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  • London Fairy Roadrunner August 10, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    This is a fabulous and often overlooked ‘fairy’ sighting. The inverted commas on ‘fairy’ because it is difficult to know quite what to make of this. The story appeared in the third volume of Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends of Ireland, only it comes from London or the outskirts of that city, c. 1800. First some background:

    For nearly half a century, a weekly dinner party of literary men took place at the house of Joseph Johnson, a respectable and honest bookseller in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Johnson was the publisher of Captain Steadman’s work on Surinam, and as the captain lived at Hammersmith, he usually came to town [London] on the morning of the weekly dinner, by the Hammersmith stage [coach].

    Hammersmith is now, of course, deep within the capital. Back then these were all green fields: the OS map above is from about a century after these dinner parties as the red brick houses swarm into the shires. Now Steadman and Johnson take us into a very select group of Londoners including Henry Fuseli, Thomas Stothard and William Blake: men who loved to talk about and to draw and paint fairies.

    As the coach was proceeding at its usual rumbling rate towards London, Captain Steadman was aroused by a very uncommon sound in the air and on looking out of the coach door his surprise was increased by the apparition of a little fellow, about two feet high, dressed in a full suit of regimentals with a gold-laced cocked hat, and a gold headed cane striding along the footpath ‘and raising such a devil of a sough [wind]’ that the captain’s astonishment knew no bounds. He rubbed his eyes, looked, doubted, and looked again, but there to visible certainty was the little man striding away, swinging his arm, and ‘swishing his cane’, in full force, going at the rate of nine miles an hour, and leaving the coach far behind him.

    When we walk fast we walk at about four miles per hour. The ‘little fellow’ then was going at an impossible speed: though, of course, his existence is a far graver problem than his speed.

    Away he went at this prodigious pace, until he came to a green lane, which led to Holland-house, up which he wisked with the greatest nimbleness. When the coach came opposite to the lane the little man was nowhere to be seen.

    Then the belief statement in the fairy.

    This was related by Captain Steadman at dinner, the very day it occurred, and he continued to affirm his belief in the appearance of the goblin to the day of his death.

    Any parallels? Drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com Any other road running fairies?

    Chris from Haunted Ohio Books, 29 Aug 2017, writes: What a wonderful report of the running fairy! One wonders if he was a fairy running footman–when in livery, they might wear heavily laced coats and carry rods for protection of their master’s coach. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footman The cocked hat and “full regimentals” harken back to the reported archaic dress of many fairies, such as the dwarf in velvet and cocked hat seen in North Haven, CT — (see below.) You may have a better sense of the dates on this, but the 18th century fairy costume seem to be reported primarily (if not exclusively) in the 19th century–perhaps starting with Captain Steadman. A parallel might be drawn with the costumes of ghosts as reported in the 19th century–the 18th century ghost in red high-heeled shoes and panniered silk petticoats was quite popular, both as a literary ghost and in actual sightings, although Elizabethan/Jacobean/Cavalier fashions were also reported. Does the clothing of these supernatural creatures reflect some nostalgia for the past or a more picturesque age? There is a long axiom in fashion to the effect that we think our mother’s clothes hideous, our grandmother’s quaint, and our great-grandmother’s beautiful–in other words, the more removed in time, the more fascinating.
    But back to some examples: Keightley, in The Fairy Mythology, reports a Yorkshire child who saw “a little man in a green coat with a gold-laced cocked hat on his head” While on a visit to an unspecified country house, a clergyman had a vision of a little man by his bed “The strange visitor, in height between two and three feet, was dressed entirely in black, and wore upon his head a little black cocked hat.” [reported in 1918.] And finally, this report, from Connecticut (although the lede mistakenly says Massachusetts)

    A Massachusetts [sic] Dwarf Who Appears and Disappears in Night or Day
    He is Cut in Two by a Workman’s Spade.
    Special Dispatch to the Globe-Democrat
    New Haven, Conn., Jan. 11. In the town of North Haven there has been for the last thirty years rumors of strange and supernatural sights in the vicinity of Shear’s brickyard. Many men and women who have been riding and walking along the highway after nightfall have seen the strange figure of a dwarf about three feet high. Sometimes he would be dressed in one color of clothing and then of another. When people told of what they had seen they were received with incredulity by some, and others would put faith in the stories. Night before last, Owen McNulty, an Irishman; Oscar Jansen, a Swede; Septi Maganzo, Pasco Servisco, and Lorenzo Partisco, Italians, five laborers employed in the brickyard, were going home about 7 o’clock in the evening. Suddenly there appeared in the road before them the figure of a man about three feet high, dressed in black velvet clothes of the fashion of 100 years ago. The coat was trimmed with fur, and on his head was a cocked hat. McNulty had a spade on his shoulder. He said: “Boys, I guess I’ll stop the chap,” and so saying he made a thrust at the figure with his spade, but it passed through and the dwarf vanished. The men were much frightened and crossing themselves, fled for home. They went the next day to see if their senses had played them false, when the figure appeared again in the full light of day. McNulty again lunged at the object with his spade and cut it in two. It went up into the air about forty feet and the pieces reunited with lightning rapidity and then vanished into the air. They then went home and told the woman with whom they boarded. She said that it was not strange, and that many other people had seen the same thing. All five are industrious men, who positively assert that the story is true in every particular. The diminutive ghost carried a lantern when it was first seen at night; but the next day its hands were empty. There is a tradition that many years ago a sailor of dwarfish stature sailed up the Quinebec [Quinebaug] River, his boat was capsized and he drowned.
    Kansas City [MO] Star 14 January 1886: p. 3
    NOTE: Once again, we see the imposition of an improbable “tradition” (a sailor in a velvet suit and cocked hat?) on a story of a sighting. I found McNulty and Jansen in the census reports for 1880, but not the three Italians.