Category Archives: Death

The Voice in the Fog: 1888

My Irish Friend.

Many of the apparitions that are reported are of phantasms that appear in fulfilment of a promise made to survivors during life. Of this class I [W.T. Stead, journalist and Spiritualist] came, in the course of my census, upon a very remarkable case.

Among my acquaintances is an Irish lady, the widow of an official who held a responsible position in the Dublin Post Office. She is Celt to her backbone, with all the qualities of her race. After her husband’s death she contracted an unfortunate marriage—which really was no marriage legally— with an engineer of remarkable character and no small native talent. He, however, did not add to his other qualities the saving virtues of principle and honesty. Owing to these defects my friend woke up one fine morning to find that her new husband had been married previously, and that his wife was still living.

On making this discovery she left her partner and came to London, where I met her. She is a woman of very strong character, and of some considerable although irregular ability. She has many superstitions, and her dreams were something wonderful to hear. After she had been in London two years her bigamist lover found out where she was, and leaving his home in Italy followed her to London. There was no doubt as to the sincerity of his attachment to the woman whom he had betrayed, and the scenes which took place between them were painful, and at one time threatened to have a very tragic ending.

Fortunately, although she never ceased to cherish a very passionate affection for her lover, she refused to resume her old relations with him, and after many stormy scenes he departed for Italy, loading her with reproaches. Some months after his departure she came to me and told me she was afraid something had happened to him. She had heard him calling her outside her window, and shortly afterwards saw him quite distinctly in her room. She was much upset about it.

I pooh-poohed the story, and put it down to a hallucination caused by the revival of the stormy and painful scenes of the parting. Shortly afterwards she received news from Italy that her late husband, if we may so call him, had died about the same time she heard him calling her by her name under her window in East London.

I only learnt when the above was passing through the press that the unfortunate man, whose phantasm appeared to my friend, died suddenly either by his own hand or by accident. On leaving London he drank on steadily, hardly being sober for a single day. After a prolonged period of intoxication he went out of the house, and was subsequently found dead, either having thrown himself or fallen over a considerable height, at the foot of which he was found dead.

I asked Mrs. G. F.—to write out for me, as carefully as she could remember it after the lapse of two years, exactly what she saw and heard. Here is her report:—

The Promise.

In the end of the summer of 1886 it happened one morning that Irwin and myself were awake at 5.30 a.m., and as we could not go to sleep again, we lay talking of our future possible happiness and present troubles. We were at the time sleeping in Room No. 16, Hotel Washington, overlooking the Bay of Naples. We agreed that nothing would force us to separate in this life—neither poverty nor persecution from his family, nor any other thing on earth. (I believed myself his wife then.) We each agreed that we would die together rather than separate. We spoke a great deal that morning about our views of what was or was not likely to be the condition of souls after death, and whether it was likely that spirits could communicate, by any transmitted feeling or apparition, the fact that they had died to their surviving friends. Finally, we made a solemn promise to each other that whichever of us died first would appear to the other after death if such was permitted.

“Well, after the fact of his being already married came to light, we parted. I left him, and he followed me to London on December ’87. During his stay here I once asked if he had ever thought about our agreement as to as to who should die first appealing to the other; and he said, ‘Oh, Georgie, you do not need to remind me; my spirit is a part of yours, and can never be separated nor dissolved even through all eternity; no, not even though you treat me as you do; even though you became the wife of another you cannot divorce our spirits. And whenever my spirit leaves this earth I will appear to you.’

“Well, in the beginning of August ’88 he left England for Naples; his last words were that I would never again see him; I should see him, but not alive, for he would put an end to his life and heart-break. After that he never wrote to me; still I did not altogether think he would kill himself. On the 22nd or 23rd of the following November (’88), I posted a note to him at Sarno post office. No reply came, and I thought it might be he was not at Sarno, or was sick, or travelling, and so did not call at the post office, and so never dreamed of his being dead.”

Its Fulfilment.

Time went on and nothing occurred till November 27th (or I should say 28th, for it occurred at 12.30, or between 12 and 1 a.m., I forget the exact time). It was just at that period when I used to sit up night after night till 1, 2, and 3 o’clock a.m. at home doing the class books; on this occasion I was sitting close to the fire, with the table beside me, sorting cuttings. Looking up from the papers my eyes chanced to fall on the door, which stood about a foot and a half open, and right inside, but not so far in but that his clothes touched the edge of the door, stood Irwin; he was dressed as I last had seen him—overcoat, tall hat, and his arms were down by his sides in his natural, usual way. He stood in his exact own perfectly upright attitude, and held his head and face up in a sort of dignified way, which he used generally to adopt on all occasions of importance or during a controversy or dispute. He had his face turned towards me, and looked at me with a terribly meaning expression, very pale, and as if pained by being deprived of the power of speech or of local movements.

“I got a shocking fright, for I thought at first sight he was living, and had got in unknown to me to surprise me. I felt my heart jump with fright, and I said, ‘Oh !’ but before I had hardly finished the exclamation, his figure was fading way, and, horrible to relate, it faded in such a way that the flesh seemed to fade out of the clothes, or at all events the hat and coat were longer visible than the whole man. I turned white and cold, felt an awful dread; I was too much afraid to go near enough to shut the door when he had vanished. I was so shaken and confused, and half paralysed, I felt I could not even cry out; it was as if something had a grip on my spirit, I feared to stir, and sat up all night, fearing to take my eyes off the door, not daring to go and shut it. Later on I got an umbrella and walked tremblingly, and pushed the door close without fastening it. I feared to touch it with my hand. I felt such a relief when I saw daylight and heard the landlady moving about.

“Now, though I was frightened, I did not for a moment think he was dead, nor did it enter my mind then about our agreement. I tried to shake off the nervousness, and quite thought it must be something in my sight caused by imagination, and nerves being overdone by sitting up so late for so many nights together. Still, I thought it dreadfully strange, it was so real.”

A Ghost’s Cough.

Well, about three days passed, and then I was startled by hearing his voice outside my window, as plain as a voice could be, calling,’Georgie! Are you there, Georgie?’ I felt certain it was really him come back to England. I could not mistake his voice. I felt quite flurried, and ran out to the hall door, but no one in sight. I went back in, and felt rather upset and disappointed, for I would have been glad if he had come back again, and began to wish he really would turn up. I then thought to myself, ‘Well, that was so queer. Oh, it must be Irwin, and perhaps he is just hiding in some hall door to see if I will go out and let him in, or what I will do. So out I went again. This time I put my hat on, and ran along and peeped into hall doors where he might be hiding, but with no result. Later on that night I could have sworn I heard him cough twice right at the window, as if he did it to attract attention. Out I went again. No result.

“Well, to make a long story short, from that night till about nine weeks after that voice called to me, and coughed, and coughed, sometimes every night for a week, then three nights a week, then miss a night and call on two nights, miss three or four days, and keep calling me the whole night long, on and off, up till 12 midnight or later. One time it would be, ‘Georgie! It’s me! Ah, Georgie!’ Or, ‘Georgie, are you in? Will you speak to Irwin?’ Then a long pause, and at the end of, say, ten minutes, a most strange, unearthly sigh, or a cough—a perfectly intentional, forced cough, other times nothing but, ‘Ah, Georgie!’ On one night there was a dreadful fog. He called me so plain, I got up and said, ‘Oh, really! that man must be here; he must be lodging somewhere near, as sure as life; if he is not outside I must be going mad in my mind or imagination.’ I went and stood outside the hall door steps in the thick black fog. No lights could be seen that night. I called out, ‘Irwin ! Irwin! here, come on. I know you’re there, trying to humbug me, I saw you in town; come on in, and don’t be making a fool of yourself.’

“Well, I declare to you, a voice that seemed within three yards of me, replied out of the fog, ‘It’s only Irwin,’ and a most awful, and great, and supernatural sort of sigh faded away in the distance. I went in, feeling quite unhinged and nervous, and could not sleep. After that night it was chiefly sighs and coughing, and it was kept up until one day, at the end of about nine weeks, my letter was returned marked, ‘Signor O’Neill e morto,’ together with a letter from the Consul to say he had died on November 28th, 1888, the day on which he appeared to me.”

The Question of Dates.

On inquiring as to dates and verification Mrs. F replied :—

“I don’t know the hour of his death, but if you write to Mr. Turner, Vice Consul, Naples, he can get it for you. He appeared to me at the hour I say; of course there is a difference of time between here and Naples. The strange part is that once I was informed of his death by human means (the letter), his spirit seemed to be satisfied, for no voice ever came again after; it was as if he wanted to inform and make me know he had died, and as if he knew I had not been informed by human agency.

“I was so struck with the apparition of November 28th, that I made a note of the date at the time so as to tell him of it when next I wrote. My letter reached Sarno a day or two after he died. There is no possible doubt about the voice being his, for he had a peculiar and uncommon voice, one such as I never heard any exactly like, or like at all in any other person. And in life he used to call me through the window as he passed, so I would know who it was knocked at the door, and open it. When he said, ‘Ah!’ after death, it was so awfully sad and long drawn out, and as if expressing that now all was over and our separation and his being dead was all so very, very pitiful and unutterable; the sigh was so real, so almost solid, and discernible and unmistakable, till at the end it seemed to have such a supernatural, strange, awful dying away sound, a sort of fading, retreating into distance sound, that gave the impression that it was not quite all spirit, but that the spirit had some sort of visible and half-material being or condition. This was especially so the night of the fog, when the voice seemed nearer to me as I stood there, and as if it was able to come or stay nearer to me because there was a fog to hide its materialism. On each of the other occasions it seemed to keep a good deal further off than on that night, and always sounded as if at an elevation of about 10ft. or 11ft., from the ground, except the night of the fog, when it came down on a level with me as well as nearer.

Georgina F___.

Real Ghost Stories, W.T. Stead, 1921: p. 222-30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While appreciating this narrative as a splendid and chilling ghost story, Mrs Daffodil cannot help but wonder if a man so singularly lacking in candour and honesty and so enraged by the lady’s rejection of him might not have asked an Italian friend to write ‘Signor O’Neill e morto,’ on her letter and forged an epistle from the Consul on pilfered letterhead.  The very material “Signor O’Neill,” of course, was in England all along, calling, coughing, and sighing piteously under the lady’s window, aided in his gaslighting efforts by the kindly English fog.  If it did not happen that way, Mrs Daffodil suggests that her version would make an admirable plot for a thrilling motion picture.

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.

 

The Princess and the Equerry: 1798-1810

Mrs Daffodil is charmed to welcome once again author Catherine Curzon, with an excerpt from her new book Kings of Georgian Britain. We have had the pleasure of Ms. Curzon’s company before, in “A Coronation for the Ages.” She is a royal historian and, among other things, Madame Gilflurt at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. Her theme to-day is the melancholy story of

The Princess and the Equerry

The children of George III and Queen Charlotte were many and their fates were varied. Some lived tragically short lives, some entered scandalous unions and some were never out of the papers. Of course, fun was generally confined to the males whilst for the royal daughters, excitement was a notion that could only be dreamed of. They lived a secluded life at Windsor, serving as companions to their mother as she struggled with the challenges of her husband’s mental disorder.

Princess Amelia was one such cosseted daughter. From her birth in 1783 to her death in 1810, Amelia’s life was wracked by ill health, yet she still found time to embark on the kind of doomed love affair best suited to the pages of romantic fiction. However, there was to be no happy ending.

Princess Amelia was the fifteenth and youngest child of the king and queen. She was born at the Royal Lodge, Windsor just three months after the sad death of 4-year-old Octavius, George’s favourite son, and her birth was a bittersweet time for the family. They soon doted on her and gave her the diminutive nickname, ‘Emily’. George, who was hit hardest of all by the death of his son, transferred his adoration to the newborn and lavished affection and attention on her.

When Amelia was just 5 years old the king suffered his first episode of mental illness. Eventually these periods of sickness grew more frequent until George’s initial plans to take his daughters to Hanover in search of husbands were set aside. Since the king had no desperate wish to see his daughters married off, the princesses remained unbetrothed, drawn into their mother’s secluded, secretive circle. No suitors existed at court so, with little opportunity to meet gentlemen, the girls settled into their domestic niche.

By 1798 Amelia was showing signs of tuberculosis and she was sent to take the air of Weymouth in the company of the Honourable Sir Charles FitzRoy, an equerry more than two decades her senior. During this fateful trip, Amelia and FitzRoy fell in love. They dreamed of marriage but their hopes were dashed when the queen refused to tell her husband of the affair. It meant the end of any marriage plans, yet Amelia would not let go of her dream and she and FitzRoy clung to their love, with the young princess even styling herself as AFR, Amelia FitzRoy.

Recalled to Windsor, Amelia grew increasingly despondent and in 1808 suffered a severe attack of measles. Two years later she took to her bed, wracked by tuberculosis. She knew her time was short and commissioned a mourning ring that would be given to the father who doted on her. She also took pains to ensure that she might make her farewells to the man she loved and, with the help of Amelia’s sisters, FitzRoy was given leave to make visits to Amelia’s bedside. One can only hope that the presence of her love gave Amelia some small comfort during her final days yet it must also have reminded her of what she had lost.

On 2 November 1810, 27-year-old Princess Amelia died. Her final thoughts were for the man she loved and her dying words, related by Princess Mary in a letter to FitzRoy, were, “Tell Charles I die blessing him”. She left him all her worldly possessions, still true to the man whom she had once dreamed of calling husband.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Many thanks for that affecting story and heartiest congratulations to Catherine on the release of her newest book.

About the Author

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian who writes on all matters 18th century at www.madamegilflurt.com. Her work has been featured on HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine and in publications such as Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austens Regency World. She has provided additional research for An Evening with Jane Austen at the V&A and spoken at venues including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall, he National Maritime Museum and Dr Johnson’s House.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

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About the Book

For over a century of turmoil, upheaval and scandal, Great Britain was a Georgian land.

From the day the German-speaking George I stepped off the boat from Hanover, to the night that George IV, bloated and diseased, breathed his last at Windsor, the four kings presided over a changing nation.

Kings of Georgian Britain offers a fresh perspective on the lives of the four Georges and the events that shaped their characters and reigns. From love affairs to family feuds, political wrangling and beyond, peer behind the pomp and follow these iconic figures from cradle to grave. After all, being a king isn’t always grand parties and jaw-dropping jewels, and sometimes following in a father’s footsteps can be the hardest job around.

Take a trip back in time to meet the wives, mistresses, friends and foes of the men who shaped the nation, and find out what really went on behind closed palace doors. Whether dodging assassins, marrying for money, digging up their ancestors or sparking domestic disputes that echoed down the generations, the kings of Georgian Britain were never short on drama.

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.

A Haunted Apple Tree: 1800s

A HAUNTED APPLE TREE

Murder Committed Under It and Now Its Fruit is Streaked Blood Red.

“It is probable that the town of Douglass, Mass., alone belongs the reputation of having a haunted apple tree,” writes Samuel S. Kingdon, in the Ladies’ Home Journal. “The tradition of the town is that a foul murder was committed in the orchard many years ago, and that since then it has been haunted by the spirit of the victim. As the story goes, a peddler, whose custom it was to sell goods from house to house from a pack, laid down to rest at midday under a tree in the orchard, and before the day was ended he was found with a cruel gash in the neck, from which his life blood had ebbed away. Suspicion rested on the owner of the orchard and he was said to have been constantly followed by the spirit of the victim. In an attempt to escape from its dreaded presence he moved away. Then the apparition became a terror to all who had occasion to pass over the road at night. So potent was its influence—standing, as it had a habit of doing, under the apple tree, with one hand at its throat and the other extended as though seeking aid, and uttering shrill cries that could be heard half a mile away—that the location of the highway was changed, and it is now a long distance from the orchard. The old trees still bear fruit, and the apples from the one beneath which the peddler was killed are said to be streaked with red, resembling blood, the streaks extending from skin to core.”

Our Horticultural Visitor: A Quarterly Journal Devoted to the Individual Interests of the Practical Horticulturists Everywhere, August 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, good gracious. We all look forward to the spring blossoming of the apple trees, but one does not expect to find one’s pippin Exhibit A in a murder trial.

It is curious how often peddlers are murdered and then haunt the spot of their demise. Given their peripatetic nature, one would expect them to gather up their spectral packs and continue their rounds, but no—they must needs annoy the people in the neighbourhood of their death, such as the Fox Sisters, who called up the rapping spirit of a murdered peddler buried in the cellar. The sisters launched Spiritualism on the strength of this phantom peddler. Some say (and the sisters both confessed and recanted) that they made the rappings by popping their toe joints. Still, when the cellar of the Fox homestead was dug out many years later, a skeleton and a tin peddler’s box were found concealed in the walls…

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.

 

The Black-Whiskered Sailor: 1840s

‘A story with much more of the supernatural about it was related to me by Mrs. Hughes the other day which is, I think, one of the best authenticated ghost stories in existence. It was narrated to her by Mrs. Hastings, wife of Captain Hastings, R.N., and ran to the following effect:

‘Captain and Mrs. Hastings were driving into Portsmouth one afternoon, when a Mr. Hamilton who had recently been appointed to a situation in the dockyard there, made a third in their chaise, being on his way to take possession of his post. As the vehicle passed the end of one of the narrow lanes which abound in the town, the latter gentleman, who had for some little time been more grave and silent than usual, broke through the reserve which had drawn a remark from the lady, and gave the following reason for his taciturnity :—

‘”It was,” said he, “the recollection of the lane we have just passed, and of a very singular circumstance which occurred to me at a house in it some eighteen years ago, which occupied my thoughts at the moment, and which, as we are old friends, and I know you will not laugh at me, I will repeat to you.

‘”At the period alluded to, I had arrived in the town for the purpose of joining a ship in which I was about to proceed abroad. On enquiry, I found that the vessel had not come round from the Downs, but was expected every hour. The most unpleasant part of the business was, that two or three King’s ships had just been paid off in the harbour, a county election was going on, and the town was filled with people waiting to occupy berths in an outward-bound fleet which a contrary wind had for some days prevented from sailing. This combination of events, of course, made Portsmouth very full and very disagreeable. After wandering half over the town without success, I at length happened to enquire at a decent-looking public-house situate in the lane alluded to where a very civil, though a very cross-looking, landlady at length made me happy by the intelligence that she would take me in, if I did not mind sleeping in a double-bedded room. I certainly did object to a fellow-lodger, and so I told her; but, as I coupled the objection with an offer to pay handsomely for both beds though I should occupy only one of them, our bargain was settled, and I took possession of my apartment.

‘”Having retired for the night, and having, as I thought, carefully locked the door to keep out intruders, I undressed, jumped beneath the clothes, and fell fast asleep.

‘”I had slept, I suppose, an hour or more, when I was awakened by a noise in the lane below. I was turning round to recompose myself, when I perceived, by the light of the moon which shone brightly into the room, that the bed opposite was occupied by a man, having the appearance of a sailor. He was only partially undressed, having his trousers on, and what appeared to be a Belcher handkerchief tied round his head by way of a nightcap. His position was half sitting, half reclining on the outside of the bed, and he seemed to be fast asleep.

‘”I was, of course, very angry that the landlady should have broken her covenant with me, and at first felt half disposed to desire the intruder to withdraw; but as the man was quiet, and I had no particular wish to spend the rest of the night in an altercation, I thought it wiser to let things alone till the morning, when I determined to give my worthy hostess a good jobation for her want of faith. After watching him for some time, and seeing that my chum maintained the same posture, though he could not be aware that I was awake, I reclosed my eyes, and once more fell asleep.

‘” It was broad daylight when I awoke in the morning, and the sun was shining full in through the window. My slumbering friend apparently had never moved, and I had a fair opportunity of observing his features, which, though of a dark complexion, were not ill-favoured, and were set off by a pair of bushy black whiskers that would have done honour to a rabbi. What surprised me most, however, was that I could now plainly perceive that what I had taken in the moonlight for a red handkerchief on his forehead was in reality a white one, but quite saturated in parts with a crimson fluid, which trickled down his left cheek, and seemed to have run upon the pillow!

‘”At the moment the question occurred to me—how could the stranger have procured admission to the room? as I saw but one door, and that I felt confident I had locked, while I was quite positive my gentleman had not been in the chamber when I retired to bed.

“I got out and walked to the door, which was in the centre of one side of the room, nearly half-way between the two beds; and as I approached it, one of the curtains interposed for a moment so as to conceal my unknown companion from my view. I found the door fastened, with the key in the lock, just as I had left it. Not a little surprised at the circumstance, I now walked across to the farther bed to get an explanation from my comrade, when to my astonishment he was nowhere to be seen! Scarcely an instant before I had observed him stretched in the same position which he had all along maintained; and it was difficult to conceive how he had managed to make his exit so instantaneously, as it were, without my having perceived or heard him. I, in consequence, commenced a close examination of the wainscot near the head of the bed, having first satisfied myself that he was concealed neither under it nor by the curtain. No door nor aperture of any kind was to be discovered.

‘”I was the first person up in the house ; a slipshod being, however, soon made its appearance, and began to place a few cinders, etc., in a grate not much cleaner than its own face and hands. From this individual I endeavoured to extract some information respecting my nocturnal visitor, but in vain; it ‘knowed nothing of no sailors,’ and I was compelled to postpone my enquiries till the appearance of the mistress, who descended in due time.

‘”After greeting her with all the civility I could muster, I proceeded to enquire for my bill, telling her that I certainly should not take breakfast,  ‘nor do anything more for the good of the house,’ after her breach of promise respecting the privacy of my sleeping-room. The good lady met me at once with a Marry come up!’ a faint flush came over her cheek, her little grey eyes twinkled, and her whole countenance gained in animation what it lost in placidity.

“What did I mean? I had bespoke the whole room, and I had had the whole room, and, though she said it, there was not a more comfortable room in all Portsmouth; she might have let the spare bed five times over, and had refused because of my fancy. Did I think to ‘bilk’ her? and called myself a gentleman, she supposed!

‘”I easily stopped the torrent of her eloquence by depositing a guinea (about a fourth more than her whole demand) upon the bar, and was glad to relinquish the offensive for the defensive. It was, therefore, with a most Quaker-like mildness that I rejoined, that certainly I had not to complain of any actual inconvenience from the vicinity of my fellow-lodger, but that, having agreed to pay double for the indulgence of my whim, if such she was pleased to call it, I, of course, expected the conditions to be observed on the other side; but I was now convinced that they had been violated without her privity, and that some of her people had doubtless introduced the man into the room, in ignorance probably of our understanding.

‘”‘What man?’ retorted she, briskly. ‘There was nobody in your room, unless you let him in yourself; had you not the key, and did not I hear you lock the door after you?’

‘”That I admitted to be true. ‘Nevertheless,’ added I, taking up my portmanteau and half turning to depart,’ there certainly was a man—a sailor—in my room last night; though I know no more how he got in or out than I do where he got his broken head or his unconscionable whiskers.’

‘”My foot was on the threshold as I ended, that I might escape the discharge of a reply which I foreboded would not be couched in the politest of terms. But it did not come, and as I threw back a parting glance at my fair foe, I could not help being struck with the very different expression of her features from that which I had anticipated.

‘”I hesitated, and at length a single word, uttered distinctly but lowly, and as if breathlessly spoken, fell upon my ear; it was ‘WHISKERS!!’

‘”‘Ay, whiskers? I replied; ‘I never saw so splendid a pair in my life.’

‘”‘And a broken head! For Heaven’s sake, come back one moment,’ said the lady. ‘Let me entreat you, sir, to tell me, without disguise, who and what you saw in your bedroom last night.’

‘”‘No one, madam,’ was my answer, ‘but the sailor of whose intrusion I before complained, and who, I presume, took refuge there from some drunken fray to sleep off the effects of his liquor, as, though evidently a good deal knocked about, he did not appear to be very sensible of his condition.’

‘”An earnest request to describe his person followed, which I did to the best of my recollection, dwelling particularly on the wounded temple and the remarkable whiskers, which formed, as it were, a perfect fringe to his face.

‘”‘Then, Lord have mercy upon me!’ said the woman, in accents of mingled terror and distress; ‘it’s all true, and the house is ruined for ever!’

‘”So singular a declaration only whetted my already excited curiosity, and the landlady, who now seemed anxious to make a friend of me, soon satisfied my enquiries in a few words.

‘”After obtaining a promise of secrecy, she informed me that, on the third evening previous to my arrival, a party of sailors were drinking in her house, when a quarrel ensued between them and some marines. The dispute at length rose to a great height. The landlady in vain endeavoured to interfere, till at length a heavy blow, struck with the edge of a pewter pot, lighting upon the temple of a stout young fellow of five-and-twenty, one of the most active of the sailors, brought him to the ground senseless and covered with blood. He never spoke again, but, although his friends immediately conveyed him upstairs and placed him on the bed, endeavouring to staunch the blood, and doing all in their power to save him, he breathed his last in a few minutes.

‘”In order to hush up the affair, the woman admitted that she had consented to the body’s being buried in the garden, where it was interred the same night by two of his comrades. The man having been just discharged, it was calculated that no enquiry after him was likely to take place.

‘”‘But then, sir,’ cried the landlady, wringing her hands, ‘it’s all of no use! Foul deeds will rise, and I shall never dare to put anybody into your room again, for there it was he was carried ; they took off his jacket and waistcoat, and tied his wound up with a handkerchief, but they never could stop the bleeding till all was over; and, as sure as you are standing there a living man, he is come back to trouble us, for if he had been sitting to you for his picture, you could not have painted him more accurately than you have done.’

‘”Startling as this hypothesis of the old woman’s was, I could substitute no better; and as the prosecution of the enquiry must have necessarily operated to delay my voyage, without answering, as far as I could see, any good end, I walked quietly down to the Point; and my ship arriving in the course of the afternoon, I went immediately on board, set sail the following morning for the Mediterranean, and have never again set foot in Portsmouth from that hour to this.”

‘Thus ended Mr. Hamilton’s narrative.

‘The next day the whole party set out to reconnoitre the present appearance of the house, but some difficulty was experienced in identifying it, the building having been converted into a greengrocer’s shop about five years before. A dissenting chapel had been built on the site of the garden, but nothing was said by their informant of any skeleton having been found while digging for the foundation, nor did Mr. Hamilton think it advisable to push any enquiries on the subject.’

The life and letters of the Rev. Richard Harris Barham, Richard Harris Barham,1880: pp. 104-113

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Dark doings, indeed, at Portsmouth! Mrs Daffodil wonders whose hand it was that held the fatal pewter pot? Despite her initial vain intervention, the landlady no doubt knew a trick or two about quelling customers’ disputes.

At this time the city was the greatest naval port in the Empire, and, like most seaports, no better than it should be.  It was a town of great bustle and ferment; it was no wonder a lone seaman, even one adorned with a set of splendid whiskers, could disappear without trace. Since traditional apparitions often haunt until they are “properly” buried, Mrs Daffodil wonders why the whiskered seaman did not haunt the back garden or, later, the chapel, instead of the bedchamber. Perhaps he was a Dissenter and was finally able to rest.

Another maritime ghost story: Guts, the Ghostly Sailor-Cat

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.

 

The Banshee of the Fitzgeralds: 1760s

An Irish Ghost Story

By Kate Bell

The tale I am about to relate is strictly true. It was told to me by a young lady whose grandmother, or grandaunt, or great-grandmother, had been the heroine. I am not quite certain which of the three, but it was some ancestress or relative. I wish to be particular on this point, because I know how much more interesting it must make the story.

About 60 years ago then—more or less (I know it must have been a long time ago because there were rebels in Ireland then) armed bands of men, most absurdly called ‘Whiteboys,’ though they were full-grown villains of the blackest die, roamed over certain districts of Ireland, doing all the mischief they could, burning houses, shooting men, ill-treating women and children, rousing Catholics against Protestants, tenants against landlords, and, in fact, everybody, who had nothing, against everybody who had anything. The special objects of the Whiteboys’ hatred were the landed proprietors. These persons were not at that time greatly to be envied. Inheriting, for the most part, heavily mortgaged estates, they inherited also a talent for spending money, far beyond any capacity for gathering it. When, at last, their tenants refused to pay any rent at all, and the excited state of the country made it dangerous to attempt to force them, why, the result was that the majority of the ‘landed gintry’ of Ireland found themselves finally ‘landed’ in the ‘Encumbered Estates Court.’

Mr Fitzgerald was a landed proprietor, who lived at Kilbally-something House, near the small country-town of Ballykillsomething else; (the final syllable does not matter much in these Irish names). Although a Protestant, Mr Fitzgerald had hitherto lived on amicable terms with his tenantry. He was known to be a just and kind-hearted man, and besides, (which was of much more importance in the eyes of the Irish poor) he came of a ‘rale ould family,’ a family of sufficient dignity to possess a ‘Banshee’ of its own. Therefore although the majority of the tenants had ceased to pay any rent, they were forbearing and generous enough not to shoot their landlord, and, as long as he ‘kept quiet,’ did not mean to do him any harm. So the wives of the poorer tenants still went up to the kitchen of the big house for a chat, and still resorted to ‘the misthress’ when they needed help, or medicine, or a word of good advice, the latter two, however, being much oftener asked for than taken.

A few years before the (unknown) date of my story, Mr. Fitzgerald had married Annie O’Byrne, the daughter of a neighbouring country gentleman. Many men envied him the prize, for Annie was one of the belles of the county and as good as she was pretty. Picture her to yourselves, my readers if you can! for she is the heroine of this tale, generous, bravo, and witty, impulsive, loving, and loveable; in fact, a perfect specimen of that most charming of all feminine creatures, the true Irish lady. Annie had been brought up almost entirely in her own native county, the only exception being two seasons spent at a fashionable boarding school in Dublin. There was one branch of her education not attended to at that boarding school. This neglect, afterwards turned out to be of the greatest use to her, as we shall see. In her early childhood, Annie had learnt from the nurses aid servants who surrounded her, many of the wild legends and superstitions of her native country and many also of its touching ballads. Possessing a vivid imagination and retentive memory, she could, in later years relate some wild story of the district in such a manner as to thrill her auditors with pleasing horror, or sing some touching Irish ditty till tears came to their eyes but her special talent lay in imitating the mournful ‘keen’—that heart-breaking wail of the Irish mourner.

Mrs. Fitzgerald was of course a great favourite amongst the tenants, both on her father’s and husband’s estates. Her intimate acquaintance with their habits and modes of thought, and her knowledge of their native language gave her great influence. Her ready sympathy in their troubles quite won their hearts, those warm and loving Irish hearts, which yet often so cruelly belie themselves under the evil influences of ignorance–and superstition!

Ballykil——-House was situated on a terrace commanding a lovely view of the surrounding country. The lawn studded with clusters of Arbutus and Hydrangea, and bordered by two fine avenues of Elm and Ilex, sloped gradually down till it reached the high road, beyond which, stretched an undulating plain, where the fields and hedges glistened with that vivid green, so peculiar to the Emerald Isle.

Ballykil__ House was a large and comfortable mansion though, (like many of the Irish country houses of that time) standing much in need of repair. The sitting-rooms were all on the ground floor, and so also ware the kitchens and servants offices, The latter lay at the back of the house, and were reached by a long passage, having been built out from the main edifice. The old-fashioned vaulted stone floored kitchen had three large windows on each side, looking out on the one hand, into the glen before mentioned, and on the other into the shrubbery. The windows had no shutters, but were crossed by two or three iron bars, an unusual precaution in those days, for burglary was not a vice of the Irish peasantry, nor even petty theft. Upstairs there were the sleeping rooms of the family and servants. Mr. Fitzgerald’s domestic establishment had been greatly reduced since the real troubles had begun, and consisted at present of only three female servants and one man, the latter acted as groom, gardener and general messenger.

One summer evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald were sitting on the terrace in front of their house, admiring the glories of the sunset rays gilding the fair scenes before them, and discussing the state of affairs in general and the state of their own district in particular.

‘ How happy we are,’ said Mrs. Fitzgerald ‘to be so quiet and peaceful here.’

‘Long may it last!’ replied her husband, ‘but there are floating rumours, that the Whiteboys have been seen in the neighbourhood, and if so; farewell, to peace!’

‘I do not think they would do us any harm at any rate,’ observed Annie, ‘for none of our people would join them, we are not rich enough to tempt an attack for the sake of plunder, and I do not think there is one man in the district, who harbours ill-feeling or revenge against us.’

‘You forget Con Bourke,’ answered Mr. Fitzgerald; ‘I was obliged to turn him out as he had not paid rent for three years; he was thoroughly bad, or I might have left him alone, but I found he was spreading mischief and persuading the tenants not to pay any rent, vowing vengeance. I have never ventured to eject another tenant since.’

‘But you know dear, Con came from another part of the country,’ remarked Mrs. Fitzgerald eagerly ‘he was not one of our own people and besides that, he is gone to America.’

‘I hope so, but I doubt the fact,’ replied her husband, ‘and if the Whiteboys should ever attack us I fancy we shall have to thank Con Bourke. But who is this coming up the avenue?’

As he spoke, a man appeared, riding in haste. On reaching the house, he dismounted and handed Mr Fitzgerald a letter. Annie, watching her husband while he read saw his face grow suddenly grave and anxious. He turned quietly, however, to the messenger saying, ‘Take your horse round to the stable for a feed, O’Hara, and send Jerry here to me.’ Only when the man had disappeared did Mr Fitzgerald relieve his wife’s curiosity. ‘This is a letter from the High Sheriff, my dear Annie, calling on me to repair at once to the town, both as a magistrate and as an officer of militia, to assist in keeping order and to protect the inhabitants against an expected attack by the Whiteboys. The militia has been called out in the immediate neighbourhood already, Sir George says.’

Annie turned pale, for danger threatened her husband. ‘And how does Sir George know of this attack?’ she asked. ‘He has received an anonymous communication, informing him that a large band of rebels intend entering the town to-night, where they expect to be joined by a number of malcontents. Their object is to seize the gaol, and burn it down after having set free the prisoners, especially that last batch of rebels. However, I must go at once, but I cannot bear to leave you here alone, Annie I don’t know what to do.’

‘I am not in the least afraid,’ replied Annie, bravely. ‘You know I am quite safe amongst our own people, and as the Whiteboys will be occupied with the attack on the town there is no fear of them. I am far more anxious about you, my dear husband, who are going into danger. However it is your duty to go at once, and I will not keep you back by my foolish fears.’

‘You should have been the wife of a soldier, my dear,’ said her husband, kissing her, and while Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house to make some preparations for his departure, Mr Fitzgerald gave his orders to Jerry, who now appeared breathless with excitement.

‘Bring round the car at once, Jerry, put on your uniform and load your gun, there may be fighting in store for us. The Whiteboys are expected in the town to-night.’ Jerry grinned with delight at the prospect of a shindy, for he was a soldier in his master’s regiment of militia.

In less than a quarter of an hour the car was at the door, and master and servant, both, armed, but with large top boots concealing their uniforms, mounted one on each side, and away rattled the old jaunting car down the avenue. ‘God bring you back safe to me again, darling,’ had been Annie’s last words as she had been bravely struggling to  keep back the tears that would glisten in her eyes as she bade good-bye. As Mr Fitzgerald looked back up the avenue to wave a last farewell, he saw his wife still standing on the terrace. The last rays of the setting sun were falling on her sweet face and crimsoning the long curls of her hair tossed back from her brow, as she held one child high in air to kiss its hand to papa, and the other child clung timidly to her dress. Mr. Fitzgerald never forgot that scene, for his wife’s hair was grey ere she stood on that terrace again.

When the car had disappeared Mrs Fitzgerald went into the house and occupied herself busily till night came on; determined not to give way to her sorrow and anxiety. The elder of the two children, little Aileen, had. been feverish and restless during the day and her mother determined to keep the child with herself for the night. Before retiring to rest, Annie drew back the curtains of her window, and looked out. The wind had risen, and heavy masses of cloud swept across the sky, obscuring at intervals the light of the newly risen moon. All seemed quiet in the direction of the distant town, and breathing one more prayer for her husband’s safety, Annie lay down to sleep. An hour or two later Aileen awoke, and became more and more restless in spite of the medicine and cooling drink administered by her mother, till finding sleep impossible, Mrs Fitzgerald rose and throwing on a long white dressing-gown, sat down in aa armchair by the bed-side, prepared for a night watch. After a time little Aileen cried for more ‘nice drink,’ but there were no more lemons in the room so Annie, giving the little girl the last drop left in the tumbler, told her to be quiet and be a good child while mama went to fetch some for her. Then, drawing back the curtains that the child might see the moonlight, Mrs Fitzgerald took the candle and left the room.

Having descended to the dining-room, and finding no lemons on the sideboard, Annie suddenly remembered that there were some in a pantry which opened off the kitchen, and at once she hurried there to get them. As she left the dining-room a draught, by the shutting of the door, blew out her candle.

‘This is unfortunate!’ said Annie to herself ‘especially as I have no matches. However, it is moonlight so I can grope my way to the kitchen where I shall find both matches and candles on the chimney piece.’ So leaving her own candle on the Hall table, she hurried down the long dark passage leading to the kitchen. Mrs. Fitzgerald had told her husband truly that she was not afraid, for personal fear had really never crossed her mind, and her only personal anxiety was lest the child should become frightened at her long absence.

On opening the door, Annie found the kitchen almost in total darkness. Only a few streaks of light only, lay across the floor, the moon being half obscured at the moment. The rest of the floor was darkened by heavy shadows from the shrubbery. As she groped her way to the chimneypiece Mrs. Fitzgerald for the first time, experienced a sensation of awe and loneliness, aptly turned eerie and this feeling increased when, after searching on the chimneypiece (where, she knew the cook always kept her matches, she could find none. She was still standing in the deep black shade thrown by some shrubs across the upper end of the kitchen, when the moon suddenly emerged, bright and clear, from behind the clouds and all the floor before her lay in one broad expanse of soft and silvery light, crossed by bars of shadow.

Delighted at the sudden change Annie looked up, and out of the barred windows, looked up—and saw at every window human faces—faces, that looked white and ghastly in the moonlight, pressed against the bars, fierce eyes that seemed to be piercing that corner of black shadow where one white speck appeared—faces that were cruel, coarse and brutal! eyes that haunted Annie to her dying day.

The shock was so great, that for one instant her heart and brain seemed turned to stone, she could not breathe or stir. Then, like a lightening flash, the whole truth burst upon. her. ‘The Whiteboys the cruel Whiteboys they will kill us all! they will burn down the house,’ but then the first thought of the woman’s heart was ‘my children ! Oh god! save my children,’ and in that brief moment an agonized though silent prayer went up to Him. who, heareth in the time of trouble.’ But she must act as well as pray, and what can she do? Poor Annie! surely terror must have driven her mad! Loosening the knot of her black hair till it fell in waving masses to her waist, throwing her arms above her head,  and there clasping and wringing her hands and uttering one long low wail of agony she suddenly emerged into the light. Those hardy men were terror stricken at the sight; some with a cry of horror turned and fled, others hid their eyes and whispered to their companions behind them; for fast as those faces disappeared from the windows others took their place, at first incredulous, but soon on all there came the same blank look of awe and dread. Truly they saw a weird sight!

What was that ghostly, awful figure wandering up and down, and round and round that gloomy vaulted room, keeping her lonely watch at dead of night. White feet gleaming on the cold stone floor, white garments floating to the ground! Pale hands, now folded patiently upon her breast, now wrung as if in bitter agony! A white and ghastly face! whose fixed blue eyes gazed at them, with such a wild and mournful, but yet stony gaze, that the bravest amongst that murderous band, shuddered as they looked: and ever and anon, there rang out upon the breathless silence, that shrill and mournful keen, that wailing deathsong which thrills the Irish heart.

What could this be but the Banshee?—the ‘Banshee of the Fitzgeralds!’ that sad spirit who appears only to announce the approaching death of one of that family which she loves and guards; and who mourns bitterly over the fate which she alone foresees, but has not power to avert. Woe to the man, who disturbs that spirit in her night watch or who interrupts her ‘keen’ of sorrow

There were amongst those men however, some more determined and less superstitious than the rest, and although even they, dared not enter the house which that spirit walked, yet they said ‘Let us wait a while perhaps she will disappear soon, and then we must make haste, seize what we can, and burn the house down.’ And Annie heard them!

The band retreated to the glen, from whence two or three of the boldest returned at intervals to look in; but the spirit walked still! still wept and wailed, and wrung her hands only each time they came, the wail was lower and feebler, the step slower and more solemn. At last the boldest gave way, and came no more. For the Irish peasant will face danger in any earthly form, but let the terror take a ghostly shape and he is the veriest coward! With gloomy fears and lowered voices, the baffled Whiteboys slowly slunk away and disappeared down the glen.

Annie Fitzgerald unfortunately, did not know that the men she feared had gone at last, and she still dreaded their return. It was past midnight when she had left her room that night, and now the clock was striking three. The moon sank down below the verge of the horizon, but a faint light still lingered on the sky, and so the Banshee walked still! near to the windows, where the glimmer of her white garments might be seen; only the wail had ceased at last. The voice was gone indeed she walked mechanically now. The faint red gleam of early dawn appeared. The chirping of the awakening birds sounded from the shrubberies. Slowly, oh, how slowly, the blessed light of day crept up the eastern horizon, bringing release to a brave weary creature whose strength was well-nigh exhausted. Then, only, did Annie feel that she was saved. She knew that the Whiteboys dare not wait for daylight, and so, casting one last shuddering look at those barred windows, she left the kitchen, and walked steadily down the long passage. When she reached the foot of the staircase, strength failed her, brave Annie gave way at last and fell senseless on the floor. There the servants found her a short time afterwards. Roused by the crying of little Aileen, the nurse had run down to her mistress’ room, where she found the child alone, crying out for her mama who she said had left her ‘such a long long time ago.’

Fortunately little Aileen must have fallen asleep immediately after her mother had left the room, and had not awakened till daylight appeared. Nurse calling down the other servants, immediately went in search of her mistress, and was horrified to see the white heap lying at the foot of the staircase. They carried Annie to her bed, and tended her lovingly till her husband’s return a little later, when he found his wife, whom he had left so bright and well, senseless and speechless Immediately Jerry was despatched for the doctor and also to bring the parents of Mrs. Fitzgerald, who lived a few miles away. The servants could give no reason for the condition in which they had found their mistress, and all seemed most mysterious. Presently, however, the cook ran up to say that there were numerous footsteps outside the kitchen, as if a number of men had come up from the glen and returned thither. Mr Fitzgerald at once suspected that the Whiteboys, instead of attacking the town made their way to his house, and that the letter to the sheriff had been only part of a plot to mislead him and others; for no alarm or attack had occurred in the town during the past night. Before the doctor arrived Mrs Fitzgerald recovered consciousness sufficiently to relate with tolerable clearness what had happened. This enabled her husband to send messages to the town giving information as to the direction the band had taken their steps having been traced after leaving the glen.

Very brief was poor Annie’s gleam of intelligence; she soon relapsed into unconsciousness again, and a severe illness followed. For weeks she lay in brain fever, struggling with dreadful phantasies, haunted incessantly by those faces and eyes, and wailing on monotonously that dolorous ‘keen’ she had often practised in her merry childhood, but which now wrung the hearts of the loving watchers by her bedside learning, as they did, from her ravings, all the concentrated agony which she had endured on that dreadful night. But if the wife had prayed earnestly for her husband in his hour of danger, so now his prayers for her were answered; and Annie recovered to be more than ever the beloved wife, mother, and daughter, and in addition to become henceforward the heroine of the county.

The long hair which had played its part was shaved off during her illness, and when Annie’s locks grew again, they were grey. But some thought this only added to the beauty of the sweet face, which, had grown more thoughtful and grave then of yore. Many years passed ere Mrs Fitzgerald could be persuaded to relate her story to any but her husband. As the terror and suffering of that night passed away in the past, she would occasionally, however, tell the tale to some of her children and dear friends at their very earnest request.

It seemed to her, she said, as if in immediate answer to her prayer for help, that thought had come into her mind. By a sudden inspiration, knowing as she did the superstition of the Irish poor, and knowing how mysterious and ghostly she must appear in that lonely room at dead of night, she had acted—for the very last time in her life—the part of Banshee and strength had been mercifully given her to bear a mental strain for three long hours, which might well have driven her mad.

Soon after Mrs Fitzgerald’s recovery, the band of Whiteboys, which had threatened Kilbally—— House, was captured by two and threes, having dispersed about the country. It appeared that Con Burke, inspired by revenge, had induced them to attack his late landlord’s house, informing them that there were plate and jewels of great value in the house (an invention of his own) and rousing their indignation against Mr. Fitzgerald as a ‘tyrant’ Landlord and, a ‘heritic.’ As those Whiteboys were all from a different part of Ireland, they believed him, their only aim indeed, being plunder and destruction. All the men acknowledged the terror they had felt at sight of the ghost!

Most of the prisoners wore transported. Only a few of the greatest criminals amongst them suffered death, but from that time, the district remained quiet and Mr. Fitzgerald enjoyed many happy years in peace with the noble woman whose courage had saved to him his wife, his children, and his home.

Auckland Star, 27 May 1876: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While this story was published in the 1870s, the “Whiteboys” protested the injustices of landlords in the 1760s. The authoress, with a romanticised view of the Irish countryside, voices some unfortunate common prejudices about the “superstitions” of the “peasants,” as well as a bit of dismissiveness for the lower orders.

The “keen” or caoine was the Irish funeral lamentation uttered at wakes and funerals. It was, indeed, heart-breaking. Here is an early 20th-century description:

The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me ? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt ? ” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear. “Ah, Michael, mo ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.”

The Banshee or Bean Sidhe is the Irish death messenger. She may appear as an old woman washing the bloody clothes of the soon-to-be-dead or as a younger woman with long red hair. She keens or wails in the manner of Irish mourners, announcing an imminent death.  The Fitzgeralds as well as the O’Neills, the O’Donnells, and the O’Briens, were among the ancient families of Ireland said to have their own personal banshees. It was said that the banshee might even cross the water to wail for members of those families who had sailed to America.

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.

 

A Touching Tribute to a Wife: 1872

A Touching Obituary

A disconsolate husband [who also happens to be the editor of a local newspaper] thus bewails the loss of his wife, and apostrophizes her memory:

Thus my wife died. No more will those loving hands pull of my boots and part my back hair, as only a true wife can. No more will those willing feet replenish the coal hod and water pail. No more will she arise amidst the tempestuous storms of winter, and gladly hie herself away to build the fire without disturbing the slumbers of the man who doted on her so artlessly. Her memory is embalmed in my heart of hearts. I wanted to embalm her body, but I found I could embalm her memory much cheaper.

I procured of Eli Mudget, a neighbor of mine, a very pretty gravestone. His wife was consumptive, and he had kept it on hand several years, in anticipation of her death. But she rallied that Spring and his hopes were blasted. Never shall I forget the poor man’s grief when I asked him to part with it. “Take it, Skinner,” said he, “and may you never know what it is to have your soul racked with disappointment, as mine has been!” and he burst into a flood of tears. His spirit was indeed utterly broken.

I had the following epistle engraved upon her gravestone: “To the memory of Tabitha, wife of Moses Skinner, Esq. gentlemanly editor of the Trombone. Terms three dollars a year invariably in advance. A kind mother and exemplary wife. Office over Coleman’s grocery, up two flights of stairs. Knock hard. ‘We shall miss thee, mother, we shall miss thee.’ Job printing solicited.”

Thus did my lacerated spirit cry out in agony, even as Rachel weeping for her children. But one ray of light penetrated the despair of my soul. The undertaker took his pay in job printing, and the sexton owed me a little account I should not have gotten any other way. Why should we pine at the mysterious ways of Providence and vicinity? (Not a conundrum.) I here pause to drop a silent tear to the memory of Tabitha Ripley, that was. She was an eminently pious woman, and could fry the best piece of tripe I ever flung under my vest. Her pick-up dinners were a perfect success, and she always doted on foreign missions.

Camden [NJ] Democrat 27 April 1872: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A touching tribute, indeed. It is not just any woman who can fry tripe to perfection, although Mr Skinner is ambiguous about whether the tripe was within his person or tucked under the vest until he could feed it to the dog.

Widowers were a pathetic lot. Sometimes they would go to any length to procure a monument for their lost loved one.

A Sorrowing Widower

A fellow living on the Indiana shore of the Ohio river, near Vevay, Indiana, having recently lost his wife, crossed in a boat to the Kentucky side, visited a grave yard there and stole a tombstone, which he placed over the remains of his lamented better half. Public Ledger [Philadelphia, PA] 19 June 1860: p. 1

This widower was late to the party, but better late than never…

THE TOMBSTONE

Meant a Good Deal and He Wanted It Right Away.

[New York Journal]

A countryman entered the office of a dealer in monuments.

“I want a stone to put at the grave of my wife,” he said.

“About what size and price?”

“I don’t know. Susan was a good woman. A trifle sharp, mebbe, at times, but she was a good woman and never got tired of working. Just seemed to sort of faded away. She brought me a tidy sum when I married her, and now I want to put up a stone that her children and me kin be proud of.”

“Did she die recently?” asked the dealer, sympathetically.

“Not so very. It will be five years next month. I thought to put up a stone sooner, but I’ve been too busy. Now I’ve got around to it, and want one right away.”

“Well, here’s a book of designs. Select what you think will suit you.”

“I don’t know much about such things, and you are in the business. I’d rather you would take $50 and do the best you can. I want sumthin’ showy. I’ll tell you how it is, and then you’ll know the kind. I want to marry the Widder Scroggs, and I heerd she said that I was too mean to even put a stone at the grave of my first wife, when she brought me all of my property. Put a stone that will catch the eye of a wider and write a nice verse on it. If $50 ain’t enough and you are sure a little more will help me with the wider put it on, and I’ll make it right soon as I marry her. She’s got a heap of property, and while it seems a lot of money to put in a stone, I reckon the chances are with it.” And the sorrow-stricken widower paid $50 and inquired where he could get a present cheap that would suit a widow. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 November, 1896: p. 12

Such little attentions to a late wife’s grave did not go unnoticed:

A Kansas woman fell in love and married a widower for no other reason, so she said, than that he took such excellent care of his first wife’s grave. Kansas City [MO] Star 2 April 1924: p. 26

One might do worse than to use a widower’s care-taking qualities as a benchmark when choosing a mate, although bedding plants and granite or slate slabs require a good less attention than a wife.

You may read more about widowers, tombstones, and mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

 

The Astor Library Ghost: 1860

ghost-book-popups

A Haunted Library.

The New York Post gives the story of an apparition as seen in the Astor Library, by the Librarian, Dr. Cogswell, and as related and believed by the Doctor. The Post says:

To understand the circumstances of this remarkable apparition the more fully, the reader should remember that Dr. Cogswell, the efficient librarian, has been for some time engaged in the compilation of a complete catalogue of the library. Dr. Cogswell is an unmarried man, and occupies a sleeping apartment in the upper part of the library, the janitor residing in the basement. It is the rule of the library to dismiss visitors at sunset, and during the evening and night no individual besides Dr. Cogswell and the janitor and his family remain in the building. Dr. Cogswell devotes hour of night that should be given to repose, to the pursuance of his work on the catalogue.

Some two weeks ago Doctor Cogswell was at work as usual on the catalogue. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and having occasion to refer to some books in a distant part of the library, he left his desk, took his candle, and, as he had often done before, pursued his course among the winding passages towards the desired spot–But before reaching it, while in an alcove in the southwest part of the older portion of the building, he was startled by seeing a man, respectably dressed in citizen’s clothes, surveying a shelf of books. doctor supposed it to be a robber who had secreted himself for the purpose of abstracting some of the valuable works in the library; after stepping back behind a partition for a moment, he again moved cautiously forward, to catch a glimpse of the individual’s face, when to his surprise he recognised in the supposed robber the features of a physician (whose name we forbear giving) who had lived in the immediate vicinity of the library, and who had died some six weeks ago! It should be borne in mind that this deceased person was a mere casual acquaintance of Dr Cogswell, not an intimate friend, and since his death .Dr. Cogswell had not thought of him.

But the apparition was in the presence of a man not easily scared. The librarian, so far from fainting or shrieking, as might reasonably be expected, calmly addressed the ghost:

“Dr. __,” said he “you seldom, if ever, visited this Library while living. Why do you trouble us now when dead?”

Perhaps the ghost did not like the sound of the human voice; any way, it gave no answer, but disappeared.

The next day Mr. Cogswell thought over the matter, attributed it to some optical delusion, and in the evening proceeded with his work as usual. Again he wished to refer to some books, and again visited the southwestern alcove. There again as large as life, was the ghost, very calmly and placidly surveying the shelves, Mr. Cogswell again spoke to it:

“Dr. __, said he, “again I ask you why you who never visited the Library while living, trouble it when dead?”

Again the ghost vanished: and the undaunted librarian pursued his task without interruption. The next day he examined the shelves before which the apparition had been standing, and by a singular coincidence found that they were filled with books devoted to demonology, witchcraft, magic, spiritualism, &c. Some of these books are rare tomes, several centuries old, written in Latin, illustrated with quaint diagrams, and redolent of misticism; while the next shelves are their younger brethren, the neat spruce works of modern spiritualists, of Brittan, Davis, Edmonds and others. The very titles on these books are suggestive. These are the Prophecies or Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus, a folio published in London in 1672; de Conjectionibus; Kerner’s Majikon; Godwin’s Lives of the Necromancers; Glanvil on Witches and Apparitions; Cornelius Agrippa; Bodin’s Demonomania; Lilly’s Astrology and others, a perusal of any which would effectually murder the sleep of a person of ordinary nerve for at least half a dozen nights. It was these volumes that appeared to attract the apparition.

The third night Mr. Cogswell, still determined that the shade, spirit delusion or effect of indigestion–whatever it might be–should not interfere with his duties, again visited the various books to which he wished to refer to, and when occasion demanded, did not fail to approach the mystic alcove. There again was the apparition, dressed precisely as before, in a gentleman’s usual costume, as natural as life, and with a hand raised, as if about to take down a book. Mr. Cogswell again spoke–“Dr. __.,” he said boldly. “This is the third time I have met you. Tell me if any of this class of books now disturb you? If they do I will have them removed.”

But the ungrateful ghost, without acknowledging this accommodating spirit on the part of its interrogator, disappeared. Nor was it seen since, and the librarian has continued his nightly researches since without interruption.

A few days ago, at a dinner party at the house of a well-known wealthy gentleman, Mr. Cogswell related the circumstances as above recorded, as nearly as we can learn. As above eighteen or twenty persons were present, the remarkable story of course soon spread about. A number of literary men, including an eminent historian and others, heard the recital, and though they attributed Mr. Cogswell’s ghost-seeing to strain and tension of his nerves during the too protracted labors at the catalogue, they yet confess that the story has its remarkable phases. Both Mr. Cogswell and the deceased physician were persons of a practical turn of mind, and always treated the marvelous ghost stories sometimes set afloat with deserved contempt. And, as they were not at all intimate, it will be at least a curious question for the psychologist to determine, why the idea of this deceased gentleman should come to Mr. Cogswell’s brain and resolved itself into an apparition, when engaged in dry, statistical labors, which should effectually banish all thoughts of the marvelous.

Acting on the advice of several friends, Mr. Cogswell is now absent on a short trip to Charleston, to recuperate his energies.

Holmes County Republican 12 April 1860: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The Astor Library ghost caused quite the stir: sensation-seekers flocked to the library to see, if not the ghost, the place where it had appeared, and Dr Cogswell.

Burleigh, the New York correspondent of the Boston Journal, in his last letter to that paper, writes:

Dr. Johnson said: “Say that a house in London has the plague, and all London will go and see it.” I have spent a few days at the Astor Library. It is quite amusing o see the crowds drift in to see the place where Dr. Cogswell saw the ghost of Dr. Post. Ladies, especially, come in in couples, in fours, alone and with male attendants; with a soft tread and an awe in their looks, with a trembling voice, they step from alcove to alcove, as if they thought the form of the spirit would start out and greet them. And when the Doctor is seen behind the counter (for he has come back,) the small talk runs—“There, that is he,” “There he is” –showing how deeply the public mind is interested in the story of the haunted library, and proving that, after all that has been said and written on the matter, men as readily believe in the existence of ghosts today as they did eighteen hundred years ago, when the disciples thought their Lord was “only a spirit.” Weekly Advocate [Baton Rouge LA] 22 April 1860

During his tenure as the Astor Library librarian, Dr Cogswell collected and arranged nearly a hundred thousand books.  He also began to prepare a catalogue. He had hoped to create indices of authors, titles, and subjects, estimating that it would run to eight volumes. The first part was completed and published in four volumes, 1857-61; and then Dr. Cogswell resigned the office of superintendent. If he had kept the same long hours of toil during his entire term of employment, one can imagine that it was time for a rest.

As for the ghost, Mrs Daffodil wonders if the spirit was seeking in those books of magic, a mystic reanimation formula whereby it might be able to return to earth? Perhaps, like Dr Benjamin Franklin he hoped that

the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the author. Epitaph on Himself, Benjamin Franklin. Written in 1728.

World Book Day was celebrated this week, hence the posts on library ghosts and bookcases.That macabre book person over at Haunted Ohio wrote about a ghastly spectre that also appearing to a librarian in A Haunted Library in Leeds, and a possible link with an M.R. James ghost story.

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.

Interior of the Astor Library

Interior of the Astor Library