Part the First, being the tale of a haunting in rural England in the 1920s.
Almost a hundred years ago now, out on the fields and winding lanes by Curry Rivel in Somerset, there came stories of the ghostly apparition of a woman who walked at night. A woman dressed in black, her face sinisterly veiled. It was said that anyone who ever looked upon this specter’s face, looked into her blackened soulless eyes, would be struck dead on the very spot where they stood.
Who was this ghost?
Some said she was the spirit of an old governess who had lost her charges in some terrible accident—most likely drowned by the old weir—who now roamed the misty meadows and hedgerows looking for their bodies to bring them home once more. Others said she was an evil wraith looking to snare the unwary soul.
When children wouldn’t go to sleep at night, their mothers told them to close their eyes or the woman in black would find them out and feast upon their bones.
Terror gripped the sleepy village. It became so bad that some would ne’er leave their houses after sundown for fear of meeting the dreaded woman in black.
For four years, this ghostly figure was seen by moonlight drifting over fields, wandering brambled lanes, waiting at the crossroads for hellbound travelers.
Then one night, a group of men gathered in the local pub, the King William Inn. The sightings of the woman in black had been more frequent of late and the villagers said that when the black specter is seen three times in a week someone was going to die….
Find the secret of the ghostly woman in black, after the jump…
Ubagabi—the ghost of an old woman that appears as fireball.
There’s an ancient Japanese legend of the one hundred yōkai—monsters, ghosts, apparitions and demons—who parade through the streets on hot summer nights. If anyone is unfortunate to see these creatures—or to be caught up in it—then they will perish away or worse be taken captive for the twisted pleasure.
If you’ve ever watched the enjoyable trilogy of movies Yokai Monsters—One Hundred Monsters (1968), Spook Warfare (1968), and Along With Ghosts (1969)—then you’ll have a good idea what these demons look like—ogres, goblins, ghosts, sprites, spooky umbrellas and dangerous women with ever-extending serpentine necks.
All of these incredible monsters have long been a part of Japanese folklore. They were first codified in the supernatural bestiary—Gazu Hyakki Yagyō (The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons) by artist and scholar Toriyama Sekien in 1776. It’s a kind of fabulously illustrated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but far, far more beautiful and eerie.
In 1881, artist Nabeta Gyokuei updated this incredible volume when he produced a picture book or e-hon of Sekien’s 100 demons. The Kaibutsu Ehon or Illustrated Book of Monsters features beautiful woodblock prints of each of the yōkai and its special powers.
Charles Dickens suffered from siderodromophobia—a fear of traveling by train—the result of his being involved in a rail crash in 1865. If you suffer from a fear of flying, then you will appreciate the dread Dickens sometimes endured—panic, foreboding, sheer white knuckle terror. His son later claimed that Dickens never quite fully recovered from the crash—and he died exactly five years to the day of the accident.
The Staplehurst train wreck took place at 3:13pm on June 9th, 1865. It happened at a viaduct on the South Eastern Railway linking London to the coastal town of Folkestone. A section of rail track had been removed. The foreman in charge of replacing the missing track misread the train timetable—believing his crew had sufficient time to finish the job before the arrival of the next train. His mistake had fatal consequences.
Illustration of the Staplehurst train wreck.
Apart from the shock and trauma, the accident had highly personal implications for Dickens. He was accompanying his mistress Ellen Ternan and her mother to Folkestone where they were to catch a boat back to France.
Long before the 50-Mile Rule—which suggests one should never an affair with someone within a 50 mile radius of home—Dickens had been careful to keep the 27-year-old Ellen well out of the public eye in France—in an effort to avoid any possibility of discovery of affair by his wife or by a prying press. The three were sitting in the first carriage when the train jumped the tracks and crashed over the side of a viaduct. Ten passengers were killed, forty were injured.
I should have written to you yesterday or the day before, if I had been quite up to writing. I am a little shaken, not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was, but by the hard work afterwards in getting out the dying and dead, which was most horrible.
I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge, and hung suspended and balanced in an apparently impossible manner. Two ladies were my fellow passengers; an old one, and a young one. This is exactly what passed: you may judge from it the precise length of the suspense. Suddenly we were off the rail and beating the ground as the car of a half emptied balloon might. The old lady cried out “My God!” and the young one screamed.
I caught hold of them both (the old lady sat opposite, and the young one on my left) and said: “We can’t help ourselves, but we can be quiet and composed. Pray don’t cry out.” The old lady immediately answered, “Thank you. Rely upon me. Upon my soul, I will be quiet.” The young lady said in a frantic way, “Let us join hands and die friends.” We were then all tilted down together in a corner of the carriage, and stopped. I said to them thereupon: “You may be sure nothing worse can happen. Our danger must be over. Will you remain here without stirring, while I get out of the window?” They both answered quite collectedly, “Yes,” and I got out without the least notion of what had happened.
Fortunately, I got out with great caution and stood upon the step. Looking down, I saw the bridge gone and nothing below me but the line of the rail. Some people in the two other compartments were madly trying to plunge out of the window, and had no idea there was an open swampy field 15 feet down below them and nothing else! The two guards (one with his face cut) were running up and down on the downside of the bridge (which was not torn up) quite wildly. I called out to them “Look at me. Do stop an instant and look at me, and tell me whether you don’t know me.” One of them answered, “We know you very well, Mr Dickens.” “Then,” I said, “my good fellow for God’s sake give me your key, and send one of those labourers here, and I’ll empty this carriage.”
We did it quite safely, by means of a plank or two and when it was done I saw all the rest of the train except the two baggage cars down in the stream. I got into the carriage again for my brandy flask, took off my travelling hat for a basin, climbed down the brickwork, and filled my hat with water. Suddenly I came upon a staggering man covered with blood (I think he must have been flung clean out of his carriage) with such a frightful cut across the skull that I couldn’t bear to look at him. I poured some water over his face, and gave him some to drink, and gave him some brandy, and laid him down on the grass, and he said, “I am gone”, and died afterwards.
Then I stumbled over a lady lying on her back against a little pollard tree, with the blood streaming over her face (which was lead colour) in a number of distinct little streams from the head. I asked her if she could swallow a little brandy, and she just nodded, and I gave her some and left her for somebody else. The next time I passed her, she was dead.
Front cover of ‘London Illustrated’ showing Dickens tending to the injured.
The accident caused Dickens to lose his voice for two weeks. From then on he was often visibly panicked on train journeys—on one occasion hurling himself to the floor of the carriage convinced another crash was about to take place. However, he was not a man to waste his personal experience—no matter how painful—and he used the events in his ghost story The Signal-Man—one of literature’s most famous tales of the supernatural.
The Signal-Man describes an encounter between the unnamed narrator and a signalman who recounts his haunting by ghostly premonitions prior to a series of dreadful train accidents. The story formed part of Dickens’ Mugby Junction series of stories. It is a subtle and beautifully told tale, and was adapted by the BBC in 1976 for Ghost Story, starring Denholm Elliott and Bernard Lloyd. Elliott is perfect as the man haunted by a ghostly visitor, whose message he tries to understand.
I live for stupid stuff like this: A Japanese man “allegedly” captured a “Ghost Child” (aka a zashiki-warashi) on video. If you don’t know what a “Ghost Child” is (I didn’t) it’s a popular character from Japanese folklore and it’s considered good luck if one is seen roaming around your home. That sounds terrible to me, but whatever. Japan.
Footage of the encounter was uploaded to Facebook by the home owner in Japan and shows what appears to be a child moving around a light.
It is first seen floating from the left, before crouching down and disappearing. Moments later it reappears on the right side of the light and appears to hover above it, before vanishing completely.
Let me start by saying: I dig the soundtrack. I can groove to it.
One YouTube commenter named Phaota gave the following reasons for calling shenanigans on the “Ghost Child” video:
Fake. The spirit is showing for way too long and too much detail. If it was a real spirit, you’d be seriously lucky to even get a few seconds of detail that good. Everything about the video is too perfect. Also, the child is not “floating”, but clearly walking.
If it was a “real spirit” it seems unlikely that it would have a higher video resolution than the room it’s walking through, too, no? I mean, isn’t that the case with “real spirits”?
Again, did I mention that magical soundtrack? And is the spooky kid reading a magazine at one point? I like that detail. It’s so mundane! But can “real spirits” really pick up stuff? If so how?
It must be the season—the darkening days, the icy cold, and the fog drawn—here in Scotland at least—like net curtains that has led me to indulge in reading classic ghost stories by M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu and Charles Dickens. Late Fall, early Winter is the best time for such tales, with the best stories coming from that golden era of supernatural fiction during Victorian times—roughly 1860-1900—when readers sought a thrill (or perhaps confirmation) of an weird ethereal world. The 19th century interest in ghosts and hauntings was greatly enhanced by a discovery by American William H. Mumler, who chanced upon the potential to create spectral images by use of the double exposure.
Mumler’s “ghost in the machine” brought the contemporary fiction of the supernatural into sharp focus and more importantly allowed him to con sitters into the belief loved ones were present in their lives. Most (in)famously he photographed President Lincoln’s widow with what appeared to be dead Abe looking over her shoulder. Such spirit photography became very popular during the 1860s, and Mumler made a tidy sum conning innocent customers out of their money.
Mumler was eventually rumbled and tried in court for fraud. Though found not guilty, his career as a spirit photographer was finished and he died penniless in 1884. However, Mumler’s trick photography was quickly adopted by other photographers across the world, most notably by Eugène Thiébault who created a series of entertaining spectral photographs—most famously with illusionist and showman Henri Robin.
As had been the case with Mumler, most of these trick photographs were sought by people wanting some kind of reassurance over departed loved ones—something that became even more popular after the slaughter of the First World War.
Here is a small selection of what I think are some of the best double exposure photographs which show its development from basic con to comforter and theatrical promotion to its use as a means of examining human anatomy.
‘Henri Robin and a Specter’ (1863): The illusionist (and ghost debunker) Henri Robin promotes himself in a photograph by Eugène Thiébault.
In October 1893, members of the Chit Chat Society gathered in rooms at the University of Cambridge to share and discuss academic papers. But this particular evening, towards Halloween, the society had gathered to hear fellow and Dean of King’s College, M.R. James present something very different from the traditional academic fare—the first reading of his ghost stories.
Montague Rhodes James was a respected academic whose reputation would now be forgotten if it were not for his ghost stories. James’s chilling tales set the template for the genre which other writers have since studiously followed. Inspired by the success of his reading, James organized a small gathering every Christmas Eve in order to read his latest ghostly tales to a small group of friends.
James was following a tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas that harked back to pagan times when people believed the dead and the living communed during the long, dark nights of the winter in the lead up to the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year. It was a literary tradition set as far back as Shakespeare, and recently by Washington Irving (The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.) and Charles Dickens—whose A Christmas Carol contained many of the genre’s dearest tropes.
M. R. James and the classic volume of his supernatural tales.
However, unlike Dickens, M.R. James had no truck with benign spirits sent to do good—his ghost stories were filled with “malevolence and terror”:
...the glare of evil faces, ‘the stony grin of unearthly malice’, pursuing forms in darkness, and ‘long-drawn, distant screams’....
His stories were set in realistic and seemingly ordinary worlds where central characters are suddenly thrust into the most extraordinary of situations—a seaside holiday brings forth an evil wraith; a rose garden hides a brutal past; a hotel is host to a grim haunting.
James believed his ghost stories should…
...put the reader into the position of saying to himself, ‘If I’m not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!’
Most of James’ tales follow a simple formula: reticent hero, usually a scholar, arrives at strange yet alluring location where he discovers some cursed ancient artifact that damages his life. His message—those who fail to learn from their history are doomed and will be punished for their ignorance. Such chilling warnings are wrapped in beautifully written tales of terror.
Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen, Sherlock, etc.) is a splendid host in this documentary M.R. James: Ghost Writer, in which he examines the clues in the life of the author of some of the greatest tales of terror. Beginning with James reading to the Chit Chat Society, he examines the influences that inspired the ghost stories, including one particular incident during his childhood when James saw a monstrous apparition—an event he later recorded in his tale “A Vignette.” If you enjoy supernatural tales and ghost stories, then this little documentary is for you.
The haunting began on a quiet summer’s evening, in August 1977, at the home of single-parent Peggy Hodgson and her four children in the north London borough of Enfield. The first sign that something strange had happened came around bedtime when shuffling and banging sounds were heard by Peggy’s two daughters Margaret (13) and Janet (11) in their bedroom. Peggy thought her children were acting up, and went upstairs to tell them to get to sleep. She entered the girls’ bedroom to see both of them were in their beds staring at the wardrobe and chest of drawers. When Peggy entered the room, the shuffling noise came from behind her. She turned to see a chest of drawers move away from the wall. Thinking it a joke, Peggy chastised the girls for playing tricks. Both Margaret and Janet said they had not done anything. Peggy pushed the drawers back against the wall. The shuffling sound came again, and the drawers moved away from the wall and quickly towards Peggy. This time she could not move them back. Banging was then heard on the wall and throughout the house. Peggy took the girls downstairs where the thumping and banging continued.
Terrified, Peggy took Margaret, Janet, Johnny (10) and Billy (7) to the home of her next door neighbors, Vic and Peggy Nottingham. Vic, a builder, decided to investigate and entered the house where he heard loud banging from different parts of the building, always moving, never in one place, as he later said:
“I went in there and I couldn’t make out these noises—there was a knocking on the wall, in the bedroom, on the ceiling. I was beginning to get a bit frightened.”
Unsure what to do, Peggy called the police thinking it was all a malicious hoax. However, during an interview with WPC Carolyn Heeps things began to get weird as a chair was witnessed by Heeps and the family levitating and moving across the room. Heeps gave a sworn affidavit confirming that “A large armchair moved, unassisted, 4 ft across the floor.” She checked the chair for possible wires or any devices that could have made it move. She found none. The police left stating the incident was not a police matter and were unable to do anything to help.
Where’s Scooby-Doo when you need him? The Hodgson children.
The banging and strange incidents continued. Peggy had hardly slept and was deeply worried for her children—but no one appeared to be offering any real help. She therefore called the Daily Mirror who sent a reporter and a photographer to the house in Enfield. They set up in the living room but, after waiting several hours, nothing happened. Then, as they decided to leave, chaos broke out: LEGO bricks and marbles flew unaided through the air and were hurled around the room. Photographer Graham Morris took pictures but when developed none showed clearly what he, his colleague and the family had witnessed.
Events escalated and concerned for the family, the Daily Mirror called the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to investigate the case.
Maurice Grosse was an inventor and successful business who had recently joined the SPR. He had served as an engineer in the Royal Artillery during the war and had gone on to produce a variety of highly successful inventions—perhaps the most famous being his rotating advertising signs. A quiet, quizzical man with a very practical outlook, Grosse was sent by the SPR to investigate the claims. He was skeptical at first, but was soon convinced that the strange events at the house in Enfield were caused by a poltergeist focussed on eleven-year-old Janet Hodgson.
A ‘possessed’ Janet Hodgson with Maurice Grosse.
Over the next 18 months, Grosse together with writer and parapsychologist Guy Lyon Playfair witnessed nearly 2,000 different “paranormal” incidents—from flying objects, levitation, items spontaneously combusting, to the most chilling of all: Janet projecting a “demonic” voice of the ghost of deceased former tenant Bill Wilkins, who could “talk” through Janet for hours at a time.
Most skeptics claim the children were responsible for the paranormal activity in the house—a claim which is troubling in itself as its suggests on one level that the experiences of children are not valid, or at best not to be believed. Moreover, it does seem unlikely that Janet and Margaret were able to sustain the level of “poltergeist activity” and “possession” for over eighteen months—a feat most adults would have found difficult if not impossible. The cause of the events has never been satisfactorily explained.
Since 1977, the Enfield poltergeist has been the subject of much scrutiny—most being skeptical of events—though those who witnessed and experienced the strange paranormal activity claim the events were real, as Janet Hodgson said in the documentary Interview with a Poltergesit in 2007:
“I know from my own experience that it was real. It lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me—and I feel in a sense that he always will be.”
This is an extremely well-made and balanced documentary about the events in Enfield called Interview with a Poltergeist, in which all of the main players were interviewed—Janet and Margaret Hodgson, Maurice Grosse, Guy Playfair as well as doctors, members of the SPR and the resident skeptic, who generalizes rather than rebuts the examples given.
The story has inspired various motion pictures, TV dramas and most recently SKY TV’s superb three-part series The Enfield Haunting with Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Macfadyen, which I do recommend, details here.
This is one of the worst “allegedly real” ghost videos I’ve seen. Even so, it was convincing enough to scare the shit out of the men who shot it as they traveled along some deserted back road in Blackburn, England—what the fuck they were doing in the middle of nowhere? I dunno…
The three-minute video shows a car driving along this desolate country track when the headlights pick up a “ghostly” apparition—which let’s be frank, looks like someone wearing a bed sheet and bad wig—blocking the car’s progress. The “ghost” then begins to rapidly move towards the vehicle which causes one of the passengers to start panicking, telling the driver in Arabic to:
“Move the car backwards!”
Just like in the movies, as the car reverses the spectral figure follows—though this “Lady in White” actually merely hobbles along with the aid of a walking stick. If you look closely you can see the ghostly shadow (ahem) cast by the headlights.
While this Grudge-like “Lady in White” is an obvious hoax, the terror of the car’s passengers sounds very real. Even so, as one commentator on YouTube notes:
“...if they thought it was a ghost then why didn’t they just drive right through it?
“That would also have solved the ‘hoax’ question once and for all!”
Indeed. But still top marks to this hobbling hoaxer for effort.
Artist Angela Deane’s ghost photography complicates nostalgia with a very simple technique: she drapes the subjects of found snapshots in a “sheet” of white paint, dotting on two little eyes where appropriate. My first impulse was to see if Deane actually takes commissions (you know, for when you want the memory of the company, but not to gaze on your own misguided hairstyle or horrifying fashion sense), and it appears she does, counting Amy Sedaris among her clients. The motivation behind Deane’s work however, is one of anonymity as much as it is of recognition and belonging. Deane says:
These ghosts are the ghosts of moments, of days, of experiences. With the specifics of identity obscured by paint I like to imagine it’s as if you and I can partake in the memory, share in the experience, allow the snapshot to seem familiar. Let’s share some memories, shall we?
Deane’s ghosts are actually quite cute—reminiscent of a classic Halloween from yesteryear, but there is also a haunting quality to her work (pun only half-intended). Humans are no longer the primary indicator of the time period, so we scan the film quality and details from the setting or landscape to tell when the picture was taken; viewers wander the space of the picture, regardless of its inhabitants’ identity, as if the present is now haunting the past. Nonetheless, the ghostly figures feel familiar, as if scratching off the paint would reveal a favorite uncle, your mother’s best friend from high school, or even your own younger face.
A legendary ghost at one of the world’s most haunted castles has been reputedly captured on camera.
Built in 1071, Dudley Castle in Birmingham is described as “the most haunted castle in England” with a long documented history of paranormal activity, including frequent sightings of the ghosts of a little drummer boy and a woman called the “Grey Lady.”
On a visit to the castle in August this year, Dean and Amy Harper snapped a photograph of what appears to be the famous Grey Lady. Their photo has what seems to be the image of a woman and a young child (far older than a baby) in the door of Sharington Range—a set of buildings contained within the castle.
The Grey Lady is believed to be the spirit of Dorothy Beaumont, who lived for a short time within the castle. According to legend, Dorothy lost a daughter during childbirth, and became ill soon after and died. Her last wish was to be buried with her daughter and for her husband to attend her burial. However, it is claimed that neither request fulfilled and her ghost has been seen wandering the castle ever since.
“We went up to the castle ruins and while we were up there we thought we’d get some pictures of the grounds.
“On looking through the images that night, Amy saw a glow, as though a light was on, on the top window level. On zooming in we noticed on the bottom, inside an arch, there was a lady and what appears to be a little girl, too.
“Neither of us are ghost hunters but we do wonder if this could be the Grey Lady ghost – the picture is quite clear.”
The photograph was taken on 30th August this year and has apparently considerable excitement with the media and communications at Dudley Zoo, sited within the castle, whose head Jill Hitchman said:
“There have been many stories about ghostly figures and happenings associated with the castle, mostly centred within the courtyard.
“This image is incredible because it was taken from the top of the castle on a mobile phone camera and still manages to pick out the outline of what seems to be a female figure in the doorway.”
Whether it is a ghost or not, I’m sure this latest sighting of the Grey Lady will boost tourism to the castle.