The original Ghostbusters: The English Society for the Extermination of Ghosts (1908)

The original ghostbusters

In Edwardian London, if you had something strange in your neighbourhood then you would most likely call on the services of one Charles Dove. The establishment of the English Society for the Extermination of Ghosts, was borne out of several gentlemen having far too much time on their hands and a desire to find something more purposeful for their redundant athletic qualities.

Dove placed several advertisements in local papers at the time and was most surprised to be inundated with applications to join his team. However, despite the immediate allure, Dove promised each man signing up to the ‘Death on Ghosts’ brigade nothing more than an oak cudgel to lay the unsuspecting phantoms. And, although all the ghost warriors professed their disbelief in ghosts, I am reliably informed that Dove decided it wise always to send two hunters to lay away the reported miscreant spectre.

The Times, April 18, 1908.— There are two kinds of ghosts — good ghosts and bad ghosts. The bad ghosts are supposed to haunt houses and castles and belfries and make their appearances at uncertain and too frequent intervals. The good ghosts never unnerved anybody except by their absence. They make their appearances usually once a week, as the week’s work is drawing to a close. They are the most welcome of all guests and the majority of us would like them to show their faces every day in the week, instead of only on payday.

It is hardly necessary to say that the English Society for the Extermination of Ghosts, which has just entered upon its work, is concerned with the bad, and not the good ghosts. It offers to lay any of the former variety of ghosts for a fee. No matter how persistent, how terrifying a midnight visitor may be, the members of the organisation stand ready to lay in patient wait for him, or her, or it, and knock his or her, or its head off with a stout oaken stick.

The scheme is the idea of Charles Dove, formerly a commercial traveller, but at present proprietor of the Dew Drop Inn, otherwise known as The Ark, a diminutive resort for refreshments in one of the poorer districts of London. It seems that this establishment, hardly big enough for a good-sized man to turn around in, is the meeting place of a club of English athletes. That is, the members of the club called themselves athletes but their energies never took them beyond a perusal and discussion of the latest sporting news in the morning and evening papers, and heated arguments on the abilities of the cricket stars of the moment. Dove, who used to sit behind the counter and listen in resignation to the endless repetition of figures and facts and opinions finally hit upon the bright idea of converting all this hot air into physical energy.

Dove had thought a good deal about ghosts. His interests date from a night, many years ago, when he was a commercial traveller. He retired to sleep one evening in a cottage in Ramsey and was awakened in the middle of the night by a spectral figure of a young girl, with jet black eyes that pierced him through and through (he says), and long hair that hung in luxurious curls about her shapely shoulders. The figure stood at the foot of his bed. Slowly he arose so as not to alarm her and after pinching himself to see that it was not all a dream, made a spring to take the visitor in his arms. To his disappointment, the visitor vanished into space, so his arms closed around the waist that was not there.

Next morning when he related his adventure to the woman who owned the cottage, the latter told him that it must have been the ghost of her daughter, who had died in the same bed and the same room, twelve years before.

That was many years ago, yet Dove has never forgotten the haunting beauty (the words are his) of the young girl who visited him so strangely during the small hours of the morning. Many times he has been back to the cottage and slept in the same room in the hopes of seeing the figure and conversing with it, but in vain. Finally, he has come to the conclusion that it was all a humbug and it is this desire to prove that those who believe in ghosts are being bamboozled that he has entered upon his crusade.

Applications for his expert services came to him in basketfuls soon after his advertisement appeared. One of the letters revealed the fact that there is much more to the time-honoured mother-in-law joke than our humorists have imagined. The writer said that some years ago, the mother of his wife died and while not wishing to be unkind to the dead, he wanted to say at the outset he was relieved, to say the least, by her demise. Imagine his surprise and disgust when about a year ago, she again made her appearance in ghost form in the room in which she had died. Since then she has made pretty regular visits to the house. Could Dove and his brave assistants call around some evening and knock the ghost on the — I mean — that is — well, would they take the job?

Dove and his fellow sluggers made further enquiries, discovered the woman was 80 when she died and very feeble, and finally declared they were ready to have their bravery tested. No date for the event has been set, but is understood that as soon as they can get their oak cudgels cut, their nerves keyed to the proper pitch and can stop the chattering of their teeth (consequent upon the present cold spell), the exterminators will proceed to lay the grey-haired lady.