Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the curious case of the moated grange

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the curious case of the moated grange

I have long held a fascination with the life and times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; not, however, his detective writing, nor the subsequent debunking of the many psychic charlatans that courted him, but more his inimitable style in documenting sensational tales of hauntings, and the rather odd relationship he had with women, in particular his mother, Mary Doyle, a preeminent force in Conan Doyle’s life.

In 1927, several newspapers ran articles on a tale that was eventually to become one of the many compiled in his last published work, The Edge of the Unknown. It is a particularly curious tale, and, I must say, one that always tends to send a slight shiver down my spine; though I am at odds to explain why – whether it is the strangeness of the medium’s gender mutation or the ghost’s mother-fixation so curiously reminiscent of Doyle’s own life, I can’t quite say.

The tale is presented below. Read it if you like; and if you do, then I’d love to know your opinion on it…

The Times, 1927

What must be the most amazing document from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describes how a woman medium changed her personality in an instant to that of a ghostly ostler, a spirit inhabitant of a moated grange in Sussex. The medium was Mrs. Wickland, the wife of Dr. Carl Wickland, a noted psychic investigator.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prefaces his amazing statement by saying: “I could not out-rival it if I gave free play to my imagination.”

He proceeds:-“We drove to a moated grange in Sussex, and while we stood surveying the lichened walls, a door entering upon the moat opened and a woman looked out, then closed the door. We passed on through a meadow, dismissing the incident, though Mrs. Wickland kept looking back. (Presently she said: ‘There is a strange old man beside us.’ In answer to our questions she said: ‘He is old and his face is sunk forward, and his back hunched. He wears knee breeches, a striped vest, and a short coat. He came out of the door.’)”

Sir Arthur adds:-.”We went home and were seated among the roses on my verandah talking of other things when Mrs. Wickland said suddenly, ‘He is here.’ Then a most amazing thing occurred before our eyes. She changed in an instant into a heavy-faced, sullen old man, with a bent back and loose senile lips. He choked and spluttered but there was no trace of Mrs. Wickland. The doctor massaged the throat of the newcomer who shook off his hand angrily.”

Sir Arthur proceeds to give a full account of the dialogue in which the old man stated how he was an ostler at the grange, and was pushed into the moat by a fellow employee whom he dragged in also.

Dr. Wickland interrupted: “You are dead.” Continue reading

The Brooklyn Society for the Extermination of Ghosts and Dispelling of Haunted House Illusions

The Brooklyn Society for the Extermination of Ghosts and Dispelling of Haunted House Illusions

Following my earlier post that discussed Charles Dove and his ghost-thwarting league of Edwardian gentlemen, I was delighted to stumble upon a marvellous case of transatlantic parallel evolution. Four years prior to the founding of the English Society for the Extermination of Ghosts, the more cumbersomely titled The Brooklyn Society for the Extermination of Ghosts and Dispelling of Haunted House Illusions was established in New York. The key difference between the two societies, however, was the leaning of the Brooklyn agency towards fraud-busting and the considerably more cogent induction of its members!

The Times, May 21, 1905 .—

The spectres within a radius of a hundred miles of New York might as well quit, and haunted houses still the restless spirits that moan at midnight. Out of Brooklyn has originated the society which is to put an end to belief in ghosts and haunted houses. Its name is almost enough to do the work— The Brooklyn Society for the Extermination of Ghosts and Dispelling of Haunted House Illusions. After having spent several nights in an old Colonial house on Rockaway Road, in the outskirts of Jamaica Bay, the members of the society are about to give their attention to the house in Woodside, Long Island, in which Martin Thorn and Mrs. Nack killed Guldensuppe a few years ago.

The only difficulty the society has encountered so far is the shortage of haunted houses. Letters have been written to real estate dealers in various towns in New-Jersey, Westchester and further up the Hudson, offering to rent all the haunted houses offered. The society has just got track of one in New-Brunswick, which promises some exciting nights.

The membership of the society includes thirty young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three, who live in the Bedford district of Brooklyn. None of them believe in ghosts, and they are willing to spend their time and money bringing other people to their way of thinking. If their theories should prove ill founded and a ghost should really confront them, they are prepared to make immediate capture. Every mother’s son of them has proved his bravery and courage by facing some “terrible terror” without flinching. On their ghost watches they parry revolvers and wear dark lanterns.

“We have already put one haunted house out of business,” said the president of the society, William Offerman of No. 277 Jefferson-ave, Brooklyn, yesterday afternoon to a Tribune reporter. The afternoon, it may be mentioned, is the only time one is sure of finding the ghost hunters, for their nights are otherwise occupied.

“It was an old Colonial house In Jamaica Bay, as spooky as you could find anywhere,” continued the youth who knows no fear. “The story goes that a butcher took his life with a razor in one of the upper rooms. People will not live in the house, because they said the butcher came back every night and cut his throat over again. We camped in the suicide room every night for a week, staying up until long after midnight, but there was never a sign of a ghost.

“The last few nights we tried out some fellows who wanted to join the society. A skeleton in the dark hall, rigged up on wires, with electric lights for eyes, was enough to demonstrate that one young man was unfit for membership. He ran all the way back to Jamaica before we could stop him. The other officers of the society are Arthur Pierson, No. 101 McDonough-st., vice- president; Arthur Weygant, No. 645 Bedford-ave., treasurer; Munroe Gallon, secretary., The treasurer, it is said, has plenty of funds to pay rent for the summer on all haunted houses that are offered!

The Bristol Room

The Bristol Room, New Place, Shirrell Heath

‘There was something deeply troubling about that fireplace. Had it been the only illuminated feature in the room I could have grasped something tangible about its formidable presence, but this was different; the Bristol Room was permanently furnished and dressed for dining. Rather, its carved beauty had long been ignored; thoughtlessly surrounded by the apparel of catering for ever-increasing volumes of guests. Was this ignorance the source of my disconcertion? Whatever, I had run my hands over the cold carved stone an alarming number of times.’

An excerpt from ‘The Bristol Room’.

New Place, Shirrell Heath