The Supernatural Possession of Inanimate Objects: The haunted cupboard

The haunted cupboard

“Again came the ominous knocks, louder, more insistent; but whether threatening or merely clamorous he could not decide. Now, with a veil lifted he approached the doors of the lobby with utmost dread and having fixed his eyes steadily on the drawer from which the tapping evidently proceeded, he saw what looked to be the knuckle-bone of a leg of lamb, about the size of a very small walnut, protruding and jerking repeatedly against the wood lying beneath its doors. At length the drawer opened further, and a naked human leg grinded its way through the fold. The foot arrived with a dense, deathlike sound to the floor, resting there for what seemed to the terrified man to be at least half a minute before the body to which it belonged was disclosed to his view.”

From ‘The Haunted Cupboard

The Haunted Cupboard (The supernatural possession of inanimate objects)

The Haunted Cupboard

“Now where was I? Yes — poppycock sir!” barked the older of the two gentlemen. “There is as much life in your peculiar theories as there is in the Dodo!”

“You may scoff sir but—”

“My dear boy,” interrupted the older gent, “there is, without doubt, a certain malignancy in everyday objects that we have no dominion over. Take the Lucifer match for instance. Nothing can be in its way more irritating than that small piece of wood. Who can tell when it will light, when it will refuse to light, when it will break in the middle, when it will snap off just at the top after lighting, and leave it a fiery head on one’s hand? But all this will go on no doubt even after the world has accepted the philosophical theory that the Lucifer is a malign and a capricious thing like some ill-conditioned gnome or sprite or imp. We cannot educate or convert or punish a match any more than we can a sprite or imp!”

The two gentlemen sit facing each other over their drinks; the older man having just returned from attending a call at the door of the club where they presently reside. In the gloom of the evening, the fitful gleams of the fire had suggested to the one just seated the idea of discussing the subject of ghosts, in particular the surfeit of reports regarding the supernatural possession of inanimate objects. The younger gent is a tall, slender, considerate sort of man with a voice that seems to carry with it the slightest hint of impatience, and altogether one of those persons who, we may be inclined to think is given to the supernatural fancies common to his age.

“But sir, you yourself said—” the younger chap stopped mid-sentence, appearing to calm himself. “Look, despite your propensity to pooh-pooh all that is other-worldly we are sat here discussing the theory all the same!”

At that the older gentleman quietened and took some time in pensive thought to consider his next words.

“The whole human race might,” he said, “be brought into that league of universal self-obliteration if it were for such a belief. Even the lower animals might be persuaded or coerced into the same arrangement.”

He raised his pipe and looked sharply at his fireside companion.

“The world began with the inanimate things, as we call them. They started the whole business, and then came the lower animals, and then came man.”

“Now suppose man were universally willing to extinguish himself — what guarantee could he possibly have from these inanimate things that the moment he had disappeared they would not start the whole machine of existence all over again. You cannot have a compact with the sands of the desert or the salt of the sea or the stone in a quarry. You cannot have a treaty with the dust of the highway or an alliance with the coals in a mine. Even if you could have such an arrangement, who could answer for its being carried out? Who could trust these things to keep their plighted words? The moment our backs were turned they would be sure to set the whole mechanism going again, just for the perverse fun of the business!”

The younger man took his glass from the top of a neighbouring cabinet and sighed. He was obviously losing patience with his companion who was intent on obfuscation. Continue reading

The Ghost Census of 1894

The Ghost Bureau

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently researching the life and times of William Thomas Stead. I must say it is proving quite the impossible task, simply because of the scope of this man’s interests and fads, and the marriage of such diverse genres of pursuit. His communications with the ghost of William Gladstone, and other distinguished politicians of the era, via Julia’s Bureau – an agency he established for communicant spirits – at the time attracted much curiosity, ridicule and even indignation. Newspapers of the day were as fascinated as they were scornful of his endeavours but still they faithfully scrutinised and hung upon his every word.

My recent communication with Lenora, the author of the outstanding blog The Haunted Palace (where the macabre and the supernatural are expertly researched and documented), expands on these incongruent and eccentric pursuits:- ‘WT Stead is a great character – my best friend’s father was for years the ‘official biographer’ of WT Stead, endorsed by the Stead family. Unfortunately he died before he could finish is biography. As a journalist in the late 19th/early 20th Century Stead was well placed to be in the centre of everything interesting going on. He was always viewed as a bit of a maverick, and his spiritual beliefs including his Julia’s Bureau work (messages transcribed from the dead Julia) did make some people think of him as a bit of a crackpot. He was fascinating man though.’

Below is an article from 1894 which outlines Stead’s proposal for the establishment of an ‘official’ Ghost Census, backed by evidence from his fellow researchers and supporters at the Psychical Research Society. It is the concept of the ‘Ghost Census Enumerators’, staff hired to collect and collate data on incidents of supernatural encounter that, for me, would make such fascinating and enthralling material for a radio play – perhaps even a television series! (Once again, my usual disclaimer applies: the article has been hand-typed by yours truly, and thus is prone to typo! Unfortunately I did not have a legion of Stead-esque staff to rely upon….:)) Continue reading

Real ghost stories from the man who ‘foretold’ his own death

william thomas stead

Recently, I have been fascinated by the life and works of William Thomas Stead, the man who ‘foretold’ his own death.

William Thomas Stead was a writer who campaigned for social and political change. He also pursued an interest in the uncanny, in particular spiritual phenomena and the supernatural. In an eerie instance of foreshadowing, Stead wrote a fictional story about a ship run by a Captain Smith facing dangerous icebergs in the early 1890s. Stead died aboard the Titanic about 20 years later.

His collections of ‘real’ ghost stories, published in the late 19th century, were publishing sensations and contain a fascinating wealth of anecdotal evidence for the existence of ghosts, astral projection and the machinations of poltergeists and doppelgangers.

I present here an extract from his 1891 work, An Unknown Double Identified:

An Unknown Double Identified

[This was] forwarded to me by a correspondent in North Britain, who received the statement from a Colonel now serving in India on the Bengal Staff, whose name is communicated on the understanding that it is not to be made public:—

“In the year 1860 I was stationed at Banda, in Bundelcund, India.
There was a good deal of sickness there at the time, and I was deputed along with a medical officer to proceed to the nearest railway station at that time Allahabad, in charge of a sick officer. I will call myself Brown, the medical officer Jones, and the sick officer Robertson. We had to travel very slowly, Robertson being carried by coolies, and on this account we had to halt at a rest-house, or pitch our camp every evening. One evening, when three marches out of Banda, I had just come into Robertson’s room about midnight to relieve Jones, for Robertson was so ill that we took it by turns to watch him, when Jones took me aside and whispered that he was afraid our friend was dying, that he did not expect him to live through the night, and though I urged him to go and lie down, and that I would call him on any change taking place, he would not leave. We both sat down and watched. We had been there about an hour when the sick man moved and called out. We both went to his bedside, and even my inexperienced eyes saw that the end was near. We were both standing on the same side of the bed, furthest away from the door.

“Whilst we were standing there the door opened, and an elderly lady entered, went straight up to the bed, bent over it, wrung her hands and wept bitterly. After a few minutes she left; we both saw her face. We were so astonished that neither of us thought of speaking to her, but as soon as she passed out of the door I recovered myself and, as quickly as possible, followed her, but could not find a trace of her. Robertson died that night. We were then about thirty miles from the nearest cantonment, and except the rest-house in which we were, and of which we were the only occupants, there was not a house near us. Next morning we started back to Banda, taking the corpse with us for burial.

“Three months after this Jones went to England on leave, and took with him the sword, watch, and a few other things which had belonged to the deceased to deliver to his family. On arrival at Robertson’s home, he was shown into the drawing-room. After waiting a few minutes, a lady entered—the same who had appeared to both of us in the jungle in India; it was Robertson’s mother. She told Jones that she had had a vision that her son was dangerously ill, and had written the date, etc., down, and on comparing notes they found that the date, time, etc., agreed in every respect.
“People to whom I have told the story laugh at me, and tell me that I must have been asleep and dreamed it, but I know I was not, for I remember perfectly well standing by the bedside when the lady appeared.”

You can read more about ‘the man who forgot to look into his own future’ here:

http://venturegalleries.com/blog/he-forgot-to-look-into-his-own-future/

The subject of Stead’s demise on board the Titanic has also recently been the subject of a rather unconventional classical music concert, The memory of W. T. Stead.

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/ra-magazine/blog/the-memory-of-w-t-stead,377,BAR.html

The Haunted Bungalows of India

boocheekara, an Indian ghost

Once again I am astounded at how much ghostlore from foreign shores has been lost over the years. Whilst I am familiar with the Indian bhoot, I am completely ignorant of the boocheekara – an apparition – and a term which frequents the following article from an 1883 edition of ‘The Graphic’. The piece tells us much about the haunting of Indian bungalows by boocheekara et al and what fine distant cousins of the British ghost they are! (Note: Due to the poor quality of the original newspaper scan, I have hand-typed the article and must apologise for any typos that have crept in.)

From The Graphic, 1883

The haunted bungalows of India

The notion of Indian houses being haunted is, on first thought, rather ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is scarcely a station in Hindustan which has not its haunted bungalow, or, at the very least, some old house in which the demon of pestilence has taken up his abode. This goes to show that houses need not be of any great age to suit a ghostly occupant, for there are few houses of any great antiquity in India; but it must be confessed that, when a ghost once selects a bungalow for his castle, it is the very mischief to get him out of it, even with the aid of priest, book, and candle. Nor is this self-determination the only peculiarity of Indian ghosts. They appear to the appalled beholders by sunlight as well as by night, and are apparently indifferent to the time of day whenever it suits them to revisit the earth. A curious and very well authenticated instance of this disregard of the hour is that of the ‘afternoon ghost’, which punctually appears at sunset in a certain house in Madras.

On the Poonamalee Road in that town there is an old tumble-down sort of bungalow, in which no one cares to dwell because of an apparition which is credibly said to appear there of an evening as regularly as clockwork. Military men, clergymen, and others, have testified to the fact of this singular apparition’s appearance; and the story is so well known in Madras, and has been so often discussed, that it may perhaps be set down as one of the best authenticated ghost stories on record. Continue reading

The rivalry between British and Japanese ghosts

japanese ghost rivalry

I had no idea of the concern aired in the early 20th century by the keepers of all things paranormal regarding the potential usurping of the traditional British ghost by the Japanese variety. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Daily Mail, but I have to say that this article from 1933 opened my eyes to the rivalry that existed at the time. The author of the article does ultimately declare that the Japanese hitodama is a worthy contender for the spectral throne but equally I have read a number of earlier newspaper articles that are less impressed by these foreign phantoms. Does anyone know more about this subject?

Daily Mail, 1933

‘There seem to be no bounds to this Japanese competition with Britain. If there is one staple commodity of ours which has hitherto feared no comparison with foreign rivals it is the British ghost. He seemed a natural by product of our Tudor architecture. The panelled walls and stone-flagged passages of the moated granges and turreted castles of Britain provided an environment most favourable for his development, which was assisted by the gloomy and predominantly misty character of our climate. It might have been thought impossible for a, country whose houses are built of flimsy wood and paper to compete with us in this respect. After two visits to the Tokyo Ghost Exhibition I regret to report, however, that in eeriness, blood-curdling horror, malevolence, and general spookiness the Japanese ghost is in no way inferior to the British article.

Fortunately for our native spectres, however, the otherwise most efficient phantoms of Japan have a structural defect which renders them instantly recognisable. No attempt at Japanese spirit-dumping can possibly delude British ghost-hunters into the belief that they are being offered a genuine homebred apparition. The difference lies in the fact that Japanese ghosts have no legs. Down to the waist they correspond to the best European models. The form is generally cadaverous, and of a graveyard pallor. The dank hair’ falls in matted disorder over eyes that smoulder with a baleful glow. The hands are long, and skeletonised, and arc carried breast-high. But the legs merely taper off into a wisp of greyish vapour. Thus the Japanese ghost cannot walk; he merely floats along. Such traditional British effects as phantom footsteps or the dragging of chains are impossible for him. Continue reading

Return to Tyneham

Return to Tyneham, a ghost story

Tyneham telephone box
Prickling with nervous energy, the small hands reached for their coats, prising them from the upturned pegs that began and ended each and every school day. Equally routine was the jostling for position in the march out of the school house: a shimmering line of tanned satchels rubbing and coaxing leather; a sea of untidy bodies threading their way through the grey-lit hallway; and there, next to the bright red telephone box, the perennial mores were to cease: the tiny uniformed children thronging, waiting for a call; one that would tell them to leave behind their old lives and all that they knew. But this was no ordinary evacuation, for the bombs had rarely threatened to disturb this peaceful haven in the Purbeck Hills; instead, the land had been taken from within. Whilst the radio buzzed with sightings of the wings of the Luftwaffe eagles, it was the khaki conversation of the Nissan huts that had ultimately decided their fate. And four years after the war had begun, on a bitterly cold day, the Creech village postmaster had delivered to each household the letters that brought the unwelcome news of evacuation.

As the Grebbel children huddled together, they looked up at the flags, fluttering around in the tireless wind, and soon they thought of nothing but snow and Christmas. Though barbed wire had become a familiar sight in the landscape, as had the tank traps along the coast, the community had come together to celebrate with defiant vigour throughout each of the war years. But now, with the impending scattering of families across the coastal hills, there would be little to rejoice.

Daphne Grebbel looked commanding behind the wheel having taken driving lessons and tractor maintenance courses in the early years of the war. The army had told her to be gone by Christmas; they had planned to put guns on the ridge behind the house and fire over it. No information had been conveyed personally; just letters, all formal, all paying little heed to the efforts she had made to double her output for the war whilst maintaining a meagre living for her family. And all this accomplished in the shadow of loss.

Their relocation was to be a brand new house near Lulworth but one entirely impractical for a family who had spent generations milking cows and tending crops. The official line was that places were hard to find; and so they were ‘politely’ informed that as they were unable to accept the offer, relocation had now become their responsibility. Left with little choice, they would have to be ‘taken in’: Mrs Grebbel’s aunt owned a smallholding near East Holme and there they would hope to grow fruit and veg, keep some chickens and run a couple of pigs or sheep. Not ideal, but it would do.

As the van approached, Anne and Harry picked up their coats and bags, and readied themselves for the big day. Although they had been aware of the plan to evacuate and re-house the village for some time now, its shadow had rarely touched them; when they had seen an angry crowd gathered outside the Post Office arguing with army officials two days before, they had swept its significance aside and considered it to be just the war effort ‘gone wobbly’.

Jumping into the cabin, the day felt like any other: fighting over scratchy blankets on leather seats that smelled of stale dog was the norm; but today, their sibling squabbles came to a sudden halt when each had turned to see the back of the van piled high with the entire contents of their home.

Tyneham church
Anne nestled against the door and gazed up the hill. “Mummy, can we stop at the church please? I’d like to see the sign one more time before we leave.”

Harry sighed, his lip curled. He was angry. ” You’ve seen it before. Why bother?”

“Hope — it gives me hope that one day we’ll come back,” retorted Anne, sharply.

“Of course we’ll come back,” interjected Mrs Grebbel. Her tone was soft and soothing; but there was something in her eyes that stole away the note of promise. “A few months and it’ll all be over. We’ll back home in no time.”

The van stopped beside the tiny church and Anne dashed up the path, hoping that the sign had been replaced by another announcing the evacuation to be one elaborate joke. But it was still there. Of course it was. She sighed gently and read aloud, ignorant to the presence of any audience:

Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free.

We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

Tyneham church door
Though the board had been nailed to the church door only a week before, Anne had read the sign countless times; and each time it had left her with a remarkably different feeling. There had been rumours: some warned that once belongings were packed up, homes tipped up and turned out, backs turned away, it was the very last they would see of their beloved little village; but today, Anne’s heart was brimming with hope: she knew that one day they would all return. Continue reading

The Woman Who Floated Above The Hedge (A ghost story for Mothering Sunday)

A ghost story for Mothering Sunday

I had overheard conversation on the topic but felt unable to examine the rumours from any rational point of view. Although it would amount to nothing elaborate, I had posited that the time required to conduct an investigation would be entirely wasted as, ultimately, the villain would soon be unmasked; more so, all my instincts pointed to the revelation of a scoundrel no more than a child or simple-minded adult (perhaps more than one) intent on concocting reckless mischief out of sheer devilment.

But no matter my opinion; for it is the past. Instead, I will keep to the facts, simply told, and begin with the events of the afternoon of Mothering Sunday, two years before.

We had returned from church, the sky a bitter shade of grey; and at the margins of the unploughed fields surrounding us, dark clouds threatened with torpid heaviness. I passed my hand behind her back to support her frame and she, in turn, shrank further into my side, taking pitiful shelter from the bracing winds. It was the first time in many months I had seen her looking this frail.

Beside us, and looking nearly to be doubled-over by the strength of the gales, were Mrs Bentley and her son. He too was doing his utmost to support his mother and make some headway upon the path.

Finally, having negotiated such inclemency, we arrived at the front porch of our cottage, the middle of a nestled set of three.

I bid good afternoon to the Bentleys and stepped through the iron gate, at the same time removing a few veins of ivy that had made their way through from the adjacent hedgerow. Here, I made a commitment to spend time remedying matters at the front of the house having just spent a season behind it.

A few hours passed in drinking tea and conversation, when at half past three we were alarmed to hear an awful banging at the front door.

My mother indicated that she would rise to answer the door, but I insisted that she should remain at rest and I should attend to the caller; though I was at a complete loss as to whom would be visiting at such an inconvenient time.

When I opened the door, I was surprised to see Mrs Bentley’s son and immediately I took note of his rather confused and distressed state. Holding his chest, he managed to find his voice and told me that I should come quickly to the house. Inside, upon the kitchen floor, I found Mrs Bentley, lying in a most unusual position, as if she had fallen backwards although, somehow, her arms had remained directly by her sides. With all the finesse of a well read scholar I set about searching for signs of life upon the unfortunate woman’s body. But there was little I could do, as I soon became aware of a great coldness that had set into her. I recall having seen only one deceased person in my life, and I can assure you that I felt decidedly queasy despite deference in the duties I had in assisting her poor son.

A doctor was duly dispatched to the house and thereupon confirmation came that Mrs Bentley had suffered heart failure. It was a shocking circumstance despite Mrs Bentley’s advancing years; and on such a day too!

That evening we invited Thomas, Mrs Bentley’s son, to stay with us. The situation was made all the more heartfelt by his insistence on persistently thanking us for our help in dealing with the day’s unfortunate events. Each time, I reminded him that it was the very least we could do considering the circumstances.

It was only through this close-hand hospitality did Thomas reveal a curious happening but an hour or so before his mother’s death.

He had been seated in the drawing room, reading a newspaper, when a sudden, awful shriek had attracted his attention. It appeared to come from the kitchen. Knowing the room to be solely inhabited at this time of day by his mother, he ran through the house and in that particular room he had found Mrs Bentley staring at the window, her hand over her mouth, breathing with such pronounced irregularity. After Thomas had helped her in taking a seat and some refreshment, she told him the source of her distress. Whilst examining the condition of the hedge from the kitchen window, she noticed a woman standing beside the garden gate. Not expecting visitors she wondered who it could be. Most certainly not her sister or a regular caller. For a time, she puzzled over this black-dressed stranger who stood as still as a statue outside her cottage. Finally, with the unpleasant looking woman having remained there for as long as she could take, Mrs Bentley ventured outside to confront her; but on so doing, the woman had disappeared into thin air. And the most awful of sights; returning to the kitchen, she had taken another look out through the window and there, to her utter disbelief, she had come upon a vision that brought a chill to her bones, wracking her frame with a sickening tautness: from behind the hedge, she had seen the same woman rising up, up beyond the height limited by human form, reaching and stopping at her waist, her arms outstretching to draw a shadow upon the hedgerow top; and with lips still, her eyes bore straight at her with such intensity, before disappearing once more.

I must say that I had been quite affected by the tale; it remained with me for a considerable time in undiminished intensity. As I stated earlier, I had taken some comfort in considering it to be the result of inconsiderate japery from youths; concluding in such darker an end that they did not dream to imagine. But despite this, I was to consider from time to time that it was, perhaps, something else.

My mother and I have now returned from church; the day a far improved version of that two years before. And even though through anniversary alone my mind does dwell on such troubles of the past, I have found the day to be one of joy, especially to have seen her in such fine fettle. And such command of her stick too; it had come to her aid several times throughout the service and she had administered its alleviating qualities with considerable deftness. More so, with the sun behind us, and a spread of warm radiance on our backs, her steps have been more robust and steadfast than for as long as I could remember.

I am back in the house now, having just prepared tea. On the table beside the fire I have placed our favourite biscuits. On the air, a little early blossom that I was want to bring into the house before we left for church. And now, with the clock not long past three, I settle down, dragging the newspaper onto my lap. The comforting glow of the fire soothes the eyes and undoubtedly, before long, I shall be assuaged into sleep, the paper falling to my feet.

As I listen towards the kitchen, with my eyelids struggling not to surrender to the seductive comforts of the fire, I hear the sound of plates: surely a little Simnel cake to add to the occasion?

But possibly more plates than one or two hands could adequately grasp. No matter, I will go to her aid as surely her womanly stubbornness will prevent her from seeking help in this direction. As for the shriek; mother gets so awfully upset when she drops things.

(C) PJ Hodge