The Ghost on Saturday Night
by Sid Fleischman
Illustrated by Eric Von Schmidt
Little, Brown, 1974
Middle Grade (13 and up)
A tule fog so thick your skin grows wet from walking through it, a rare indian-head penny, a heavy pine box, and a resurrection man come to town…
An early reader on par with Something Queer is Going On or Encyclopedia Brown and Jigsaw Jones, it can be read in less than half an hour (by a grown-up). Fleischman’s thick imagery paints a picture of the Victorian Era, not in London, but the American “Old West”, a depiction so vivid it has stayed with me for nigh forty years. The story is rife with cowpokes and saloons… and the same snake-oil salesmen that can be found in the seance parlors of the wealthy.
They’re going to resurrect the spirit of Crookneck John. Live. On stage. What kid could miss that? Opie has to sneak into the night-time show when he’s given a ticket instead of a tip for leading the medium through the town in a zero-visibility fog one night. (Opie likes to help out where he can hoping for a good tip because he’s saving up for a new saddle. He runs errands in the fog because he knows the town of Golden Hill, CA like the back of his hand.) Luckily, Great Aunt Etta is ornery enough to walk him right in the front door.
As they wait, odd banging sounds reverberate through the upstairs theatre. Waiting for the spirit of a hanged man. A murderer. The medium is a hulk of a man, a figure much like the Frankenstein Monster himself– but he is almost hanged himself when the powerful spirit rises! Run! He pleads with the audience. Run for your very souls!
Eric Von Schmidt’s creepy black and white watercolor Illustrations of a monstrous medium and his toad-like assistant (that you know was crafted in the guise of Peter Lorre) are unforgettable. Especially when you are lying awake at midnight trying to ignore the club-footed sound scraping across the attic above your head.
How does an antique indian-head cent figure into the resurrection show’s flim-flam? Find out by ordering this long out-of-print book from Etsy. Don’t settle for the newer release of this classic with a different artist, it doesn’t capture the grit of sand in your teeth and the smell of old wooden floors the same way.
Psychics & Seances: