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

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

The Hapgood Prophecy

The Hapgood Prophecy

Lying in a remote and forested region of South Wales (it is not necessary to indicate the precise spot) there lived in an old feudal mansion a family of the name Hapgood, and though both the incumbents and the house bore the ravages that time had wreaked upon them , they managed to keep up a comparatively respectable appearance. They had an only daughter, a prepossessing girl of seventeen, who was possessed of a lovely and kindly disposition. She was much respected by the tenantry in the neighbourhood.

A young man of winsome character and manner was an accepted lover. His visits were frequent enough, for he was in the full flush of a first attachment.. For nights in succession he kept tryst with the girl, taking long rambles together over hill and mountain; and, at last, he found that he could hide the full desires of his heart no longer.

Suddenly the young man discontinued his visits. This brought great distrust upon the minds of the young girl’s parents; but worse was to come, for soon after they discovered that their daughter had been seduced. Their distress of mind can be better conceived than described, and as time rolled on it was but too plainly demonstrated that their child was about to become a mother, and thus shame and disgrace would fall upon a family that had not a blot upon its escutcheon; but their measure of anguish was not at its full, for their dear and loving child was suddenly missed. The whole of the neighbourhood turned out in quest of her, and after undergoing extreme agony and suspense at receiving no tidings, and suspecting their daughter had destroyed herself, she was brought home far advanced in the evening by her seducer. Struck with astonishment, the parents stood dumb. Beside them the girl, no longer able to hold up, fell into the arms of one of the servants, and the young man threw himself prostrate at the parents’ feet, and craved their mercy. After some considerable time tranquillity was restored, and the young man told the following story: —

“For many weeks I have been in the most desponding state of mind, and, knowing, as I did, that my parents were strictly adverse to the courtship, and that they would disinherit me if I married, I knew not what to do. Some time back a spectre had visited my bedside, and, in an unearthly voice, bade me beware of the future. Its appearance was that of a woman wearing a veil, with a dress damp and tarnished as if it had been subject to a fall. After looking menacingly into my face it vanished. Some days after this I implored my parents to reconsider their verdict, but as they were obdurate I was brought to the verge of despair.

Some time afterwards the ghost appeared again and looked more terrible than ever, till the cold perspiration stood heavy on me and I felt crazed. The ghost, as before, stated it would pay another and last visit, but not till it gave me a look that chilled my blood. Again and again I entreated my parents to consent, but with no better effect. Matters were now assuming an awful crisis, for I dared to look again upon the apparition. Early in the evening I left a note on my parents’ table bidding them adieu, that I should see them no more. At some distance from home I put up at an inn to endeavour to win a little rest to myself, for I was wearied unto death, but it was denied me, and in a short time the apparition again appeared. I heard a noise like a heavy tread on the stairs; and at the bottom of the first flight was the ghost beckoning me to follow. A magnetic power seemed to draw me on until I arrived at a river where I took shelter from the ghastly spectre in a narrow cave. My head must have come in contact with a projecting rock, for I fell senseless upon the ground. When conscience returned, I was lying upon the mossy entrance to the cave, my head facing towards the river. In the dim distance I saw a shape hovering about the bank, its mouth open wide as if in mid-scream; and there, upon the wind, I heard its call, urging me on with all the speed to the river.

As I advanced I saw it was the form of a woman; her long matted hair hanging down below her shoulders; her cheeks were sunken, and a vacant glare of madness was in her eyes — no longer the spectre but my beloved. I hastened to her, as you may perceive, just in time to save your daughter from self-murder.

It was impossible to say whether what I had seen was something of the night or the unconscious projection of a living person. I do not ordinarily believe in such things but I must concede that in the absence of this supernatural benefaction I would be standing here alone.”

The oak chest and the bride who rushed to her death

The Mistletoe Bride

“Within lay the body of his lost bride, now a fleshless skeleton, wearing the beautiful wedding robes in which he had last seen her. The wedding dress was yellow and stained with age and corruption. Her fleshless hand was raised in a pathetic attitude as it trying to open the door of her tomb.”

Read the whole story: https://freakyfolktales.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/how-a-new-york-society-girl-came-to-inherit-the-ghost-of-an-english-bride/

How a New York society girl came to inherit the ghost of an English bride

The Mistletoe Bride

In 1923, one of the most touching and melodramatic of legends connected with the ancient castles of England was brought vividly to the attention of an American readership by the reported appearance of “The Mistletoe Bride.”

This most thrilling of old English family legends tells of a bride who was lost on her wedding day and not found until fifty years afterward. Several versions of the legend are in existence. They represent the strange and tragic events as occurring in many different old families and castles.

Although there is some uncertainty concerning the supposed scene of this old tragedy, owing to its great antiquity, the researches of historians and antiquarians have proved that it most probably occurred at Bramshill House, in Hampshire, the seat of the very ancient Cope family.

T. F. Thiselton Dyer, who made the most exhaustive study of old English romances and mysteries, writes in his “Strange Pages from Family Papers”:— “The chest in which The Mistletoe Bride was found is shown to visitors at Bramshill House, Hampshire, the residence of Sir John Cope.”

Now, this statement was of peculiar interest because, in 1923, a charming American society girl, Miss Edna Hilton, had just become the bride of Captain Denzil Cope, heir of Sir Anthony Cope, the chief of the ancient family that had long occupied the old house.

The Mistletoe Bride, Bramshill House

Mrs Cope was well known in New York society as she was one of the Hilton family that inherited part of the Stewart millions. For several years, before her marriage, she lived in Paris, where her mother, Mrs Edward Baker Hilton, had a magnificent apartment.

Young Mrs Cope now virtually became the owner of the famous chest in which the poor bride was locked up and lost. Americans who knew her were intensely curious to know what experiences she would have with such a gruesome relic. It was said that persons staying in the house were kept awake at night by the stifled moans of a woman in terrible agony. They would hear muffled sounds like those of a person beating on the interior of a thick wooden chest.

There was little surprise in the considerable gossip that attached itself to the new Mrs Cope and her unusual home. The chattering classes of New York society discussed the matter at length. What would the new bride do with the tragic chest? Would she have the hardihood to climb into it herself? Would she send it away for fear of it being haunted by the bride who died in it? Would she remove the great lock that was the real cause of the tragedy? Continue reading

The Tenement House – a ghost story

The Tenement House

It was the February of 1909 when I came to the tenement building in Philip Street. Though it was little more than two low-ceilinged rooms 10 feet square — the sole entrance a narrow, dingy hallway that led from a “poor man’s road” to the rear tenement-house — it was the best I could afford, and possibly more than I could expect considering the ill-found fate I had so far incurred.

I had been the mother of two healthy, fit boys — the eldest a sanguine child of two years and seven months, the other a darling baby boy of eight months — but, on April 3rd, I noticed my little baby had died. He was a lovely, chubby baby, with a dimple in its chin and a dimple to mark each knuckle in its tiny fingers — a sweet a baby as ever was mourned by an agonised mother. And he, having given up life’s struggle after such a short time in this world, lay there, waiting next to me for someone to come and take his little body away. Sympathetic neighbours huddled in the little room and about the door, but they were as poor as I and could extend no helping hand. My eldest, round-faced but now so pale, stood by the cot and gazed first at his baby brother lying so still there, with a dainty sweet violet in his marble hand, and then at me, wonderingly.

The baby had been very sick, but the doctor, a good man, had tended him and he was all well till Sunday. Then his breathing appeared to take on an agonising tone, the air here being so bad. So, I took him down to the park, by the river, where he could get fresher air. We sat there on the bench for such a long time, baby sleeping on my lap.

Then, first I knew, he gave a cry, his little arms and legs drew up and I knew he was in a fit. I rushed him back home but I could not do anything, my baby was dead.

When it came to the funeral, a small number gathered with bowed heads, tears streaming from their eyes. I knelt, resting my head on the foot of the tiny coffin, the frame shaking with my emotion while the vicar spoke the words of the service.

The following days and nights I spent in the depths of despair and unable to repress my grief, I went to the cemetery four days after the burial. It was about eight o’clock in the morning. What added to my discomfort was that towards daybreak a disagreeable drizzle set in, one of those hideous rains, which dampens the very soul and makes one an easy prey to every gloomy foreboding. I stood just a short distance from the grave, when I was seized by a terrible coldness, and, in that instant, I became aware that at the edge of the plot was an object shifting to-and-fro upon its own weight. I stepped a little closer and saw it to be a cradle nestled within the boundary stone. At first I was horror-struck, but maternal affection getting the upper hand, I approached the grave. When I came upon the white stone, there was nothing of the cradle just the circulating pools of rainwater collecting upon its surface.

A wave of black depression fell upon me and, sinking to my knees, I was possessed to begin scraping at the soil. It was as if the physical separation of my hands from my mind gave unconscious animation to my clawing fingers and, with increasing ferocity, I attacked the loosening soil with an ever tightening resolve to find my baby. Finally, I had cleared the layers of earth and punctured the flimsy strips of coffin wood, and stripping back the sod-stained linen I exposed the tiny bundle of flesh. With my baby restored to my arms, I tried to give life back by massaging its face with my hands. The last thing I remember before the shadow of unconsciousness descended was the hard thud of a body pressing against me, wrestling the child from my arms.

I awoke several hours later, having been looked after by a kind neighbour. The lady had such sympathy for my plight and told me that she herself had lost several babies. She spoke of how such grief can turn one’s mind, to the point where it loses all proportion of rationality and craves to attempt the resurrection of what is lost. 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 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.