“Do you want to be shaved?” The Barber’s Ghost: 1840s

get your razors ground skeleton

The Barber’s Ghost

A gentleman traveling in one of the Eastern States, some years ago, called at a tavern and requested entertainment for the night. The landlord informed him that it was out of his power to accommodate him, as his house was already full. He persisted, as himself and horse were already exhausted with traveling. After much solicitation, the landlord consented to his stopping, providing that he would sleep in a certain room that had not been occupied for some time in consequence of the belief that it was haunted by the ghost of a barber who was reported to have been murdered in that room some years before.

“Very well,” says the man. “I am not afraid of ghosts.”

After having refreshed himself, he inquired of the landlord how and in what manner the room he was to occupy was haunted.

The landlord replied that shortly after they had retired to rest an unknown voice was heard asking in a trembling and prolonged accent—“Do you want to be shaved?”

“Well,” replied the man, “if he comes he may shave me.”

He then requested to be shown to the apartment, in going to which he was conducted through a large room where were seated a great number of persons at a gambling table. Feeling a curiosity which almost every one possesses, after hearing ghost stories, he carefully searched every corner of the room, but could discover nothing but the usual furniture of a sleeping apartment. He then lay down, and in a few minutes he imagined he heard a voice saying

“D-o-y-o-u w-a-n-t t-o b-e s-h-a-v-e-d?”

He arose from his bed and searched very part of the room, but could discover nothing. He again went to bed, but no sooner had he begun to compose himself to sleep, than the question was repeated. He again rose and went to the window from which quarter the sound appeared to proceed, and stood silent. After a few moments he again heard the sound distinctly, and was convinced that it was from without, he opened the window, when the question was repeated full in his ear, which startled him not a little. Upon a minute examination, however, he observed that the limb of a large oak tree which stood under the window projected so near to the house that every breath of wind, to a lively imagination, made a noise resembling the interrogation—

“D-o-y-o-u w-a-n-t t-o b-e s-h-a-v-e-d?”

Having satisfied himself that the ghost was nothing more nor less than the limb of the tree coming in contact with the house, he again went to bed and attempted to get asleep, but was annoyed by peals of laughter, or volleys of oaths and curses form the room where the gamblers were assembled. Concluding to turn the ghost-story to his own advantage, he took a sheet from the bed, wrapping it around him, took the wash-basin in his hand, and throwing a towel over his shoulder, he went to the room of the gamblers, and throwing the door wide open, stalked in, asking in a tremulous voice:

“D-o-y-o-u w-a-n-t t-o b-e s-h-a-v-e-d?”

Terrified at the sudden appearance of the ghost, the gamblers were thrown into the greatest confusion, and tumbled pell-mell over each other down stairs in their hurried efforts to escape, leaving the last stake—about $1,000—on the table, which his ghostship pocketed and then returned to his room, where he was troubled no more that night with gamblers or mysterious noises.

In the morning he found the utmost excitement and alarm prevailing in the house on account of the appearance of the ghost, and in an answer to the landlord’s inquiry, replied that the ghost had not troubled him, and departed without being suspected, after quietly eating his breakfast.

Urbana [OH] Union 24 Mary 1865: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The nineteenth century was a Golden Era for ghost-impersonators.  Plasterers in white overalls and mischievous sheeted boys on stilts roamed the streets, dodging shot and shell solely for the fun of terrifying the populace. At least the faux-phantom in the story above profited handsomely from his imposture. Here is a less fortunate ghost:


A Boy on Stilts, with a Sheet, Was Impersonating the Powers of Darkness

The mysterious figure known as the black ghost, which has for several weeks frightened the resident of upper New-Rochelle by appearing on the highway in the vicinity of the Thomas Paine monument, has at last been identified. The figure has turned out to be a clever impersonation arranged by some of the mischievous boys of the neighborhood. The apparition appeared in the highway for nearly every night for a period of two weeks and caused excitement in the neighborhood. Some persons who met the figure declared that it was eight feet tall, wore a white shroud, and, when approached, belched forth fire and roared like a lion.

A few nights ago the ghost sprang from behind a tree and stopped Mrs. Paulson, who was driving home alone from New-Rochelle, and frightened her nearly into hysterics. Mrs. Paulson has since been suffering from an attack of nervous prostration. Several persons from Manhattan who have country homes in that vicinity saw the figure while driving, and their horses shied and nearly ran away.

The end of the mystery came on Saturday night, when a farmer while on his way home encountered the figure, which sprang from behind a stone wall. The farmer, instead of running away, struck, the object a sharp blow with his whip, which felled it to the roadside, as the figure fell it gave a yell of pain, and then scampered away. The ghost proved to be a boy who lives in the neighborhood. He left his spectral paraphernalia behind, consisting of stilts five feet high, a sheet, and a black mask. New York Tribune 17 November 1902: p. 4

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.



1 thought on ““Do you want to be shaved?” The Barber’s Ghost: 1840s

  1. Pingback: Week-end Compendium: 30 January 2016 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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