A Haunted Cloth: 1923


A piece of embroidered yellow Chinese silk, c. 1770s http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O69511/bedspread-unknown/

A piece of embroidered yellow Chinese silk, c. 1770s http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O69511/bedspread-unknown/


By E.B. Gibbes

The following account of a strange episode that occurred in connection with Mrs. Dowden (Travers Smith) and myself, may perhaps be of interest to your readers. I went to her house one evening in October, 1923, and by way of testing what influence had come with me, she took some foolscap paper and a pencil. Then closing her eyes she prepared herself for writing. I placed two or three fingers lightly on the back of her right hand. Immediately a curious communication was received in a sprawly writing. It ran as follows: “Why have you kept me waiting. I have been waiting a long time to speak to you. You have my cloth, you must give it back to me. It should have been wrapped round my body.” The allusion conveyed nothing to me at the time. We paused when the end of the page was reached to read the writing. Mrs. Dowden said she had a piece of cloth that had once been wrapped round a mummy. She produced this and placed it on the paper. Resting her hand on it a moment, she asked aloud if this were the cloth alluded to. Immediately her hand wrote, “No, no, that is not my cloth. It is another cloth. You have no right to it. You must make a big fire and burn it. It is mine, it should be ashes as I am and you will soon be.” (This individual seemed a cheery companion. It subsequently transpired that the communication came from a member of the fair sex.) We read the page and resumed the conversation. I remarked that if this piece of cloth was not hers we did not know to what she referred. At once the hand wrote violently, “No, it is not hers; it is YOURS.” “Oh, mine,” I replied; “I can’t think of what you are alluding to. Tell us where you come from.” “CHINA” I repeated that I did not know anything about a piece of cloth, and asked her what it was like. She then described some material with a yellow gold background, which was much embroidered ad almost covered with work. We stopped and read this second page and commenced a third. She wrote, “You must give it back.” I replied that I could not do so as it was not in my possession. She continued to state that it was, and that I must make a fire and burn it, so that she and it would be united. Here the telephone bell rang and we did not resume this experiment.

That evening on returning to my flat, into which I had recently moved, I recollected that I had a long piece of old Chinese embroidery answering the description in the script. I had had it about twenty years, and did not recollect whether I had brought I myself form the East, or whether it had been given to me. A few days previously I had taken it out of its box and tried its effect on the piano. However, the colours did not harmonize in the room, and I put it away without another thought.

Mrs. Dowden came to my flat a few nights later. I decided I would get Johannes [One of Mrs Dowden’s spirit guides, who had an odd name for a Jewish neo-platonist who lived several centuries before Jesus.] to tell me something, if possible, about this material. I placed it on my Ouija board and Johannes wrote as follows: “This came from a country far over the sea, not a very hot place, rather high in the mountains, and I see people there making it. It is a long, long time before they finish it. Then I see it sold in an open place. It is sold to a very ugly woman, so ugly that she frightens people. She hold this up and examines it, and after a time she carries it away. It has passed out of her hands into the hands of another woman. She had left a very strong impression on it. She is a very evil person I am afraid, full of nasty habits, and she gives it to a younger woman who is not so disagreeable, but very much given to complaining and objecting to everything that meets her on her way through life. This thing has been used at a funeral as a decoration; it was not round the dead body, but has been over a coffin. The other woman had it for a long time. She was quite different, often ill; she too has passed on here and I think she is near us now. I feel her coming; here she is.” Mrs. Dowden then felt a different control. Her hand was pushed violently about the Ouija board and the following communication was written at lightning speed.

“I want my cloth, it is my mother’s cloth. I want it; you must not have it. I used to put it round me; it should have been on my body.” “Why do you bother about it now?” I asked. “It is an heirloom. It ought to have been on my coffin.” I explained that now it was in good hands, that I would take great care of it, and tried to console her by remarking that it would eventually become dust. I told her that, as far as I was concerned, I had come by it honestly, that it had been bought and paid for and not stolen, and suggested she thought of something else. Mrs. Dowden’s hand wrote in reply: “I know I have a lot to learn, but it is my cloth and you must burn it.” I remarked that it seemed very silly to make so much fuss about a piece of material of its kind and assured her I would take good care of it. She replied: “You are a Christian, you do not understand. I will go, but I will watch. This is the substance of the old dame’s remarks. She has not been heard of since.

Now to what can we attribute this communication? Is it an example of subconscious invention? Or was the old lady’s soul really stirred into its memories by the production of her cloth? Did her spirit really speak to us?

Had the first allusion to the old embroidery been made at my own place with the material on or near the table one might have attributed this to the invention, perhaps, of our subconscious minds. As it was, however, it came seemingly from nowhere at Mrs. Dowden’s own house where there was no connection whatsoever, she never having seen or heard of this cloth; and when I took it out I had never given a thought as to its hidden memories.

Occult Review October 1925

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A curious episode, indeed, where an ancient Chinese lady writes and speaks perfect English. Of course the Spiritualist explanation is that the English-speaking medium is the conduit and naturally she would translate the spirit’s remarks into her native tongue. Since Miss Gibbes had only seen the fabric a few days before, it seems a bit disingenuous to rule out the influence of the subconscious mind.

Mrs. Dowden is Hester Dowden/Hester Travers Smith, an Irish Spiritualist medium who claimed communications from Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare and other literary notables.

E.B. Gibbes was member of the Society for Psychical Research and a friend and mentor to medium Geraldine Cummins. She took Miss Cummins into her Chelsea home for the better part of several years and encouraged the medium’s automatic writings.

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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