Poetry-reading, gymnastics and other unforgivable ghostly behaviour!

unghostly behaviour

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

The Ghost Bureau

The ghost bureau

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

Three notes of death – the story of an evil entity in a Hove townhouse

three notes to death

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

‘The Haunted Cupboard’ and ‘Return To Tyneham’ now available on Amazon

Darker Times Anthology Volume Four: 4

I’m delighted to announce that two of my tales have been published in the collection Darker Times Anthology Volume Four available now from Amazon as paperback and Kindle ebook.

The stories featured are The Haunted Cupboard and Return to Tyneham.

Two scary books

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.

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

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the curious case of the moated grange and the transgendered medium…

The moated grange

I’ve put together a new Facebook site as the old one had issues! To launch it I’ve added a Facebook-only tale: ‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the curious case of the moated grange and the transgendered medium.’

Although this WordPress blog will always be my primary concern, I’ve responded to a number of requests to provide a Facebook site that allows perusal of photos and story snippets in a précised format.

It can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/morefreakyfolktales

If you like it then please, er, like it…. 🙂

Thanks, Paul

The etiquette of addressing a ghost at a Victorian séance (and how to avoid embarrassing faux pas)

rules of etiquette for addressing a ghost

In 1921, a thoroughly charming and entertaining article appeared in The Times detailing the domestic rules of etiquette for receiving ghosts. This ghostly code of conduct was prepared as a possible topic for discussion at the First International Congress for Psychical Research in Copenhagen the same year. Whether it actually made it onto the conference agenda for that year, or any other, however, is not known. Nevertheless, I would say that any of today’s self-respecting psychic researchers could do very well to abide by these principles if only to avoid unnecessary and embarrassing ostracisations from the spirit world — heaven forbid!

The Times, Jan 1921

WHAT’S GOOD FORM WHEN RECEIVING GHOSTS?

We cannot urge you too strongly to appear perfectly natural when receiving a ghost. If you are seated remain so. You won’t gain anything by standing up. When reading you may lay aside your book if you wish. Or if you are very nervous you may walk across the room and flick your cigarette ashes off in the tray. This will conceal your embarrassment for the time being.

GLANCING over the morning mail in the breakfast room last Wednesday we discovered a most unusual communication. It was written on pale white stationary.

“Dear Madam,” thus it ran, “can you throw some light on a matter which has a vital bearing on our social position in this community? One must be psychic to be really smart these days. So I would like some information on the proper method of addressing ghosts. Every third Thursday I am at home to a few expert table-tippers. Phillips Brooks, William James and others have already given us afternoons. But there are a number of points on which I need guidance.”

“For instance, what is the correct method of salutation for disembodied spirits? Should the hostess stand while receiving her guests? If the visitors from the other world appear in negligee, should the hostess wear full dress? Should masculine spirits be invited to informal afternoon affairs? What is the really correct thing to say when ghosts are leaving?”

“Is it good form to count the raps out loud? How many spirits can be invited to one sitting without crowding? Which is more stylish — direct or indirect lighting?”

“If a ghost leaves unexpectedly in high dudgeon, how can it be brought back?”

“Should the most illustrious shades be entertained à deux or ensemble?” Continue reading

Alice’s ghost

ghost

The fading skies of a November night. Some dim presentiment of evil hung heavy upon my heart as I sat alone in the twilight. And yet there was seemingly nothing to make me melancholy. On the contrary, I ought to have been more than usually joyful; had I not been the recipient of a most heavenly promise from Lucinda that very afternoon!

It seemed to be strange, to be sure, that a widower far from youthful, was to marry a girl barely into her twenties. Her mother had been a housekeeper in our family, but died soon after Lucinda’s birth. So it happened that she came under our wings, as we had no children of our own. My wife treated her sympathetically, but without much warmth or feeling. It was apparent to me that despite her civility towards Lucinda, she was jealous of the girl and would, quite often, go out of her way to avoid any unnecessary encounters with her.

Poor Alice! She warned me solemnly — and most vehemently! —on her death bed never to marry again, and threatened to rise from her grave in case of such an event.

Lucinda was in her thirteenth year when my wife passed away. I sent her away to a boarding-school; and, as business called me abroad, did not see her again, until my return, eight years afterwards. I was somewhat bewildered to find a lovely woman, instead of the little girl I had left in short dresses. Of course you can guess the inevitable. I fell in love with this charming woman. There was something in the genuine tenderness of her presence that completely won my heart.

Lucinda was most unlike other girls her age and did not suffer the carefree vagaries of youth. Instead of blushing at my declaration that afternoon she turned pale, almost ashen, as if struck by a sudden chill. I noticed too, that, there was a faint tremble in her voice when she finally consented to be my wife. I was concerned that my nephew Martin had told her what Alice had said on her death-bed. And yet I was unable to accept that the man could be so inconsiderate. Somehow, I couldn’t rid my mind of that warning. Alice was the most singular of women, and would surely keep her promise, if ghosts are permitted to walk the earth. Thinking thus, my mind drifted ineluctably towards a darker realm, and I began to grow fearful of the darkening shadows in my room, and hastily rang for light.

“Why are you so late, Mary?” I asked, indignantly, as the servant entered the room. Continue reading

A tip of the hat – a light tale of the supernatural for Father’s Day

A tip of the hat

During what would prove to be one of my last visits to London, and only a few days before I left my solicitors firm, I had the honour of being entertained at a dinner party given by my partners. There were twelve of us altogether, Mr Leicester being the most senior. After dinner I turned the conversations upon the subject of the supernatural, and remarked that I did not think a dozen persons ever met without one of their number having seen a ghost.

“Now, who is here?” I asked, “who has seen a ghost?”

Sitting opposite me at the table was Mr. Simon Poates, solicitor, of 17, Charles Square, a young married man, about thirty-two, a member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, and one of the earliest members of our association.

He said — “I do not believe in ghosts, but I have seen one.”

“Was it the ghost of a living or a dead person?”‘ I enquired.

The response was immediate, “A ghost of a dead person.”

“How long had it been dead?” “Nine years.”

“Where did you see it?” “In Rivington Street, near Hoxton.”

“In the day or night?” “At half-past 2 in the afternoon, in broad daylight.”

“Daylight you say. Well I never —” Continue reading