The Spook Syndicate: 1905

A bill for the play "The Castle Spectre," c. 1800. Naturally there is a ghostly nun.

A bill for the play “Castle Spectre,” by “Monk” Lewis, c. 1800

A TRUST CONTROLS THE GHOST MARKET

There is a fresh reason for weeping and gnashing of teeth among the trust hunters. That is, if we are to credit a prospectus just issued by Mr Symington Spiffkins, latterly a London materializing medium and now the head and front of what is known as the Spook Syndicate, Limited.

“It occurred to me,” says the distinguished gentleman, “That every year more and more Americans are either purchasing or renting estates in the Old World. A very few of these properties are properly equipped with select and guaranteed spectral attractions, and with a view of filling the want I established the Spook Syndicate, Limited, which may be said to virtually control the ghost market.

“It is not too much to say that we have a corner on white ladies, wood demons, banshees, wraiths, bogeys, black knights and headless horsemen, lately carrying on business at old stands in various ruins, mouldering castles, manor houses and chateaux.

“All our phantom folk are engaged under a guarantee to perform their duties and keep regular hours, so that there may be no disappointment to the lessees. Some especially startling novelties are ready for the coming season. Terms invariably in advance.”

There is much more of this preface in the prospectus, and then follows some specimen attractions which should certainly bring business. Here are a few taken at random:

“No. 96—Black knight, in fine state of preservation. Carries his head under his arm (very desirable). Rattles a chain with horrible emphasis. Good family ghost, warranted kind and does not appear to children. Hours 12 A.M. to 2 A.M. May be engaged by the season or for a term of years.

“No. 62—Green goblin, with forked pink tail. Emits sparks. More economical than fireworks. Shrieks like the dinner horn of a deaf-mute asylum. Can be relied on to frighten an inebriate away from his cups. Very old. Five hundred years at his last place, where he gave great satisfaction.

“Lot A—White ladies. Very select assortment. Prices according to age and historic details. Suitable for sentimental couples and readers of Marie Corelli. Warranted a cure for dope fiends. Can be engaged with or without blood-curdling groans. Note—Heads will be popular this season. Phosphorescent eyes and veils are no longer considered fashionable.

No. 16—Upper part of a king (unique speciality.) For some centuries the feature of a ruined tower by the North Sea. May be highly recommended. Appears promptly at 1 A.M. and engages in looking for his lost legs. A consolation prize for those who have failed to get presented at court. ‘Half a king is better than none.’ Recommended for engagement to wives who wish to break their husbands of late hours.”

Mrs. Spiffkins further announces “a great drive” in “sheeted specters, midnight hags, phantom huntsmen and black dogs.” In sort, the American who intends to rent or buy an estate abroad should examine the stock of the Spook Syndicate, Limited.

Baltimore [MD] American 30 July 1905: p. 48

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is always amused at the rich Americans who wish to lease a haunted stately home so they can boast to their friends about the headless cavalier in the Blue Room or the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots going bump in the Long Gallery.  The same people would demand a reduction in their rent if they believed they had a ghost in their residence in New York, Chicago, or St. Louis.

But the brashness of Americans is a familiar comic theme, as Mr Oscar Wilde demonstrated in “The Canterville Ghost.” Britain also witnessed the unedifying spectacle of that climber, Baron Astor of Hever (née William Waldorf Astor), bribing his way to a peerage and thinking that by buying Hever Castle, once Anne Boleyn’s home, he and his guests would be able to hob-nob with her ghost. With a strength of character unusual in the ectoplasmic, she refused to appear. Or perhaps it was merely that she was not on the books of the Spook Syndicate and was thus under no obligation.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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