When Springheeled Jack Wore Galoshes
Peter Rogerson

When Spring Heel Jack wore Galoshes.

Flash mobs, phantoms and Men in Black in 1920s Warrington

 
  • This is the full story of Spring Heeled Jack in Warrington in 1927 as told through the newspapers of the period: 

Warrington EXAMINER 

20 August 1927 
————————————————————————————
A GHOST IN GALOSHES
Hue and Cry in Haydock Street After Tall Figure in White
HUNDREDS IN THE CHASE
A very evil-looking man in a black suit.
A tall figure dressed all in white.
————————————————————————————-
These, literally, are the principal figures in a “Dracula” like story which comes from the Haydock Streetdistrict. Strange happenings have been reported during the week, and hundreds of people have had the not altogether unpleasant thrill of the “ghost” hunt. The most serious side of the story is that many women and girls have been alarmed, and a very sensible solution, told to the investigator, is that the “ghost” is either a practical joker or the accomplice of a thief who may be endeavouring to draw people from their homes to enable his confederate to have better facilities for breaking in.
The story begins last week when it is stated “a very evil looking man” in a black suit” was seen prowling around in a very mysterious manner. This fact is authenticated by several residents of Haydock Street.
In the early hours of Sunday morning the whole neighbourhood was thrown into excitement by the news that a “ghost” had been seen. It was stated that between the hours of one and two o’clock a “tall figure dressed all in white” was seen passing along the streets adjoining Haydock Street and completely disappearing from time to time. Two women who witnessed the apparition were so overcome that they fainted and had to be revived by the crowd which soon assembled. A diligent search was afterwards made, but no trace of a supposed visitor from another world was to be found. 
SOLID ARGUMENTS FOR THE SHADE 
Comparatively few people saw the figure on Sunday morning, but on Sunday night a crowd of some hundreds of people from all over Warrington gathered in Haydock and Furness Streets armed with pokes, bottles, shovels, brooms, carving knives and hay making implements prepared to lay the ghost. Many of them ridiculed the suggestion that anything had been seen, but they were less sceptical when, about eleven o’ clock the “ghost” made its appearance once again. Immediately the cry went up “There it is”” and the crowd set off after the apparition.
          After beckoning to various people, the ghost took to its heels and, instead of vanishing as all well-bred ghosts should, darted down a narrow entry in Furness-street. At the end of the entry is a high wall, but this did not stop the ghost in its flight, for its placed its hands on the top of the wall and sprang over like-to use one woman’s expression-“the famous Spring Heeled Jack”. From that point on all trace of it was lost. The search continued, however, until four o’clock in the morning , but nothing further was seen.
          The occurrence had such an effect on the people however that many of them could not get any sleep, and windows were bolted, extra fastenings were put on the doors, and some men even stayed up until daylight, in readiness for any other appearance that the “ghost” might make. On Monday morning however, many girls were hysterical and could not be calmed. If they moved from one room into another they had to take their father or mother with them, even when they were getting ready for work. Many of those who go early to work had to be escorted the greater part of the way. One girl said “ I was so frightened that I kept looking behind me for fear the ghost should get me.” 
WHAT EYE-WITNESSES SAW 
Mrs Flanaghan of Furness-street and her three daughters were among the first to see the apparition. “I was standing at the door” said Mrs Flanaghan, about eleven o’clock on Sunday night and, happening to look across the road, I suddenly saw something white. I cried out “There it is” and my three daughters and a young man to whom we were talking, saw it too. The young man wanted to run after, but he was held back because we feared the “ghost” might have a knife under the white covering. The apparition was very tall, about six feet, and was covered from head to foot with something white, the only part of it visible being the eyes. When a chase was attempted it ran down the entry, taking off the white covering as it went, and we noticed that it had on a dark suit. It must of have had galoshes or something on its feet, for we heard the “pit pat” as it ran.”
Another person who had a “close up” of the figure was Mrs Ellison of Scott-street, who was walking home with her husband on Sunday night after visiting a friend. “When nearing Furness-street” said Mrs Ellison “ I saw a ghostly figure in white. I was startled and cried to my husband “Oh a ghost”. He replied there were no such things as ghosts, but when he turned and saw it he said “My God it is a ghost!”. He said he would see if it really were a ghost and grabbed my umbrella. When the ghost saw this it put its hands up in the air, just like a ghost, and then ran down the entry.”
Although another lady from Chorley-street states there are no such things as ghosts, the apparition frightened her when she came upon it suddenly on Sunday night. It was dressed all in white and was a very terrifying spectacle.
The people of the neighbourhood are doing their best to lay the “ghost” as it is causing so much annoyance in the neighbourhood and the search was continued on Monday and Tuesday nights, but the ghost kept itself to itself.
Each night through the week parties of people, mostly young, have waited until the early hours of the morning with the hope of seeing, and, as one young man said, “doing for” the apparition. One evening an “Examiner” representative spent an hour or two in the district but, until after midnight, nothing was seen or heard except for a few ghostly wails which , when investigated, were found to proceed from very human throats-those of young children who took a delight in trying to frighten the watchers. Time after time persons would shout “There it is” but their imaginations were playing them a trick, for the “ghost” did not show its face.
Manchester Evening News
Saturday 10 September 1927
 —————————————————————————-
FACE AT THE WINDOW
WEIRD HAPPENINGS IN WARRINGTON
DOGS HOWL
Warrington has a ghost! 
—————————————————————————-
Women in the Orford Lanedistrict of Warrington have been terrified during the past week by weird happenings. A remarkable series of incident began three weeks ago when hundreds of people in the Haydock-street district chased a ghost-a figure in white which disappeared by jumping over a high wall,. Shortly before the appearance of the “ghost” the residents report that a person variously described as “ a very evil looking man” and “a tall strange man” was seen in the vicinity.
Last Sunday the ghost reappeared. At about 10.15 on Sunday night Miss May Evans of 26 Neston-street was sitting in the kitchen, sewing, while her brother Bernard aged nine years, was playing with a toy engine on the floor. The back gate and the door of the shed adjoining the house were unfastened.
While sewing she heard a peculiar squealing noise in the shed, and turned the key of the door leading into the shed. Thinking no more about the matter she resumed her work, and suddenly Bernard exclaimed: “Oh look at the window”.
“I looked” said Miss Evans to our representative, “and had the fright of my life. There was a face, almost covered with something white, pressed to the window, while a hand over the bottom of the window held a big electric torch. It must have been a very powerful torch for it lit up the whole of the kitchen, thought the gas [light] was full on. I was frightened and could not move. At last I ran to the front and neighbours came out to see what was the matter. They made a search but could not find anything.”
          The only noise Miss Evans heard was the “squealing” before the apparition appeared at the window.
Neighbours state that on the Sunday night all the dogs in the neighbourhood barked and howled for hours. Another appearance occurred in the Birchall-street district on Tuesday evening. Mrs Bird of 23 Chorley-street was sitting in the house with her little boy when she heard a loud rapping on a piece of three-ply wood which had been inserted in place of a broken window pane.
“We went to bed” said Mrs Bird “and after a time we were awakened by a commotion at the back. We went down and found that the “ghost” had been visiting a house down the road”.
  • The Liverpool Express of the same date on page 5 also carried the story with even more alarming headlines:
“GHOST FACE” AT A WINDOW
——————————————————————-
TERROR CAUSED AMONG WARRINGTON WOMEN
ELUSIVE FIGURE
RESIDENT ON LOOK-OUT WITH A TRUNCHEON. 
——————————————————————-
“Women in the Orford-lane district have been during the week been terrified by weird happenings in the night and crowds of people have gathered in Neston Streetto watch for a ghost.
One man went about with a truncheon up his sleeve, and another with a blank shot pistol, but nothing supernatural or otherwise has been captured.

Excitement began three weeks ago, when the people in theHaydock Streetdistrict chased a “figure in white” which jumped over a high wall. Shortly before the appearences of the ghost, residents had reported that a person described as an “evil looking man” and a “tall strange man” had been seen in the district.”

  • The paper then went on report the story of May and Bernard Evans in almost the same language as the Manchester Evening News, adding that the little boy had to be given restoratives and that the face at the window had moved from side to side. Likewise the story of Mrs Bird. There was also the story of Mrs Bate of 44 Birchall Street. She and her family were going to bed when “one of the family went into the kitchen. There were three loud bangs on the window, and the woman ran into the kitchen and said she had seen a large fist come to the window and bang on it three times” 
  • The next Saturday the Manchester Evening News had more on the ghost to report (17 September) 
HOWLING GHOST
Warrington Disturbed Again
UGLY VISITOR
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
Warrington: Saturday
—————————————————-
The now famous Warringtonghost has been up to his usual tricks again this week and the latest description of him which comes from the Birchall-street district is that he is “ a second spring-heeled Jack” who makes a noise similar to the howl made in “The Face at the Window”.
Mrs Garner of Birchall-street was in the front room with her husband when they heard weird noises at the back. There were tappings on the window panes and a peculiar howling noise in the air.
Although not unduly troubled about the matter, Mr Garner took the precaution of nailing up the back room window.

It was just as well for the visitor came back again to the house on Tuesday evening and this time appeared to try and get in, for finger marks were found all over the window.
Two days later Mrs Garner went into the back room and saw something at the window. A white light flashed.
At the window was a man with “a very large mouth and ugly face”. The light which flashed was, according to Mrs Garner, about six times brighter than the light from the gas mantle.
Although hundreds of people were out within three minutes after the occurrence, no sign of the man could be found.

UGLY FACE 
A little later the same evening the ghost appeared to have made its way round to Algernon-street. A Mr Dunn was in the yard when he suddenly saw a man’s head and shoulders appear above the gate, which is 5ft 6inches [about 1.65m.] high.
It was an ugly face and he made a smack at it with his fist. His hand however hit the top of the gate and the ghost made off.
Mr Dunn opened the gate and ran after the “thing” but it disappeared like a shadow. It did not run but seemed to glide. It had a long white coat like a mackintosh (rain coat PR), and appeared to have no feet at all.
The ghost also made an appearance in Hamilton-street, where it tapped a young man on the shoulder, and frightened him so much that he ran into a shop and fainted.
Another unusual occurrence comes from Alder-street. A woman was in bed, and she told her husband she could heard a fizzling noise downstairs.
Her husband went down to investigate and he found a plate of fried bacon in the back kitchen. He heard a sound as of someone running down the yard, but when he made a search nothing was revealed.
  • Here is how it was presented in the two weekly newspapers in the town on Saturday 24 September 1927. First there was the more populist paper, the Liberal Warrington Examiner. That went in for the sensational approach:
———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
THE GHOST!
Appearance Before an Armed Mob: White Robe and Folded Arms
“ MY TIME’S UP”
——————————————————————————————————–
“We think it is somebody playing pranks and, more than anything else, it is women who “have got the wind up”, is the opinion of the police with regard to remarkable happenings which have taken place in the Orford-lane and surrounding districts during the past few weeks.
This is probably a common sense view of the whole matter, but at the same time there is no doubt that the repeated appearances of some individual posing as a “ghost” have created a big sensation in that part of Warrington, and is causing a lot of discomfort and alarm amongst the more nervous women and children.
The Examiner” learns that in many cases, parents have put their clocks on at night in order to get their children to go to bed before the time when the “ghost” is supposed to appear: and that the children themselves are becoming frightened of leaving their homes in the evening.
Suring the last week-end another probable solution to the mystery was arrived at following a message shouted to some young men by the “ghost”, which was being chased. “My time’s up on Thursday” was the message, and this would make appear that the “ghost” is carrying out his queer programme for a wager.
When the ghost was reported to be in Margaret-street on Sunday night, hundreds of men, women and even children, armed with pokers, fire tongues, bottles, truncheons, “chilalahs”, [shillelaghs] and other weapons rushed in a mob to the neighbourhood with the object of “finishing it off”.
The Warrington “ghost” however is very brave and seems to care not what manner of revenge the public have planned for him, for he walked past the crowd with only a few feet separating them from him. “There he is!” shouted the people and after him they went. Down Margaret-street, which is blocked at one end by railings separating the street from the railway, he went over the rails “like greased lightning”. The crowd uprooted the rails to get on to the embankment, and there was the “ghost” in his white robes and folded arms, staring at them.
They again took up the chase and after flashing his powerful torch on a wall of corrugated iron, which is very jagged at the top and is about 10 feet high, over he went, making the peculiar howling noise which generally announces his coming. From that point he disappeared. Later however, however, he was again heard in a backyard at the other end of the street, but before the crowd could get hold of him he had once more disappeared. One man got so close to him as to almost touch him, but his hand came into contact with a wagon or something, and the “ghost” got away.
Thus matters went on until about two o’ clock, but although the people saw the light being flashed in various places, nothing came of their searching.
GREEN EYES
Earlier in the evening Mr Frangleton, of Margaret-street, was in his yard, which adjoins the railway, when he saw the “ghost” dressed all in white standing in the middle of the yard with its arms crossed, staring at him. According to Mr Frangleton’s daughter, her father called for his slippers, but the ghost disappeared from the yard as if by magic. It had an extremely ugly face, which must have been a mask, for no human could have a face so ugly, and the eyes appeared to be green and illuminated. On his chest was something that resembled an electric light switch.
Mrs Denmade and Miss Fragleton saw the “ghost” again in a wooden building on the railway.
On Monday night the people of the neighbourhood arranged a systematic search of the district around Margaret-street, but nothing unusual was seen.
The extraordinary manner in which the “ghost” moves and the way it surmounts high walls lead people to surmise that is has springs on its feet.
THE MYSTERY BACON 
Another unusual occurrence, which may or may not be associated with the ghost is reported from the Alder-lane district. The report goes that a lady was in bed when she thought she head a frizzling noise downstairs. Her husband went down to investigate, and found a plate of cooked bacon in the back kitchen. He heard a sound as of somebody running down the yard, but when he made a search nothing was revealed.
  • This was essentially the story that appeared in the Liverpool Express and Manchester Evening News of September 19th. They clearly had a common source. Similar stories also appeared in the Manchester Evening Chronicle but add no further details. The rival Conservative and somewhat more upmarket Warrington Guardian was much more sober in its reportage: 
—————————————————————————————————————————————————
A SILLY SCARE
“GHOST” STORY “ALL BUNKUM”
EYE-WITNESS VISITS THE “GUARDIAN” OFFICE 
———————————————————————————————
The silly pranks of some persons who have been referred to as the “Haydock Streetghost” has caused considerable disturbances in that neighbourhood. Stories have been circulated of an ugly face, weird noises and green eyes, and children and credulous people have been unnerved. It was reported early this week that the man shouted a message to some young men who chased him saying “I won’t be sorry when my time’s up on Thursday”
A CHASE DESCRIBED
Mr Stanley Trantum of 45 Laira Street, called at the “Guardian” Office on Monday and stated that at 11.30 on the previous evening he was at the house of a friend inChorley Streetwhen he heard screams. Running out, he saw a crowd of people inMargaret Street, where a man was being chased. Mr Trantum followed and almost caught the man when he scaled a corrugated iron wall. He says that on the far side of the wall he fell into an iron box and then became entangled in some wire: otherwise, the man would not have escaped. The man was wearing a light fawn raincoat and was carrying an electric lamp.
POLICE SUPERINTENDENT’S VIEW 
Mr Trantum had not reported the matter to the police, and when a “Guardian” reporter visited Superintendent Holland with the information, he said he thought the story of the “ghost” was “all bunkum”. We think it is somebody playing pranks” he added and “more than anything else, that it is hysterical women who have “got the wind up” and imaged most of the things which are reported.  
  • That was that, with the police pronouncement the story left the presses. It was to linger in the memories of older people and in Ghost, Mysteries and Legends of Old Warrington by charity worker Wally Barnes (Owl Books 1990), where there is a wildly exaggerated account of his activities. Far from the back streets of the original reports Barnes has “Spring Heel Jack” bouncing up Horsemarket Street, (the portion of the main road leading up to Warrington Central Railway Station from the central roundabout) on shoes with springs on their soles. He is now seen bounding along in 15ft leaps along John Street and leaping as high as bedroom windows in Hardy Street and leaping along Cockhedge Lane in 20ft leaps.  
  • The areas at the centre of this story were streets of terraced housing in a working class district to the north of Central Railway Station in Warrington. They can be seen on this 1910 map in comparison with a 21st century one here:
  • Much of the housing was demolished in the 1970s, and though street names survive, the scene is quite different. There are no images of the streets at this period in the public domain (photographers concentrated on the main shopping streets and little of the working class housing was ever generated)
  • Ghosts were in the news in this period; in July a man in Towcester refused accommodation proffered because a man had committed suicide there 30 years before and it was said to be haunted (e.g. Western Daily Press 21 July 1927) 
  • The Warrington “ghost” was just one of three according to this report in the Aberdeen Journal of 23 August 1927: 
VARIETY IN GHOSTS 
Police Baffled by Weird Apparitions. Three ghosts are stalking abroad, if the evidence received is to be accepted—one in London, one in Barry, Wales, and one in Warrington, who stalks six feet high with a menacing mien. That they were not members of the same Trade Union of Departed Spirits is very evident, for while the white-haired ghost of London gently kissed a sleeping woman on the forehead and silently stole away, he of Warrington shocked two women into a faint and leaped over a ten-foot wall like Spring-Heeled Jack, when angry husbands armed with bottles and carving knives, gave chase in the dead of night.
The ghost of Barry a mystic Peeping Tom, peering in at windows feet above the, ground, terrorising a mother and children in flat. The London ghost, whom two women and a girl say they have seen flit across the hall of an ancient mansion house within five minutes’ walk of Denmark Hill station, is declared by a spiritualistic medium to be that of George Tavener, born in 1854, and his present mission on earth he has revealed to be a quest for an old desk of his where, a secret drawer, lie papers proving that his earthly niece is entitled to his property.
The unearthly terror at Barry has been hunting a top-storey flat at 24,Dock New Road, near the docks. Mrs Christoforato declares his visits have extended over three weeks. A policeman has been keeping guard at night, but nothing happened while he was there. After he had gone a stealthy footstep was heard in the corridor, but when a woman dashed out there was no one there, the same night a child screamed with fright when a ghostly face appeared at the window and then vanished.
  • According to the Derby Telegraph of 6 September 1927 a ghost at Brampton in Derbyshire led to a drunken women ending in the police courts: 
The Brampton Ghost. 
Stories of a ghost have been, running aboutBrampton, and when a woman was chargedChesterfieldpolice court yesterday with being drunk and incapable, a policeman said that when appeared, wearing his white overalls, the woman sank on her knees, bowed head to the ground, and shouted “ Oh, theBramptonghost.” She was fined 10s[shillings].
  • The Angus Evening Telegraph of the 27th September reports a poltergeist story 
THE GHOST OF MARKINCH GASWORKS. FROM A MARKINCH READER.
For some time past a strange thing has been going on at the gas works in -thevillageofMarkinch. There are two stokers employed at different shifts, and one of them is pelted with missiles always on his nightshift week. The other man is not interfered with. Stones, half-bricks, bolts, &c., have come flying all directions, but no serious damage has been done except the smashing of a gas lamp and mantle. The “ ghost” waits till the sma’ ‘oors ayont the twal “ before he begins, and sometimes the annoyance lasts till five or six o’clock. Fully score of men have tried to discover the culprit, but have failed, not even getting a glimpse of the “ ghost.” It must be an eerie job for the poor stoker, especially on the long dark winter nights”
  • The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 27 September 1927 reported “ghostly figures dressed in white” leading to women and children collapsing on the way to home in the north end of Dundee near Craigie Quarries. A 17 year old boy reported seeing two figures jump into the quarry, making strange noises. The next day the paper reported a flash mob on the site: 
5000 HUNT DUNDEE “GHOSTS” EVENING SEARCH AT CRAIGIE QUARRIES
What the Residents Think: A “ghost” hunt on a large scale took place inDundeelast night, when over 5000 people of all ages went in search of the “ spooks” which have been appearing near Craigie Quarries. The crowd gathered early in the evening, intent on laying the “ghost” or “ghosts” which have been causing such terror in the district. Nothing, however, manifested itself, and although the crowd gradually dispersed, it was steadily joined by fresh arrivals.
Throughout the evening and up to late hour the crowd scoured the environs of Dalkeith Road and the quarries, but apparently the “ game” which they were after thought better of it than put in an appearance. Further instances of what had taken place was given by several persons who had been previously alarmed by the strange happenings. When coming home from evening School one night, a youth was greatly disturbed the sight of a white pony in one of the fields, on which was mounted a ghostly figure. There are a number of ponies grazing in a field nearby.
Ratner Have the “Ghosts.”
Residents in the district have been greatly troubled by these unusual ongoings, but according to many they would rather have had the “ ghosts” than the crowd which gathered last night. A white sheet has been observed by more than one person lying on the high ground near the quarries. It possibly part of the equipment of the “ ghosts.” The sheet has been lying for several days. Armed with lamps, torches, and even a miniature searchlight, the crowd surged over all the waste ground in the vicinity, but failed to unearth anything of an unusual nature.
  • The mob was back the following day:
THE CRAIGIE QUARRY “GHOST”
Big Crowd Again Visits the District 
“The Ghost of Craigie Quarry,”Dundee, evidently quite pleased with the effect of its initial appearance, and refuses to give encore to the expectant crowds who would like to see it. A crowd of between 2000 and 3000 both sexes invaded the quarry and surrounding district last night in -the hope of seeing “ spectre,” and were disappointed at its non-appearance. It is unfortunate that the “ spook “ hunters are inclined to become rather noisy in their efforts to locate their “ quarry,” and the inhabitants of the district, particularly those in the immediate vicinity of the Quarry, are becoming rather annoyed their visits.
  • The next day however only a few hundred attended. The Western Daily Press of 27 August reported on a phantom perfume haunting a Monmouthshire farm.
|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Peter Rogerson – The Manchester Ghosts of 1861

January 1861 saw two strange ghost stories from Manchester, the first is an early example of the “haunted inn”, which is now a staple of ghostlore. The mysterious ringing of bells has similarities to Bealings Bells which appears as Chapter 5 of Rupert T. Gould’s Enigmas. The second seems to be a much older roadside boggart, though if encountered today may well come to the attention of ufologists.

Manchester Times 26 January 1861, page 5

GHOST IN MANCHESTER

For several nights past, immense crowds have been collected in and about the Feathers Hotel, in London Road, attracted by a story so singular, and on the face of it so incredible, that the most remarkable circumstance connected with it is that so many people should instead of laughing off the matter as joke, have been, excited by real curiosity concerning it. The new sensation, which is filling the coffers of the landlord of the Feathers, and, at the same time mulcting the pockets of the ratepayers for the services of an extra force of policemen – uniform men and detectives – is a ghost which, of all places in the world, has chosen one of the busiest centres  of Manchester, immediately opposite the London Road Station, for its nocturnal appearances.

The story is that for five weeks past the inmates of the hotel have been disturbed at all hours of the night by strange and unaccountable noises. When the weary waiters have gone to sleep, their dreams have been disturbed by the unwelcome tinkle first of one, then of two and more, and sometimes of all the bells in the house-fourteen in number-clanging together. A strict watch has on several occasions been kept, and when this has been done, the watchers have seen and ‘heard nothing unusual but so surely as the lights in the inn have been extinguished and quite  has been maintained, the strange noises have re-commenced. About a week ago, bellhangers were got in the house, who rearranged the wires and muffled the bells, and by this means it was supposed that the perturbed spirit had been laid at last to rest, an idea which was confirmed by the fact that for six nights thereafter the “ghost” made no manifestation.

In the “wee short hour” between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, however, the sound of hells again broke forth with undiminished violence, and in defiance of bellhangers and special detectives. An indescribable presence is said to have made itself manifest on the stairs of the hotel, dressed in most unghostly habiliments of black, to a couple of boys and a policemen, who were so much frightened by the appearance  that they are unable to give any account of the spirit’s disappearance. Of all the inmates of the house the cook, whom one would have thought the most material and unimaginative, has been most affected by the spiritual influence, and on Wednesday resigned leer comfortable situation with all its perquisites, and we believe has taken to bed seriously ill .

Meanwhile the house  is nightly crowded by hundreds of visitors, who, excited by curiosity, thirst of knowledge, or other desire, have been exorbitant in their . demand for spirits, to the no small profit of the, landlord, to whom the presence of his singular guest lees been as lucky as angels’ visits. At the same time, hundreds of people have thronged the streets and lanes outside anxious to obtain sight or hearing of the ghost Whatever else may be thought of it, this revival of the Cock Lane spirit has been and continues most successful as a sensation in drawing crowded houses.

A MANCHESTER GHOST STORY : THE MOSS LANE SPECTRE.

“A ghost in Manchester!” – nonsense,” some of our readers will exclaim. But there is no ‘nonsense’ about the fact, for a ghostly form – whatever it is – has been seen on two successive evenings, and has frightened one man nearly out of his wits, while the whole neighbourhood has been-disturbed in the dead of night by the ghost-seer’s cries. Close to Brooks’s Bar runs Moss Lane, and in selecting this neighbourhood for the honour of a visit, the ghost has certainly shown some poetic taste. It appears that a portion of Moss Lane has been undermined by the bursting of a water-pipe, and the roadway for a length of about two roods is now broken in, and in course of repair.

The roadway has, in consequence of this, been blocked up for nearly a fortnight and from dusk to daylight fires have been kept burning in tripod fire baskets to prevent accidents. The man who has been tending these fires during the last fortnight is a little active-footed, wiry framed, wizened-faced man, and has for many years pursued the dreary calling of a night watchman. On Thursday night a constable, passing down the lane, found the watch-man busily engaged shovelling coal on to the fire basket. Near by stood one of the closed handcarts, in which gas men and watermen carry their tools.

“Hallo!” he shouted, “You’re just the man I want.” At the same time the shovel was dropped, and he hastily scratched his head preparatory to a long “spell.” The constable crossed the road and stood by the side of the fire basket; while the watchman, in a voice husky with fear, proceeded to tell him of the appearance of  a ghost between three and four that morning. Of course it was dressed all in white; but, unlike other ghosts, this one kept bobbing up and down in the roadway, a short distance beyond the other fire basket, while, at the same time, it kept its eyes fixed upon the watchman. After the ghost had disappeared, the alarmed “seer” knocked up a man belonging to a brewer’s yard not far off and after telling him he had seen a ghost, the two searched the whole neighbourhood, but could find no track of His Ghostship.

The watchman’s terror had been so great that persons residing in houses a short distance from where he stood, had been aroused from sleep by a most unearthly long-drawn “oh” which had escaped him. The constable laughed at the man’s story, but told him that years ago, he had heard, a man was murdered near the spot, and his spirit never could ‘settle’. The watchman repeated the word “settle” in the greatest alarm, and taking up an old-fashioned watchman’s rattle and an oak cudgel, he said he had brought those with him that night to ” nobble” the ghost with, but he thought he wouldn’t try that on, but shut himself up in the cart. This the watchman did, and the constable went on. Between twelve and one o’clock, however, the same night, while the constable was conversing with another officer at the corner of a road some distance off, both were alarmed at the sound of the watchman’s rattle.

They immediately  ran to where he was standing, the very spot where one of the constables had seen him an hour or two previously, and where he was furiously shaking the rattle. The noise had aroused some of the inmates in the neighbouring houses, and heads were hastily thrust through open windows. The brewer’s man, also startled by the rattle had got up, and he together with the two constables, reached the spot where the watchman was standing. at the same moment. The watchman was in a state of the greatest alarm, and pointing  his finger up Moss Lane towards the Chorlton Road, kept on shouting, “ There it is! There it is!” One of the constables stopped, looked in the direction whence the man pointed, and exclaimed, “By gem, there  it is and it’s coming this way; we’d better shunt, lads.”

So saying the three made a hasty movement, calling out to the watchman as they ran to “nobble” it. But the watchman thought discretion was the better part of valour, he seized his stick, the rattle, and his breakfast can, and ran after the others as fast as his legs would carry him. he soon overtook them and was about to pass them, when they called upon him to stop. His reply was, “No, No, my names hoff,” and he was quickly out of sight. More than half a mile from this he was met, still running, by a gentleman who was returning home, who called upon him to stop, but he shouted out, “I’ve seen a ghost, and I can’t stop.” Nor did he stop until he had reached the city. In the course of yesterday he waited upon his employer, and after telling his story, he positively refused, on any consideration, to “watch” at the spot another night That evening another man was watching, and he laughed heartily as he bore testimony to the truth of our story. We have no doubt that his, predecessor saw his own form reflected in the flame from the fire basket, and this gave rise to his ghost story; nevertheless, the truth of his tale is believed in by many of the more credulous residents in the neighbourhood.

||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

And the Dogs Began to Howl…
The ‘Off-Campus’ History of the Haunted House.
Peter Rogerson.

From Magonia 27,  September 1987

The other day a young man came into my office, seeking to find the history of his house: who had lived in it and especially who might have died in it. Was it just curiosity? No. There was ‘something wrong’ with the house, where the baby would not sleep and the dog had begun to howl. Maybe, he thought, it was haunted.

The same day a woman came in, trying to discover what occupied the land where her house now stood before it was built. She gave no reason, but on previous occasions this type of query  has been stimulated by fears of hauntings. At least once a month someone comes to me with this type of enquiry.

These incidents are from my experience as a local history librarian in a northern town. It is apparent to me that there exist many unreported ‘haunted houses’, and that a powerful factor in this is a fear of the unofficial ‘off-campus’ history of the house. A history of the organic round of birth, procreation and, especially, death, which is perceived by the house’s current occupier as being oppressive, palpable and threatening. In some senses the house – ‘the home’ – is an extension of the individual’s body or personality; hence the trauma induced by burglaries. Similarly the house is seen as having been imprinted, one might almost say contaminated, by the previous occupants. The house has borne witness to their most intimate moments.

To the new occupant, the ‘incomer’, the haunted house has a ‘history’ or a ‘reputation’ in a personal, almost sexual, way. The house is not a ‘virgin’. ft has been violated by the presence of other human activity, which may afflict and infect the incomer. The sorts of questions which are asked about the haunted house’s previous owners or tenants are the sorts of questions one might ask about one’s partner’s previous sexual partners.

The main terror inspired by these previous occupants is that they are dead. gone, finished; that they are not continuing the organic round elsewhere. They have become part of history, their lives cannot be experienced, only inferred.

One of the cornerstones of sceptical historical philosophy is that historical events cannot be directly known about; all we have access to are the written and structural documents left by past generations, from which history may be ‘reconstructed’. [1] This history becomes the formal history, the ‘campus history’, the history taught in schools, the network of kings and dates. Perhaps also a rather more intimate history reconstructed from diaries, wills, reports, enquiries and the press.

But there is another history, the oral history of folk memory, ballads, songs, stories learned at mothers knee, passed on across generations – ‘off-campus’ history. Unlike the documents of campus history, this still has a power over the living, it can still be experienced. It is a kind of folklore, often at dramatic odds with the documentary history. It is a history which is a present reality, shaping the lives and experiences of its hearers. The ‘history’ of haunted houses, is very much an ‘offcampus, peoples’ history, a folklore of what should be true rather than documentary truth.

At the heart and core of much ghostlore is a belief that certain events taking place in a space or territory, for ever render that space an inappropriate location for the mundane activities of life. The events remove it from the realm of secular to sacred space.

To take an example: most people (this writer among them) would consider it highly inappropriate for the salvaged Channel Ferry The Herald of Free Enterprise ever to be used to carry passengers again. Its only morally coherent fate would be for it to be taken into deep, deep waters and scuttled. An analysis of the reasons for this feeling is difficult because arational, but would clearly centre on the sense of the Herald’s place as a catastrophic scar on the memories of the living. It now, like Abraham Lincoln, belongs to history, and to its victims all else are intruders.

Here then is another step towards the social history of the haunted house. In popular imagination it is a place where an event has happened which closes the life of the house and consecrates it to a particular moment of history. This is principally because the community now sees that place as a monument to that event. Even if no documentary, ‘campus’ history attaches itself to the building, the sense of moral coherence demands that such history be supplied.

Having been consecrated to history, the price to be paid for its violation is for the violator to directly experience history. Hence the sign of the haunted house is its invisible parallel life wherein history is recapitulated. [2] Furthermore this history is experienced often as wilderness/chaos. This equation between history and wilderness operates because of the pervasive power that history has on us – the lives of all readers of Magonia are conditioned by the fact that, e.g., the Allies won World War II and not the Axis. History is an irreducible fait accompli, a brute, unchanging fact of nature. It has immense power over us, but we have no power at all over it.

Poltergeists and hauntings thus mark the alpha and omega of the organic round; together they form a symbol of the creation and destruction of life

That is not all, as Gould and Cornell point out. [3] In ‘real’ cases it is difficult to separate out poltergeists and hauntings. Note that in parapsychological folklore poltergeists are associated with the ‘awakening’ of the sexual energies of adolescents, hauntings with events taking place after death. Poltergeist disturbances are thus connected with the emergence of potentialities to create life (before the beginning), hauntings are connected with the fading away of what was once a life (after the end).

Poltergeists and hauntings thus mark the alpha and omega of the organic round; together they form a symbol of the creation and destruction of life. Sexuality, procreation, birth and death belong to the wilderness and they are barely contained within the structures of society. The shattering of the family home and property represents the incapacity of the family to tame the raw energies of creation and destruction.

Ghosts, haunts and polts then are the signs of the liminal zones between being and not being: the history of the haunted house is the history of repetitions of this organic round, or its dramatic severance.

Amongst the commonest motifs is that of the friendly or hostile house. The house appears to accept or reject the incomer, and the incomers sense of ease or unease is projected onto the house, aided and abetted by subtle clues from neighbours.

The theme of hostile houses suggests a confusion between people and places: the disturbed house is a metaphor for disturbed family dynamics. For example, one of Mackenzie’s female correspondents reported that her childhood had been made unhappy by a ‘hostile presence’ in her house, centred on a bedroom which made her “pale and thin unlike all the other children”, and which made her reluctant to return home from school. These are typical symptoms of a victim of child abuse. This lady’s mother refused to discuss the incidents, saying her own childhood had been made unhappy by the psychic delvings of her mother. [4]

In another case a woman claimed that a hostile presence nearly caused the breakup of her marriage: her husband laughing at her fears caused her to panic and fall down stairs on more than one occasion – giving hints of suppressed violence.

In a case from Birmingham in 1955, a poltergeist was blamed for the death of a month-old baby. Raps and whisperings were heard in the house, and a four-year-old child saw a ‘dog’ sitting on the baby’s face. [7,8]

At present no detailed studies exist which look at the haunted house from the ‘new parapsychological’ perspective. Osborne’s study of he Woman in Brown’ [5] or  odor on ‘Ash Manor’ [6] being exceptions. Each such incident may be pregnant with meaning for the experient, even the story may be selected because it deals with the incomer’s problems.

In the case of ‘The Woman in Brown’, the appearance of ‘the woman’ to the central percipient when a telephone rang, was traced. through a network of past traumatic experiences, both real and fantasised, involving sudden death and blankets. In the Ash Manor case, the incidents revolved round a couple’s sexual conflicts.

In such cases ‘dead things which will not lie down’ from the percipient’s personal history, become connected with or projected onto the dynamic of the off-campus history of the territory where the events take place. The ‘objectivity’ and collective nature of such incidents derives from a collective fantasy producing trauma.

As with much drama, the ‘ghost story’ of a property may, on closer reflection, show some correspondence to the personal concerns of the living. Such stories often involve violation of profound taboos, domestic murder, suicide, infanticide and forbidden passions.

It is difficult to say of course, how many alleged poltergeists are covers for domestic violence. This break-down of traditional family mores leads to a reversal of the home and family as a bastion against the forces of outer chaos. The haunted house is transformed into a wild antihome, a place to flee from in fear, instead of run to for security.

The majority of haunted houses are not the property of the occupiers. The traditional Victorian haunted house was the short-lease house, where the servants came with the property. The archetypal modern haunted house is the council house. Such houses literally ‘belong to someone else’. They are perhaps more ‘used’, have more off-campus history than other, more settled, houses. There is a greater likelihood of afailure of bonding between the occupant and the house.

I have previously argued that the idea of the changeling arose as a mechanism to rationalise child abuse and the failure of parental bonding. The parents’ feelings of hatred, aggression and alienation are projected onto the child itself, turning it into a hostile alien presence. May not a similar mechanism exist for houses: the incomer’s sense of alienation from the house or community, and their failure to experience the house as ‘home sweet home’ are projected onto the house, now regarded. like the changeling child, as a hostile, threatening presence.

It is also possible that a sizeable proportion of haunted houses are ‘first time’ homes, wherein young couples are experiencing the strains of marriage and adult responsibilities, and where the home is a source of worry rather than idealised domestic bliss. The problems of the ‘home’, in the sense of family life become projected on the physical structure of the house. Alienation from the home becomes experience of the house as alien.

The mediums and exorcists who visit such houses know what their clients want and need: a good costume melodrama, full of fire and passion and suffering, which like a TV soap, tells the audience “You think you’ve got problems…!” Such stories contain stock situations which inform the community of expected norms.

There is a school of sociologists which argues that society needs criminals and deviants to denounce, in order to demonstrate its rules and solidify the community in upholding them. The haunted house is a marking-stone of the violation of community taboos, a scapegoat in brick and stone for all the dark and unworthy secrets of the community. Do the incomers then take upon themselves the traumas of the whole community? Do they become involuntary sin eaters?

NOTES AND REFERENCES

  1. Meiland Jack W, Scepticism and Historical Knowledge, Random House, 1965.
  2. The noises groans and bangings reported in haunted houses are remarkably reminiscent of those of a charivari or rough-riding. In this traditional ritual the members of the community whose norms had been violated would parade outside the offender’s house banging pots, making groans and other noises, throwing pebbles at the windows, indeed generally behaving just like poltergeists, to make life unpleasant, The incomer had violated the taboo against entering space traditional for hauntings, Indeed, traditional lore connects hauntings with the violation of specific taboos, such as building houses over graveyards, playing with Ouija boards or dancing on graves, all of which violate the sanctity and separateness of history and the ancestors.
  3. GAULD, Alan and CORNELL, A.O., Poltergeists, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
  4. MACKENZIE Andrew, The Seen and the Unseen, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987.
  5. OSBORNE, Edward, ‘The Woman in Brown; an investigation of an apparition’ Journal of the SPR. vol, xxxv no, 655 (Nov-Dec), 1949), pp123-53.
  6. FODOR, Nandor, The Haunted Mind; a psychoanalyst looks at the supernatural, Helix press, 1959.
  7. MOSS, Peter, Ghosts over Britain. Sphere 1979.
  8. BRADDOCK, Joseph, Haunted Houses, 1956.

||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||\

The Ghost in the Machine.
Roger Sandell

Originally published in MUFOB New Series 3, Summer 1976

During the UFO waves of the 1950′s and 1960′s one of the strongest pieces of evidence for those who believed that UFOs seemed to be mechanical devices, was reports of vehicles allegedly mysteriously stopping in the presence of UFOs. A classic case of this nature is the Loch Raven Dam sighting of 1958, in which two men reported seeing a 100ft, egg-shaped object about one hundred feet above them, and stated that their car and its lights went dead as they attempted to approach it. (1) The Condon Investigation described such cases as “one of the more puzzling aspects of UFO reports”. However, examination by the investigators of a car involved in such a case showed that it had not been exposed to magnetism, as ufologists has suggested.

What neither sceptics nor believers realised at that time was that the stories of strange vehicles stoppages were much older, not only that UFOs, but than the internal combustion engine itself. Stories of this nature were told during the witch mania of the sixteenth century. One such tale tells of a carter whose vehicle became immobilised. After whipping his horses, to no avail, the cart moved when he flicked his whip against one of the wheels. Shortly after, a local witch was seen to have whiplash scars across her face. (2)

Such beliefs persisted until surprisingly recently. Eric Maples’s The Dark World of Witches describes the traditions of the Canewden area of Essex:

“Until well after the First World War the tradition persisted that it was unlucky to take a wheeled vehicle into Canewdon, as it would break down. Boys believed that to cycle through Canewdon was to invite a puncture.”

In the same book Maple describes how in the same area, in the first decade of this century, an elderly villager, believed to be a wizard, was credited with the ability to stop farm machines merely by looking at them.

With the decline of witch beliefs similar stories attached themselves to ghosts. One tale, of the ‘Screaming Skull’, a relic of Bettiscombs Manor in Dorset, allegedly associated with ghostly events, states that one tenant of the manor put the skull on a cart to send it elsewhere, but that the cart would not move until the skull was removed. The ‘Boggarts’, ghostly beings of Lancashire folklore, were said to sit on the backs of carts and increase their weights until the cart became immovable.

One of the most interesting ghost stories of this type concerns the ‘Bell Witch’ poltergeist that haunted a farm in Tennessee in 1817-1821.

“General Andrew Jackson was one of those attracted to the Bell homestead during the period of the haunting. As Jackson’s horse-drawn wagon approached the area the wheels suddenly seemed to freeze and the straining horses were unable to budge it. Jackson dismounted and examined the wheels and axles end was unable to find any reason for this sudden problem. As he stood there scratching his head in bewilderment a voice suddenly rang out from behind the bushes: “All right, General” the voice announced, “Let the wagon move” … To everyone’s amazement the wheels began to turn again.” (3)

Similar tales first began to appear in a modern context during World War II. In Britain in the early years of the war there were various ‘secret weapon’ rumours current, one of which would tell of a motorist driving on a remote road who found his oar mysteriously halted. As he puzzled over this, a soldier (or policeman) would appear and order him to start the car, which would then work perfectly. (4)

With tales such as this, the character of the myth has changed radically. Although at a time of national emergency there was a need for rumours of miraculous deliverance, the mental climate of the period did not allow these to be explicitly supernatural, but had to imply that there was a scientific explanation. In 1914 there had been tales of angels over the Western Front, but in 1940 the rumour had to climax with the appearance of the reassuring everyday figure of the policeman.

As the fear of nuclear war grew in the 1950′s and flying saucer stories began to circulate, the vehicle stoppage myth took on a new charateristic and became symbolic of a force more powerful than the technology threatening mass destruction, a force that would save humanity from itself. In the 1952 film The Day The Earth Stood Still an alien arrives in a flying saucer with a message of peace, and demonstrates his power by stopping all the world’s
machines. Strikingly, this film was made before there were any factual cases of UFO vehicle stoppages.

What form will the myth take next? With the
failure of the space probes to discover any evidence of intelligent life elsewhere, and the revival of interest in occultism perhaps we will see the return of explicitly supernatural vehicle stoppage stories. Already one of the more bizarre Uri Geller tales has him stopping the engine of an ocean liner by his powers, and in Carlos Castenda’s A Separate Reality we find the following allegedly factual account of one of his meetings with Don Juan, the Indian sorcerer:

“What is sorcery, Don Juan?”  “Sorcery is to apply one’s will to a key joint”, he said. “In your car it’s the spark-plug. I can apply my will to it and your oar won’t work.” Don Juan got into my oar and sat down. His laughter became higher. I felt some kind of enveloping force around me. “Turn on your oar now,” Don Juan said. I turned on the starter and stepped on the gas pedal. The starter began to grind without igniting the engine. I spent perhaps ten minutes grinding the starter. After a while Don Juan said he had released the car. It started!

REFERENCES

  1. VALLEE, J. Challenge to Science. For a sceptical analysis of this case see Alan Sharp ‘UFO Evidence in an American reservoir?, MUFOB 6;1
  2. MAPLE; ERIC. The Dark World of Witches
  3. KEEL, JOHN. In the EM Effect a Myth?’; FSR, Nov-Dec 1968
  4. TURNER, S S. The Phoney War on the Home Front

 

 

A Haunted Man
Peter Hough

From Magonia 20, August 1983

Most people are now familiar with the term ‘astral projection’, or its more modern version: ‘out of the body experience’ (OOBE). This describes the phenomenon where the mind, or ‘astral double’, is projected from the physical body to wander around our world, enter another time or plane of reality. Here is one such case from here, in England, although I feel that OOBE cannot account for the whole of it.

After hearing of Mr Keith Sefton’s [pseudonym] claims through a friend, I became intrigued, and agreed to investigate them. Mr Sefton, a healthy looking 68-years-old, served in the Lancashire Fusiliers, but now retired, lives in a quiet backstreet in Wigan.

His experiences began suddenly in the summer of 1980. Before then there were no paranormal incidents in his life at all. This in itself is unusual, as most percipients of OOBE phenomena have a history of bizarre events to narrate – what started this great surge of happenings was something very sudden.

It occurred around 12.30, as Mr Sefton was sitting in the front room of his house, having lunch. Opposite, across the narrow road, lived an elderly lady who received a daily visit from the meals-on-wheels service. While he was eating, Mr Sefton glanced across expecting to see her standing in the bay window, waiting for the delivery van to arrive. In her place, and staring across at him, was an apparition of his dead mother.

She stood hands on hips, rigid like a statue, wearing a shawl which in life had been her favourite. Unbelieving, he movedcloser to the window of the sitting roombefore fear overcame him and he turned his head away. Slowly he looked forward again, but his mother’s stony expression stillstared across the intervening yards. The image lasted for about eight minutes. Finally she turned away, and magically resolved into the familiar features of the old lady.

This phenomenon occurred a second time, two weeks later under similar circumstances. Following this, Mr Sefton was to have an altogether different experience. Having been divorced for fifteen years, imagine his surprise early one morning, upon hearing the voice of his wife calling out his name.

It was unlike a voice ‘heard’ in a dream, he explained, but it was a perfectly natural auditory sound. Having received the strong impression it had come from outside, through the letterbox, he pulled on his dressing-gown and went downstairs. The door was unlocked, but there was no-one about. So convinced was he that he had heard his former wife calling out his name he ventured out onto the pavement and looked up and down the road.

This experience was also repeated two weeks later. Unfortunately, because of their poor relationship, he failed to contact his former wife to see if anything was wrong, to provide a possible explanation for this happening. What happened next was the penultimate episode before the main series of OOBE related events.

At eight o’clock one morning he was woken by the alarm clock. Preparing to rise, he suddenly heard footsteps outside the house and children’s voices – voices which had a familiar ring, forcing his mind to drift back to his own childhood, picking up lumps of coal from the surrounding pits, during the 1926 General Strike.

Slowly his attention was brought back to the room. His eyes focussed on a spot two feet above the bed, and the intense feeling that a ‘presence’ hung there, came over him. Then a voice spoke into his mind.

“Yes, and you will hear them again,” It said enigmatically, “You didn’t die you know.” The voice reminded him of his mother’s.

From then on until November 1981, Mr Sefton claims to have had twenty to thirty experiences. Many of these displayed ‘Out of Body’ characteristics. Most occurred upon reaching the point of falling asleep. They usually began with a tiny blue light, no bigger than a pin-head, hovering about nine inches from his head.

After several nights it began to pulsate and expand to the size of a pea, becoming multi-coloured. Eventually the light would suddenly vanish to be replaced by the vivid image of a full moon, dark clouds scudding swiftly across its surface. These clouds thickened until only a halo remained. On these occasions Mr Sefton was drawn towards the bright ring, and through it.

While recounting the bizarre episodes which followed his journeys through the ring, Keith Sefton was at pains to convince me of the lucidity, the realness, of his adventures. On his first and second visit he found himself looking up a long tube, or tunnel. At the other end was an eye, staring down at him. On the second occasion he saw enough of the face to conclude it belonged to a man. He received the intimation that the man was observing him under the lens of a microscope.

Visions of the moon continued to manifest in the darkness of the moon, and when the clouds obscured all but its aura, he felt himself being drawn upwards and through it. Exotic landscapes spread before him – on one occasion a beautiful pastoral scene of trees and flowers set around a lake. In the centre of the lake was a small rowing boat with a figure seated in it. It seemed the man was observing Mr Sefton, who in turn was observing him.

Once he travelled to a barren desert, strewn with rocks. A man inhabited this scene also, seated on a boulder, staring intensely in his direction. These figures were to crop up many times in various guises. They all shared similar physical characteristics and behaviour – always alone, they never spoke or moved, but seemed very aware of his intrusion. They had a ‘foreign’ look, possibly Grecian, with olive complexions, beards and hair of short, tight curls.

There were a few exceptions. The man in the desert, for instance, wore a long robe and was completely bald. He seemed to be travelling at tremendous speed through an intense blackness. He described how one night he was taken on a journey through the galaxies. One moment he was lying in bed, then he seemed to be travelling at tremendous speed through an intense blackness. Bright spheres rushed towards him then quickly away into the distance. He described this as highly invigorating.

Not all these experiences occurred whilst waiting to fall asleep, sometimes he would wake up in the early hours of the morning. On seven or eight occasions at around six o’clock something roused him. A few times he saw a man dressed in glittering trousers and tails rather like a circus ringmaster [1]. The man would silently wave a white stick at him, as if to emphasise a point. Usually he was only clearly visible if one eye was covered. The last vision of that nature was in November 1981.

Then there was a gap of almost a year.  In September 1982 the visitations resumed. He was awoken at 4am, and described seeing a “little white lady in my eye”. The image remained there for two or three minutes. This too reminded him of his mother,

 wearing a long nightdress. Suddenly the image burst from his eye into the form of a vapourous cloud, reforming into a four inch high figure at the bottom of the bed. [2] The ‘white lady’ walked around in a circle holding something resembling a broom handle. As he put out a hand to touch her she told him with a smile that it was forbidden. Then she passed out of sight as if she had slipped behind a black curtain.

I questioned Mr Sefton carefully about the physiological and psychological effects before, during and after these experiences. I also encouraged him, during our two meetings and subsequent correspondence, to air his own views on the matter.

In answer to my question of whether he could be experiencing very vivid dream imagery, he reminded me they had only begun in 1980, and went on:
“I have dreams, but these are not dreams – when I dream there are no colours, things are not clear. During these events I receive the most inexplicable panoramic views, and throughout I sense that something is feeding information into my mind. If only more people could experience it…”

He went on to explain that often he felt that he was in two places at once: the ‘here’ of the bedroom, and also in another ‘reality frame’. Time seemed suspended and inconsequential. This was illustrated one Saturday afternoon in the down-to-earth surroundings of Wigan market. The aisles between the stalls were crowded with shoppers, stocking up with meat and fresh vegetables for the weekend. As Keith Sefton picked his way through the crowd, suddenly all the noise diminished, and he felt his “consciousness was partially lifted from our plane”. Then out of this unnatural silence a lone child began calling. He focussed hard on a stallholder serving a woman with apples, and the noise and bustle of the marketplace returned.

This cross-references nicely with the sensations reported by people witness to close encounter UFO experiences. Many have noted that all sounds, such a birds singing or traffic noise on nearby roads, disappeared.

Why Mr Sefton’s mother should feature so prominently in these events is open to conjecture. He is not particularly religious, and has sought out books and people who would give him a logical scientific explanation for all this. The tunnel through which he passes on his journeys is a common component of out-of-body experiences, and by those relating accounts of an ‘afterlife’ during near-death experiences.

During questioning it transpired that just prior to many of these events he found himself breathing unnaturally deeply. Could Mr Sefton have unwittingly put himself into a trance? The heavy breathing would involve a degree of hyper-ventilation; flooding the body with oxygen and depriving the brain of sugar. Practitioners of yoga are adept at this, believing that it charges up the etheric double.

Also of interest is the phenomenon of hypnogogic and hypnopompic imagery, under study by psychiatrists. This refers to the state of mind when one is about to fall asleep or awaken, respectively. Something very strange can happen when the brain is neither fully asleep or awake, but ‘in neutral’, as it were. Very vivid hallucinations sometimes occur. This condition is known to effect something between half and three-quarter of the population. Although the sensations generally are visual or auditory, they may also involve heat, cold, odour or touch.

But the question remains – do these states of altered consciousness cause exotic imagery to manifest, or is the brain merely put into a mode where it is receptive to contact from an objective, exterior source? I know of one northern gentleman who would be interested in the answer to that one.

Meanwhile, the experiences have begun again. I quote from a recent letter:

“I have had a few visions on waking in the morning, since last I saw you. I suddenly found myself in a monastery. The entrance and surrounding walls were in dark colours, but the centre was beautifully lit. There were about twelve girls in a ring who were dancing holding the hems of their long white frocks, moving into the ring and out of it. I also saw the faces of two men, whom I did not recognise…”

—————————————————————————————–

NOTES.

  1. This rather incongruous Image has a almost identical precedent In the case of ‘Miss Z’, Investigated by John Rimmer and Peter Rogerson, and reported In MUFOB. Other members of Miss Z’s family had reported hypnogogic and hypnopomplc experiences, Including her father “On another occasion there were about a dozen figures wearing ‘glittery’ silver suits… [they were] normal looking human figures and the suits of a normal style, resembling ‘glitter’ suits worn by show-business personalitles” (MUFOB, new series 4, p.4).
  2. This also echoes the experience of Miss Z’s father, who on one occasion awoke to find a number of tiny figures lust a few inches high running about the room – some on tiny horses!

—————————————————————————————–

——————————————————-

Venus With Her Trousers Down!
Nigel Watson and Granville Oldroyd

From Magonia 17, October 1984

WHILST researching newspaper files for reports of phantom airship sightings made between 1909 and 1913 some interesting incidental material has been collected. In particular we have noticed that the rumoured activities of German secret agents were very much linked in the public mind with the airship sightings [1,2]. This kind of link, and other stories recorded during these periods appears to be very similar to some of the more bizarre aspects of the contemporary UFO scene. For instance, Carl Grove has noted the case of two ‘foreign’ strangers who observed the home of an airship witness for several hours [3]. Also, we have revealed how a stranger who took an interest in chickens during the 1909 airship flap might easily be compared to some entities who were seen exploring chicken runs in a Puerto Rican yard during 1980 [4].

For some people the obvious conclusion to be made is that what were thought to be inquisitive strangers or German agents were in fact MIB. As most readers of this account will be aware, the MIB are regarded by the more credulous members of the UFO fraternity as terrestrial agents of the UFO forces, who are either aliens who disguise themselves in order to infiltrate human society, or they are ‘brainwashed’ humans who are controlled by the aliens.

An example of a MIB-type event which is worthy of mention, since it can easily be compared to a contemporary event, was exposed in the 11th March edition of the [Hull] Daily Mail. The report tells of how a stranger was given a room for the night at a Newport Inn, on Sunday 9th March. Apparently:

He had not been long in the house, when he bolted to the canal with no covering but his shirt. His host got him back to the house, and again
 made him comfortable on the couch for the night. No sooner was his benefactor asleep than he made off again, leaving all his clothes but his shirt behind. Information of the missing man was given to PC Jewett, who searched for the missing one until 6 o’clock on Monday morning. In the early hours of the morning he had knocked at the doors of several cottages in the North Cave district and asked for a pair of trousers. Temporary clothes were provided him and he was escorted by PC Jewett to Newport, where he again donned his own clothes, and as he had broken no law, he was allowed to go on his way.

North Cave is situated to the west of Hull. Over at Wavertree, Liverpool, in the spring of 1977, a woman called Mrs Lilian Owens saw a man with the same peculiar predilection for requesting trousers. It was 8.30 am when she saw the stranger at her kitchen doorway:

He wore brand new clothes, a small green check suit, white shirt and green tie, and had blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes. His skin had a deep tan (despite it being only spring). He said “Have you got any trousers?” a question Mrs Owens thought odd. She said “No”, and went to shut the door but he blocked it with a shiny new black shoe with a steel toecap. She said she would call her son (who was not in) and he left. She shut the door but on looking through the window he was not in sight [5]

Later, the same man suddenly appeared in her living room and asked her for a drink of water. As she went to telephone the police the stranger disappeared. In the summer of the same year Mrs Owens saw a UFO in the early hours of the morning.

Two reports in the Occult Review [6] relate to sightings of MIB which were seen in the early 1900s. The first involved a 13 year-old girl who was trimming a hat one Saturday night when:

As the clock struck twelve, the front door opened, then the parlour door, and a man entered and sat down in a chair opposite to me. He was rather short, very thin, dressed in black, with extremely pale face, and hands with very long thin fingers. He had a high silk hat on his head, and in one hand he held an old-fashioned, large silver snuff-box. He gazed at me and said three times, slowly and distinctly, “I’ve come to tell you.” He then vanished, and I noted that the door was shut as before.

Two years later a visitor to the girl’s home was given the same room to sleep in. At exactly the same hour he saw the same vision, and we are told that he had never heard of the girls earlier experience. A few years later the house was demolished and a skeleton with a silver snuff box was found beneath the room where the MIB had roamed.

These experiences, and those of Mrs Owens do not permit us to easily identify the stimulus for them. However, like the case of the North Cave trouserless stranger, the following incident was probably caused by a flesh-and-blood person rather than a ghoul from the Twilight Zone:

It was late at night. A deeply religious 23-year-old headmistress of a private school for girls was marking papers when a man called at her door. She said: He was well dressed, in black, and I thought he had probably come about placing a pupil with me. We began to talk about the school and my aims and methods. There was something about him that drew me out.

Recalling her troubles and anxieties to this quiet stranger cheered her up to such an extent that after he left she believed that he was the Lord Jesus Christ; consequently every time she prayed she visualised the mysterious stranger in her mind’s eye. Some time later she felt that her opinion regarding the identity of the man was confirmed when during a dream she said that her eyes:

were attracted to a place of glory, and there seated upon a throne was the man who had visited me and whom I had been praying to as the Lord Jesus Christ.

If this encounter happened today we might speculate that a young woman would interpret her visitor as a space brother whom she would later see inside a flying saucer in classic contactee fashion.

Just as modern-day ufologists have acknowledged the importance of ‘bedroom visitors’ [7,8] in perpetuating today’s UFO stories, we can make reference to several historical bedroom visitations.

The first, and most intriguing reports of such visitors are mentioned by the vicar of Weston, Yorkshire, Charles Lakeman Tweedale. In a book titled Man’s Survival After Death or the Other Side of Life [9a] he detailed the many bedroom visitations that were seen mainly by his wife at the vicarage. The first occurrence of this type was on the night of 19th December 1907. After being woken by a strong, cold breeze she perceived a shaft of cloudy white light at the foot of their bed which reached to the ceiling and illuminated the bed coverlet. The vicar noted that:

She described the light to me when I awoke as like a column of muslin wrapped in spiritual swathes, with a strong electric light in the midst and shining through it.

The sight of this phenomenon induced her to hide her head under the bedclothes until after a long period of time when she had the courage to look round the room again and discover the sight had vanished.

Approximately half an hour before dawn on the 7th April 1908, Mrs Tweedale woke and saw a light the size of a large orange on or enclosing the brass rail at the foot of the bed. It was positioned on her husband’s side of the bed. Over a period of a minute the light expanded to a height of 3 feet, and the width of a man’s body. Terrified at the sight of this bright light she shook her husband until he awoke. At that instant the light collapsed like a camera bellows and vanished from view. On searching the room the Rev. Tweedale could find nothing to account for the phenomenon.
The most dramatic incident happened at 5.30 am on the 8th November 1908. It began when Mrs Tweedale was woken by a blow delivered to the underneath or top of the bed. Thus alerted she sat up and saw at the foot of the bed:

The figure of a man dressed in black with a calm, grave face, his clenched hand resting upon the brass rail as if he had just struck it. [9b]

This apparition gave off a light which illuminated the room, and not surprisingly Mrs Tweedale quickly woke her husband. As before the phenomenon made its exit when he awoke. She saw the head and then the trunk of the figure resolve themselves into a luminous cloud which floated up to the ceiling and disappeared. But this time the Rev. Tweedale did wake soon enough to see the last part of this act. He claimed that on awakening:

At the bed’s foot was a beautiful cloud of phosphorescent light about four feet in diameter, suspended in the middle of the room. It was close to me, not more than five feet away. Even as my eyes rested upon it, it began to ascend just like a small balloon. With a steady motion it seemed to go straight up and right through the ceiling.

The vision reminds us of the man in black seen on three successive nights in her bedroom by a young woman. Her experience was associated with the 1904-05 Welsh Religious Revival when lights in the sky, a few MIB, and even a black dog were seen. [101

tweedale

A "Spirit photograph" taken by the Crewe Circle, and the known paranormal hoaxer William Hope. Taken between world war I and II, this picture purportedly shows Reverend Charles L Tweedale, his wife, and the spirit of her deceased father.

Just before the British 1909 phantom airship panic reached its height, Mrs Tweedale on the 15th March 1909 saw the figure of a man standing next to her husband as he slept soundly beside her. On waking him the figure disappeared in a flash of light. After the airship panic on the 22nd June 1909, the Rev. Tweedale reported what looked like a man with a light brighter than a normal lamp in his hand, was seen in the passage of the vicarage at 11 pm.

Yet another apparition was seen when the Tweedales were in London on the night of 2nd June 1912. In their bedroom Mrs Tweedale saw star-like lights and a tall white form. Later, in the night, she told her husband she could see the lights again, and that “there is someone by the side of the bed trying to attract attention”. Looking round he was able to see what he detailed as “a bright, elongated light at the foot of the bed, but no distinct form”.

At other times, most notably on 10th December 1911 in front of seven witnesses, and on 4th October 1917 in front of two witnesses, strange bright lights were seen in the vicar’s study.

As the title of the reverend gentleman’s book suggests, he tended to regard these kinds of manifestations as proof that we can survive after death. In this state our spiritual bodies are able to materialise from a radiance of light into a solid, tangible being, and can return to a small point of light and disappear and disappear to whence they came.

To reinforce this view he mentions several incidents involving other people who saw lights in their bedroom which transformed into figures who had the appearance of dead or unconscious relatives. In two cases he claims that a luminous light was seen hovering over a person at night, who in the morning reported having met (or vividly dreamt of meeting) a dead relative. These were quoted from the Proceedings of the SPR, and from private contacts.

We should also add that not only lights and MIB were seen at the Weston vicarage: a whole variety of events were said to have occurred. Too many to recount here, but an idea of the type of events experienced may be gained from the statement:

…messages, consolations, warnings by the direct voice and unsought; things moving of themselves, marvellous singing and amazing manifestations at the moment of the ‘death’ of a relation of whose sickness we did not even know; sounds of beautiful music, instruments hanging high up on the walls playing by themselves; scores of articles thrown; hands melting in the grip when seized were just some of the things which presented themselves month after month. (11]

Not surprisingly the vicar was not too popular with his parishioners, who were not charmed by the reports of all these strange events, or by the fact that he was a convert to Spiritualism.

Another type of bedroom encounter was experienced by 32-year-old Samuel Flecknoe. He suffered from a paralysis of the legs for four-and-a-half years until the morning of Sunday, 19th January 1913. When he awoke in his Nottingham home: “Something seemed to tell me, ‘get up and walk downstairs’. So I did” [12,13] He walked for several days until the Friday evening, when he collapsed going to bed, though his doctors hoped he might walk again. [14, 15]

The power of belief can also be seen in a couple of stories from France at this period. When a woman went to clean a statue of the Virgin at the old cemetery in Beziers, it came alive. It return for the act of kindness the statue blessed the woman’s handkerchief. When she got home she placed it on the bed of her sick child who had been paralysed for several years; instantly her daughter got out of bed and walked. [16, 17] (Coincidentally, this happened the day before Flecknow arose from his bed).

What was called mystical madness caused the death of a woman during 1909 at St Julien, near Chalon-sur-Saone. After hearing a sermon about Jeanne d’Arc, she locked herself in a disused chapel, doused herself with inflammable spirit, and set fire to herself. Neighbours found her kneeling, praying amid the flames, but even their aid was unable to save her from an agonising death. [18]

Interestingly, the 1913 cases come at a time when another religious revival was said to have erupted in Wales. Miraculous cures were claimed, and an inspired message told an evangelist to hold meetings in Penylont, Radnorshire. [19, 20, 21]

If we make the mistake of lumping these cases together with the phantom airship sightings as a way of ‘proving’ that our contemporary knowledge of the UFO situation is accurate, we become the victims of our own biases. Instead, we prefer to highlight these cases in order to show that making order out of a chaos of disparate stories is very easily done, but is due to factors other than a grand UFO masterplan for manipulating humanity.

A case that could easily be connected with the phantom airship sighting of 1909, occurred on the morning of 22nd June. In a quiet part of Owder Lane, Canton, near Worksop, PC Swain found a young man. He was aged about 18 and was well-dressed. The policeman was unable to get any sense out of this person, whose ‘manner was very

 strange’. At Worksop Police Station he was examined by a doctor; apparently the man had lost his memory. No name or address was found on him and the police could only speculate that he came from the Sheffield or Doncaster region. He was consigned to the local workhouse.
If we accept the UFO manipulation theory, we might propose that this Yorkshire Kaspar Hauser could have been delivered to Earth by a UFO disguised as an airship – who would ever suspect that he was an alien up to no good!

Finally, a young person who did not mind being regarded as an alien was a three year old girl who was found in Willesden, London. She told the police that her name was Venus. When her parents claimed her as their own daughter it was revealed that her name was Mary Brown. [23] It is anticlimactic to discover she was not the Venus responsible for most of the British 1909 and 1913 phantom airship sightings!

REFERENCES

1. WATSON, Nigel. ‘Airships and Invaders’, Magonia 3.
2. LOWE, Charles. ‘About German Spies’, Contemporary Review, Jan. 1910, pp.42-56.
3. GROVE, Carl, ‘The Airship Wave of 1909′, FSR, 16, 6.
4. WATSON, Nigel, ‘Are the Ufonauts Fowl Plotters?’, FSR, 28,1.
5. CHEVEAU, Danny, ‘A New MIB Encounter?’, Northern Ufology, 75.
6. Occult Review, March 1918, pp.129-31.
7. ROGERSON, Peter, and RIMMER, John, ‘Visions of the Night’, MUFOB, ns 4.
8. BASTERFIELD, Keith, ‘Strange Awakenings’, MUFOB, ns 13.
9a. TWEEDALE, Rev. Chas. Lakeman, Man’s Survival After Death, or the Other Side of Life (3rd Ed.) Grant Richards, London 1925, pp.235-42. The two earlier editions appeared in October 1909, and January 1920.
9b. See also Sunday Chronicle 30/3/1913.
10. McCLURE, Kevin and Sue, Stars and Rumours of Stars, privately published, pp.25-6.
11. The Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 4 Apr. 1913, p.7.
12. Bradford Daily Argus, 24 Jan. 1913.
13. Nottingham Daily Express, 24 Jan 1913.
14. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
15. Ibid, 28 Jan 1913.
16. Sunday Chronicle, 26 Jan 1913.
17. Bradford Daily Telegraph, 21 Jan. 1913.
18. Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser, 29 May 1909.
19. Bradford Daily Argus, 11 Jan. 1913.
20. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
21. Nottingham Daily Express, 25 Feb. 1913.
22. Retford, Worksop, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News, 25 June 1909.
23. Hull Daily Mail, Hull Packet and East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Courier, 28 May 1909.

 

Spooklights in Tradition and Folklore.
David Clarke

First published in Magonia 24, November 1980.

…Of purpose to deceive us
And leading us makes us stray
Long winter nights out of the way
And when we stick in mire or clay
He doth with laughter lead us

Drayton’s Nymphidia



Few people today will have heard about the once common phenomenon known generally in the British Isles as ‘Will o’the Wisp’ or ‘Jack o’Lantern’. Prior to the end of the 19th century this rural mystery was a terror familiar to night travellers, especially in the marshy, undrained areas which still remained in many parts of England.

willothewispWill o’the Wisp is known to scientists by its Latin name ignis fatuus – foolish fire – and is variously described as a strong, flame-like light (often first taken for a lantern or the lights of a house in the distance) seen hovering over marshland just after sunset. However, many reliable witnesses have described seeing brilliant Will o’the Wisps dancing over hedgerows, rising high in the air or performing elaborate movements. They often appear to display signs of intelligence – the light is said to recede from an observer who approaches it, or follow him if he retires. This appears to contradict the long-held, but never proven, belief that Will o’the Wisps are caused by the spontaneous ignition of marsh-gas or ‘phosphoretted hydrogen’ in swampy areas.

In 1980 A.A. Mills, a chemist at Leicester University, published a study investigating the possible connections between marsh-gas and Will o’the Wisps. [1] He worked initially on the old premise that the phenomenon was due to ignition of natural gas or methane, perhaps ignited by contamination with phosphine or a higher hydride. Mills experimentally tried to create a Will o’the Wisp in his laboratory by filling a gallon glass bottle with compost, peat, eggs, bone meal and other such ingredients, which were then allowed to incubate at a warm temperature. He collected the ‘marsh gas’ which bubbled off, “but although repulsively odiferous it never displayed the slightest luminosity when allowed to come into contact with air”.

Further, Mills stated that to explain Will o’the Wisp as marsh gas one had to “explain how to achieve natural ignition of an intermittent, disconnected bubble of gas rising through the marsh”. The suggestion that phosphine could provide this natural ignition is a non-starter, as phosphorous is never found in a pure state in nature, and vapour-phase chromatography has failed to detect even parts per million traces of phosphine in marsh gasses analysed in laboratories.

Will o’the Wisp is therefore as much a mystery in our present age as he was to earlier generations. In recent times he appears to have diappeared from the countryside, along with fairies, as marshes have been drained, and as technology has redefined his image for our modern perceptions. We now regard strange lights in the night sky as heralds of extraterrestrial visitors rather than the mischevious sprites, evil spirits and elementals which were once familiar to our ancestors.

In 1855 a writer in Notes and Queries asked if Will o’the Wisp was still to be seen in any parts of the British Isles. He received replies from many correspondents, giving eyewitness acounts of recent sightings. One correspondent replied:

“I have little doubt that the sprite is still to be met with in certain districts of Essex or among the Norfolk Broads… the inquirer might procure a sight of one if he would enquire of some rustic where they most frequently occur. But for this purpose he must know the vernacular name in the district where he lives” [2]

Nearly every country district of the British Isles has its own particular name for Will o’the Wisp and his kind, most of them personalised – Joan the Wad (Devon and Cornwall); William with the little flame (Ireland); Jenny Burntail (Warwickshire; Kitty wi’the Wisp (Northumberland), and countless others. Similar names can be found throughout Europe: irrllchtern, ‘wandering light’ (Germany); feux-follets (France); Fuoco fatuo (Italy); lycktegubbe ‘lantern bearer’ (Sweden) – suggesting a world-wide occurence of similar phenomena. Other names have been given, or related to Will o’the Wisp. Countryfolk and folklorists connect him with Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Friar Rush and other pagan elementals. These traditions are unwittingly continued on bonfire night when children place a candle in a hollowed-out turnip to represent the evil spirit or Jack o’Lantern. [3]

These wandering lights have been known to haunt certain spots for centuries. The folklore of the Scottish Highlands is particularly rich with stories concerning strange lights regarded as omens of death or disaster, and the Gaelic language has several names for them: solus bais, a death light, solus taisg, a spectre light, and teine biorach, “a fire floating in the air like a bird”.

In ‘Ghostlights of the Western Highlands’ [4] R.C. McLagan writes that “there are places which have got their names from the belief that mysterious lights have appeared in their neighbourhood, Thus Creag an T-Soluis, a rock above Cairn near Port Charlotte, has its name from a belief that supernatural lights used to be seen about it. For the same reason another rock down at the shore below Cairn Cottage is called Carraig na Soluis.”

Almost everywhere these lights are regarded as omens of death, particularly in Celtic countries where the ‘corpse candle’ tradition originates. One account describes the candle as a light “seen during the night slowly gliding from the house to the gate of the churchyard and along the church-road, but that by which the funeral processions pass” [5] McLagan notes that:

“In the Isle of Man, on May Eve, many of the inhabitants remain on the hills till sunrise, endeavouring to pry into futurity by observing particular omens. If a bright light were observed to issue, seemingly, from any house in the surrounding valleys, it was considered a certain indication that some member of that family was soon to be married; but if a dim light were seen, moving slowly in the direction of the parish church, it was then deemed equally certain that a funeral would soon pass that way to the churchyard!” [7]

This tradition is similar to that connecting the lights to areas of pre-historic sanctity – burial mounds, stone circles and ancient religious sites’. In Norwegian folklore the little islands off the coast were inhabited by dwarfs, and on festive nights were “lit up with countless blue lights that moved and skipped about without ceasing, borne by the little underground people; and the grave mounds of heroes emitted lamdent flames that guarded the dead and treasure buried with them [4].

A fascinating account of this kind appeared in the popular science magazine English Mechanic during 1919. This described how a correspondent, T. Sington, saw “strange lights… no doubt will o’the wisps” while walking with a friend in the dead of night near the ancient and spectacular Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick in the Lake District:

“When we were at a point near which the track branches off to the Druidical circle, we all at once saw a rapidly moving light as bright as the acetylene lamp of a bicycle, and we instinctively stepped to the road boundary wall to make way for it, but nothing came, As a matter of fact the light travelled at right angles to the road, say 20 feet above our level, possibly 200 yards or so away. It was a white light, and having crossed the road it suddenly diappeared. Whether it went out or passed behind an obstruction it is impossible to say, as I have not yet had an opportunity of again visiting the place during daylight. There is certainly no crossroads there. We then saw a number of lights possibly a third of a mile away, directly in the direction of the Druidical circle, but of course much fainter, no doubt due to distance, moving backwards and forwards horizontally; we stood watching them for a long time, and then only left as it was so late at the hotel people might think we were lost on the mountain (Helvellyn).

“Whilst we were watching a remarkable incident happened – one of the lights, and only one, came straight to the spot where we were standing; at first very faint, as it approached the light increased in intensity. When it came quite near I was in no doubt whether I should stoop below the boundary wall as the light would pass directly over our heads. But when it came close to the wall it slowed down, stopped, quivered, and slowly went out, as if the matter producing the light had become exhausted. It was globular, white, with a nucleus possibly six feet or so in diameter, and just high enough above ground to pass over our heads”

Mr Sington concluded his fascinating story by stating his suspicion that the ancient builders of the stone circle had selected this particular spot “owing to some local conditions at present unknown… such lights would have attracted the attention of the inhabitants, who would have attached great significance to them, and might then have selected the site as a place of worship or sacrifice.” [9]

In view of recent research at various megalithic sites by members of the Dragon Project [9] Mr Sington’s idea seems to be vindicated. In Folklore (1894), Mr M.J. Walhouse describe a visit to the marvellous megalithic stone-rows at Carnac in Britanny, where he asked a boy who was guiding him about any local popular beliefs attached to the stones:

“It was not easy to understand him, and I could only gather that on certain nights a flame was seen burning on every stone, and on such nights no-one would go near – the stones are there believed to mark burial places.”[10]

Walhouse adds that:

“in the extreme south of India the Shanars, a very numerous caste of devil-worshippers, believe that waste-places, and especially burial grounds, are haunted by demons that assume various shapes, one after another, as often as the eye of the observer turns away, and are often seen gliding over marshy land like flickering lights. They are called in Tamil pey-neruppu, i.e. devil fires. Riding late after dark over a jungly tract near mountains I once saw what the natives averred was a pey-neruppu; it seemed a ball of pale flame, the size of an orange, moving in a fitful wavering way above the bushes and passing out of sight behind trees; its movements resembled the flight of an insect, but I know of none in India that shows any such light; the fireflies there are no larger than fireflies in Italy.” [11]

Another writer in the same publication tells an interesting story of similar lights observed in another part of India, upon which similar legends were attached.

“I was staying on a tea-garden (plantation] near Darjiling last year (1893) and one evening as we were walking around the flower garden our eyes were caught by a light like that of a lantern being carried down the path which leads to the vegetable garden some 200 feet below. My host sent for the Mah1i who came down from his house, and asked him what business anyone had to be going to the vegetable garden at that time? ‘Oh’, said the man, ‘that is one of the chota-admis (i.e, little men); and on being asked to explain, he said that these little men lived underground, and only came out at night. He did not appear to be very clear as to what their occupation was, but they always walk or fly with lanterns. They are about three feet high, and they will never allow anyone to get near them; but if by any chance one was to come upon them unexpectedly, they would quickly disappear, and the person who saw them would become ill and probably die. They are constantly about on dark nights, sometimes as many as twenty or thirty together, but he and all the natives always gave them a wide berth.

“Whilst he was speaking we watched the light, which apparently left the path, and in two or three minutes flew across to another portion of the hill, between which and the vegetable garden was a steep dip which would take an ordinary individual at least half an hour to descend and ascend the other side; then it disappeared, and we saw no more that night, but two or three times afterwards we saw similar lights, sometimes carried along the paths and at others flying across dips in the hills. We made enquiries from the natives, who all told the same tale; but when we asked other planters they could tell us nothing about them. The light was too large and not erratic enough for any firefly that we have seen in that neighbourhood, more like a lantern than anything else we could think of.” [12]

There can be little doubt that there is a real, objective natural phenomenon lurking behind many of these accounts, which appear to be describing luminous shape-shifting blobs which have a mysterious relationship with certain areas and types of terrain. They appear to interact in mysterious ways with human beings, particularly those undergoing intense emotional excitement – as shown by the phenomena accompanying the Welsh Revival of 1905, or are attracted to the electric fields surrounding human beings out in the open. Although they may appear to possess some kind of rudimentary or mischievous intelligence, this is more likely to be an illusion produced by the observer through some process of perception. It is more likely that the energy from which they are formed is affected by external changes in the surrounding environment – geology, variations in the earth’s magnetic field, changes in air density, etc. These may all contribute to giving the impression of intelligent motion.

In 1967 ufologist John Keel had realised that it was the spookllght sightings, what he described as ‘soft objects’, which “represented the real phenomenon.” He described these sightings as of “transparent or translucent objects seemingly capable of altering their size and shape dramatically.” [13] During his investigations in West Virginia Keel actually had the opportunity of watching them from his skywatch position at Gallipolis Ferry. In The Mothman Prophecies [14] he says:

“Each night from three to eight unidentified ‘stars’ appeared, They were always in the same position at the beginning of the evening and a casual observer would automatically conclude they were really just stars. However, on overcast nights these unidentifieds would be the only ‘stars’ in the sky, meaning they were below the clouds. While the rest of the night sky slowly rotated, these phony stars would remain in their fixed positions, sometimes for hours, before they would begin to move. Then they would travel in any direction, up, down, clockwise, etc, they had a number of curious traits. When a plane would fly over they would suddenly dim or go out altogether. As soon as the plane was gone they would flare up again.”

These strange lights are still with us, appearing at various spots throughout the world, and there is little doubt their comings and goings will add to the considerable amount of folklore already in existence. The lights which have been haunting the remote Norwegian valley of Hessdalen since 1981 display remarkable ghost-like characteristics – playing tag with observers, at times appearing to be gaseous and at others solid; sometimes showing up on radar and at others not. A similar kind of phenomenon – this time a brilliant orange ball of light – has been plaguing the Pennine hills of Yorkshire and Lancashire since the 1970′s, particulalry the Rossendale Valley and the area around Skipton and Grassendale. The fact that both these areas are criss-crossed by numerous geological faults can surely be no coincidence, and adds to the considerable evidence now available which appears to indicate that one of the variables which may explain the creation and origin of the lights – fault lines – has now been isolated.

As regards the recent sightings in the Craven district of Yorkshire, local UFO investigator Tony Dodd, a police officer and alleged witness to over 200 sightings, said in 1983:
“There are strange things flying around at night, but where they come from is another thing. They seem to be more prevelant on winter nights. A lot of the ones I have seen have been way below cloud level. This area has a very high percentage of national sightings. I have seen 60 to 80 of these machines in the last ten years… I feel because this is one of the hotspots as far as sightings go, there are bases located in certain places where they go underground.” [15]

Although Mr Dodd may not realise it, he may have given us one of the most important clues to solve this mystery.


Notes and References:

  1. HILLS, A. A. ‘Will o’the Wisp’ in Chemistry in Britain, 16:69, Feb. 1980,
  2. Notes and Queries, April 4th 1891.
  3. Old drawings and woodcuts showing Will o’the Wisp’s consistently depict the light being carried in the outstretched hand of an imp or hobgoblin.
  4. McLAGAN, R. C. ‘Ghostlights of the Western Highlands’ in Folklore, vo1,8 (1897), pp.203-256.
  5. FEILBURG, H. H. ‘Ghostly Lights’ in Folklore, vol, 6 (1895), p.293.
  6. This connection has become apparent to me time after time during research work. The sightings around Burton Dassett, Warwickshire, in 1923-4, described in Spooklights; a British Survey were seemingly centred upon a pre-Norman church and its holy well, This is one of many examples which could be cited.
  7. Train’s Isle of Man, vol. ii, p.118.
  8. SINGTON, T„ ‘A Mystery’ in English Mechanic, Oct, 17, 1919, pp,152-153.
  9. ROBINS, D. Circles of Silence, Souvenir Press, 1985.
  10. WALHOUSE, M. J. ‘Ghostly Lights’ in Folklore, vol, 5 (1894), pp. 293-299.
  11. In McLAGAN, op. cit. there is the story of a prehistoric burial cairn near Ledaig in Scotland called Carn Bhan which has a legend attached to it that seven kings were buried there. A 70-year-old woman resident of the area told McLagan that “there used to be a large light often seen at the Carn Bhan, indeed I think it is not so very long ago since it was seen there, I have often seen it there myself, it was as large as the light of that lamp”.
  12. Folklore, vol, 6, (1895), pp. 245-246.
  13. KEEL, JOHN A. ‘The principles of transmogrification’ in Flying Saucer Review, vo1,15, no.4, (June-July 1968), pp,27-31.
  14. KEEL, JOHN A. The Mothman Prophecies, Dutton, 1975
  15. Craven Herald (Skipton, Yorkshire), July 21, 1983.


Ghost Writers; A Brief Overview. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 11, 1982

ghost

Ghosts are making a belated academic comeback, with officially sponsored volumes by the Folklore Society (1) and the Society for Psychical Research (3), and a detailed social history (2). So I take this opportunity also to review some volumes which fell through my fingers first time round.

That academics and journalists are both fascinated by ghosts is good testimony to their continued presence in our minds. As Finucane shows, ghosts have a pedigree going back to Greek and Roman times, a point also made by W M S Russell in the Folklore Society symposium. Russell suggests that a culture’s perception of its ghosts depends on its funeral customs; people who bury the dead portray concrete ghosts – ‘raw head and bloody bones’. An excellent Icelandic example of this is provided by Hilda Ellis Davidson, in which the revenant comes from the grave to claim person after person to join the legion of ghosts, as in east European vampire legends. This is symbolic of plague and other epidemics claiming victim after victim. Those who burn the dead envisage smoky, hazy spirits who drift across consciousness.

Finucane traces the evolution of the ghost through various stages of Christian theology. In medieval Christianity, ghosts were far from the marginal entities they are today. They were integral parts of society, enforcing its codes, demanding that justice be done, that debts be paid, that remains be buried properly and that harmony prevail among surviving relatives. Fear of ghosts’ wrath enforced proper respect for the helpless aged. Ghosts could give evidence in court. Most importantly, they enforced the correct theological line, with graphic descriptions of purgatory, heaven and hell. Living and dead were part of an organic unity: Church Militant, Church Suffering and Church Triumphant. (R H Bowyer, in (1), p. 190)

The Reformation abolished purgatory and literally damned all ghosts to hell; spectres refusing to stay there were clearly demons. This theological doctrine clashed with traditional belief and posed the awful dilemma: ‘Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned?’ Hamlet’s ghost may well be reinforcing social mores, but in doing so it leads to demonic tragedy.

The religious persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries created a great crop of ghost stories. The trauma of the shattering of the old order created a vast number of ghostly monks; expressions of grief and guilt, and Civil War, tore the nation apart; the ghostly Roundheads and Cavaliers, crimes magnified by the legion of rival pamphleteers, haunted on. History’s wounds were unforgotten and unforgiven, held in thrall by generations of local gossip and tradition. It should be remembered that in the nineteenth century there were still districts where families voted Liberal or Conservative, depending on which side their ancestors had fought in the Civil War.

The Reformation had damned ghosts, partly because it was trying to escape tradition. A society which perceives the world in fairly stable terms might be able to come to terms with its ‘history’ walking around; a society seeing itself in dynamic terms needed to jettison history – it was now necessary to dispose of traditional customs, producing the tensions which also gave rise to increased witch belief. (8)

There were other effects of the Civil War. The farmers and artisans who joined the Parliamentary armies were exposed to the ferment of new ideas, questioning the whole basis of traditional society. Conversely, the gentry and aristocracy, repelled by ‘the mob’, withdrew physically and intellectually to an unprecedented degree. Both sections of society began to reject ghost stories and traditional religion, while the Anglican Church, re-established and protected by penal legislation, looked on in apathy.

In these conditions Puritans like Richard Baxter, who 60 years ago would have considered ghosts as damnable, now began to use them to conduct the campaign against the modern Sadducees. (cf. (9)) Though the intellectual and literate elite may have despised ghosts, the vast majority of their fellow countrymen probably continued to hold traditional beliefs.

These traditional beliefs were taken into the rapidly growing industrial towns by the masses coming in from the country. Finucane does not cover the ideas of the working classes during this period, but some background can be gleaned from studies by Thomas (10) and Hamson (11).

By the mid-nineteenth century the ghost shad receded into a dim figure on the margins of consciousness. The only message that it had to give was the message of survival itself. Ghosts receded from society. From Mackenzie (3) emerges a nice picture of the typical Victorian ghost. The Despard ghost was a widow in black – like the maiden aunt or the widowed sister an embarrassing add-ition to the family.

The anonymous Victorian ghost flitting through the house reflected the breakup of the traditional home held for generations. The Victorian family, drifting from one leased house to another, were strangers in their own residences. The servants often had far more intimate connection with the house than their masters; they were part of the local community and its repository of folk history. As Claire Russell points out in the Folklore Society symposium, ghosts are about the living. In the Victorian period houses tended to become haunted because the local community decided that some fundamental vio-lation of the social mores had occurred.

This could range from anything between murder and leaving the house vacant too long. In many cases, ghosts were the expression of the community’s hostility to new tenants, and the tenants’ alienation from their res-idence. Significantly, many modern haunted houses are council houses or rented properties.

Haunts were not the only ghosts: death-bed apparitions, crisis apparitions, fetches and warnings, testified to the uncertainties of Victorian life – the separation of rel-ations sent abroad to colonial fever spots, the rampant infant mortality. Many of the people who became the centre of crisis apparitions had broken social mores in some way. One suspects that many ‘old and dear friends’ from the colonies who appeared to married women, were lovers sent away in disgrace.

Finucane notes the rigid social distinctions that operated in Victorian psychical research: that the middle classes never lied, that servants were timid and unreliable, and that the ‘peasantry’ were unthinking brutes. This led to some embarrassing situations, as in the case of poor Judge Horby, who found he either had to admit to lying or to sleeping with his wife before they were married.

If the psychical researchers turned their backs on the peasantry and their beliefs, the folklorists put them on pedestals. Romantics, rejecting the industrial revolution, dreamed up a fairytale past of noble peasants in little thatched cottages in a green and pleasant land. Such folklorists as the Dane, Evart Tang Kristensen could take seriously any ghost. These included revolving fiery wheels, or the wagon with three wheels which had the power to paralyse other wagons on the road, like modern UFOs. The folklorists and romantics created a market for Gothic horror stories and gibbering spectres.

The traditional Victorian ghost story reflected a sense of the horror beneath the placid surface of everyday life. They were reminders of the thin veneer of Victorian rationalism. It is hardly surprising that, as Julia Briggs points out, the ghost story as an art form fell when that veneer was wiped away in the trenches.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the heyday of the ‘true’ ghost story lay in the period before the First World War. It is significant that more than half the accounts in Mackenzie’s book refer to the period before the War. If ghosts are products of the human imagination’s response to real or imaginary outrages, then how can they be generated by the truly unimaginable outrage?

The modern ghost may well be more extrovert than his Victorian predecessor. Randy spectres fondling young ladies in council houses are all right in the pages of the Sun or the National Voyeur, but are hardly the right sort of company for the SPR. Modern ghosts are often drained of terror completely. The once-grim messengers are now reduced to competition with space-invader machines as tourist attractions in pubs. No longer even dim messengers of survival, perhaps memories of a lost history.

The poltergeist is the truly contemporary ghost, in its element in the age of the vandal. The poltergeist becomes a symbol of the shattering of society’s rules, the voice of the voiceless. The horror of contemporary fiction is now the super polt, heavy with fantasies of omnipotent destructive power. The quiet, old-fashioned ghost, like the spectre of little Johnny Minty, as described by Mackenzie, weeping endlessly for his mother, may pull at our heart-strings; the polts, evoked by Gauld and Cornell (4) or Rogo (6) can still give us the horrors. The emotion evoked by an attack by a poltergeist is the same as that of an attack by burglars or vandals, one of violation. It is this sense of violation of the home as a bastion against the forces of the wilderness outside, the overthrow of the safe rational world of everyday reason and common sense.

It must be said that the pre-poltergeist worlds of many of the victims do not seem especially safe or rational. The family discussed by Playfair (5) were already under the attention of social workers, and other polt families have had pretty severe problems. It is hardly surprising that both ‘normal’ and ‘paranormal’ trickery take place together; they are perhaps different means of expressing the same crisis.

Gauld and Cornell also describe place-centred polts, places which seem to be hostile. The old term ‘boggart’ seems aptly to describe this centre which generates confused multiform hallucinations and strange noises. Once again, is it not to the neighbours and the local community that we should look for reasons why a place becomes labelled ‘off-limits’? The only ‘message’ here seems to be: ‘Fear, fear’; ‘Get out’; ‘Boggart off!’

Ghosts are on the retreat, their role as dispensers of justice replaced by a modern police, their power to communicate across distances replaced by the telephone and television. Perhaps they have now faded forever beyond the reach of psychical researchers; soon the vandals will drive the polts away. Yet if their disappearance marks the end of our capacity for outrage, then we are in deep trouble. Maybe the ghosts of Belsen, of Hiroshima and of Kampuchea should
 howl and gibber and cry out for vengeance.

REFERENCES

1. ELLIS-DAVIDSON, Hilda R and RUSSELL, W M S (Editors), The Folklore of Ghosts. Cambridge, D S Brewer, for the Folklore Society, 1981.
2. FINUCANE, R C, Appearances of the Dead: A Cultural History of Ghosts. London, Junction Books, 1982.
3. MACKENZIE, Andrew, Hauntings and Apparitions. London, Heinemann, for the Society for Psychical Research, 1982.
4. GAULD, Alan and CORNELL, A O, Poltergeists. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul,1979. E9.95
5. PLAYFAIR, Guy Lyon, This House is Haunted: An Enfield Poltergeist. London, Souvenir Press, 1979. E6.95.
6. ROGO, D Scott, The Poltergeist Experience. Penguin, 1979.
7. RHINE, Louisa, The Invisible Picture – A Studuy of Psychic Experiences
8. MACFARLANE, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964
9. WALKER, D. P. The Decline of Hell, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964
10. THOMAS, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Penguin, 1973
11. HAMSON, J.F.C. The Second Coming; Popular Millenarianism 1780-1856. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
12. BRIGGS, Julia. Night Visitors; the Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story. Faber, 1977

         

Click on the cover images to order these books from Amazon.

 

 

Jumpers and the Killer Monk of Beachy Head. Michael Goss

From Magonia 55, March 1996

Go to the N19 district of London, ask someone the whereabouts of Suicides’ Bridge. Unless that person is a stranger like yourself, the chances are heavily in favour of your being directed there right away. No painful brow-furrowing or other symptoms of urgent memory-searching, no doubt or vagueness; the answer will be with you in an instant.

Everyone in this part of North London seems to know that the metal-railed bridge carrying Hornsey Lane over the Al between Archway and Highgate is … Suicides’ Bridge. Look down from it into the vertically sided chasm below: you have the prospect of a long, straight drop onto a ceaselessly busy road and you will be inclined to agree that anyone who made the jump would be committing suicide. If the fall didn’t kill them, the traffic surely must… But perhaps you will be told the story I have heard on three occasions (and from three different people) concerning an unsuccessful jumper whom neither fall nor traffic accounted for. He plummeted onto the Al and lived. Lived on a permanent cripple, for he landed on his feet so that his legs were crushed and shortened concertina-fashion by the impact. It may be true, for all I know. More certainly the people who tell the story talk as if it was – and with a sort of macabre pride.

Suicides’ Bridge is remarkable chiefly because it is a high place with a sheer drop which an unusually high number of people in and around N19 are alleged to have selected as their point of exit from this world. Asking why so many have chosen this place and not somewhere else may seem redundant. It shares with other suicide venues dealt with in this article certain features that a suicidal person might regard as practical recommendations. Besides offering the aforementioned sheer drop to near-certain oblivion, it is accessible; you can get there easily – just walk onto it and once on you will find little or nothing (and probably nobody) to stop you from jumping off.

And once word gets around that a particular place is associated with an unusually high suicide rate – once this has passed into popular credence and perhaps, as in N19, into popular parlance, so that place will be colloquially known as Suicide Bridge, Pool, Leap or whatever – the likelihood is increased that would-be suicides will accept it in exactly these terms. Some will try to make use of its advertised facilities, thereby reinforcing the image. Given time and repetition of events, a species of suggestion might operate to which even persons uncursed by thoughts of self-destruction might succumb. Somebody finding him- or herself at this place might suddenly become oppressed by its associations – might spontaneously and without premeditation jump to their deaths.

 archway-bridge1

Look down from it into the vertically sided chasm below: you have the prospect of a long, straight drop onto a ceaselessly busy road and you will be inclined to agree that anyone who made the jump would be committing suicide

 Yet apparently it takes more than being in a high place with a sheer drop to endow a place with the nominal, popular title of being a Suicide venue. Dr Jacqueline Simpson, current President of the Folklore Society, tells me that in Worthing there are three very similar multi-storey car parks. One of these has been favoured by potential (or actual) suicides, logging by her guess perhaps a dozen over a twenty-year period; the other two, despite being to all intents and appearances just as suitable for that purpose, have no comparable record (either no suicides whatsoever, or at most just a few). [1] Similarly, I recall that at one time Waterloo Bridge stood out from all competitors spanning the Thames. If you wanted to jump off a London bridge, you went to Waterloo. Again: why?

“Why did he do it? He had everything to live for…” If suicide is an act from which we attempt to distance ourselves – as we do, not always but frequently; if we profess ourselves unable to understand why a particular person killed him- or herself; and if we mutter sadly that the reason is lost in that individual’s private self, then the mystery is magnifies when we see so many people committing suicide, at different times but in the same place. What looks in individual cases like a private psychological mystery may now appear a general, metaphysical one. So we may begin to speculate that there could be Something about those places that encourages – no, forces – folk to commit suicide.

Our forefathers would have understood this. They would have been able to attach a name to the entity who urges humankind to self-destruction; wasn’t it known that suicide could only come from the prompting and tempting of the Devil? That certainty declines alongside the decline of belief in a quasi-material Satan. One of the great ironies about Spiritualism’s rise in the 19th century was a revivification or refinement of the old belief that suicide was a product of external, disembodied influence, a phenomenon that occurred at the instigation of demonic spirits, savage revenge-bound ghosts and elemental forms which might or might not hold some relationship to the other, more tractable varieties.

“I have … touched on the power of suggestion by Elementals, who, when being the spirits of those who have committed suicide or have been murderers or particularly evil-livers, seek to lure to destruction anyone who comes under their malign influence”

wrote Jessie Adelaide Middleton. [2] Hers was a personal approach, but not untypical of what many Spiritualists believed. And suppose these murderous spirits, or something like them, haunted certain high and lonely places, mesmerising the susceptible – and perhaps the less susceptible, likewise – into acts of self termination! Wouldn’t this explain the way so many suicides seem to “cluster” at particular, notorious locations?

One of the finest exponents of this idea was Elliott O’Donnell (1872-1965), author of more than thirty books of ghost stories. That total, by the way, ignores almost as many pieces of outright fiction and historical studies; it relates purely to what he claimed were true ghost stories. A goodly number of these starred a familiar hero, an endangered but undaunted investigator who rolled up his sleeves and took on the most malevolent phantoms imaginable in hand-to-hand combat. This sterling figure was none other than Elliott O’Donnell.

Vengeful, malevolent phantoms were an Elliott O’Donnell speciality and he had a particularly fine line in terrible elemental spirits who haunted pools, streams and crags, luring the unsuspecting to their doom. It is possible that he owed this preoccupation to an episode during his Dublin undergraduate days when, according to him, he was throttled by a homicidal phantom (not for the last time, either; O’Donnell seems to have suffered more than most ghost-hunters from spirits with a capacity for GBH). It is still more likely he copped it from the literary trend popularised by William Hope Hodgson in Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1913) or Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, two elementally challenged occultist detectives whom O’Donnell appears to have been determined to act in real life. [3]

There is the chief and obvious difference between O’Donnell and Carnacki or John Silence: he was real, they weren’t. His first-person testimonies may have been as fictional as theirs – one hopes! – but they were no less amazing. And there is some magic about O’Donnell’s writing that has made people want to take him at face value.

I don’t dwell upon Elliott O’Donnell for the pleasure of contemplating his fascinating larger-than-life persona, nor yet for the fun of calling him a wonderful liar, which isn’t an appropriate term to use when you are dealing with one who valiantly extended the great tradition of the Victorian First-Person-Attested Ghost Story well past its sell-by date. In my case, it would be crass ingratitude to write of him like that; I can’t forget that at the age of fifteen I thought his Trees of Ghostly

Dread the best book ever written. My motive is that for some time I suspected him to be the originator of a story which typifies the way that recurrent suicides are blamed upon occult influences: the Killer Monk of Beachy Head.

Jutting into the Channel near Eastbourne, Sussex, Beachy Head is a high place and one with a terrible reputation for suicides. The first time I ever saw it – as a child and in the misty distance – my parents solemnly informed me it was “the place people jump off to commit suicide”. That conditioned my feelings towards Beachy Head for ever more. It was only a matter of weeks ago when researching this article that I realised that I had never questioned this scenario. That Beachy Head had an unhealthily high suicide rate I didn’t and couldn’t doubt – but was it really as high as everyone seemed to pretend?

So I rang Eastbourne Police and asked – hesitantly: was it true that Beachy Head had or has a larger-than-usual number of suicides? The person at the other end plainly thought she was dealing with a fool. “Yes. A look in the newspapers will tell you that.” Not having the leisure to do so in any meaningful depth, I will quote some figures given by a journalist writing in 1976. According to him, Beachy Head averaged ten deaths a year, of which six would be ‘clear cases of suicide’; accidental falls, according to the same source, ‘are rare’, making the former figure a cautious under-estimate. [4]

 beachy

 Jutting into the Channel near Eastbourne, Sussex, Beachy Head is a high place and one with a terrible reputation for suicides. The first time I ever saw it – as a child and in the misty distance – my parents solemnly informed me it was “the place people jump off to commit suicide

Rising to some six hundred feet at its tallest, Beachy Head might need nothing else to recommend it to would-be suicides. Notwithstanding, the large number has been tentatively blamed on the vengeful spirit of a monk left homeless when his monastery was sacked by Henry VIII’s officers. Hunted down mercilessly, shackled and hurled from the cliff, he is now supposed to haunt the Head, malevolently enticing susceptible victims to leap to their deaths.

Just when the Killer Monk stepped forward to provide a supernatural explanation for the Head’s deadly consistency is hard to establish. He does not appear to figure in any of the great Victorian or Edwardian collections of “true ghost stories” and, as I said before, at one time I suspected him to be another of Elliott O’Donnell’s productions, carrying as he does that writer’s trademark by being a merciless, malevolent spirit who seeks awful revenge upon the living. The truth is, though, that the only reference to Beachy Head I have found in O’Donnell appears at the start of chapter XXXIII in Haunted Britain (Rider, 1948). This doesn’t deal with any malevolent monks but (c/o an account published ‘some years before the last war’ by the Sunday Chronicle) with a filmy-white female figure seen by four people in the act of precipitating itself from the cliff edge. ‘A remarkable feature in many of the Beachy Head tragedies, and one that has never been satisfactorily explained, is that when the bodies of suicides have been found, the left shoe has been missing,’ concludes O’Donnell. As far as I am aware, no other investigator picked up that detail. It could be the key to everything.

Had Elliott O’Donnell a better tale than this to tell, he would surely have told it. Had he known anything of the Killer Monk in 1948, he would surely have been on his case. Still, we are talking about an author of too many titles (and of too many ephemerally published ones) for most researchers to hunt down. I would not be totally surprised to learn that the Killer Monk managed to creep into one or two of them; as it is, I can only repeat I have found no sign of him and have to conclude therefore that he came from somewhere else.. .probably.

Significantly, though, at least two accounts from now-defunct popular magazines point to an episode that may have promoted the “Killer Monk” image. [5] I have not found this story elsewhere, but knowing how such magazines routinely go to previously published accounts for their material I suspect there exists a much longer version which theirs helped to “feed back” into wider circulation. For certain, the Killer Monk incident enabled these writers to dramatise the fierce and fatal image that Beachy Head evokes for press and public alike.

The story dealt with the climax of an exorcism on Beachy Head in 1953, an event attended by one hundred people who gathered beneath wooden crosses and then illumination provided by the flashing of the lighthouse below. The real drama came when medium Ray de Vekey cried out that he “saw” a “bearded man … with a flowing robe with a cowl, like a monk … He is calling us a lot of fools .. Fools, I will sweep you over!”

Mr de Vekey began to struggle towards the cliff edge and had to be restrained from going over it. Later he would allege that he had been pulled or lured to this certain destruction by an ‘elderly monk with black markings on his habit and his arms and legs in irons’. His consolation was a sure feeling that the evil influence had been driven from the place. Tragically and bathetically, just three weeks later the headland claimed yet another victim.

This incident alone offered to give useful form and substance to the as yet ill-defined and unnamed Horror of Beachy Head. The Monk was a comprehensible personification of evil; he assigned cause to a series of separate acts of self-murder which, inevitably, might otherwise have been self-contained mysteries. The legend’s internal logic showed that the putative Monk had a terrible motive for his actions; through him, the victims had a motive for theirs. It all made sense.

And yet he does not appear to have succeeded in establishing himself as a popular sort of folk-demon. By this I mean that the Killer Monk of Beachy Head never became a widely circulating story. Being unable to find more on it than I have used to write the foregone summary, I asked Jacqueline Simpson whether she had heard this or any other legend of the kind concerning Beachy Head. As a keen and informed student of Sussex folklore (not to mention being authoress of The Folklore of Sussex, Batsford 1973) she seemed well placed to comment, the more so as she resides about fifteen miles westward along the coast from the monk-haunted head-land. 

Dr Simpson replied that she had heard no legends of any kind of ghost haunting Beachy Head – was unaware of any published reference to such – and added that none of the people to whom she had passed on my enquiry had heard of it, these including an enthusiastic collector of Sussex lore and books as well as a man with a long-standing investigative interest in the paranormal events of that county. Even allowing for the possibility that earlier folklore writers may have shunned placing so unsavoury a subject as suicide before their readers, she was inclined to regard the Killer Monk as a quite recent phenomenon, a quite-recently invented story and most likely no older than the de Vekey seance. The possibility that he was essentially invented by Ray de Vekey escaped neither Dr Simpson nor myself.

The Killer Monk of Beachy Head has all the indications of being a modern legend, then, but he cashes in on two antique motifs. The story is one of many exploiting the dramatic possibilities of the Dissolution with its cast of dispossessed monks and abbots. This epic drama has been a resource of folk-narrative for centuries; the Dissolution can be invoked as background for tales of tragedy and violence or more specifically as the rationale for a haunting. Most of all, it explores the belief that the injury and insult inflicted on the Church and its followers at this time would be sternly, strongly avenged. Usually this takes the form of a curse on those who usurp Church property; the new owners of the alienated abbey are prostrated by financial ruin, their children die in tragic accidents, the family line is extinguished etc. But here the revenge is more direct and a lot more physical.

In summary: the Killer Monk of Beachy Head is a modern legend whose precise source is unknown to this writer, but one which, on the evidence assembled here, was most likely a promotion of journalists around 1953. This nightmare-figure professes to explain the Head’s proven bad record of suicides, constituting itself around popular awareness that the place has such a record and the suspicion that it is sufficiently abnormal to require an abnormal explanation. In structure, it utilises a motif which is traditional (the curse of the Dissolution) but also literary – the latter by reference to concepts found in O’Donnell and most notably those relating to the immaterial existence of violent “elementals” whose sole pleasure lies in the destruction of humans. Ultimately, the Monk does not explain Beachy Head’s record, but testifies to the old credo that suicide is so aberrant an action that it must come about as a result of external and supernatural influences.

We can call him a bit of a failure, too. Melodramatic as he is, the Killer Monk does not appear to have penetrated Sussex folklore, oral or printed, to any appreciably deep level. I would have little excuse for writing about him were it not for the way he fits into a pattern which traces a narrative trend in the visualisation of suicide.

The Killer Monk is a symbolic expression of what we would like to blame suicide upon. Like the old-time Satan, he is supposed to be an immaterial enemy who operates on a mental level, tempting victims to jump off a high place. But he is also a Maniac figure, a disembodied version of what can be found in more contemporary legends which also offer to solve the mystery of why certain places are contaminated by so many suicides. The London Underground, which according to a BBC documentary suffers a couple of reported suicides each week, [6] has or had its own Platform Maniac whose dark doings I described back in the May 1985 issue of Magonia and more recently in Folklore Frontiers. [7] The Platform Maniac is not depicted as a ghost or disembodied entity – far from it: he is made all the more horrible for being human (and utterly, psychotically insane). Yet in practical terms he is as insubstantial as a phantom. Even his penchant for shoving victims to their doom beneath oncoming trains is in full conformity with the muscular activities of the ghosts and “elementals” that O’Donnell wrote about. From traditional ghost to modern urban maniac is but a short … step. (I nearly wrote “jump” there.)

Then I am reminded of The Golden Gate Murders, a 1979 movie which has been shown several times on British television. Set around San Francisco’s most famous feature (which no one needs reminding is also infamous as one of the world’s most popular sites for suicide attempts) the film stars Susannah York as a nun who teams up with a detective to investigate the death of a priest. Like many before him, he is thought to have ended his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge; the nun insists that not even the most depressed Catholic priest would commit the deadly sin of suicide. In its unassuming way, the plot explores our reluctance to believe that anyone could do such a thing, even if we don’t regard suicide as a deadly sin in the heroine’s strict Catholic terms. it also airs our suspicion that when a particular place becomes notorious for the numbers who do so, what looks like self-murder is in fact murder by Entity or Entities Unknown.

Susannah York was right, as it turned out. I hope I’ll spoil the pleasure of nobody who has yet to see the film if I give away that the priest did not jump off the Golden Gate Bridge: like all too many of those who went before him, he was pulled or pushed off. And by a veritable urban maniac who resides in the secret; steely recesses of the great structure.

The suicidal were once thought victims of the Devil’s temptation. Your modern Maniac is no psychologist and doesn’t bother with enticement, suggestion, mesmerism or anything like that. He simply grabs hold and pushes.

NOTES:

1. Personal communication (9 September 1995) from Dr Jacqueline Simpson, whom I would like to thank for information and comments on which I have drawn in this article. On the anomaly of why one of these car parks should be so distinguished Dr Simpson has no theory, although she notices that the fact it is opposite the offices of the local paper might influence the choice of someone wishing to exit with a certain amount of publicity.  

2. Jessie Adelaide Middleton, The White Ghost Book (Cassell 1916). The remark is made in context of (or advertisement for) the existence of similar suicide-ghost stories in her other books.

3. Richard Dalby’s ‘Elliott O’Donnell’ in Book and Magazine Collector 22 (December 1985), pages 38-43, offers an excellent short introduction to the life of the man who was, despite formidable competition from the likes of Harry Price, Britain’s best-known ghost-hunter. Best of all, it gives what the writer claims is a complete bibliography of O’Donnell’s work – a canon of such vast extent as to deter the hope of ever finding, let alone reading, all of it.

4. Anthony David (see note following)

5. Anthony Davis. ‘Curse of Beachy Head’, Titbits, 29 January-4 February 1976; Paul Grant, ‘Is Beachy Head Haunted by a Killer Monk?’, Weekend (no date, but some time in 1975). Any discrepancy in my version is likely to have occurred as a result of combining these two accounts.

6. I quote this figure – which I hope is an average – from a BBC documentary of the London Underground which was shown on 17 May 1989. The interviewee spoke of the investigation of these suicide reports as “a messy job but someone’s got to do it”.

7. Michael Goss, ‘The Maniac on the Platform‘, Magonia 19 (May 1985), pages 3-6 and 22; ‘September 1994: the news isn’t very good‘, Folklore Frontiers 23 (October 1994), pages 3-6. The latter was inspired by a report in The Guardian (13 September 1994, page 3) of a belligerent and plainly deranged man’s attempt to push a woman under a train at London Bridge station. For a more free-ranging study of legendary assailants, see my The Halifax Slasher and Other ‘Urban Maniac’ Tales’, a paper originally delivered at the Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Conference, Sheffield, 1988 and subsequently published with revisions in A Nest of Vipers. Perspectives an Contemporary Legend Vol. 5, edited by Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith (Sheffield Academic Press 1990), pages 89-111.

 

 

 

 

And the Dog Began to Howl. Peter Rogerson

 From Magonia 27, September 1987 


The other day a young man came into my office, seeking the history of his house: who had lived in it and especially who might have died. Was it just curiosity? No, There was ‘something wrong’ with the house, where the baby would not sleep and the dog had begun to howl. Maybe, he thought, it was haunted.

The same day a woman came in trying to discover what occupied the land where her house now stood before it was built. She gave no reason, but on previous occasions this type of query has been stimulated by fears of hauntings. At least once a month someone comes to me with this type of enquiry.

These incidents are from my experience as a local history librarian in a northern town. It is apparent to me that there exist many unreported ‘haunted houses’, and that a powerful factor in this is a fear of the unofficial ‘off-campus’ history of the house. A history of the organic round of birth, procreation and, especially, death, which is perceived by the house’s current occupier as being oppressive, palpable and threatening. In some senses the house, ‘the home’, is an extension of the individual’s body or personality; hence the trauma induced by burglaries. Similarly the house is seen as having been imprinted, one might almost say contaminated, by the previous occupants. The house has borne witness to their most intimate moments.To the new occupant – the ‘incomer’ – the haunted house has a ‘history’ or a ‘reputation’ in a personal, almost sexual, way. The house is not a ‘virgin’. It has been violated by the presence of other human activity, which may afflict and infect the incomer. The sorts of questions which are asked about the haunted house’s previous owners or tenants are the sorts of questions one might ask about one’s partner’s previous sexual partners.

The main terror inspired by these previous occupants is that they are dead, gone, finished; that they are not continuing the organic round elsewhere. They have become part of history, their lives cannot be experienced, only inferred.

One of the cornerstones of sceptical historical philosophy is that historical events cannot be directly known about; all we have access to are the written and structural documents left by past generations, from which history may be ‘reconstructed’. [1] This history vbecomes the formal history, the ‘campus history’, the history taught in schools, the network of kings and dates. Perhaps also a rather mare intimate history reconstructed from diaries, wills, reports, enquiries and the press.

But there is another history, the oral history of folk memory, ballads, songs, stories learned at mothers knee, passed on across generations – ‘off-campus’ history. Unlike the documents of campus history, this still has a power over the living, it can still be experienced. It is a kind of folklore, often at dramatic odds with the documentary history. It is a history which is a present reality, shaping the lives and experiences of its hearers. The ‘history’ of haunted houses, is very much an ‘off-campus, peoples’ history, a folklore of what should be true rather than documentary truth.

At the heart and core of much ghostlore is a belief that certain events taking place in a space or territory forever render that space an inappropriate location for the mundane activities of life. The events remove it from the realm of secular to sacred space.

The Herald of Free Enterprise - It belongs to history and too its victims all else are intruders

It now belongs to history, and to its victims all else are intruders.

To take an example: most people (this writer among them) would consider it highly inappropriate for the salvaged Channel Ferry The Herald of Free Enterprise ever to be used to carry passengers again. Its only morally coherent fate would be for it to be taken into deep. deep waters and scuttled. An analysis of the reasons for this feeling is difficult because a-rational, but would clearly centre on the sense of the Herald’s place as a catastrophic scar on the memories of the living. It now, like Abraham Lincoln, belongs to history, and to its victims all else are intruders.

Here then is another step towards the social history of the haunted house. In popular imagination it is a place where an event has happened which closes the life of the house and consecrates it to a particularmoment of history. This is principally because the community now sees that place as a monument to that event. Even if no documentary ‘campus’ history attaches itself to the building, the sense of moral coherence demands that such history be supplied. Having been consecrated to history, the price to be paid for its violation is for the violator to directly experience history.

Hence the sign of the haunted house is its invisible parallel life wherein history is recapitulated. [2] Furthermore this history is experienced often as wilderness/chaos. This equation between history and wilderness operates because of the pervasive power that history has on us – the lives of all readers of Magonia are conditioned by the fact that, e.g., the Allies won World War II and not the Axis. History is an irreducible fait accompli: a brute, unchanging fact of nature. It has immense power over us, but we have no power at all over it.That is not all, as Gould and Cornell point out. [3] In ‘real’ cases it is difficult to separate out poltergeists and hauntings. Note that in parapsychological folklore poltergeists are associated with the ‘awakening’ of the sexual energies of adolescents, hauntings with events taking place after death. Poltergeist disturbances are thus connected with the emergence of potentialities to create life (before the beginning), hauntings are connected with the fading away of what was once a life (after the end).

Polts and haunts thus mark the alpha and omega of the organic round; together they form a symbol for the creation and destruction of life. Sexuality, procreation, birth and death belong to the wilderness and they are barely contained within the structures of society. The shattering of the family home and property represents the incapacity of the family to tame the raw energies of creation and destruction.

Ghosts, haunts and polts then are the signs of the liminal zones between being and not being: the history of the haunted house is the history of repetitions of this organic round, or its dramatic severance. Amongst the commonest motifs is that of the friendly or, hostile house. The house appears to accept or reject the incomer, and the incomers sense of ease or unease is projected onto the house, aided and abetted by subtle clues from neighbours.

The theme of hostile houses suggests a confusion between people and places: the disturbed house is a metaphor for disturbed family dynamics. For example, one of Mackenzie’s female correspondents reported that her childhood had been made unhappy by a ‘hostile presence’ in her house, centred on a bedroom which made her “pale and thin unlike all the other children”, and which made her reluctant to return home from school. [4] These are typical symptoms of a victim of child abuse. This lady’s mother refused to discuss the incidents, saying her own childhood had been made unhappy by the psychic delvings of her mother.

In another case a woman claimed that a hostile presence nearly caused the breakup of her marriage: her husband laughing at her fears caused her to panic and fall down stairs on more than one occasion – giving hints of suppressed violence.

In a case from Birmingham in 1955, a poltergeist was blamed for the death of a month-old baby. Raps and whisperings were heard in the house, and a four-year-old child saw a ‘dog’ sitting on the baby’s face. [7,8]

At present no detailed studies exist which look at the haunted house from the ‘new parapsychological’ perspective. Osborne’s study of The Woman in Brown’ [5], or Fodor on ‘Ash Manor’ [6] being exceptions. Each such incident may be pregnant with meaning, for the experient, even the story may be selected because it deals with the incomer’s problems.

In the case of ‘The Woman in Brown’, the appearance of ‘the woman’ to the central percipient when a telephone rang, was traced through a network of past traumatic experiences, both real and fantisised, involving sudden death and blankets. In the Ash Manor case, the incidents revolved round a couple’s sexual conflicts.

In such cases ‘dead things which will not lie down’ from the percipient’s personal history, become connected with or projected onto the dynamic of the off-campus history of the territory where the events take place. The ‘objectivity’ and collective nature of such incidents derives from a collective fantasy producing traumas with much drama, the ‘ghost story’ of a property, may, on closer reflection, show some correspondence to the personal concerns of the living. Such stories often involve violation of profound taboos, domestic murder, suicide, infanticide and forbidden passions.

It is difficult to say of course, how many alleged poltergeists are covers for domestic violence. This break-down of traditional family mores leads to a reversal of the home and family as a bastion against the forces of outer chaos. The haunted house is transformed into a wild anti-home, a place to flee from in fear, instead of run to for security. The majority of haunted houses are not the property of the occupiers. The traditional Victorian haunted house was the short-lease house, where the servants come with the property. The archetypal modern haunted house is the council house. Such houses literally ‘belong to someone else’. They are perhaps more ‘used’, have more off-campus history than other, more settled, houses. There is a greater likelihood of a failure of bonding between the occupant and the house.

I have previously argued that the idea of the changeling arose as a mechanism to rationalise child abuse and the failure of parental bonding. The parents’ feelings of hatred, aggression and alienation are projected onto the child itself, turning it into a hostile alien presence. May not a similar mechanism exist for houses: the incomer’s sense of alienation from the house or community, and their failure to experience the house as ‘home sweet home’ are projected onto the house, now regarded. like the changeling child, as a hostile, threatening presence.It is also possible that a sizeable proportion of haunted houses are ‘first time’ homes, wherein young couples are experiencing the strains of marriage and adult responsibilities, and where the home is a source of worry rather than idealised domestic bliss. The problems of the ‘home’, in the sense of family life, becomes projected on the physical structure of the house. Alienation from the home becomes experience of the house as alien. 

The mediums and exorcists who visit such houses know what their clients want and need: a good costume melodrama, full of fire and passion and suffering, which like a TV soap, tells the audience “You think you’ve cot problems…!” Such stories contain stock situations which inform the community of expected norms.

There is a school of sociologists which argues that society needs criminals and deviants to denounce, in order to demonstrate its rules and solidify the community in upholding them. The haunted house is a marking-stone of the violation of community taboos, a scapegoat in brick and stone for all the dark and unworthy secrets of the community. Do the incomers then take upon themselves the traumas of the whole commuity? Do they become involuntary sin eaters?


NOTES AND REFERENCES

  1.  MEILAND, Jack W. Scepticism and historical knowledge (Random House studies in philosophy) Random House, 1965.
  2.  The noises groans and bangings reported in haunted houses are remarkably reminiscent of those of a charivari or rough riding, In this traditional ritual the members of the community whose norms had been violated would parade outside the offender’s house banging pots, making groans and other noises, throwing pebbles at the windows, indeed generally behaving just like poltergeists, to make life unpleasane. The incomer had violated the taboo against entering space reserved for hauntings, Indeed, traditional lore connects hauntings with the violation of specific taboos, such as building houses over graveyards, playing with Ouija boards or dancing on graves, all of which violate the sanctity and separateness of history and the ancestors.
  3.  GAULD, Alan and CORNELL, A. D.  Poltergeists Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  4.  MACKENZIE, Andrew.  Seen and Unseen: Study of Presences, Apparitions and Other Paranormal Phenomena. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1987.
  5.  OSBORNE, Edward, ‘The ‘Woman in Brown; an investigation of an apparition’, Journal of the SPR vol. xxxv, no, 655 (Nov-Dec, 1949), pp, 123-53.
  6.  FODOR, Nandor. The Haunted Mind: A Psychoanalyst Looks at the Supernatural, Helix Press, 1959.
  7.  MOSS, Peter. Ghosts Over Britain. Sphere 1979.
  8.  BRADDOCK, Joseph. Haunted Houses 1956 

Click on the links in the titles above to order these books from Amazon


See also: http://magonia.haaan.com/2008/images-of-imogen-deconstructing-a-classic-victorian-ghost-story-peter-rogerson/