Category Archives: Supernatural

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 Astor Library Ghost: 1860

ghost-book-popups

A Haunted Library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmes County Republican 12 April 1860: p. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interior of the Astor Library

Interior of the Astor Library

The Ladies in Black; The Lady in White: 1854-1871

A mourning ensemble and veil from the Metropolitan Museum's "Death Becomes Her" exhibition.

A mourning ensemble and veil from the Metropolitan Museum’s “Death Becomes Her” exhibition.

The Lady in Black.

Owing to the connections which I had, during my youth, with the Court of Bavaria, I was personally acquainted with the actors in the following story and am enabled to give the following details:

King Ludwig I, having abdicated his throne owing to the revolution of 1848, retired to Aschaffenburg with his spouse, the Queen Thérèse, to seek protection from the ravages of cholera, which at that time prevailed at Munich. There he received visits frequently from his son-in-law, the Grand Duke Ludwig II of Hessen, residing in Darmstadt. They used to have tea together, subsequently playing cards, and the General Du Jarrys de la Roche took part in the game.

It was once a stormy night when they met in this manner. The rain was pouring down, rattling at the windows, the thunder was rolling, and lightning illuminated the room. All at once one of the large doors of the apartment opened, a lady dressed in black entered and posted herself behind the chair of the Queen. King Ludwig and both of his guests saw that lady and exchanged looks of surprise; the Grand Duke arose and went to the anteroom, where he asked the officer in charge:

“How could you permit an unknown lady to enter the apartment of their majesties, without having her properly announced?”

“Your Highness will excuse me,” was the answer; “I have been in attendance here for three hours, and no one has passed through the ante-room except their majesties and the General de la Roche.”

The Grand Duke returned to his chair, but the lady in black had disappeared. The Queen Thérèse noticed by his looks that something was taking place, and as she begged to have the matter explained, the Grand Duke told her about the apparition and the answer of the officer. The Queen turned pale and with a trembling voice exclaimed: “This concerns me.”

The cholera at Munich subsided and having been assured that there was no danger, the Court returned to the “Wittelsbach Palace.” In a couple of weeks the Queen Thérèse was dead.

*****************

King Maximilian of Bavaria returned one evening from one of his daily horse-back rides through the royal park and was about to dress for dinner, when a slight indisposition induced him to retire to his rooms.

At about eleven o’clock that night the officer of the bodyguards in charge made his usual round of inspection at the quarters where the princes and princesses resided. As he came near the rooms of the ladies of the Court, where the Countess Fugger and the Baroness Redwitz slept, he saw a lady dressed in black, and with a black veil covering her head, issuing from one of these rooms and walking slowly along the corridor. Thinking that she was returning from a visit to one of these ladies, the Captain called to her, as she was passing by the only staircase which led to the street door, and told her that the way out was there.

The lady in black paid no attention to him, but continued her way through several apartments. She finally descended the stairs slowly, passed by one of the sentinels and disappeared at the entrance of the chapel. The officer, feeling some suspicion, ran quickly down stairs, calling to the sentinel to stop the stranger. The guard swore that he had seen no one. Next morning the King was dead.

*****************

The White Lady, British Library

The White Lady, British Library

A similar case is the one of The Lady in White, who is said to appear in the royal castle of Stockholm whenever a death at the Court is about to take place. The following is an account of such an occurrence given by the Princess Eugénie, a sister of King Oscar:

“During one of the last days of the month of March 1871, and a short time before the death of Queen Louisa, I had been spending the evening with my mother the Queen-widow Josefina. We both were glad that the illness of the Queen had taken a favourable turn, and that the physicians expected a speedy recovery. It was late at night and I was about to retire, when the servant entered, informing us that a big fire had broken out in the vicinity of the castle. My mother desired to look at it, so we went to the great hall, where it could be seen from the windows.

“After a while we returned, and as we passed through a room that was connected with the rooms of the Queen by means of a staircase, I saw a tall lady standing in the middle of the apartment right below the lighted chandelier. She was dressed in white silk, and wore a large collar of lace reaching down upon the shoulders. I felt quite certain that she was one of the ladies of the Court ordered to wait for the return of my mother and to inform her about the condition of the Queen. However, the lady in white looked at both of us without stirring and without showing us any attention. I had never seen that lady before, and I thought at first to ask my mother whether she was acquainted with her; but I did not, because I expected my mother would speak to her and tell me her name. Great was my surprise when my mother did not seem to see the lady while we passed her. Still I never suspected anything uncanny about it; I merely thought that my mother did not wish to notice her because she had not yet been presented. Nevertheless the fact that none of us had seen that lady before seemed strange to me; but as my mother said nothing, I kept silent about it.

“Before we stepped out of the room, I turned around once more and saw the lady still standing at the same place, like a statue of marble. After a few moments she made a few steps in advance, as if she wanted to come nearer. We entered into the next room and I immediately asked my mother ‘Who was she?’

“’She?—What she?’ asked my mother in surprise.

“’She, the lady in a white dress, who stood there without saluting us.’

“My mother stopped and asked in a voice trembling with fear: ‘Did you see a white-dressed lady in the room that leads to the apartments of the Queen?’

“’Most certainly I did,’ was my answer. ‘She stood just below the chandelier. Did you not notice her? I will open the door again to see whether she is still there.’

“My mother caught my hand. ‘Don’t tell anybody at present of what you have seen,’ she said. ‘You have perhaps seen the “Lady in White,” and that means the Queen’s death.’

“I went to bed, but I could not sleep for a long time. I prayed for Queen Louisa and for the King, who was perhaps soon to experience such a loss. Next morning the physicians sent word that the Queen was worse, and in three days she died.”

This account was given by the Princess to Pastor Wadstrom and was published in his “Memoirs.” The explanation in regard to such cases is that an “elemental” or thought image had been formed for the purpose of giving warnings of approaching death. Further particulars about the nature of such appearances may be found in my book on The Life and Writings of Theophrastus Paracelsus. (Kegan Paul and Co.).

Frantz Hartmann, M.D.

The Occult Review July 1907: pp 14-17

The Women in Black are well-known as omens of death around the world. (That sub-fusc person over at Haunted Ohio has devoted entire chapters to them in The Face in the Window and The Ghost Wore Black.)

The Woman in White was also a harbinger of doom to the Hohenzollerns. She was believed to be a wronged ancestress who would appear to announce an impending royal death. Since so many of the royal houses of Europe intermarried in inexplicably intricate ways, perhaps the White Lady travelled from kingdom to kingdom as needed.

Dr Hartmann was a medical doctor as well as occultist, Theosophist, and “geomancer.” One wonders how much we can trust the reminiscences of a man who was an associate of Madame Blavatsky and who wrote such titles as In The Pronaos Of The Temple Of Wisdom Containing The History Of The True And The False Rosicrucians and The Principles of Astrological Geomancy, The Art of Divining by Punctuation According to Cornelius Agrippa and Others.

Mrs Daffodil is not aware that Cornelius Agrippa ever wrote a style manual or a grammar, but no doubt occultists know a great many things which are as a sealed book to the uninitiated.

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 Confidential Secretary: 1880s

lady-bess-male-impersonator

The following story is narrated by the son of an Irish politician whom we will call by the name of O’Brien. The events narrated followed on his return from abroad consequent on his father’s death. In recounting the circumstances of his return to his native land he put on record the following striking occurrences:

My father’s death recalled me from abroad. His letters and MSS. were sealed up, and it was my duty upon my arrival in Ireland to wade through the enormous pile of correspondence. He was a man with literary tastes, he was a strong Home Ruler, a Parnellite, and although he had never made the public a participant in his labours, he left a testamentary instruction for the publication of his essays, etc., on this great political problem.

Now I myself, as one of Her Majesty’s civil servants, was strongly for the Union, and was afraid that I could not do justice to the intentions of the testator.

I had been away from home more than ten years, and I found that my father had been assisted in his work by a young fellow, Louis Sullivan, who seemed to be his only companion, my mother having died when I was quite young. Of course, I was only too glad to retain the services of the young man. I requested him to call, and we soon came to an arrangement satisfactory to both of us. Louis Sullivan. who was about twenty years of age, was slim and fragile, his face was very handsome, of true Irish type, with dark hair and blue eyes. He was well versed in my father’s literary work, and absolved me entirely from any responsibility. I left him fully in charge of all matters referring to Home Rule, and took the sifting and investigating of letters and other papers upon myself.

During some months we were daily together, and I often observed that my young companion looked at me with an expression of fondness which touched me in an inexplicable manner. I came across some letters which showed me that Louis was more than a mere acquaintance to me. My father had years ago formed an intimacy with a woman residing on his estate, who had nursed him through a severe illness, and a child was born as the result of this attachment. The name of the woman was Sullivan, and she was dead. I thought it more than coincidence that Louis Sullivan should have been with my father ever since then, and I could understand why my father should have provided for his young companion by a substantial annuity. He was his own child, though I soon became convinced that Louis was not acquainted with this fact. Nevertheless, I felt that blood spoke loudly, for I saw that Louis loved me, and such a state of things can only be due to a strong sympathy, which, no doubt, is based upon blood relationship.

In a conversation with him one day, I gathered that he was under the impression that his father had died before he was born. I could not undeceive him and let him know that he was an illegitimate child. At last our tasks were finished, and as I was leaving Ireland, a separation became necessary. The night before my departure I asked Louis to dine with me.

It was a sad occasion; little was said, and it was evident we both felt keenly the approaching parting from each other. At last Louis broke the silence, and taking my hand in his, he asked my forgiveness for making a confession. I saw now that I was mistaken, and that he knew our relationship, and I told him that his confession was not needed, that I knew all, and embracing him, kissed him, and called him brother. The result of my action was a great surprise. Louis burst into a fit of the most violent weeping. I told him how I had found out the secret, and entreated him to come with me, and be my brother before the world. I could not understand his subsequent behavior, but he refused point-blank. This was the last I saw of him…

  • • • • •

I was in ___, where I intended to spend some weeks. It was just eight days since I had left Ireland. I was ascending the staircase of the Hotel___in ___. It was the evening twilight. Suddenly I saw standing before me the shape of a woman dressed in white. I stared at her; she bore the face of Louis Sullivan. Too astonished to speak, I stood looking at her in amazement, when she vanished.

  • • • • •

Subsequently I learned the truth. The being who recently had been my companion, and whom I had discovered to be so near a relation, was indeed no brother, but a sister. Why my father had made her wear men’s clothes I never exactly understood, unless it was the fear that the presence of a young girl at his house would have given occasion to gossip. She is now dead. She died the very evening she appeared to me at the hotel in ___. With her own hands she made an end to her life. The letter she left behind her told all: she loved me, and was just on the point on that evening before my departure of confessing her feelings when, misunderstanding her purpose, I told her she was my brother. Her relationship to me had not been known to her, but she found now that she was my sister—she could not bear the situation and she died.

That I should have seen her in the shape of a woman, when her sex was entirely unsuspected, seemed to me the most inexplicable feature of the occurrence.”

The Occult Review November 1912, p. 270-1

 Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Females disguising themselves as males is a well-worn plot device—Shakespeare was particularly fond of it—but rarely has it been deployed to such tragic effect.  

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.

 

 

Christmas Ghosts Doomed by Bridge in Britain: 1905

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant's Ball, this year I've invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant’s Ball, this year I’ve invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

GHOSTS DOOMED BY BRIDGE IN BRITAIN

People Are Too Busy at Cards to Bother About Christmas Wraiths

London, Dec. 30 Among the destructive effects of bridge is the total discomfiture of ghost and ghost stories without which, in the good old-fashioned days, no Christmas annual could be complete. It has no place in this years’ Christmas periodical literature, and current fiction is equally silent on the subject of the ghostly visitant who contributed to the Christmas festivities of a decade ago.

White ladies, headless monks, gray friars, wicked lords and all the vast army of spooks who were obstreperous on Christmas eve, are no longer part of the novelist’s stock in trade.

Women who anxiously inquire for a really good ghost story at the shops, meet with a blank stare of surprise. Not a single ghost story has emanated from the publishers this Christmas tide.

“Out of date,” was the terse explanation of the publisher of light literature when asked why the Christmas ghost had been exorcised. There is no demand for blood-curdling stories of clanking chains, rattling bones and dismal shrieks.

The Haunts of Ghosts

Dreary tumble-down houses, ancient feudal castles and melancholy moated granges, as will be seen from the following list of Christmas phantoms, are their favourite haunts. All of them are pedigreed ghosts with officially recorded appearances.

At Dilston Castle, Lady Westmoreland; Cullaly Castle, the wicked priest; Beddiscombe Manor, the screaming skull; Calverley Hall, Sir Hugh Calverly; Pradenham House, Isaac Disraeli; Rainham hall, the gray lady; Corby Castle, the radiant boy; Newstead Abbey, the black friar; Brookhouse, the headless woman; Copley House, the two heads; Pomeroy Castle, the lady; Churton Hall, the lady and dog; Llyne Valley, the white horse of Llangynwyd; Holland House, Lord Holland; Bisham Abbey, the wraith of Lady Hobey; Rufford Abbey, the Cistercian father; Cheedle Rectory, the abbess of Godstown; Hampton Court, Catherine Howard and Jane Seymour.

The Spooks’ Delight.

A fine ghostly company these. Lady Derwentwater, so goes the tale, has been wont at Christmastide to revisit this earth to expiate the crime of restless ambition which impelled her to drive the Earl of Derwentwater to the scaffold.

Isaac Disraeli, father of the late Lord Beaconsfield, is said to drive a ghostly coach and pair. The beheaded form of Lord Holland used to walk in the grillroom carrying his head in his hands. The wraith of Lady Hobey carried a spectral basin, wringing her hands and vainly trying to wash out the stain of guilt, for, according to the legend, she murdered her boy because he blotted his copybook.

The Cistercian father, dressed in white, always appeared to women only, but this Christmas none of these ghosts are reported to have manifested themselves.

What is the use of their troubling, when everybody is too deep in bridge all night through to watch for them?

Bridge Is Supreme

If a census was to be taken of the amusements which occupied the guests at the country houses during the Christmas holidays it would probably be found that in sixty per cent of the cases bridge had ousted all the games associated with the old-fashioned Christmas festivities. If there were one or two children in the house they were bundled off to bed as early as possible and the house party settled down in religious silence to bridge.

In many houses the game was played for four successive afternoons and nights without a thought of turkey, plum pudding or crackers. The one anxiety was to rush thru a short meal as quickly as possible. Bridge, in fact, killed in certain circles the old-fashioned Christmas in London. Several waif-and-stray parties were given on Christmas day, the idea being to gather together the lonesome souls who dislike noisy festivities, to pull down the blinds and play bridge from luncheon until the small hours of the morning. Tea and the short dinner were regarded as interruptions and small talk as superfluous.

The Minneapolis [MN] Journal 31 December 1905: p. 3 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has seen, first hand, the scourge that bridge has become: meals sent back to the kitchen, untasted, beds left vacant, presents unopened beneath the tree, mistresses left neglected at house-parties, and engagements broken off without a murmur because one of the contracting parties was absorbed in sorting out a defective trick.

But the human toll is as nothing compared to the loss of the Christmas ghost story. Mrs Daffodil entreats those who are tempted to take up the fatal deck to Think. Remember those memorable childhood Christmas Eves spent lying awake, scarcely daring to breathe under the covers or staring at the door of the cupboard, wondering if it had moved. Those happy times were all because of the Christmas ghost story and those memories will be lost to future generations if the bridge set cannot shun this noxious habit. Mrs Daffodil urges you to put down the cards and the bridge tallies shaped like little Chinese lanterns, and vow to keep alive the traditional Christmas ghost narrative. Posterity, and the terrified children of Britain, will thank you.

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.

This has been an encore posting of a piece originally posted in 2013.

 

The Christmas-Eve Child: 1883-1950s

christmas-franz-josef-and-elisabeth

The old adage that a Christmas-Eve child is born to sorrow is illustrated in the case of the Empress of Austria, who celebrated her sixtieth birthday on the twenty-fourth of last month. The Duchess Elizabeth of Bavaria was married to Francis Joseph of Austria at the early age of sixteen, and was then considered the loveliest woman in Europe. She was not well received by the great families of Austria, who thought that the emperor should have chosen a bride from a more famous house than a collateral branch of the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria. The Hungarians, however, went mad with enthusiasm over their beautiful queen, and throughout her reign have remained her devoted slaves. She was passionately fond of riding, and for long spent a portion of each year in the hunting-fields of England and Ireland.

The breakdown of her health compelled her first to forego this pleasure, and then she was debarred from fencing, and even from her mountaineering excursions. The unhappy marriage of her only son and the refusal of the Pope and the emperor to consent to his divorce preyed upon her mind, and since his tragic death nine years ago, at Mayerling, she has led the life of a recluse.

The Argonaut [San Francisco CA] 24 January 1898.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There are dozens of superstitions about children born on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. Here is a sampling.

In Malta:

Many women and children believe that those who are born on Christmas Eve, just at the very time when our Lord was born, will continue until their death to be transformed to a ghost while asleep, every year just on Christmas Eve. They then go out and wander all over the island frightening people with their groanings..and awake in the morning quite unconscious of their nocturnal expedition. Others…add..that a person may get rid of this annual transformation by taking a sieve and spending from eleven o’clock at night until Christmas morning at dawn counting the holes.  Publications, Vol. 52 Folklore Society, 1903 p. 83

From North-Lincolnshire and the Pennsylvania Dutch:

A person who is born on Christmas Day will be able to see spirits. Choice Notes from “Notes and Queries,” 1859: p. 51

In Silesia there is a superstition that a boy born on Christmas day must be brought up a lawyer or he will become a thief. Topeka [KS] Weekly Capital 24 December 1897: p. 6

It is accounted the happiest omen for a boy to be born on Christmas day, but unlucky for a girl. An old name for her was “the sorrow child.” Rockford [IL] Republic 22 December 1921: p. 8

It is very lucky for a child to be born on Christmas day, especially if the day falls on a Sunday. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 22 December 1883: p. 1

There is a certain “division of labour” in the beliefs about these Christmas children:

If a baby is born on Christmas Eve at midnight, and it’s a girl, she’s a witch [Italian Cleveland Ohio 1958]

If a baby is born on Christmas Eve at midnight, and it’s a boy, he is believed to be a werewolf [Italian Stoney Creek Ohio 1958]

In many parts of England there is a superstition that boys born on Christmas Day should be brought up to enter the church, and girls should become nurses. Willkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 24 March 1919: p. 7

A child born at midnight on Christmas Eve is destined to be an evil person [Ukraine, Lorain Ohio 1961]

It is believed if you are born on Christmas Eve, you will possess the evil eye [Cleveland Ohio 1956]

A child that is born at twelve o’clock Christmas Eve will possess special powers. Many Italians in Cleveland believe and make a practice of using this power [Italian, Cleveland Ohio 1950]

A child born at midnight on Christmas Eve can understand the speech of animals. [Irish, Cambridge Ohio 1955]

Popular Beliefs and Superstitions A Compendium of American Folklore, From the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, Hand, et al: 1981

This young woman was closely watched by her parents, who were worried that she would turn out to be a vampire:

“I want to tell you of a superstition which dealt with me directly and which we observed in our house for approximately eighteen to twenty years. In Italy it was always believed that anyone born on midnight on Christmas Eve would be a vampire. I was born here in Cleveland at seven-thirty A.M., however my parents played safe and kept a close watch on me for quite a number of years. It was a very strict rule that at bedtime or when we were locking up for the night that the broom be placed at a diagonal in back of the front door. It didn’t matter if other doors or windows were kept unlocked or open, but it was the front door that was important because this was the only entrance they could use. This practice was followed so that if other vampires would try to come to our house to snatch me away or to do malice to others in the house, he or she would have to count every wisk in the broom, and by that time it would be dawn, and they’d return to their natural forms, and consequently it would be too late because, according to legend, they start roaming from twelve until dawn.” [Italian, Cleveland Ohio 1956]

Popular Beliefs and Superstitions A Compendium of American Folklore, From the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, Hand, et al: 1981, p. 1123

In English speaking countries, and in Scandinavia, births on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day are accounted lucky. But in other parts of Europe, they are considered very unlucky, and the many tragedies which darkened the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, finally culminating in her assassination at Geneva, are ascribed by numbers of people to the fact that she was born on Christmas Eve. Folk lore throughout the South of Europe, not only in Latin countries, but also in some parts of the Balkans, has taught for hundreds of years past that a terrible blight resets upon those born on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, popular superstition holding such births to be sacrilegious. Richmond [VA] Times Dispatch 27 December 1912: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil is uncertain whether it is sacrilegious to try to claim the same birthday as the Infant Saviour or whether it was believed that the child was conceived on a Holy Day. Puritans punished persons whose children were born on a Sunday, believing that all babies came exactly nine months after conception, on the same day of the week on which they were begotten. Certainly many children whose birthdays fall close to Christmas bitterly regret their natal day as unlucky since it often means that they do not have a separate birthday celebration and consequently double the presents.

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 Will and the Ghost: 1876

Death and the Lawyer

Death and the Lawyer

STORY OF A WILL.

I recently asked an old lawyer’s opinion of ghosts. The result was as follows:

“Do I believe in spirits? Well, yes, when they are contained in bottles and come from a well-known firm. But ghosts! Why! Do you think I am a Spiritualist? Nonsense!”

“So you don’t believe in ghosts and spooks? You have never had any remarkable experience?”
“Hold on there! Now that you seem determined that I shall commit myself, and probably having heard that I have a ghost story to tell, I will satisfy you; but let me remark before commencing that the story I am about to tell is God’s truth and as such must be received. Scoff at it but once, and I shall stop in the middle of my story.

“Yes, I do believe in ghosts, or, at least, in some strange natural phenomena that the world has called ghostly for the last eighteen hundred years or more. Now, listen:

“It was in the latter part of 1876 that I undertook a case for a young woman. It was for a divorce.

“She was the daughter of my aged client, Dr. Baxter, a man who could have raised $500,000 in hard cash inside of twenty-four hours.

“The case was somewhat remarkable. Annie Baxter had married a stockbroker, named Thomas Thorne, against her father’s wishes.

“Her husband, she soon discovered, had married her chiefly for what he could get out of her father, who, he hoped, would soon get over his displeasure and forgive his daughter’s disobedience; but the old doctor was stubborn and did not relent. He refused to see Annie and forbade the mention of her name by any of his household.

“Thorne, on finding that he could not get hold of any of the doctor’s money, soon tired of Annie; and Annie, who had been a spoiled and petted child, brought up in the lap of luxury, became miserable and in want. But she stood her sorrows with heroism, and not a complaint escaped her till Thorne began to drink and gamble, at times not returning for weeks to his home, and then under the influence of liquor.

“She was obliged to earn her own living, and when her child was born she had to go to one of our large free hospitals for care and attention. It is doubtful if her father would have let her go had he known her condition, for he still loved his daughter; but she did not let him know, and one day while making his rounds in the maternity ward of the B. Hospital, to which he was a physician, his attention was called to a woman who had fainted. He went to her bedside. It was Annie, his daughter, who, not expecting to see him, had been greatly shocked. She did not know of his connection with the hospital.

“The doctor’s kind heart was softened at once. He was greatly moved. He had her carried in an ambulance to her old home under his roof. He had forgiven her.

“Just about this time Thorne was arrested in a bad house, where he was raising a row, and sent to prison for six weeks. Annie then placed her petition for divorce in my hands, and my connection with the case commenced.

“The divorce was obtained with ease, as Thorne made no answer to the complaint and the case was perfectly clear in our favor.

“Now begins the ghostly part. Dr. Baxter owned a small yacht, in which he was accustomed to make short excursions about New York Bay and Long Island Sound. On the last excursion of any kind he ever made the yacht capsized in a squall, and the doctor was drowned, everyone else being rescued alive.

“After the funeral the doctor’s will was looked for. It was known that he had made a will at the time of Annie’s marriage, leaving all his property to his sister on the condition that Annie could have $600 a year from the estate during her life.

“After father and daughter became reconciled he told me he intended to make a new will and leave his property chiefly to her, but the only will that could be found after his death was the former, and his sister, Mrs. J., refused to waive her rights under the will in the least. By my advice, Annie asked her to make her a proper compromise, but she refused to do anything more than stand by the will.

“Almost a year passed away, when one day I received a note from Annie asking me to call on her at the Gilsey House, where she was staying a few days, on business of the utmost importance. On going there she told me a strange story, so strange that I feared she had lost her mental balance, but I saw she was perfectly earnest about it.

“’A few nights ago,’ said she, ‘while I was sitting with my little boy by the fire in my room, at about 10 o’clock in the evening, there being no other light than that of the fire in the room, I heard a strange noise. Then the door opened—and closed. I looked around, much surprised at receiving such a late visitor, especially as he came without knocking. But my first surprise was lost in the terror and dismay that came over me as I saw enter and approach my chair—who do you think? My father! Or his ghost!

“’As I knew he had been dead over a year, you may imagine my feelings. He came direct towards me, casting his ulster overcoat off on a chair, as he used to do when he came home late.

“ ‘”Annie,” said he, putting his hand on my head and stroking my hair, “I have come to see you righted. You are suffering from a most unnatural fraud and crime. You aunt stole my last will. As I had promised you, I made you my heir—and my only heir—and the will was drawn by my own hand, and executed three months before I died.

“'”Your aunt, in whom I firmly believed, was one of the witnesses. Dr. R., who went to China before my death, and is there still, was another. I am determined to see you have your rights, though I am no longer in the flesh, and be assured that I can see you through.

“'”The lost will is in your aunt’s bureau drawer in her bedroom, on the second floor of our old house. The ebony bureau. You will find the will under the paper on the bottom of the drawer. And this is the way for you to obtain it.

“'”Go to your lawyer and tell him what I have told you. Ask him to go with you to call on your aunt. As usual she will receive you kindly. She will be in the library. Go at about dusk on Wednesday evening, the 10th, and while she is talking to you I will appear and carry out the rest of the plan.”

“’Then the doctor put on his coat again and kissed my baby and myself in the most affectionate manner—quite as though he were alive—and started to go, but before he had reached the door his form melted into air and shadow. He had disappeared.’

“On hearing this strange ghost story I sat still for a few moments and reflected; then I resolved to see it through.

“Accordingly, on Wednesday, at the time indicated I found myself sitting with Annie Thorne in her aunt’s library. Her aunt was very kind and genial, but did not offer to have the gas lighted—perhaps she thought we would stay longer. We talked about having the $600 annuity cashed; such we pretended was the object of our visit. At last the old lady said:

“’We may as well have a light; don’t you think so?’

“’No, I don’t!’ said a solemn and familiar voice, and a dusky form crossed the room and stood before the grate fire; remarkable to say, the firelight shone sheer through his legs. I felt my hair raise. I was greatly frightened.

“As to the old lady, she gave a wild shriek and sank back in her chair. ‘Della,’ said the ghost, for such it surely was, ‘stop your nonsense! Are you not ashamed to treat my child as you have done? Here you have disturbed my rest in my grave by your dishonesty.’

“By this time the ghost had walked out into the middle of the room, where he could be seen pretty well by the firelight. The form and face were perfect. It was Dr. Baxter, beyond doubt.

“’Woman,’ said he, continuing his speech, and now, pointing his long, bony finger at the old lady, ‘had you not gold enough without taking Annie’s birthright? Get up and come with us!’

“So saying, he motioned me to open the door, which I did. Then leading, he made us all follow him upstairs; or, rather, he drew us along by some strange, magnetic force until we reached the door of the chamber occupied by the old lady.

“Here he stopped and, addressing her, said:

“’Della, open that door!’  She obeyed at once. We all entered.

“’Now, get that lost will of mine out of your drawer at once and give it to the lawyer, Mr. C.’

“Strange to say, she went at once to her bureau drawer, and, after raising things about a little, brought out the will and handed it to me.

“’Now, Mr. C.’ said the ghost, ‘make out an affidavit that this will, having been mislaid, has just by chance been found.’

“I did so as best I could in the semi-darkness.

“’Della, sign that paper,’ said the ghost, ‘and to-morrow you will swear before a notary that it is true, or I will go there with you and make you do so later on. That is all for the present,’ said the ghost, and we all returned to the library.

“When we reached there the ghost was gone, no one knew where. The old lady was so much horrified that she fainted, and we left her in the care of her servants. We had recovered the lost will.

“To establish the validity of the will was not difficult, and Mrs. Thorne was soon in possession of her rights.

“Such is my story and I again affirm that it is true. The names are changed to avoid offense to the persons who figured in the story, which is the only change made.

Evansville [IN] Courier and Press 25 December 1889: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does so enjoy a happy ending. Where there is a will, there is a way.  And we are all grateful to the author for sharing this  salutary example of the fundamental errors made by an amateur for whom the kindliest descriptor would be “bungling.”  The will should have been destroyed without delay; preferably burnt without a trace and the ashes beaten to pieces with the poker. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. One really cannot fathom what Mrs J. was thinking to leave the will at the bottom of the drawer—and just beneath the lining paper where a child could have discovered it.  Most discreditable. Mrs J. should carefully reconsider her ambitions for a criminal career.

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.