Where do ghosts get their clothes?

Where do ghosts get their clothes
Adapted from The Times, Sept 1911

I propose to take the spiritual idea as it is commonly held, even if the difficulties appear to be insurmountable, and to see what are its obligations, what it ought to be if the present ideas of it are in any way correct.

We will begin with the obligations of the spectre or the ghost theory: If anyone says that he has seen a ghost, he means that to has seen an image with a certain amount of solidity of shape and colour both in features and dress, either moving about and speaking, or simply gesticulating in various ways, and then disappearing.

This means that a spirit, which is a replica of a former object, can assume a solidity or can condense itself so as to be capable of exciting vision, and can then re-vaporise and disappear.

If a spirit can do this, it must be capable of again becoming material, and if it is able to move and speak it must be living material, however attenuated its form may be.

Inasmuch as it appears at one time in one guise and at another in a different one — but all as visitations relating to the same recognised individuals — it follows that there must be a spiritual form corresponding to every phase of actual life, and that the selection of a particular presentation must be a result of deliberate change.

Now the change from one form into another means that the spiritual condition must to some amount expend itself in assuming the material shape, the two cannot exist together in the same intensity as when they were separate and disassociated, so that the necessary assumption is that when the ghosts of an individual appears the spirit of the individual is replaced by it.

But if the spectre is clothed, how does this happen?

Clothes, we know, are things of short duration, and in most instances, as in the Hampton Court Ghost Lady, they must have been torn up or have rotted into dust and been scattered years ago!

Have the clothes then a spiritual life (it would seem that the Hylozoists would say so), or does the spirit of the lady possess the power of gathering together the scattered dust of courtly confections and reinhabiting them, or out of the millions of phases of actual life which we have already hinted as one of the necessities of the spiritual hypothesis was one so favourite a habitation that it is especially selected for actual rehabilitation, though the materials for this have long since been destroyed?

Take another instance, that of the revivification of a skeleton which is supposed to reappear with all the accompaniments of movement, and which is stated to be a return of the spirit of the original men.

If it could be proved that when the spectral bones appeared the actual skeleton was not to be found where it was known to lie, and that on the disappearance of the visitation the remains were again in loco quo ante, there might be ground for the belief that a temporary resurrection had occurred, but such an alternation never has been proved.

The Box-Room

The Box-Room, a ghost story set in Fair Oak, Hampshire

A dear friend of mine, named Wilson was several years ago curate-in-charge of St Thomas in the village of Fair Oak, Hampshire and when he invited me to spend my six weeks’ vacation with him I gladly accepted. I found that he occupied a little cottage standing by itself, his only companions being his housekeeper and a rough-haired terrier, Jock. The wind howled and screamed around the house on the evening of my arrival, and the rain came down in torrents. It became so rough that the chimney crashed through the roof on to the bed where we two were sleeping, and we had to make up a bed on the floor of a small box-room, which, my friend laughingly told me, was haunted.

I was not at all displeased at this announcement, for I was hard-headed enough for any ghost and was glad that there was a chance of meeting one of those individuals. During the evening my friend, Wilson, was called away to an old parishioner, who was very ill and was expecting death. I went up the steps leading to the box-room, which only contained a small window high up, and got into the bed surrounded by old biscuit tins and other odds and ends. I was just dozing off when I heard a shuffling and saw the dog at the top of the stairs. It began to moan most dismally. I coaxed him, but he stood quite still. I put my hand out to him and was alarmed to encounter an animal as stiff as wood, with hair standing up like the hair on an angry cat’s tail. His eyes were glaring fixedly at the window, and looking round I saw just under the window the figure of a man dressed in sailor uniform. The shirt was wide open, and over the heart was a terrible gash, the chest and clothes being covered with blood.

It was the most awful moment of my life, and I did not know what to do. As I gazed at him, horror-stricken, he beckoned to me and put his finger into his horrible wound. He beckoned again, and, pulling myself together, I went towards him. I stumbled and knew nothing more until some hours afterwards the housekeeper found me covered in blood from a gash in the cheek. I carry the marks of that to this day.

I had come to stay for six weeks, but when the experience came vividly back to me I decided to pack up and go the same day. When my friend came back I told him of my resolve. At first he laughed, but seeing I was in earnest, he said “You’ve seen something in the box-room.”

I admitted that I had, but did not tell him what.

Shortly afterwards, I received a letter from my friend, saying that the old parishioner he had been called to see had since made a remarkable statement to him.

“Mr. Wilson,” he said. “I felt so wicked the other night that I could not tell you the story that has made my life a burden, and made me so unhappy that I could not even die. Forty years ago I was employed with another man in making excavations for the foundations of the cottage in which you live. We came across the body of a man dressed as a naval seaman, with a deep gash in his chest. Round his neck he wore a beautiful golden crucifix. We buried the body and sold the crucifix dividing the money. But the affair troubled both of us, and we bricked his body up in the walls of your house. My dying wish, sir, is that you will find the body and give it a Christian burial.”

I wrote back at once begging my friend to pull down the wall of the box-room, and telling him I would wager my life that they would find the body under the window.

And so they did. They found the body in a standing position under the window, in the middle of the thick wall, and they buried him with Church ceremony. The old man died just a few minutes after the funeral.