|You Say the Dead Need No Physician, Notes and Thanks
||[Aug. 14th, 2010|07:15 am]
Notes and Thanks
First, thanks to my amazing collaborator, violateraindrop! Her work is so beautiful, and really captures the spirit of the story. Much thanks to lazy_daze, without whom this story would never have actually been finished, and to jlh, for her excellent advice. Any good stuff in here is their doing, seriously. I’d also like to thank tartysuz and on_verra, for cheerleading and general awesomeness. Also, my husband, going above and beyond the call of marital duty, proofread this beast. Any mistakes in here are mine and mine alone.
The story of Dr. Heinrich Ryngo is real, for a given value of “real.” You can read all about him in John Bennett’s* 1946 collection of Charleston folklore The Doctor to the Dead: Grotesque Legends and Folk Tales of Old Charleston. All the other stories in that collection are Gullah legends and anecdotes; the title story, though, is an eerie romance. I can’t figure out if Bennett’s story about the Doctor is a real legend or his original fiction; its inclusion in a collection of genuine folklore suggests the former, but Bennett certainly expanded and tarted up the story, if he didn’t invent it out of whole cloth.
The story, both as Maggie tells it and the eventual reveal that Ryngo was in love with a ghost named Helen, is basically true to Bennett; the text of Ryngo’s “buckets of crazy” speech is also taken from Bennett. However, I’ve modified the story in a number of places – mainly, in the original story, Helen’s ghost was never murderous. Ryngo met her ghost and fell in love, but alas, kept her past cockcrow one night, and she disappeared forever. He went mad from grief, and begun his experiments in raising the dead. (Hi, Sam and Dean, here’s someone almost as nuts as you are.) That’s the big change – actually, more of a sequel – but I’ve made others. First, the Ryngo house, assuming it existed, burned down in 1866, so I made it live again in its former location. Second, when the guards broke in, Ryngo had only one corpse-in-a-chest; I added the others. I also added the “The Grey Cock” and the list of cemeteries to Ryngo’s papers, because I’m writing a mystery, dammit, and needed some clues. “The Grey Cock” is indeed a real folk song; in the interest of full disclosure, there is debate among folklorists whether the supernatural elements are original to the song or whether they’re an interpolation from another family of songs about ghostly visitations. In other words, don’t take Sam’s word for it. But again, it’s a Clue. Last, because I wanted to keep some flavor of Bennett’s wacky overwrought narration, and because I am so meta it hurts, I shifted the authorship of the “Doctor to the Dead” story to Vander Herchen; the “crappy romance” Dean is reading is actually a version of Bennett’s text with names and identifying details removed. (Also, the lj-cut texts are from Bennett as well.) Vander Herchen is indeed the captain of the guard in Bennett’s story, but I have no clue if he existed, and certainly not if he left any papers behind him.
All the Charleston locations (save Ryngo’s revivified house, and the fictional Eric Rutledge’s fictional antique shop) are real – I based the hotel Maggie manages on the lovely Elliott House Inn on Queen Street. The Unitarian graveyard really is that beautiful, and the murderer Lavinia Fisher is indeed buried there in an unmarked grave. The information on the Gullah people is, of course, summarized and simplified, but basically correct, and you can buy those sweetgrass baskets anywhere in the city. I was at the College of Charleston from 1994-96, and they’ve built a new library (on Calhoun Street, as in the story) since then, so I have no idea what their rare documents room looks like now.
* Yeah, Joe is named in his honor. Maggie is named for Margaret Rhett Martin, author of the classic collection Charleston Ghosts. Rose and Amelia Brown are named in honor of Alphonso Brown, a Gullah historian, tour guide and author of A Gullah Guide to Charleston: Walking Through Black History. Rose’s husband (Joe’s grandfather), Neal Hurston, is named for, obviously, Zora Neale Hurston, author of Mules and Men, one of the most important works on hoodoo.