Black Chapel

1937 - 1939

Host: Ted Osbourne

Just two recordings out of 100 episodes of this show are known to survive today, meaning 98% of the delightful, frightful series are believed to be lost. Black Chapel played on the Columbia Network at 11:45 pm on Thursday nights, and (beginning in November of 1938) Friday nights. Such a time slot allowed the show's chilling climax to hit right around the stroke of midnight. Although the 15 minute series was short on cast and sound effects, it made up for it with sinister delivery and a slow, building pace. All the narration and characters were portrayed by a "hooded figure" whose "gnarled fingers grip the cracked keys" of the organ. It was almost like a radio adaptation of the silent movie theater technique, only instead of a live organist playing music for the film, we have the organist playing music while narrating the film-- the images of which play in our mind.

According to the broadcast logs, that hooded figure was Ted Osbourne, who could really deliver the goods when it came to playing a musical maniac with a sick sense of humor. It's amazing to hear the show today and realize Osbourne was changing his voice for every character live on the air, as the action is delivered at a rapid-fire pace. (This series was recorded live in 1939, several years before post-war magnetic tape made editing easy and convenient.) This was not a kiddies show either, but one with truly gruesome endings that were so downbeat and graphic, it could make it difficult to sleep afterwards. Of course, the narrator thought this was just hysterical. He'd laugh with an insane laugh that really does make your skin crawl, then ask, in a suddenly calm tone, "You think that's a funny story?"

Perhaps it was Osbourne's ability to switch emotions as quickly as he did voices, that really convinces the listener that this man is STARK RAVING MAD! Whatever the cause, if listening to this series can still produce the kind of goose bumps it does today, you can imagine what it did back in 1937!

Black Chapel has several similarities with Black Castle (1942), in that both were 15 minute horror anthology shows with one character performing all the roles. However, Black Chapel wins the originality award because it was more daring and diabolical. After all, anyone can set up a horror series in a Black Castle, a Black Museum, or Black Night. But to actually use an abandoned black chapel as the epicenter of evil seems sacrilegious, if not downright satanic! Conjuring up a mysterious hooded figure who tells us a tale while he plays the organ was a brilliant touch too, since that exact image is re-enforced in our minds with every word spoken and every note of music played. We don't have to ignore the fact that music is being added or a narrator is voicing multiple characters, because that's exactly what we're hearing and supposed to be imagining.

It is such a shame that all but two episodes of this spooky series have been lost to time. Then again, it does contribute to the mystery and darkness that surrounds the Black Chapel.

The Standard Intro:

(MUSIC: Organ Music:)

Announcer: "Wait! Wait. Don’t go away! Don't be afraid just because it is near the hour that we go to the Black Chapel. Each evening we come to this remote place. A place of mystery and terror. Where the hooded figure appears and sits at the keyboard of the ruined old organ, mumbling and gibbering his fantastic tales! As his gnarled hands whip the cracked keys!"

(MUSIC: Organ flourish).

An Opening Narration:

Host: (Maniacal laugh.) "Little do they know... Little does anyone know, the true story behind the tale of the Crawling Terror... I know it. And I shall tell it to you now. It's a very... funny story. Just the thing for a good night's sleep. (Chuckles)"

A Typical Closing Narration

Host: "The villagers found him in the hills the next morning. Yes. Crazed with fear. Screaming and laughing. Laughing like a madman! His arms? They were gone. Gone-- at the elbow." (A horrifying and prolonged laugh follows, one akin to the outburst Dwight Fry delivered as the insane Renfield in Dracula.)

"You think that's a funny story? Oh you do. Then let me tell you one that's even funnier... Yezzz. Let me tell you the secret of the Smith Catacomb. (Fading out) The Secret of the Smith Catacomb..."

Announcer: "The clock is about to strike the hour. It is time for the voice of the Black Chapel to recede into the void whence he came. Each evening at this hour, we come to this remote place: The Black Chapel, and listen as the hooded figure sits at the keyboard of the ruined old organ and jibbers his strange tales, as his taloned hands grip the cracked keys. Listen tomorrow evening, for the story of the Smith Catacomb.

Hear it now, FREE!

(Courtesy of Youtube)

(1939) 01/06 - The Mahogany Coffin - A grave digger schemes a way to steal his dream job from another, but the plot involves murder, and the victim wants revenge!

The Crawling Terror - A young couple buys a charming house that used to belong to some rather strange folks. They discover the old residents left more than just memories behind.

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rev 2.24.2017