Ghost or Imagination?

Victoria Embankment, as illustrated in 1878.

Creepy History 55.  On 26th December 1885, the following short article appeared in the Dundee Courier:

A remarkable ghost story is reported from Doora, near the town of Ennis. It is asserted that a ghost appeared in the dwelling of a small farmer, named Heffernam, and extinguished fires and threw the embers about. The ghostly visitor, however, has been successfully banished by a priest, who was called in by the occupier to celebrate mass. The priest directed one of the candles lighted the ceremony to be used in kindling the next fire. This having been carried out no ghostly interruption has since experienced.

A story like that, with little in the way of evidence or explanation, is completely open to interpretation.  But the following article, from the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (8th September 1874), describes a phenomenon that sounds far more human in origin, despite being referred to as a “ghostly visitor” by the journalist:

Our Accrington correspondent states that great consternation prevails at Church, near Accrington, at present with reference to the nocturnal visits of an individual at present unknown, and much wanted by the police. Periodically within the last week this ghostly visitor has opened doors of houses and exhibited himself in a state of nudity. As far as report goes he has oily made his appearance where women are. One of his appearances has nearly proved fatal to a young woman named Ashton. Her widowed mother had left the house on Friday evening, and Miss Ashton was busily engaged in cleaning the house. A rap came to the door, and on her opening it the ghostly figure of the nude man presented itself to her. She gave a scream and fell down insensible. Medical assistance was obtained, and she has since been confined to bed through the fright—an injury to the heart having been sustained by its sudden leap. The police are unable to trace the man.

Sometimes ghost stories can have simple explanations.  Another example comes from the Middlesex Chronicle (8th June 1867), and concerns a “ghost” that is not human in origin, but probably has origins in something very much of this world:

The inhabitants of Woburn-square, Bloomsbury, were annoyed during last week by large numbers of the ragged and noisy population of St. Giles in quest of a ghost said to be a denizen of the square garden. So great and increasing has been the crowd that police have been told off for the special service of maintaining order and making the populace move on. The excitement appears to date from the previous Saturday night, and various absurd rumours of skeletons, women in white, etc., are rife, though it is by no means clear who was the first to detect this supposed ghostly visitor, nor easy to find any one who can assert that he has seen any such appearance. The Lancet has been sending a special commissioner to hunt up the ghost. This gentleman says:

After a visit to the spot, we can affirm that the whole evidence of anything out of the common is confined to the existence of a patch of light falling upon arbour at the north-east corner of the enclosure, and which is perfectly evident to any one looking through the railings on the west side of the square near the spot. This light is, we believe, nothing more than that thrown by a gas-lamp at the north end of the square, and which, passing through the gap in the shrubs, is cast in a somewhat remarkable manner upon the spot in question. We would strongly recommend that the lamp should be temporarily extinguished, when we believe that both the ghost and the consequent excitement would subside simultaneously. Two other solutions have been suggested for the the appearance – the application of phosphorus, and the use of reflecting mirrors by some mischievous inhabitant of the neighbourhood. Neither of these hypotheses is, in our opinion, tenable.

For our final “Creepy History” of this October, next time, we will look at some newspaper reports of ghosts that do not have such logical explanations.

If you found this interesting, please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, 20th Century, Britain, Creepy History, Crime, History, Newspapers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s