The Ghosts of Harper’s Ferry

The small town of Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia is best known as the place where abolitionist John Brown led an 1859 raid on an arsenal, intending to gather enough weapons to mount a slave revolt. After the failure of the raid and an ensuing siege, Brown was taken to nearby Charles Town where he was tried and executed for treason.

Harper’s Ferry has one other distinction, however, in that it is also home to several ghosts,the most famous of which is John Brown himself. His tall, gaunt, white haired figure is often seen walking the streets near the site where the siege took place, in his company a small black dog. Eventually, the shade and his furry companion vanish into thin air as they reach the door of the historic fire engine house, the very same engine house at which Brown and his men held their ill-fated siege.
Another significant ghost seen in the town is that of Dangerfield Newby. A freed slave whose wife and children were still enslaved, Newby was one of the men who fought alongside John Brown during the raid and the ensuing siege. Newby was killed when a six inch spike fired from a rifle struck his neck and his body was then dismembered and thrown to the hogs in the area now known as Hog Alley. It is here that his specter is seen, walking along in his baggy pants and slouch hat, his blue eyes glinting in the darkness and the scar from his mortal wound still clearly visible on his throat. Amongst the lesser ghosts of Harper’s Ferry are soldiers from the Civil War era who are some times seen cooking their rations around camp fires, as well as the spirits of soldiers whose presence is known only by the sounds made as they play their fifes and drums. Also common are sightings of the ghost of a priest called Father Costello, who during the Civil War saved the local church from destruction by flying the British flag, the idea being that both sides would refrain from shelling the church in order to avoid an international incident. The priest’s ghost haunts the church grounds and is some times seen walking right through its walls.

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The Ghost of Adelphi Theatre

william terriss ghostOne night in 1897, as he was entering the Adelphi Theatre from Maiden Lane, a popular and much admired stage actor called William Terriss was fatally stabbed by a loony actor by the name of Richard Prince. As Terriss lay dying in his girlfriend / leading lady Jessie Millward’s arms he whispered with his last breath “You really must get yourself some breath mints.” No, i’m kidding, what he actually said was “I’ll be back.” But hopefully not in a thick Austrian accent…

And even though it took him quite a while to do so, it seems that Terriss did indeed return to the Adelphi Theatre. In 1928 a man who was visiting London and who knew nothing of Terriss’ tragic death spied a mysterious male figure clothed in Victorian garb in Maiden Lane. As the visitor looked at the oddly garbed man, the latter suddenly vanished into thin air! After telling others of the incident, the out of towner was shown a photo from which he was able to identify the spectral figure as the late William Terriss.That very same year an actress performing at the theater and using the same dressing room once used by Jessie Millward complained that some unseen presence was grabbing her, shaking her chaise longue, and saying lewd things such as, “How ’bout a quick legover, hey, love?”

She also claimed to have frequently heard some one tapping on the room’s door, something the late actor was known to do when passing his paramour’s dressing room. She also described seeing a mysterious green light in her room, something which brings us to another notable encounter, this one taking place much later in 1962 when a workman saw a green light possessing the shape of a man inside the theatre. This glowing figure first threw open the stage curtains, then made his way to the stalls where he proceeded to tip down the seats before sitting down, putting up his feet, taking out his mobile phone and making a bloody nuisance of himself. Terriss has also been spotted at the Covent Garden train station. This might seem like an unlikely locale for the ghost of Adelphi Theatre to put in an appearance, but it has been speculated that he does so because that station stands on what in his day was a bakery at which he regularly stopped on his way to work. At this station Terriss makes himself known through sighs that seem to come from nowhere, but also has been seen, again in his Victorian style garb, walking the platforms and climbing the stairs. In recent decades sightings of the slain thespian have declined in their regularity, but he is still sometimes spotted in the train tunnels around Covent Garden looking, i presume, for a new place to buy his bread…

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The Fox Sisters

fox sisters fake mediumsAlthough they eventually admitted to being frauds, New York’s Fox sisters were the first people to be described as “mediums” as well as the catalysts for the nineteenth century’s Spiritualist Movement.Two rather dubious distinctions for two rather dubious women, if you ask me.

Their success, despite being apparently undeserved, encouraged hundreds of other con artists across the U. S. and Europe to set up shop as so-called spirit communicators.

The entire affair began around 1848, when sisters Margaret and Kate, then aged 15 and 12, and their family started hearing strange noises in the farmhouse they had recently moved into. Although the house had reputedly been a source of such phenomena before, the Fox sisters brought something new to the picture. They found that if they knocked on the table or walls, the sound would be answered by a second knock produced by an unseen force, because, as we all know, unseen forces have nothing better to do with their afterlife than to play “Knock, knock” with pubescent pinheads.

Soon, the girls found that they could communicate with the unseen presence by reciting the alphabet. When they got to a letter that the presence wanted written down, the presence would cause a knocking sound and this allowed it to make its thoughts known to the outside world. The story goes that through these means the girls revealed that the spirit was that of a traveling salesman who had been murdered in the house and buried in the cellar by someone who had finally had enough of traveling salesmen. This, incidentally, explains why the ghost did so much knocking — in death one tends to repeat actions that were common in one’s life. Soon the whole town was abuzz with news of both the girls’ abilities and the supposed murder and some of the locals dug around in the cellar and found human bones and a suitcase filled with Fuller brushes.

With such a success under their girdles, the sisters were soon staging spirit-contacting sessions in front of audiences consisting of hundreds of mentally defective people who had paid for the privilege of being lied to. In the course of these sessions participants would be treated to all the paraphernalia that have since come to be associated with such things, like furniture moving around by itself, mysterious lights and so on. On top of the public shows, they also held private sessions for which they charged a pretty penny. Since not many people would be willing to pay a great deal of money to contact the spirit of a strange salesman, the girls had by this stage started to claim that they could contact the spirits of anyone who had passed over to the great beyond, especially those who had, in life, been related to the especially rich and gullible.

From the start, many were skeptical of the sisters’ abilities and many tried to debunk them (at one point there was even a petition signed by thousands of people asking for the Congress to investigate) but no one ever succeeded in proving the girls to be frauds. At one point, it was suspected that the knocking noises were being created by the girls snapping their knees together, but this theory had to be dismissed after volunteers held the girls’ legs so they couldn’t make the noises yet the noises were still heard. After Margaret’s marriage to a skeptic who refused to let her continue as a medium, Kate continued to work alone for private individuals such as a man whose dead wife she supposedly contacted several hundred times, mostly by email — a remarkable achievement, given that neither the computer nor email had yet been invented. At other times, the woman’s spirit would actually become visible and would write messages down on paper, though your guess is as good as mine as to why this spectral woman didn’t speak her messages rather than write them down! Perhaps the afterlife renders one mute…

Kate eventually moved to the UK where she continued to give private séances for members of the upper class. Meanwhile back in the US, Margaret had converted to Catholicism, a religion then opposed to spiritualism, and admitted in 1888 that the pair had faked the entire thing by popping their finger and toe joints to create the mysterious sounds. Though this claim might be seen as an attempt to get attention, or perhaps as some sort of revenge against her much more successful sister, it was later confirmed by Kate herself and both women made strong statements condemning the entire field of spiritualism as an absolute fraud. Not that doing so made much difference to the fans of spiritualism. Adding to the controversy is the fact that a while later both women retracted their confessions with Margaret claiming that anti-spiritualists had somehow coerced her into making a fake admission of guilt, possibly by threatening to tell the world about that improper relationship she had once had with a goat. And who knows, perhaps the confessions really were bogus, or perhaps the two women realized they had slaughtered a huge cash cow and tried to revive it. But by then nobody was buying their act anymore and a few years later both women died in abject poverty, shunned by their former friends and followers, all of which goes to show that ghosts may or may not be real, but Karma is definitely a bitch.

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The Flying Dutchman

flying dutchman painting unknown artistEasily the world’s most famous ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman is a ship forever doomed to wander the seven seas.
One of the most common versions of the story ( there are many variations on the one theme ) is that in the 1600s, the Dutch ship was struggling to make its way across the cape of Good Hope during a fierce storm. Despite the pleas of his crew, Captain Hendricke Vanderdecken insisted on continuing. As the waves crashed and the ocean roared, the captain sang obscene sea shanties and swore at the top of his voice, mostly about how lousy kids are these days. He went so far as to claim that not even God himself would stop him from forcing his way through to his destination — what a bastard! At that point a glowing figure appeared on deck. While the crew were awestruck, Vanderdecken was unimpressed and fired a pistol shot at the mysterious visitor. The figure was unharmed and declared that Vanderdecken would be forever cursed to sail the seven seas with a crew of dead men, bringing death and disaster to all those he encountered, and having to watch reality TV during his days off.

Over the last couple of centuries there have been numerous claimed sightings, with the most famous being one involving Prince George of Wales, who would later become King George V of England. When a teenager, the prince was among thirteen crew members in a ship off the coast of Australia who claimed to have seen the famous ghost ship, which was described by the prince’s tutor as giving off a ghostly red light and as having clearly visible masts and sails. In keeping with the curse, the sailor who had first spotted the ship fell to his death the following morning. But you can’t really take anything a member of the British royal family says seriously, as they are all congenital idiots and had a mad grand-dad.

In 1857, the crew of the Joseph Somers reported that they had seen both the ship and its doomed captain while sailing the south Atlantic. The Dutchman came so close that they could see its captain’s fiery red eyes and hear him swearing in Swedish, which struck them as especially unusual as the Dutch are known to swear primarily in Dutch. Soon after, the Joseph Somers mysteriously caught fire after some idiot decided to hold a barbeque on deck, and many of the crew members were killed. More recently the Dutchman was spotted in 1939 by dozens of beach goers sailing off False bay, near the Cape of Good Hope, but you know those South Africans, if they aren’t being racist they are making up stories about ghosts. Even Nazi U-boats claimed to have run into the haunted brig during the second world war, but then, those bastards were even less trustworthy than the South Africans!

Since the 30s, sightings have become very rare, giving rise to speculation that most of the ships seen were simply abandoned ships that have long since sunk, or that the especially gullible have moved on to more fashionable phenomena such as UFOs, lizard people, and the bizarre idea that the Oscars are worth watching.

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The Devil Baby of Hull House

hull house not home to devil babyAlready thought to be haunted by the wife of the man who first owned it and the many ill people who had died there during its days as a home for the aged run by those bitches The Little Sisters of the Poor, Chicago’s Hull House became even more notorious in 1913 when an especially bizarre story started to make the rounds.

At that time the house was a refuge run by social workers for the benefit of the poor and homeless of the city, and rumor spread that one of those who had taken refuge there was, yep, a devil baby! The story goes that a man once swore that he would rather have the devil in his home than a picture of the Virgin Mary on the wall (other stories claim that he said he would rather have the devil in his house than yet another daughter who was always on the phone, though the first seems to me more likely to provoke heavenly wrath.) Either way, soon after this blasphemous incident a baby was born into the household, a baby with horns, a tail, hooves, pointed ears and red scaly skin! The satanic bub’s mother, not wanting Rosemary’s Baby gluing itself to her tit, supposedly took her offspring to Hull House, where it was locked in the attic and proceeded to become fluent in not only English but also Latin. How it learned Latin i don’t know, maybe they had a satanic tutor come round a couple of times a week. No evidence was ever found of such a child, but that didn’t stop hordes of rather stupid women turning up demanding to see the devil baby.

When told by the educated gals who ran the place that there was no Beelze-bub in residence, the superstitious women went away disappointed but still believing that the Devil Baby was real. Why they were so credulous and why most of them were women is a puzzle, one for sociologists and psychologists, but after years of being told that the infernal infant did not exist, the rumors finally started to fade till they became mere shadows in the neighborhood’s memory. Still, despite a total lack of evidence, these things never fully go away and even today there are those convinced that a certain attic is still inhabited by what is by now an extremely old Devil Man or, more popularly, the Ghost of the Devil Baby of Hull House!

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