The Dastardly Past: the Anatomy Act of 1832.
A mortsafe, installed by loved ones for the protection of graves
On July 19, 1832, the House of Lords passed the Anatomy Act in Great Britain. Enlightenment thinking in the eighteenth century had resulted in an increase in the number of students enrolling in medical schools and, at the same time, higher expectations among the public for quality medical care. This included surgery, which required close familiarity with human anatomy. As a result, the demand for bodies in this era far outstripped what executioners and body-snatchers (called resurrectionists) could supply. The provisions of the Anatomy Act outlined a procedure where licensed practitioners could claim bodies from among the dead of the workhouses. Parliament hoped to fulfill scientific demand while also putting an end to the distressing practice of robbing graves. The Act, however, only enjoyed partial success.
The Dastardly Past: Dark Shadows
On June 27, 1966, ABC first aired the Gothic daytime soap opera, Dark Shadows. It featured classic film star Joan Bennett, along with a host of ghosts, vampire, zombies, and the like, becoming a cult classic.
The Dastardly Past: Bram Stoker.
April 20, 1912 marked the passing of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. The authors of the Stoker article in the Dictionary of Literary Biography said this of him, “Without Dracula, Bram Stoker would be forgotten. As it is, he is one of the least-known authors of one of the best-known books.” Born in Ireland, Abraham Stoker, Jr., was by turns a civil servant, drama critic, actor and theater manager, as well as a writer. His social circle was wide and cultivated (as was Stoker himself). Scholars have attributed his interest in vampires to Hungarian Arminius Vambery, a colorful figure who told wild tales of the vampires of Eastern Europe. Intrigued, Stoker began researching the topic. Four years later he completed his world-famous novel. It has been adapted for stage, screen, radio, and every other conceivable medium. Although somewhat prudish, the circumstances of his marriage led Stoker to seek companionship outside of his home. He died of advanced syphilis at the age of 65.
The Dastardly Past: Rebecca (1940)
On April 12, 1940, David O. Selznick Productions released Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Alfred Hitchcock directed this, his first American production and the only one of his films to win an Oscar for best picture. David O. Selznick had purchased the rights to the novel in 1938 for $50,000, but had difficulty casting the film. His first choice for Maxim de Winter was Ronald Colman, who refused the part. Selznick next considered William Powell and Laurence Olivier. Olivier came cheaper than Powell by $100,000 and so won the role. Joan Fontaine was one of several actresses, including Margaret Sullavan and Anne Baxter, considered for the part of the second Mrs. De Winter. The best bit of casting did not involve the leads, however. Dame Judith Anderson as the menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, outshone the principals and redefined malevolence. The movie, like Anderson’s performance, remains a classic.
Few buildings in Texas radiate atmosphere like the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells. The fourteen-story pleasure dome rises out of the rolling prairie like the misplaced skyscraper it is. For over forty years it was the destination of magnates, movie stars, and mere mortals, who wanted to drink or soak in the area’s healing waters. But since the 1970s when it closed, it has been left to molder away like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. There has been talk of a complete renovation, which may already be underway—it’s been some months since we visited. I can only salute the courage (and line of credit) of any developer willing to take it on.
In the meantime, the old hotel’s picturesque decay attracts people seeking not health but something more other-worldly: ghosts, para-normal phenomena, etc. The thing is, in the admittedly limited research I’ve conducted, I find very little to suggest that anything awful, mysterious, or macabre ever happened there, at least nothing anyone published. I have found one instance of the resident house detective dying during his afternoon nap, and another about a fracas at the west entrance which resulted in one cabbie shooting and killing the owner of a rival taxi service. That’s about it–no St. Valentine’s Day Massacres, no murdered brides in bathtubs, no prom nights gone wrong á la Carrie.
I would love to hear from anyone who has ever gone on one of the Mineral Wells ghost walks, just to learn what the guides have to say. There is ample fodder for rumor and innuendo, of course: closed off underground space radiating out for blocks, for example, or broken windows with ragged curtains fluttering in the wind, or mildewed plywood blocking old doorways. But what else? Everyone loves a good thriller, and surely a luxury hotel operating at the apex of the last century’s longest economic boom has many anecdotes associated with it. To me the mystery surrounding this “haunted” hotel, however, is what are they?