Category Archives: Ghosts

The Phantom Huntsman: 1890s?

Sargent, John Singer; Lord Ribblesdale; The National Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/lord-ribblesdale-114725. Shown in hunting costume. He was Master of the Buckhounds from 1892-95.

The Phantom Huntsman

When I was about nine years of age, I went to live with my grandfather on a farm near the little town of Yarm, on the banks of the river Tees. One day he happened to be short-handed. He had an order for a ton of potatoes to be delivered in Yarm on that day. He loaded the cart and sent me off to deliver them in the afternoon. It was a November afternoon, therefore, it turned dark early.

I delivered the potatoes and set off home later than I expected, in the dark. I knew the old horse knew every inch of the road, and, being a lonely road and practically deserted, I gave the horse his head and laid down in the bottom of the cart on the empty sacks. I got along all right until I landed at a part of the road which led between two plantations, one at each side. I still had about two miles to go, as we lived four miles from the town, when I was startled to hear what I thought was the rustle of a saddle and the tread of a horse on the frosty road. Being lonely and nervous, I jumped up to see what was coming, delighted to think I was going to have company.

To my utter surprise, I saw a horseman riding alongside me on a beautiful bay horse. He was dressed in a red coat, white riding breeches, huntsman’s hat, and everything complete. I grabbed my reins to pull off and make way for him, but he kept to the grass at the side of the road.

I said, “Good evening, sir.”

He didn’t speak, but only lifted his whip to his cap in response. I was delighted, as I loved to see the huntsmen and the hounds, although I was surprised to see this one. I knew perfectly well that there was no meet in the immediate district on that day, or my grandfather would certainly have attended it, as he never missed a run when possible to get there.

I said to the gentleman, “Where did the hounds meet to-day, sir?”

He only looked down on me and smiled. I had then got as far as the gate leading into the fields off the main road to the farm. I got out and opened the gate and let my horse and cart pass through, then still held the gate for the huntsman to pass, as he was standing waiting.

Instead of coming through the gate, to my great surprise, he suddenly vanished.

I was terribly afraid as I could not make out where he had gone or how he had gone. I let the gate go and jumped into the cart, and made the old horse go as fast as he could for home. Although I had no idea of ghosts then, I landed home scared to death. I rushed into the house and scared my grandfather and grandmother as well. When I got pulled round I related to them what had happened.

Then my grandfather said he wouldn’t have let me go if he had thought about it. He said there had been a follower of the hunt killed in those woods two or three seasons before and that he had haunted the woods during the hunting season ever since. My grandfather himself had been present on the very day the accident happened and he said my description of the gentleman tallied exactly with the one who was killed. He had no doubt I had seen and even spoken to the ghost that others had seen riding at night about those woods. He mentioned the incident at the next hunt meet and it was generally accepted that I had seen the ghost.

Curiously enough, my grandfather had the misfortune to be killed himself with a horse and lorry sometime after my experience. Whether it had any bearing upon the after trouble that befell me I can’t say, but this goes to prove that there are ghosts. As the saying goes, seeing is believing.

True Ghost Stories Told by “Daily News” Readers, S. Louis Giraud, 1927: p. 77-78

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a vanished world is reflected in the young man’s eagerness to “make way” for the gentleman, the aristocratic ghost’s touching of its cap with its whip, the ghost waiting, with the expectation that the boy would open the gate for him and his horse. Even in death, the social distinctions were maintained by the phantom huntsman and his witness.

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

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

 

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Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

Weird Ghost Girls Bathe in Light That They May Be Truly Ghostly.

An Indian maiden has a song to sing. What does she sing of? Men long dead. What does she say of them? She invokes their spirits; she invites them to reappear on earth. A sweet, strange music fills the air—but it does not come from her throat. The light grows dim, and from out the gloom glide forms pale and shadowy, in long robes of light. Noiselessly, swiftly they flit up and down the long aisles. The music but emphasizes the eerie silence. Then, suddenly, it ends in a discordant shriek. Up blaze the lights. The ghosts have faded—vanished into thin air.

Of course it is only a trick, you say to your neighbor. You are not quite sure that you are back on solid earth again, for surely you must have been in Shadowland. Otherwise, how could figures clad in blinding light dart past you, so close that you could almost touch them? You could understand it if they were on the stage, or if huge reflectors were enveloping them in dazzling beams. But they were no on the stage, and no slanting cones of light were breaking the darkness overhead. How is it done? How can human beings—for they must be human beings to move so surely and swiftly—radiate light from their own persons?

Well, it used to be a secret, but it will be no longer. Pale, pretty girls bathed in light—white light, the cold dead gleam of a winter moon, which off times scares the midnight wayfarer by lurking shadows cast in churchyard corners.

You don’t see how a girl could be baked in light? Well, come into the dressing room half an hour before the performance starts. There you will see the chorus girls “make up” for their ghost act. Over their costumes they slip doublets and cloaks of a white leathery substance painted with phosphorus. Cowls of the same material shroud their heads and faces. Then electricians take the soon-to-be-spirits in hand. In a row of giant arc lights, armed with powerful reflectors, stand the girls, and for twenty minutes or more they bathe in the strongest rays that a dynamo can conjure up. There they turn and twist until every portion of their costumes has been exposed to the light over and over again. Big black goggles have to be worn the whole time, for no eye could stand the intense glare, even for a moment. The phosphorescent paint with which they are daubed drinks in the light and stores it up until the time comes for the ghosts to flit up and down the aisles, thrilling the audience by their nightly apparition. But this paint must be renewed regularly or the power of the phosphorus would die out, leaving the ghosts just ordinary mortals.

But how do they pop so suddenly out of the darkness of the auditorium and fade away again? Quite simple! Each ghost has a gown and hood of deepest black and an attendant to handle it. They steal softly to the head of the aisles in parquet and balcony and stand there behind the audience ready for the cue. It comes. Off slip the robes and hoods and down the aisles play the weird forms. So quickly do they dart in and out through the auditorium that the spectators are conscious of nothing but a moving streak of gleaming light. And all the time the orchestra plays strange fairy music and so softly that it seems to come from a great distance. Otherwise, not a sound is heard, and the vast theater is plunged in utter darkness save for the ghostly figures of the light-robed girls. The effect is weird. You sit half terrified, half fascinated, and absolutely silent. The apparitions gradually move toward the head of the aisles. Then the attendant slips on the hood and robe and darkness envelops them once more. Up go the lights, and the thrill is ended.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 11 January 1914: p. 37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The thrill might be ended for the audience, but one wonders how long the horror went on for the “pale, pretty girls,” exposed to the poisonous phosphorus. Possibly the leather gave some protection, but one is not sanguine.

The dangers of phosphorus were well-known; the match-girls of London went on strike in 1888 to protest their exposure to the toxic substance, which caused a horrible disease called “phossy jaw,” (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw). Phosphorus was banned from matches in 1906, but was still available for other applications, including, apparently, theatrical special effects. We have met with an equally dire exposure before, in a novel Parisian “x-ray spook party.”

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.

 

Hallowe’en Superstitions: Ancient Times, reported in 1916

HALLOWE’EN SUPERSTITIONS

By R. B. SPAN

The thirty-first of October, the day preceding All Saints’ Day, is notable for the strange superstitions connected with it, and which are as old as the history of this country. In ancient Ireland All Hallows Eve was a great feast day, as it was amongst the Celts everywhere. On this day a new fire used to be kindled every year, and from this sacred flame all the fires of Ireland were re-kindled.

The ancient Celts took Samhain, or All Souls’ Day, as the first day of their year, and celebrated it much as we now celebrate New Year’s Day.

The other great feast day of the Celts was Beltane, or May Day, which ushered in summer. As a season of omens and auguries Hallowe’en seems to have far surpassed Beltane in the imagination of the Celts, and it was the custom of this genial, warm-hearted race to gather together on Hallowe’en for the purpose of ascertaining their destiny, especially their fortune in the coming year just begun. Not only among the Celts, but throughout Europe, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter was regarded as the time when the spirits of the departed revisited their old homes and joined in the family gatherings around the fire, and partook of the good cheer provided in parlour and kitchen by their affectionate kinsfolk. But it is not only the souls of the departed who ” revisit the pale glimpses of the moon,” but witches speed by on errands of mischief, fairies make their presence manifest, and hobgoblins of all sorts roam freely about. In the Northern Tales of Scotland there is a saying, which, translated from the Gaelic, runs:

Hallowe’en will come, will come ;

Witchcraft will be set agoing ;

Fairies will be at full speed,

Running free in every pass.

Avoid the road, children, children!

On that night in Ireland all the fairy hills are thrown wide open and the fairies swarm forth, and to the man who is bold enough to approach them they will show the treasures of gold, etc., hidden in these green hills. The cavern of Cruachan in Connaught, known as the “Hell Gate of Ireland ” is then opened, and mischievous spirits come forth and roam the country-side, playing pranks on the farmers and peasantry.

The Scotch Highlanders have a special name, Samhanach (derived from Samhain), for the bogies and imps of mischief which go about then molesting all who come in their way.

In Wales, Hallowe’en was the weird night of the year, the chief of the Teir Nos Ysbrydion, or Three Spirit Nights, when the wind, “blowing over the feet of corpses,” brought omens of death in eerie sighs, to those doomed to “shuffle off this mortal coil” within the year.

It was not so long ago that the people of Wales in some districts used to congregate in churches on Hallowe’en and read their fate from the flame of the candle which each of them held; they also heard the names or saw the coffins of the parishioners who would die within the year. In the Highlands of Scotland it was believed that if any one took a three-legged stool and sat on it where three roads met whilst the clock was striking midnight, a voice from the Unseen would tell him the names of those in his neighbourhood who would die within twelve months. It used to be (and may be still) the custom in Scotland for the young people gathered together in one of the houses to resort to various games and forms of divination for the purpose of ascertaining their futures—principally as regards chances of matrimony—such as, would they marry or not, was the marriage to occur that year or never, who would marry first, and descriptions of the future spouse, and so on, when the answers to the numerous queries would furnish a vast amount of entertainment. These practices were not confined to the Highlands, but the Lowlanders of Saxon descent also believed in and followed them—having inherited them from the Celts, the original owners of the country.

Most of the forms of divination are very quaint: the following are a few of the best known instances. A girl desirous of divining her future husband takes an apple and stands with it in front of a looking glass. She slices the apple and sticks each slice on the point of a knife and holds it over her left shoulder while looking in the glass and combing her hair. The spectre of the future husband then appears in the mirror, and stretching out his hand, takes the slices of apple over her shoulder. Some say that the number of slices should be nine, and that the first eight should be eaten and the ninth thrown over the shoulder, and also that at each slice the diviner should say, ” In the name of the Father and the Son.”

Another curious practice is to take an egg, prick it with a pin, and let the white drop into a glass of water; take some of this in your mouth and go for a walk. The first name you hear will be that of your future husband or wife. One old woman in Perthshire stated she tried this when a girl, and she heard the name Archibald, and this proved to be the name of the man she married. In the Hebrides, a salt cake called Bonnach Salainn is eaten at Hallowe’en to induce dreams which will reveal the future. It is made of common meal with a good deal of salt. After eating it you must not drink water or utter a word, or you spoil the charm. It is equally efficacious to eat a salt herring, bones and all, in three bites, provided no water is drunk and no word spoken afterwards. Amongst the farmers and country people a favourite method of divination is to take a winnowing- basket, or wecht, as the Lowland Scotch term it, and go through the action of winnowing corn. After doing this three times the apparition of your future husband or wife will pass through the barn, coming in at one door and passing out at the other. Amongst the young people gathered at the fireside it is often the custom to burn nuts to divine marriage prospects, and much fun is obtained from the pastime. Two nuts representing a lad and a lass who are obviously “in love” are placed side by side in the fire. If they burn quietly together the pair will become man and wife, and from the length of time they bum and the brightness of the flame one may judge of the length and happiness of the married life, but if the nuts jump away from each other then there will be no marriage, and the blame rests with the person whose nut has started away.

In North Wales it was the custom for every family to make a great bonfire, called Cod Coeth, on the most conspicuous spot near the house, and when the fire had died down, for each person to throw into the embers a white stone (marked so as to be identified). They then said their prayers and retired. Early next morning they sought their stones amid the ashes, and if any were missing it was believed that the persons who threw them would die within the year.

In Scotland (as in Ireland and Wales) Hallowe’en was for centuries celebrated by great bonfires on every hill and peak, and the whole country was brilliantly illuminated, presenting a most picturesque scene, with the flames reflected in the dark Highland lochs, and penetrating the deep craggy ravines. These fires were especially numerous in the Perthshire Highlands, and the custom was continued to the first half of the nineteenth century. They were observed around Loch Tay as late as the year 1860, and for several hours both sides of the loch were illuminated as far as eye could see. In Ireland the Hallowe’en fires would seem to have died out earlier, but the divination still survives.

General Vallancey states that on Hallowe’en or the Vigil of Samain, the peasants assemble with sticks and clubs and go from house to house collecting money, bread, butter, eggs, etc., for the feast in the name of St. Colombkill. Every house abounds in the best victuals they can obtain, and apples and nuts are largely devoured. Nuts are burnt, and from the ashes strange things are foretold; hemp seed is sown by the maidens, who believe that if they look back they will see the wraith of their future spouse; they also hang a smock before the fire on the close of the feast and sit up all night concealed in a comer of the room, convinced that his apparition will come and turn the smock ; another method is to throw a ball of yam out of the window and wind it on the reel within, believing that if they repeat the Pater Noster backwards, and look at the ball of yam without, they will see his sith or wraith; they dip for apples in a tub of water and try to bring one up in the mouth; they suspend a cord with a cross-stick with apples at one point and lighted candles at the other, and endeavour to catch the apple, while in circular motion, in the mouth. These, and many other superstitions (the relicts of Druidism), will never be eradicated whilst the name of Samain exists. (Hibernian Folk Lore, Charles Vallancey.)

In County Roscommon, a cake is made in nearly every house, and a ring, a coin, a sloe, and a chip of wood put into it. The person who obtains the ring will be married first, the coin predicts riches for its finder, the sloe longevity, and the chip of wood an early death. It is considered that the fairies blight the sloes on the hedges at Hallowe’en so that the sloe in the cake will be the last of the year. The colleens take nine grains of oats in their mouths, and going out without speaking, walk about till they hear a man’s name pronounced, and that will be the name of their future husband.

In the Isle of Man, Hallowe’en used to be celebrated by the kindling of fires, and by various ceremonies for the prevention of the baneful influence of witches and the mischievous pranks of fairies and elves. Here, as in Scotland, forms of divination are practised. As an instance, the housewife fills a thimble full of salt for each member of the family and empties it out in little piles on a plate and left there during the night. Next morning the piles are examined, and if any of them have fallen down, he or she whom it represents will die before next Hallowe’en. The women also carefully sweep out the ashes from under the fireplace and flatten them down neatly on the open hearth. If, the next morning, a foot print is found turned towards the door it signifies a death, but if turned in the opposite direction a marriage is predicted. In Lancashire, also, the fires of Hallowe’en were lighted up to the middle of the nineteenth century, and similar forms of divination practised as in Scotland and Ireland; and even to-day the Lancashire maiden strews the ashes which are to take the shape of one or more letters of her future husband’s name and throws hemp seed over her shoulder and glances around fearfully to see who is following her. At one time the Lancashire witches used to assemble from all parts of the country at Malkin Tower, an ancient and ruined building in the Forest of Pendle, and there they planned evil and mischief, and woe betide those who were out on the fells at night and crossed their path. It was possible, however, to keep them at bay by carrying a light of some kind. The witches would try to extinguish the light, and if they succeeded, so much the worse for the person, but if the flame burned steadily till the clocks struck midnight they could do no harm. Some people performed the ceremony by deputy, and parties went from house to house in the evening collecting candles, one from each inmate, and offering their services to leet the witches. This custom was practised at Longridge Fell in the early part of the nineteenth century. Northumberland was the only other part of England where Hallowe’en was observed and its quaint customs adhered to to any extent, though in all parts of the Kingdom (and in France also) it has always been believed (and is still) that the Unseen World is closer to this mundane sphere on October 31 than at any other time.

The Occult Review October 1916: p. 213-17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is always pleasant to look at “superstition” on a Friday the Thirteenth, a day so fraught with fear.  We have previously looked at charms to prevent bad luck and have been privy to the secrets of the contrarian “Thirteen Club.” We have also encountered some of these quaint (and sometimes terrifying) old beliefs before in the story of a young woman who wanted to host a completely “authentic” Hallowe’en party called “Nut Crack Night.” 

Mrs Daffodil is amused at how the superstitions above toggle between “sex” and “death,” two of the human race’s most pressing concerns.  The earlier ‘teens had seen a revival of folk-singing, Morris dancing, May Queens, and Corn Dollies. As the world hovered on the edge of War, the old ways evoked some mythical Golden Era of Peace and Plenty.

Yet pestilence, inter-tribal warfare, witches, and midnight horrors—like the poor—are with us always.  This collection of “ancient” rites was published during the Great War, when no end to the bloodshed seemed possible. That year there must have been many sad visions of coffins and many white stones missing from the bonfires.

 

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.

 

“‘Ow Did ‘E Get Out?”: 1927

“’Ow Did ‘E Get Out?”

Some months ago, when travelling between Charing Cross and Westminster on the “Underground,” I had an exceedingly weird experience.

At about 8:25 a.m., I got into a third-class carriage one late-summer day at Charing Cross station, and seated myself in one of the “cross-seats,” one of those seats which are not placed against the sides of the car. I had to sit near the edge of this seat as someone was already on it, next the window.

Opposite me was a man in labouring clothes, and, near the entrance to the car, an elderly man was standing.

A second or so after seating myself, I began to feel desperately cold, despite the fact that it was a warm summer morning. The cold, in some strange way, appeared to emanate from my next-door neighbour in the seat near the window. I noticed that the elderly man near the entrance to the car glanced strangely in my direction once or twice, and yet he did not seem to be looking directly at me, and, suddenly, a feeling of the most awful horror swept over me.

I shuddered violently and glanced sideways at one of the most terribly cadaverous faces I have ever seen.

A walking corpse would have best described my next-door neighbour. Gray, haggard, the figure simply defies description.

Half-way between Charing Cross and Westminster—he was no longer there!

He would have had to pass me in order to get out, the windows do not open except at the top.

I heard the labouring man opposite me exclaim: “Well, I’m blowed, where’s the __ blighter got to?”

Then I saw the elderly gentleman gazing with dropped jaw to where my “neighbour” had been sitting.

The labouring man leant over to me. “Excuse me, Miss, but there was a man there, wasn’t there?” he asked.

“There most certainly was,” I replied, chill with horror.

“Well ‘ow did ‘e get out,” asked the workman, “an’ where’s ‘e gorn?”

And that is exactly what I want to know.

Who and what was it? Evidently three of us saw “It”—and between Charing Cross and Westminster station on a bright summer morning.

Uncanny Stories, Weird Happenings to “Daily News” Readers, Edited by S. Louis Giraud, 1927: p. 11-12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A suitably chilling little tale for the run-up to Hallowe’en. The labouring man poses an existential question pondered for centuries by philosophers and theologians: “where’s ‘e gorn?”

 

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.

 

Piloted by a Spirit: 1870s

PILOTED BY A SPIRIT.

By A. Y.

I checked my horse, and after one long, straining look around owned to myself that I was lost. I had suspected the fact some time since, but had stubbornly fought down the suspicion, though my horse evidently realized it. With patient endurance he plodded along, resignation plainly expressed in the droop of his tail and ears. In place of the ranch, the hearty welcome, pleasant words, bed, supper and fire I had expected to reach by sunset, there was nothing to be seen before, behind or on either hand, but the dead level of the plain. There were paths in plenty; in fact, the trouble was there were too many—all narrow and winding, for whose meandering there seemed not the slightest excuse, except the general tendency to crookedness most things, animate and inanimate, alike possess. But it would have taken the instinct of a bloodhound or a trailing Indian to have said which paths had been made by horses’ feet or those of cattle.

Now that the sun was gone, I found my knowledge of the point of the compass gone with it. As I sat perplexed and worried the gloom of twilight gathered fast, and the chill of coming rain smote me through and through while in the distance there was the roll of thunder.

It was now quite dark, and very dark at that, though at short intervals close to the horizon a faint gleam of lightning showed too distant to cast brightness on my path and only sufficient to intensify the blackness about me.

All at once I saw a man walking about fifteen feet in front of me. Yes, I know I said it was intensely dark, but all the same I repeat it. I saw a man walking in front of me, and, furthermore, I could see that he was a large man, dressed in rough, but well-fitting clothes; that he wore a heavy red beard, and that he looked back at me from time to time with an expression of keen anxiety on his otherwise relaxed features.

“Halloo!” I cried, but as he did not halt I concluded he did not hear me. As a second hail produced no result I spurred my weary horse up to overtake the stranger. But, though the gray responded with alacrity most commendable under the circumstances I soon found that this strange pedestrian did not intend to let me catch up with him. Not that he hurried himself. He seemed without any exertion to keep a good fifteen feet between us.

Then I began to wonder how, with the intense darkness shutting me in as four black walls, I was yet able to see my strange companion so clearly, to take in the details of his dress, and even the expression of his face, and that at a distance more than twice my horse’s length, when I could hardly see his head before me. I am not given to superstitious fancies, and my only feeling was of curiosity.

We went on in silence for nearly half an hour, when as suddenly as he had appeared he was gone. I looked around for him, half afraid from his instant and complete disappearance, that I had been dreaming, when I perceived that I was close to a small, low building of some sort. I reined in and shouted several times, but not the slightest response could I hear, and at last I rode boldly up and tapped on the wall with the butt of my riding whip. Then as this elicited no sign of life, I concluded that I had stumbled on some deserted house or that it was the abode of my eccentric friend; so dismounting and tying the gray, I resolved to spend the rest of the night under a roof or to find some good reason for continuing my journey.

I felt my way along the wall till I reached a door, and trying this and finding that it yielded to me I stepped inside, striking a match as I did so. Fortunately, I carried my matches in an air tight case, and as it was dry the one I struck gave me a light at once. I found myself in a large room close to a fireplace over which a rude shelf was placed, and on this mantel I saw an oil lamp to which I applied my match.

On the hearth was heaped a quantity of ashes, and over these crouched a child, a little girl of 5 or 6. At the end of the room, which was plainly and scantily furnished, lay a man across a bed, and as I raised the lamp I saw that he was the same I had been following, but there was something in his attitude and face that struck me as peculiar, and I was about to go forward and look at him when the child who had at first seemed dazed at the light fairly threw herself upon me.

“Have you anything for Nelly to eat?” she said, and then, “Oh, Nelly so hungry!”

I ran my hand into my pocket and drew forth what had been a paper bag of chocolate candy, but now was a pulpy unappetizing mass. I must confess to a childish fondness for sweets, which I usually carry in some form about me. I handed the remains of my day’s supply to the child, and then walked over to the bed.

Yes, it was the same man, red beard, rough clothes, but setting off the magnificent frame to perfection; the same man, but dead, long dead.

I took his hand only to find it stiff and cold while his face had the dull gray aspect never seen in the newly dead. As I stood gazing down on him a little hand touched mine.

“Nelly so hungry!” said the child.

“Have you eaten all the candy?” I asked her.

“Yes, yes! But me hungry, for me had no dinner, no brekkus, no supper, and papa won’t get up.

The house, which consisted of the large room, a smaller kitchen and a shed, where I found a quantity of hay and fodder, seemed quite bare of food but by dint of searching in the hay I discovered a nest, which Nelly informed me was there, and in it two fresh eggs. These I boiled for her. When she had finished I soothed her to sleep on a bed I made for her before the fire. Then after I had put my horse in the shed room and fed him I performed as well as I could a service for the dead.

When day dawned I was able to discern at some distance from the house a line of telegraph poles, and taking the child with me I followed these to the nearest. town where I notified the authorities of the death.

The dead man’s name was Frederick Barnstaple. He was an Englishman, so I found, a recent arrival in those parts. His daughter was restored to her family across the water, and is now a pretty girl of 17. I have never told this story, but am ready to take an affidavit to its truth.

It all happened about thirty miles from Dallas.

Religio-Philosophical Journal 7 February 1891: p. 585

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Where, one wonders, was the child’s mother? Many of the Englishmen who came to America’s west were bachelor younger sons, looking to find a fortune or consumptives, seeking health.  Neither class of émigré brought little girls with them. A mystery.

But certainly no more of a mystery than the narrator’s ghostly guide, who was so mysteriously visible in the darkness of the prairie. How (again, one wonders) was the spirit of the dead man able to find and influence his child’s rescuer on that vast plain? Do spirits have some sort of heat-seeking apparatus or extremely acute hearing? Do they scent the living from miles away, as a blow-fly scents the dead? A mystery….

 

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.

 

Shrieks in the West Room: 1835

Shrieks in the West Room at Flesbury

A plain statement of the facts, as they occurred, without any attempt to embellish or magnify them, will be given.

Early in 1835, my brother John was taken seriously ill, and for many weeks his life hung in the balance. A crisis was reached and passed, followed by a fortnight of mingled hope and despair. At the end of that time his condition showed so great an improvement that the most sanguine hopes for his recovery were entertained by all the family, except his mother and aunt, who continued to be very anxious so long as the doctors were unwilling to give a decidedly favourable opinion.

It was between five and six o clock on a fine spring evening, towards the end of March. The sinking sun was cheerfully lighting up the West room, where three of John’s sisters and his brother William were sitting, having just left their father in the dining-room. Their mother and aunt had returned to John’s room. The West room adjoins the principal staircase, which leads up from the entrance hall through the centre of the house. There is a small landing at the door of the West room, the stain ascending a little further to the principal landing. A second flight leads to the upper landing, on which opened the room occupied by John. Owing to the centre of the house being open, any sound in the hall is distinctly audible on the upper floor. The offices are reached by a long passage behind the hall and the dining-room, so that ordinary sounds from the hall or the staircase cannot be heard there.

The children in the West room were all in the highest spirits. They were no longer feeling anxious about their brother and were even a little inclined to think that their elders had been unnecessarily alarmed. Poor dear Johnnie, they told each other, after all the fuss that had been made, was getting well.

To be sure, it was impossible to spoil him; he was such a dear good boy and never made a fuss about himself. But even now Mamma and Aunt would not believe that he was not going to die. In fact, that very day at dinner. Mamma had been actually crying again. The children went on to discuss the two doctors who were attending John. The younger of the two had particularly annoyed them that day m reporting on the state of the patient to their father. While admitting an increase in strength and appetite, he had added, ‘Still, I see no improvement.’ ‘Papa said he was ridiculously inconsistent,’ one of the children remarked; and someone went on to say something which raised a general laugh. The laughter had not ceased when a piercing shriek rang through the room. It was as if uttered by someone standing on the landing just outside the open door.

There was silence, and then a second shriek like the first; another silence, and then yet a third shriek, even louder and more prolonged than the others, and ending in a rattling, gurgling sound, as though someone were dying.

The children in the room were struck with horror. None of them is likely to forget that awful sound. As I write, it seems to ring in my ears.

In a moment the door of the drawing-room, on the further side of the hall, was thrown open, and Mr Carnsen, who had been sitting in the room alone, hurried across the hall to the foot of the staircase. He called in an agitated voice to his daughter, whom he knew to be in the West room ‘Gertrude, what is the matter! Who is screaming in that dreadful manner!’

‘Papa,’ we answered, ‘we don’t know. It wasn’t one of us, though it seemed quite close.’

‘It sounded as though someone were in great distress,’ our father said. ‘Go down to Grace and ask her if the people in the kitchen are all right, although the noise did not seem to come from there.

Gertrude went at once and found the housekeeper alone in the big front room. She was standing as if listening and declared she had distinctly heard three shrieks. She was wondering what could be the matter and though positive that the sound had come from further off than the kitchen, she went there to enquire if the servants knew anything.

When she returned her usually florid face was quite pale. ‘Oh, Miss Gertrude,’ she said, ‘there is no hope for Master John — that is what it means. What we heard was none of the servants, and no human voice. The servants heard the screams too but they seemed to come from far off.’

‘How can you talk such nonsense!’ Gertrude replied. ‘A person like you ought to know better. Papa says you must find out what it was and let him know.’

The girl then returned to the hall, where she found her father talking to the old doctor, who had just arrived. Mr. Carnsen was saying: ‘It was like a woman’s voice, screaming as though in the utmost distress. You would have supposed she was being murdered.’

The doctor replied that he had been crossing the lawn at the time, and that if the noise had come from outside the house, he must have heard it.

After Gertrude had reported the failure of her enquiries, her father asked her to tell her mother, who was in John’s room, of the doctor’s arrival. On her way upstairs, she looked into the West room, where she found that the others had been joined by Ellen, a faithful and attached servant, with the youngest child, then about two and a half, in her arms. Ellen said they had been in one of the rooms on the first landing when they had heard the shrieks, coming, as it were, from the West room or near it. The child asked, ‘Who is screaming, Ellen; I didn’t scream’; and picking her up the maid had run to the West room to find out what was the matter.

One of the children remarked: ‘Poor Johnnie! How frightened he must have been!’

Whereupon Ellen suggested: ‘Could it have been Master John seized with a fit?’

Struck with this idea, Gertrude ran upstairs. The door of her brother s room was partly open, and when she went in she saw him lying with a very placid look on his fact. As she passed the bed, he gave her a look and a smile, but did not speak. Her mother was resting on the sofa and her aunt was reading by the window. Nothing in short, could have been quieter or more composed than the room and its inmates.

After announcing the doctor s arrival, Gertrude went over to the bed to discover if possible, without alarming her brother, if he had heard the shrieks.

‘Johnnie, how quiet you look!’ she said. Have you been asleep?’

No, Gertrude,’ he replied, ‘I was not asleep and I knew the doctor had come. I heard Dash give his little bark’ — meaning a short single bark which the old dog, who lay on a mat in the hall always gave when the doctor arrived. So it seemed that John had heard the bark, but not the awful shrieks which had rung through the house and been heard by everyone in it except himself and those who were with him.

The doctor was now on his way up and Gertrude, as she left, beckoned to her aunt to follow her. In the West room she told her of their experience, the aunt replying that everything had been exceptionally quiet that afternoon in John’s room.

He had been lying awake, but without speaking for some tune and no unusual noise of any kind had been heard.

An immediate search was made, every possible and impossible cause being sought for and suggested; but all was in vain; no explanation was forthcoming.

Next morning, the doctor came to breakfast, accompanied by his brother, the old clergyman, who occasionally visited John; and while they were there, the housekeeper and the farm bailiff were called in and questioned as to the result of the enquiries which, by Mr. Carnsen’s orders, they had made. One point was clear: the sounds had been made in the house, since no one outside had heard them. The accounts of all those inside the house talked: there had been three shrieks at short intervals; it was as though a woman’s voice were being strained to the utmost; and the noise had ended in a dying rattle. What was most unaccountable was that the shrieks were loudest on the staircase, close to the West room, and therefore should have been distinctly audible in John’s room just above; yet everyone there was utterly unconscious of them.

Nothing more could be done. The servants were given strict orders not to allow any report of what had happened to leak out. Mr. Carnsen, who disliked the subject so much that no one ventured afterwards to allude to it in his presence, enjoined a similar silence on the children. The clergyman, after hearing all the evidence, pronounced the incident to be of a kind for which it was impossible to give a natural explanation. He told us that we could not pretend to deny the reality of what we had heard, but must not give way to superstitious fancies Some lesson or warning which time would make more clearly known, was intended.

From that day onwards, even those of us who had been most hopeful, found their confidence gone, though for another week John’s health continued to show signs of improvement.

After that he took a turn for the worse, and three weeks from the day when the shrieks were heard he died. It may be asked whether a similar warning was given on the occasion of the death of any other member of the family

Fifteen years later, John’s young sister, Emma, was on her deathbed. In the middle of the night, just before the end, those who were watching in her room heard sounds of hysterical wailing and lamentation passing through the house The noises ceased as she drew her last breath A few months later, when the daughters were watching by the deathbed of their mother they had so strong an expectation of hearing that unearthly voice once more, that they told each other they ought to doubt the evidence of their senses if it came but it did not come. Nor was any warning given of the deaths of two of the sons in distant lands, or when Mr Carnsen himself passed away in March 1860 as he knelt in prayer by his bedside.

Further Stories from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, 1937, pp. 3-9 (reported earlier in an abbreviated form in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 16 November 1888).

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As the Proceedings and the introduction to this story in The Ghost Book says, ” Lord Halifax copied the following story from a manuscript, written by the sister of John Carnsen, the child concerned, who died on April 22nd 1835, aged eleven. He added the information that ‘the house where the events of this narrative occurred is Flesbury, a lonely country house on the north coast of Cornwall. The family who reside there are the only descendants of the Carnsens of Carnsen, in Cornwall.’ The names are given as they appear in The Ghost Book, but Carnsen should probably be Carnsew, the name of an old Cornish family, and Flesbury, should probably be Flexbury, near Bude.”

Ah, that is so often the trouble with supernatural accounts: the narrator wishes to disguise the name of the family or the location so that the family is not embarrassed or the house does not get a bad name. One wonders if such subterfuges confused the wailing spirit, who did not appear at the death of the narrator’s brothers, mother, or father, but instead found itself in the Bude-Stratton Business Centre car park, puzzling over a Ordnance Survey map in search of a non-existent family and house.

 

 

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 Man in the Dog-Cart: 1890s

My next tale has always seemed to me one of the most interesting psychic experiences that I have ever heard related.

Some few years ago, a young officer, whom we will call Lestrange, went to stay at a country house in the Midlands. It may be said that he was a good type of the average British subaltern, whose tastes, far from  inclining towards abstract study or metaphysical speculation, lay chiefly in the direction of polo, hunting, and sport generally. In fact, the last person in the world one would have said likely to “see a ghost.”

One afternoon during his visit, Lestrange borrowed a dog-cart from his friend, and set out to drive to the neighbouring town. About half-way there he saw walking along the road in front of him a very poor and ragged-looking man, who, as he passed him, looked so ill and miserable that Lestrange, being a kind-hearted person, took pity on him and, pulling up, called out, “Look here, if you are going to C—-, get up behind me and I will give you a lift.” The man said nothing but proceeded to climb up on the cart, and as he did so, Lestrange noticed that he wore a rather peculiar handkerchief round his neck, of bright red, spotted with green. He took his seat and Lestrange drove on and reaching C—- stopped at the door of the principal hotel. When the ostler came forward to take the horse, Lestrange, without looking round, said to him: “Just give that man on the back seat a good hot meal and I’ll pay. He looks as if he wanted it, poor chap.” The ostler looked puzzled and said: “Yes, sir; but what man do you mean?”

Lestrange turned his head and saw that the back seat was empty, which rather astonished him and he exclaimed: “Well! I hope he didn’t fall off. But I never heard him get down. At all events, if he turns up here, feed him. He is a ragged, miserable-looking fellow, and you will know him by the handkerchief he had round his neck, bright red and green.” As these last words were uttered a waiter who had been standing in the doorway and heard the conversation came forward and said to Lestrange, “Would you mind stepping inside for a moment, sir?”

Lestrange followed him, noticing that he looked very grave, and the waiter stopped at a closed door, behind the bar, saying: “I heard you describe that tramp you met, sir, and I want you to see what is in here.” He then led the way into a small bedroom, and there, lying on the bed, was the corpse of a man, ragged and poor, wearing round his neck a red handkerchief spotted with green.

Lestrange made a startled exclamation. “Why, that is the very man I took up on the road just now. How did he get here?”

He was then told that the body he saw had been found by the roadside at four o’clock the preceding afternoon, and that it had been taken to the hotel to await the inquest. Comparisons showed that Lestrange had picked up his tramp at the spot where the body had been discovered on the previous day; and the hour, four o’clock, was also found to tally exactly.

Now was this, as the ancients would have told us, the umbra of the poor tramp, loth to quit entirely a world of which it knew at least the worst ills, to “fly to others that it knew not of”? Or was it rather what Mr. C. W. Leadbeater has described in his book, “The Other Side of Death,” as a thought-form, caused by the thoughts of the dead man returning with honor to the scene of his lonely and miserable end, and thereby producing psychic vibrations strong enough to construct an actual representation of his physical body, visible to any “sensitive” who happened that way? We must leave our readers to decide for themselves what theory will best fit as an explanation of this strange and true story.

Stranger Than Fiction, Mary L. Lewes, 1911: p. 96-98

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr. C.W. Leadbeater was a Spiritualist and influential member of the Theosophical Society. He wrote extensively on esoteric subjects such as the astral plane, clairvoyance, and reincarnation. Mrs Daffodil sees no reason to drag “psychic vibrations” or “thought-forms” into a perfectly good English 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.