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William Seabrook

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William Seabrook
William Seabrook in 1931
William Seabrook in 1931
BornWilliam Buehler Seabrook
(1884-02-22)February 22, 1884
Westminster, Maryland
DiedSeptember 20, 1945(1945-09-20) (aged 61)
Rhinebeck, New York
Period20th century
GenreOccult, travel
Literary movementLost Generation

William Buehler Seabrook (February 22, 1884 – September 20, 1945) was an American occultist, explorer, traveler, journalist and writer, born in Westminster, Maryland. He began his career as a reporter and city editor of the Augusta Chronicle in Georgia, worked at the New York Times, and later became a partner in an advertising agency in Atlanta. He is well-known for his writing on, and engaging in, cannibalism.

Seabrook's 1929 book The Magic Island, which documents his experiences with Haitian Vodou in Haiti, is considered the first popular English-language work to describe the concept of zombies.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Seabrook graduated from Mercersburg Academy. He then attended Roanoke College, received a master's degree from Newberry College, and studied philosophy at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

In 1915, he left an advertising agency to join the American Field Service of the French Army. He served in World War I, including at Verdun, where he was gassed.[3] Following the war, Seabrook became a reporter for the New York Times and soon became an itinerant.[4]

Besides his books, Seabrook published articles in popular magazines including Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and Vanity Fair.

Family life[edit]

In 1912, Seabrook married Katherine Pauline Edmondson. They divorced in 1934. Soon after, he married Marjorie Worthington in 1935. The marriage ended in 1941. This marriage was followed by his marriage to Constance Kuhr, which began in 1942 and ended with his death in 1945.[5]


In the 1920s, Seabrook traveled to western Africa and came across a tribe who partook in the eating of human meat. Seabrook wrote about his experience of cannibalism in his travel book Jungle Ways; however, he later admitted that the tribe had not allowed him to join in on the ritualistic cannibalism. Instead, he had obtained samples of human flesh by persuading a medical intern at the Sorbonne University to give him a chunk of human meat from the body of a man who had died in an accident.[6] He reported:

It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The [rump] steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The [loin] roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable.[7]

Seabrook might have eaten human flesh also on another occasion. When his claim of having participating in ritualistic cannibalism turned out wrong (and he hadn't yet dared reveal the Sorbonne story), he was much mocked for it. According to his autobiography, the wealthy socialite Daisy Fellowes invited him to one of her garden parties, stating "I think you deserve to know what human flesh really tastes like". During the party, which was attended by about a dozen guests (some of them well-known), a piece of supposedly human flesh was grilled and eaten with much pomp. He comments that, while he never found out "the real truth" behind this meal, it "looked and tasted exactly" like the human flesh he had eaten before.[8]

Later life[edit]

In autumn 1919, English occultist Aleister Crowley spent a week with Seabrook at Seabrook's farm. Seabrook wrote a story based on the experience and to recount the experiment in Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today.

In 1924, he traveled to Arabia and sampled the hospitality of various tribes of Bedouin and the Kurdish Yazidi. In the first part of the book, Seabrook seeks Mithqal Al-Fayez and lives with him and his tribe for several months. When the topic of religion came to them in conversation, Seabrook admitted to Mithqal that he did not believe in the Trinity, but rather in the oneness of God, and that God sent many prophets including Muhammad; on hearing this, Mithqal asked if William would like to enter Islam and William agreed, with him repeating the Shahada after Mithqal shortly after. Adventures in Arabia: among the Bedouins, Druses, Whirling Dervishes and Yezidee Devil Worshipers, his account of his travels, was published in 1927; its success enabled him to travel to Haiti, where he developed an interest in Haitian Vodou and the Culte des Mortes, which were described at length in his book The Magic Island. The book is credited with introducing the concept of a zombie to popular culture.[9][10]

Seabrook had a lifelong fascination with the occult, which he witnessed and described firsthand, as documented in The Magic Island (1929),[citation needed] and Jungle Ways (1930).[citation needed] He later concluded that he had seen nothing that did not have a rational scientific explanation, a theory which he detailed in Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today (1940).[citation needed]

In Air Adventure he describes a trip on board a Farman with captain René Wauthier, a famed pilot,[11] and Marjorie Muir Worthington, from Paris to Timbuktu, where he collected a mass of documents from Father Yacouba, a defrocked monk who had an extensive collection of rare documents about the obscure city at that time administered by the French as part of French Sudan. The book is replete with information about French colonial life in the Sahara and pilots in particular.

In December 1933, Seabrook was committed at his own request and with the help of some of his friends to Bloomingdale, a mental institution in Westchester County, near New York City, for treatment for acute alcoholism. He remained a patient of the institution until the following July, and in 1935, he published an account of his experience, written as if it were another expedition to a foreign locale. The book, titled Asylum, became another best-seller.[citation needed] In the preface, he stated that his books were not "fiction or embroidery".[12]

He married Marjorie Muir Worthington in France in 1935 after they had returned from a trip to Africa on which Seabrook was researching a book. Due to his alcoholism and sadistic practices, they divorced in 1941.[13] She later wrote the biography The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, published in 1966.[14]


On September 20, 1945, Seabrook died by suicide from a drug overdose[15] in Rhinebeck, New York.[16] He left behind one son, William.[5]

Popular culture[edit]

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is a graphic biography of Seabrook by Joe Ollmann.[17]



Short stories[edit]


  1. ^ "The Magic Island". Smithsonian Libraries. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
  2. ^ Kee, Chera (2017). Not Your Average Zombie: Rehumanizing the Undead from Voodoo to Zombie Walks. University of Texas Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1477313305.
  3. ^ "History of the American Field Service in France: Section Eight". BYU Library. 1920. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  4. ^ "Strange Adventures in Strange Places". The Age. January 8, 1944. Retrieved January 20, 2024 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "William Seabrook (personal information provided by son, edited by granddaughter)". NNDB. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  6. ^ "What does human meat taste like?". The Guardian. August 9, 2010.
  7. ^ Seabrook, William (1931). Jungle Ways. London: George G. Harrap. pp. 172–173.
  8. ^ Seabrook, William (1942). No Hiding Place: An Autobiography. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. pp. 311–312.
  9. ^ "Books: Mumble-Jumble". Time. September 9, 1940. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  10. ^ Bishop, Kyle William (2010). American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-7864-4806-7. Nevertheless, although these two sources make reference to the condition of the living dead, it took Seabrook's 1929 travelogue The Magic Island to link the phenomenon directly with the term zombie.
  11. ^ Wauthier, Magdeleine; Wauthier, René (1934). Connaissance des sables: du Hoggar au Tchad à travers le Ténéré (in French). Paris: Plon. OCLC 25944376.
  12. ^ Seabrook, William (1935). Asylum. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  13. ^ "Marjorie Worthington papers, 1931–1976". Archives West. Retrieved June 4, 2024.
  14. ^ Worthingon, Majorie Muir (1966). The Strange World of Willie Seabrook.
  15. ^ Carter, Sue (January 19, 2017). "One hell of a cartoonish life ... but it was all too real". Metro Canada. Archived from the original on April 2, 2017. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
  16. ^ "William Seabrook, Author, Is Suicide". The St. Petersburg Times. September 21, 1945. Retrieved April 30, 2009.
  17. ^ Ollmann, Joe (June 15, 2016). The Abominable Mr. Seabrook. Drawn & Quarterly. ISBN 978-1-77046-267-0. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  18. ^ Seabrook, William (1917). Diary of Section VIII. Boston: Priv. print (T. Todd Co.).
  19. ^ Seabrook, William (1929). The Magic Island.
  20. ^ Seabrook, William (1940). "'Wow!' (1921), 'The Genesis of "Wow!"', and A Note on the Text". Witchcraft. Archived from the original on May 24, 2024.

External links[edit]


Undated pictures of William Seabrook are available: