Born in Tuscany in 1854, Francis Marion Crawford had dual Italian and American citizenship. He became a prominent novelist, many of the romance variety, as well as an essayist, historian and short story writer. It’s his horror stories which we are interested in looking at here today. He first came to my notice while I was still in elementary school when I read “The Upper Berth” in the anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, which I checked out regularly. It’s an unquestioned classic tale of supernatural horror on the high seas. Another standout of his, “The Screaming Skull”, is arguably the quintessential vengeful, disembodied skull story of all time.


1. “The Upper Berth” (1894)– This creepy tale centers on a man crossing the Atlantic aboard a steam ship called Kamchatka. Theprevious three occupants of the cabin he’s staying in have cast themselves overboard soon after lodging there. During his stay he finds something unnatural in the berth above him (the upper level of his room’s bunk bed). His description of the of the entity is evocative with description of him laying his hand on “something that had the shape of a man’s arm, but was smooth, and wet, and icy cold.” When it then sprang against him, he described it as “a clammy, oozy mass, as it seemed to me, heavy and wet, yet endowed with supernatural strength.” This is a top-notch tale of aquatic horror. You can listen to a reading here for free:

2. “The Dead Smile” (1899) – While evil Hugh Ockram lies dying in his bed, he warns his niece Evelyn and his son Gabriel against marrying each other. He refuses to tell them why but insinuates some dark fate would befall them if they did. While efforts are made to discover Hugh’s secret, the grim specter of Hugh’s deceased wife begins to appear, infecting others with her disturbing, dead smile. You can listen to a reading of this intriguing novelette here for free:

3. “For the Blood Is the Life” (1905) – While visiting his artist friend at his Italian villa, a man spies a mound in the distance from the balcony. He also thinks he spies a woman laying atop it. The artist tells him the woman is a phantom which is only visible from a distance. The artist goes down to the mound while his friend watches from afar and witnesses the phantom woman undulating about the unaware artist. The story of how this phantom woman came to haunt the area is a dark one. You can listen here for free:

4. “The Screaming Skull” (1911) – A retired sea captain is haunted by the vengeful skull of a woman whose murder he may have inadvertently set into motion by way of her husband. Her husband later died under mysterious circumstances which may tie back to the skull itself. The skull screams whenever it’s ill-treated and if thrown out it returns by rolling back inside the house. You can listen to a reading here for free:

5. “The Doll’s Ghost” (1911)– When an affluent family’s daughter falls, breaking her favorite doll’s face in the process, they take it to be repaired. The craftsman given the task loves all the dolls he works on, seeing them as nearly human. His own daughter assists him in his work. After pouring much care into fixing the doll, he has trouble parting with it, so he tasks his daughter with returning it to its proper owner in his stead as he can’t bare it. When hours go by and she hasn’t returned, he knows something has happened to her. This is further reinforced by the spectral appearance of the very doll his daughter left with. You can listen to a reading here for free:

Illustration by Fred Banbury from Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery Anthology.

Article by Matt Cowan

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