Joseph A. Citro,
Passing Strange: True
Tales of New England
Hauntings and Horror

(Houghton Mifflin, 1996)

Every region has folk tales about local brushes with supernatural, occult or otherworldly forces. New England seems to have more than its share, and Joseph A. Citro taps into that rich vein of lore in Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horror.

This is not a collection of ghost stories designed for telling 'round the campfire. Citro isn't trying to frighten his readers, nor is he striving for a horrific, ghastly atmosphere. Instead, he simply tells the stories in a relaxed, informal narrative which is every bit as riveting as it is informative. He doesn't try to persuade anyone, either; he offers various theories and plausible explanations for the events he describes, but they seldom ring true -- obviously, Citro selected stories of happenings which, to date, have yielded no good answers.

But while the explanations generally don't hold water, the stories themselves sound very believable and real. That's because Citro also hasn't targeted the stories where a single gibbering yokel stammered out his story to a disbelieving audience; he's tapped tales with witnesses (at times numbering in the dozens or more), substantial documentation and, where possible, the results of formal investigations.

You'll read of ghostly hauntings, attacks from otherworldy and seemingly impervious foes, talking spirits, poltergeists, inexplicable waterworks, people who appear to have dodged death and who seem to have returned from the grave, vampires, UFO encounters and various strange beasties, including a New England variant of bigfoot. And, while Citro presents all available rational explanations, he maintains a credulous air in his text which keeps the reading suitably spooky and fun.

If you're like me, you may just want an extra light on in the house while you're reading. Certainly, it's tough to come away from this book without at least some sense that maybe, just maybe, there are paranormal forces in this world we cannot yet explain through science.

My only complaint is that the author, himself a New Englander, doesn't provide much first-person detail about the sites. Many of these stories would have benefited from his own impressions of the places involved. In the cases of two Connecticut ghost towns, he even provides directions so interested readers can visit; while I can understand his reluctance to spend time in Dudleytown, where madness seems to inflict anyone who lingers there, I'm surprised he didn't pay a call to Bara-Hack, which is apparently haunted, not by spirits, but by voices and sounds of a thriving early American town. I'd love to know if he heard them, too.

Small matter. Passing Strange is one of the best books on supernatural happenings I've read in a good, long time. Anyone with an interest in the weird and unusual should pick up a copy, curl up under the covers ... and leave an extra light on.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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