So Long, October…

Photo by Paul via Flickr.

Photo by Paul via Flickr.

The bad news is: It’s November 1st. The good news is: It’s still Halloween Weekend!

I hope you had a great time yesterday and that you continue your festivities today. Since (according to me) the holiday season is not quite over yet, I still have time to show you the pictures I took of some classic NYC 5th Avenue window dressing: the Crimson Peak-inspired displays at Bergdorf Goodman. Enjoy!

And thanks for spending some time here with me at the Skeleton Key this fall. <3 I’ll see you all again in September 2016!!














Signing off from New York (until next year),



Happy Halloween, everybody!!!! What are you up to on the Big Day? Maybe you had candy for breakfast and are watching scary movies while carving pumpkins right now. Maybe you’re putting on your costume, drinking spiced apple cider, or sleeping as late as possible so you can stay out a few hours into November 1st. Whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re enjoying today to the fullest.

And if you’re looking for some more fun, celebratory things to do on the most awesome day of the year, here’s a list of suggestions.

Photo by Pumpkinrot.

Photo by Pumpkinrot.

Pumpkinrot has posted photos of his annual home haunt; be sure to check it out! Superb work as always.


The annual Simpsons Halloween special debuted last week (and includes an amazingly weird intro by the Ren and Stimpy artists), but honestly, the previous week’s episode, called “Halloween of Horror” (which aired on 10/18/15), was better and every bit as Halloween-ish. Check one or both of them out and let me know what you think.


Dance to this!

Last year’s Skeleton Key Halloween Playlist is no longer available (the site hosting it, Grooveshark, is now defunct), so I have created a new online mix for you this year. Click here to access the music. If you don’t have a Spotify account, just use the username TheSkeletonKeyBlog and the password pumpkin.

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Participate in the “Global Candy Cup,” Google’s interactive Halloween treat this year on their homepage.

Whatever you decide to do, go enjoy your October 31!!!


zach scott we invent you halloween 4

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Audio Horror

Photo by Hidden Moves.

Photo by Hidden Moves.

Here is a killer list of frightening podcasts recommended to me by our favorite guest blogger, librarian, and mistress of the morbid Ruby. Guaranteed to make your ears bleed!

  • Lore is a podcast about “the frightening history behind common folklore,” like the Jersey Devil (episode 9) and the infamous Chicago serial killer of 1895 H. H. Holmes (episode 8).
  • The Black Tapes podcast is like a fictional version of Serial. It includes stories about such topics as a ghost with an upside-down face, Slender Man, and a noise that drives those who hear it insane (and yes, they include a clip of that sound). It’s so realistic that, as you listen, you have to keep reminding yourself “This is only fictional…”
  • If you like the Black Tapes, you’ll also enjoy Tanis, a series created by the same folks and following the same format. It focuses on a mysterious “ancient myth” rooted in the occult.
  • Welcome to Night Vale is structured in newscast format, creating a creepy desert town plagued by supernatural events like “mysterious lights in the night sky and dark hooded figures with unknowable powers.”
  • Mysterious Universe is an Australian podcast that explores supernatural phenomena in an open-minded but scientific way.

And many otherwise benign podcasts have Halloween specials, like these:

  • The Bowery Boys podcast discusses the history of New York City. This year’s Halloween episode offers fact-based ghost stories, such as the true history behind the beheaded specter often spotted on the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • NPR’s Snap Judgment, which is like a slightly edgier, cooler This American Life, offers a Halloween episode that includes perhaps the scariest story I’ve ever heard (two words: dead clown).

Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi

Photographer Elizabeth Harper has captured some beautifully haunting images of the skeleton sculptures and drawings carved into the churches of Rome as holy reminders of death. Many of these works are over 300 years old.

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Hodie mihi, cras tibia means Today me, tomorrow you

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However, “[t]hough the skeleton may only say, ‘You are going to die,’ for some that implies, ‘You haven’t lived yet.’ ” Click here for the full Atlas Obscura article.

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All photos in this post by Elizabeth Harper.

Halloween Mixed Treat Bag

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Happy Actual Week of Halloween, everybody!! I hope you’re having a great time watching horror films, carving pumpkins, eating candy, and dressing up like Axl Rose for a session of “Scaryoke” (or is that just me?).

I now present to you a varied selection of some Halloween articles for your reading enjoyment (in no particular order).

  • Here’s a rather acerbic rundown about the very latest in “sexy” women’s costumes. You’ll never look at Chewbacca the same way again.
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Ain’t nothin sexier than mental illness.

  • Read these 21 interesting nuggets about the Nightmare Before Christmas (including the fact that “Disney fought for Jack [Skellington] to have eyes”).


  • Want a peek at the (fiiiiinally completed) upcoming Sherlock Holmes episode? Click here.

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  • GScreen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.20.04 AMoogle has used its almighty data-tracking powers to create the Frightgeist map, which shows the most popular costumes based on people’s Internet searches by location. Looks like Charleston, NC, loves their ninja turtles, whereas the most-wanted Halloween garb for people in Des Moines, IA, is (inexplicably) the elephant costume. Discuss.
  • This year Halloween, as contagious as ever, has continued its Rotavirus-like spread over in Japan. This makes me very ureshii. :)
  • Is Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure a Halloween film? This article makes a very convincing argument that the answer is “Hell yes.” (In fact, I highly recommend ALL of the O.T.I.S. Halloween blog posts, so go ahead and grab yourself a pumpkin muffin and a hot chocolate and sift on through them.)


  • Here are some very dark, unsettling paintings by artist Nicola Samori.

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  • There is a McSweeney’s list called “Here Are All the Ways I Could Have Died Today.” The title says it all.

Current Desktop Wallpaper

Sweet-yet-creepy autumn images found on Deviant Art by digital artist CuteReaper

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P.S. Less than 10 days left till Halloween, people!!! :o

How to Scream in Finnish

Photo by Louise Leppard via Flickr.

Photo by Louise Leppard via Flickr.

Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to explore the linguistics-Halloween interface once more

So in English we often represent the sound a bird makes as “Tweet,” and the sound a dog makes as “Woof,” but these onomatopoeic forms are not universal. For example, in Greek a bird sounds like “Tsiou,” and in Korean a dog sounds like “Meong”!

This is not to say that speakers of different languages perceive these sounds differently (or that, say, Icelandic dogs have different voices); it’s that, in Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.39.09 AMonomatopoeia, noises are represented using the sounds–and thus reflect the phonemic constraints and patterns–of the language itself. And different languages have different phonemic inventories (therefore, e.g., English speakers don’t have words starting with “ts,” so they are unlikely to say that birds go “Tsiou”).

So how does a terrified human scream sound? Usually in English we would write it out as “Aaaaaah!” or “Eek!” (I’m not including “Yikes!” because that one can be traced back to an actual word.)

Screams are usually vowel-heavy. The reason for this, articulation-wise, is because the formation of vowels mimics the shape of the mouth when petrified in fear. Seriously, make a face like this…

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…and then make a noise, and it’ll sound something like “Aaaaaah!” (rather than, for example, “Shlempick!”).

But just like animal sounds, scream sounds are represented differently by
different cultures and languages. So how do startled exclamatory noises get represented in foreign languages? Here are a few examples:

  • In Finnish, a scream is “Kääk” 
  • In Nepali, “Bzzt”
  • In Japanese, “Gyā”
  • In Indonesian, “Huwah”
  • In German, “Autsch”

Keep in mind that even facial expressions associated with fright may vary from culture to culture. But hey, terror happens. And whatever way it manifests vocally, it gets verbalized…by any phonemic means available.


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