Tag Archives: ghostly mother

A Mother’s Ghost Visits Her Child: 1870s

1870s mother and child


Supposed Visit of a Dead Mother to Her Child

A rather a queer story is told and can be vouched for by over a dozen persons in Springfield. It appears about three years ago a young man living in Summit got married, and in due time his wife gave birth to a child, which was a girl. When the child was about one year old the mother died. About five months later the young widower became lonely and took unto himself another wife. But before doing so he took all his first wife’s clothing, packed it in a trunk, locked it up, and allowed no one to have charge of the key but himself. Among the clothing put away was her wedding shawl and a pillow his wife had made for her first-born, and also some toys she had bought just before she died. Then he brought home wife No. 2, who, it is said, made as good a mother as the average step-mothers do. Things went on lively till one night last week, when there was a party at the next neighbor’s house. So, after putting the babe in its little bed, the father and mother No. 2 went over to spend the evening at the party. Shortly after they left, two men came along on their way to the party also. They saw a wonderful light in the house as though it might be on fire. They also heard the cries of the babe, as though in great pain. They went to the house, and as soon as they reached the door the light went out, and all was silent as the grave within. They hastened on to the house where the party was and told the man what they had seen and heard in his house as they came by. Five or six men, including the owner of the house, started to investigate the report. When they arrived they found every room and door fast as they were when the owner left. On going inside everything was found to be in its place except the child, which, after a long search, was found upstairs under the bed on which its mother died, covered up with its mother’s wedding shawl and its little head resting on the pillow its mother made for it, sound asleep. Alongside of it lay its playthings. On examining the trunk it was found to be locked and nothing missing except the above mentioned articles. Now, how the things got out of the trunk and the key in the owner’s pocket, and he half a mile from it, and how the child got upstairs, is a mystery. The above may sound a little dime-novelish, but, as, we said before, the facts of the case can be and are vouched for by over a dozen respectable citizens of Springfield.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 September 1878: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is shuddering at the notion of “as good a mother as the average step-mother.” Although there are certainly many splendid step-mamas, it is often the “average” ones–or at least the classic “Wicked Stepmothers”–who end up in the papers and the dock for cruelty.  

That collector of ghostly horrors over at Haunted Ohio previously shared the story above and added an additional fillip:

A Dead Mother Visits Her Living Child—She Sits at Its Cradle and Caresses It.

Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.

Richmond, VA., Jan. 23.

A strange story is current in certain circles here. About two years ago Mr. A. married. In due time he became a father, but the wife died when the child was a few months old. On her deathbed she exhibited intense anxiety as to the fate of the little one she was to leave behind her, and earnestly besought her husband to confide it, after her death, to the care of one of her relatives. He promised, and, I believe, did for a while let the child stay in charge of the person whom the mother had designated. Some weeks ago, however, Mr. A. again married, and at once reclaimed the child, who as yet had never learned to speak a word, and was unable to crawl. One day this child was left alone for a few moments in its stepmother’s bedroom, lying in a crib or cradle some distance from the bed. When Mrs. A. returned she was amazed to see the child smiling and crowing upon the middle of the bed—In her astonishment she involuntarily asked:

“Who put you here, baby?”

“Mamma!” responded quite distinctly the child that had never before spoken a word.

On a strict inquiry throughout the household it was found that none of the family had been in the room during Mrs. A’s brief absence from it. This, it is solemnly averred, was but the beginning of a series of spiritual visitations from the dead mother. Whenever the child was left alone it could be heard to laugh and crow as if delighted by the fondlings and endearments of someone, and on these occasions it was frequently found to have changed its dress, position, &c., in a manner quite beyond its own unaided capacity.

Finally, as the account is, the first Mrs. A. appeared one night at the bedside of Mr. A. and his second wife, and earnestly entreated that her darling should be restored to the relative whom she had indicated as the guardian of the child on her death bed. The apparition, which, it is declared, was distinctly seen and heard by both Mr. A. and his wife, promised to haunt them no more if her wish was complied with. Both Mr. A. and his wife were too much awe-stricken to reply; but the next day the child was carried back as directed by the ghostly visitant. Such is the story as seriously avouched by the principal parties concerned, who are most respectable and intelligent people, and no spiritualists.

New Philadelphia [OH] Democrat 10 February 1871: p. 2

It’s practically obligatory for the ghostly mother in this genre of story to assert her dominance over her successor or make sure that her children are being properly treated. Even with some advances in obstetrics, women knew that death was a possibility with every pregnancy and anxiety over what would become of their motherless children is a constant theme in death-bed narratives. But perhaps mother-love never really dies.

For a previous story of a ghostly mother who threatened a new stepmother, see this post. That story also appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past

Mrs Daffodil has told the heart-warming story of a ghost-mother who comes to assist her dying boy to the Other Side. And a shiversome tale of a phantom mother’s revenge.


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.

Sarah Bow’s Hand: 1830s

The Christian Age, reprints from the Ladies’ Home Journal, of Philadelphia, a weird story entitled “The Wife of Ben Bow,” a tale of Brook Farm, by Hezekiah Butterworth. The story is prefaced by the following note of the author:

The story is substantially true. I have taken the story-teller’s licence in giving it form, making some changes in names and places, adding a little here and there for the sake of the movement of the narrative, but the psychological incidents remain intact. I give them as the honest and simple witnesses believed them to be. I have never known anyone to fully credit the tale, except one physician, who said: “I can believe it all: it is not stranger than a birthmark, or the stigmata of the Middle Ages. Mental impressions, if the faith be perfect, may be a deathstroke.”— The Author.

Whether true or false it is weird enough. The story tells how some sixty years ago two young ladies, who were frequent visitors at Brook Farm community, called at the farm-house on a young farmer called Benjamin Bow. His wife was a woman of character, much given to the speculation as to the inward world. When she was a little girl the middle forefinger of her right hand had to be amputated owing to an accident in the mill. The farmer and his wife had one child. When she was dying, she sent a message to the ladies who had called upon her, asking them to come and see after her child. She added,”I shall know if it is treated well, I shall know.” The doctor who told the story of the death scene said:

There was a nurse there whose name was Cone. As I was sitting by the bed the child cried. The dying woman started, and said with a look that was fearful: “Margaret Cone, Margaret Cone, if you or any one else ever injure that child, this dead hand will appear to you, or to whoever it be.” She lifted the hand from which the forefinger was missing. I have seen that scene ever since. There seemed to be something of hidden meaning in it—something like a prophecy. Then she grew calm, and lay uttering poetry.

Another year passed when Ben Bow married Margaret Cone, and after a time the two ladies were waited upon by a neighbouring farmer, who asked them to go and look after the child as it was being treated so badly. They rode over accordingly to ask how the child was getting on. The step-mother received them coldly, and said that the child was the worst youngster she ever knew. She was breaking his will and made him stop crying for his mother. The child was called in, and asked what was his mother’s name. He immediately gave the name of his real mother not of his step-mother. “Did you ever see anything like that for wilfulness?” said the step-mother. “That woman lies out on the hills in the cold without a grave stone, and never will have one if I can help it. That woman was never any good to Ben Bow. One mother is enough for the child,” said she. “When the dead Mrs. Bow wants to see you,” she said to her visitors, “she will send for you. Say, what was that?”

There came a heavy rap on the front door.

“There have been strange noises about the house ever since Sarah died,” said the woman. “Let me go and look out of the window and see who is there. That door hasn’t been opened since Ben banked up the house.”

Margaret Bow went to the window and threw up the curtain, and stood silent. She presently said: “There don’t seem to be anybody there.”

She sat down in an old rocking-chair and began to rock violently. She looked disturbed, and she presently said: “Now, I am going to tell ye how bad that child is.”

There fell a succession of loud, echoing raps on the door. Margaret Bow looked around wildly. A gust swept by the corner of the house. The two ladies turned apprehensively toward each other. The boy shared the fear, and came hesitatingly to his stepmother and buried his face in her lap.

“What do you come to me for? You told these folks that Sarah was your mother. If Sarah is your mother let her look out for ye and protect ye.”

Raps fell upon the door, almost causing the house to shake. Another gust of wind whirling the lone leaves swept around the corner of the house.

“Here, take the brat,” were the words of Margaret Bow, as she pushed the child from her. “Let me go and open the door.”

The visitors heard Margaret Bow unlock the door and slowly open it. They felt a sharp gust of wind sweep into the rooms. They heard a door in the entry fly open. There followed an awful shriek, a heavy fall. They opened the door of the room. Margaret Bow lay on the floor, moaning. They tried to lift her, but she was convulsed. They asked her what had happened. She at last gasped:

“Sarah’s hand!”

“What—tell us?”

“It met me at the door, and struck me on the forehead here. It was her hand—I knew it—I can’t tell ye how. Send for Ben.”

She curled up in a heap on the floor and lay motionless.

“Where is your husband?” asked the ladies over and over, but they received no answer. They asked the boy, but he could only answer: “He’s chopping wood,” but where he could not tell.

“The woman is dying,” said Mary Needham. “She must not be left alone. You go over to Brook Farm and call the doctor, and I will remain here with the child.”

At sunset Ben Bow came home, and Dr. Fifield and his sister met him on the road and told him all that had happened. They entered the dreary house, and found Margaret Bow lying unconscious where she had fallen. The doctor examined the prostrate form.

“She is dead,” he said.

“What was it?” asked Mary Needham.

“Paralysis,” said Dr. Fifield.

“No, it were not,” said Ben Bow. “That wam’t no paralysis.”

“What then?” asked Miss Needham.

“It were a conscience stroke. I know that woman’s soul. I know things that I wouldn’t want to tell. You may call it what you will—it were a conscience stroke. She’s been a-hearin’ noises. People who have wrong in their souls have haunted minds. Poor critter, may the Lord forgive her; she was constituted so.”

“She said that Sarah’s hand came and struck her on the forehead,” said Mary Needham. “Her forehead does look strange.”

They took up the form and laid it on a bed. Her hair fell over her high forehead and white face.

When the day of the funeral came the country side assembled. It was the custom for the visitors to take a farewell glance at the corpse before the coffin lid was fastened down.

Dr. Fifield, his sister, and Miss Needham rode over to the place in the morning, and the ladies prepared the body with suitable dress for the last rites, and waited the ceremonies which would begin with the opening of the coffin lid.

The clock struck one. The sexton who had been given the “charge of the funeral,” made his way through the crowd and opened the coffin lid. He started back, staring. What had happened? An elderly woman arose and bent over the coffin. A strange look came into her face. She stood there until a wild expression came into her eyes. She then sank down into her chair and whispered: “Something has happened—she don’t look natural!”

Others looked, and shut their eyes and turned away. The good old deacon now came forward and looked down. He, too, seemed to receive a shock. He turned around and said: “She don’t look natural at all. She ought not to be seen. I would shut down the lid again. Send for Ben.”

Benjamin Bow came, leading the child by the hand. He lifted the boy up in his arms, and bent over the dead face. One glance, and he uttered a cry:

“Sexton!” said he, “she is changing. Close the lid.”

Dr. Fifield leaped to his feet as the sexton came forward. He looked into the coffin. On the upper part of the white face and forehead there was the impression of a hand as black as ink. And the middle forefinger was gone.

Borderland Vol. 4, 1897, pp. 98-9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: When Mrs Daffodil saw that this story was written by “Hezekiah Butterworth,” she gave a knowing chuckle, believing it to be a pseudonym denoting one of those painfully home-spun New England humourists, writing in the quaint Yankee dialect. Well. Mrs Daffodil stands corrected. The name is the gentleman’s own and he was a noted author, travel writer, platform lecturer, and hymnologist. He also told a superlative and shiver-making ghost story.

Mrs Daffodil really has no patience with widowers who remarry in haste and allow their children to repent their parent’s imprudence at leisure. Yet it was Margaret that the first Mrs Bow visited, not the husband…. But, after all, it is something of a cliché in supernatural literature that ghostly mothers return to see that their children are not mistreated by a wicked step-mother. Mrs Daffodil has previously shared a dire story of a very young woman haunted by her husband’s  ghostly first wife. 

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

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


A Ghostly Mother’s Warning: c. 1870s

With their mother's ghost.

With their mother’s ghost.

A Mother’s Warning

“Mr. B , an intimate acquaintance and near neighbour of ours in Lancashire, had the misfortune a few years ago to lose his wife in the most melancholy manner. This sad bereavement rendered the house in which he lived so distasteful to him, that he at once left it, and, with his four children, went to reside in a large, old rambling mansion, situated in another part of the county.

“On their arrival, Mr. B ‘s attention, and that of his servants, was naturally taken up with domestic arrangements, so that the little ones were in a great measure left to themselves. Exulting in their freedom, the merry sprites ran hither and thither, up one stair and down another, along corridors ending in blank walls, through stately apartments— the size and gloom of which filled their young minds with awe—now in quaint odd nooks and corners; anon in a picture gallery; again in chambers cob-webbed and dreary-looking. At length by means of a spiral stair leading up from one of these they reached a room cedar-panelled, and of dark cold aspect. Into this chamber the sun never shone; there was but one window, and that almost entirely closed up. Three or four dismal pictures representing some quaint, old, mythical legends were empanelled in the walls. The hitherto noisy children gazed around with hushed voices and bated breath. A something in its aspect frightened them. They left hastily, and ran down stairs, the eldest, a girl of eight years old, leading the way. In her haste she passed the door by which they entered on to the stair; onwards in her terror she sped, down —down into darkness.

“Suddenly her flight was stayed, and she retreated backward, the wild startled cry of ‘Mamma!’ bursting from her lips. The others, terrified, stood for an instant in mute dismay, then turned and fled, she following them, sobbing out, ‘I have seen mamma, and she waves us back.’

“Thoroughly frightened, they sought their father, and, with pale faces, faltered out their story. Much moved, Mr. B provided himself with a candle, and, in company with his children, descended the staircase. To his unspeakable horror the light of the candle revealed to him a wide yawning well within a few paces from where his eldest girl had stood, and into which she would inevitably have fallen but for the spirit mother who stood at its brink, and by her ministering presence saved her child.”

Ghostly visitors: a series of authentic narratives, Spectre Stricken (pseud.), 1882

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For Mrs Daffodil’s British readers, today is Mothering Sunday. The holiday began as a religious observance when parishioners would visit their “mother church.” Under the influence of the U.S. Mother’s Day holiday, it has become a day for thanking mothers with presents and flowers.  The motif of a spectral mother returning to warn or impart advice to her children is a popular one in ghost literature: young men at sea or in soldierly peril often report warnings from their mothers. One young man in a fox-hole in France saw his mother smiling at him. He ran to her, just as a shell fell onto his previous position.

Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on a jealous ghost-mother who came back to warn a young step-mother to treat her children kindly, threatening violence if she found neglect.


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

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

A Jealous Ghost: 1894

Floral offerings for a dead mother.

Floral offerings for Mama

DRIVEN: From Home By a Spirit. The Ghost of a First Wife Returns To Haunt Her Successor.

The locality in which this motherly ghost appears is what is known as Baltimore No. 2, a settlement of Irish and Welsh miners, who work in the Baltimore vein [Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.] The houses are red company structures, and in one of them lives Cornelius Boyle, a young man who is quite prominent in politics, having often been chosen as delegate from his ward to Democratic conventions.

Mr. Boyle’s wife died about two months ago, leaving four small children. Two weeks ago he married again. Mrs. Boyle No. 2 spent a very happy week with her husband while on their wedding tour. But since their return she has led a most unhappy existence. She has been haunted, she says, by the first Mrs. Boyle, who during the last week visited her almost every day. After these visits Mrs. Boyle has remained unconscious for several hours.

I went to the place to-day and found Mrs. Boyle in the house of a neighbor, the visit she received from the spirit of the first Mrs. Boyle last Saturday having caused such a serious shock to her nerves that she says she will never enter the house again. Her husband, an intelligent young man, 28 years old, was with her and two children were playing about the room.


Mrs. Boyle is very young for a wife, being hardly 17 years old. She is a pretty girl. She was Miss Sarah Cullings before she was married two weeks ago, and lived in Ashley, near here. She met her husband last St. Patrick’s Day, and not quite a month afterward they were married in Phillipsburg, N.J., by Rev. Father Burke. The week following they spent in New York and last week arrived at Boyle’s home in Baltimore No. 2.

“I was washing some clothes in the kitchen Monday afternoon when I experienced a most singular feeling, as though somebody were in the room with me. I looked around but could see nobody. Then I went into the parlor, but no one was there. When I returned to the kitchen all the chairs and tables were upset and my washing spilled on the floor. I set them right again. Immediately they were thrown down. At that instant there swept by me a figure of no particular shape, except the head, and that I saw distinctly. The face was a woman’s and had such a peculiar look about it that I cannot forget it. It was gone in an instant and I fainted. The children called in the neighbors, and after some time I was revived. When my husband returned home I told him the story. He called it a joke and said I had imagined it all. I tried to think no more about it.

“The next day,” continued Mrs. Boyle, “I was alone in the kitchen making some bread when I again felt the dreadful sensation of the peculiar presence. It gradually grew in shape, until the head was fully visible. Then I could see the face. It was the same as on the day previous. Then it gradually faded away, and again I fainted from fright.

“Fearing to be alone the next day, I sent for my sister. That night I again told my husband about the ghostly visitor. My nerves were unstrung and I was very much excited. Mr. Boyle got some books to quiet me, and we began looking them over. Among the books was a photograph album. He was turning over the leaves and explaining who the persons were. Finally he turned a page, and there before me was


I had seen. So suddenly was the face presented before me that I shrieked with horror. My husband sprang to his feet, and asked me what was the matter. All I could do was to point to the album, which had fallen to the floor, and say, “That face, that face,” “What about it,” cried my husband. “It is the same as the ghost’s I saw.” He was very much horrified at this, and exclaimed, “It is the fact of my first wife.” Then he believed what I had said regarding the apparition, for he knew I have never seen her nor any photograph of her, until he showed me the one in the album.

“On Thursday my sister and I were in the kitchen, cutting carpet rags. Among the old clothing was a jacket of “Jamesey’s,” who is my husband’s oldest boy. I took it out of the bag to give to Annie, my sister. I leaned over to hand it to her. As I did so it was pulled from my hands and thrown on the floor. At the same instant I felt the presence of the ghost, although I could see nothing. My sister then picked the jacket from the floor. As she did so the jacket was torn from her hands, and the ghost stood before us, the eyes glazing as though in anger. My sister shrieked with terror and fell into my arms. I managed to retain consciousness and the apparition vanished. Both Annie and I then went outside and would not go in until my husband returned home. Then Annie went out to Ashley. She was afraid to stay with me.

The next day was Friday and my husband remained at home all day. In the evening he went down to the store and I began undressing ‘Jamesey,’ who is older than the others and had been allowed to stay up. He was very naughty and I had to scold him. Then I put him to bed, and returned to the sitting room.

“As I entered the room, the


I was becoming less afraid of it, and, although greatly frightened, I managed to say: “what do you want?” The ghost pointed one of its hands at me, and, although I could not see the mouth move, it spoke and said: “Treat my children well,” three times, and very slowly.

When my husband returned a few minutes later I was in a fainting fit. We agreed to leave the house as soon as we could find another. I did not want to stay another day, but my husband persuaded me to stay in order to pack up some of the goods.

“Yesterday afternoon ‘Jamesey’ was a naughty boy again. I caught his arm and began to shake him. Immediately the ghost appeared. It seemed to come from behind the kitchen stove. One hand caught the boy and pulled him from me, while with the other hand she struck me on the head.

“It was all over in a few seconds, and as the ghost disappeared I snatched up the boy and ran out of the house. I went to Mrs. McLaughlin’s across the street. “You look ill, Mrs. Boyle,” she said. “What is the matter? Why, your head is all covered with ashes.” I put my hand on my head and there was ashes there. They must have come from the ghost’s hands.”

The boy “Jamesey” was then called. He is a bright little fellow, about 5 years of age. He was asked what had happened yesterday afternoon. “Me was bad boy,” he said. “She shake me,” pointing to Mrs. Boyle. “Then my mamma—not my new mamma, my old one—come out from behind stove and pull me away. I haven’t seen my old mamma for a long time.”

Mr. Boyle said he did not believe in ghosts, but he believes what his wife says, and will not allow her to go into the house again. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 3 May1894: p. 10

 Things quickly took a more sinister turn.


Mrs. Boyle Declares That the Jealous Spirit is That of Her Husband’s First Wife.


Wilkesbarre, Pa., May 11, 1894. Mrs. Cornelius Boyle, wife of a well-known young miner of this city, was visited about two weeks ago by a supernatural being, whom she said was Boyle’s first wife.

As told in the Herald at the time, Mrs. Boyle the second was married about two months after the first wife’s death, and the ghost, according to her, had appeared to warn her to take good care of the four children.

The appearance of the ghost so affected Mrs. Boyle that her husband took another house. In this new place they lived happily until Tuesday, when Mrs. Boyle had another visit from the ghost. This time she said that it threatened her with horrible tortures if the children were not properly cared for.

Matters reached a climax yesterday morning when a bed on the second floor was found to be on fire. An alarm was run, the Fire Department responded, and the flames were extinguished, but scarcely had the firemen left when the same bed was again discovered on fire.

The firemen returned and extinguished the blaze a second time. Later in the day the house was found to be on fire again, and the Fire Department was called out a third time.


An oil can and some kerosene were found on the floor and bed clothing.

When the firemen arrived Mrs. Boyle put the blame on the ghost and said she could give no explanation as to the origin of the fire.

The house was found to be again on fire this morning. When the firemen reached the house it was found locked and full of smoke. The blaze was located in a bed on the second floor.

“Sam” Bartleson, foreman of No. 8 Hose Company, upon smashing a window and entering the house found a little child lying unconscious in the blazing bed. The child was little Johnnie Boyle, the four-year-old son of Boyle by his first wife.


The little fellow was carried across the street to the house of Thomas Manley. His burns were dressed and he is expected to recover. The flames were soon extinguished.

Mrs. Boyle was out when the blaze was discovered, but was found in one of the neighbor’s houses. She blamed this fire also on the ghost, who, she says, is jealous of her and wants to drive her from her children and husband.

Mrs. Boyle is under police surveillance and the house is watched.

Mrs. Boyle is about eighteen years old, bright appearing and pretty. New York Herald 12 May 1894: p. 11 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The author of The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past adds this to the story:  “Alas, I have not found the end to this story of what seems to be a very wicked stepmother. One does feel a certain sympathy for a 17-year-old bride married after a mere month’s courtship and thrust into the role of mother to four very young children. I cannot discover what happened to the first Mrs. Boyle.”

This story is found in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, which can be ordered through your local bookstore/library or online at Amazon and other retailers and in a Kindle edition. 

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.