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  • Dud Eighteenth-Century Ghosts December 7, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    On previous occasions Beachcombing has celebrated the way that eighteenth-century and nineteenth century Britons, at least before the spiritualists and Tibetano-philes got started, attempt to mock the superstitious out of existence. He recently came across several examples involving ghosts and fakery that amused him and that involve Somerset on the edge of the south-west. These were published in 1791.

    At Wivelscombe, nine miles from Taunton, a gentleman farmer’s house was alarmed every night between twelve and one o’clock. The chamber doors were thrown open, the bed cloths pulled off the beds and kitchen furniture thrown with violence about the kitchen, to the great terror of the family, insomuch that the servants gave their master and mistress warning to leave their places, and some of them actually quitted their service. This dreadful affair had lasted about six weeks, when a young gentleman who was there on a visit being in bed one night, at the usual hour he heard his chamber door thrown open, and a very odd noise about his room. He was at first frightened, but the noise continuing a long time, he became calm and laid still revolving what he had best do. When on a sudden he heard the spirit creep under the bed, which was immediately lifted up, etc. This convinced him that there was some substance in the spirit; on which he leaped out of bed and secured the door, and with his oaken staff belaboured the ghost under the bed as hard as he could, until he heard a female voice imploring for mercy. On that he opened his chamber door, and called aloud for a light. The family all got up as fast as possible, and came to his room. He then informed them that he had got the spirit under the bed; on hearing which, most of them were terribly frightened, and would have run off faster than they came, but he assured them, they had nothing to fear. Then out he dragged the half-murdered spirit from the scene of action. But how great was their surprise and shame, when they discovered that this tormenting devil was no other than one of their servant girls, about sixteen years of age, who had been confined to her bed several months by illness.

    There was then an earthquake ghost.

    [This ghost] shook a house every night and terribly distressed the family; at length they all resolved one night to go over the whole house in a body and see what it was that agitated the building. They examined every room but in vain, as no cause could be discovered, so they very seriously as well as unanimously concluded that it must be the devil. But, about a fortnight after this, one of the family being out late in the garden saw a great boy get in at the window of an old house next door (part of which was in ruins,) and soon after the house began to shake as usual, on which the family went out of their own habitation and entered the old house where the boy was seen to get in; yet for a long time they could not discover any person, and were just turning to come out again, when one of the company observed the boy suspended over their heads striding over the end of a large beam that ran across both houses. It was then apparent that the violent agitation of the adjoining house was occasioned by nothing more than his leaping up and down on the unsupported end of this beam.

    The next ghost liked poultry!

    Another apparition had for a long time stolen many geese, turkeys, &c. and although it had been seen by many, yet nobody would venture to go near it, until at length one person a little wiser than the rest of his neighbours, seeing the famous apparition all over white stealing his fowls, was determined to be fully satisfied what kind of spirit it could be that had so great a predilection for poultry. He accordingly went round the yard, and as the apparition was coming over the wall he knocked it down. This terrible ghost then proved to he a neighbouring woman who had put on her shroud in order to deter any persons that should by chance see her, from coming near her. Thus, though she had for a long time successfully practised this ingenious way of procuring poultry, the old fox was caught at last.

    Then finally a story from Taunton itself, which is perhaps the best of all.

    While I am on this subject, I cannot resist the temptation of relating a truly ridiculous affair that happened about this time at Taunton. In the workhouse belonging to the parish of St James, there lived a young woman who was an idiot. This poor creature had a great aversion to sleeping in a bed, and at bed-time would often run away to a field in the neighbourhood called the Priory, where she slept in the cow-sheds. In order to break her of this bad custom, two men agreed to try if they could not frighten her out of it. And one night, when they knew that she was there, they took a white sheet with them, and coming to the place, one of the men concealed himself to see the event, while the other wrapped himself up in the sheet, and walked backwards and forwards close before the cow-shed in which she was laid. It was sometime before Molly paid any attention to the apparition; but at last up she got. ‘Aha! (said she)a white devil!’ and by her manner of expressing herself she thought it was very strange to see a white devil. And soon after she exclaimed, ‘A devil too! A black devil too!’ With that the man who had the sheet on, looked over his shoulder, and saw (or imagined he saw) a person all over black behind him ; the sight of which made him take to his heels. Molly then clapped her hands as fast as she could, crying out at the same time, ‘Run, black devil, and catch white devil! Run, black devil, and catch white devil!’ .and was highly diverted. But this proved a serious adventure to the white devil, as he expired within a few minutes after he had reached his own house ; and from that time poor Molly was left alone to sleep in peace.

    Beachcombing is always looking for the humorous debunking of ghost stories: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    15 Dec 2011: Invisible writes: Dipping into my file of 19th and early-20th-century ghost hoaxes, I find the following exposes: Xenia Daily Gazette 6-11-1897 p. 1 MEN GRABBED The Ghost and It Proved to Be a Man, Who Confessed. Winchester, O., June 10 The mystery of a ghost haunting the old graveyard and the residence of James Williamson, six miles north of this city, was satisfactorily solved by a posse last night, divided up in squads of two and three, covering every possible point. About 11 o’clock the apparition appeared near where Samuel Wilson was standing, and almost instantly it sank to the ground. Wilson threw himself upon the figure, striking it wherever he could with a club which he had for the occasion. Loud cries came from the supposed ghost, and when an examination was made it was found that the ghost was none other than Frank Johnson, Wilson ’s nearest neighbour, whereupon the posse tied him to a sapling, and under switches made him explain why he had for the last year terrorized the community. He said that he had been trying to buy Williamson’s farm, which adjoins his, and by using the ghost scheme thought that he could scare him into selling it at a sacrifice. After his explanation he was given 20 lashes and warned to leave the neighborhood. Johnson is a wealthy farmer. Semi-Weekly Reporter, 7-24-1908 p. 3 Waterloo , IA “Ghost” Gets a Beating. Soundly Trounced By Young Man He Tries to Scare From Girl. Philadelphia , PA July 23 With his eyes blackened, his head and face cut and bruised, and his body aching from blows rained upon him, John Shelmerdine is convinced that playing ghost is not the proper method of frightening away a suitor for the hand of his daughter. Incidentally Shelmardine, who lives in Mahyunk, discovered that Allen Malcolm of Tiogo, his would-be-son-in-law, is not afraid of ghosts and believes in meeting them with swings, hooks, and uppercuts. Papa Shelmerdine, wrapped in a sheet, lay in wait for Malcolm early Wednesday morning when the young man left his home, and imitating, as best he could, a voice from the other world, croaked, “Beware!” Allen did beware a bit. Instead he lit into the “ghost” and quickly had it crying quits. Shelmerdine applied to Magistrate Greliss for a warrant against Malcolm charging him with assault and battery. “Not so,” said Greliss. “You ought to be proud to have such a husky prospective son-in-law.” After awhile Shelmerdine was convinced. Now Malcolm can stay as long as he likes.  The Van Wert Daily Bulletin 1-4-1908 p. 2 CHARITY INDUCING SPOOK. Ghostly Appeal After a Raffle That Produced Results. When John Hickey left a raffle at a house in West Caldwell , N.J. , on Christmas morning and started for his home in Little Falls he carried slung over his shoulder three turkeys and four geese which had fallen to his fortune, says a West Caldwell special dispatch to the New York Times. The others at the raffled had asked him to leave at least two of the fowls to be sent to the homes of poor families, as they had done, but Hickey grinned and said his wife had a good appetite. Just before he departed the others lapsed into ghost stories. So as he walked down the overshadowed road near the carpet mill his nerves were not so very steady. As he reached the old mill dam and heard the drop, drop, of the water Hickey felt he was not alone. He turned about quickly. As he did so he felt a touch on his arm. A white object stood close to him. Give to the poor!” said a hollow voice. The object vanished. Hickey began to run, but the white thing kept close behind him—so close that it was able to touch him several times. “Give to the poor!” repeated the voice. Hickey faced about and swung his bundle of fowls at the shape. It vanished. Then he began to run again. Still the thing followed. Whenever Hickey stopped the ghost would touch him and then vanish, although Hickey could not have seen even a white object very far off, the road lying beneath trees that meet overhead. After numberless efforts to shake off his pursuer Hickey stood. “Give to the poor,” said the ghost, “or I’ll drive you to your grave.” Hickey threw all of the turkeys and geese in the ghost’s direction. “Here, take the things,” he said and ran back to West Caldwell , where his adventures excited mirth among those still at the raffle. When it was daylight Hickey went home without discovering any solution. After he had been in his home for some hours Mrs. Hickey found two turkeys and three geese lying on the rear veranda. Hickey explained to his wife, who hadn’t heard of the ghost. ‘I won those birds at the raffle. There was one more of each, but I left them to be given to the poor.” “John has had a change of heart,” Mrs. Hickey told her neighbour. “He was scairt to death,” said the neighbor. And then Hickey’s wife heard about the ghost. 12-5-11 The Indianapolis Star 1-3-1921 p. 1 Champaign, Ill., Jan. 2 The mystery of an invisible choir which has stirred the congregation of a Paxton (Ill.) Lutheran Church was solved today when it became known that Clarence Lundeen, 16 years old, a student, had been experimenting with a wireless telephone.  Lundeen connected a phonograph with a wireless sending set in his workshop. Then he transmitted the music produced to a large horn connected with an amplifier which was concealed in a tree just outside the church. The church was in direct line for the sound of the horn and for this reason the concert seemed directly above the congregation. For several days the “phantom music” has been the talk of the town.Naugatuck Daily News 9-14-1899 Naugatuck , CT They Caught the Ghost Noroton, Sept. 14 It was 10 years yesterday since Ronald D. Lyon and Charles Frederick Dillon captured the ghost that terrorized residents of Noroton. Upon examination it proved to be a canvas covered dress form with pulley wheels attached to each end. It was run on inclined wires from Spring Grove cemetery to the old Hocker graveyard. For a long time, it was on exhibition at the postoffice. The vigilante say they have never been able to collect the reward of $100 which was offered at the time for the capture of the spook. AMPUTATING LIMB PUTS QUIETUS ON DUNHAM GHOST Spectre that held Domain on West Sixth Street No Longer Heard RELIC OF HOSPITAL Home was a part of old hospital building and awesome tappings (of dead limb) drove out family. From Elyria Evening Telegram X1 no. 286 Sept 1, 1909, p. 1 and 6 Pearl Dunham’s ghost has been captured by a woman from Lorain who, on hearing that there was a haunted house on Sixth street in this city, secured a lease of the property, just because she wanted to live in a home which boasted a real spectre. The woman’s name is Mrs. Graham, the house is one reconstructed from the old hospital building from whose portals the ghost was supposed to roam from some poor soul whose life flickered out at some time in the dim and misty past. When Pearl Dunham, the well known grocer rented the home about a year ago he little thought that his nights rest would be disturbed by the indiscreet action of something born neither of flesh and bone. But friends of the Dunham’s set up and fought off chills when they heard how doors opened and shut, notwithstanding that the doors were secured with ye old Yale locks. Visitors to the Dunham home arose in the morning without having closed their eyes on account of the way chairs and tables moved about in various sections of the house and the never ceasing footsteps which pattered up and down the hall almost nightly. When Dunham told how he stood revolver in hand for two hours one night and listened to something roam about the house and finally to a point directly outside his bedroom, his friends began to think there was more truth than fiction to his remarks. Dishes, which had been left on a tray in the hall just outside a room where a sick person was confined were heard to move about and clash against each other although upon investigation there was nothing to be seen which could account for the animated conditions. It was too much. The Dunhams decided to move. The stories were suppressed because it was feared no one would rent the house but as soon as Mrs. Graham heard the strange tales she at once decided to locate in Elyria and revel with the spirits of the departed in the former Dunham home. The first few nights the ghosts did not wander probably because they were too modest to butt in on apparent strangers who had hardly become acquainted in the neighborhood, but the following night Mrs. Graham was favored with a visit from the unwelcome thing which made life miserable for the Dunhams. Did Mrs. Graham become frightened and wish she had not remained in Lorain where only the live ones are to be feared? Not the woman with a hankering for ghosts. She hit the trail for ghostdom and finally after she had climbed up through the garret to the roof of the house she caught Mr. Ghost red handed while plying his weird trade. The next morning when a limb was sawed off a tree which stood near the house, the neighbors asked Mrs. Graham what was being done. “Only amputating a limb from the Dunham Ghost,” she replied as she turned to inquire whether the roof would have to be reshingled where the branched had been rubbing upon it. The Daily Gazette 11-03 1900 p. 8 Janesville , WI Scare Woman to Death Rochester , NY , Nov. 3 The authorities of Allegany County are looking for the persons who manufactured a skeleton out of animals’ bones which frightened May Oldfield of Karrdale to death Wednesday night. Miss Oldfield, accompanied by two friends, was returning from a Halloween party, where they had listened to grewsome stories until their hair stood on end. When about to enter the woods a rattling of bones was heard overhead, and looking up, the trio were overcome with horror at seeing a skeleton of gigantic proportions sweeping down on them from above. With a cry of terror. Mary dropped dead. A searching party found a wire leading from the ground to a tree top, to which was attached a skeleton by a pulley. [I have my doubts about the strict veracity of this last item, but haven’t had a chance to look at the genealogical records to see if such a person actually existed and died in that year.] Other stories include ghosts that turn out to be a) roaming madwomen in white nightdresses, b) white cows or goats in the graveyard, c) gnawing rats, d) disgruntled servants or stepchildren, e) conmen claiming to be wizards, and f) elderly females in antiquated black garments selling Catholic prayerbooks door to door.’ Thanks Invisible!

    5 Jan 2012: Diana writes in with a small correction and a story. ‘Ghost’ Gets a Beating. Soundly Trounced By Young Man He Tries to Scare From Girl. Philadelphia , PA July 23 With his eyes blackened, his head and face cut and bruised, and his body aching from blows rained upon him, John Shelmerdine is convinced that playing ghost is not the proper method of frightening away a suitor for the hand of his daughter. Incidentally Shelmardine, who lives in Mahyunk, The neighborhood in Philadelphia where he probably lived was Manayunk. I’m guessing the newspaper type was difficult to read, so thought I’d send you the correct spelling. I am also guessing the origins because I don’t know a lot about Manayunk, but many Philadelphia “neighborhoods” were originally separate towns that the city grew out to meet, for instance Germantown, Brewerytown, Fishtown, etc.  Manayunk is undoubtedly an originally Native American word. My whole family is from Philadelphia although I grew up outside the city nearby. I’m not surprised the suitor beat up the ghost because these people don’t take any guff. The sports fans are still remembered for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus several years ago. The guy beating up the ghost immediately reminded me of a story several years old, I looked up the details: Some high school girls have taken revenge on a suspected serial flasher. There had been several reports of a man exposing himself to students from St. Maria Goretti’s High School for Girls in Philadelphia. The man would hide behind a van and wait for girls to walk by. Then he’d jump out, expose himself and run away. Police told the Philadelphia Inquirer he was suspected of flashing 13 victims in seven different incidents. The same thing happened Thursday, but this time, police say some store owners saw what the man was doing and began yelling at him. Then, three of the girls who’d been victimized a few days earlier saw the man and also began to yell at him. At that point, a group of about 20 students from St. Maria Goretti chased the suspected flasher down the street, wrestled him to the ground and held him there until police could take him into custody.The suspect suffered a cut lip. He will face a variety of charges once he is arrested on a warrant charging numerous counts of corrupting the morals of a minor, stalking, harassment and indecent exposure, police spokesman William Colarulo told the Inquirer.’ Thanks Diana!