The Haunted Dressing-Table: 1874

dressing table

From Phillips Auctions 2012

“Ten years ago, whilst residing in Manchester, I bought from what appeared to me a gentleman’s residence a handsome dressing-table; I was under the impression that the owner had died, and his or her effects were being sold by auction. After the table had been brought home and installed in a spare bedroom, I was somewhat annoyed to learn from a friend that the house from which I had purchased it was of questionable reputation, being one of the many establishments kept by a very wealthy but very dissolute man, whose recent suicide had created quite a sensation. Although vexed to think I had bought an article from such a place, I yet decided that there could be no reasonable objection to it, therefore it was suffered to remain in the house.

“Ten years have elapsed since that purchase, and we have since removed to Birkenhead. During the whole period I recall that from time to time I have had complaints from the various occupiers of the bedroom furnished by that table; ladies have complained to me that they were disturbed by raps, taps, and creakings in the table; one young lady was so much disturbed that she refused to sleep alone in the room. I should here note that these persons were my visitors from a distance, and each of them was unaware that any other had had similar experience.

“Circumstances then occurred making it necessary that my husband should occupy the room. He invariably felt extremely uncomfortable in it, for it was rarely free of raps, taps, and creaking proceeding from the table. He affirms that once he felt a figure stretch itself on the bed beside him, and a sensation of horror crept over him which he never can forget. I treated all complaints made to me with uniform indifference, attributing them entirely to the imagination of the parties; it never occurred to me as possible that a noise of any sort could be made without an earthly cause.

“About nine months ago, in consequence of being thrown into the Society of a very firm believer in Spiritualism, I determined to investigate for myself. I therefore formed a circle at home, and we began almost in jest to sit round a table, or to join hands in a circle; very soon we became convinced of the power; three mediums sprang up in our family, the most striking my little daughter, aged ten. Through this child (Beatrice)… myself and husband are convinced that there is a power coming to us from invisible influences…Yet we are not Spiritualists in the full sense of the word: we call ourselves ‘investigators.’

“Four months ago I took up my abode for a time in the room containing the table of which I have spoken, having quite forgotten all previous complaints of the noises of which friends had spoken. On my second night there I was seized about midnight with spasmodic jerkings of the limbs; I tried every position, every effort of will-power, but in vain, I could not keep quiet many moments. My limbs jerked in spite of me; at the same time I became sensible of a suffocating oppression in the air of the room, and a general sensation of unbearable restlessness and misery. After bearing it for what seemed to me an hour, but turned out to be only about twenty minutes, I sprang quite frantically from my bed, and took refuge in another room, where, after lying down, I waited for more misery…But strange to say, a refreshing sleep quickly took possession of me; the nervous system, which had appeared strung up to the last tension of wretchedness, grew calm and placid almost the instant I changed my room.

“Next morning my child, Beatrice, was entranced by a child spirit, much younger than herself, who told me in the lisping language of a mere infant, that ‘Last night she visited me to soothe me to sleep, but found me under the influence of black spirits, so that she could not approach me.’

“I inquired, ‘What have I done? how sinned, to attract such influences to me?’ She answered, ‘I know not, but you inquire of older spirits.’ By the end of the day a second control took place, and then by the lips of my child, Beatrice, I learned that the room in which I had been sleeping contained a piece of ‘inhabited,’ or haunted furniture, namely, The Table. That dark and low spirits to whom it had belonged in their earth-life now visited it, and took a pleasure in tormenting any one they could annoy by their mischievous influence; that, I being mediumistic, they had been enabled to produce the jerkings and troubles of the previous night…. I recalled the circumstances connected with the purchase of my table—circumstances which I had never communicated to a human being, much less to my little child, only then just born. All the complaints of other persons were now remembered, and a different significance attached to them. I pondered hours over this strange revelation from (to me) the unimpeachable lips of my truthful and simple child. I debated with my husband on the future destiny of the table. He was in favour of selling it, but to this I could not reconcile myself. While we were at issue on this point, I advocating the destruction of the ‘inhabited’ article, he condemning such a reckless waste of property, another control of our little Beatrice occurred; it was that of a man. With commanding manner and solemnity of voice, he said, ‘ I am the brother of the wretched man to whom your table once belonged; he is a very low spirit indeed; he inhabits the first sphere, he was a suicide. In a prolonged speech the spirit then implored us to destroy the table at once; and to the unbounded astonishment of my husband and myself, he proceeded by the lips of our pure and infant-like Beatrice to describe to us the relations existing between his suicidal brother and the dissolute female who lived with him in the house of our table. With tears streaming down the cheeks of the little medium, we were told that this bad spirit works untold misery in other houses to which other pieces of his furniture have been conveyed; it was explained that these things, being charged, with his psychological influences, he could approach them thereby. We were also told that the woman who had used that table in the earth-life of this man, was now dead, and that her spirit was generally the one by which we had been disturbed. She was spoken of by the control as ‘one of his wives.’

“These revelations from lips so pure, so artless as those of Beatrice, have been accepted by us. Our little girl was an infant a few months old when that table first came into our possession, and I can solemnly affirm that we never communicated its previous history to a single ear; in fact, we had ourselves ceased to recollect whence we had it.

“A little difficulty occurred to us as we contemplated the destruction of so large an article as what we now looked on as our haunted table. We could hardly ask our servants to assist in what would doubtless appear to them such an absurdity, and did not care to make confidants of them; so, with some trouble, and the assistance of hatchets and tools, we demolished the table between us, and conveyed its fragments to the coal cellar, which is situated immediately under the kitchen. I directed my cook to use the wood for firewood.

“Two days after this my maid came to me in consternation and tribulation; she had been ironing a dress, and had hung it at night before the fire to air; next morning she found the skirt cut, as with a knife, in long crossway slits. She brought me her dress, which, on examination, I found cut as she described. Greatly puzzled, I held a consultation with her and the other servants, but without clearing up the mystery. Suddenly it occurred to me to ask for a minute description of the state of the kitchen on the night when the dress was cut. I then found that it hung on a chair close to the fender, while on the fender was a large bundle of the wood of the table ready for lighting fires in the morning. I took possession of the injured dress, and presenting it to our medium child, I asked her if one of her friends in the spirit world could give me any light in this strange affair. Immediately the child became entranced, and after manipulating the dress, she said, ‘The wearer of this dress is a powerful medium; she is frivolous and silly, and her dress is charged with her influence; had it been the dress of any of your other servants it could not have been injured, but being hers, the spirits of the table have been able to approach it. They are very much enraged that you have destroyed one of their favourite articles, and finding this dress so close to some of the wood which is still charged with their influence, they got power enough to cut it.’ I asked, ‘Did they use a knife to cut it?’ ‘No,’ was the answer; ‘such low spirits are almost material; they have long nails sharp as knives, and these, I think, they have used to cut this dress.’

“You may easily believe I now became very anxious for the perfect annihilation of the table by fire, but as the article had been a large one, and of very fanciful design, this took some weeks, for we could not conveniently make a bonfire of it…. For weeks we continued to use the wood of the table as firewood, and as the weather became warmer some of it remained in the drawing-room grate unburnt, as the fire was laid ready to light, but not wanted. I regarded it, I confess, with some misgivings, and at length directed the servant having the care of the room to remove it all, and clean the, grate for the summer. While she was doing this a very large Chinese vase of great weight and thickness was shattered into a hundred pieces whilst standing on the floor by her side; I heard the crash and rushed at once to the room, where I found the girl on her knees, rubbing the grate, which is steel, with a leather; the vase, which was in the place it has occupied for years, was lying in fragments at her side. I am quite confident that such a vase could never have been broken by rolling over on the floor; if it had fallen from a height, I doubt if it could have been shattered in such a manner; but my servant assured me that to her knowledge she had not touched it. I should add that the fender, fire-irons, and all paraphernalia had been moved into the kitchen to be cleaned, and no article hard enough to break such a vase was near; the girl herself seemed to regard the event as something quite supernatural; and, coupling it with the cutting of her dress, asserted that she was evidently under some evil luck….

“Since then I have changed this servant for another, and we have burnt every atom of the wood…. Pledging myself solemnly that it is faithfully told and entirely free from exaggeration, I give my real name and address.

“E. Louisa S. Nosworthy. “Avon Lea, Claughton, Birkenhead, “August 28th, 1873.” Spiritual Magazine 1874

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously seen a post on the lavish dressing-tables of the smart set. Here we have a bewitched dressing-table from the haunts of the wealthy and dissolute.  The notion of “low spirits” who loitered about the earth plane like idle boys on a street corner, jeering at passers-by or plotting mischief, was a common one among Spiritualists. It was often used as an excuse (perhaps “cover” would be the mot juste) when mediums were found indulging in a spot of fraud. When prophecies or personal statements were found to be inaccurate a medium had only to say that she was not responsible for what  “low” or “lying” spirits, said—she was merely the conduit to the Afterlife.

Mrs Daffodil is appalled at the idea of a child medium, but the Spiritualists thought that a child’s purity and innocence made it the ideal tabula rasa upon which the messages of the dead might be written like the missives chalked on a medium’s sealed slate.

Mrs Daffodil is amused at the mistress’s naïveté about the vase broken by the “frivolous and silly” maid and at the great care the narrator took to shield the servants from the destruction of a large and fanciful dressing-table.  As if they wouldn’t notice one less piece of furniture to dust…

For a piece on “cursed” furniture burnt by Victorian Claflin Woodhull Martin, see this post.  You might also enjoy two entertaining books containing stories of haunted furniture and other objects: Possessed Possessions and Possessed Possessions II, by Ed Okonowicz.

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