The New England Grimpendium: A Guide to Macabre and Ghostly Sites by J.W. Ocker is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read in this genre. More than just the usual collection of haunted sites, it contains a listing of homes and birthplaces of authors and entertainers, infamous crimes and criminals, horror movie filming locations, and even creepy plants. This book has everything the eclectic tourist could ask for.
J.W. Ocker was originally from Maryland, but has lived in New Hampshire since 2008. He’s authored several books, including Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe (2014) and A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (2016), all of which look fascinating. At his blog, Odd Things I’ve Seen (OTIS), he chronicles his visits to hundreds of cultural, artistic, natural, and historical oddities across the country and world.
Although some reviewers found Ocker’s writing style in The New England Grimpendium slightly off-putting (he leans on the snarky, skeptical side), I enjoyed every page of it. The writing is relaxed, focusing not just on the history but also on his experiences visiting the location. The fact visited most if not all the locations in this book also sets it apart from other travel guides that often rely on secondhand sources.
I picked it up in a gift shop in Salem, Massachusetts. I’m always looking for new places to visit, and although most of these are outside my usual diving radius, I couldn’t pass it up. “Grimpendium,” the author’s invention, is a fitting description for the eclectic contents. “Ghostly sites” represent a small portion of the places in this book. Most are related to celebrities and infamous people, but all are wonderfully unique.
One of the most unusual places in the book is “Skull Cliff” in the Lynn Woods Reservation in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. It’s not a popular or well-known destination, at least not at the time of writing. It reads like a wonder the author discovered while on an afternoon hike. It’s a 30-foot-tall sheer rock face covered in white skulls and bones by a graffiti artist in 2001. It’s this type of place that keeps fascination in exploring our backyards alive.
I was surprised to learn how many horror movies have been filmed in New England. Of course, a lot of Stephen King adaptations were filmed there for obvious reasons, but did you know the infamous I Spit on Your Grave (1978) was filmed in Kent, Connecticut? I didn’t. Unfortunately, there’s nothing left of the Beetlejuice (1988) set, but you can still visit the town of East Corinth, Vermont. Don’t look in the library for Adam’s scale-model of the town, though, that is just a rumor.
There’s plenty in here for taphophiles too (whoa there, Chris Hansen, it means people who like cemeteries). The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California is well-known among paranormal enthusiasts, but did you know Sarah Winchester herself is buried in New Haven, Connecticut? From the alleged grave of a Knight Templar in Westford, Massachusetts, to that of “Ocean-Born Mary” in Henniker, New Hampshire, each monument and memorial has a unique story and reveals a rich history.
The New England Grimpendium is full of interesting facts and surprises. It is an indispensable guidebook for tourists looking to spice up their trip to the east coast with something a little off the beaten path.