Willis Nightwood

Oil Lamp Demon

Willis Nightwood was an eccentric lawyer from Stillwater, Wisconsin, whose burial was part of an elaborate ceremony in an underground room on his property [The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb].

This mock funeral was performed according to instructions left in the old lawyer's will: [a scarecrow] was...taken to an underground room that had been constructed during Mr. Nightwood's lifetime...solidly built of bricks and mortar, and...thirty feet underground beneath a hill on Mr. Nightwood's property...and...then taken from its coffin and propped up in a sitting position in a chair [47-8].

The newspaper article regarding Nightwood's death describes him as making a lot of money playing poker in his youth. Years later, when he had amassed a large fortune, he donated a collection of his paintings and the town clock, both located in the town hall building, to the city of Stillwater. He also owned a large summer home on an island in Stillwater Lake where he practiced his black magic in secret.

Myra Eells and Anthony Monday discover during their investigation that "if anyone ever deserved to be murdered" it was Nightwood. That said, Emerson Eells hypothesizes that the bizarre tomb and surrounding rituals may have been Nightwood's way of covering up an occult accident: something went amiss and Nightwood was consumed by a demon, described as short with a pale, bald, freckled face, and across it were stretched a crisscrossing mass of black strands, similar to spider webs [10, 21, 38]. Though Nightwood was possessed , Emerson believes Nightwood had a good side and attempted to control the spirit through the enchanted hand bell, Bible, and oil lamp - a sort of Bell, Book, and Candle trio of items that actually worked for close to twenty years until the enchanted circle of items was disrupted [47-53, 64, 84, 104].

The circle, now unbroken, allowed the demon that haunted the lamp to walk the earth and manifest at various locales: along side the road leading back to Hoosac, near Mr. Yurchak's body on the front porch of Hooasc High School, peering inside Myra's house, and finally during the Ashtaroth summoning ceremony.

Inspiration

A few plot points involving Nightwood appear to be another nod to the work of author M.R. James, as seen in the story The Tractate Middoth. First there is the matter of the strage oil lamp demon, as evidenced by these passages from James' short story:

I tell you, he had a very nasty bald head. It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs...Though, for one reason or another I didn't take in the lower part of his face I did see the upper part; and it was perfectly dry, and the eyes were very deep-sunk; and over them, from the eyebrows to the cheek-bones there were cobwebs-thick.

Compare now Nightwood's elaborate burial with the one of Dr. Rant, as written by James:

He left directions-horrid old man!-that he was to be put, sitting at a table in his ordinary clothes, in a brick room that he'd had made underground in a field near his house.