakow, when the bell of the cathedral tolls midnight, the ringing wakes a pair of enchanted knights. The knights leave the cave where they’ve been sleeping all year, and ride to Wawel Castle. They knock at the door of the chamber underneath the castle, and rouse King Boleslas the Brave. He takes his throne once more, and presides over the yearly council of Poland’s long-departed monarchs.

While you’re out and about in Electronland, take a trip over to . If you’ve enjoyed Darren Marlar’s Weird Darkness podcast, why not consider subscribing? That way you’ll get a constant supply of weird tales.

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful holiday season. Hug your loved ones and snuggle your pets, have something delicious to eat, wear comfy socks, be excellent to each other, support small businesses, stay warm, and stay spooky.

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Eleven: Ghost Stories With Sylvia

The Victorians LOVED telling ghost stories at Christmas. One of the most famous Christmas stories of all time has not one, but FOUR ghosts in it — A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Join me and my host Ron Hood, of Ron’s Amazing Stories, for a look at this beloved classic tale.

And for even more podcasty goodness, visit Darren Marlar at .

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Ten: A Victorian Christmas

Even in modern days, we still cling to a cozy Victorian ideal of the holidays. Say “Christmas”, and most of us will reflexively think of family gathered around a colorfully lit tree, a tree with presents piled underneath it. (Whether or not that imaginary family will get along with each other without the lubricating effects of copious amounts of rum-spiked eggnog is another matter.)

But before the Victorians came along and settled things down, Christmas was not the quiet domestic holiday of Dickens, one-horse sleigh rides, and Currier and Ives prints. Instead, it was a holiday of boisterous revelry—sort of a mashup of Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and Mardi Gras.

Even Christmas games of the period held an element of terror. The popular game of Snapdragon involved putting raisins, plums, or almonds in a bowl of brandy, and then setting the brandy on fire. Players tried to snatch a raisin out of the flaming bowl and pop it into their mouth to extinguish it. Another game had the players attempting to bite apples which were tied to one end of a stick—the other end had a lighted candle stuck to it. (The phrase “Don’t try this at home, kids” had not been invented yet.)

Other games smacked of sado-masochism. The game of Hot Cockles involved putting your head in someone’s lap while trying to guess who was hitting you from behind. The kneeler, who was “It”, put their hand behind their back, palm up. The other players took turns smacking the palm in an anonymous low-five. Shoeing the Wild Mare was a similar guessing game, which involved a whack on the foot.

Saturnalia was just one of the many holidays that made up the Roman calendar, but it was one of the biggest. The lower classes looked forward to the role reversal that came at the turning of the year. Household slaves, especially, jumped at the chance to be in charge for a while, to be served by their master and mistress.

Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, this role reversal at Christmastime continued to be one of the few perks enjoyed by the lower classes. The custom of wassailing, or going door to door to beg for alms, began way back in the early Middle Ages. The practice continued all through the Middle Ages, as a way to keep the social and political order stable.

You think giving the girl who cuts your hair an extra tip at Christmas is a new thing? Think again. In medieval times, tradesmen would ask their customers for gifts or largesse at the holidays—and sometimes they would threaten retribution if refused. A morning newspaper chucked under a hedge instead of being delivered to your welcome mat is one thing. To have someone responsible for guarding your house slack off—or actively invite thugs to ransack your home while they stand by watching—is something else entirely. This was a problem as far back as 1419 England, when the “corporation of London ordered the servants of City officers to stop the custom of asking for Christmas offerings from victualling trades, sometimes with menaces if refused”.

So the lower classes were discouraged from wassailing—that didn’t stop them. Even the practice of caroling was frowned upon by the upper classes, both in England and later in America. Through colonial times up into the early nineteenth century, caroling was not the innocent, light-hearted practice we think of today. Carolers of yesteryear were not content to stand outside in the cold and sing, in the faint hope of getting a mug of hot chocolate and a cookie or three. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Old-time carolers were a rowdy, often destructive bunch. Consider the lyrics to “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”: “Now bring us a figgy pudding … and bring it right here. We won’t go until we get some … so bring it right here.” We sing these lyrics without a second thought, but when that song was written, the singers were a lot more aggressive in their demands. They weren’t kidding about it.

Imagine that you are someone fairly high up on the social ladder, either in England or in one of the big American cities, Philadelphia, Boston, someplace like that. You’re relaxing with your family on Christmas Eve. You’ll wait until New Years to exchange gifts, because that’s a great way to acknowledge fresh beginnings. For now, you’re content to enjoy some quiet time with your loved ones. But you keep one ear cocked for trouble …

And there it is—a pounding on the door. The maid hurries to open it, fearing it will break under the fists of the drunken hooligans. Your house clearly isn’t their first stop of the evening. A half-dozen thugs swagger into your front parlor, their boots tracking snow and mud onto your carpet. One of them, clearly the leader, calls himself the Lord of Misrule. He yells at you to bring out several bottles of your best wine, and plenty of good food—cake, if you have it, and he knows you do. The rowdies spend an hour or so swigging claret and mashing cake crumbs into the doilies. But what can you do? You can’t tell them to leave—it’s tradition. They finally leave, and you breathe a sigh of relief. You’re out a couple of bucks, since they demanded money too, and your parlor is trashed, but they’re gone. That’s over with …until the next bunch shows up. It’s going to be a long holiday season.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Clement C. Moore, with his poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, single-handedly turned society’s perception of Christmas one hundred and eighty degrees. With this poem, better known by its first line, “T’was the Night Before Christmas”, Moore completely upended the perception of Christmas as a time of riotous misrule. Instead, he introduced the character of Saint Nicholas as the polar opposite of a Lord of Misrule.

Instead of a bunch of rowdy young men busting into the house uninvited, one man, solo, comes into the house. He hasn’t been invited in either, but he comes in silently, without the boisterous good cheer of the wassailers—a good cheer that could turn ugly in a moment. Saint Nicholas is obviously a member of a lower, workingman class—he holds the stump of a pipe clenched in his teeth, which was an affectation of the laboring class. Dandies smoked pipes with long stems; workingmen preferred to snap their pipe stems off short. Also, he opens up a peddler’s pack. But he poses no threat to the household.

As a matter of fact, St. Nicholas displays his own largesse. Instead of demanding gifts from the narrator (fine food and liquor, presents of money), St. Nicholas leaves gifts for the household. And most importantly, instead of threatening the narrator (“We won’t go until we get some”), St. Nicholas expressly lets the narrator know he “has nothing to fear”. His appearance and behavior, although startling, are absolutely non-threatening.

At about the same time Clement Moore published “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, in 1822, society’s opinion was turning against public displays of drunken rowdiness at Christmas. It was around this time that people began to buy Christmas presents for each other and for their children, rather than making them. (Although even then, a handmade gift, or at least a hand-finished gift, was much preferable to a completely store-bought Christmas.) Merchants wanted to make their shops safe, appealing places, free from the unwanted attentions of drunken revellers. Instead of being reported in regular newspaper articles, accounts of rambunctious gang behavior started to show up in the police blotter section of the paper. The boorish behavior, frowned upon by genteel society, was quite literally marginalized, and it eventually faded.

Wassailing had largely died out in England by the 1930s, even though the folks who used to practice the obsolete custom were still alive and well. (Social programs by then were helpful enough that the poor no longer needed to beg, even at Christmastime.) By the 1970s, though, groups in the east and west of England started up again, singing traditional wassailing carols, and offering drinks of beer or cider from the wassail bowl. These groups do collect money in exchange for their caroling, but now the money raised is donated to charity. (Excerpted from my book Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays)

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Nine: Christmas Booze

So, are you burned out on eggnog? (That is TOTALLY not a thing for me. I’d drink it all year ’round if my waistline would let me.) But if you want a change from traditional nog, why not go exotic, and give coquito a try? Coquito (Spanish for “little coconut”) is a creamy rum punch from Puerto Rico, served at Christmas and all through the winter holidays. It’s lush and spicy, and the coconut flavor isn’t overpowering. It’s almost like Irish cream, but even better (well, I think it’s even better — you might prefer the other. And that’s fine.) Here’s a good recipe:


1 can evaporated milk

1 inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced

3 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1-2 star anise pods

1 can coconut milk

1 can condensed milk

1 can cream of coconut

1 1/2 cups rum (be sure to choose a rum you’d like to drink. Dark spiced rum plays well with the other ingredients.)

Pour evaporated milk into a small saucepan. Add spices. Bring to a quick boil, then simmer for three minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Pour the spiced milk through a sieve. Pick out cinnamon sticks and save; put other spices in compost (or for an extra kick, leave the ginger in. I do this, because I’m a fiend for ginger.)

Put spiced milk and all other ingredients into a blender (it will be FULL). Blend thoroughly at medium speed. Pour into a glass bottle, and put the cinnamon sticks back in. Chill overnight; store in fridge. Serve cold, with a dusting of cinnamon.

You can play with the recipe, too. You don’t HAVE to put the rum in, if you or your guests don’t care for it. You might want to add a splash of vanilla to the blender, too. You can drink it straight, or on the rocks. You do you — it’s Christmas, after all!

Creamy, dreamy coquito!

It’s nice to have a glass of this while you’re listening to a fun podcast — say, something from Weird Darkness. Here’s the place to go!

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Eight: Today I Learned…

The author Washington Irving is best known for his story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, a Halloween staple featuring the terrifying specter of the Headless Horseman. But what is less-known is Irving’s contribution to the lore of Christmas. It was Irving who came up with Santa’s workaround for locked doors — a squeeze down the chimney. In an 1812 short story, “Knickerbocker’s History of New York”, Irving first tells of Santa “rattl(ing) down the chimney” to “bring his yearly presents to children.”

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Seven: Charlotte Brontë

December 19 – Death of Emily Bronte, Haworth, England (1848, recurring)

One of the giants of English literature is Emily Bronte, despite the fact that she died at the age of thirty, having published only one novel.

Emily was a shy child who grew into an introverted woman. People found her standoffish, but that masked a personality that was painfully ill at ease with strangers. Emily was homeschooled all her life; at 17, she tried formal schooling but had a nervous breakdown. She was happiest when she was out on the moors, the wild, lonely places that played such a large part in her novel.

She published Wuthering Heights in 1847, and likely would have gone on to write more classics of Western literature. But in addition to being fabulous writers, the Brontes had something else in common: they were prone to tuberculosis. Emily’s brother Branwell died in September 1848, and she caught a chill at his funeral. A few weeks later she was suffering with a fever. She developed the dry, wracking cough of consumption. Her downward spiral was hastened by her refusal to take any medication or undergo any treatment.

Emily died at 2 pm on December 19, 1848, on the sofa in the sitting-room of Haworth Rectory. She still haunts her former home. Beginning on December 19, and through Christmas, she can be seen wandering the grounds of the rectory. She vanishes if approached, just as shy in death as she was in life.

She makes appearances in town as well. Weavers Restaurant in Haworth is packed on December 19 with patrons hoping to catch a glimpse of the Gray Lady. This ghost only appears on the anniversary of Emily’s death. She’s described as a slender young woman wearing a bonnet, shawl, and long skirt. She wanders through the restaurant, disappearing into one of the walls at the end of her annual visit.

Every so often, Emily’s ghost wanders farther afield; maybe in death, she’s getting more adventurous. In May 2000, an employee of the British Library took a cab across London to an exhibition. He carried with him the original manuscript of Wuthering Heights. When he got to the venue, the cabbie asked him where his lady companion had gone.

The librarian was flummoxed. He was alone in the cab’s back seat. But the driver insisted he’d seen a pale young woman dressed in black sitting next to the librarian.

After all, he’d been carrying her manuscript.

(Excerpted from my book, Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories.) Which, by the way, has a companion calendar. You can order one for yourself, or for your dog, or for your best friend, or for anyone else, really. Just pop on up to the top of the page and hit that Contact Me button, and let me know you want one.)

What’s Darren Marlar up to today? Head on over to and find out!

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Six: The Eyeball Ghost

This story is excerpted from my latest book, Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories.

December (12) – A Trooper to the End, Anniston, AL (1989, recurring)

When faced with a terminal diagnosis, people can have differing reactions. Captain E.C. Dothard was 58 years old when he was admitted to Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in December 1989 following a cancer diagnosis. Dothard was no stranger to hardship and stress. The state trooper was wounded in the May 1972 assassination attempt that left Governor George Wallace paralyzed. Dothard suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach. It was a graze, but still, it dropped him to the ground. Another trooped described Dothard “still barking out orders while on the ground after being shot.”

Captain Dothard was a tough old guy, but he decided he couldn’t face a long, slow, painful death by cancer. He wanted to depart this life on his own terms. He had brought his gun to the hospital, and after getting the news, Dothard shot himself in the head.

It wasn’t a neat job, either. The gunshot obliterated part of Dothard’s face. This violent, traumatic suicide has resulted in a unique haunting.

Dothard’s headless ghost is sometimes seen in the hallways at Stringfellow Memorial. An even more unforgettable apparition is the lone eyeball that is seen rolling across the floor and out the door of the room where Dothard took his own life. The eyeball always appears in December, and sightings cease by the 25th. Some people suspect that Dothard just wants to hang around for another Christmas.

Okay, yeah, that was a pretty weird story. Want more weirdness? Of course you do. Check out for podcasts to make you shiver.

And speaking of Days of the Dead, have you ordered your 2022 Days of the Dead calendar yet? $18 gets you all set for a year of spooky. Hit the Contact Me button at the top of the page, and head into 2022 knowing that you’re going to MAKE EVERY DAY SPOOKY!

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Five: Io Saturnalia!

Saturnalia was one of the best parties of ancient Rome. Starting on December 17 and going through December 23, slaves would be waited on by their masters, people would give gifts, public banquets made everybody happy, and it was generally a non-stop party for those days. It was seen as a time when everyone was free — slaves, freedmen, plebians, and nobility alike. People gave gag gifts, or small pottery or wax figurines called sigillaria. And did I mention the feasting?

Since today is the first day of Saturnalia, I’d suggest you get out your best plates and goblets, and have yourself a Roman feast. Candied or dried fruit would be appropriate as appetizers, along with nuts, cheese, olives, and sausage rolls. Roast pork or chicken would make a great Roman main course. Gild the lily with a fruit-based sauce for the meat. Don’t forget the bread — the Romans loved their bread (you could use pita). And the best part of a Saturnalia feast? Dessert, of course! Gingersnaps, pfeffernusse, any spiced cookie would be a perfect ending to your Saturnalia spread. And for Jupiter’s sake, drink wine with the meal!

If you’re feeling squirrely, you could whip up this gorgeous pear pudding, from a recipe by Apicius:

Pear Pudding (Patina di Piris)

3 pears

1/4 t black pepper

1/4 t ground cumin

2 t honey

1 T sweet sherry (to replicate the Roman sweet wine called passum)

2 t fish sauce (I know, gross, but this is the Roman garum, and they put it in EVERYTHING. It really just adds a kick of savory to the dish.)

1 t oil

1 egg

Peel, quarter, and core pears. Place in saucepan, cover with water, and simmer until tender, about ten minutes.

Puree two pears until smooth and return to saucepan. Chop remaining pear coarsely and add to pureed pears. Add pepper, cumin, honey, sherry, fish sauce and oil to pears. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until warm.

Beat egg and add 3 t of hot pear mixture, whisking between additions, to temper. Then stir egg mixture into pear puree and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Makes two servings.

Scoot on over to for more spooky tales of Christmas.