Nagspeake Winter Getaways–They’re Not Just For Tourists!

As winter works its magic on the Magothy watershed, many of us find ourselves stuck indoors weighing the merits of an emergency hot chocolate run and wishing we were at least frozen someplace where there wasn’t laundry staring us in the face and a sinkful of dishes on top of our favorite tumbler, the one that makes even a cheap bottle of bourbon taste pretty good, which we really need now that we’re down to the cheap bottles. Then, after trying to work that glass out from under the rest of the dishes and breaking it in the process and sliding down the cabinetry to cry helplessly for a few minutes at the bleakness of it all, perhaps you, too, have thought to yourself, I need a vacation, even if it is only January.


And guess what? Inns and hotels and guest houses all over our great city want you to know that there is another way for Nagspeakers to pass the cold days in their own hometown. Many of our local gems have winter getaway packages that make it easy to find a home away from home right here at home, for when you need to get out of your house or you’re pretty sure you’ll crack up. Whether you need a weekend, a whole week, or even longer, there’s sure to be a spot that’s perfect for a getaway staycation. Here are a few options we like right now:


Crossjack House

Our most famous tourist district is a ghost town in the winter months, which makes it the perfect place for a getaway, especially if what you really want is to have a whole clean new house from which to stare out at a slightly different frozen waterway than the one you could see from your own rattling windows. One of the grand old historic houses on the Bayside waterfront, Crossjack House was once the home of the outwardly-respectable Amos Cross family whose daughter Violet captained the smuggling sloop Lancet for a number of years with astounding success before falling in love with a young apprentice in the Customs Office. The rest, as they say, is history, and for three quarters of the year it’s all but impossible to get a reservation to vacation in this house, the scene of some of the key moments in Violet Cross’s unlikely youth. During the cold season, however, it’s just possible to rent Crossjack House, complete with ten bedrooms, two verandas, four secret passages, three nested attics, and two false-floored cellars—that we know of.


The Supernumerary

Flotilla when it’s cold is a lot like Flotilla when it’s warm: it’s still built mostly out of a bunch of boats lashed together. However, thanks to the frozen river surface under the hulls, what during the warmer months is just the space between the waterline and the decks above becomes a network of ice-floored tunnels. This underworld, sometimes called the coldway, was famously the setting for one of the stories in Phineas Amalgam’s classic folklore collection, The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book. The district’s sole inn, the Supernumerary, is the perfect place from which to conduct an exploration of the coldway. Rumor has it if you use the right password, the innkeeper, Mrs. Lobscouse, will give you a current, hand-drawn map to help you navigate the passages that lie below Flotilla, and a specific sequence of notes to play on your bosun’s whistle that will bring help if you get into trouble. Don’t have a bosun’s whistle? Flotilla’s probably not your scene, anyway. Have a bosun’s whistle but wondering what kind of trouble you could run into in the coldway? Good question, but we get the impression it’s more than just the possibility of weak ice.

The Printer’s Quarter


The Bookbindery*

For much of the year, the Bookbindery is home to a constantly-changing cast of the various sorts of ne’er-do-wells, shiftless layabouts, and hard-drinking, self-indulgent nutballs that we can lump together in the general category of writers. In any other context, you’d probably have to call the Bookbindery a sanitarium, but its literature and its clientele refer to it rather optimistically as a retreat venue. But lo, there are several weeks throughout the year when its usual denizens find something better to do with their time, like, perhaps, dishes and laundry. Many of those weeks fall during the winter, and if you can get a room there when the creative types aren’t cluttering up the place, you’ll delight in the art-deco gem that is the Bookbindery. Revel in its magnificent library if the last batch of writers hasn’t totally pillaged it, and try not to spend your kids’ inheritance in the attached stationery shop, if the last batch of writers has left anything for anybody else.

Whilforber Hill

Greenglass House

Are you the sort of person who loves the idea of wintering at a ski lodge, only you’d rather not bother about the skiing part? I hear you. It’s out of the way, but if you can get to it, the family-run Greenglass House is one of the coziest places in the city. We were skeptical, since we got our tip about this inn from, shall we say, someone we would have expected to know more about, shall we say, sailing under the radar than about finding vacation hotspots. But it’s on the Register of Historic Places thanks to a fairly amazing collection of stained glass, and in good weather it’s walking distance to the Ferrous Sanctus Monastery grounds. In the winter, it’s just a really wonderful place to curl up by the fire and sip a hot toddy. Be sure to go via the Quayside Harbors, so you can take the inn’s adorable little incline railway up the hillside to the inn’s grounds.

The Quayside Harbors

The Quenching Press**

A place that probably should be on the Register of Historic Places but isn’t is the Quayside Harbors’ Quenching Press. The pubs and taverns out on the piers tend to get the most attention from tourists staying in the Quayside Harbors (I know, I know, you’re thinking, what tourists ever stay in the Quayside Harbors? Probably like five, ever, but I bet all five of them stayed on the piers. It’s where you go when you go there). But they’re not the only options, and the Quenching Press is well worth looking into if you’re up for something that’s old and fascinating and completely out of place where it is. Also, the food is excellent. Look for the big old red stone warehouse on the inland side of the district. The ground floor is the tavern and restaurant, and the four floors of guest rooms look out over it from galleries above. You’ll take an antique lift (one of four) up to your room, which will probably be wallpapered by artifacts from a century ago, or more. The bartender looks like he stepped right out of the nineteenth century. It’s the perfect place for anyone who’d just as soon hole up and forget it’s winter—and the twenty-first century—at all.

The Slope


The Almshouse

Look, every guesthouse in the Slope wants your business in the winter and will give you an amazing deal if only you can get up the icy hills upon which those houses are perched in order to check in. We picked the Almshouse to mention here because it is by far and away the worst guesthouse to get to in bad weather and yet absolutely the best guesthouse to stay in in bad weather. Why? Because it was once a front for a smuggling racket that dealt mostly in drinkables. Liquor, sure, but also exotic drinking chocolate, rare coffees, and every conceivable sort of tea, the definition of which we’ll stretch to include steeped beverages that would blow your tea-drinking grandma’s mind and possibly make her hallucinate. And by “was once a front” we really mean was a front until last fall, when the runners got caught and the owner of the supposed “guesthouse” that needed to keep such big quantities on hand for its supposed “guests” had to open up for real to prove to Customs that it really was doing the business it said it was. Book your stay before Customs loses interest and reservations suddenly become impossible to get. Then order up a pot of something hot and fortifying and enjoy your stay.


Melancholy Street Public House

Don’t let the name fool you—if you stayed away from streets with unpleasant names, you’d never visit Shantytown at all. Yes, Melancholy Street is on the grounds of what was once an extensive graveyard in the neighborhood of Creve Coeur, and yes, I suppose there are more than a few headstones and mausoleums still littering the environs. Yes, the Public House was built incorporating what was once upon a time the cemetery’s gatehouse. But the menu is fabulous, the wine cellar is remarkable, and the rooms in the two gatehouse spires have delightful 360-degree views of scenic riverside Creve Coeur, which, again, despite the grim promises made by its name, is actually quite lovely. Just try not to speculate about what’s buried underfoot.

*Ouch. Apologies to all writers, on behalf of the rest of the NBTC.—KM (Responsible as usual for typing Hallie’s notes up and posting them in readable form.)

**Re. the Quenching Press—I’m confused by this. The red stone warehouse Hallie’s talking about here has been empty for ages. I can’t even find records of who owns it, or when it was last open for any kind of business. There’s certainly not a tavern there, or guest rooms of any kind. Call for information before you show up, is what I’m saying, but I have no idea who you’d call.—KM 

This is what happens when you take meetings with folklorists in attics.

This is what happens when you arrange lunch with a folklorist whose office is in the university attic. This is what I was looking at the whole time. I think our discussion lasted about five minutes before Dr. Gilthead stopped politely pretending not to notice that I was distracted by the collection of bottles in the window behind his desk and asked if I wanted to have a look.

Yes, I did. So we stopped talking about what we’d actually met to talk about and started talking about a bunch of old glass bottles.

I should explain a couple of things here. Firstly: City University’s folklore department doesn’t exist anymore. It was absorbed into the Crypto-Urban Studies department about ten years ago, and this caused an uproar the likes of which only academics whose specialty has been (in their view) radically mis-categorized can raise. That is to say, a very large and very obnoxious uproar.

At first, the folklorists simply refused to acknowledge the reorganization. Then there were acts of civil disobedience and pranks (gluing the department head’s furniture to the ceiling, removing the indexes of every book in the department library, attempting to kidnap the department secretary). At last, the folklore department walked out en masse, and have (according to the official University literature) never returned. City University no longer offers a folklore degree or, in fact, any folklore classes. This is roughly when the legendary folklorist Phineas Amalgam left the faculty; it was Amalgam that I had come to talk to Dr. Gilthead about. And the reason we were meeting in the attic is that the truth is, most of the faculty did come back. But they refused to take offices in what was now part of the Crypto-Urban Studies department, so they found workspaces elsewhere.

For the last few months I’ve been doing research for a new edition of Phineas Amalgam’s most famous collection of lore, The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book. In the course of tracking down colleagues of Amalgam’s, I’ve had to approach City University less like a writer and more like an urban explorer. Dr. Coventry keeps an office in the old pneumatic tube depot that used to be used for interdepartmental correspondence. Dr. Yulett’s office is a decommissioned powder room, from days when the women’s faculty bathroom was literally called the powder room. Dr. Eglantine has taken to collecting antique paperweights not because she likes them, but because her workspace is on a balcony outside a chemistry lab. The day I interviewed her she warned me in advance to come over the roof rather than trying to cut through the chem lab, because she’d heard they were handling some fairly noxious chemicals that day. We conducted our discussion through two antique gas masks.

So, long story short, here we were in the attic, and I’d been distracted by a bunch of old bottles.

“Take a look,” Dr. Gilthead said, very kindly. At least, I thought he was being kindly. Now I wonder if he didn’t look kind of calculating. As I was turning the first dusty bottle over in my hands, he said casually, “Of course, you know the story of the Yankee Peddlers.”

I did, and said so; everybody in Nagspeake knows that story. It’s one of the famous ones. There’s even a poem. Phineas Amalgam’s retelling of the tale of the Yankee Peddlers is the centerpiece of The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book. But I probably answered distractedly, because the comment didn’t seem to be related to what I was now holding and occupied with. There are four peddlers in the story: a tinsmith, a clocksmith, a conflagrationeer, and a catalog merchant; but there’s nobody whose wares would’ve come in bottles.

“Look at the bottom,” Dr. Gilthead suggested. So I turned the thing over. The handwritten label stuck to the glass was faded but perfectly legible: made by Natron Glassworks for Lympha Elixirs.

Natron Glassworks and Lympha Elixirs: two entities I’ve never heard of. It isn’t that I know every company that’s ever operated in Nagspeake, but here was this folklorist making a point of calling my attention to them.

“Blister, Bone, Nerve, Lung,” Dr. Gilthead said from somewhere behind me. Those are the names of the four Yankee Peddlers in the most common version of the story. “And then there’s Madame Blood in some variations. Interesting to find that there was also a Lympha Elixir company, isn’t it?”

“Do you know anything about this company?” I asked.

Gilthead shook his head. “No mention in any literature I can find. But it existed, and the name alone suggests it’s in some way related to the folklore about the peddlers. I find it very, very interesting that Dr. Amalgam, who obviously knew more about Nagspeake folklore than anyone else, never mentioned it.” He shrugged. “I just figured you might like to know.”

No kidding. So now I have this whole other thing to look into, which is at once very exciting and headthumpingly frustrating, because tracking down primary sources in Nagspeake is, to put it mildly, problematic.

This is what I get for taking meetings in attics.


January at the Olina Museum: Urban Wilderness, Mysterious Mathematickal Art, and the Return of the Old Iron Project

Happy New Year, my lovelies! It’s January on the Magothy, and you know what that means (or maybe you don’t): the much-awaited re-opening of the Olina Museum in the Printer’s Quarter. Nagspeakers have been waiting five years for the Olina to swing wide its doors after the destruction of the Walker Folkways Wing in what has been variously described as an instance of ball lightning, an act of arson, and the last desperate act of a psychotic board of directors. But whatever the cause of the incineration, the Olina opens tomorrow, January 15th, with a brand-new group of featured exhibits, including a few surprises that even your humble correspondent wasn’t able to ferret out!

January 15-March 15: Urban Wildnerness: New Views of the Feral City

We here at the NBTC are particularly excited about this, because our very own occasional correspondent, Kate Milford, will have a few pieces on view–and these are the first of her photographs to ever be exhibited. Congratulations, Kate. Now, get a move on that article you’ve owed me since November.*

January 15-February 29th: Art in the Attic: the Mysterious Mathematickal Papers of the Water Trolley Building

This is another exciting one. Last year an urban explorer** happened upon a crate of what looked at first glance*** to be nothing more than a box of crumpled scrap paper. On further examination, however, it revealed itself to be a cache of elaborately folded paper sculptures, varying in complexity from things like a traditional paper fortune-teller on up to a two foot-tall humanoid figure believed to be a representation of the beloved “Pantin” character from the classic children’s Troublewit Tales. No attributing marks or identifying writings were found with the paper art, and both the identity of the creator as well as the approximate time of the works’ creation remain a mystery.

January 15-July 15: The Return of the Old Iron Project

Ah, well, it wouldn’t be a proper Nagspeake museum opening without an exhibit to celebrate our beloved Old Iron. The Old Iron Project is an ongoing collaboration between the City University Ferroculture Department and various local artists working in different mediums to visualize the life of the city’s most famous oddity. (Reservations recommended for the opening week.)

The Olina Museum and Distillery

34 Vey Street, Printer’s Quarter
Tuesday-Thursday 10-7
Friday teatime only
Saturday and Sunday 10-8

*I do not owe Hallie Moxton any articles. I do not know what the hell she’s talking about, as per usual.–KM

**That was me. Hallie declined to accept the piece I wrote about it at the time, claiming that “nobody gives a tootle’s caboose about old origami, and stop trespassing with NBTC credentials in your purse because we are not bailing your butt out again.”–KM

***Read: at Hallie’s first glance.–KM)

A Special Welcome for Age of Steam Readers!

It seems like only yesterday we were sending her out on yet another a coffee run, but today our very own Kate Milford is being interviewed on a lovely blog called Age of Steam! Frequent guests here at the NBTC website might remember Kate as our erstwhile intern before we hired Fennel; some of you might also know that Kate has her first little book coming out very soon. Well, we at the NBTC like to do what we can to support new writers; especially Kate, since she’s promised to make mention of our fair city in her interview. So I decided to put together this little introductory page to help folks who stop to find out a little more about Nagspeake! Here are some posts from the last few years that we’re particularly proud of–but do have a look around for yourself.

A Postcard Homage on the Occasion of the Nth Burning of the Civic Archives

(From Kate’s Nagspeake blog, The Expat.)

Lapland Sesame and My Day with John Pinnard, the Bastard

(From Annabelle Bechamel’s website of the same name as her eponymous Bayside sweetshop. Please note that this article does not represent the views of the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture on either John Pinnard or mummified appendages that may or may not be used in the commission of crime.)

In the Hacker’s Bazaar

(Also from The Expat. I don’t get it, but Miranda Fennel says this article was very popular with the nerd demographic, and then she promised to get me Chick-Fil-A for lunch today if I included it here. But the joke’s on her, because Chick-Fil-A isn’t open on Sundays.)


Nagspeake has a storied publishing pedigree, covering centuries of history with an entire district, the Printer’s Quarter, dedicated to the literary, critical, and journalistic arts. This piece isn’t part of that history. This is from J. S. Hennepin’s disquisition on the Ilford-Mapp Riots of the last century, and as such has never before seen the light of day. And if anyone gives me any grief about it, I will deny even its existence on this page. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m including it, except that I’m feeling a little rebellious and that’s what happens after a bottle of Annabelle Bechamel’s rotgut. The drinking of which, come to think of it, was also Miranda Fennel’s idea.

On that note, I have an intern to severely reprimand.

Thanks for visiting, enjoy, and come back often!

Your devoted webmistress,

Hallie Moxton

Killer Real Estate Opportunity in Historic Printer’s Quarter!

Love the NBTC? Want to work here??

Well, you can’t. Or rather, you can’t work at the NBTC, because between Kate and Miranda we have plenty of people to get our coffee and make sure our paperclips are all perfectly flat with the loops all exactly in line. (Because nothing makes inter-office correspondence less professional than bent-up paperclips, as everyone who’s ever read Cransill’s Rules of Civilized Inter-Office Correspondence knows.)

But, in a shocking turn of events that no one, certainly not our landlord, could have foreseen, you can work here in the Historic Kitmillick Building, just one floor below the NBTC’s headquarters! Yes, it’s true, the entire second floor has opened up for immediate occupation, and I’m assured by a guy I once dated who’s been assigned to the investigation that the body found in the dumbwaiter was absolutely positively not the victim of foul play, so there’s no need to worry about that.

Just think of it! The Kitmillick Building, which was the site of so many historic Nagspeake events!

Historic Kitmillick Building

The basement that housed the presses that printed the subversive broadsheet Nettles for two weeks back in the days of the Ilford-Mapp Riots! The boiler room that was venerated as an incarnation of Deep Blue, the window where local tradition says that with the right lens and the right light you can see into the great hall at the Shutter Club (and which has been shattered by random sniper fire three times–probably totally coincidentally, though, and anyway, that window’s on the fifth floor), and of course, the dumbwaiter our loony downstairs neighbor, Gerald Filiberton, evidently thought was a space elevator (I gather this is the only explanation the police have come up with for why anyone would climb into a dumbwaiter armed only with a supply of beef jerky, Remembrance of Things Past in six hardcover volumes, and a C-PAP plugged into a hundred feet of extension cords, and then remain there for two weeks wearing a fishbowl on his head and wasting away).

Best of all, since its suspected Drift to the west side of Spanner Street, the Historic Kitmillick Building is located on one of the most prestigious streets in the Printer’s Quarter, the home of Nagspeake publishing since time immemorial! If you’re looking for the perfect place to start your very own subversive broadsheet or possibly an online ‘zine with a clever alliterative name, this is the place for you! But act quickly–a body in a dumbwaiter isn’t going to keep tenants away from this prime real estate for long!

Christmas on the Magothy: We Have a Winner!

Back in August, Gillymole Press announced its return to mainstream publishing with the Christmas on the Magothy Serial Fiction Contest, which we here at the NBTC were so excited about until some idiot who was still bent out of shape about a series Gillymole ran…what?…four years ago or something (get over it people, at some point we have to stop burning businesses down just because we don’t like their font choices) spoiled things for a lot of people by torching the publisher yet again and driving them back underground for the sixth time in so many years.

Well, thanks to the generosity of Emmer and Colickroot’s new Icker-O’s, the breakfast cereal made (and made famous!) right here in town by the tremendous “wellness results” it delivered to a test group (in conjunction with a strict program of Fletcherizing) at St. Whit Gammerbund’s Rest Home for the Mentally Chaotic, the contest was reinstated in September and today we have the honor of announcing a winner. It’s our very own Miranda Fennel, Star Intern and ace Coffee Getter!

With Fennel’s budding fiction career right within reach, we figured we’d better get an interview in quick, along with another round of cappuccinos. So here now, is the NBTC’s exclusive interview with the winner of the Gillymole Press Inaugural Christmas on the Magothy Serial Fiction Contest, sponsored by Icker-O’s!

(Full disclosure: the transcript below is not what I showed Hallie, but it is what actually happened, no matter what shows up here tomorrow–KM)

Representation of Fennel with the NBTC staff. From left: Wilmer Cobblebridge (sitting dwarf); Fennel (Chinese warrior); Kate Milford (chubby rusted figure at rear); Charlotte Gracechurch-Ferry (baseball player); Howard Weblend (standing dwarf). Oh, and me, Hallie!

Representation of Fennel with the NBTC staff. From left: Wilmer Cobblebridge (sitting dwarf); Fennel (Chinese warrior); Kate Milford (chubby rusted figure at rear); Charlotte Gracechurch-Ferry (baseball player); Howard Weblend (standing dwarf). Oh, and me, Hallie!

Halliday Moxton, NBTC Webmistress: So! Miranda Fennel! A new job at Nagspeake’s premiere tourism website, and an award-winning serial novel all in one week! Tell us what it’s like to live the dream. Did you happen to get any raw sugar, by the way?

Miranda Fennel: What, specifically, are you referring to as “the dream?”

HM: Sugar?

MF: Hallie, seriously? There’s about a million sugar packets in the kitchen. I just got back from Starbucks.

HM: Raw sugar, Fennel.

MF: This isn’t happening until I go get sugar, is it?

HM: Well, Fennel, I want to give you the best possible interview I’m capable of, and I just don’t know if I can do that with an overly-bitter latte.

(Long pause as Miranda gathers up her coat and stomps out.)

HM: Kate, sweetie, you’d better go with Fennel and finish the interview. And bring me a scone, because Fennel’s going to need to bring fresh lattes. These are going to get cold before she gets back.

(For the record, I am supposed to be off of coffee detail now. Supposedly that’s why we hired an intern. Not that I care, because coffee detail at least gets you out of Hallie range for whatever time you can make it last. Anyway, Miranda and I went and got a scone and raw sugar and lattes and a pint of scotch and spiked Hallie’s coffee with it.)

Actual picture of Miranda Fennel that Hallie could have used in the first place.

Actual picture of Miranda Fennel that Hallie could have used in the first place.

KM: So describe your winning piece to me briefly, so that we may conclude this interview in the two blocks between here and the office.

MF: Basically I figured it couldn’t fail if I stuck vampires into a Christmas story. And I stuck some elves in there, too, for good measure. And some references to Fletcherizing and dry cereals, because, you know.

KM: Icker-O’s.

MF: Yep.

KM: Good plan. Can’t wait to read it.

MF: Oh, I can’t wait for Hallie Moxton to read it.

(Awkward moment of Miranda looking downright crafty while I try not to look like I’ve noticed. This may bear watching, but in the meantime, look for DEATH IN A PEAR TREE, the first installment of Miranda Fennel’s winning serial, UP ON THE HOUSETOP, VAMPIRE CLAWS–coming this week here on the NBTC site and in select packages of Icker-O’s now through Christmas.

I know I’ll be reading very, very carefully.  KM)

The Funicular Railway

The Ledge: Why the Funicular Railway Ends in the Middle of Nowhere

The passengers to make the inaugural climb on the Funicular Railway included four of the city’s top ranking officials, a cub reporter who had no business being there, and a man nobody in Nagspeake is sure ever existed. The uncertain man read a poem, and in so doing, saved the life of the cub reporter, who hadn’t known until she heard the poem that her invitation to record that first climb had been an invitation to her own murder. Or so Charlotte Gracechurch-Ferry told me one night after one too many cocktails. I had to twist her arm to get her to keep talking once she’d sobered up, but it was worth it. This is a tale of murder, monopolistic mail-order shenanigans, a rattletrap railroad, and the Shutter Club.

Wait, you say. What could murder, mail-order shenanigans, and the Shutter Club have to do with the Funicular…or, goodness, each other?

I will tell you.

It’s a familiar landmark to anyone who’s bothered to leave his or her vacation house in Bayside for a deeper look at the city: the Slope’s pride and joy, the old Funicular Railway that rises from Spanner Street to the Hilltop Overlook Station, from which a “picturesque offroad hike” through unpaved wilderness will take you to St. Whit’s Asylum, Ferrous Sanctus Monastery, the Magothy and Whilforber Railroad, or (via descent by bouncing Hill Bus), the Quayside Harbors. In theory, you can also get to the Shutter Club Mansion from the Overlook, but in reality if you were going to be let through the gates, you wouldn’t be taking the Funicular to get there.

Shutter Club, circa...?

This is the only photo we have on file of the Shutter Club Mansion, and I’m required by law to state that the owner of record of the Mansion states that this isn’t the house we claim it is. You can make up your mind on your own, though; take the Funicular yourself and look to your left as you stand on the old stone patio of the Overlook and face up the hill. The big white structure peering out of the trees looking a whole lot like the picture above is probably the Shutter Club Mansion. If you aren’t convinced, walk along the only road that appears to head toward the white building.

On the way, just before you get there, you’ll pass the abandoned but beautiful patio with a grandstand and an overgrown croquet field that was supposed to be where the Funicular ended. Pause here and have a look around. Imagine how this platform looked when it was first built. Meditate on the fact that it was never used. Then move on. Keep on walking another half mile until you come to a giant wrought-iron gate with a large bronze plaque mounted in the center that reads


which always makes me laugh, as the Shutter Club is, or was, or is supposed to be, a photography club.

Discussion of the Shutter Club is important to a discussion of the Funicular for two reasons. Firstly, the Funicular Railway gets you the best view of the Mansion it’s possible to get without calling a score of armed guards down on you, and the Shutter Club’s guards are no joke. They wear bowlers and tweed hunting suits with patched elbows and tall India-rubber boots, and they carry shotguns open, over the crooks of their arms. At least, they look like shotguns, to the same extent that the guards look like leisurely wildfowl hunters; which is to say: only until one of them aims or looks directly at you. Then the facade comes crumbling down and you realize how very wrong you were to trespass.

For many years the guards were presented as the hunters they looked like, and a couple generations of Nagspeakers trying to creep up for a look through the mullioned windows of the Mansion just thought a private hunting preserve ran up against the Shutter Club grounds when they were run off by the gun-toting men in tweed suits. Even the anachronistic dress could be explained away as a quirk of the “hunting club” that appeared to be entrenched up on the Hilltop. A few speculative and some outright fanciful articles were written about it, and in one surviving travelogue from sometime in the last century I even found a reference to the Gentleman Shooters’ Most Dangerous Game Preserve, along with a single photograph, a contact name, and a phone exchange. The supposed name of the preserve makes me think the Shutter Club itself got into the fun for a while (the contact, by the way, was a “Mr. Dick Connell, esq;” when I dialed the number, I was answered by a recording I think might’ve been audio from the “Small Game for Big Hunters” episode of the Avengers, which was perfect because the man in the photo was clearly Patrick Macnee. Needless to say, nobody returned my call). The first inkling people seemed to have that the Gentleman Shooters weren’t what they appeared to be should’ve come much earlier, though, when a scattering of tweedy fellows in India-rubber hunting boots began to look like permanent fixtures during the construction of the Funicular Railway, which brings us to the second reason the Shutter Club overlooms the Funicular in more than just the geographical sense.

The Slope and Hilltop Inclined Railway, to call it by its proper name, was built sometime approximately a hundred and fifty years back (as nearly as I can figure, records being blah blah blah. Actually, Wilmer Cobblebridge of the NBTC claims his father worked on the building of it, which either means my reckoning’s off by a good half-century or Willie’s a lot older than he claims to be). It was built to commemorate an anniversary (God knows which one) of the opening of the Nagspeake terminus of the Magothy and Whilforber Railway line up at the crest of the Hilltop. So it seemed to be all in good fun that, on the night before it was opened with great fanfare to the public, persons unknown found some way to move the entire vertical length of the Funicular to an entirely different location on the Slope.

West Spanner Street

I know how absurd this sounds, but remember that it had been done before with the Terminus on the Hilltop (see my post here: When it happened again with the Funicular, people freaked out, of course, but with a kind of delight: the whole thing looked like the coolest tribute ever. With no hesitation, as if he’d been in on the joke the whole time, the Mayor of Nagspeake lead his constituency through the angled streets of the Slope from the original location on West Spanner Street (above) to the new location of the inclined railway two miles down the same road. He threw the switches that set it into motion, and then the Mayor and a select group of officials climbed into the bullet-shaped green car for its inaugural climb. The honored party included Julius Honorius Deacon, the visible half of the eponymous mail-order catalogue empire Deacon and Morvengarde; Holden Ulenborrow, son of Slope real estate magnate Joshua Hortus Ulenborrow; and Cattrick Sullen, the patriarch of the Magothy and Whilforber Railroad. There was also one member of the press, cub reporter Hannelore Ferry; and one poet: Owen Ilford, who may actually have opened the ceremonies that morning by reading a piece called “Pruning the Iron Skyward.”

A very brief digression: there is no historical record (obviously, considering the state of historical record in this city) of Owen Ilford actually having been in the car, other than Charlotte Gracechurch-Ferry’s recollection that her great-gran Hanna told her “That poet guy shoved into the car at the last minute, and the rest of the stuffed shirts knew they’d look like dicks if they told him to get off in front of everyone.” But Owen Ilford, or someone who called himself by that name, did write the homily that came to be associated with the disastrous events of the opening of the Funicular, and a number of Ilford scholars, including Dr. Edsel Price, believe Ilford may even have read his poem in the role of poet laureate of the city. But this is a debate for another time and for other people. Bad things happen to Ilford scholars, and I like my life the way it is.

But back to the grand opening. The green car made its way up to the crumbling patio at the top of the Funicular’s new trajectory, a platform that had at been built as a scenic overlook long, long before and was in a state of miserable disrepair. The original location—the one you passed while walking to the Shutter Club several paragraphs ago—had a grandstand, a picnic area, and a gorgeous little gazebo snack shop built specially to be a destination for railway riders, and those things are still there, shuttered and abandoned because there’s no good way to get to them. The new landing has a restaurant that had been closed for as long as anybody could remember even when the Funicular lurched to life so long ago. Since then it’s passed through a number of hands who’ve tried to make it successful, but at the time of this writing its most recent incarnation is long dead, just like all the others.


So the million-dollar question is, who moved the Funicular Railway and why? Certainly the city of Nagspeake lost out on the deal. Who came out ahead?

Well, here are some facts. The move put the Funicular two miles further from the Shutter Club Mansion, and put a rocky outcropping of Whilforber Hill between them, obscuring the huge picture windows of the Mansion’s ballroom from railway riders. Two nights before the night of the move, the Shutter Club held one of its infamous Sepia Balls. The next day, someone rang the doorbell of a starry-eyed reporter sharpening pencils at Mache, a second or third-tier broadsheet renting offices at the outskirts of the Printer’s Quarter. The reporter went to her editor with something big enough to make that editor drink way too much at a party that night in the Quarter. There, the editor made the mistake of telling at least fifteen people in attendance that he had something that was going to take the Shutter Club down a few pegs. The next day, the editor didn’t show up to work. That following night, the Funicular Railway was miraculously picked up and moved out of range of prying eyes.

Early, early the morning of the opening, the Mayor’s secretary knocked on the door of the starry-eyed reporter and invited her to join his honor for the first climb. And at the last minute, some poet shoved his way into the car before it started up the Slope. Six people went up; six people came down. The band played, the crowds went home. The editor never turned up again. It was presumed he died an accidental death after drinking too much.

Hannelore Ferry told her great-granddaughter Charlotte, my boss, that Owen Ilford probably saved her life by tagging along that day. In the car, according to great-gran Hanna, Ilford took a piece of paper from his pocket, asked the four rich and powerful men to sit, and read a second poem, one that’s never turned up in any Ilford publication I’ve been able to find. For those who don’t know, Owen Ilford wrote a few historical poems and a lot of poems about murders. This second piece was one of the latter, and it took all of two lines for Hannelore to realize Ilford’s poem was about the events the stranger had told her had taken place at the Sepia Ball two nights before. Three stanzas later the piece became a poem about the disappearance of a broadsheet editor, and then about the death of a starry-eyed cub reporter in a railway car. Horrified, she watched the other four men in the car squirm. How they were involved she had no way of knowing just then, but it was clear to her that she hadn’t been brought up the railway to document the historic occasion at all. She’d been brought up to have an accident, because of what she knew about what had gone on at the Sepia Ball.

The poet finished his reading, re-folded the paper, and calmly told the rest of them that he was considering including the piece in his next anthology, but that his editors thought it sounded too fantastic to be believed. He asked them what they thought. One by one the four rich men agreed that the events of the poem seemed a little far-fetched. They looked at Hannelore Ferry, who took a deep breath and agreed. Owen Ilford nodded and said he thought he’d probably leave it out if they all thought it was too much. They got out at the landing with its abandoned restaurant and crumbling patio all but tumbling down the cliff. They looked around, set off a few fireworks for the crowds down below, filed back into the car and began their descent. The dozen tweed-suited guards that had materialized out of the woods surrounding the landing melted back among the trees, shotguns open over their arms, rubber boots making no noise as they disappeared, and the six in the car pretended they hadn’t seen them. Or so Hannelore Ferry told Charlotte Gracechurch-Ferry before she died.

So what happened at the Sepia Ball to cause all this ruckus? Well, it happens every year, and it’s become a thing of legend—mostly grim legend, woven from unconfirmed rumor, uncomfortable dreams, and the occasional cautionary bedtime story. The most infamous tales concern a Ball in the 20’s given to honor the stars of a serial film that was shot, in part, at the Shutter Club—but that’s just one year, one vintage of really bad stuff going down in the white mansion on the hill. Whole anthologies of suspense and sometimes outright horror tales are released after the Ball every year, mostly by anonymous contributors and imprints that don’t publish their addresses. Bad things happen to Ilford scholars, but Sepia Ball speculators usually get it even worse. And that’s when their bodies turn up; most just disappear, like Hannelore Ferry’s editor. The only thing that saved the reporter herself, it seems, was the intervention of the city’s most famous phantom: the poet, Owen Ilford.

In the end, Hannelore refused to say right up to the end what she knew, and anyhow there’s no way to prove any of what she told Charlotte. Just one more bit of grim legend surrounding the Shutter Club; just one more lost tale of murder by a poet nobody’s sure ever existed. The Funicular carries on, its two green cars passing each other midway up the Slope with the Mansion looking on from its perch on high, keeping its secrets.

The Slope and Hilltop Inclined Railway

East Spanner Street, at Salvation Court; and Hilltop Overlook Station
Departures on the hour and half hour from East Spanner Street;
on the quarter and quarter-to from Hilltop Overlook Station.
Fares are free for children under 12 and fifty cents for adults.

Kate Milford is a regular contributor to, and also very good at miscellaneous filing and collating assignments. Her first book, THE BONESHAKER, comes out this spring from Clarion Books.

Coming soon: using administrative skills learned here at the NBTC offices, Kate descends into a veritable hell of back issues of the Gillymolle Press Journal in search of unpublished Owen Ilfordiana. We wish her the best, but have already picked out the wreath we’ll send to her funeral.

Local Music

Like any moderately-sized city, Nagspeake has a large and thriving music scene! For traditionalists, there’s the Magothy Symphonette and the Mid-Coastal Orchestra. For jazz lovers, there’s the annual Jazz, Blues, and Pig Out at Cape St. Charlestown Park. Then there are the many saloons, restaurants, and clubs that feature live music. These, on the other hand, should be approached with caution. Nagspeake takes its music almost as seriously as it takes its history, as evidenced by the Ilford/Mapp riots of the last decade. (Have a look at Edsel Price’s celebrated writings for more on this fascinating subject.)

One of the most exciting musical presences in Nagspeake is, of course, the Asylum Choir of St. Whit Gammerbund’s Rest Home for the Mentally Chaotic. Modeled on the therapeutic theories of the French Abbé François Simonet de Coulmier (a pioneer in the practice of therapy through art), the Asylum Choir was created by the third director of the Rest Home, Doctor Aliabadi Smith. Dr. Smith’s experiment yielded great results; if it has not resulted in the revolution in psychiatry the good doctor hoped for, it has given us over a century of distinctive music–woe to all who missed last year’s performance of Cadrixian’s opera Winterfowl!

Less therapeutic but equally haunting are the solo performances of cult favorite Annaline Lister Glasharp, Nagspeake’s reigning crystallophone diva. Glasharp plays classics and original compositions at the Maltese Cross on a classic Franklin Armonica, an instrument whose ghostly tones are said to induce insanity. Not to be missed by any music lover with a little sanity to spare!


Who Knew?

Tales of the Horless and Deglov Players have been circulating, in some form or other, since the old pirate days. An antique shanty tells of a man who, even after being made brave by drink, still won’t go with his crewmates to the show where “the poppet-man’s packing ’em in.” He waits in vain all night for his mates to come back and laments the fate his crew met at the stringed hands of the “devil’s poppets.”

Local Theatre

Theatre in Nagspeake is a city-wide affair; more than one innocent bystander has been unexpectedly drawn in by the sudden apparition of drama on what was, moments before, a perfectly quiet and unassuming street.  And when theatre springs up in Nagspeake, there’s no easy distinction between spectator and event.

As far as the “legitimate” theatre goes, there are only three places worth discussing: the Anodyne and Boards on the Bay Ampitheatre (home to the Boards on the Bay Repertory Company), both in Bayside, and Patrick’s House of Plays, in the Printer’s Quarter.  Reports of a floating theatre company that performs in abandoned spaces on the Slope and in Shantytown have not been reliably confirmed, but if the Horless and Deglov Puppet Players do exist, accounts of the macabre subject matter of their performances are probably exaggerated.

This Season in Nagspeake Theatre:

At Patrick’s House of Plays:

  • The Illusion (Pierre Corneille)
  • The Tower (Alexandre Dumas)
  • 1593: Wits’ End
  • 1593: The Roaring Girl

At the Anodyne, a selection of plays by Magothy Playwrights:

  • The Holmsean Solution (Bud Chell)
  • Mapp (J.S. Hennepin)
  • The Bibliophine (Addison Howthaltor; not recommended for audiences under 18)
  • Monks! the Musical (Renifault Cadrixian)
  • The Man who Wrote Murders (Stephanie Toftrie)

At Boards on the Bay:

  • Oh, Those Wacky Pirates! (Stottleford and Pine)
  • Oh, Those Wacky Cigar Rollers! (Stottleford and Pine)
  • Oh, Those Wacky Inmates! (Stottleford and Pine)
  • Oh, Those Asshole Librettists! (Stottleford and Cadrixian)
  • Monks! the Musical (Renifault Cadrixian)