When one reflects upon the number of people one meets who lead almost entirely animal lives, can one wonder that so many cemeteries and churchyards are haunted! It was once popularly supposed that only the spirits of suicides and murderers were earthbound, but that idea has long been exploded, and it is now recognized by all who have given the subject any earnest reflection at all that the bulk of hauntings when not due to elementals are caused by the earthbound phantoms of the extremely sensual or even the merely intensely material. The spirits of such people would appear to be attached to the material world they loved through the medium of their bodies, articles of clothing, or any personal effects which act as magnets, and to be either loosened from it and transferred to some other sphere. or maybe annihilated altogether–no one knows–the moment such remains and effects are cremated or otherwise equally obliterated.
This being so, these phantoms would divide their visits between the places containing the objects of attraction, haunting most frequently that spot to which they were most strongly magnetized, in the majority of cases the spot containing their bodies or skeletons, usually a churchyard or cemetery. And as it is so often but a step from the grave to the chancel, a reason may thus be supplied for some, at least, of the occult happenings that are commonly reported as taking place in churches. The cessation of hauntings do not, however, always depend on the destruction of articles; on the contrary, they are not infrequently dependent on their careful preservation and return to the rightful owners, when those owners are either alive or, as it more often, perhaps, happens, dead. Here is a case in point: Rathaby Church until quite recently was haunted by an old lady with a poke bonnet and violet petticoat. The Vicar, The Rev. C. Bodkin, was inveigled one day into confessing that he had seen the apparition on at least three occasions. The first occurrence was as follows: Entering alone into the Vestry one August evening, hot and weary, he sat down, and taking off his boots, which, being new, had blistered him badly, he was preparing to put on a pair of somewhat antiquated “elastic sides” which he kept there, when, to his surprise, he saw standing in front of him a little old lady with a big poke bonnet and a violet silk petticoat. As the bonnet covered the upper part of her face, which she kept rather bent down, and the sunlight was fast fading, the Vicar could not distinguish any of her features saving the chin, which was very prominent, but from her clothes he saw that she did not belong to the parish and accordingly concluded she was a stranger. He felt annoyed that she should have entered without knocking, more especially as he was not in the mood to be disturbed. However, trying to appear as courteous as possible, he hurriedly slipped on his old pair of boots, and rising to his feet exclaimed, “What can I do for you, madam?” There was no reply-only a silence which at once impressed him as being singularly emphatic, if not awe-inspiring. He repeated his question, this time, he admits, not quite so politely: whereupon the old lady slightly lifted her gown, and with a naive gesture, pointed at her feet.
The Vicar, who, no doubt, despite his vocation, was human enough to admire a pretty ankle, following with his eyes the direction indicated, perceived with astonishment she only had on one shoe–a remarkably small patent leather one with a large, highly polished silver buckle. On her other foot was a violet stocking, nothing more.
“Good gracious, madam,” he ejaculated, “you will catch your death of cold. Pray be seated here whilst I go and find your shoe. Where do you think you dropped it?”
He took a step towards her as he spoke, with the idea of helping her into a chair, and his hand was actually within reach of her arm, when she suddenly vanished, and there was nothing in front of him but a bare wall. He was then frightened, for he could not persuade himself that what he had seen was merely an hallucination, and without waiting to complete his toilet, he went into the and waited there till the arrival of the sexton.
Ten days later he saw the same phantasm again. The encounter took place this time during the evening service. The congregation were kneeling down and the Vicar was about to begin the collect when some one laughed, a very malicious and highly disrespectful he-he-he! The Vicar, shocked beyond his senses, instantly stopped, and glancing furiously in the direction of the noise, was on the verge of ordering the offender to quit the Church, when his jaw fell. Looking up at him from almost beneath his very nose were a pair of pale, wide open, luminous eyes, full of an expression of malevolent quizzical coyness, that at once sent his thoughts back to certain queens of the demi-mondaines he used to see, surreptitiously parading the streets, in Cambridge, thirty years ago. They made him so hot and cold all over, he was horribly ashamed–ashamed that his, or as a matter of fact any other church, could hold such things. They must be removed with the utmost precipitation–immediately.
He tried to speak–to tell her to go, but found himself spellbound, hopelessly fascinated. His throat was parched, his mouth all tongue, he could not articulate a syllable, and all the while he was striving his utmost to overcome this condition of helplessness, the eyes kept continually leering at him. As for the rest of the face, it was that of an old, a very old, woman with obviously dyed hair arranged coquettishly in tiny yellow curls on either side of a low, straight forehead. She had neat, regular features, a trifle aquiline perhaps; with a chin that although rather too pronounced now–the inevitable effects of old age–might well have been once full of soft dimples, and beautifully rounded. The teeth even, pearly and glittering, struck the Vicar as far too perfect to be anything but false, though on that score he had no grounds for complaint, as he was in the same plight himself, having long since parted with his own molars, a fact which, however much he tried to persuade himself to the contrary, was the common knowledge of every one in the parish. The figure wore a rich cream-coloured cashmere shawl, from between the folds of which he could catch the gleam of silver buttons and mauve silk; and although the rest of her was hidden by the pew, he knew her at once to be the unknown stranger who had vanished so inexplicably. As he -stared she got up, and, leaving the pew, commenced gliding towards him, holding her violet skirt high above her ankles, and pointing significantly at her tiny feet, one of which was encased in a glittering buckle shoe and the other merely in a stocking.
The Vicar’s heart almost ceased to beat, his eyes swam, his knees shook. God help him, in another second she would be in the pulpit!
In the frenzy of despair he burst the paralytic bonds that had so effectually held him, and stooping down picked up a box of matches and threw it at the old lady. She instantly vanished.
Then the reaction set in. Relief brought hysterics, and in a state of utter collapse the worthy Vicar lolled against the ledge of the pulpit and began to laugh and cry alternately. He was promptly escorted home by a half dozen sympathetic, if somewhat—at least so his wife thought–over-zealous ladies, and the congregation, who, it transpired, had seen nothing of the phantom, attributed his behaviour to an unlimited variety of popular ailments.
The third encounter with the ghost occurred about a year after this incident. It was on St. Martin’s Eve, and the Vicar was preparing to leave the church for the cheerier precincts of the vicarage, where a substantial supper was awaiting him, when a current of icy air suddenly blew into his face, and he found himself confronted by the dreaded figure of the old lady. The enveloping gloom, for there was no other light in the church save that proceeding from the candle the Vicar carried, intensified the lurid glow emanating from the phantom and made it stand out with horrible distinctness. Each line, each feature, were magnified with a vividness that is indescribable, the ultima thule of horrordom being attained in the eyes, which, paler and larger even than before, scowled at the Vicar in the most diabolical fashion.
Paralysed with the suddenness of the vision, the Vicar felt all the strength die out of his limbs; his blood congealed, his hair rose on end. Nor were his feelings in any way mollified when the figure stretched out a long and bony forefinger, and shook it angrily at the floor. The Vicar looked down, and be it to his everlasting credit, blushed-he admitted as much to me afterwards–for whilst there was the same gaudy, shameless buckled shoe on the one foot–on the other there was simply nothing, not even half a stocking. And the abandoned phantom laughed a laugh that set every stone and rafter in the great, gaunt building resonating. When the Vicar looked up again the figure had disappeared. This was the climax. Sooner than, run the risk of incurring another such indignity, the Vicar declared his intention of leaving. One of his most ardent devotees heard of the matter, and in mad desperation wrote to me. Candidly, I never refuse ladies. I am an advocate not merely of woman’s suffrage, but of woman’s participation in everything. I daily visit a lady barber’s, and think there ought to be lady soldiers, sailors, Members of Parliament, dentists, coal-heavers, gutter-rakers and sanitary inspectors.
I went to Rathaby, and although my vigils in the church for three consecutive nights were productive of no ghostly result, the atmosphere of the place struck me as so conducive to occult phenomena that I was quite ready to believe that what the Vicar had seen was subjective and not hallucinatory. Consequently I made vigorous inquiries in the neighbourhood, and at length elicited the information that some forty years before an old lady corresponding to the phantom in the violet petticoat had stayed for the summer in a farmhouse about three miles from Rathaby. Rambling about one morning on the lonely hillsides, she had fallen into a disused quarry and broken her neck.
“I remember quite well,” my informant went on to say, “that when I helped raise her body she had on only one shoe–a shining leather thing with a bright buckle. We could not find the other anywhere and concluded it had got wedged into some crevice.
Her relatives–a nephew and niece–were at once sent for, and at their directions, the old lady was buried in the Rathaby Churchyard in the exact clothes she wore at the time of her death.”
This is all the information I was able to extract from this individual. Another person–a septuagenarian ex-blacksmith–afforded me a great sensation. Leading me upstairs into a tiny bedroom not much bigger than a bathing machine, he approached a worm-eaten chest of drawers, opened it cautiously, and beckoning to me in a very mysterious manner, pointed to an object that lay in one comer. It was a small patent leather shoe with a large silver buckle and Louis heels. A more rakish-looking affair I had never set eyes on.
“I found that,” he said in a hoarse whisper, “in the quarry where the old lady broke her neck. It had got wedged into a hole. You may have it for a trifle.”
I gave him five shillings and brought away the giddy article.
My next step was to find the grave of the old lady, in order that the missing shoe, which I suspected was the origin of the haunting, might be returned to the rightful owner. But here an unexpected obstacle presented itself. The Vicar foolishly declared he could not sanction the opening of the coffin without permission of the old lady’s relatives. As this permission could not be for the simple reason that the relatives were not traceable, all further investigations ceased, and I came away highly incensed.
The third night after my return home, between 2 and 3 a.m. there was a violent knocking at my bedroom door and on opening it–very reluctantly, I admit–to see who was there, I perceived a shadow on the moonlit wall opposite-the shadow of an old lady with a poke bonnet. For some seconds I stood and watched it anxiously. Then I fetched the shoe and gently threw it at the spectre. It vanished, but from along the passage, down the narrow winding staircase, and from the hall beyond there came the clearly unmistakable tappings–the sharp resounding tap-tap-tap of a fast, a joyfully fast, receding PAIR of Louis heels.
The front door slammed–a neighbour’s dog howled–a church clock sonorously thundered two—and all was still. From that night, neither in my house nor in Rathaby, has the ghost been seen again.
The Occult Review June 1913: pp 310-314
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Even in death, ladies understand the importance of fine foot-wear. There is an ancient Greek ghost story about a husband haunted by the ghost of his dead wife, who appeared wearing only one sandal. She angrily told him one of her sandals had fallen off and not been burnt on the funeral pyre–hence her barefoot condition. He immediately ordered a lavish new wardrobe, including several pairs of expensive sandals and had the garments burned, which placated his ghostly wife.
This narrative, by the way, comes from Mr Elliott O’Donnell, a popular “ghost-hunter” of the early 20th century. Despite his assurances that he never refuses the ladies, he exhibits a strong misogyny in his work, manifesting here in his unpleasant insinuations about the character of the Louis-heeled ghost. If dyed hair and violet stockings were a crime, Mrs Daffodil knows a number of ladies who would find themselves in the dock.
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.