There is scarcely an area of the country without its tree-ghosts. They haunt some of the places where the roar and rush of traffic would seem to banish any echo of the past. Look carefully and there, despite its modern aggregate of noise and prose, the tree-ghosts loom stately to the eye that can perceive them. Shadows spreading out on the pleasant country lane, even when encroached upon by buildings, look to be those of the past, staring down upon us, the weight of history chiseled into their gnarled bark.
It is perhaps surprising to note that Hyde Park — one of the largest parks in central London — possesses one of the highest concentrations of haunted trees in England.
Tales are told of a haunted tree that once grew here, one which had a malignant influence on those that slept beneath it.
The tree stood in an isolated position and was most singular-looking in as much as it had growing almost horizontally from its trunk one long branch that strikingly resembled a very long human arm with a hand outstretched and all the fingers widespread and curved, as if in the act of clutching hold of some one.
Those who slept under the tree had an uncannily similar tale to tell. Whilst in slumber each had dreamt that the long, grotesquely fashioned horizontal branch immediately above them turned into an actual living hand and arm, and began slowly to descend, the fingers all widespread, ready to grip hold of the unsuspecting sleeper.
One vagrant who had spent a night under the dreaded tree said, “I was at once seized with an awful horror, but found myself utterly unable to move. I was forced to watch the arm descend lower and lower until the great hand hovered just above my face and the tips of the long, cruel-looking fingers all but grazed my flesh. A voice then said in soft, but in decidedly menacing tones — ‘I have got you now!’ I mean to keep you always; there is no escape!’ ”
“The next moment the fingers, as soft as satin, closed over my mouth and throat and began to throttle me. I awoke shrieking and in such terror that I jumped up and fled the area.”
The man reported hearing of a number of people who had committed suicide on the spot after spending a night under the tree. Some time later it was he that was found dead beneath it, strangled and hung up by his own braces.
Today, the tree is no longer there – it was cut down in the early 1900s. However, to this day, those that dwell in the spot it once occupied are said to be overcome by a feeling of being watched intently by some unseen presence.
It was Elliott O’Donell, the Irish author known primarily for his books about ghosts, who experienced a strange epiphany whilst walking in the park one evening.
“One night, many years ago, after I had been listening to a band, I was strolling across Hyde Park accompanied by a man, a good many years older than myself, and who had been on tour with me in the provinces. Presently, as we were passing by a clump of trees, he suddenly gripped me by the arm and hurriedly dragged me along. I looked at him in astonishment. His face was ghastly white and the muscles in it worked furiously, as if he were suffering from an acute form of St Vitus’s dance. ”
” ‘Quick! Quick !’ he said, ‘let us get away from here as soon as possible. You will think me mad of course, but I can never pass by any one of these trees with their huge gnarled trunks and knotted murderous-looking branches without being obsessed with the idea of strangling myself, or someone else. Come! Come!’ and we simply flew past.”
“That was the last walk I ever took with him in the Park, but it set me thinking, and I soon began to view trees in an altogether different light from that in which I had hitherto regarded them.”
Later that year Mr O’Donnell had his own unnerving experience in the park.
“I received one of my worst scares, however, under a tree in this same park. A fox terrier, that I was keeping for a friend, while he was away, accompanied me, and, as we were about to pass this particular tree, he suddenly gave a howl of terror and bolted. Wondering what on earth was the matter with him, I ran after him and found him lying on the grass shivering, nor would any amount of coaxing make him get up and go on with me. Finally, giving him up as hopeless, and desirous of getting at the bottom of the mystery, I went up to the tree, and, just as he got within a few feet of the trunk, something big seemed to drop on to the ground, close beside me, with a soft thud.”
“I have had many experiences with the extremely unpleasant side of the Unknown, but I do not think anything has ever affected me in quite the same way as this thing. I instinctively felt it was nothing in the least degree human, but that it resembled, rather, some very extraordinary and grotesque animal or insect, something that was frightfully repellent and malignant. I could feel it was trying to fascinate me, trying to reduce me to a state of utter helplessness, and it was only by dint of an almost superhuman effort that I managed to overcome its influence and tear myself away from the spot. ”
“The next day, I narrated my experience to one of the tramps residing there, pointing out the tree to him.”
” ‘So that’s it!’ he remarked, looking at the tree critically. ‘Thought as much. My mates and I call it the pig tree. Listen! Two years ago a fellow called Palin and I slept under it. We lay down at about eleven and at about two something woke us with a kind shock. I sat up and looked around. Nothing to be seen. Then I peered up at the branches overhead, and what I saw nearly made me jump out of my skin.’ ”
” ‘Staring down at me were two eyes pale eyes that seemed to have no actual colour, but to be wholly animated with spite and hate. The face they belonged to was a curious cross between that of a pig and that of a wolf. The mouth and snout were wolfish, the ears and general contour piggish. It was quite hairless, and of a startling lurid white. As I looked up at it, too terrified to utter a sound, or move, it shot out an enormously long red tongue, curled at the end like the tongue of an ant-eater. And with its evil glittering eyes still fixed on mine, it suddenly began to descend. I then saw its body, which was quite nude, and like that of a very unshapely and repulsive woman. Catching hold of a branch with two huge hands it dropped to the ground with a soft thud just such a noise as you described, and then stole towards me.’ ”
” ‘I tell you, it’s a long time since I prayed, but I made use of some kind of prayer then, and jerking myself away from the spot with an effort just like you did I made a bolt for it.’ ”