“It’s a finicky technology. Just an empty wax tube with ridges cut into it as I speak. Its grooves locking in just a shadow of my voice. And hopefully, something else. Something that’s been haunting me. In more ways than one. I daren’t say it aloud yet. This will have to be enough. A mere echo of the horrors I’ve heard. The thinnest slice of reality, tinny to reality.– Lenora Bowen, Cylinder Zero
Such a…hollow medium.
In October 1926, Prohibition-era bartender Lenora Bowen started making a series of wax cylinder recordings. Her primary goal? To document the paranormal activity she’s facing in St Augustine, and possibly even capture proof that she’s not crazy, etched in wax.
Almost a century later, an antique steamer trunk filled with Lenora Bowen’s recordings were unearthed, along with a collection of artifacts and ephemera from the time. The trunk’s custodian, operating under the whimsically appropriate name “Soul Proprietor” (S.P. for short), has started to pore through its contents, documenting them along the way on the website Hollow Medium. S.P. was even kind enough to send some people out to California’s Midsummer Scream to display the artifacts alongside gothic fashion, horror collectibles, and props for haunted attractions. S.P. eventually plans on archiving the audio recordings, to retell Lenora’s tale – however it may end.
In case the surprise Halloween convention appearance didn’t clue you in, Hollow Medium is an upcoming podcast from Granville House Productions that will release new episodes every Sunday in October, documenting Lenora Bowen’s investigations into the paranormal. But while the podcast itself is weeks away, Hollow Medium has been rolling out a few surprises for those looking to dig deeper.
The Ghostly Devil is in the Details: Puzzling Through Hollow Medium’s Ephemera
Visitors to Hollow Medium‘s booth at Midsummer Scream booth didn’t just get to encounter Lenora Bowen’s steamer trunk filled with wax cylinders. The table was also littered with postcards, maps, and stereographs providing glimpses into the city of St Augustine Florida’s very haunted past. And over the past few days, S.P. has been introducing site visitors to those same pieces of history.
On Sunday August 7th, S.P. shared a photograph of the postcards Midsummer Scream attendees were handed as souvenirs, taken from haunted landmarks across the city. However, someone or some thing altered those postcards, adding semaphore scratches, hinting at their haunted origins.
- On a postcard featuring the Hotel Alcazar’s Swimming Pool, the semaphore reads Lured By Sirens – referencing the legend of the little girl who fell into the pool and drowned, years ago. While the pool has since been converted into a restaurant, rumor has it if you stand in the middle of the pool and close your eyes, you can still hear the splashes. Look up, and you just might see her.
- For the postcard featuring the Watch Tower at Fort Marion, the semaphore reads Soldier Stands Steadfast. It’s said that an unknown soldier continues to guard the Watch Tower, patrolling the fort at a brisk clip.
- Finally, the postcard from the Old City Gates of St Augustine reads Til the Fires Grew. Some claim that a young girl was found dead of yellow fever at the gates of the city, abandoned because her parents were afraid their house would be burnt down to prevent the spread of disease. Ever since, her ghost has skipped and danced her way through the gates.
One week later on Sunday August 14th, S.P. returned to the blog to post a better look at the maps and ephemera that were on display at Midsummer Scream, drawing particular attention to two stereographs: images from the Alcazar Hotel and the Old City Gates. S.P. noted Lenora separately claimed she was employed as a laundress at the Hotel, wondering if that was a cover story for her bartending.
Like the postcards, the stenographs contained scratched markings on the otherwise historically accurate images. But after viewing the images through a stereoscope at Midsummer Scream (or creating a digital facsimile of stereoscopic vision), two messages emerged: The Alibi for the Hotel (reinforcing S.P.’s suspicions), and The Boundary for the Old City Gates.
Analog Horror, with a Commitment to the Historical Craft
Last month, Alex Hera released a three-hour long documentary exploring the history and evolution of analog horror, an emergent subset of found footage horror that embraces analog aesthetics in found footage horror to make the static, pops, and decay of the media an element of the story’s looming dread. But while most analog horror uses relies on digital techniques to mimic the look and feel, Hollow Medium embraced the aesthetic by actually recording its first release onto a wax cylinder and building out a steamer trunk, for display to the public. That is not to say every episode of the podcast is recorded on wax cylinder and then digitizing it – Hollow Medium‘s sound designer has won multiple Emmys in post-production, so the analog format will still likely be a facsimile – but more often than not, those digital reproductions seem to be finding their way into both physical and digital form.
And while Hollow Medium‘s ghost story may not be an overt horror story (it’s too soon to tell), that commitment to the aesthetic does add an unsettling air to these early releases.
There’s a moment in the “Cylinder Zero” trailer when Lenora almost croaks out the word “echo” that holds additional weight, as it echoes through the phonograph’s horn in a very practical sense.
Similar commitment can be seen through Hollow Medium‘s early puzzles, using archival photographs from locations actually rumored to be haunted, before layering puzzles on top that add context and character.
A New Sunday Ritual for the Spooky Season?
Episodes of Hollow Medium start to release on Sunday October 2nd, but if the month of August has been any indication, the Sunday release schedule may have already commenced. On Sunday July 31st, Hollow Medium was at Midsummer Scream showcasing their steamer trunk full of goodies. On Sunday August 7th, online fans got to virtually explore a set of puzzle-laden postcards. Most recently, on Sunday August 14th, a larger cache of items were revealed, leading to a stereographic puzzle. And photos taken at the Midsummer Scream booth imply we’ve only scratched the surface in exploring Lenora Bowen’s collection, so fans may have another surprise waiting this Sunday, August 21st.
Even after Hollow Medium runs its course, it looks like there will be one final artifact in play: the one decidedly out-of-game section of this experience is the “Support the Investigation” tab, which offers the chance to preorder a commemorative paperback edition of Hollow Medium season 1, including both the episode “transcripts”, as well as ancillary documents and exclusive extras. A Hollow Medium acrylic pin is already available for order, and early recipients received a surprise in the mail that extended things further: all three postcards from Midsummer Scream, alongside a fourth postcard, with instructions to contact S.P. at [email protected].
You can subscribe to Hollow Medium at all the standard places one finds podcasts. The Hollow Medium Twitter and Instagram accounts have been providing updates on the weekly drops, while Granville House Productions’ Instagram account has offered a more behind-the-scenes look at the process.