Introduction 3: The Books in the Basement
I have finally begun compiling a record of books and manuscripts found in the secret basement of my missing friend William Cullen’s residence. They were scattered all over the basement. Some of them were stacked on ancient bookshelves that covered the walls. The ones that William appears to have referenced most often were heaped upon the enormous desk. This desk is made from what appears to have once been an enormous door, and it is inscribed with ghoulish symbols and figures.
Many of the volumes and papers are surprisingly mundane. Decaying newspapers, published in various locations, mostly Barrow, Salem, and the surrounding area during the past three centuries, make up the lion’s share. Treatises on numerous subjects prevalent in American culture during their publication, from witchcraft, to the enlightenment, to the American revolution, to abolitionist texts written before the Civil War, to narratives of Western expansion, to botanical encyclopedias, burgeon the moldy bookshelves bolted to the damp stone walls. Lying here in the dark, many have become encrusted with strange fungi and slimes.
Since cataloguing all of these documents would take months, I have decided to create two initial lists that distill these volumes into only the most pertinent items. The first of these, titled “Manuscripts” below, is comprised of letters and journals kept mostly by members of the Pyncheon family--yes, the same Pyncheon family that forms the subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel House of the Seven Gables. These documents were produced between the late seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth century.
As if this collection were not impossible enough, I have also found two journals that appear to have been kept by the renowned author himself from 1824 to 1838. Their handwriting is consistent with the author’s hand during this phase of his life, between his graduation from Bowdoin College and his earliest short stories. During this period, the author made frequent trips to Barrow, and even resided to this very house.
Hawthorne recorded his thoughts in these notebooks whenever he visited the Pyncheon family, yet it seems he never removed them from the house, instead stashing them here until his return. In keeping with the naming convention begun with Hawthorne’s American Notebooks, English Notebooks, etc., I’ve simply dubbed these “The Barrow Notebooks.”
While this first list most excites my own intellect, another group of works, titled simply “Books” below, clearly stimulated William’s own pursuits. The attention that he devotes to some of these books in his journal writing disturbs me. For besides recording his experiences in this house in Barrow, and to a lesser extent his struggles for acceptance with his colleagues in the Department of Ancient Languages at Salem State University, William’s journals are an extended inquiry into the mystical connections between his own alleged discovery of an ancient, Pre-Insular Celtic language used by the ancient druids of the British Isles, and the ceremonial rites recorded in this assemblage of arcane books.
William Cullen’s journals begin the first time he saw the house, in the summer of 2016, when he interviewed for the position at Salem State. In October, he discovered the secret staircase, the basement, and the books. By mid-2017, he had clearly become obsessed with his theories of druidic languages and their implications for the cosmos. Frankly, I do not understand much of it. He speaks of a set of “unbreakable rose-colored tablets of a cosmic origin” inscribed with runes which he had resolve to make his life’s work to translate. Fearing the ridicule of his colleagues at Salem State, he elected not to share these tablets until he had unlocked their mysteries.
Except, that is, with a female colleague named Caitlin Barrett, whom he says sympathized with his theories. His journals indicate that he developed a romantic relationship with her. I cannot tell if she had any influence on his research.
If William ever succeeded in translating the tablets, he did not record their secrets in his journals, nor the keys to unlocking them. It has occurred to me that the tablets might have never existed. Maybe they are simply a register of William’s growing self-delusion and unravelling. Despite a thorough search of the basement, the house, and even the yard for hidden containers, I have found no trace of these “cosmic tablets.”
I do not think it can possibly be a coincidence that Caitlin Barrett is also missing. I tried to contact her immediately upon locating her name in the notebooks. But she has been missing since about the same time as William. Confoundingly, no one seems to have made a connection between the two of them, nor the possibility that their disappearances are related. Neither the police, nor their colleagues at the university seem to understand that William and Caitlin were involved romantically. I have chosen not to disabuse them of this error.
Nor have I been able to speak with Fritz Strange, the Chair of the Department of Ancient Languages at Salem State, with whom William describes a contentious, and at times hostile, relationship. According to the Dean of the Humanities at the university, Strange is on leave in Europe. Yet I find his absence amid these circumstances troubling.
Transcribing William’s journals has not been as easy nor as straightforward as it first appeared to me. William’s journals are partly a chronicle of events beginning with his discovery of the hidden basement and its contents, and partly a record of his speculations on its origins and meaning. In certain places, William appears despairingly coherent; in others, desperately confused. Sometimes he shows signs of what can only be described as derangement. I think that even though what he found in the books and manuscripts in the basement excited him and stimulated his research, it was also hard on him. His discoveries and his rapidly developing theories may have even may have caused him to become unhinged.
Despite all of this, I remain convinced, from both my knowledge of his character and my ongoing review of his journals, that William wrote with a steady eye for truth. I believe that he brought all his careful scientific methodology to his study of the strange books here in the basement, and to evaluating his experiences in the house. William plainly told the truth, at least as he understood it, and as fluid as it may have been to him.
My initial list of the most pertinent books and documents discovered in William Cullen’s secret basement is attached below.
William Cullen, Journals, 2013-2017.
Theodosia Pyncheon, Journals (8 volumes), 1692 -1805.
Thomas Pyncheon - Letters, Journals, and Theosophical Manuscripts (3 volumes), 1634 - 1692.
Diary of John Sassomon, 1670-1675.
Diary of Charles Pyncheon,1684-1693.
Pyncheon Family Papers - Boxes of letters, manuscripts, diaries by members of the family 1630-1920.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Barrow Notebooks, 1828-1834.
Clifford Pyncheon, Poems and Musings, 1803-1865.
Daisy Pyncheon, Journal and Correspondence, 1818-1832.
Journals of an unknown Indian woman, probably Natick dialect of the Massachusett language formalized in writing by John Eliot the Apostle. Seventeenth Century.
Belfagor of Machiavelli.
The Vigilae Mortuorum Secundum Chorm Ecclesaiae Maguntinae.
Cultes de Goules of Francios Balfour.
Book of Eibon.
The Chiromancy of Robert Flud.
Ludwig Teik, The Elves.
Doctor Mirabalus, Opus Magnum.
Corpus Hermeticum (trans. Marcio Ficino).
Cornelius Aggripa, De Occolta Philosophia.
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.
Increase Mather, The Devil’s Ancient Pact with the Indians of America.
Cotton Mather, The Christian Philosopher.
Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World (Expanded; does not match any known editions).
Books of Simon the Magician (2 volumes), (purports to be a copy of an ancient text made by Trithimius).
Paracelsus, Opus Chirugicum.
The Book of Thoth.
The Folio Triplicus.
Magical Treatise of Solomon.
The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.
Missing, but referred to in Cullen’s Journals:
Rites of the High Druidess Caetgh’al G’la (polished tablets of an unknown rose-colored stone). ?? Ancient Origin ?? Possibly Apocryphal.
If I uncover any other crucial papers, I will update the list accordingly. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll devote my time to transcribing William’s journals on this blog. The time, that is, that I do not spend searching for him.
I hope that my efforts to make sense of these journals will bear fruit. So that I can understand just what happened in this house. And what happened to poor William. I desperately hope that somehow, as I comb through these miraculous yet horrific leaves of ink and paper, I will reach those who can help me learn the fate of my last true friend.
Still searching. Even after all these months, I still hope he is alive, out there, somewhere.
Please be patient with me. If the books that I discovered in William Cullen’s hidden basement amount to even a fraction of what I currently suspect them to be, you will not be disappointed.
And maybe, just maybe, we will find William.