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  • Nude Ghosts March 28, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    We looked recently at the phenomenon of ghost larks, young men and women, pretending to be ghosts for various motives. On that occasion the sub category of nude ghosts were missed out entirely, but as bizarre history is an exercise in completion here goes. An interesting number of ‘ghosts’ turned out to be local streakers. Let’s start off with Bolton in northern England.

    About Christmas last, considerable gossip was created in Bolton by the appearance in the public streets of an evening of a man in a perfect state of nudity. Extra policemen were placed on the beats frequented by this nocturnal visitor, and some of the inhabitants concerted plans for his apprehension. But all was of no avail. The ‘ghost’ — for such it was supposed to be — executed his vagaries in the most audacious manner, sometimes entering the houses of widows and married persons, or peering through shop windows, or lying in wait in unfrequented courts and alleys. More than one female was frightened into fits by him. These freaks continued for several weeks, and then nothing more was heard of the ‘ghost’ until Monday last. In the evening of that day, the man was again seen in the streets in a perfect state of nudity, and after a stern chase he was captured as he was attempting to leap over a wall. He was compelled to don his clothes, which he carried in a bundle underneath his arm, and was then carried by the legs and arms through the streets until Police-constable Cross was met with. Black Stan, 24 April 1872, 4.

    This poor fellow claimed to be ill: he had scurvy, which perhaps made his body seem all the more ghostly. Sometimes the ghosts were clearly mentally unstable. Feel for the police officer in this one, who met the town’s ghost in Derby cemetery:

    The officer very promptly answered the ghost, upon which the latter invited him to ‘come forward’ assuring the officer that he need not be afraid, he would not harm, but protect him. The ghost then adopted means quite contrary to those which would induce the policeman to approach him by giving vent to screams of ‘Murder.’ The officer, however, after his amazement was somewhat abated, did approach, and he who had made night hideous, instead of stalking off like an illused ghost was captured, and discovered to be a Masbro tradesman… He was almost in a state of nudity, having nothing on but his shirt. He said his family had turn’-d him out of doors, and that he had been canvassing for Egerton and Strutt in the Liberal interest. About this time his son came upon the scene and tried to persuade his father to home, but, being of aristocratic turn of mind, [the ghost] declined to do so unless he was provided with carriage. Derby Advert, 17 Sept 1869, 6

    Some were free spirits. This guy, George Bush, is a Beachcombian hero/anti-hero. He was arrested a score of times for nudity and just wouldn’t give up. This is 1896.

    Constable Carpenter and some children came to him on Saturday night and informed him there was a ‘ghost’ in Whitman Road, Bow. On going there he saw Bush, who was naked, attempting to scale a wall. Prisoner said ‘It’s been rather hot today’. Shef Eve Tel, 18 Aug 1896, 3.

    Others were probably names on the Victorian sex offenders list. This article was entitled ‘A Living Ghost’:

    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 only 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. Man Cou, 8 Sept 1874, 7.

    The male body is perhaps never, pace Michelangelo, an aesthetic blast, but imagine a young Victorian woman coming face to face with a naked man at 10 at evening. A nice question is whether these ghosts actually meant to be phantoms or were they, as they saw it, just enjoying the liberty of the night? Beach scratched his head over this. The truth is that a nude caucasian body can be almost luminous in the dark. It is also true that, see comments above, the nude form was simply not common in Victorian England. Read now this account from Stoke Newington.

    At two o’clock yesterday morning [i.e. pitch black] a constable who was on duty near St. Andrew’s Church, Bethuneroad, Stoke Newington, was startled to see the white figure of a woman walking over the frozen ground. The officer could hardly believe his eyes; he thought he had encountered a ghost. The figure approached him, and saw that it was no ghost, but a naked woman. When she spoke the officer at once saw that she had taken leave of her senses, and he conveyed her as rapidly as possible to the police station in the High-street. Here the unfortunate creature was kindly treated, and soon after claimed by her friends. The latter are in good circumstances, and they informed the police that the unfortunate lady has been suffering from religious mania. Hull DM, 28 Jan 1897

    There is an interesting reference from Saddleworth, Yorkshire/Lancashire, 1911 to a ghost in Upper Mill that turned out to be a nude woman, unfortunately run over. Dun Cour, 25 Feb 1911, 4.
    On the subject of free spirits there are several accounts of ghosts turning out to be men in dresses: e.g. Hart Mail, 28 Feb 1881, 3.