Monday, 3 November 2014

Can You Explain It? True Stories of the Ghost World

The Harmsworth Magazine, the first issue of which was published in July 1898 and sold for threepence, contained historical fiction, tales set in exotic places, romances and adventure stories, and ghost stories. It was an overnight success; the first issue sold in the region of 800,000 copies. It attracted writers such as O. Henry, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Edith Nesbit, H.G. Wells and P.G. Wodehouse. It was later renamed The Harmsworth London Magazine and then The London Magazine.

William James Wintle, author of Ghost Gleams, who I shall be writing more about very soon, had an article published in The Harmsworth London Magazine in 1903 entitled 'Can You Explain It? True Stories of the Ghost World'. A few weeks back, I came across a couple of bound volumes of the magazine, and it just so happened that one of them was volume ten, which contains Wintle's article, so I thought I would type it up to make it available here.

By W. J. Wintle
The Harmsworth London Magazine, Vol. 10
February to July 1903, pp.355~358

IT is the fashion nowadays to be sceptical of everything that does not exactly fit in with the experiences of practical every-day life. Ghosts are at a discount, and the very existence of an unknown world, peopled by activities as real as our own, is questioned and even laughed at. We venture to say that this attitude of mind is as unscientific as it is unwise.

No thoughtful person would wish to put the clock back and revive the superstitious ignorance which prevailed in centuries long gone by, when everything not clearly understood was at once put down to the supernatural or miraculous. We have travelled far since those days, and the progress of science has taught us that many things hitherto mysterious are capable of rational explanation, and are simply the working out of laws which are now well understood. But we have still more to learn even about natural science, and the recent development of wireless telegraphy, for example, has shown us that it is possible for physical forces to act at a distance and through a medium hitherto supposed insufficient.

It is not unreasonable to apply this principle to the unseen or spirit world, about which we know so little. It may well be that there are forces at work - perhaps after all only different forms of those natural forces with which we are familiar - and that the operation of these forces may produce phenomena at present hard to explain, but which are none the less genuine for all that. With the further advance of knowledge, we shall probably come to understand more about such matters, but at present the attitude of the thoughtful person should be neither one of credulity nor scepticism, but simply one of open-minded enquiry.

The strange happenings described in this present article have, all of them, come within the immediate knowledge of the writer, who is able to vouch for their general accuracy. They have occurred either to himself or to his personal friends, though, for obvious reasons, names and places have, in most cases, been suppressed; indeed, it is only subject to this condition that he is at liberty to describe several incidents which have never been made public before.

It is natural to begin with apparitions of departed persons. Everybody has heard of ghost stories, and it must be frankly confessed that a large percentage of these tales have no better foundation than that of a too vivid imagination, or a lack of sober investigation. There remain, however, an abundance of cases of the appearance of departed persons to the living, which rest upon unquestionable evidence, and which can only be explained away by imputing deliberate lying to persons of known veracity. To this latter category the following examples belong.

It has been known for generations past that that portion of the north wing of Windsor Castle which is occupied by the Royal Library is the occasional scene of the apparition of Queen Elizabeth, who at one time occupied those apartments. Many people connected with the Court have, at one time or another, seen the shade of the famous monarch walking in the evening through the rooms she occupied so long. The apparition usually comes in through the end of the library next to the corridor, passes along in front of the magnificent Elizabethan fireplace, and turns into a kind of alcove which formerly led to a flight of stone steps connecting it with the north terrace. Down these steps the Queen was in the habit of going when she took exercise.

Amongst other persons who, at one time or another, witnessed the apparition was the Empress Frederick; and in the spring of 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, Lieutenant Glyn, of the Grenadiers, was sitting one day in the library turning over a volume of prints, and certainly not thinking about ghosts, when he happened to look up, and distinctly saw the spectral Queen approaching from the other end of the library. She passed near him and then turned the corner into the usual alcove. He at once rose and followed the figure, but it had disappeared.

The fact of this apparition is so well known that the librarian, Mr. Holmes, has frequently spent whole evenings in the library watching for it. But, unfortunately, ghosts do not usually appear when you look for them. It is right to add that a certain amount of difference of opinion exists as to the identification of this mysterious figure with Queen Elizabeth, but the fact of the apparition itself is unquestionable.

One of the Canon's houses within the precincts of Windsor Castle is the occasional scene of visits of an apparition commonly thought to be that of King Charles I. It only appears at long intervals, and is more often heard in the form of footsteps passing by than actually seen. One of its most recent appearances was to the wife of a well-known English bishop, who happened to be staying at Windsor at the time.

All the historic royal palaces have the reputation of being haunted. One of the best-known cases is that of the gallery leading to the royal pew at Hampton Court, along which the ghost of Anne Boleyn has often been heard to pass uttering piteous cries, as she did in her lifetime when she ran to implore mercy from Henry VIII, who was hearing Mass in the chapel, but was forcibly repulsed by the guard.

A more recent instance occurred at another of the royal palaces, where a visitor, walking down the corridor one evening, saw the figure of a very beautiful young lady in evening dress passing  in a faint luminous light through a room where the lights were turned down low. The visitor was in the company of a member of the Royal Family, who, strangely enough, saw nothing of the apparition, although he was aware that one was seen from time to time.

Leaving the royal palaces, we have now to record a curious phenomenon that is sometimes observed in the chapel of a large convent in North London. It happened that a good many years ago one of the nuns broke her vows, and returned to the world, where, after an unhappy career, she died. Soon afterwards the inmates of the convent were startled to see the form of their lost sister, in her religious habit, kneeling in the outer chapel in an attitude of the deepest sorrow and despair.

This apparition is still seen from time to time, and has been witnessed by the sisters, and also by the children of the convent school, who naturally have been greatly alarmed by it. It is quite a common thing for the good sisters, at service time, to have to hurriedly withdraw the children, when the form of the lost nun is seen passing through the outer chapel or kneeling outside the screen.

A somewhat gruesome incident took place quite lately in London, where a number of young people were present. A youth was sitting chatting to a young woman when he saw standing behind her a young sailor whom he had not previously noticed in the room. A few moments later he asked her, "Who was that sailor standing behind you just now?" She was startled, and he proceeded to describe him, whereupon she turned deadly pale and fainted.

The youth subsequently learnt that the figure he had seen was that of a young man whom the girl had jilted, and who had committed suicide in consequence. The girl was for some weeks afterwards in a state of great distress, fearing that she was haunted by the spirit of her rejected lover; but happily, nothing more was seen of the apparition, and she has now quite recovered her usual good spirits.

A London journalist of fairly matter-of-fact and unimaginative disposition, was sitting in the train at a large midland station, when he saw upon the platform an old acquaintance - whom we may call Mr. Hilton - standing somewhat apart on the platform. There was nothing whatever ghostly about his appearance, for he was a portly old gentleman wearing the conventional silk hat and black frock coat, and carrying the sample bag which he used in connection with his business as traveller for a large firm of tea dealers.

The passenger tried to attract his friend's attention, but without success, and the train immediately afterwards moved off. A few days later the journalist was again in that city, and took luncheon with a relative who lived there. During the course of the meal he remarked, "I saw old Hilton last Saturday, on the platform, as I passed through"; to which his cousin replied, "You mean young Hilton, don't you?" "No, it was old Hilton, not his son, that I saw." "I hardly think so," said the cousin. "But I am sure of it," persisted the journalist; whereupon he received the startling reply, "Well, all I can say is that I attended old Hilton's funeral a fortnight ago."

Here was an example of an apparition of a dead person apparently without any purpose or object. Can you explain it?

Many cases are on record of apparitions of living persons being seen. A friend of the writer, now a priest in the north of England, was, at one time, a novice in a Benedictine monastery, and it was his duty to take an hour's watch before the Blessed Sacrament in the abbey church every morning from seven till eight o'clock Sad to say, his devotion used sometimes to flag, and his thoughts wandered. Frequently these vagrant thoughts betook themselves to his youngest sister, to whom he was deeply attached, and he used to fancy that he was with her in her room. So vivid was the impression that he was often able to clearly recollect the conversation which he fancied had taken place between them.

After a time, finding that he had no real vocation for the religious life, he left the monastery and returned to his home. He had not been there long before his sister said to him, "While you were at the monastery, I used often to fancy that you came into my room in your monk's dress, between seven and eight in the morning, before I was up, and that we had some jolly little talks together." He enquired if she could remember any of the conversation, whereupon she repeated to him the very things that he had imagined himself saying to her while kneeling alone in the monastic choir!

Can this be a case of telepathy operating over a distance of more than one hundred miles, or how is it to be accounted for? Certainly it would appear that under some circumstances of intense emotion or ardent affection it is possible for the minds of persons far apart from one another to enter into some kind of communication. If it be true that nervous action is near akin to electric force, then it is possible that the discovery of wireless telegraphy is a step in the direction of explaining such phenomena as the one just related, and that which follows.

A  father, somewhat advanced in years, was deeply attached to his grown-up daughter, who was the sole companion of his declining days. One night, feeling unwell, he left his bedroom and knocked at the door of his daughter's, forgetting for the moment that she was staying for the night with some friends at a distance.

The daughter, who, of course, did not think that her father was likely to be taken ill, was suddenly aroused from sleep by a loud knocking at her bedroom door. She hastily rose and opened it, but found no one there, and, on making enquiry in the morning, could not obtain any explanation. On returning home she found her father ill, and ascertained that the time she was aroused from her slumbers exactly corresponded with the moment that her father had knocked at her bedroom door.

A sound of knocking seems to be one of the commonest of occult manifestations, without taking into consideration the phenomena - whether real or fraudulent - connected with spiritual séances. Various cases have come under the personal observation of the writer, especially at a house in Devonshire where he stayed, and where such occurrences were so common that little notice was taken of them. Still more mysterious manifestations used to occur at the house in question, of which the following may serve as an example.

Our host had a small room on the first-floor which he used as a private office. Sitting at his desk, with the door open, he commanded a full view of the staircase, being able to see downstairs to the hall, and up the next flight to the next floor above. One night, long after the household had retired to rest, he was seated in his office busily engaged in correspondence, when he heard footsteps in the hall below. He was naturally startled, and wondered who could be about. The steps crossed the hall and began to ascend the stairs. As the office door was standing wide open, he did not rise, but simply turned in his chair, and watched to see who was approaching. It should be noted that the gas on the staircase was alight, and that he had an uninterrupted view.

The footsteps came nearer and nearer, until they reached his door, passed it, and then proceeded up the next flight of stairs, and along the corridor overhead, when they ceased. He stared with straining eyes as the footsteps passed, and saw absolutely nothing. No sooner had the steps overhead ceased, than he sprang to his feet and ran upstairs after them. Nothing was to be seen, and he went the round of the whole house, entering each bedroom, and found every person sound asleep. It may be added that our host was not at all a man of vivid imagination, and that until he went to live in the house in question, he was an utter unbeliever in occult manifestations.

Many of the strangest phenomena of this character have been recorded in connection with deaths, the form of the dying person having been seen or his voice heard by friends at a distance, at the moment of his departure from the body. A strange case of this character occurred quite recently in the metropolis.

A priest who was greatly beloved lay dangerously ill, and had been unconscious for many days. A few doors off lived one of his most intimate friends, who was greatly distressed at the grave report of the doctors. One night he retired to rest at the usual time, and slept soundly; but about half-past three in the morning he suddenly started from sleep and sprang up in alarm, impressed with a sense that the priest needed his help. In a state of great perturbation he said the prayers for the dying, and, becoming calmer after awhile, he lay down and slept again. When he rose, some hours later, he learnt that his friend had passed away at the very moment he was so suddenly aroused from sleep.

The priest in question had been a frequent visitor at his friend's house, and had always occupied a certain chair in a corner of the study - a chair which was not very often used by anyone else. Since his death, when all has been quiet in the evening, a shadowy form has been seen several times occupying the chair just as he used to during his lifetime.

A few years ago, two men were sitting in a room in Kilburn, about eleven o'clock one evening. One was a doctor, and the other was a city man, both of them exceptionally level-headed and sober-minded individuals. They were sitting beside the fire chatting about various subjects before retiring to rest, when both simultaneously saw a face look in at the window. His appearance was such that they rushed out of the room in the utmost alarm. The master of the house ran in, and, being a man of action, immediately threw open the window and thrust his head out; but nothing was to be seen. Now the window in question was on the first floor, and looked out over a large garden. There was a sheer drop of about twenty feet from the window to the ground. There was no ladder, stack-pipe, trellis, or other means by which anyone could climb up to the window, nor was anyone found about the premises. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for anyone in the flesh to have looked in; and the appearance of the face, which both saw distinctly, remains a mystery to this day. Can you explain it?

An apparition of a far more shocking character took place some years ago in a country church. A well-known London clergyman, a personal friend of the present writer, and now rector of an important parish in South Africa, was conducting a mission. The mission services, which were largely attended, were held in the evenings, the usual Evensong being said in the afternoons, when few save the clergy were able to attend.

One afternoon the missioner was the only clergyman available for this service, and himself took the keys and opened the church for the purpose. It so happened that the congregation consisted of one person only, the wife of the vicar. The clergyman said the office, and at its close proceeded to the vestry, where he removed his surplice, and then came down the church to lock up. He noticed that the lady was still kneeling in her place, and, after a considerable time, he shook the keys by way of a gentle hint that he was waiting. She then rose and passed out of the church without speaking to him, but he saw that she looked greatly distressed.

On reaching the vicarage she sought an interview with him, and had an extraordinary tale to tell. In the midst of the prayers, she had chanced to look up and had been startled to see the form of a young man leaning against the choir screen immediately behind the clergyman, and watching him intently. The young man was of extraordinary beauty, but his expression was one of the utmost malignity and hatred - quite Mephistophelian, in fact. Greatly alarmed, she covered her face with her hands, but a few moments later looked up again and saw that the apparition was still there. She again closed her eyes, uttering a brief ejaculatory prayer, and on looking up once more, found that the figure had vanished.

It was certain that no one had entered or left the church, for neither the clergyman, who was close by, nor the lady had heard anything, nor was it possible for anyone to have left the church in the moment during which the lady's eyes were closed the second time. The only conclusion the clergyman could come to was that the apparition was a malignant device of the arch enemy of souls.

It is as true now as ever that there are many things, both in this world and in the mysterious spirit world that seems to surround us, which as yet are hardly dreamt of in our philosophy.

No comments:

Post a Comment