By Colleen McMahon:I was looking up some authors recently mentioned in the birthday lists when things took a fascinating turn and I ended up discovering an author who wasn’t on the birthday lists at all, nor had I ever heard of him. But what a fascinating life he led!
This all began because author Peter O’Donnell’s birthdate was noted on April 11th. Off to Project Gutenberg to see if he had anything available. He did not — but that’s how I stumbled into the weird world of Elliott O’Donnell (1872-1965), celebrity “ghost hunter” and probable charlatan, but quite well known in the early decades of the 20th century, when ghost hunters wrote books instead of filming reality TV shows.
Before he emerged as a writer, he had a wildly varied career, with stints as a ranch hand in Oregon, a strike-breaking policeman in Chicago, and a schoolmaster and stage actor in England. His true calling was as a writer and storyteller. From 1906 on, he wrote prolifically, publishing novels, short fiction, hundreds of periodical articles, and ended up with over 60 books to his credit. Many of them dealt with topics of the paranormal and supernatural, but he freely mixed fact and fiction and it’s difficult to tell whether he took any of it truly seriously or if he had just found a good schtick.
His Wikipedia profile notes that when he died in 1965 at the age of 93, he left an estate of only 2,579 pounds, but in 2016 his personal papers sold at auction for 25,000 pounds.
Project Gutenberg has a nice assortment of his earlier works that have fallen into the public domain, including:
- Some Haunted Houses of England and Wales (Librivox audiobook)
- Twenty Years’ Experience as a Ghost Hunter (Librivox audiobook)
- Haunted Places in England
- Ghostly Phenomena
- The Banshee
- Byways of Ghost-Land
- Werwolves (Librivox audiobook)
- Scottish Ghost Stories
- Animal Ghosts, or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter (Librivox audiobook)
- The Sorcery Club (Librivox audiobook)
In addition to the above linked complete audiobooks, O’Donnell has stories in several of the ghost and horror story compilations, including one that might be my favorite ghost story title ever: “The Phantom Daschund of W— Street, London, W.”
I’m heading out tomorrow on a trip to visit family in New Jersey, which involves a 15-hour drive from Georgia. I have a feeling that some of my drive will be spent listening to the Animal Ghosts audiobook!
Recent Librivox releases:
- Ancient Tales and Folklore of Japan by Richard Gordon Smith (1858-1918)
This volume is a collection of ancient Japanese tales. We hear of ordinary mortals interacting with the spirit world, sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their doom, we hear of love and hate, and of war and peace.
Note: I enjoyed reading two rather bloody tales in this collection!
- The Red Hell of Jupiter by Paul Ernst (1899-1985)
What is the mystery centered in Jupiter’s famous “Red Spot”? Two fighting Earthmen, caught by the “Pipe-men” like their vanished comrades, soon find out!
- Here and Hereafter by Barry Pain (1864-1928)
This is a collection of stories by Barry Pain. While not all of these fall squarely into the genre of ghost and horror story, for which the author is so well-known until today, many of them will send chills down the spines of reader and listeners, and all of them are well-crafted and enjoyable.
- Sentry of the Sky by Evelyn E. Smith (1927-2000)
There had to be a way for Sub-Archivist Clarey to get up in the world—but this way was right out of the tri-di dramas.
- Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process by Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)
Henry Burr’s fiance, Madeline, is seduced by another man. The guilt and painful memories she has as a result cause him to refer her to Dr. Heidenhoff, who has developed a method to remove such memories from people’s brains so that they can live happy lives.