Say His Name Thrice: The Charles Dickens Mirror

September 24, 2013 — Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is kind of like the A Nightmare Before Christmas of its time, all scary and merry. Actually, it goes even further, as it’s both a heartwarming Christmas tale and a heartpounding ghost story. I’m still waiting for the movie adaptation that really lives up to the horror of Dickens’ original text.

A Christmas Carol was pretty big when it came out. Heck, Dickens himself was already a superstar. I once heard it compared to when Michael Jackson came out with Thriller, but only because I just said that out loud.

Dickens toured the world, performing public readings of his works, and that included fan-favorite A Christmas Carol. His first public reading of that work on American soil happened in Boston in 1867, at the Tremont Temple. But just before that, he did a private reading to a group of literati called the Saturday Club at the Omni Parker House Hotel just around the corner.

Dickens stayed at the hotel during his tour of America in 1867 and 1868, and he would practice his readings in his third-floor room in front of a large gilded mirror.

Today, the Omni Parker is still there on School Street, right across from King’s Chapel, and you can go and see that mirror…and maybe a whole lot more.

The story goes that if you look long and deep enough into the mirror, you can see Charles Dickens himself. Far from it being a Candyman or Bloody Mary legend (as cool as having “Killed by the Ghost of Charles Dickens” as an epitaph would be), he’s supposed to just be practicing his rendition of A Christmas Carol.

I’d heard vaguely of the story in the past, but for some reason never followed up on it until I had lunch with Rob Velella of the American Literary Blog. He led me into the Omni Parker and up the steps to the second floor. On the way, we passed a hotel staff member exiting an ancient dumb waiter. He wouldn’t let us try it.

On the second floor, at the end of the hall and just past a large picture of Nathaniel Hawthorne that, according to Rob, bears no resemblance whatsoever to Nathaniel Hawthorne, was a massive vertical mirror that took up almost the whole wall.

Surprisingly, a plaque beside the mirror not only labeled it as from Charles Dickens’ room, but went on to state the legend of seeing Mr. Great Expectations himself in its surface. I don't know what to do with legends when they're labelled.

Of course, I didn’t see any long-bearded dude waving a bloody hook and declaiming, “There's more of gravy than of grave about you.” , but it’s a really cool artifact and for some reason I’m inordinately glad that it’s there.

Strangely enough, though, it’s not the only Charles Dickens ghost story in New England.

Dickens died in 1870 before finishing his last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Two years later, a printer based in Brattleboro, Vermont, named Thomas Power Jane made headlines by announcing that the ghost of Charles Dickens had visited him and wanted to finish the book through him.

He released the book right before Halloween in 1873, and pretty much everybody laughed him back into obscurity. But for the months leading up to it, he was a celebrity.

The byline of the book reads “By the spirit-pen of Charles Dickens, through a medium,” and it’s worth reading the short preface, where he pshaws all the implausible theories that circulated around about the real origin of the text, which was everything from a publicity stunt by the heirs of Dickens who had supposedly been holding on to the finished work to build up hype all the way to Satan himself having literary aspirations.

For some reason, I’m just as happy that this story took place on our planet as the fact that the Dickens mirror is still around.

It’s all Dickens’ fault, of course. You write one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, people are going to hope that you end up as one, too.