Category Archives: Ghosts

Death in the Pot

there is death in the pot.JPG

On the first Sunday in the year 1749, Mr. Thomas Lilly, the son of a farmer in the parish of Kelso in Roxburghshire, a young man intended for the Church of Scotland, remained at home to keep the house in company with a shepherd’s boy, all the rest of the family, except a maid-servant, being at church. The young student and the boy being by the fire whilst the girl was gone to the well for water, a venerable old gentleman, clad in an antique garb, presented himself, and after some little ceremony, desired the student to take up the family bible which lay on a table, and turn over to a certain chapter and verse in the Second Book of Kings. The student did so, and read—“there is death in the pot.”

On this the old man, with much apparent agitation, pointed to the great family pot boiling on the fire, declaring that the maid had cast a great quantity of arsenic into it with an intent to poison the whole family, to the end she might rob the house of the hundred guineas which she knew her master had lately taken for sheep and grain which he had sold. Just as he was so saying the maid came to the door. The old gentleman said to the student, “remember my warning and save the lives of the family!” and that instant disappeared.

The maid entered with a smiling countenance, emptied her pail, and returned to the well for a fresh supply. Meanwhile young Lilly put some oatmeal into a wooden dish, skimmed the pot of the fat and mixed it for what is called brose or croudy, and when the maid returned, he with the boy appeared busily employed in eating the mixture. “Come, Peggy,” said the student, “here is enough left for you; are not you fond of croudy?” She smiled, took up the dish, and reaching a horn spoon, withdrew to the back room. The shepherd’s dog followed her, unseen by the boy, and the poor animal, on the croudy being put down by the maid, fell a victim to his voracious appetite; for before the return of the family from church it was enormously swelled, and expired in great agony.

The student enjoined the boy to remain quite passive for the present; meanwhile he attempted to shew his ingenuity by resolving the cause of the sudden death of the dog into insanity, in order to keep the girl in countenance till a fit opportunity of discovering the plot should present itself.

Soon after his father and family with the other servants returned from church.

The table was instantly replenished with wooden bowls and trenchers, while a heap of barley bannocks graced the top. The kail or broth, infused with leeks or winter-cabbages, was poured forth in plenty; and Peggy, with a prodigal hand, filled all the dishes with the homely dainties of Teviotdale. The master began grace, and all hats and bonnets were instantly off; “O Lord,” prayed the farmer, “we have been hearing thy word, from the mouth of thy aged servant Mr. Ramsay; we have been alarmed by the awful famine in Samaria, and of death being in the pot!” Here the young scholar interrupted his father, by exclaiming— “Yes sir, there is death in the pot now here, as well as there was once in Israel! Touch not! taste not! see the dog dead by the poisoned pot!”

“What!” cried the farmer, “have you been raising the devil by your conjuration? Is this the effect of your study, sir?” “No, father,” said the student, “ I pretend to no such arts of magic or necromancy, but this day, as the boy can testify, I had a solemn warning from one whom I take to be no demon, but a good angel. To him we all owe our lives. As to Peggy, according to his intimation, she has put poison into the pot for the purpose of destroying the whole family.” Here the girl fell into a fit, from which being with some trouble recovered, she confessed the whole of her deadly design, and was suffered to quit the family and her native country. She was soon after executed at Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the murder of her illegitimate child, again making ample confession of the above diabolical design.

Signs Before Death: A Record of Strange Apparitions, Remarkable Dreams, &c, John Timbs, 1875

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A curious story for St Andrew’s Day.  Mrs Daffodil wonders why supernatural gentlemen so often appear in “antique garb:” ancestral  ghosts in clan plaids, the Gentry in gold-laced coats, His Satanic Majesty in black velvet, and, apparently, an aged angel**. Are there no fashionable tailors in the Afterlife?

To be Relentlessly Informative, the turning over the pages of the Bible as a form of divination is well-known in supernatural circles. It is also known as bibliomancy, although the Holy Book is not a requirement. M.R. James used it to great effect in ‘The Ash Tree,” where Mr Crome tries to discover the secrets of the ash tree by the “old and by many accounts superstitious practice of drawing the sorts.”  But in this case, it appears that the venerable gentleman, rather than opening the Book at random, “cribbed” to deliver the life-saving message.

 

**Spoiler Alert: We find in a second part of the story that the “angel” is Mr Lilly’s dead grandfather, who kindly directs him to a treasure.

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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A Soldier on the Garden Path: 1916

grave of an unknown Canadian soldier, Somme battlefield October 1916

The grave of an unknown Canadian soldier, Somme battlefield, October 1916 https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194594

Pauline Frederick’s fine emotional countenance relaxed into a smile on being requested to relate her most vivid Christmas experience; then it grew grave again, as though the request had conjured up an unpleasant memory.

“This story relates to a young cousin of whom I was very fond, as we had practically been brought up together,” commenced Miss Frederick. “On the outbreak of war he joined the Canadian army.

“On this particular night I was about to retire to bed, and my maid, who was drawing down the blinds, turned to me with a movement of surprise, and then cried out: ‘There’s a soldier coming up the garden path.’ I ran to the window and looked out. It was a bright moonlight night, and I had no difficulty in recognising the soldier as my cousin. Wondering that he had never informed me that he would have leave of absence, I went downstairs to open the door, followed by my maid. On opening the door and going out on the steps I found to my surprise that no one was in sight. With my maid we searched the garden, but everything was quiet and we went indoors again. Feeling a little uneasy, I questioned the maid as to the impression she had received of the soldier, and her replies convinced me that I could not have been suffering from hallucinations.

“The next day I dropped a note to my cousin’s mother asking her if she had heard lately from her son. A reply came by return of post that she had that morning received a cheery letter from France, and that my cousin had asked to be remembered to me.

“I felt a little more cheerful on the receipt of this news, and dismissed the incident from my mind. A week later, however. I found a letter on my breakfast table, the envelope being of the kind known as ‘mourning,’ and seeing that it was in my aunt’s handwriting I had an eerie feeling that there was some connection between my vision and this communication. The news was hardly news to me although my aunt informed me that her son had been killed in one of the innumerable raids on the Somme, and the time of the raid corresponded with the time of the strange visitation. What do I make of the experience? I really don’t know. I have heard such things have happened before in–other people’s experience, and I have always been sceptical of those stories, but I shall never be sceptical again.”

Evening Star 22 December 1920: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The narrative above comes from Miss Pauline Frederick, an American stage and cinema actress. It was part of an article about the unusual and supernatural experiences of  actors and actresses.

The Battle of the Somme, which began 1 July 1916, saw 60,000 British casualties just on the first day of the campaign. The Canadian troops were called on in September of 1916 to launch a series of new attacks against a particularly well-fortified trench. When the trench was bombed into submission, the Battle of the Somme ended.

As this site on the Canadian troops in the Great War describes: “The fighting at the Somme shifted the front lines only eight kilometres at a horrendous cost of more than 1 million casualties, including 24,000 dead and wounded Canadians. The human toll of the battle remains as controversial today as it was at the time.”

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 Kiss of Death: 1887

skeleton lovers Posada.JPG
On this, the last day of Dia de Muertos, Mrs Daffodil has received permission to borrow a post appropriate to the holiday from that death-obsessed person over at Haunted Ohio. She writes: 
 

As we have all painted our faces like La Calavera Catrina and are munching sugar skulls to honor our Dear Departed on this Day of the Dead, let us settle down among the marigolds for a ghost story. On previous holidays, we have met a faithful dead nun and a skeletal bishop with his evil raven companion. Today we go to a churchyard in San Juan where a seductive entity sought its prey.

THE KISS OF DEATH

STRANGE SUPERSTITION OF MONTEREY MEXICANS

A Spectre That Appears in Beautiful Guise to Lure Men and Women to Death.

The Santa Cruz ghost, which is engrossing the attention of the citizens of that famous watering-place by its midnight revelries, recalls a legend of San Juan, in the adjoining county, told the writer many years ago by a narrator no less credible than a good old Spanish priest, with whom the writer happened to be staying on a few days’ visit.

One morning after breakfast he expressed a wish to stroll into the ancient graveyard attached to the old adobe church of that quaint little Mexican town. The old padre, with the kindness and courtesy characteristic of the simple missionary fathers, at once acceded and accompanied the writer, relating as we walked among the graves the brief history of some who lay quietly beneath. “Here,” he observed, with a quiet smile as he pointed to a grave in the middle of the cemetery, “here is a grave which the simple old Mexican families around here look upon with unusual interest, if not with actual awe.”

“A murder?”

“No, no! Something much stranger. I have tried to combat the idea, and while I would be addressing the people they would say, “Si Si, Padre.” They would assent to all I said, but the belief remained and does remain indelible.

“A spirit,” he began, “is said to have appeared to everyone buried in that grave, and to warn the family whenever any of them is about to pass away.

“Its appearance, which is generally made in the following manner, is believed to be uniformly fatal, being an omen of death to those who are so unhappy as to meet with it.

“When a funeral takes place the spirit is said to watch the person who remains last in the graveyard, over whom it possesses a fascinating influence.

“If the person be a young man the spirit takes the shape of a fascinating female, inspires him with a charmed passion, and exacts a promise that he will meet her at the graveyard a month from that day. This promise is sealed with a kiss, that communicates a deadly taint to him who complies.

“The spirit then disappears. No sooner does the person from whom it received the promise and the kiss pass the boundary of the churchyard than he remembers the history of the specter. He sinks into despair and insanity and dies. If, on the contrary, the specter appears to a female, it assumes the form of a young man of exceeding elegance and beauty.” The padre showed me the grave of a young person about 18 years of age, who was said four months before to have fallen a victim to it. “Ten months ago,” the father said, “a man gave the promise and the fatal kiss, and consequently looked upon himself as lost. He took a fever and died and was buried on the day appointed for the meeting, which was exactly a month after the fatal interview.

“Incredible as it may appear, the friends of these two persons solemnly declared to me that the particulars of the interview were repeatedly detailed by the two persons without the slightest variation.

“There are several cases of the same kind mentioned, but the two cases alluded to are the only ones that came within my personal knowledge.

“It appears, however, that the spectre does not confine its operations to the graveyard only. There have been instances mentioned of its appearance at weddings and social parties, where it never failed to secure its victims by dancing them into pleuritic fevers.”

On being questions as to what he might think of such possible occurrences, the good father simply smiled and shook his head.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 21 October 1887: p. 1

The Santa Cruz ghost mentioned was a Woman in White, like the classic Hispanic ghost, La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, said to weep for her children whom she killed when their father refused to marry her. Over time La Llorona has morphed into a kind of banshee, warning of imminent death, or a vampire spirit, luring young men to their doom. Here the churchyard specter is both incubus and succubus, an equal-opportunity, shape-shifting seducer. The victim’s oblivion until he or she steps out of the graveyard is an especially fiendish touch. There is an interesting echo of the Dance of  Death in that “dancing into pleuritic fevers” and a hint of the European belief that the last person buried in a graveyard is forced to be its guardian until the next corpse comes along.  Let this be a warning to all of us to never be the last one out of the graveyard….

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Haunted Bed: 1859

doll's tester bed

The Haunted Bed

Mark Lemon

‘Why, Betty, if there isn’t Mr. Ponsonby at the door with his baggage, I’ll be whipped!’ cried the head waiter at the ___ hotel, on the evening  preceding the regatta.

‘Mr. Ponsonby, you don’t say so! and I’d given him up, and just put that weak-minded gent as come at ten o’clock in Forty-two–Mr. Ponsonby’s room as I call it; and there’s not a bed to be had in Cowes for love or money.’

‘What’s that, you say, Betty?’ said the newcomer; ‘not another bed but mine,’

‘That it, sir,’ replied Betty; ‘I kept it for you till the last train; now as that has been in a hour, I gave you up, sir. What will you do?’

‘Awkward,’ exclaimed Ponsonby; ‘the old clock in the room will break its heart; but I must sleep on a sofa.’

‘Not one disengaged, sir,’ said the waiter.

‘No sir,’ added Betty, ‘not one sir. There are four small children put to bed in a chest of drawers now in Twenty-four. We let everything before we would let Forty-two.’

‘That’s the gent that’s got your room,’ whispered John, as he ushered Mr. Ponsonby into the coffee-room.

The person alluded to was a very mild, milky-looking young gentleman of twenty-one. His present position was evidently a new one, for he was constantly employed in pulling up his shirt collar and using his toothpick.

‘John,’ said Ponsonby, ‘I must have a bed. Bring me a broiled bone and a glass of brandy and water, and put them on the table next to the young gentleman, whilst I speak to Betty.’

What the nature of Mr Ponsonby’s communication to Betty was I don’t mean to reveal; but she laughed consumedly and was shortly afterwards seen entering No. Forty-two with a warming-pan, and then returning without it. The bone and brandy and water were duly served, and Mr. Ponsonby took his place at the table. The mild gentleman pulled his collar more frequently and plied the toothpick with increased, energy.   ‘Waiter,’ cried Ponsonby, ‘here–take this thing away.’

‘Capital bone sir,’ said John; somewhat astonished.

‘Don’t tell me a capital bone!’ exclaimed Ponsonby. ‘The ‘bus driver was complaining of the mortality among his horses. Take it away.’

The mild gentleman looking alarmed, and paused in the act of pulling up his left collar.

‘Wretched house, this, sir,’ said Ponsonby, confidentially; ‘never come here if I can avoid it; but at regatta time glad to get in anywhere!’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the mild one.

‘They served me a rascally trick once, and I shall never forget it. I wonder who sleeps in that room to-night–poor devil!’

‘May I inquire what the trick was, sir?’

‘Oh! Certainly,’ said Ponsonby, ‘though I hardly like to tell the story, in case you should doubt my veracity.’

‘Oh! Sir—‘

‘Well, it seems absurd to talk of haunted chambers in the nineteenth century;’ and Ponsonby paused.

‘Not at all, sir,’ said the mild one, encouragingly.

‘But that there is one in this house I am ready to swear,’ exclaimed Ponsonby; ‘a room with a large, old-fashioned clock in it.’

‘No. Forty-two!’ gasped the mild one; ‘that’s my room!’

‘Hush, for heaven’s sake!’ said Ponsonby; ‘had I know that, I wouldn’t have said a word for the world.’

‘My dear sir, don’t say that; pray go on sir. I’m not superstitious, neither am I foolishly incredulous,’ and the mild one wiped his forehead, and emptied his tumbler at a gulp.

‘Well, as you desire it, I will narrate my story,’ said Ponsonby. ‘It was exactly three years ago, this very day, that I and my luggage found ourselves in No. Forty-two, the last room, (so the chambermaid told me,) unlet in the house.’

‘Exactly what she told me—a cockatrice!’ interrupted the mild one.

‘I was tired by my day’s journey, and went to bed exactly as the clock struck twelve. Though fatigued, I felt no disposition to sleep, so I placed my candle on the bed-steps, and began to read. I had read about five minutes, when suddenly I received a most violent blow in the stomach, and the clock struck a quarter. I started up; there was no one—nothing to account for the phenomenon. At last I concluded it must have been fancy. I read on for another quarter of an hour, when I received two blows of greater violence than the former one! The clock chimed the half-hour.’

‘Another glass of brandy and water!’ cried the mild one.

It was brought, and Ponsonby proceeded:

‘I seized the bell-rope, but a sense of shame would not let me proceed. I therefore resolved to keep watch for a short time. As I set up in bed, my eyes fell upon the face of the old clock in the corner. I could not help thinking that was connected with the annoyance I had suffered. As I looked, the minute-hand gradually approached the IX on the dial, and the moment it arrived there I received three distinct and particularly sharp raps on the crown of my head. The clock struck the three-quarters. I was now convinced that there was something wrong. What was I to do? If I disturbed the house and told this story, I should be laughed at, and set down either as drunk or dreaming. I resolved to brave the worse. I got out of bed, and, gently opening the clock-case, stopped the vibration of the pendulum.

‘Come, that must prevent the striking,’ thought I and laid myself down with something like a chuckle at my own brilliancy.’

‘A chuckle!’ murmured the mild one.

‘I had not been in bed above five minutes,’ resumed Ponsonby, ‘when I heard the door of the block-case open slowly. I felt, I confess, a tremor—‘

‘I should think so!’

‘And I saw the pendulum throw a somersault on the floor, and deliberately hop—hop—hop towards the bed. It paused for a moment, and bending it round brazen face full upon me, said—‘

‘Spoke?’ gasped the mild one.

‘Said,’ continued Ponsonby: (not heeding the interruption,) “Sir, I am very much obliged to you for stopping my labors. People think I never want any rest, but that I can stand being perpetually wound up and kept on the go. With your permission, I’ll get into bed;’ and without waiting for an answer, into bed it got.

‘I suppose,’ continued the pendulum, you are not aware that this is our room.’

‘Our room!’ said I.

‘Yes; mine and the rest of the works. The man who made us, died in this bed, and left it to us as a legacy. You found something rather unpleasant, didn’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘very unpleasant.’

‘Ah! That was the striking weight; he always serves intruders that way when we are going. When we are not, and I come to bed, he is quiet enough. But as I am likely to be set going again in the morning, and it’s now nearly half past nine, I’ll wish you a good night.

‘Good night, sir,’ I replied, quaking from heat to foot. ‘So,’ thought I, ‘who ever sleeps in this bed must either submit to be thumped black and blue by the striking weight, or accept of this horrible monster for a bed-fellow. At this moment the pendulum, I suppose, fell asleep, for it commenced an innocent ‘tick-tick,’ ‘tick-tick,’ that rendered all attempts at forgetfulness of my part impossible.’

‘Another glass of brandy and water!’ cried the mild one.

‘No, no,’ said Ponsonby, ‘I would advise you not. Have your chamber candle and go to bed.’

‘Go to bed in No. 42!’ exclaimed the mild one. ‘Never!’

‘My dear fellow, matters may have changed since the period I have been talking of. Go to your room, and if anything occurs it is easy to ring the bell. Come, I’ll see you to the door.’

And, taking their candles, the pair proceeded to No. 42.

‘Here we are,’ said Ponsonby, ‘good night.’

The mild gentleman could only wave his head in valediction as he entered the haunted chamber. In a minute he uttered a shrill cry, and rushed into the lobby, his hair literally on end with terror.

‘What’s the matter, now?’ said Ponsonby.

‘It’s there!—in bed—fast asleep—I’ve seen it—the pendulum! I’d not sleep there for a thousand pounds!’

‘Good gracious! What will you do?’

‘Sleep on the stairs—if I but had my carpet-bag out of the room!’

‘I’ll fetch it for you. I don’t mind the pendulum; he’s an old friend of mine.’

And in another minute, the mild one was travelling down to the coffee-room, bumping his carpet bag from stair to stair, to the probable disturbance of the whole house.

‘Betty! Betty!’ said Ponsonby, in an undertone, ‘tell the porter to bring my baggage to No. 42. Ha! Ha! Capital, Betty!’ roared Ponsonby as he saw the cause of the mild one’s terror.

It was the brazen warming pan comfortably put to bed in No. 42, and which the M.G. in his terror had taken for a pendulum.

In the morning the mild gentleman did not show himself. He had drank three bottles of soda water, paid his bill, and gone off by the first train.

The Democratic Pioneer [Elizabeth City NC] 17 May 1859: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mark Lemon was the genial co-founder and long-time editor and writer for the comic magazine Punch.  He has a freshness and a modern strain to his writing that makes it amusing, even to-day, while a good deal of Victorian humour is lost on modern readers.

warming pan

Brass warming pan

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 Diabolical Teapot: 18th century

A story, so remarkable as to be scarcely worthy of credence had not the narrator been a lady of unimpeachable veracity, was related to your correspondent a few days ago. The lady, who is a member of an old, aristocratic family, told me the story in the following terms:

When the founder of the American branch of our family came over from England, he brought a large quantity of silverware, already very old. Among the various articles was a teapot of curious workmanship and shape. In fact, the old vessel may not have been a teapot, but it was called so. All of this silver was stolen during the Revolutionary War, the teapot included; but the morning after the theft, to the great surprise of the family, this particular piece was found in its accustomed place. No one could even surmise how it came there. Through all the changes of circumstances and residence that teapot has remained with us. I would only weary you were I to recite the numerous times it has been lost, stolen and even sold, and yet, through some mysterious intervention, it has always made its way back to the possession of the family. But the most wonderful thing in connection with this singular vessel is that never, since we possess any record of it, has it been put to its ostensible use. The first I knew of this was when I was a girl of 16. My mother was giving a large tea party and while she was arranging her table she placed upon it the teapot we ordinarily used.

“Mother,” I exclaimed, “why don’t you use that lovely old teapot which came from England?”

She answered, gravely: “Alice, you are old enough now to hear the story of that teapot and I will tell it to you, for the thing will eventually become yours. The history of the vessel no one knows, but it has been remarked by its possessors for generations that no one has ever been able to use it. Place it on the table and, watch it, as you will, it is invariably removed and returned to its case, by what or whom I cannot say.”

“Well, I’ll engage to find out,” I said, “if you’ll let me get it down.”
She gave her consent and I put the teapot on the table, taking my seat within reach of it. My mother went on with her work, passing in and out of the room, while I sat intently regarding the beautiful old piece of silver. About five minutes passed, when I received a violent blow on the cheek, which cause me to turn indignantly to see my assailant. There was no one in the room! Hurt and bewildered, I looked back at the table, but the teapot was gone. I ran to the closet, on the shelf on which the thing was kept, and there I saw it in its place. I called my mother and told her what had happened.

“You see,” she said. “It does not intend to be used.”

After some years the teapot became my property, but I had such a horror of the diabolical thing that I kept it under lock and key for some time. At last one of my neighbors sent to borrow a teapot of me on the occasion of a high tea. Thinking to find out whether it peculiarities were only exercised for the family’s benefit or not, I sent her my strange heirloom. In an hour or two my friend came running in.

“My dear friend,” she cried, “have you heard anything of your teapot? I fear it has been stolen. I had filled it and left it on the table, when I left the room for a moment. On my return I found the tea spilt and running from the cloth and the pot gone.”

We went to my closet together, and though the door had been locked and the key in my pocket, there sat the teapot in its place. There was nothing for it but to make a clean breast of it to her, but I could see that she was incredulous and very much offended. I resolved now to have the thing melted down, but the fact of its being an heirloom caused me to reconsider my resolution. My husband, too, persuaded me to try and solve the mystery before destroying so remarkable an object. Overcoming the horror, and even terror, with which I regarded the thing, I brought it out one evening and my husband and I saw down to watch it. As we fixed our eyes on it we saw distinctly a delicate feminine hand close its shadowy fingers bout the handle and carry the teapot through the air to the closet. Once at rest on the shelf the hand relinquished its hold and vanished, and we brought he teapot back to the table, resuming our watch. Again the phantom hand seized the handle, but Mr. ___ caught the spout and clung to it. Then ensued a struggled between my husband and the invisible power that sought to remove the teapot form the room. For several moments, during which, my husband says, he seemed turning slowly to ice, the struggle went on, when suddenly the uncanny thing was snatched from the living hand that held it, and, to our surprise, replaced on the table. We ran to it and saw a clear, colorless liquid gradually rise from some invisible spring and fill the teapot. We bent our heads over it and saw, instead of the bottom, a spacious room, that is, we seemed to be looking as through a window into such an apartment. There were three persons in the room, a man and two women.

My knowledge of bygone fashions was not sufficient for me to accurately determine the nationality and period of their dress, but from what I did know I judged it belonged to England, of perhaps the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Both women were beautiful, one in a dark, vivacious style, the other in a blonde English way. The man seemed to divide equally between the two his attentions, which were courtly and what would now seem exaggerated and affected. The fair woman went to a table and took up my teapot! She poured out a cup of some liquid (whether it was tea or not I can not tell), and handed it to the dark woman, who, in turn, presented it to the man. He appeared to protest, but finally drank it. The fair woman made a gesture as if to prevent it, but it was too late. She again filled the cup and gave it to the other woman, who drank it. As she did so, the man fell to the floor, evidently dying, the dark woman falling also on her knees beside him. Se arose soon and turning to the murderess cursed her (I judged so by her silent gesture and the teapot to which she pointed). This done she fell beside the man, and the next moment the liquid turned blood red, while a low, long drawn moan and a ringing, cruel laugh of triumphant scorn were heard in the room. The lights burned blue and flickered so low that we could scarcely see the face of the other. A chill wind swept over us, and after it everything resumed its usual aspect, but the teapot once more empty and quite dry, sat in its accustomed place on the closet shelf. We sent it next day to have it melted down, but it wasn’t forty-eight hours before my horror was back again. Yes, if you call, I’ll show it to you, for I have given up. I know I’m saddled with it for life. Houston (Tex.) Correspondence Globe-Democrat.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 21 April 1889: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is delightful to find a shiversome tale for Hallowe’en told by a lady both of unimpeachable veracity and an old, aristocratic family.  That person of peachable veracity over at Haunted Ohio, who reads altogether too much 19th-century ghost literature, tells us that if a story is introduced by a narrator Whose Veracity Cannot Be Questioned, it is axiomatic that we are about to be treated to a gripping, but suspect tale.

Be that as it may, it seems a trifle odd that an innocent teapot should bear the brunt of a long-standing curse, and that the curse should consist merely of always returning to a locked cupboard with the other silver. Mrs Daffodil does not think much of it. A proper curse would have wiped out the descendants of the murderess within a generation.

 

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 Professional Ghost:1904

the ghost of greystone grange 1878

The Ghost of Greystone Grange, a shilling-shocker from 1878. British Library

In this season of Hallowe’en and its attendant Horrors, Mrs Daffodil is practically compelled to invite that shuddersome person from Haunted Ohio to share one of her posts. Mrs Daffodil is sure that her readers will find this piece to be less fraught than some of the ghastly stories which that weird writer normally shares about mourning practices.

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Let us lighten the mood with an amusing little tale about a man with an unusual job–told in the vernacular–by Robert Ernest Vernede, author and poet, who died in the Great War.

TALE OF A GHOST

By R.E. Vernede

He was a thin, weak-legged old man, with a chronic cold and a grievance. I had met him in a country lane, shuffling along with a piece of rope in one hand and a stable lantern and some bits of old iron in the other. He told me his profession with a child-like vanity that was not without its charm, and, warmed by a pint of bitter I stood him at a wayside inn, he enlarged upon his grievance.

“It ain’t wurf it,” he said, “not by a long chalk it ain’t. I’ll give it up, that’s what I’ll do. It’s them blue lights and signtific contrapshions as does me. Nobody never asked for blue lights when I fust started. They ‘and’t thought of ‘em neither.”

“How long ago was that?” I asked.

“Thirty-seven years come Michelmas,” said the old man, proudly. “I was the fust profeshnal ghost, as you might say, in the country, and there ain’t many now as ha’ done what I done. How I know it was 37 years come Michelmas, I was a-working on the pump at Buntford, an’ they putt the figgers on it. I ain’t a scholar mesalf, but I’ve heard me niece read ‘em—“

“What used you to be, then?”
“Bricklayer. That’s how I come to be a ghost—along of Mr. Frank Burrers, which I dessay you’ve known the name of. “’E come up to me one night—we was repairin’ an old ‘ouse, ‘Grimbles’ they call it, which Mr. Richard Price, as owned the ‘ouse, and ‘is father before ‘im was wishin’ to sell. Seems Mr. Frank Burrers liked the ‘ouse, an’ they do say as he’d bid for it; but Mr. Price, he wanted more money than what ‘ad been bid. That was how it was when Mr. Frank Burrers he comes up to me, and sez he, ‘John,’ he sez, ‘that’s a old ‘ouse you’re workin’ on.’ ‘That’s what it looks to be,’ sez I. ‘They do tell me,’ sez he, ‘as it’s ‘aunted. Did ever you ‘ear any queer noises while you was about—clankin’ o’ chains at night an’ strange footsteps?’ I never hadn’t, an’ I told Mr. Burrers so, saying that what was more, I didn’t believe there was such things as ghosts. ‘Well, well,’ sez he, soothing like, ‘some folks do and some folks don’t. As it ‘appens, it ‘ud pay me if that there Grimbles was ‘aunted.’ ‘You don’t say it?’ sez I. ‘Yes, I do,’ sez he. ‘It ‘ud pay me and it ‘ud pay you.’ ‘What do you mean?’ sez I, wiv me ears up. For we just finishing wiv the ‘ouse, an’ I ‘and’t no job fixed arter that, and the winter comin’. ‘I mean that if you was to ‘aunt that ‘ouse it ‘ud be money in your pocket, John,’ sez he. ‘I dessay it’ ud come nigh to 16 shillin’s a week. You’d have to ‘aunt it fair an’ square, mind—no shirkin’—hours 9-7 reg’lar; and if there was anyone comin’ to look over the house wiv a view to purchase, you’d have to put in a bit of extra ‘auntin’. It wouldn’t be wot you’d call ‘ard work, but it ‘ud have to be steady, so that folks get to know there’s a shoes up to Grimbles as walks reg’lar.’

“Well, the end of it was that I took the job. I didn’t like it at fust, thin’ as how it was a come down from being a bricklayer to be a ghost. Once or twiced I felt lonely-like an’ thought o’ giving it up, but arter a while it began to grown on me, an’ in four weeks Mr. Frank Burrers he bought the ‘ouse for £200 less than what he’d offered for it fust. He giv’ me my 16 shillin’s a week an’ two pound extry, an’ sez he, ‘I’m goin’ in for a bit o’ properthy-buyin’ in different parts o’ the country, an’ if you like to sign on wiv me reg’lar, why, you can come down wiv’ me an’ ‘aunt such ‘ouses, as they’ve got too big a price up on. ‘Auntin’ seems to suit you,’ sez he, lookin’ at me. ‘You won’t never be stout; but you ain’t so thin as I’ve seen you.’”

“An’ did you sign on with Mr. Burrers?” I asked.

“I did,” said the old man. “Seven year I worked for him—Essex—Yorkshire—Souf Wales—Worrickshire—I bin in all them places durin’ that time ‘auntin.’ Sometimes I was a lame ghost; sometimes I ‘ad one arm, or I jingled me spurs or me chains. Once I kerried me head under me arm, an’ Mr. Burrers he paid me 18 shillin’s that week. I used to be able to groan nine different ways an’ all of ‘em ‘orrible. Sometimes it was the gall’ry I ‘aunted, and then again it was a garret or a shrubbery. It all depended on the fambly history. Mr. Burrers used to read it up an’ tell me what to do.”
“Did you ever frighten anyone?” I asked.

The old man looked at me with ineffable scorn.

“’Underds,” he said. “Care-takers, pleecmen, poachers, intendin’ tenants, girls wot had arranged to meet their young men thereabouts, curits, ‘ouse agents’ clerks—I’ve frightened ‘em all, an’ not bin nabbed once. I eud frighten ‘em still, if times was wot they used to be.”

“They’ve changed, have they?”
“Mr. Burrers died, an’ arter that I never had the same prospects. There aren’t any re’glar employers o’ ghosts. Gen’ally it’s bin a company as has giv’ me a job—wantin’ either to redooce the price of a ‘ouse, same as Mr. Burrers; or to advytize a seaside place. There’s a good deal o’ advytizing done that way o’ late. Them trippers get tired o’ the pier an’ the [minstrel shows] an’ drivin’ to see a monument. Then we starts a ‘aunted ‘ouse a few miles. P’r’aps it’s by arrangements wiv a job-master an’ he drives folks out to see; p’r’aps it’s a hotel proprietor that takes up the notion.”

“But it’s not as good a profession as it was.”

“Not by a long way. They wants it signtific—blue lights and such contrapshions. ‘ad to spend two shillin’s on blue lights on’y yesterday out o’ 14 shillin’s a week. I’ll ‘ave to give it up; that’s what I’ll ‘ave to do.”

I paid the price of another half-pint, and left this interesting old man still lamenting the downfall of his profession. It really seems that even ghosts should have to move with the times. Black and White.

The Evening Star [Independence, KS] 9 November 1904: p. 6

Ghost-‘unters still wants it signtific…. to judge by all the electronic gadgetry that pervades paranormal TV. It was ever thus. See this post on “The Psychic Howler” and other early ghost-hunting equipment. Any non-fictional tales of genuine “professional ghosts?” ‘aunt me at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

A Night at La Scala: 1836

night at la scala illustration

A NIGHT AT THE “SCALA.”

By Oscar Zurich.

It was the third day of the carnival at Milan, 1836. Donizetti’s immortal masterpiece, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” had been performed for the first time at the San Carlo in Naples, a few months previous, and was then making its triumphal tour throughout Italy.The genius of Bergamo’s sweet bard had attained its culminating point. “Fra poco,” its great aria and the stupendous magnificence of the septette had electrified the entire musical world; even the star of Rossini had been eclipsed by the incredible success of the younger composer.

Milan was in an uproar; the streets, squares, and arcades were illuminated a giorno; the cathedral in marble majesty glittered beneath the glare of innumerable lanterns, while the joyous quip and laughter of sixty thousand pleasure-seekers made the old, narrow streets ring and echo again, and the “Scala,” Italy’s greatest opera house, ablaze with glory, had placed before the entrance, in letters of flame, the magic word “Lucia.”

No wonder the crowd hastened thither; for eighty lire you could not have obtained a seat. It was the third representation—the third only–and fame, beauty, or gold could not have forced an entrance. It was now six o’clock; the pit and gallery boxes and stalls of the immense theater were crowded to suffocation. Four thousand eager people–four thousand anxious, soulful Italians–were waiting with subdued frenzy for the curtain to rise.

The nobility of Lombardy graced the boxes, the political celebrities of the city crowded the passages, all the elite of the art-loving town had flocked thither.

The heat was stifling; at half-past six the overture began. The immense throng was silenced at the first wave of the conductor’s baton. Was it not to hear the last and the most admirable of Donizetti’s operas? Had not the Neapolitan papers been devoured with avid eyes? Was It not to hear the songs over which Italy was raving? And last, but not least, was it not to applaud the beauteous prima donna, Alfieri, who had achieved such a colossal success the two previous nights?–their favorite–their idol–the divine Alfieri! who had sung for seven consecutive seasons in Milan, alike renowned for her consummate art, her beauty, and her unrivaled voice! Ah! how the audience was moved!–how it trembled with expectant ecstasy! the curtain rose.

The hunters’ chorus was listened to with religious attention; the baritone’s song and cabaletta which follow caused but a slight impression in spite of their veritable excellence, and the shifting of the scene to the park where Lucia makes her first appearance was welcomed with a hushed murmur of delight.

A frail, white-robed female form advanced toward the footlights, her eyes were cast down, and she moved slowly near the prompter’s box. There she stood still, raised her eyes and gazed full upon the audience.

A howl of anger and disappointment arose from the crowded house:

Non è Alfieri!” (She is not Alfieri!) was echoed on all sides; groans, hissing, and stamping of feet drowned the orchestra. Some vociferously cried out, “Basta! basta! We want Alfieri!”

The frail woman confronting the enraged audience appeared not in the  least disconcerted, and walked leisurely around the stage during the uproar. A man peeped out from the side-scenes. It was the director.

“Who is that woman?” he asked. “It is not Alfieri!”

“No one saw her enter,” was the reply.

Again the conductor raised his baton; the unknown prima donna seemed to rouse herself from her pensiveness and lethargy, and moved solemnly toward the centre of the stage.

The clamor had ceased. She raised her eyes to the level of the first tier, and stood in the full force of the light. She was wondrously beautiful, but white–white as a shroud of snow; deathly, spectrally white!–not a tinge of rose enhanced the marble graces of her face, which was purely, faultlessly Greek.

Her eyes, black and radiant, flashed luridly. When she dropped them their tint became sad, gray, and crepuscular. Her lips shone red as vermilion, and seemed like a gash—like a hideous gash–when contrasted with the whiteness and rigidity of her face.

Her hair, long and purplish, in undulate tresses rioted over her shoulders, pure and colorless as marble.

She had no ornaments. A tuberose thrust in a rebellious curl adorned her brow; around her throat was a piece of broad, black velvet Her dress was white–all white.

She gazed weirdly upon the audience and began, in a strange, vague, unearthly tone of voice, the ravishing aria of “Lucia” upon hear entrance.

I was present, and I can recall perfectly the cold sensation and chilliness I felt at the first few notes.

It seemed to me as if some humid cavern had been suddenly opened, and that I had breathed the first icy wafts of air emanating therefrom.

Not a sound save her voice was heard. Her hands hung listlessly by her side. I do not remember how she finished. I heard her first strange tones change to a soft, sweet voice of fascinating, bell-like brilliancy, and I awoke from a trance by hearing the audience shriek and stamp with delight.

The applause was feverish and frantic, then suddenly ceased as if by enchantment; the strange woman had turned aside and began the ordinary stage business and duet with Edgardo, as Alfieri would have done. The act ended in indescribable amazement.

“Who is she? Who is she? What a voice!” and such exclamations were heard on all sides.

The director appeared at this moment, evidently anxious to find out for himself who the beautiful pale songstress was, but could answer no inquiries.

In the meantime I hurried behind the scenes to Alfieri’s dressing-room, where I had often gone to chat with her, expecting to see that marvelous creature.

The apartment was illuminated; Lucia’s bridal costume for the second act was ready on the sofa; a bottle of Asti wine, which Alfieri always partook of between the acts, stood on the table; but naught proved that the room had been occupied previously by another–nothing showed the presence of the new-comer.

I waited a few minutes, took a few whiffs from my cigarette, and was about to return, when I spied upon the door an earring of such uncommon size that I stooped to pick it up, and gazed upon it in wonder, held spellbound by its beauty.

It was a solitaire diamond, richly set, of a slightly greenish tint. I knew the value of green diamonds, and estimated this one to be worth at least seven or eight thousand dollars, being really finer than any I had seen in the famous vaults of Dresden.

I hastened down to the director’s office to remit it, thinking it belonged to the new-comer or to Alfieri. The director was absent; soon I heard the bell ring. The diamond in my hand, I hastened to my seat.

The unknown woman again entered; she was, if possible, a tinge paler than before. She wore gloves this time, and her lips were not so cruelly red. She sang, and, ye gods, what song! Her voice soared, spread, fused with other invisible voices; It rang sonorously, and murmured divinely in magnificent power and harmony—a voice all fire, a voice all soul.

I trembled–the audience quivered.

Still that strange being stood in the same position, still did her great luminous black eyes gaze continually upward; she seemed not to heed her fellow-artists; the bewilderment of Edgardo, the anxious, inquiring glance of Ashton did not move her; she would glide by them like a sylph, a vision–light, ethereal, graceful. No one heard her walk–she sang!

Again the curtain fell, again the house cried out with delirium. “Brava! brava!” yelled the rabble.

But no one appeared.

Again I went to Alfieri’s box while the ballet (which in those days was performed between the acts) was going on, but it was empty; so I returned to listen to the animated discussions and conversations in the lobby.

“Alfieri is eclipsed; she is Pasta and Persiani combined! she is not human, she is an angel from Heaven’s gates!”

“’Tis the Beatrice of Dante descended from Heaven!”

A friend came from behind the scenes.

“Well, what news, Ricciardo? Have you seen her?”

“No, but Grazzini has” (Grazzini was the tenor, a handsome fellow), “and he tells me he spoke to her–forced to do so by some subtle, magnetic attraction. He told her of his wonder, his admiration, his love, I believe, and she answered him, in Milanese dialect, ‘We shall meet again.'”

The bell rang, and the curtain went up slowly. The lights seemed to burn badly, and the heat was stifling, but upon the entrance of the mysterious stranger a sudden chill pervaded every one.

We did not breathe to listen, and as I gazed upon her, charmed by her supernatural beauty, I noticed that from one of her ears hung a bright, large stone, similar to the one I held in my hand. Scarcely had I seen it when she caught my eye. She smiled–the only time. I averted my glance. The music went on.

The scene where the unhappy Lucia, after having been dragged to the altar by her heartless brother, realizes the full atrocity of his conduct, seemed to influence the sombre sprite-like prima donna, for she roused herself at last and acted–acted with the frenzy of passion, acted with the sublimity of pathos and despair. She was intense, superb in the mad scene. Her voice had sobs of anguish.

Up swelled the vertiginous staccato high above the moans of the orchestra. She raved, she wept, and the large tears rolled down her white cheek; her hair floated wildly over her quivering shoulders, and still rang forth her magical, heartrending notes.

I trembled; the house groaned.

The mad scene neared its end, and the musicians, as if ordered, ceased to play. They looked at her, she sang unaccompanied. It was terrible, unique, sublime.

The culminating point arrived, and the pains and pangs of Donizetti’s masterpiece vibrated on her lips as they had never done on lips before. She gazed wildly, stupidly about, when she stopped, and I saw drops of blood ooze from her mouth; she fell heavily upon the stage, and the curtain went down. The house was in tears.

Half an hour later all Milan knew of the miraculous performance at the Scala. The last act of the opera was listened to without curiosity, Lucia not appearing in it. Nothing occurred except the indisposition of the tenor, Grazzini, who was taken suddenly ill, and I afterward learned, died that night.

Milan, outdoors, all fun and animation, could not comprehend the story told in the cafes and on the squares. The reports were called exaggerated, and the singer’s phenomenal voice a myth. No one could find her, and it was in vain that I waited for more than an hour in Alfieri’s box.

The director told me confidentially that he was as nonplussed as the audience, and had never beheld the marvelous singer before. Then, as he left me, he superstitiously added: “She was a spirit, I believe.”

Full of conflicting thoughts, I walked sadly homeward, and heard again through the quiet streets, far away from the riot and revel of the carnival, the heavenly echo of that unutterably divine voice.

I walked on, and passed across the Saint Italda Cemetery to near my home. It was late. The noise of Milan’s festivities reached my ear from time to time faintly, but I heeded it not, wrapped as I was in my reverie and musing.

Within a few steps of my house, separated by a high wall from the end of the graveyard, there, beneath a few cypress trees, in the full glare of the moon, 1 beheld a rather unusual sight.

The cemetery, through which I passed regularly every night, and which I knew in every nook and corner, seemed in that particular spot to present  a different aspect than it ordinarily did.

I advanced, and remarked with astonishment that a tomb had been desecrated, and that a coffin had been exhumed!

Sure enough, the sod on either side was all strewn and scattered here and there, footprints were plainly visible, and to my horror I saw that the coffin was open. In it, wrapped in a faded yellow shroud, was a human form.

I was about to call for the guard, when my eye was suddenly attracted by a faint greenish light twinkling near the top of the coffin.

I stooped over, and to my amazement saw a diamond earring in the lobe of the corpse’s ear–the mate of the one I had found.

The moonlight, checkered by the tree-boughs, did not allow me to view the face, and trembling I drew aside and lit a match. Approaching, I gazed on the body. It was the spectral songstress!

Utterly bewildered, with haggard eyes and quivering knees, I grasped the coffin lid and replaced it over the livid face. On it was written in large letters:

Virginia Cosseli,

Queen of Soprani,

Died September, 1781,

Requiescat in pace.

I remember a wild thrill of horror came over me and I fell senseless.

For weeks I raved in delirium. When I had sufficiently recovered I left Milan. People were still talking of the mysterious prima dona and the famous representation of Lucia. They have not understood, but I believe in spirits.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Vol. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing to add, except to note that it was perhaps a good thing that the lady was not recalled for an encore.

 

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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