All Hallows Eve Off the Shelf: ‘Old House of Fear,’ by Russell Kirk

Halloween was Russell Kirk’s favorite holiday. When you understand he wasn’t simply the founder of modern American conservatism, but also an award winning author of suspense fiction, it makes sense.

The Halloween I spent at Piety Hill, Russell Kirk’s home, was one of my favorite times there. The house looked haunted year ‘round, but decorations ramped it up for All Hallow’s Eve. I recall Dr. Kirk wanting to leave the fake spider webs at the front door after the day was over. His wife Annette ignored him.

“ghostly best wishes of Russell Kirk”

One young, wide-eyed trick-or-treater entered the darkened foyer, a space decorated with such things as a suit of armor, and encountered Dr. Kirk wearing a robe.

“Do you live here?” the boy asked.

“When we were alive we did,” Dr. Kirk answered with great seriousness.

Dr. Kirk would often tell the stories of the hauntings of Piety Hill. Those times when the Kirks would travel, and I was left alone to watch over the house, I would relive those stories in my mind, fighting sleep, hesitant finally to surrender the lamp to the darkness of the night.

Old House of Fear was Dr. Kirk’s best selling book. It amazes me that it was popular enough to be issued as a mass market paperback. These old paperbacks are wonderful because of the striking–and often lurid–cover art. The blurb touts its “sadistic violence;” a modern reader would find that a bit of a stretch.

My paperback has seen better days. Age and too many moves have detached the back cover. But the inscription makes it more valuable to me than the true first edition I acquired in later years.

Once far more popular than his cultural and historical writing, Dr. Kirk’s ghostly fiction is largely neglected now. An effort has been made to revive it with new editions, including an Eerdmans reissue of Old House of Fear. I recommend it, and Russell Kirk’s other spooky fiction, to you on this All Hallow’s Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on this day, Dr. Kirk would have taken great pleasure in you listening to him speak from beyond the grave as he reads his short story, “There’s A Long, Long Trail A-Winding.”

“the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire
beyond the language of the living.” –from “Little Gidding,” T.S. Eliot

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