October 9th – The Festival of the Scratched Coffin

You’ve probably never heard of Karelan Johan, because Johan was a writer and conceptual artist who never got famous. Which isn’t to say that they weren’t successful. Johan was very successful, it’s just that their name is not normally attached to this success, which is clear in the hundreds of people who vicariously celebrate their work on this day every year.

It’s not that Johan was particularly forgetful as a person; they were a big figure in the art and transgender communities in their time, and were even tipped to be the next big thing their ‘Tattoo Portraits’. These were small, succinct descriptions of people which were written onto their hands and then photographed, an example of the Early Anti-Separatist art movement which proved popular in the 1930s. Yet Johan never really took off with any of this gallery work; this was popularity, not true fame.

Yet it was not these images that led to today’s festival, but instead a series of small fictions, made to seem like real accounts, real journals. These were released all over the City into second hand book stores, where they fitted in well with the other leather-bound, patinated tomes of indiscernible age. These ‘journals’ were produced entirely in secret, and were only found out later when, on their deathbed, Johan confided in a friend.

Every single one of these diaries and journals told, at their collective hearts, beneath layers of the mundane (‘Nantwither came over for dinner today and I stupidly served her boiled ham, oh I am such a fool,’ ‘lost my bike pump today, dad says he will look with me by the canal tomorrow’), the story of a ghost that haunted each and every one of the eighteen fictional journal-writers. Whilst only three of these journals have been discovered or survived bookshop culling, and therefore there is probably much missing from the full tale, the ghost appears to have the same characteristics in each appearance; it is a large, tall woman with long black hair and an enormous leather-and-fur coat. She always appears with the sound of scraping and scrabbling, and leaves rusted nails in her wake.

Out of these three journals, one made the biggest splash; the tale of Orpheus Drummond, a gravedigger at Our Lady of Flowing Halls’ Cemetery. Possibly the final instalment and the only journal where the superfluous disguise of mundane details is stripped back, Drummond’s diary has seemingly had most of its pages torn out, an act probably performed by the artist themselves, given the relative succinctness of the remaining passages. Folk thought that the tiny book, more of a leather-bound pamphlet really, was real, and that such a ghost really did exist, haunting the footsteps of a kindly gravedigger and grounds keeper, constantly dropping rusted nails over his tidy lawn. Before long, ghost hunters heard about the hoaxed book and came out in force, hoping to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic lady.

As it was probably the final text in the art piece, Drummond’s diary provided an explanation for the ghostly apparitions which had only confused the other two ‘witnesses.’ Apparently, she was a hunter who was buried alive beneath the cemetery of Our Lady, having been knocked unconscious by a deer. She awoke beneath six feet of soil and rock, but then died shortly afterwards, leaving scratches on the inside of the coffin lid. Such was the media frenzy around the prank, that several of the bodies in the cemetery were actually exhumed to ensure that they didn’t bear this telltale mark.

Apparently, whilst the ghost constantly followed Drummond around, leaving its nails, others could only hear it today, the anniversary of its burial, when it began once more to scratch and scrabble at the coffin lid. Today, those who still believe this strange tale despite the fact it was long ago disproved as fiction, will sit on the grass with an upturned glass in their hand, trying to listen carefully to the vibrations beneath, trying to make out the sound of nails (human, not rusted iron) on wood.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Desk Sleeping Festival
  • Yes No Maybe Festival
  • The Lack Festival