Freaky Folk Tales – a collection of macabre, supernatural and amusing tales, from the haunting of ancestral homes to the malignancy of inanimate objects.
South Mimms, a small village in Hertfordshire, England, located near the busy junction of the M25 motorway, was once surrounded by uninterrupted countryside and better known for its picturesque views over Ridge-Hill than the service station that currently resides there.
In the late 19th century, however, the village gained something of a reputation, and it wasn’t long before newspaper reporters descended and reported on a tiny community that had become widely known as ‘The village that marriage had forgotten’.
The articles spoke of how romance had seldom come to the village, and reasoned as to why wedding bells had long been silent. Villagers were interviewed and spoke of a lack of eligible brides-to-be but behind closed doors gossip was rife, and folk spoke of something quite different:— that of a curse that had been placed upon the village.
The source of the haunting was a female ghost known as ‘The Spectral Bride’, who had died after the shattering of her love romance, and would appear whenever a wedding took place in the tiny church. Whether she came to those who were seeking the happiness she was herself denied, or whether she came to bless them, nobody knew but they were sure that there was a connection between the ghost and the lack of marriages.
Its strangest manifestation was seen by one of the parishioners, Miss Long. In broad daylight she saw the female spectre, hovering just a few inches above the altar; averting her gaze from the terrifying apparition, she was then drawn to the figure of a priest kneeling in the stalls of the parish church, which dates from 1350. Two days later the village received news of the death at Bournemouth of the Rev. William Woods, who had been the parish vicar 30 years before. Miss Long, who had never seen the late vicar, described the phantom figure in the church which tallied exactly with that of Mr Woods.
Rev Hay, vicar at the time, said that he could feel the presence of the spirit morning and night as he walked up the pathway to St. Giles’s Church, and he believed this to be an ill omen:— the news of portending disaster. “Many of the parishioners state that they have seen ‘a bluish-white glow ‘over the tombstones in the churchyard,” said the reverend, “and over it is the spirit of the lady of the vicarage who has been observed kneeling at the altar when some dire thing was going to happen.”
“Until recently, South Mimms was known as the parish where young men and women seldom married,” continued Reverend Hay. “It is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and has a strange history of tragic happenings.”
The reverend went on to discuss the parish records which had a gruesome tale to tell of accidents, one entry stating that a highwayman was buried there on August 2nd, 1689. South Mimms suffered severely from the plague in 1665, and near its boundary Warwick’s Army fought King Edward in the Battle of Barnet. It was also a favourite hiding place of the invincible Dick Turpin from his pursuers, and not far away is an ancient inn called the Black Horse, where the notorious robber was in the habit of resting between his plunderous exploits. There is an entry in the parish register of the birth of Richard Turpin in 1703.
The parish church, dedicated to St. Giles, is situated almost in the centre of the village. At the west end it has an embattled tower with a small staircase turret built during the reign of King Stephen. The main fabric consists of a nave and chancel, separated from a north aisle, erected at a later period, by octagonal pillars and six obtuse arches. These are mostly of the Tudor period, and what remains of the stained glass windows belong to the fifteenth century. Such is the church with the haunted vicarage.
The Rev. Allen Hay had a great deal to say about the ghost. Continue reading
August is the height of wedding season. The month appears to be exceptionally auspicious for marriage — something evidenced by the beautiful blazing sunshine and the hundreds of bridal parties taking place across the country. But is it the most favourable time to get married? And, what are the long-held beliefs attached to the preparations for this ceremony?
Detailed below is advice for the newly betrothed, taken from articles of the late 19th century. Following this comes a little ghost story that warns of wearing a certain piece of apparel when marrying for a second time.
Whilst there are fair women and brave men in this world there will continue to be weddings; and, as long as weddings are the fashion there will still be many persons on hand to suggest to a young bride just what she should do to avoid bad luck, and also what she must not do for the same reason.
Those who are ordinarily sensible about most things let all their superstitious notions creep into their ideas regarding the preparations for a wedding, and these whims are made the subject of discussion at as early a stage of the proceedings as when the young lady is considering what she prefers for an engagement ring.
She is told to refrain from choosing opals, as no one ever was known to have any happiness who owned one of them. In spite of this, however, dealers say that there is always a demand for rings set with this beautiful stone. Pearls, the superstitious say, are even worse, but eventually the little circle is purchased and the time for the wedding is discussed.
Then further complications arise as certain days are unfavourable and some months are to be shunned. May is said to be an especially unlucky month — why, no one can tell, but many a rhyme could be quoted to show that this notion has prevailed for many centuries.
August is also looked upon as a disastrous time in which to wed, and those who marry in Lent will “live to repent,” according to very old authority. Winter seems to be the favourite season for the wedding bells to chime in America. In Scotland the last day of the year is regarded with great favour, and should December 31st fall on Friday so much the better, as that is the favourite day of the week for weddings. Sunday weddings are common in England, and in the early history of America many couples were made one on that day, but recently such a thing is seldom heard of.
In Scandinavia, Thursday marriages are forbidden by the church, it being called the pagan’s day. After much consideration the day is decided upon, and brave indeed is the girl who will consent to change it, for that is sure to bring ill-luck which all the rice and old shoes in the country could not drive away. The time arrives, and with it much advice in regard to the colour which she shall wear and the manner of arraying herself. Probably no girl in her teens is ignorant of the rhyme which urges young brides to be careful to wear “something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue,” in order that she may live “happy ever after,” as the story books say.
Misfortune is sure to follow the bride who has a speck of green in her costume. She must never array herself in all her pretty robes until dressing for the ceremony. She must never read the marriage service quite through and she must not stand before the mirror one second after she is ready, no matter how pleasing the reflection of the happy face and graceful gown. The one who speaks first on entering the church will rule the house, so the wise once say, and in throwing the numerous articles of footwear after the departing couple, any of the guests may run after them, and the one who succeeds in picking one up first will be married next.
On her return from her wedding journey the bride must be careful not to step on the threshold of her home, but must be lifted across by her husband. If all these rules are followed carefully, and great care is taken before becoming engaged that the object of her admiration has a name which begins with another letter than her own, there does not seem to be any reason why everything should not prosper with a bride.
And woe betide a bride who chooses to wear a veil when her husband marries for a second time…
And finally, something a little less serious for a Friday!
A code of conduct for ghosts, taken from ‘Yankee Notions’, 1838:
Ghosts have been very badly treated by people in general, and if we do not turn over a new leaf, I am under some apprehensions that the whole army of sprites will discontinue their visits, in resentment of these affronts, so that before long, there will not be a ghost to be seen for love, money, or murder. This catastrophe, I grieve to say, seems to be approaching already, for ghosts are not half so common as they were in the days of my grandmother.
Strict justice, however, compels me to say, that the ghosts themselves are somewhat to blame in the matter, their behaviour at times being a little antic and anomalous. There are faults on both sides ; which hoping I may remedy, I offer the following suggestions for the consideration of both parties, and let ghosts and ghost-seers lay them to heart.
In the first place, a ghost should never wear a night-cap. Some readers may doubt whether the thing has ever been done ; but the fact is unquestionable ; ghosts in night-caps have been seen by too many credible persons to allow of any doubt upon this point.
I protest, however, against any such head-dress for a member of the tartarean regions; it is unghostly, and ought to be abandoned. If a ghost has any sense of propriety, let him appear with a bare sconce; it is much more respectable. Some indulgence may perhaps be claimed for a bald ghost, especially considering the coolness of the night air. My great-grandfather, who was a ghost-seer of some talent, used to recommend a wig; but this, I think, would never be endured: a ghost in a wig! what an unspiritual costume. No, — wigs will never do. A white handkerchief might serve every purpose, provided it were not tied on, for that would look night-cappish again.
Secondly, a ghost should never pull a man by the nose. Here again I may be asked, “Have ghosts ever been addicted to nose-pulling?” I am not certain; but the story goes that they have. I pronounce it wrong in toto; it is undignified and improper. If a ghost wishes to give any person so sensible a token of his presence, let him bestow a sound bang upon his noddle: this would be emphatic and decisive ; there would be no mistake about it. But as to our noses, — hands off! No ghost that has any regard for his character, will clap his digits to your olfactory projection. This suggests another thought. Continue reading
I arrived at 14 Dean’s-Yard in the autumn of 1894 entirely unaware that this part of the city should prove so attractive. My eyes, from every conceivable angle, were rewarded with the delights of such remarkable construction and I make no bones in saying that I did feel at this juncture to be overawed by the finery of it all. The public entrance, framed by such an imposing arch, brought me to a spot where I stood and viewed the scene rather as a small insect would look upon a world of far greater magnitude. It felt peaceful enough and presented as a retired and quiet nook amongst the lofty stone-built mansions.
Despite the surrounding charm, I could not help but feel that Number 14 had an odd feeling to it, almost as if it was in mourning. The generous windows of the most antique pattern, seemed to be scrutinising me with a curious meaning, as if awed by my temerity. I approached the door, which was raised, about three feet from the ground and was reached by several steps of rough stone. I rang the bell, timidly at first, but there was no response save the faint echo of the ringing. Then, emboldened by my initial efforts and by the darkness of the clouds brewing overhead, which seemed rolling on towards the enclosure from all portions of the sky, I rang again, this time more vigorously, so that the loud peels rolled through the empty rooms, and returned to my ear in repeated echoes. My heart beat quickly, for I was sure I heard a step within. It appeared to proceed from an upper chamber, and came slowly, stealthily down the stair.
The steps came along the hallway and, after some time, the door was opened by an elderly grey-haired man. He muttered something under his breath and beckoned me accompany him along the corridor. I was shown into a luxuriously-furnished room, which seemed to be a kind of library to judge at least by the open bookcase, thickly stocked with books. The room was filled with flickering shadows from the fire held within an ornate grate, heaped up carefully towards the middle and the sides blocked in by bricks.
I had been alone for several minutes when the still and contemplative atmosphere was broken by the entrance of a gentleman who, from first appearance, appeared to be my host, followed by a lady in a light-coloured cotton dress. The gentleman was thick set, very active and determined-looking, with dark hair turning now to grey, a thick but evenly-cut moustache, joining his bushy whiskers, the large square heavy chin left bare, with small, restless, passionate eyes beneath. Mr Thomas made his introductions and spoke at length as to the nature of my employment. It was mid-way in the conversation when the lady rose from her seat and left the room.
Mr Thomas maintained the flow of conversation. I must declare that I was entirely untroubled by the more prosaic aspects of this collection of information — nothing could be more clearly worded or directly put than questions regarding age, occupation, rank, and so forth — however, it was not the formal aspects of form-filling which concerned me; rather, it was the nature of the questions that were to be asked. I should point out that there is very little within the realm of the supernatural that would give me nerves. Personally, I do not believe in ghosts, or that it is possible for the dead to return in any form, or to communicate, by any means, with the living. I have been regaled on many a winter’s evening by stories with a ghostly bent but never had I been asked to give such serious thought to things so otherworldly; and, if ever had I been asked to predict a situation where I would have to give such consideration, then I most certainly would not have envisaged that it would be through employment.
My duty was to gather information from as many persons as would grant their commitment to answer a series of questions related to the subject of hallucinations or dreams, and manifestations of the spectral variety. Specifically, these persons had to be of the “sane and healthy” variety though I was quite uncertain how one should diagnose such a candidate with certainty. Fortunately, the undertaking was not delivered so bluntly and indelicately as to alienate me from this eccentric proposal; Mr Thomas made a point of addressing my natural concern, stating that only a few years ago a project of this manner would have been regarded as bordering very closely on the insane but now, in more enlightened times the suggestion had been taken up by scientists and others working in the field of psychical research. And, I must say, despite what I had said earlier regarding my scepticism for such things, the words he chose were altogether rather intriguing: —
“I acknowledge with a certain amount of objectivity,” began Mr Thomas, “that the evidence is far from conclusive, yet the cases that have been recorded thus far do, in my mind, afford some argument for the continuity of psychical life, and the possibility of communication between the dead and the living.”
There was something so strange, and yet so honest, about the man, that I was in a certain his charm of manner, knowledge of the world, and high intelligence qualified him for almost any kind of business. There could be no credit in liking him because, simply, one could not help it. Continue reading
In the early months of the twentieth century, the people of Hove, a vibrant town in the south of England, spoke of little else than that of a ghost who announced its presence by a particular set of three notes played on a guitar or piano.
The minacious spirit had chosen an ordinary two-floor house in a very ordinary street as its residence. An elderly woman, who formerly occupied the house, said that one evening she was startled to see hovering by the piano in the drawing room the figure of a woman. There was a terrible look on its face, but the apparition vanished before the terror-stricken owner could gather any further detail.
A gentleman highly regarded in Brighton circles, lived in the house with his wife and children for several months. Sturdy and military trained, with a partiality for boxing as a pastime, this gentleman, who was interviewed by local newspaper reporters, was certainly not the kind of man to suffer from nerves.
He reported that he had not seen the ghost, but a very peculiar thing happened in the corner of the drawing room where the figure was said to have appeared. “We had our piano there,” he said, “and over it hung a guitar. One evening, just as I had got into bed, the guitar suddenly played three notes in quick succession.”
“I exclaimed, ‘What on earth is that?’ and my wife and I walked up to the instrument and studied it. It was mounted on the wall as usual, but as we looked at it it gave out the same three notes again, and then a third time.” Continue reading
Can animals see ghosts or spirits where human beings cannot?
Seeing things at night, it appears, is an experience whose thrills not only interest the human nervous system but also agitate the animal.
A great many esteemed psychic researchers have performed experiments in haunted houses with cats and dogs, as well as with other animals, and have often found the animal to have been frightened.
One researcher remembers an occasion at a haunted house in St. James’ Road, Brixton:—
“Again and again dogs have refused to accompany me to a room where ghostly phenomena have been alleged to take place. I remember on one occasion at a reputed haunted house in the St. James’s-Road, I had a huge bulldog with me, the last creature in the world one would suspect of having nerves.”
“I arrived at the house about 10 o’clock at night, and was giving it a thorough examination before settling down to my vigil, when Pat (my dog) sprang back from a half-open door on the top of the landing, snarled, whined, and finally flew downstairs, and, as nothing would induce him to return, I had to go on with my investigations alone.”
“Next day I made inquiries of the owner of the house and was informed that it was in the room that frightened Pat a man had once hanged himself, and that it was the latter’s ghost that was supposed to haunt the premises—a fact quite unknown to me at the time of my visit.”
It is widely believed that some animals are very sensitive to the advent of death. Owls and other night-birds will screech dismally outside a house where somebody dies shortly afterwards, and cats have been known to leave a house suddenly on the eve of a death and not come back to it until several days after the burial. Continue reading
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.
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.