For Fathers Day weekend, a fatherly “fetch” tenderly carries off two family members.
A Danbury Ghost Story
Woman Saw Dead Father Carry Her Mother Away – The Mother Found to Have Died at the Same Time.
Danbury, Conn., March 19. As Mrs. C. W. Lee of 55 Jefferson Avenue, this city, lay on a bed of sickness, it is declared that she saw the apparition of her father, Oliver B. Pettit, formerly of Brooklyn, who died sixteen years ago, enter the room across the hall, where her mother was, and carry her out in his arms.
Mrs. Lee avers that she distinctly saw her father walk through the hall, and heard him call his wife by name, and ask her to go away with him, pleading with her until she consented. At first, the wife, Mrs. Margaret Pettit of 39 Grove Street, Brooklyn, refused, but her love for her husband evidently overcame her fear, and the daughter saw the stalwart form of her father emerge from the room and disappear with his wife in his arms.
Mrs. Pettit had been visiting her daughter, and, although not ill, was in the habit of spending the morning hours in bed. Yesterday she remained in her bed later than usual, and it was at noon that her daughter saw the vision. Calling for her husband, Mrs. Lee told him what she had seen, and Mr. Lee, hurrying to the room of his wife’s mother, found her dead. Her death must have occurred at exactly the moment when Mrs. Lee saw her father enter the room. A physician later said that Mrs. Pettit died from heart failure. The New York Times 20 March 1900: p. 1
I thought this was an interesting version of a “fetch” story, where the ghost was seen literally carrying off the dying. The story appears in The Ghost Wore Black. A few months ago, while researching background for The Victorian Book of the Dead, I was surprised to find a sequel.
HER FATHER’S SPIRIT
Beckoned to Her, and Though Recovering, She Soon Died.
When Mrs. Charles Lee died, at Danbury, Mass., last week, it was in peaceful resignation and with the conviction that her father’s spirit was bearing her away.
She had been waiting for five days for his coming—ever since she saw the ghostly visitor bear away her mother in that strange vision. That it was not the malady from which she had been suffering that caused Mrs. Lee’s death there is the testimony of the doctors. She was convalescing from an operation, and, so far as it was concerned, was out of danger.
That Mrs. Lee became conscious in some mysterious way that her mother, Mrs. Margaret Pettit, was dying, there can be no doubt. Mrs. Pettit left her home at No. 39 Grove Street, to go to nurse her daughter in Danbury. When Mrs. Pettit went to bed on Saturday night she was apparently in excellent health.
Her daughter gave the first news of the mother’s death. She told her husband that something had happened—that her mother was dead—and then Mrs. Lee swooned.
When Mrs. Lee had partly recovered she told those about her of her vision. She said she had seen the spirit of her father, who has been dead for 16 years, enter her mother’s room and say:
“Margaret, come with me.” She had seen her father take her mother in his arms, and, as they moved away they paused before Mrs. Lee, she said, and her father paused and beckoned to her, saying she would soon follow them.
Since that vision Mrs. Lee has hovered on the borderland between life and death. A great part of the time she has been delirious or in a state of coma. But in her lucid intervals she talked constantly of the vision and of her own summons.
Nothing could shake her conviction that her father’s spirit would return for her. When she was perfectly sane she said she was only waiting. She knew she would never get well.
She spoke of it when her husband and son were called to her bedside, and she said good bye to them. She told them she believed that they would soon join her, that the summons was for all of them, and that the family would be united in the beyond.
She died with her mother’s name on her lips. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 28 March 1900: p. 3
Other Fathers Day posts: about a ghostly image of a father and daughter appearing in a window after his death. A father who followed his child, literally, to the grave.
Since Mother’s Day weekend is coming up, and I’ve previously posted about mothers who return to visit or protect their children, here is a story about a vigilant ghostly mama from The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, originally found on my Mrs Daffodil blog.
This story hinges on the age-old dilemma of the step-mother. The nineteenth-century division of labor was such that few men could cope with household chores and childcare without help. A man with children who lost his wife needed to find a replacement quickly. And if that replacement was not kind to the children, there would be hell to pay when a ghost came to call…
From Home By a Spirit.
The Ghost of a First Wife Returns To Haunt Her Successor.
The locality in which this motherly ghost appears is what is known as Baltimore No. 2, a settlement of Irish and Welsh miners, who work in the Baltimore vein [Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.] The houses are red company structures, and in one of them lives Cornelius Boyle, a young man who is quite prominent in politics, having often been chosen as delegate from his ward to Democratic conventions.
Mr. Boyle’s wife died about two months ago, leaving four small children. Two weeks ago he married again. Mrs. Boyle No. 2 spent a very happy week with her husband while on their wedding tour. But since their return she has led a most unhappy existence. She has been haunted, she says, by the first Mrs. Boyle, who during the last week visited her almost every day. After these visits Mrs. Boyle has remained unconscious for several hours.
I went to the place to-day and found Mrs. Boyle in the house of a neighbor, the visit she received from the spirit of the first Mrs. Boyle last Saturday having caused such a serious shock to her nerves that she says she will never enter the house again. Her husband, an intelligent young man, 28 years old, was with her and two children were playing about the room.
SHE IS A YOUNG WIFE
Mrs. Boyle is very young for a wife, being hardly 17 years old. She is a pretty girl. She was Miss Sarah Cullings before she was married two weeks ago, and lived in Ashley, near here. She met her husband last St. Patrick’s Day, and not quite a month afterward they were married in Phillipsburg, N.J., by Rev. Father Burke. The week following they spent in New York and last week arrived at Boyle’s home in Baltimore No. 2.
“I was washing some clothes in the kitchen Monday afternoon when I experienced a most singular feeling, as though somebody were in the room with me. I looked around but could see nobody. Then I went into the parlor, but no one was there. When I returned to the kitchen all the chairs and tables were upset and my washing spilled on the floor. I set them right again. Immediately they were thrown down. At that instant there swept by me a figure of no particular shape, except the head, and that I saw distinctly. The face was a woman’s and had such a peculiar look about it that I cannot forget it. It was gone in an instant and I fainted. The children called in the neighbors, and after some time I was revived. When my husband returned home I told him the story. He called it a joke and said I had imagined it all. I tried to think no more about it.
“The next day,” continued Mrs. Boyle, “I was alone in the kitchen making some bread when I again felt the dreadful sensation of the peculiar presence. It gradually grew in shape, until the head was fully visible. Then I could see the face. It was the same as on the day previous. Then it gradually faded away, and again I fainted from fright.
“Fearing to be alone the next day, I sent for my sister. That night I again told my husband about the ghostly visitor. My nerves were unstrung and I was very much excited. Mr. Boyle got some books to quiet me, and we began looking them over. Among the books was a photograph album. He was turning over the leaves and explaining who the persons were. Finally he turned a page, and there before me was
THE FACE OF THE GHOST
I had seen. So suddenly was the face presented before me that I shrieked with horror. My husband sprang to his feet, and asked me what was the matter. All I could do was to point to the album, which had fallen to the floor, and say, “That face, that face,” “What about it,” cried my husband. “It is the same as the ghost’s I saw.” He was very much horrified at this, and exclaimed, “It is the fact of my first wife.” Then he believed what I had said regarding the apparition, for he knew I have never seen her nor any photograph of her, until he showed me the one in the album.
“On Thursday my sister and I were in the kitchen, cutting carpet rags. Among the old clothing was a jacket of “Jamesey’s,” who is my husband’s oldest boy. I took it out of the bag to give to Annie, my sister. I leaned over to hand it to her. As I did so it was pulled from my hands and thrown on the floor. At the same instant I felt the presence of the ghost, although I could see nothing. My sister then picked the jacket from the floor. As she did so the jacket was torn from her hands, and the ghost stood before us, the eyes glazing as though in anger. My sister shrieked with terror and fell into my arms. I managed to retain consciousness and the apparition vanished. Both Annie and I then went outside and would not go in until my husband returned home. Then Annie went out to Ashley. She was afraid to stay with me.
The next day was Friday and my husband remained at home all day. In the evening he went down to the store and I began undressing ‘Jamesey,’ who is older than the others and had been allowed to stay up. He was very naughty and I had to scold him. Then I put him to bed, and returned to the sitting room.
“As I entered the room, the
GHOST STOOD BEFORE ME
I was becoming less afraid of it, and, although greatly frightened, I managed to say: “what do you want?” The ghost pointed one of its hands at me, and, although I could not see the mouth move, it spoke and said: “Treat my children well,” three times, and very slowly.
When my husband returned a few minutes later I was in a fainting fit. We agreed to leave the house as soon as we could find another. I did not want to stay another day, but my husband persuaded me to stay in order to pack up some of the goods.
“Yesterday afternoon ‘Jamesey’ was a naughty boy again. I caught his arm and began to shake him. Immediately the ghost appeared. It seemed to come from behind the kitchen stove. One hand caught the boy and pulled him from me, while with the other hand she struck me on the head.
“It was all over in a few seconds, and as the ghost disappeared I snatched up the boy and ran out of the house. I went to Mrs. McLaughlin’s across the street. “You look ill, Mrs. Boyle,” she said. “What is the matter? Why, your head is all covered with ashes.” I put my hand on my head and there was ashes there. They must have come from the ghost’s hands.”
The boy “Jamesey” was then called. He is a bright little fellow, about 5 years of age. He was asked what had happened yesterday afternoon. “Me was bad boy,” he said. “She shake me,” pointing to Mrs. Boyle. “Then my mamma—not my new mamma, my old one—come out from behind stove and pull me away. I haven’t seen my old mamma for a long time.”
Mr. Boyle said he did not believe in ghosts, but he believes what his wife says, and will not allow her to go into the house again. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 3 May1894: p. 10
So far, merely a standard visitation from the dead mother as a warning. But things quickly took a more sinister turn.
BABY BURNED BY A GHOST
Mrs. Boyle Declares That the Jealous Spirit is That of Her Husband’s First Wife.
FOUR INCENDIARY VISITATIONS
Wilkesbarre, Pa., May 11, 1894. Mrs. Cornelius Boyle, wife of a well-known young miner of this city, was visited about two weeks ago by a supernatural being, whom she said was Boyle’s first wife.
As told in the Herald at the time, Mrs. Boyle the second was married about two months after the first wife’s death, and the ghost, according to her, had appeared to warn her to take good care of the four children.
The appearance of the ghost so affected Mrs. Boyle that her husband took another house. In this new place they lived happily until Tuesday, when Mrs. Boyle had another visit from the ghost. This time she said that it threatened her with horrible tortures if the children were not properly cared for.
Matters reached a climax yesterday morning when a bed on the second floor was found to be on fire. An alarm was run, the Fire Department responded, and the flames were extinguished, but scarcely had the firemen left when the same bed was again discovered on fire.
The firemen returned and extinguished the blaze a second time. Later in the day the house was found to be on fire again, and the Fire Department was called out a third time.
BLAMES IT ALL ON THE GHOST.
An oil can and some kerosene were found on the floor and bed clothing.
When the firemen arrived Mrs. Boyle put the blame on the ghost and said she could give no explanation as to the origin of the fire.
The house was found to be again on fire this morning. When the firemen reached the house it was found locked and full of smoke. The blaze was located in a bed on the second floor.
“Sam” Bartleson, foreman of No. 8 Hose Company, upon smashing a window and entering the house found a little child lying unconscious in the blazing bed. The child was little Johnnie Boyle, the four-year-old son of Boyle by his first wife.
AGAIN IT WAS THE GHOST
The little fellow was carried across the street to the house of Thomas Manley. His burns were dressed and he is expected to recover. The flames were soon extinguished.
Mrs. Boyle was out when the blaze was discovered, but was found in one of the neighbor’s houses. She blamed this fire also on the ghost, who, she says, is jealous of her and wants to drive her from her children and husband.
Mrs. Boyle is under police surveillance and the house is watched.
Mrs. Boyle is about eighteen years old, bright appearing and pretty. New York Herald 12 May 1894: p. 11
I have not found an end to this story of what seems to be a very wicked stepmother. One does feel a certain sympathy for a 17-year-old bride married after a mere month’s courtship and thrust into the role of mother to four very young children. I cannot discover what happened to the first Mrs. Boyle. The second Mrs. Boyle’s spells of unconsciousness might possibly have been epilepsy or caused by stress, but what do we make of the young son saying that his dead mother came out of the stove? Had he heard his stepmother tell the story?
It was at the midnight lunch and the telegraph editor told the story. We had all been kicking over the extra ‘assignment’ the city editor had just given us of writing an Easter story. Every man on the reportorial staff was to contribute one. The telegraph editor said he could reel off Easter stories by the yard if he had no more to do than the reporters. The sporting editor asked him for a sample. We lighted cigarettes and prepared to listen. He said:
“This is a ghost story. It is an Easter ghost story, and there is a woman in it. The woman was married to a newspaper man. His name was Bob Scrutiny. He was a jolly good fellow, but a heavy drinker and a thorough spendthrift. His wife was a silly tempered woman, or rather more of a school girl than a woman. Her temper was fearful. When angry her face and neck became scarlet, the veins in her temples expanded and she was a very unattractive person all round. Scrutiny loved his wife more than anybody except himself. He got a good salary, and she spent the greater part of it. He was always ‘broke’ by Thursday and on Mondays he was generally eating lobsters and drinking champagne at midnight. On Fridays he ate toast and drunk tea. Well, Bob was a good newspaper man. He wasn’t steady in his work, but his brilliance at times compensated for his general good-for-nothingness at other times. One night he would fairly reel ‘copy’ off by the yard; the next he would work an hour over a ‘tow-line head.’ But everybody including his managing editor liked him and his position was as secure as—well, as mine, for instance.”
The telegraph editor stretched his legs out complacently.
“But the managing editor resigned finally to accept a position as confidential secretary to Hon. Somebody or other and a new man was called from New York to fill the vacancy. One of these plodders, you know; same yesterday, today and forever; never startled at anything, moving along at the same pace no matter what the rumpus. Everything went on smoothly for a week or so. Then Scrutiny got one of his off spells and also got a big assignment; some gilt edged murder story, I believe. He got his facts all right; he always did, but when he came into the office that evening about 10 o’clock he told us that he’d be d__d if he felt able to write a line. However, he sat down and after three hours apparently hard work he sent his ‘copy’ up. The new managing editor read it. He came downstairs and said:
“’Make a column more of this, Mr. Scrutiny, and make it spicier.’
“’Make a column more of this? Mr., I couldn’t make a line more out of that to save my neck.’
“The managing editor repeated his request, then demanded more of the story and ended by leaving the ‘copy’ on Bob’s desk with instructions to write or quit. Bob quit.
“You don’t see where the Easter part comes in, eh? Well, Bob went home and told his wife of his discharge. It was about a month before Easter. She told him not to mind and gave the usual bread and cheese in a cottage story. Bob felt relieved. Knowing her temper he had anticipated a regular equinoxial storm; on the contrary, for a week or so he lived a regular honeymoon existence.
“But then Lalla, that was Bob’s wife’s name, wanted an Easter bonnet.
“Bob told her he had never denied her anything, but she’d have to go without a new bonnet this Easter. She teased and scolded, wouldn’t listen to reason, and finally worked herself into such and uncontrollable state of anger over the really trivial deprivation that I’m hanged if she didn’t break a blood vessel or something and die right then and there. It was, of course, an awful shock to Bob. He had loved his little wife, and, as men go, had been very true to her. They buried her on Easter Sunday in the big family vault, for Scrutiny came of good people, and Bob wore crepe on his hat and looked haggard.
“One day he came to the office and complained of dreaming constantly about his wife. She came constantly to his bedside and reproached him, he said. Some young fool laughingly asked him if she wanted that bonnet yet. Bob turned white, and said, ‘Yes, she asked for her bonnet, her bonnet, her Easter bonnet, so pathetically.’ This went on for several weeks. He told us he never slept and we knew he didn’t eat enough to keep a canary alive. One night he came to the office late and remarked to his small coterie of friends that he had bought that bonnet and the next time his ‘girlie,’ he always called her that, came to him he proposed to give it to her. We did not take the matter seriously. Well, Bob went home and we learned in a roundabout way that he had purchased a bonnet. He showed it to someone.
“About two hours later the night police reporter brought in the story that Scrutiny had been found dead at the Woodland cemetery.
“We questioned the reporter eagerly. He had not committed suicide, we learned, but there he lay with one hand clutching at the bars of the gate of the tomb where his wife lay buried. And near him lay an empty bonnet box.”
The telegraph editor puffed at his cigar a moment. Then he asked for a light. We roused ourselves and found that our cigarettes had all gone out.
“What do you ‘spose became of that bonnet?” asked the night editor absently.
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 25 March 1894: p. 10
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The acquisition of a new Easter bonnet was an article of faith for every church-going lady; one would be better off dead in a ditch than seen wearing last-year’s bonnet, no matter how cleverly re-trimmed. Even dead women desired the latest modes in hats. Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a ghost who ordered a hat. Vanity does not end with the grave. This must have been an Easter bonnet to die for.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded (well, “badgered” might be the mot juste) to offer a guest post by that Relentlessly Informative person over at Haunted Ohio, who has found what she feels is an interesting tit-bit about an unusual mourning custom from the United States. Without further ado, Mrs Daffodil introduces Chris Woodyard, author of The Victorian Book of the Dead.
While working on a monograph on shrouds, I ran across this piece on memorializing the dead at the dinner table. It comes from Pennsylvania, a state particularly rich in interesting folklore and funereal practices. The resourceful Mrs Daffodil uncovered articles about that state’s “death drawer” custom, which also was reported in 1900.
What can we say about a custom that cherishes the tableware of the deceased as domestic relics and a family’s belief in an ongoing presence of the beloved dead? Is it an expression of “complicated grief,” where the bereaved cannot let go of their sorrow, or a literal way to continue a connection with those lost?
IN MEMORY OF THEIR DEAD
“Oh, yes, I always keep our dead mother’s plate at her place at the table,” said the daughter of a rich eastern Pennsylvania farmer. “We will also keep her knife, fork, spoon, cup and saucer, and her napkin. I don’t know why we do it, only that it is the custom hereabouts among the large landowners. Whenever any grown person dies in the family, especially an unmarried daughter or the mother, her plate at the table is never taken away, save once a month, when it is washed. No one ever sits at that place no matter what the crowd is, no one uses anything belonging to mother. We hold the place sacred.
“Down at the farm of one of our neighbors they never remove the plate of their eldest daughter, who died 20 yrs. Ago. All the table article she used to use, are still there. An no one has ever occupied her narrow bed in her room. Her things are just as she left them, even to the chinaware on her bureau. Her dresses are faded and moth-eaten, and considerable had to be taken away, but a good many of her things are still as she left them.
“There is not so much regard shown for the boys. But when the head of the house dies his vacant chair at the table is never occupied. No one would dare to take that seat. At one large farm they kept his picture in a frame on his chair until one day the glass cracked and the frame split from some unknown cause. To this day they have an idea that the old farmer’s spirit came back and gave that picture a crack, because he didn’t like to see it there. Next they looked for the plate to be knocked off the table, but as that didn’t happen they take it for granted that the farmer thinks that’s all right. Over on another farm, where their oldest son died ten years ago, his room is closed forever, and kept just as he left it, with his gun, boots, clothes, and fishing rods in the corner. They still call it John’s room, and it will so continue until the farm passes into new hands. Not long ago the sale of a farm was nearly blocked when the owner wanted to stipulate in the deed that a certain room was not to be occupied until after the death of the seller.
“We know an aged lady who still pays for two seats in their church. Her husband died 11 years ago. She pays for his seat, and she occupies hers, never his, and no one else ever sits in that seat. Where a child over seven years of age dies, the plate is kept at the table a short time only. Where the child is 15, the plate is kept longer. Where the son or daughter dies, aged 21 or more, then the plate is never removed. I know one place where three grown daughters died within a year of diphtheria. Their plates in a row, are never removed, but fresh flowers are frequently placed near them. Their parents and brothers and sisters have long since ceased their weeping, and the table is no more sad, but everything is merry and happy, and they frequently chat with the dead people just as if they were present. It does no harm, even if it is foolish, as some people say.
“Three years ago an old farmer died five miles from here. He left seven grown children, two sons, and five daughters, all unmarried, and living at home. There is a rule in the family, and it has been so ever since the old gentleman died, that once a week each child shall spend a half hour in the old man’s big rocking chair, and think of him, commune with him, pray for him, ask his advice as to the farm management. They believe that he wants it to be thoroughly understood that he is still the master of that big farm. I guess he is, too, for the children are running the place on the co-operative plan, and they are getting along all right, apparently.
“People have to be very careful of the plates, cups and saucers of the dead. It is considered very bad luck if any piece is broken.”
Boston [MA] Daily Advertiser 13 July 1900: p. 5
This is very reminiscent of the ancient custom of equipping the dead with grave goods, brought to such perfection by the Egyptians, the Vikings, and the nomads of the Siberian steppes. It also reminds me of the French family who stipulated that the bedroom of their son, killed in the Great War, should be kept as a shrine by the house’s owners “for 500 years” or the stories that Queen Victoria kept Prince Albert’s room as a shrine, commanding that hot water for shaving be brought daily and that the dead man’s clothes should be laid out for him. I haven’t been able to find any contemporary reports that the Queen really did issue orders to this effect, but she was acutely aware of the power of domestic relics, collecting locks of hair, casts of beloved relatives’ hands, and jewellery made from baby teeth. She also directed that a large number of sentimental objects be placed in her own coffin such as a dressing gown of Prince Albert’s and John Brown’s mother’s wedding ring.
In the article on “death drawers,” found by Mrs Daffodil, we find the following passage about a lady who also wanted to take it with her, although on a much more modest scale:
One most unusual request was that a plate, cup and saucer, knife, fork and spoon should be placed in an old woman’s coffin. She had used them for 70 years, and did not wish anyone else to use them when she was gone.
The Sun [New York, NY] 18 February 1900: p. 27
It appears that the custom of setting a place for the dead was not uncommon even outside Pennsylvania.
There is a woman in Atchison who sets a place at the table every day for her husband, who died over a year ago. In his plate she never fails to place a little bouquet of flowers. She believes the dead know what is going on on earth.
The St. Joseph [MO] Herald 19 January 1891: p. 4
At this historical distance, it is hard to know if some diners with the dead were merely trying to cope with their grief or had been driven mad by misfortune.
Sets Table for Dead Wife;
Police Take Him Away
Frank J. Nagle, forty-seven years old, a plate printer, of 457 I street southwest, is in Washington Asylum Hospital today for observation as to his mental condition. The police say he had his table spread for his wife, several months dead, and his two little children, who are in St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum. Nagle recently lost his job at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and this, with his other misfortunes, is believed by his friends to have resulted in temporary mental derangement.
The Washington [DC] Times 16 February 1914: p. 12
This gentleman seemed to have a more balanced attitude, perhaps as a result of his Spiritualist faith. Or perhaps his wealth kept him from being sent to the asylum “for observation.”
SET TABLE FOR THE DEAD.
Menasha Man Had Places for Deceased Members of Family.
Menasha, Wis., Dec. 28. After a final consultation with the spirits death closed the life of Joseph A. Sanford, a wealthy retired lumber dealer of this city. Mr. Sanford was 84 years of age, and had been a resident of Menasha for more than sixty years. He was connected with the Menasha Wooden Ware Company, now the largest plant of its kind in the world, during its infancy; and later attained extensive lumber interests. During the last ten years Mr. Sanford had not partaken of a meal or retired at night without first having the table set for the deceased members of his family. At the retiring hour a fresh baked cake was placed on the table for the spirit members and these were consulted in all matters of importance concerning Mr. Sanford’s life before any action was decided upon.
The Indianapolis [IN] Star 29 December 1907: p. 11
I wish I knew the ending of this story of an unfortunate mother trying to cling to hope.
SHE AWAITS MISSING SON.
Winsted, Conn, December 12. Mrs. Martin Doyle, Sr., of Harwinton, has set a place at the table each meal time for her absent son, Michael, ever since he disappeared on April 3, 1904. After having partaken of supper that evening he walked out and has not since been heard of, although everything possible has been done by his relatives to find him.
In the interval Mrs. Doyle has lost her husband, her home has been destroyed by fire, and her other son, Martin, has become insane and is now in an asylum, leaving her alone.
The Montgomery [AL] Times 12 December 1907: p. 6
In 1883 Engineer John M. Miller, of Ohio, died in a train wreck. Articles commemorating his life mentioned that he believed that the ghosts of a fellow trainman and of his little daughter came aboard his engine to keep him company. Poignantly, he had a place set at his table for the child.
A few years ago Miller lost by death a bright little girl, to whom he was greatly attached, and ever afterward she, too, would nightly and daily get on his engine at a certain place on the road, and ride and talk with him until his train neared Dayton, and then disappear. As in the former case, her seat was kept for her in the cab, and no one allowed to occupy it.
At his home a chair was always set up to the table, the crib in which the child had been rocked drawn near, and a plate and food placed on the table, just as when the little girl lived and prattled. It is even said that the father would look at the chair and talk to its supposed occupant just as he used to do during its lifetime, and what seems strange now is that the wife and mother, an intelligent and highly respected lady, entertained and does now, the same superstitious views in regard to the child, and had the utmost faith in all that her husband ever told her about the ghostly visitations on the road.
Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 12 February 1883: p. 3
In The Ghost Wore Black, I wrote about the young woman who “married” the ghost of her dead fiancé. She, too, would set the table and chat over dinner with the shade of the dear departed. Is such a thing morbid or “foolish;” does it do harm to the grieving?
There is something both sad and yet convivial about dining with the dead. Many cultures practice it; the Hungry Ghost festival, and Dia de los Muertos, for example, bring the living and the dead together once more through food. And we eat together after funerals, reminding ourselves over the funeral baked casseroles that life goes on, that we still live and hunger, until we too can join the Buffet Invisible.
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can only imagine what Cook would say to such a proceeding… The custom gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase “coffin plate.”
Here is a chilling Christmas Eve ghost story for Mrs Daffodil’s readers to tell during the haunted holidays.
GHOST OF DEATH Heard in the Tower of London Christmas Eve – A Bad Omen
London Cor. New York Journal.
The ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, which appears in the Tower of London before the death of a crowned head, made itself heard on Christmas Eve.
The fact has been carefully concealed from the Queen because of the extreme grief into which the death of the Dowager Lady Churchill threw her, but it has caused the greatest alarm in court circles.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth in the Constable’s tower, and was led from it to execution in the tower quadrangle. Before the death of every King or Queen of England since her day her spirit has been reported as having appeared. An officer of the guard on duty in the Constable’s tower on Christmas Eve heard a long wail from the top of the tower. He stopped to listen and heard it again. Footsteps followed, and a third time the wail rang out over the fog-bound river and the sleeping city. He went to search for a cause but found none.
How severe a shock to the Queen was the death of Lady Churchill may be gathered from the following extract from today’s Court Circular.
“The Queen has sustained another and great loss in the death of the Dowager Lady Churchill, who had been a devoted and intimate friend of the Queen. Her Majesty, while sorely grieved by this sudden loss of one for whom she entertained the warmest affection, has not suffered in health from the great shock.”
Private reports say that Christmas at Osborne was a day of awful depression. The plans for its celebration were canceled, as the Queen’s condition of overpowering grief filled the house with gloom.
The Queen regards it as an evil omen that the last Christmas of the century should bring the angel of death under her own roof. This is the first death in a house with the Queen since that of the Prince Consort.
Lady Churchill was the Queen’s oldest and closest companion. They lived in personal intimacy, spent most of the day together and slept in adjoining rooms. What gave the Queen a particular shock was the knowledge that Lady Churchill died within a few feet of her, separated only by the thickness of a wall. Numerous recent tragedies, such as the deaths of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Christian Victor and several particularly respected old friends, added to this latest, have had a telling effect on the Queen
Superstitious people are prophesying many gloomy events and the ghost of Mary in the tower has caused more than a sensation. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 December 1900: p. 4
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is a curious story, mingling fact and completely falsehood. Mary Queen of Scots was never imprisoned in the Constable’s Tower (which was built in the 19th century on the site of a medieval tower that was used to house prisoners during the reign of Elizabeth I) or anywhere in the Tower complex, and she was certainly not led out of it to her death in the “tower quadrangle.” She was held captive in various manor houses well away from London and was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.
1900 was indeed an annus horribilis for the Queen. Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and, until 1893, the Duke of Edinburgh, died 30 July 1900. Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein was Queen Victoria’s grandson by her daughter Helena. He died 29 October 1900 of typhoid fever in South Africa. The Dowager Lady Churchill was Senior Lady of the Bedchamber and, as the article says, a close friend of Queen Victoria. She was found dead in her bed at Osborne House 24 December 1900, aged 74. Queen Victoria mourned in her diary: “It is a horrible year, nothing but sadness & horrors of one kind & another.”
Mary Queen of Scots was a romantic figure to the Victorians and an overwhelmingly popular apparition (as she is, even today) so perhaps it is natural that she was believed to be the wailing ghost. The Habsburgs had their White Lady of the Hohenzollerns, who appeared before Imperial deaths. One wonders if the British Royal family felt that they needed their own royal death apparition even though there was a tradition (probably no older than the 19th century) that if the ravens at the Tower of London flew away either England would be conquered by her enemies or a member of the Royal family would die. And a beautiful, beheaded queen is much more appealing than croaking black birds. More likely this is a piece of journalistic poetic licence. Other, later versions of this piece elaborate on the basic story and add what appear to be quotes from guards at the Tower or describe how the ghost of Mary appeared to Queen Elizabeth I before her death.
Still, despite the historical inaccuracies, a wailing ghost–the banshee–would have been familiar to many readers of this story as an omen of death. And a banshee keening in the dark within the haunted environs of the Tower is a perfect image for a Victorian Christmas ghost story.
However, Mrs Daffodil must point out that Queen Victoria died 22 January 1901.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
It is the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. A woman in India was declared dead of a lung infection, taken quickly to the ghats, and cremated a few hours after death. But bystanders, believing she was still alive, dragged her off the pyre and an autopsy showed soot in her windpipe and lungs that could not have gotten there if she had been dead. Yet the doctors at the hospital where she died who certified her death were certain she was dead. The case is complicated by allegations of rape, murder, and property disputes; DNA and other forensic testing has been ordered, but it is unlikely the truth will come out any time soon.
If, indeed, the poor woman was burned alive on her funeral pyre, it was not the first time for such a horror. I have previously written about burial alive, something dreaded by the Victorians perhaps even more than they feared the Resurrection Men. Today we fire up the retort as we look at the third of a terrifying triumvirate of Victorian death-fears: being embalmed alive, dissected alive, or cremated alive. We have some surprise witnesses to share their stories.
The three fears were often mentioned—and cautionary statistics cited–in the warning screeds published by the various branches of the Society for the Prevention of Premature Burial.
STARTLING FIGURES SUPPLIED BY A DOCTOR.
Some very disconcerting figures were supplied to the meeting of the London Society for the Prevention of Premature Burial at Bloomsbury Town Hall by Dr Hadwen, of Gloucester, as arguments in favour of speedy legislation in. burial reform. The following cases, he said, had been certified by medical men:
Persons buried alive 149
Narrow escapes from burial alive 319
Dissected alive 10
Narrow escapes from dissection alive 2
Embalmed alive 2
Cremated alive 1
Star, 7 July 1906: p. 4
Obviously the odds were vastly against cremation alive, but that reflects the lower instance of cremations in this period. There was still religious prejudice (and some social hostility) towards the practice.
It would seem impossible that we should ever know about most cases of premature cremation: ash tells no tales, unlike the corpses of the buried alive, with their fingers bitten or battered to the bone, their hair and grave clothes rent. But we are fortunate that Spiritualism was on hand to bring us first-hand, beyond-the-grave testimonials from those who met their end in the flames.
How It Feels to be Cremated.
Mrs. Althea Romeyn-Roberts is a Spiritualistic medium at No 36 Cottage Place. She is one of the many who give séances in which forms emerge from a cabinet and present themselves to be re-embodied spirits. There are twenty to thirty such establishments in town, and they have not had any essential differences. In her parlor a cabinet stands against the wall, and from this, after some preliminary speaking and singing, white-robed forms come out into the very dimly-lighted room.
Accepting the theory of unbelievers that these apparitions are either the medium herself or her assistants, there is nothing puzzling about the exhibition. They could be easily introduced into the cabinet through a secret panel, or might sneak into it under cover of what at times becomes total darkness. But of late Mrs. Romeyn-Roberts has bettered the doings of her rivals by introducing a spirit character who tells a sensational story. He purports to be the late James Allen, and he relates to each successive audience that he was cremated alive.
“Folks thought I died at Binghamton about three years ago,’’ he said, on the occasion of the Times correspondent’s visit to the séance, “but I didn’t. I was taken singularly ill and fell into a condition that resembled death. It was a cataleptic attack, I presume, and after a brief spell of unconsciousness I came to myself, so far as my mind was concerned, but could not move a muscle. I soon discovered that I was regarded as a corpse, and a horror of being buried alive took possession of me. But soon I learned that I was not to be buried—I was to be sent to the crematory at Washington, Penn. I then remembered very well that I had expressed a preference for cremation over interment, and that my family were also converts to that new method. I think that I lost consciousness several times, but only for short periods, and nearly all the while I was fully aware of all that was going on. But I could not make the slightest motion or the faintest sound. They put a shroud on me, laid me in a coffin, shut me up and shipped me to Washington. At that place is the first furnace ever built for cremation I suppose in the country. I had read descriptions of the process, and I knew what was coming to me unless I could regain vitality enough to show that I was alive. Struggle as I would I could not get myself at all out of the condition of seeming death. The preparations for burning me went on—enough of them in my presence, too, to keep me aware of them. I was mentally wide awake when they took me out of the coffin and laid me on the iron carrier, which, when all is ready is run into the superheated furnace.”
At this point the alleged ghost launched into a flighty and oratorical description of the horror which he felt at his impending fate. Then he concluded: “The white-hot doors of the furnace were at length opened, and the glare of the intense heat drove the attendant for an instant away from the opening. Four attaches of the crematory were doing the work. My relatives, who had accompanied me to the place, were withdrawn from the room. I made a last frantic exertion to stir and to give utterance to my terror. But I was relentlessly held by the trance, and probably the most careful examination would not have developed evidence of life. The iron carriage run on iron tracks that led directly into the fiery furnace. Then men laid hold of it and moved it nearer. A hot blast almost compelled them to let go, and as for me I seemed to be actually melted in the indescribable temperature. Then they shoved the apparatus suddenly clear into the furnace and shut the door. The clang of the metal was the last thing of which I was conscious. Death came instantly and painlessly. Within a few hours my mortal form was reduced to a few pounds of ashes which was delivered to my relatives, encased in a tin box, to be conveyed to my home and there reverently inurned.”
The Better Way 22 September 1888: p. 1
Allen is practically a poster-boy for the benefits of cremation: “instantly and painlessly” must have reassured his audience, brought up on stories of cataleptics who met terrible deaths after being put living in the tomb.
On the other hand, our old friend Dr Franz Hartmann brought news from a Spiritualist medium that was not quite so sanguine.
REMARKABLE OCCURRENCES AND PRESUMABLE EXPLANATIONS
By FRANZ HARTMANN, M.D.
Perhaps many of the readers of the OCCULT REVIEW residing in Switzerland will remember the death of Mr. H__, a well-known and prominent member of the Federal Council, who suddenly died at his office in the federal palace at Bern, about three years ago, and whose body was brought to Zurich to be cremated. Everybody at Zurich went to see the funeral procession on its way to the crematory. It took place with great pomp; the streets were crowded, musicians played solemn airs, and speeches were delivered. Among the spectators there was present a lady of a very sensitive nature, and in possession of certain mediumistic gifts, and as the coffin containing the corpse passed near her she felt a very curious sensation, and claimed that she had come in contact with the spirit (or aura) of the deceased. The procession went on, and the lady went to her lodging, where she was occupied with other things, and thinking no more of the funeral; but about an hour afterwards, presumably when the preliminary ceremonies at the crematory were ended, she began to suffer terribly from a burning heat overspreading all the left side of her body and face; the skin grew red, and cold water applications had to be applied for relieving the pain. After about a half-an-hour’s intense suffering, the pain left her entirely.
Some time afterwards there was held a spiritualistic séance at the house of Mr. S__, a judge of the Court of Appeal, at which this lady was present. It may here be remarked, in parenthesis, that this Judge S__ was one of the witnesses for defence in the well-known trial of the medium Rothe, at Berlin, where he testified in favour of the actuality of so-called spiritualistic phenomena; but his experience and testimony availed nothing against the ignorance of the Court.
At this séance there manifested an entity claiming to be the personality of Mr. H__. He said that he was unable to see anyone of the persons present in the room, except that lady; and, among other things, he informed the company that his body had been cremated too soon, and before his soul had become fully separated from it, and that in consequence he had suffered intensely at the left side of his body. It then only occurred to that lady to bring the burning sensation which she had experienced into connexion [sic] with the cremation.
Now, as concerns the identity of the” spirit” of Mr. H__, he was asked whether, during his life, he had known anything about the possibility of communicating with the spirits of the departed, and he answered that he had paid no attention to such matters, but had heard of it indirectly through Dr. A. P__. Nobody in the circle knew who this Dr. A. P__ was; but after some research in the register he was found to be a member of the National Council, residing at L__. Mr. S__ thereupon wrote to him, and Dr. A. P__ answered that he had spoken of such things to a friend of Mr. H__, and upon further inquiry it was found that this friend had a conversation with Mr. H__ about it.
Now, in this case, any theory of collusion, telepathy, etc., is to be excluded, because none of the members of that circle knew anything about Dr. A. P__’s existence, nor of his conversation with the friend of Mr. H__; and it seems reasonable to believe that the explanation given by the “spirit” of Mr. H__ is the correct one, and that the ethereal body actually may suffer from injuries inflicted upon the physical body after its apparent death, as long as the soul has not entirely separated from it.
It seems that a similar occurrence took place in the case of H. P. Blavatsky, whose body was burned. It is claimed that before the cremation took place her “spirit” manifested itself in two places: at Paris with the Duchess de P__, and at Hamburg at Professor S__’s, asking in each case that urgent telegrams should be sent to London to request a delay of the cremation, as she had not yet become free from her physical form. The telegrams were sent, but no notice was taken of these warnings by her friends, and the cremation took place at the previously appointed time.
Moreover, at least three cases have come to my notice in which similar communications were received from “spirits” of persons prematurely dissected. One was a case of suicide by poisoning, another by shooting, and the third one that of a young lady who killed herself on account of a love affair, and whose body was exhumed three days after her burial, some suspicion having arisen as to her having been murdered. She was submitted to post-mortem examination and dissected, and the “spirit” claimed that she had felt every cut of the dissecting knife the same as if it had cut her living nerves. Whatever may be thought of such communications, it stands to reason to suppose that the ethereal form of a person dying prematurely a forcible death will find it more difficult to separate itself from the rest of the elementary body, than if the death occurs in a natural way in old age or after a sickness. We find a corresponding law in other departments of nature, for the shell of a ripe orange may easily be detached from the pulp, while from an unripe one it separates with difficulty. Cases of premature burial, cremation, dissection and suffering after forcible death will probably continue to occur until the world at large recognizes the fact that death is not, as public opinion goes, a cessation of the perceptible functions of life; but it takes place only at the final separation of the soul from the physical form.
The question of cremation was a hot-button issue throughout the late-19th century. In a lengthy story titled “Ghosts Among Coffins,” about a violent, poltergeist-like haunting at the undertaking establishment of the appropriately-named Valentine Geist in Detroit, the story concludes with a theory that
Yesterday the superstitious came to the settled belief that none other than a ghost haunts the building. Moreover, that it is the ghost of Louis Dohmstreich, a wealthy brewer, who was killed by being thrown from his sleigh about the time the weird rappings and rackets began. His body was taken to Buffalo and cremated there. Geist had charge of the funeral and accompanied the body to the crematory, returning with the ashes. This grounds the belief in the minds of many that the spirit of the dead man has come back to protest against cremation and make it exceedingly warm for the undertaker.
Omaha [NE] World Herald 19 February 1887: p. 1
In other cases, the ghost protested because he or she had not been cremated as requested. While cremation was regarded by burial reformers as a hygienic alternative to over-filled churchyards, it was still seen by many as the choice of the crank or the infidel. While we may wonder why the “spook” was so adamant, this is not the only story I have seen of a ghost returning when its wish for cremation was ignored.
SPOOK INSISTS ON CREMATION
Ghost of Ernest Heinig Upbraids His Sister for Burying his Body
Fort Wayne, Ind.; March 7. The body of Ernest Heinig was cremated Saturday evening at the Lindenwood crematory, under peculiar circumstances. Heinig committed suicide on Jan. 30, because of despondency, owing to having been thrown out of employment. Two weeks before he died he expressed to his sister, Mrs. Leuchner, the wish that in the event of his demise his remains might be cremated. Mrs. Leuchner, however, had a horror of cremation, and had his body buried. One night last week, Mrs. Leuchner says, her brother appeared to her in a dream and demanded why her promise had not been fulfilled, and insisted that she, even then, should cause the body to be exhumed and burned. So impressed was Mrs. Leuchner by the dream that she ordered the corpse taken up and cremated.
Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 7 March 1899: p. 1
Returning to the initial story of the young Indian woman, we find this similar tale from 1889. Cholera was a great dissembler of death and fearful communities hastily bundled its victims into the grave without much thought.
I am here reminded of an incident told me by the Residency surgeon. The young wife of a well-to-do Hindoo was struck down by cholera. Our friend the doctor was called, and under his care she rallied, and bade fair to recover. What was his surprise to be told, two or three days after, that the woman was being carried at that very moment to the Pashupati burning ghat! He mounted his horse and rushed down to the place. Here he found his poor patient still alive, but laid out so that her feet touched the flowing stream, while beside her the wood was being arranged, and the cremation ceremonies were under way. The doctor expostulated with the husband and relatives, and urged them to desist at once from their murderous intentions. They were finally prevailed upon to stay proceedings, and to take the poor woman home. She survived only three days. But for her rough exposure to premature cremation she might have entirely recovered.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1889: p. 479
And finally, this is the only story I have found of premature cremation being both discovered and prosecuted. As we might expect, it is reported from a land far, far away.
The police at Hiroshima, Japan, have arrested a man named Jinsuke Ikeda and his wife, says the ‘Japan Times,’ on a charge of wilfully cremating a live man. The prisoners were in charge of a crematorium, and while at work a faint voice coming out of the coffin begged for fresh air. The couple took no notice, however, and proceeded to apply fire, roasting the man alive.
Mataura Ensign, 1 September 1911, Page 5
Other horrors of premature cremation? Fire them over to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
A figure inexpressibly thin and pathetic, of a dusty leaden colour, enveloped in a shroud-like garment, the thin lips crooked into a faint and dreadful smile, the hands pressed tightly over the region of the heart.
“Lost Hearts,” M.R. James
Recently I’ve been digging up the dirt on burial shrouds, trying to determine exactly what the well-dressed corpse was wearing and when. While there is no doubt a certain esoteric charm in studying Z-spun tabbies and shrouding flannels, what I found even more fascinating was the ghosts who appeared clothed in their grave-clothes, often of a markedly archaic pattern. Andrew Lang gives us an striking example:
The most impressive spectre he [Andrew Lang] had ever heard of, he says, in substance, appeared in an English village. Half a dozen children who had been playing together in a house rushed out through the open door in a frightened state of mind, and one of them fell down in a fit. A lady who was driving through the village stopped, attended to the child who was lying on the ground before the horses, and asked the other children as to the cause of the panic. They said they had been playing on the staircase when “a dreadful woman” suddenly appeared among them. The only reason they could give for saying that the woman was dreadful was that she wore a long woolen robe and had her brow and chin bound up with white linen. “In fact,” says the writer, “she was a walking corpse come back from the days when the law compelled us to be buried in woolen for the better encouragement of the wool trade. This wandering old death, seen in the sunlight by the children, has always appealed to me as a very good example of ghosts and of their vague and unaccountable ways. For it is most unlikely that the children knew anything of the obsolete law of the ancient English mortuary fashions.” Religio-Philosophical Journal 7 February 1891: p. 578
“Buried in woolen” refers to the Burial in Woollen Acts of 1666-1680, requiring burial in a shroud of pure English wool. The acts were resented and were largely ignored after the late 18th century. They were repealed in 1863. Obviously the walking dreadful woman was one of the unhappy woolen-shroud wearers.
Some of you may be familiar with the statue of John Donne depicted in his shroud, which is knotted on top of his head, as pictured in the engraving above. This ghost, seen in a church chancel, presented a virtually identical appearance, as well as making a curiously incongruous rustling noise.
Out of the Long Ago
In 1907 my late husband and I were visiting some friends when the subject of ghosts arose in conversation. My husband did not believe in spirits appearing from another world. I did, for I had seen my father who had, at the time, been dead over twelve months. He also spoke to me. I knew I was awake when I saw the apparition, for I awoke my husband to tell him, as I was frightened. As soon as my husband spoke, the apparition vanished. My mother also saw my father’s spirit twice, and she was the least imaginative of women. My husband’s friend, a young man of about thirty-two, said he believed in ghosts, for he himself had seen one when a boy. He then went on to elate the following remarkable story. I have put it down just as he gave it, without embellishments of any kind. “When I was about twelve or thirteen,” he said, “I visited some relatives in a village near London. About eleven o’clock one morning, I went with the vicar’s two boys, with whom I was friendly, to get a book from the vestry of the church where their father officiated. The elder of the two boys went to get the book, whilst the younger one and I went down the aisle to wait, and to pass the time until the book was found. Hearing a sound, I thought my playmate was coming for us, and looked up towards the chancel. Walking across the chancel I saw a tall figure shrouded in a sort of blanket affair, dull and drab and gathered on the top of the head, and tied in a bunch from which it hung down in folds over the figure, which was walking or gliding toward the vestry door. There was no sound of foot-falls, but, as the apparition moved, it made a sort of rustling noise, like walking amongst dry withered leaves. Thinking some one was playing a trick I followed, hoping to see the fun, but the figure vanished at the vestry door. I looked inside and asked my friend, who was not quite ready to leave, if any one had been into the room, and told him what his brother and I had seen. He answered that he had not seen or heard anything unusual. The church, for certain reasons, was always, except when in use, kept locked. My playmate of the church aisle was full of our adventure, and he told the vicar what we had seen. He strictly forbade us to repeat the story to any one, and went on to say if we did he would be exceedingly angry. His reason for keeping such a tale secret was obvious. When I grew up to manhood,” the narrator continued, “I received a letter one day, from a gentleman who lived, or had lived, in the village where I had seen the ghost in the church chancel. He enclosed me a sketch of the apparition, which he himself had seen when about sixteen years of age. He wanted to know if the drawing was like the figure I had seen. I wrote that it was exactly the same, except for the side face, which I did not remember to have seen. The side face was thin and keen, and the nose thin also, and very prominent. The writer went on to explain that he had heard I had seen the ghost and, like myself, in the broad daylight, and that he was very interested in looking the matter up.”
“In 1911 we called to see the relator of this story, when he at once mentioned that there had been further development in his ghost story. The gentleman who had sent him the sketch had written to inform him that the apparition had again been seen. He was inquiring the time and date of the previous appearances as he was anxious to ascertain if the uncanny visitor came at stated intervals. The shroud that covered the ghost was probably one of the very old-fashioned shrouds that used to be tied on the top of the head. Uncanny Stories Told by “Daily News” Readers, S. Louis Giraud, 1927: p. 30-31
Sometimes even the minutest details of the shroud were noted by a witness.
The following is one of the most remarkable of the ghost stories in Sir David Brewster’s late book:
About a month after this occurrence, [the appearance of her husband’s doppelganger] Mrs. A., who had taken a somewhat fatiguing drive during the day, was preparing to go to bed, about eleven o’clock at night, and, sitting before the dressing-glass, was occupied in arranging her hair. She was in a listless and drowsy state of mind, but fully awake. When her fingers were in active motion among the papillotes,[papers for making butterfly curls] she was suddenly startled by seeing in the mirror, the figure of a near relation, who was then in Scotland, and in perfect health. The apparition appeared over her left shoulder, and its eyes met hers in the glass. It was enveloped in grave-clothes, closely pinned, as is usual with corpses, round the head, and under the chin, and though the eyes were open, the features were solemn and rigid. The dress was evidently a shroud, as Mrs. A. remarked even the punctured pattern usually worked in a peculiar manner round the edges of that garment. Mrs. A. described herself as at the time sensible of a feeling like what we conceive of fascination, compelling her for a time to gaze on this melancholy apparition, which was as distinct and vivid as any reflected reality could be, the light of the candles upon the dressing-table appearing to shine full upon its face. After a few minutes, she turned round to look for the reality of the form over her shoulder; but it was not visible, and it had also disappeared from the glass when she looked again in that direction. On the 26th of the same month, about two P. M., Mrs. A. was sitting in a chair by the window in the same room with her husband. He heard her exclaim, “What have I seen?” And on looking on her, he observed a strange expression in her eyes and countenance. A carriage and four had appeared to her to be driving up the entrance-road to the house. As it approached, she felt inclined to go up stairs to prepare to receive company; but, as if spell-bound, she was unable to move or speak. The carriage approached, and as it arrived within a few yards of the window, she saw the figures of the postilions and the persons inside take the ghastly appearance of skeletons and other hideous figures. The whole then vanished entirely, when she uttered the above-mentioned exclamation. The Schoolmaster, and Edinburgh Weekly Magazine, Volumes 1-2, John Johnstone, Publisher, 1832: p. 221.
If the date on this story wasn’t much too early, we might suggest that Mrs. A. had been to Paris’s Cabaret du Neant and seen the coffined living decomposed to a skeleton and back in just minutes! To be Relentlessly Informative, the “punctured pattern” was an eyelet-like effect punched in the cloth with pinking irons. It was a cheap way to achieve a lacy look for grave-clothes and linens.
In some variants of this next story, which was a popular urban legend, the ghost was recognized by a particular detail of the shroud.
A woman not far from Emly, buried her husband, a few months ago. A knock came to the door some night last month. She asked who was there. A hollow voice answered, “I am your husband, whom you buried, and I am very miserable in purgatory till my debts are paid. Sell the two pigs you have, and be sure you have the money for me on such a night when I call.” The poor woman did as he required, and felt happy at being able to meet his request, either through fear or love (as he appeared with his shroud and pale face.) Between the first and second visit of the ghost, the poor woman went and told her story to the priest; he told her it was all very good, but at the same time to have two policemen in the house when she would be giving the money. Accordingly, after getting the money, the purgatorial and shrouded ghost came and was arrested by the police and lodged in Limerick jail, there to undergo a little more purgatory till his trial comes on. This ghost turned out to be a near neighbor, who is god-father to one of her children. The Weekly Vincennes [IN] Western Sun 15 March 1862
In this account from the séance-room, an apparition draws attention to her burial robe as proof of her identity.
The next one who appeared was Mrs. Mary Ann Waugh, wife of the late John M. Waugh, of Rock Island, who died about thirteen years ago at this place; a sister of Mrs. Hill’s, and also sister of mine. The test in this case was remarkably good, principally in her general appearance of features and the manner she used to wear her hair, and some peculiarity in her burial robe, in the material used, and something very peculiar in the style and make, which she seemed very desirous of my wife seeing, as she assisted in the making of it. Religio-Philosophical Journal 20 March 1875: p. 2
The shroud was also regarded as an infallible, if nuanced, death token in stories of second sight, presenting a sort of sliding scale of death.
The event was usually indicated by the subject of the vision appearing in a shroud, and the higher the vestment rose on the figure, the event was the nearer. ‘If it is not seen above the middle,’ says Martin, ‘death is not to be expected for the space of a year, and perhaps some months longer. When it is seen to ascend higher towards the head, death is concluded to be at hand within a few days, if not hours, as daily experience confirms. Examples of this kind were shewn me, when the person of whom the observation was made enjoyed perfect health.’ Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution, Volume 3. Robert Chambers, 1861: p. 290
This seeress predicted the death of a young boy without giving her reasons. After his death, she explained what she had seen:
I carried the boy’s corpse aboard with me, and, after my arrival and his burial, I called suddenly for the woman, and asked her, what warrant she had to foretell the boy’s death? She said, that she had no other warrant, but that she saw, two days before I took my voyage, the boy walking with me in the fields, sewed up in his winding sheets, from top to toe: and that she had never seen this in others, but she found that they shortly thereafter died: and therefore concluded, that he would too, and that shortly. Light 9 February 1889: 66-67
One of these seers had his vision calibrated to a nicety.
Two seers at work, one a gentleman and the other ‘a common fellow’, who were both visiting the manse of an Inverness minister. All at once the common fellow began to weep and cry out that a certain sick woman about five miles away was either dead or dying.
The gentleman seer—naturally the expert—replied, ‘No, she’s not dead, nor will she die of this disease.’
‘Oh?’ said the fellow. ‘Can’t you see her covered in her winding sheet?’
‘Aye,’ replied the gentleman, ‘I see her as well as you do, but do you not also see that her linen is wet with sweat? She will soon be cooling of her fever.’ And so it turned out. The Revd Hector Mackenzie vouched for the story’s truth. Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight, Elizabeth Sutherland, p. 62
Shrouds seen via second sight might not only predict a death, but the form or color of that winding sheet.
“Florence MacLeod, spouse to the present minister of St. Kilda, informed me lately, that her mother Elizabeth MacLeod, a gentlewoman distinguished from sevrals for piety and good morals, having come out of her house at Pabbay in the Harris, with a clear moon-shining night, and having sat down to enjoy the pleasure of a calm serene air, and the beautiful prospect of a glittering starry firmament; both of them observed a domestic girl, who had been a native of St. Kilda (they had left the house), issuing from it, covered with a shroud of a darkish colour, and stalking across the distance betwixt them and the house as if she intended to frighten them, and after continuing in this manner for some time, disappeared. Upon their return to the house, the said Elizabeth, challenged the girl for her frolick, who affirmed, with many asseverations, she had not left the house all the time her mistress and daughter were absent: to which the other servants gave testimony. In a short time thereafter, the same girl died of a fever, and as there was no linen in the place but what was unbleached it was made use of for her sowe, [winding sheet] which answered the representation exhibited to her mistress and the declarant as above.” Light 9 February 1889: 66-67
Today, although shrouds are making a comeback in the context of green burials, most people go to their final rest in their own clothing. Although I haven’t done a scientific survey, I’ve heard from people who have seen apparitions of friends and relatives wearing the same clothes they were buried in. That would not be particularly remarkable–if you saw the clothes at the viewing or funeral, you might picture the visitation wearing those clothes. Where that logical argument sometimes breaks down is when the witness did not go to the funeral or have any information about what the dead person wore in their coffin, but could describe the burial clothing anyway. Such anecdotes reopen the whole question of why ghosts are seen wearing clothes and why, if, as some psychic researchers used to suggest, the dead can project whatever image they want to those they visit, they choose to wear their last outfit?
Other stories of ghosts in grave-clothes or burial garments? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
The Death Angel takes many forms: the hooded Grim Reaper, the Radiant Boy, fairy-like cherubs, the bloody-handed Banshee, or, in today’s case, a dazzling Woman in White.
[This piece comes from an interview of medium Mrs. Ellen Green, in a column called “The Mysteries of Mediumship” by “Our Special Representative” in the Spiritualist journal Light.]
A short time since I gave an account of a chat with Mrs. Stansfield, a bright little medium from the North, enjoying much honour in her own country, and commanding it in London immediately her remarkable gifts became known. Mrs. Green, of Heywood, is another Lancashire medium, or Lancashire witch if you will have it so, who, in many respects, compares with Mrs. Stansfield, of Oldham. She is a pleasant mannered, pleasant spoken little woman, very quiet and very retiring, with the accent of her native county just enough marked to agreeably flavour her talk.
[The narrator asks about how she became a medium.]
“Was there mediumship in the family”
‘My mother had the gift of second sight strongly developed, and could often foretell a death or a striking event. I myself can always feel when anybody related or dear to me is going to pass over. The first time I saw the Death Angel—’
‘The Death Angel! Surely now, I thought that dread personage was an altogether imaginary character.’
‘I have the same vision in each case, and I have come to call the spirit the Death Angel. I have never heard of anybody else seeing it. I was about sixteen at the time, and my mother and I were alone in the world. She was ill; and whilst I was at work in the factory where I was employed I heard my name, “Ellen,” repeated three times very distinctly. Fearing something wrong, I obtained permission to go home, and on the way, while passing through a large yard connected with the factory, I saw in front a form of dazzling white. There were no features distinguishable, but the form was that of a woman, clothed in a white robe of indescribable beauty. I put out my hand, a cold shudder went through me, and she melted away like snow under the sun. Hastening home, I found my mother unconscious; and when she came to herself I told her what I had witnessed. “My child,” she said, “I shall never get well. You have seen the spirit I always see when one I know is about to die.” And a day or two later she passed over. I have seen the Death Angel several times since, but only in the case of relatives or friends for whom I have a strong feeling of affection.’
Light 3 August 1895: p. 368
This is a softer, gentler, friends-and-family version of the Reaper, as opposed to the terrifying hooded Things found here and the bureaucratic Messenger of Death found here.
Intriguingly, in the same interview, Mrs Green confesses that she is afraid of spirits.
Spirit people I have seen as long as I can remember. As a child I used to play with spirit children, and not dream that they were different in any way from other children.’ “I suppose you were not long in discovering the difference ” ‘Longer than you might think. It was all so natural; and it did not occur to me that my little playmates were not visible to everybody as they were to me. When I knew they were not of earth, my feelings changed.” ‘How do you mean?’ ‘I don’t know whether it should be said, lest I be misunderstood, but I am afraid of spirits—afraid, that is, for them to come near me.’ ‘That is rather singular, is it not, when, as I gather is the case, you are on such intimate terms with the other world, and find its beings so natural in appearance and character?’
‘Yes, particularly as they are so natural that I often fail immediately to distinguish them from persons who have not passed over. I can’t explain the feeling, but it is very strongly implanted in me. I never attempt to speak to them, and if one comes near me I shrink away or even cry out. One of the photographs in Mr. Glendinning’s book, “The Veil Lifted,” is of me with a spirit form by my side. The spirit was necessarily quite close to me, and the peculiar expression of my features, and the attitude of shrinking away from the form were due to my uncomfortable sense of its proximity.’
Mrs Green does, indeed, look dubious in the photograph.
To be Relentlessly Informative, the hand in the lower right hand corner of this photograph somehow suggests an air pump; inflatable “spirits” were a useful prop in the séance room—easily hidden, then inflated and deflated, they were perfect for materializations and dematerializations.
I’ve included a chapter on Victorian personifications of Death in The Victorian Book of the Dead. They are fascinatingly rare in nineteenth-century non-fiction, especially considering the cultural focus on death and mourning.
Other Death Angels or Grim Reapers? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com