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October-ganza 19: Peter Rugg, the ghost that wasn’t there

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October 19, 2014 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

A while back there was some discussion of how certain elements of the Delta Green setting for Call of Cthulhu had been incorporated into real-world conspiracy theories.  This sort of appropriation is always a worry when you make use of a mix of reality and fiction in your writings – consider how many people think that Lovecraft’s Necronomicon is real.

In New England, the case of Peter Rugg is illustrative of the fact that fiction, if it is interesting enough, may be preferred over reality.  In a nutshell, Rugg was supposedly a traveler who, in the years just before the Revolutionary War, refused to turn back on a trip to Boston despite a horrific storm, vowing to reach the city before night or die trying.  In the years after travelers would see him and his wagon, typically during severe weather, riding like hell towards Boston, his soul and that of his young child, condemned to wander for eternity as the price of his hubris.  The wikipedia summary is a decent start.  Here’s a nicely illustrated version from 1910.

The truth of the matter was that this story was first written in 1824 by William Austin but by the 20th century had been incorporate into local folklore.  Even today it appears as a ‘real’ ghost in various ghost story collections (this includes The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Ghosts of Boston Town).  Perhaps one day children in Providence will be fearfully warned about the mysterious ghost of Joseph Curwen.

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