Category Archives: Grim and Grewsome

The Banshee of the Fitzgeralds: 1760s

An Irish Ghost Story

By Kate Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auckland Star, 27 May 1876: p. 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“The Tightest-Lacing Customers in London:” 1893

 

cdeath-tightlacing-actress-death-by

IMPORTANT OMISSION

An exchange says a Chicago girl has just died of tight lacing—it does not say whether of corset or shoes. Wilmington Messenger.

Evening Post [Charleston, SC] 9 November 1904: p. 4

Recently a crusade has been started in England against tight lacing, led by the Gentlewoman, one of the most valuable of English journals for women. A representative was sent to interview the most prominent stay-makers. One of these is thus reported:

“I am reputed,” she said, “to have the tightest-lacing customers in London; and I think that some of the waists my stays encircle would be hard to beat. I think that some of my customers positively like the sensations produced by tight lacing, or they would never take all the pains they do to get thin, such as dieting and sleeping in corsets, as some of them do.”

“Sleeping in corsets!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, yes; a good many, especially young ladies, do; an opera stay or riding one is a favorite make for the purpose. Let me think. Yes. The largest pair of corsets I have made had a waist measurement of thirty-five inches. The smallest — well, you won’t believe me, perhaps, but twelve and one-half inches was the size. No, I don’t think she’ll be able to get them closed. Every inch under fifteen, with most ladies, means a tremendous lot of lacing in. I’ve known a young lady break five or six silk laces, as strong ones as are made, in getting a pair of new stays close.”

“How small is your pretty assistant’s waist?” I asked.

“Generally about fourteen to fourteen and one-half inches. I find it best for all my assistants to have trim figures; but she has tight-laced to that extent entirely of her own free will. Many of my customers lace to seventeen, sixteen, and even fifteen inches. I suppose you haven’t seen a smaller waist than Miss Blank’s?”

“No.”

“Would you like to?”

“Yes,” I replied, “if such a thing is practicable.”

Mrs. Smith rang. In a few minutes the young lady appeared, and Mrs. Smith and she went into the alcove. Another assistant was summoned, and then a whispered consultation took place. After a minute or two, we heard Mrs. Smith ask: “Can you bear it?” and the answer, “Quite, madam.” Mrs. Smith’s voice again: “There, Miss Jones, I think the laces are close; tie them tightly.” Two or three minutes later Mrs. Smith and Miss Jones came out from the alcove, the latter incased in a long-waisted, black satin corset, which made her waist look scarcely larger than her throat. It seemed incredible that any girl — for she was little more — could breathe and move, let alone move about, without much apparent discomfort, when tight-laced to such an extent.

“Now I suppose,” said Mrs. Smith, smiling at my look of astonishment,” that you will now believe what I told you before — namely, that a well-cut corset and strong arms will make a woman’s waist almost any size she may wish. See!” she exclaimed, taking up a measuring tape off a chair, “Miss Jones’s waist is just thirteen — thirteen and one-quarter inches.”

“How long could you bear being laced up like that?” I asked.

Miss Jones smiled. “Not very long — it is rather painful — half an hour; perhaps an hour.”

Mrs. Smith said, just as we were leaving: “You know, I think tight lacing becomes a positive mania with some women. There are two of my customers, for instance — theatrical people — who usually wear their waists about nineteen inches. Well, when at home they both lace themselves as tightly as their maids can do it.” Another states that at some schools the girls are not only encouraged, but forced to lace. Five different women said that they made corsets for girls of sixteen and under with waist measurements of fifteen inches, and all agreed that girls are put into corsets much earlier than formerly.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 30 January 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the reporter, who perhaps fell short of a “positive mania,” was still titillated by the subject. Debate over tight-lacing began in the Elizabethan period and goes on even unto the present day. Mrs Daffodil has seen articles about how sleeping in corsets is supposed to promote a slender figure. “Waist-training,” is the term used—as if one’s waist was a sporting dog to be taught to “heel” and “fetch.” The anti-tight-lacers, who were often seen as cranks and, worse, dress reformers, warned of tragic outcomes such as this one:

An actress in a London theatre has just died of tight lacing. The victim of this reprehensible custom had just finished a song and danced off the wings, when she collapsed, calling on her husband in agonized tones to unlace her gown. Before a doctor could reach her dressing room she was dead. Every vital function had been paralyzed by the lacing, and a weakness of the heart was aggravated by the exertion of her performance. It can, however, be said of the generality of woman on the stage that “tight lacing” is obsolete with them. Waists of whatever fashion fit the figure better than they did in years gone by, and there is a generous roominess of bust measure which admits of healthful expansion of the lungs every time the breath is drawn. No lesson will be learned by the fate of this London actress. She represents a bad style of corset, and some natural disarrangement which might have proved fatal had she run for the train or skipped upstairs in a hurry.

Boston [MA] Herald 17 January 1895: p. 6

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.

 

Coals of Fire: 1860s

woman-at-fireplace

COALS OF FIRE.

BY LUCY H. HOOPER.

The Countess de Castro was dying. People— that is to say, her relatives and immediate heirs— were so hard-hearted as to say it was time; for the Countess had passed her seventy-fifth birthday by some months, and had been a hopeless paralytic for over ten years past.

She was dying in the odor of sanctity. Her enemies, and even the Countess de Castro had a few, said that people who can stir neither hand nor foot, can very well earn a reputation, even for exemplary piety. Others said, more charitably, that there was no cause for anybody to grieve over her approaching demise, for that it was rare that any one was so well prepared to take her departure. They talked of the money she had given in charity, of her holy conversation, of her resignation, of her Christian example.

The Countess inhabited an antique hotel in Paris. It was her own by right of inheritance, for she had been, in her youth, a great heiress— Madamoiselle de St. Yvon, of Keriodec, in Brittany. She had been celebrated for her intellect and strength of character, and in her youth she had refused to marry, with a persistency rare in a French damsel of rank. It was reported that Louis XVIII. had sued to her in person, on behalf of one of the greatest of the Legitimist nobles of France, but in vain. She was over fifty years of age, when Parisian society was startled by the announcement of her marriage with the young Count de Castro, who numbered scarce half her own age, and who was notorious for his extravagance and his profligacy. But he was handsome as a picture, and possessed a winning tongue and a graceful address. And so the ill-matched pair were wedded, and took up their residence in the grand old hotel, in the Faubourg St. Germain. There the Countess gave stately balls, whereat all the gentlemen wore white lilies in their button-holes, and the ladies looped their tresses and their draperies with the same flower, and where a giddy young marquise was pitilessly snubbed by the hostess, because she came to the festival in question, wearing a dress trimmed with bouquets of the obnoxious Bonaparte violets. There were state dinner-parties given, also, whereat the guests were all old and dried up, and the ladies wore garments of antique fashion, scorning the mode that followed the lead of a parvenu Empress. But these formal festivities soon ceased, and it was whispered abroad that the Count de Castro was rapidly winning high favor at the Court of Napoleon III.

Of course, such a rumor meant that he had quarreled with his elderly wife; and that portion, at least, of the report, was true. They led but a cat-and-dog’s life of it, in that grand old hotel beyond the Seine. The Count was fast and frivolous, the Countess jealous and severe. He wanted money beyond the income secured to him by the terms of the marriage contract, and she refused to comply with his demands. Stories got abroad of fearful scenes between the pair. Their daily lives had long been as widely parted as possible, Madame going continually to church, while Monsieur frequented balls, and operas, and theatres. This kind of thing went on for some years. At last matters reached a crisis. The Count lost heavily at cards, at the Jockey Club, one evening, and confided to a friend that other claims were weighing upon him. There was a house at Burgival for which he owed, and the furniture, also, had never been paid for. And so the fashionable world was not much surprised when the Count de Castro disappeared, one fine morning, leaving all his debts, whether of honor or dishonor, unpaid behind him.

Madame de Castro behaved remarkably well at this conjuncture, as everybody remarked. She paid the Count’s debts, to the uttermost farthing, and was seen in her usual places of resort a trifle paler, sterner, and stiffer-looking than before, but otherwise wearing an unchanged and placid aspect. One only circumstance revealed how deeply she mourned for her vanished spouse. She caused the suite of apartments wherein she had dwelt with the Count to be closed up, and transferred her abode to the other wing of the hotel. But the servants averred, that after nightfall their mistress would occasionally enter the locked-up rooms, and remain there for a space, as if to mourn for her husband’s absence in solitude and secrecy. Few who knew the grave, stern Countess, would have fancied her capable of any such romantic action; but the story got noised abroad, nevertheless, and spread a sentimental halo about the deserted wife, prosaic and severe as her age and aspect might be.

The Count never returned. Occasionally, vague rumors were current of his appearance in far-distant lands. One story declared that he had gone to America with a certain celebrated dancer, and that he had been seen driving out with her, on the Shell Road, New Orleans. Another report averred that he was holding a high official position under the Governor of Java. Some said he had gone to Algiers; others, that he was in the employ of the French Legation at Hong-Kong. Some of these stories were traced to their source, and were found to be utterly groundless; others remained unquestioned and uncontradicted, till time proved their falsity. At all events, the Count never returned to Paris.

As the years went on, the Countess dwelt more and more in solitude. She did not put on mourning, neither did she assume any of the privileges of a widow. But she never spoke of her husband, nor would she permit his name to be mentioned in her presence. It was ten years after his mysterious disappearance, that she was first stricken with paralysis. She then insisted upon again changing her quarters, and took up her abode anew in the rooms wherein the troubled years of her married life had been spent. At first she used to be drawn in a wheeled chair around the garden, or through the long corridors of the hotel; but years had passed since she had relinquished even that form of locomotion, and had refused to quit the room wherein she now lay.

It was a vast and cheerless apartment; the wood-work, black with age, even to the waxed and polished floor, whose boards, warped and loosened by time, creaked noisily beneath the unwary tread. Some antique tapestry, saved from the sack of the Chateau de Keriodec by the Republican troops, during the first Revolution, clothed the walls, its tints of dull and faded green and sickly yellow adding an unnecessary touch of gloom to the aspect of the room. The ceiling overhead, with massive cross-beams, was of the same dark wood as the wainscoting and the floor. The chairs were mostly huge, carved arm-chairs, with cushions of faded needle-work, the only exception being a patent invalid-chair, lately used by the Countess, which stretched itself out in one dusky corner like some shapeless and huge antediluvian lizard. The fireplace, vast and cavernous, with a chimney-piece that towered to the ceiling, was filled with blazing logs; for the month was November, and the weather was chill, even for the season. At the extreme end of the room stood the bed, a large, old-fashioned structure, with curtains that matched the hangings on the walls. These were drawn aside, and the figure of the Countess could plainly be seen there, stretched out, stark and straight, as though life had already departed, and looking, with her white draperies and bandaged brows, like some monumental effigy on an ancient tomb. She still lived, however, if the faint pulsation at heart and wrist, and the feeble flutter of breath upon her lips, could really be called life. And but for one point about her pallid, wrinkled face, one might readily have supposed that she had passed already beyond the reach of mortal aid. That point was her eyes. Wide open, keen, and glittering, they were turned with a fixed and steady gaze, not forward or upward, but toward the vast dim-lighted room, seeming to seek a particular point in the flooring, and to watch that with unwavering fixity.

Around the wide fire-place were clustered a number of individuals, who talked together in subdued whispers, and only stirred with due precaution and noiseless movements. These were the blood-relations and heirs of the aged Countess, summoned, by her direction, some days before, and now gathered together in the chamber of death, awaiting the event which the doctor, himself also present, declared to them might take place at any moment.

Prominent among these persons was the Count de St. Yvon, an elderly gentleman, with gray hair and most polished manners. Then there was the Demoiselle de Savarre, a hard-featured old maid, with the bluest blood in all Brittany flowing in her withered veins; a devout Legitimist, who passed her time between saying her prayers and embroidering fleurs de-lit upon banners and mantles, to be used at the future consecration of Henri Cinq, when the glad day of the restoration of the ancient monarchy should dawn for France. Then there was the Chevalier de Keriodec, a little older and more wrinkled than his cousin, the Count; and his daughter, a peachy-cheeked demoiselle, Anne Marie Antoinette de Keriodec by name, to whom the eldest son of Count de St. Yvon was whispering soft nonsense in the embrasure of one of the windows. These were all, the Countess having announced her intention of excluding from the succession such of her relatives as should be tinged either with Bonapartism or Republicanism; and as one or the other of these poisonous principles had crept even into Brittany, that sacred stronghold of Legitimism, she had been forced to restrict her bequests to a very few individuals. There was also present, as we have said before, her physician, Doctor Dumaresq, and her confidential maid. This last, a long, thin, stern-looking female, with a face like a German nut-cracker, was fast asleep in the large arm-chair, worn out with protracted vigils and constant toil in her lady’s service.

The silence in the room was very great, broken only by the subdued whispers of the waiting heirs, and by an occasional snore from Agathe, the maid. Outside, the wind went tearing down the Rue de Varennes, banging aristocratic shutters, and whistling around ducal chimney-pots, with no more reverence than it had shown to the shop-signs in the Marais, or the vanes on the Halles Centrales. Occasionally Doctor Dumaresq would rise and go to the bed to lay a finger on the pulse of the patient, and would then, with a sigh and a shake of the head, return to his seat. And so the night went on. The wind howled, and Agathe slept, and the heirs whispered together, and the Countess lay and watched the floor. Thus the hours wore away without change or incident.

Suddenly the blast, that had been sweeping and shrieking along the street, took a sudden turn, and came careering down the great, wide chimney, sending a volley of sparks and smoke into the room. It could do but little more than that. The heavy logs, of which the fire was built, scoffed at the puny efforts of a puff of wind. One glowing coal, however, was dislodged, and flew into the room, alighting on the very plank on which the eyes of the Countess were so pertinaciously fixed. Nobody noticed the coal. The Count was lost in thought; the Chevalier and Mademoiselle de Savarre were conferring together respecting the possible amount of the estate, in an undertone; the two young people were absorbed in each other; and the doctor was half asleep. And so it glowed, and scorched, and sparkled, gnawing its way into the dry oak of the ancient flooring, surrounded by an ever-widening ring of red and charring fire.

Suddenly the dying Countess, she who had been paralyzed for years, arose from her bed, walked straight to the fire-place, picked up the tongs, took up the coal, and threw it back into the fire, and then returned to her bed. Stiff and stark, and stretched out straight as before, she lay, only the wide-open eyes were closed, and her face was, if possible, a shade paler than before.

This strange incident, this sudden revival of vitality in that seemingly lifeless frame, and the apparition in the midst of that listless group, of the white-shrouded, spectral form of the Countess, startled every one present. The heirs ceased musing or whispering, and gathered together, amazed and startled. The doctor, aroused from his doze, sprang to his feet. Only Agathe slept on in peaceful unconsciousness.

Doctor Dumaresq approached the bed, and once more laid his finger on the patient’s wrist. Then he touched her breast gently, and bent his ear to her parted lips. After a brief pause, he turned to the bystanders.

“Pray for the soul of your noble relative,” he said, solemnly. “The Countess is no more!”

The funeral took place two days later. It was a grand affair, with much display of nodding plumes and silver-spotted draperies, of mourning carriages, and of mighty candles, and of all the other accessories of funereal pomp, as imagined by the great Burial Company of Paris. It was a first-class affair in every respect. The cords of the hearse were held by two dukes, a marquis, and three counts, all of the bluest blood in the Faubourg St Germain. The funeral sermon was preached by a bishop, who was himself of princely extraction. Nobody shed any tears, it is true. The only sincere mourner that followed the widowed and childless Countess to her grave, was probably her faithful old servant, Agathe. And she, serene in the knowledge of a snug little annuity, secured to her by the will of her late mistress, was far from feeling wholly broken-hearted.

On the evening of the following day, a mysterious meeting was held in the bed-room of the departed lady. The heavy tapestry curtains were closely drawn across the windows, so that no intrusive outside gaze could penetrate the chamber wherein sat the three principal heirs of the deceased, the Count, the Chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Savarre, in solemn conclave. Three flickering candles threw a pallid light upon the group, and vainly strove to dissipate the darkness that filled the farthest corners of the spacious room.

The Count was the first to break silence.

“We have decided, I believe,” he said, “that it is our duty to examine that point in the flooring which our departed relative watched so constantly.”

“And whose peril roused her to such strange and sudden exertions,” added the Chevalier.

“Who knows what may not lie concealed beneath the scorched plank?” said Mademoiselle de Savarre.

“Family papers, political secrets,” suggested the Chevalier.

“Coin or jewels,” remarked the Count. “Aged people are often like magpies, in their propensity for hiding things.”

“Let us look at once!” cried the old maid, fired to activity by the suggestion.

Each had brought a chisel, or some other tool, and they set to work with a will. The solid oaken plank was soon removed, revealing a cavity between the floor and the beams of the ceiling beneath, large enough to have contained the crown-jewels of an empire, or the archives of a republic. Within there appeared something, neither papers, nor jewels, nor gold, but a long, irregularly-shaped bundle, that rattled strangely when dragged forth to the light. A cry of horror broke from the lips of the three searchers, as the dim rays of their candles fell upon the thing that they had found—a human skeleton, clothed in remnants of what had once been superfine broadcloth and delicate linen; a jeweled pin, gleaming on the discolored shirt-front; a massive seal-ring, hanging loose upon the long hand, and great stains and streaks of rusty-brown upon the linen, which was revealed by the rents in the decaying cloth, splotches; that had once been of a ghastly red.

As if turned to stone, the three seekers after wealth stood speechless, in the presence of Death and Crime.

The Chevalier was the first to recover his presence of mind.

“It is the Count de Castro!” he said, in a horror-stricken whisper. “See, these are his arms!” And he picked up the seal-ring, which had dropped from the fleshless finger and rolled upon the floor.

“And who could have killed him? It must have been the Countess!” cried Mademoiselle de Savarre, trembling from head to foot.

“Hush—sh—sh!” whispered the Count, looking fearfully around. “No doubt it was she.”

“We had better hush this matter up,” remarked the Chevalier, with chattering teeth. And it was hushed up, accordingly. A roaring fire in the mighty chimney soon consumed every vestige of the poor, dried remains of what had once been the gay and gallant Count de Castro.

And when, a few years later, a grand new street was run right over the site of the demolished hotel, the few who remembered anything at all about the deceased Countess, spoke of her with bated breath, and called her “a saint upon earth.”

The Peterson Magazine, 1876: pp. 395-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A dark and gothic tale, is it not? While Mrs Daffodil enjoys the odd spot of fiction but rarely, she reads such narratives as the above with a professionally critical eye. Poisoned wine was the obvious solution to the Countess’s wayward husband, yet a more bloody method was selected, perhaps in the heat of the moment. One understands the reluctance to involve others in a private domestic murder, but to leave the corpse under the floor-boards for future discovery argues a carelessness quite out of keeping with that lady’s prudent character.

Surely she and Agathe, whose annuity must have been the result of her discretion, could have managed to do what the Count, the Chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Savarre did: cremate the mummified Count de Castro in the immense fireplace. But perhaps paralysis overtook her before this could be done or it was a case such as we have seen at the courts of Versailles and of Spain, where certain members of the nobility feel that certain tasks are beneath them. Mrs Daffodil seems to remember a King of Spain who died because no person of lowly-enough rank could be found to move a red-hot brazier. Perhaps the Countess did not deign to soil her blue-blooded fingers with the dishonourable corpse of a—one shudders to think of it—Bonapartist.

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 Mask of Glory: 1920

Mrs Daffodil will caution the sensitive that some may find this post (and its illustration), which is about French soldiers disfigured in the Great War, disturbing.

The Mask of Glory

Paul Junka [pseudonym of “Mlle Ferponnes”]

A powerful car, marked with large white initials, U. S. A., called for me to begin my series of visits to the principal establishments of the American Red Cross in and around Paris. I was shown to-day one of the most ingenious and touching things that has arisen from the war, which if it has developed means of destruction to a degree hitherto unknown, has, on the contrary, exalted to sublimity acts of devotion and the divine art of healing sorrow.

“Now,” Miss Farrand, my guide, announced, with that lovely smile which told at the same time her intimate pride in the great things she showed me and the modesty which she brought to her role. “Now I will show you the masks.” “The masks?” “Yes; for the mutilated.”

We crossed Paris and reached that part of the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, which, with its little houses behind gates hung with ivy and glycin, recalled a corner of our calm Provinces, where, in similar dwellings and silent gardens, grow the virile virtues which our race has proved to the world—to the world that knew only its superficial and glittering side. The motorcar stopped before one of these homes, well designed to shelter the dream of a thinker and artist.

“Here is the studio of Mrs. Maynard Ladd, under whose direction the masks for the wounded are made.” said Miss Farrand.

We followed an alley between two walls covered with vines and entered a room where one noticed only plaster casts and molds, the habitual equipment of a sculptor’s studio. From thence we climbed three flights up to Mrs. Ladd’s private studio, and at first saw but a vast bay-window showing a sunlit perspective of sky and foliage. Several people were working here, and I was presented to Mr. Wlerick, the sculptor, Mrs. Ladd’s collaborator. As Mrs. Ladd was at Vichy, he courteously placed himself at my disposition to furnish me all details of interest.

A soldier rose to go, but Mr. Wlerick cordially called him back. “Wait a moment, will you, old fellow? Madame came to see the masks. Will you kindly show her yours?”

With military discipline the soldier made a haft turn and stood before me, his face raised for my inspection. He was a sharpshooter, with slightly olive complexion, and on the ardent face, under his rakishly worn cap, I could find nothing whatever abnormal. I was surprised, and said: “And the mask?” Mr. Wlerick smiled, saying, “He has it on. Look closer, Madame.” I approached and could, indeed, distinguish a faint line upon the soldier’s check; a shadow, rather, that went from mouth to ear. It was so slight a thing that I said, “Oh, yes,” out of politeness, not being able to realize that beneath the perfect appearance of the face was a terrible mutilation. Then, pressing the soldier’s hand, I added, “My friend, it is wonderful; no one could believe that you wear a mask!”

My sincerity was obvious, my astonishment so complete that I was not conscious of it. The poilu was overjoyed, saluted and went out; shortly afterward I understood why my simple words gave him such keen pleasure.

On one side of the large bay-window that lighted the studio numbers of plaster molds were lying. I started forward to see them and stopped, horror-struck. It was almost impossible to discover human lineaments in these casts that, nevertheless, represented poor martyred faces which had been serene, often beautiful, almost always smiling from being loved, from being young, and having all the future before them, and which were now but terrible formless ruins, something indescribable, “which has no more a name in any tongue.” There were noses torn off, twisted lips, disfigured chins and crushed foreheads—the whole gamut of deformity.

While I gazed, wide-eyed, Mr. Wlerick explained to me that these were the first molds, made upon the mutilé exactly as his wound had left him. Finally a second mold is modeled after a photograph of the blesse taken before his wound, which is a reconstruction of his normal face. To restore a complete resemblance to this visage and give back its proper psychological expression a medical study is often necessary, examination of the throat, etc. This work requires a rather long and delicate series of processes, no less than ten in number:

  1. A plaster negative on the mutilé.
  2. A plaster positive on the mutilé.
  3. Modeling after a photograph prior to the wound.
  4. and 5. Plaster molds on the portrait model.
  5. Galvanoplastie (deposit of sulphate of copper by electricity).
  6. Work of adjustment upon the blesse.
  7. Unalterable painting upon the mutilé.
  8. Placing of artificial eyes, lashes and brows.
  9. System of spectacles to hold the mask in place. “When this difficult work is ended and the arrangement is as it should be, it is difficult to realize that the one who wears this mask is generally completely disfigured,” continued M. Wlerick. “You have seen it in the case of the sharpshooter whom I presented to you just now. Here is his cast. . .”

The sculptor indicated a plaster mold which seemed a strange animal head and which would have appeared to be a caricature had not we compared it with the corresponding cast which showed the head reconstructed. For this terrible deformation was due to the absence of the whole lower part of the face, and I had not even guessed it! I understood now why my unthinking compliment had so delighted the poor soldier!

An example of a mask for a wounded soldier, 1919

An example of a mask for a wounded soldier, 1919

Upon further inquiries I learned that the invention of the mask is due to Captain Derwent Wood, of the Second London Hospital. Mrs. Ladd adopted it as it was first made, but it has been since developed and perfected. The first masks were necessarily heavy and quite different from the models of delicacy and lightness which were shown to me. The masks, if need be, may contain a dressing and are indestructible; if the wounded is careful they will last indefinitely. They are made at the expense of the American Red Cross, and the painting upon them has been rendered completely unalterable.

I approached another soldier who was seated in the center of the room. Standing beside him an artist, a colleague of Mrs. Ladd’s. was moving a paint-brush across his cheek with a light, gracious movement that would have seemed a gesture in a game if one had not known, as I had just learned, that this motion on the wretched wounded face represented the height of art and love. At this moment the painter was giving the finishing touches to the indefinable bluish tone that the razor leaves upon a close-shaven cheek. It was unbelievably natural, and one would have to be informed that it was not a face fresh from the hands of a careful barber, but rather an extraordinary imitation of a human visage.

“Oh, it is fine; it is splendid! How they should bless you, these young men!” I cried, considering by turns the soldier beaming with pleasure and the artist, who stood there as modest as though she had accomplished the most ordinary work. “Certainly they will never forget you; you make them again the lovely boys they were before their wounds; you give them back all the joys of life, all the possibilities of happiness.” Ah! how he looked at me, the poor poilu so terribly disfigured. I am sure this boy, tried beyond human endurance, was upheld in his adversity by the tenderness of a dream, and for him this mask, which hid so admirably his fearful and glorious misery, was the Mask of Love!

I was delighted with this sudden thought that came to me; then I smiled, for what I had believed to have been an inspiration was only a memory. The Mask of Love is the title of one of the most famous books by Daniel-Lesueur.

“These masks,” I said to those about me, “are a glorious achievement, indeed, and one can never sufficiently realize how much patience and talent is spent here to lessen the heroic suffering of our soldiers. However, it seems to me that the using of this mask implies a real vanity upon your part; for one should not hide a glorious wound, but wear it proudly. …”

They smiled, flattered, because in the depths of their simple souls they had sincerely thought themselves too disfigured to appear in public. A little farmer of Châlons expressed the humiliation that indiscrete looks cause our wounded. “Oh! you know, Madame, one does not like to be conspicuous. …”

Still filled with my idea. I continued, “Listen, I have an inspiration. I owe it, moreover, to your modesty. I shall call the article which I am to write concerning you the Mask of Glory, because it is, indeed, your glory you mask!” There were many exclamations around me, and Mrs. Ladd’s collaborators approved heartily.

Later, talking with Mrs. Ladd herself concerning the zeal expended and the difficulties conquered, Mrs. Ladd smiled gently and said, “We are amply rewarded by the joy of our mutilés. They write me very lovely letters; would you like to see them?” I accepted her offer eagerly and quote here two of the most affecting:

Dear Madame: I am so greatly satisfied with my mask that I cannot wait to come to thank you again. My parents, too, are very happy to see me as I am. When I arrived they scarcely recognized me as the same wounded man. Also the neighbors wondered how it is possible for one to make such a beautiful nose in so short a time! Briefly, it is a tremendous success. If I return to Paris, as I hope, I will certainly come to see you.François Gorall, September 6, 1918.

Madame: I surprised my parents with my mask and I can find no words to paint their delight; they could hardly believe it was I! You have done so much for me that I do not know how to express my gratitude, for it is thanks to you that I will be able to have my own home. My fiancée finds me not unpleasing and has not refused me as she would have had the right to do. She will soon be my wife.Marc Maréchal.

“All who enter here leave hope behind” was inscribed upon the portal of Dante’s Inferno. I would that a poet of genius might find the fitting inscription for Mrs. Ladd’s studio, where so many beings, secretly despairing, have found and will find supreme comfort. And once more the homage of our gratitude goes out to the American Red Cross, which has discovered here an incomparable and almost divine means of soothing one of the most poignant forms of human suffering.

The New France, Vol. 3, 1920: p. 544

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this Armistice Day we remember the service of veterans everywhere, and especially the wounded, who bear scars both visible and hidden.

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

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

 

The Black Cat Elemental: 1870s

black-cat-trademark

CARNE HOUSE, NEAR

NORTHAMPTON

THE MAN IN THE FLOWERY DRESSING-GOWN AND THE BLACK CAT

Technical form of apparitions: Phantoms of the dead and possibly animal Elemental.

Cause of haunting: Murder

Source of authenticity: First-hand evidence

The word ghost is very elastic, it may be used in reference to many different types of spirits, and is, in fact, only the designation for that genus of which the departed soul of man is but a species.

Now Northamptonshire is very rich in species; species of all kinds; spirits of men, of beasts, of vegetables! and species of elementals — elemental being in itself, a genus which includes many various types, too numerous indeed, for any attempt at classification in this work.

It is no uncommon thing to meet with some locality (usually barren) or village (generally on the site of barrows or Druidical remains as, for example, Guilsborough) where the nature of the hauntings is dual; a complexity that is, fortunately, of rarer occurrence in houses.

Concerning the latter, Lee mentions one instance, i.e “The Gybe Farm,” in his book, ” More Glimpses of the Unseen World” whilst I will take this opportunity to quote another case of dual haunting, i.e., Carne House, which is situated at the utmost extremity of a village to the south-east of Northampton.

My informant, Mrs. Norton, frequently resided in the house in her childhood and youth, and it was from her lips that I heard the following story which I recollect only too well.

*****

My first impression of Carne House was one of extreme aversion; I can see it now as I saw it then — vast, sleek, and white, like some monstrous toad-stool, or slimy fungus.

Bathed in the moonlight — for we did not arrive till late — it confronted us with audacious nudity; not a plant or shrub being trained to hide its naked sides. There was something unspeakably loathsome in the boldness of its carriage — something that made me glance with fear at its wide and gaping windows and glance again as I crossed the threshold into the dark and lofty hall.

The passages of the house, both in number and sinuosity, resembled a maze ; they recalled to my youthful mind the story of Daedalus, and I half expected to see the figure of the Minotaur suddenly arise from some gloomy corner and pursue me through the labyrinth.

Nor were my fears entirely groundless, for I had hardly been in the place a month before I had a very unpleasant experience. Chancing one morning to go on an errand for my mother to a room that had in all probability once served as a laundry, but which was now restricted to lumber, I was startled at hearing something move either in or on the copper. Thinking it must be some stray animal, or, may be, a rat, I threaded my way through a sea of packing cases, and standing on tip-toe, peeped very cautiously into the copper.

To my intense surprise I found myself looking into a very deep and sepulchral well, at the bottom of which was a man. I could see him distinctly, owing to a queer kind of light that seemed to emanate from every part of his body. He was draped in a phantastic costume that might have been a kimono or one of those flowery dressing-gowns worn by our great-great-grandfathers. [a banyan] He was bending over a box which he was doing his best to conceal under a pile of debris, and it was undoubtedly this noise that had attracted me.

Too intent on his work, he was apparently unaware of my close proximity, until, satisfied that the box was well hidden, he straightened his back and looked up. His face frightened me; not that it was anything out of the normal either in feature or complexion, but it was the expression — the look of evil joy that sufTused every lineament before he saw me, changing to one of the most diabolical fury as our eyes met. I was at first too transfixed with terror to do more than stare, and it was only when, crouching down, he took a sudden and deliberate spring at the wall and began to climb it like a spider, that I regained possession of my limbs, and turning round, fled for my life.

Oh! how long that room seemed and what an interminable succession of furniture now appeared to barricade the way. Every yard was a mile, every instant I expected he would clutch me. I reached the door only just in time — happily for me it was open — I darted out, and as I did so the outlines of a hand — large and ill-shapen–shot fruitlessly past me. The next moment I was in the kitchen — the servants were there — I was saved — saved from a fate that would assuredly have sent me mad.

When I related what had happened, to my mother, she laughingly informed me I must have been dreaming, that there was NO well there, nor was there any man in the house save my father and the servants; yet I fancied I could detect beneath those smiling assurances a faint and scarcely perceptible horror — and she never let me visit that room again — alone!

But was I dreaming — was there no well, and had that man been but the fancy of  a childish and distorted brain? Sometimes I answered “Yes,” and sometimes “No.”

After this little incident, a manifest, though of necessity, subtle change took place in our household; the servants became infected with a general spirit of uneasiness, which although only shown in my presence by their looks, convinced and alarmed me far more than any fears, even the most terrible, would have done had they been outspoken. I was positive they lived in daily anticipation of something very dreadful — something that lay concealed in those dark and tortuous corridors or in that grim and ghostly room.

My dreams at night were horrible, nor did I again feel that in this respect I was singular as I overheard some one remark that no one ever passed the night without awakening with a sudden and inexplicable start. I say inexplicable — would that it had always remained so!

It was August when my next definite adventure occurred….Well, I slept in a room at the end of a corridor, my nearest neighbour. Miss Dovecot our governess, occupying a chamber some dozen yards away. I do not think I need describe any article of furniture the room contained; every piece was strictly modern, and had been brought with us from a newly furnished house in Sevenoaks. The fireplace and cupboard are, however, deserving of comment; the former was one of those old-fashioned ingles Burns delights in describing, and which are now so seldom to be seen; an inn at Dundry, near Bristol, containing, I believe, the finest specimen in the kingdom; whilst the latter, which I always kept securely locked at night, was of such far-reaching dimensions that it might well be termed in modern phraseology a linen room.

On the night in question, I had gone to bed at my usual time — eight — and I had speedily fallen to sleep, as I was in the habit of doing; but my slumber was by no means normal. I was tortured with a series of disturbing dreams, from which I awoke with a start to hear some clock outside sonorously strike twelve. As an additional proof of my wakefulness, I might add (pardon my explicitness) I was sensibly affected by a constant irritation of the skin, due, I believe, to a disordered state of the liver, which in itself was a sufficient preventive to further sleep. It must have been half-past twelve when I heard, to my intense horror, the cupboard door — which I distinctly recollect locking — slowly, very slowly, open.

My first impulse was to make a precipitate rush for the door, but, alas! I soon became aware that I was powerless to act; a kind of catalepsy, coming on suddenly, held my body as in a vice, whilst my senses, on the other hand, had grown abnormally acute. In this odious condition I was now compelled to listen to the Thing — whatever it might be — slowly crossing the floor in the direction of my bed.

The climax at length came, and my cup of horrors overflowed, when, with an abruptness that was quite unexpected (in spite of the direst apprehension), the Thing leaped on the bed, and I discovered it to be an enormous CAT.

I can unhesitatingly add the epithet — black — for the room, which a moment before was shrouded in darkness, had now become a blaze of light, enabling me to perceive the colour as well as the outline with the most unpleasant perspicuity. It was not only in intensity of colour (the blackest ebony could not have been blacker) that the cat was abnormal, but in every other respect; its dimensions were not far removed from those of a large bull-dog, and its expression — the eyes and mouth of the beast were more than bestial — was truly Satanic. Stalking over my legs, its tail almost perpendicular and swaying slightly like the nodding plumes of a hearse, it squatted down between the bedposts opposite, transfixing me with a stare full of malevolent meaning.

I was so fully occupied in watching it and trying to solve the enigma I saw so plainly written in its every gesture, that I did not realise I had other visitors, till a sudden uncertain twitching in the light made me look round. I then perceived with a start a fire was burning in the grate. A fire, and in August — how incongruous! I shivered. But it was no delusion; the flames soared aloft, adopting a hundred fantastic yet natural shapes; the coals burned hollow, and in their crimson and innermost recesses I read the future. But not for long. My cogitations were unceremoniously interrupted by the appearance of the man-in-the-well, whom I was startled to perceive seated in the chimney-corner in the most nonchalant attitude possible — nursing a baby!

Anomalous and mirth-provoking as is such a sight in the usual way, the existing circumstances were grim enough to excite my horror and raise anew my worst forebodings. Supposing he saw me now? There was no escape! I was entirely at his mercy. What would he do?

I glanced from him to the cat, and from the cat back again to him. Of my two enemies, which was most to be feared? The slightest movement on my part would inevitably arouse them both, and bring about my immediate destruction. The situation did not even warrant my breathing.

The minutes sped by with the most tantalising slowness. The clock struck one, and neither of my visitors had budged an inch — the man in the flowery dressing-gown still nursing the baby, and the black cat still staring at me. Mine was indeed a most unenviable position, and I was despairing of its ever being otherwise, when a sudden transmutation in the man sent a flow of icy blood to my heart. He no longer regarded his burden indifferently — he scowled at it.

The scowl deepened, the utmost fury pervaded his features, converting them into those of a demon. He got up, gnashed his teeth, stamped on the ground, and lifting up the child, dropped it head first into the fire. I saw it fall. I heard it burn! The hideous cruelty of the man, the abruptness of his action, proved my undoing. Oblivious of personal danger, I shrieked.

The effect was electrical. Dropping the poker, with which he had been holding down the baby, the inhuman monster swung round and saw me. The expression in his face at once became hellish, absolutely hellish.

My only chance of salvation now lay in making the greatest noise possible, and I had commenced to shout for help lustily, when at a signal from the man, the enormous black cat crouched and sprang.

What followed I cannot exactly remember, I have dim recollections of feeling a heavy thud and of some one or some thing trying to tear away the clothes from my head, after which there came a very complete blank, and when I recovered consciousness, the anxious countenances of my parents and governess were bending over me.

The next night I slept with my sister.

My health had been so impaired by these encounters, that my parents decided to move elsewhere; the furniture was once again packed, and within a month of the above incident we had taken up our abode in Clifton, Bristol.

The history of the hauntings was subsequently revealed to me by the owner of the house. It had once been inhabited by a man of the name of Darby, who seems to have been a sort of wholesale butcher. His elder brother dying, the family estate passed to the latter’s eldest son, a child of two, and Darby determining to succeed to the property, invited the widow to stay with him. She did so — she was a weakly creature — and he got rid of her by puttingher to sleep in a damp bed. The children were next disposed of, the younger by being burnt (as I had witnessed) and the elder, aged two, by being smothered to death by a black cat. Darby is said to have deliberately made the cat sit upon the infant’s mouth as it lay asleep. But these rapid deaths, as might have been expected, aroused suspicions. The nurse, who had been an unwilling party to the burning of the baby, turned King’s Evidence, and a warrant for his arrest was issued. As is often the case, however, the officers of the law were a bit too late. When they arrived at the house, the quarry had flown, nor could his whereabouts be discovered for many years; not, indeed, till fifty years after the crimes, when his skeleton was found at the bottom of a disused well he had himself sunk in one of the back kitchens. Under the skeleton lay an iron box containing many valuables, rings, &c., which he had been doubtless striving to hide when death in some unaccountable form or another overtook him. What became of the cat, history does not say.

The place had always borne a reputation for being haunted — it was on that account my parents had got it at so low a rental — and the ghosts seen there (undoubtedly those of Darby and his cat) corresponded in every detail with the phenomena that had so terrified me.

I am aware that many deny the existence of souls in animals — let them do so — but do not let them be too dogmatical, for where Life ends all is mystery.

Still there is an alternative theory to account for the appearance of animal phantoms, which is, I think, quite within the realms of possibility: the black cat I saw, if not the spirit of the one made such hideous use of by the old man, was undoubtedly an elemental — a spirit representative of a popular crime, a vice — Darby’s evil genius — that ever hovered at his heels in his lifetime and is more loth than ever to leave him now that his physical body is dead and his soul earthbound.

Some Haunted Houses of England & Wales, Elliott O’Donnell, 1908

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A few days ago it was “Black Cat Day” in England. To-day it is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “National Cat Day,” in the States, a time to appreciate Our Feline Friends.  Mrs Daffodil has the highest professional regard for the species—the cats at the Hall perform their ratting and mousing duties with admirable zeal—and Mrs Daffodil has ordered an extra ration of cat-nip and kippers in honour of the occasion. However, in this post, with its proximity to Hallowe’en, she has judged it best to highlight the dark qualities of the species, so often linked with witchery and skull-duggery.  If her readers would prefer more kindly kittens, she will direct them to The Brighton Cats, Feline Entertainments, The Ghostly White Cat, and A Funeral for a Theatrical Cat—black cats are traditionally lucky in theatrical circles.

If you wish for thrilling narratives of sinister black cats, see The Black Cat Horror and Murder by Cat.

While he was an unmistakably talented writer of Horrors, Mr O’Donnell was well-known for his fancies and his purple prose (one rather doubts that Mrs Norton really said that the house was “unspeakably loathsome” or compared it to a monstrous toad-stool.) as well as his obsession with “Elementals”—non-human and sometimes monstrous spirits—all of whom were disease-spotted, odouriferous, beast-headed, or otherwise  “unspeakably loathsome.”

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.

 

Die For Love: 1830s to present

Esther Hale, The Ghostly Bride

Esther Hale, The Ghostly Bride, art by Jessica Wiesel

To-day Mrs Daffodil once again—well, “welcomes” is perhaps too strong a word—but shall we say “accommodates” that ghost-writing person over at Haunted Ohio, who says that 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the very first volume of her Haunted Ohio series. Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the assertion that this is grounds for celebration, but in this world of fleeting fame, twenty-five years is a long time and a ghost story for Hallowe’en never goes amiss. This story comes from the second volume in the series, cunningly entitled Haunted Ohio II: More Ghostly Tales from the Buckeye State.

DIE FOR LOVE

Beaver Creek threads its way through the steep hills and thick forests of Beaver Creek State Park. During the canal boom of the 1880s the area prospered, but today it is an area of deserted logging camps, ruined canal locks, and ghost towns.  One such town, Sprucevale, is accessible only by bridle path.  And all that remains of Sprucevale are the three walls of Hambelton’s grist mill—and the legend of Esther Hale.

On the morning of August 12, 1837, Esther Hale was happily preparing for her wedding. The table in the parlor was decorated with flowers and greenery; the cake was in the kitchen, covered with a cheesecloth veil to keep off the flies.  The wedding was set for ten in the morning.  By half past ten the guests were beginning to fidget and smile behind their fans.  By half past twelve they climbed into their wagons and drove away.  The messenger Esther sent could find no trace of her lover.  The cabin was deserted, he said, the ashes in the stove were cold.

When her friends tried to help her to bed, Esther quietly rebuffed them until they left her sitting alone in the dark by the window of the parlor. When they returned the next morning, the curtains had been drawn, as if in a house of mourning.  They were never again opened in Esther Hale’s lifetime.

All summer Esther moved like a ghost through the house. In the kitchen, beetles tunneled through the cake.  The flowers withered in the parlor while the spiders spun their gossamer hangings.  Her friends coaxed her to eat and drink a little, but when they tried to get her to change her dress or remove the wedding decorations, she flew at them with claw-like fingers.  Eventually they left her alone.

Broken hearts kill slowly. Four months later a neighbor noticed that the door to Esther’s house was open, banging back and forth in the December wind.  He notified the sheriff and the doctor who took a party of men to the dark house.  Snow had drifted throughout the rooms like a white shroud. Esther was slumped over the parlor window sill, her veil over her face.  Someone held up a lantern.  The doctor drew back the shredded lace.  Esther had been dead for several weeks.  When they saw the horror beneath, they silently covered her over again.  She was buried so, shrouded in her wedding clothes.

You can still see her, dressed in white, looking for her lover. It is said that she haunts the bridge over Beaver Creek, waiting there every year on August 12, a hideous figure in tattered white satin and lace.  If she touches you, she will become young and beautiful again—but you will die.

Nanette Young of Harmony Hills Stables enjoys taking people on trail rides and telling them the ghost stories of the area, especially the tale about the ghostly bride. Local people say they’ve seen Esther run in front of their headlights.  Nanette says that her car shuts off every morning by the grist mill.  Other people have had the same experience.

“One Christmas I was out looking at the Christmas lights with my mother. I told her, ‘This car is going to shut off as we pass that building.’  My girlfriend who was with us said, ‘Yeah, it happens every morning.’ My mother didn’t believe me, then it shut right off.  When this happens I just coast down the hill.  There are forty thousand hills out here.  But the car doesn’t shut off on any of the others.”

On August 8th, Nanette took a group of riders out on the trail. It was a clear night, but a mysterious fog rose from the creek up to the horses’ legs.  As they passed Esther’s house and rode onto the bridge, the last man in line said, “I feel a cold force pulling on my sweat shirt!”  Nanette could see nothing, but when they reached the safety of the barn, the hood of his sweat shirt was torn.

If you are in the area in early August, drive through quickly with your windows rolled up. And keep a sharp lookout for a skeletal woman in a wedding dress stained by the grave for she will lunge at your car, her bony fingers scrabbling at your windows, desperate as Death to touch and claim your living flesh.

Haunted Ohio II: More Ghostly Tales from the Buckeye State, Chris Woodyard, 1992

Like most local legends, there are a number of variations in the stories about Esther Hale. She is said to have been a Quakeress preacher, she is said to walk out of the Hambleton Mill in Beaver Creek State Park in Northeastern Ohio, and write “Come” on one of the stone walls of the mill on Christmas Eve.

The Haunted Ohio series is available at online retailers and through Barnes & Noble stores.

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.

 

Feast of the Vampires: 1892

death-pours-champagne-1873

FEAST OF THE VAMPIRES.

THE GREWSOME DISHES OF THEIR BILL OF FARE.

At Their Initial “Death Watch” They Partake of Hair-Curdling Viands

They are a Non-Superstitious Crowd.

New York, May 4. “Skeleton Fodder,” “Vampires’ Wings, Breaded,” and “Headstone Croquettes” are a few of the delightful articles on the menu spread at the initial death watch of the Vampires in Mazzetti’s, and a crowd of black-robed waiters stood ready to bring you “graveyard cough drops” or “fried souls” if you preferred them.

Over the head of Chief Ghoul John M. Turner hung a huge bat, holding in his claws a human skull, the sign of the organization, and Electrocutionist Fred Bennett had the outfit fixed up with colored glass eyes, into which he occasionally threw an electric current with startling effect. Back of the emblem hung a gigantic horn, fitted with an electrical attachment, which made it emit a frightful groan whenever anybody arose to speak. In front of the Chief Ghoul was a loving cup filled with “vampires’ blood,” in which an electric light glowed fitfully. Every bottle of wine had a vampire blood label pasted on it, and whenever a toast was drunk the Vampires applauded by moving their arms slowly up and down to their sides like wings.

But with all this grewsomeness the “death watch” was a great success, and the pale dawn saw 100 men vowing to be Vampires to the end.

The Vampires is a brand new organization started early in April by Mr. Turner and a dozen other non-superstitious theatrical people. It is a secret society and its motto is, “Unity, Affinity, Fidelity;” but it has no other purpose than good fellowship and mutual aid and encouragement.

It is simply an organization in which if a Vampire goes “broke” every other Vampire will “chip in” and help him out.

Its officers are: Chief Ghoul, J.M. Turner; Vice Ghoul, H.H. Levy; Recording Angel, Dr. I.E. Nasher; Body Snatcher, James B. Radcliffe; Coffin Nailer, Schnitz Edwards; Imp of Darkness, Charles Strohmenger, Jr.; Dirge Chanter, Signor Carlos Serrano; Bone Polisher, Fred Bohlman; Electrocutionist, Fred Bennett, and Sexton, Charles Angus.

It has a Cross Bones band, composed entirely of orchestra leaders, including William Johnson of the New York Park theatre, W. Lloyd Bowron of the Fourteeneth Street, Charles Mollenhauer of the Bijou and E.C. Gohl of the Windsor Theater, and it has a Monument Quartette made up of forcibly-retired comic opera singers. Among the other full-fledge vampires are T. Edward Reed, Thomas Jackson, Philip Smalley, the Tipaldi brothers, Thomas McQueen and Manager Price of the Lee Avenue Academy. Among the guests who are clamoring for a perch in Roost No. 1 are President Hotchkiss of the Thirteen Club, John Waller, Frank Dupree, E.A. Pratt, “Dick” Gorman, Harry Fisher, H.F. Seymour, Treasurer Rice of the Standard Theater, James Dixon, Cecil Kingston, Albert Henschel and Albert Hart.

After the viands had been dissected the loving cup was passed around, and while one vampire drank his four score fellow flapped their “wings” and sang their “Shriek,” which begins:

By gravestone cold and white

We spread our wings at night:

Over the mounds we love to dance

And wake a corpse right out of his trance.

His trance, trance, trace.

Anybody was welcome to get up for a speech, but as the trump horn drowned every word he said the feasters go along very comfortably.

It is proposed to hold these death watches once a month from now on until the supply of New York hotels is exhausted.

State [Columbia, SC] 7 May 1892: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In post-Civil-War America there was a flowering of whimsical fraternal organisations: the Military Order of the Serpent (also known as “The Snaix”), The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, Odd Fellows, and The Ancient Mystic Order of Bagmen of Bagdad. Britain boasts one of the oldest of these groups: The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, founded in 1822. They all provided a convenient excuse to get together and “raise hell” in rather puerile ways, as we note in the account above.

“The Vampires,” seem to have been an organisation of much the same ilk as The Thirteen Club. One would expect these sorts of hi-jinks in the Parisian death-cafes, Café du mort/Café du neant, where the “decadent”—or, more often the tourists, wishing to be thought daring—sipped absinthe and watched weird shows of the living turning to corpses, then to skeletons, and back, rather like a skeletal strip-tease.

A Café Neant, 1900

A Café Neant, 1900

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.