The Ghosts that haunt us, or do they?
By Ismail Veli…….
Stories of ghosts and haunted places are almost as old as humanity itself. Not being superstitious I often look at these stories with a sense of humour and almost find it incredible that humans believe such things. But there are many who claim to have seen ghosts and it’s not very polite to ridicule peoples beliefs. As a shop owner I meet people from all walks of life, as a result I hear some really strange stories. I have recently spoken to people who swear to have experienced strange or ghostly things. One in particular cannot be described as a typical religious or strange individual. Their description of their experience was so vivid that I started to think about why or how people in a professional career and very intelligent can actually believe such things exist.
Being as sceptical as ever does not mean I don’t enjoy a good ghost story or film. I began to look into this subject just for fun. It’s amazing how these ghost stories are actually believed by people in nearly every part of the globe, therefore I would like to share some of these beliefs and stories from the UK, USA and Australia. The geography may be different but some are truly eerie and almost incredible. The unbelievers like myself can scoff all we like but the coincidences are sometimes recorded as factual which leaves me scratching my head.
The theory of ghost believers is that the spirits of the people are restless as they have not had a burial. Hence the reason why most of the ghosts are those of people who have been murdered and are unable to join the spirit world. Once the remains of these unfortunate people are found they are given a decent burial and thereafter the ghostly apparitions stop as their spirit is finally at ease.
This belief is not unique to any particular country or religion but is global. Admittedly some cultures, in particular Europeans, were pretty awash with ghostly beliefs, which seemed to have been transferred to North America with the religious groups that settled on the East coast of the USA, New England in particular. Some strange stories of loved ones having apparitions at the very moment that something dreadful happened to their loved ones is another strange part of the human psyche. For example on June 22 1893 while Vice-Admiral Tryon’s flagship HMS Victoria sank. It was later learned that his wife saw this tragedy at the moment it occurred, which was in the afternoon.
A most strange case was that of Lord Dufferin who was staying at a country house in the 1880’s. He woke up one night looked out the window and saw a man carrying a coffin on his back. He ran out and asked the man what he was doing in his garden. The mysterious man raised his head stared at Lord Dufferin and suddenly disappeared. Ten years later when the Lord was the British Ambassador to France he attended a reception with his family at the Grand Hotel in Paris. Dufferin was about to enter a lift when he became startled as he recognized the lift operator as the man he had seen ten years earlier. He froze with shock and refused to enter the lift. Within moments the lift crashed to the bottom killing all its passengers. The reason for the crash could not be found but Lord Dufferin believed his life was saved by what he believed was a ghost. As Lord Dufferin was no ordinary village peasant (he actually served as a Viceroy of India) his story was taken seriously………
One particular notoriously haunted house in the UK is the ghost of Borley village. Borley is about 65 miles to the north east of London. In 1863 a rectory was built on the site of an old parsonage and by the time it burned down in 1939 there were 200 recordings of ghost sightings. A Phantom nun being the most seen. In addition a phantom coach and horses were seen racing along the drive. Bells rang when no one was around and a Reverend named Henry Bull went as far as to build a summer house facing the Nun’s Walk so as to observe the alleged ghosts. Some who claim to have seen her peering through the window became terrified.
In 1937 a ghost expert named Harry Price decided to investigate and rented the rectory for a whole year. He organised a team of 48 observers and they were shocked at the events that took place. In addition to the nun they also saw many ghostly shapes walking on the lawn or passing through walls. In 1939 a devastating fire took place and people swore they saw ghostly figures observing the fire. Harry Price returned to the site of the burned building for further investigations. He began to dig in the cellar and was amazed to find the jawbone of a young female. Was this the nun? Was she murdered and buried in the cellar? Who knows? Giving the remains a Christian burial Harry Price was convinced that her spirit was finally laid to rest. Since then very few observations of ghosts have been reported at the site. Subsequently the society for Physical Research rejected most of the sightings as fabricated. This clearly cast a doubt on Price’s credibility. The fascination and debate on the ghosts of Borley village however did not subside.
The BBC organised to broadcast a documentary on the subject in 1956 but had to cancel it due to the threat of legal action by Marianne Foyster who was the widow of the last rector of the house. Perhaps she was concerned that doubt would be cast on the credibility of her late husband. The finds of the female jaw bone is of course a mystery. Local folklore added to the mystery by claiming that a nun fell in love with a monk and the pair were planning to elope. They were caught and sentenced to death. The monk was allegedly sent to the gallows while the poor nun was sealed into the nunnery alive. They believed it was this nun that was often seen walking around the rectory looking for her lover. The findings of a female jawbone added to this myth. How eerie is that? Recently the ITV produced a 90 minute film named ”Ghost Hunter” starring Rafe Spall as Harry Price to dramatize this story. It seems that the ghosts of Borley wood are not about to disappear. One of the most strangest and scary apparitions are those of headless ghosts. People who see these become extremely frightened. The explanation is that in the old days when many executions took place by beheading and burying these unfortunate people headless, they then haunted the living while roaming around to find their heads.
It was said that a drummer boy haunted Dover castle. Many people swore that they saw his ghost walking the battlements of the castle. In the late 1700’s a young drummer boy was found dead while some rebuilding was taking place. Nobody knew what had happened to him. Many believed he may have been murdered. Another strange story is that of a cavalryman who was killed during the war for America’s independence. Apparently he still haunts the site of his death and is seen galloping around looking for his head in Greenburgh near the Hudson River.
Some ghost stories are so eerie that even non-believers like myself wonder how and what really happened. A couple in particular were very sad. In 1922 a phantom woman and child were seen pointing at a cave near the sea side in New South Wales. It was decided to check the cave and amazingly the skeletons of a woman and child were found. At the same time some papers were also found which led to the killer being her husband and father of the child. Another story of a headless ghost was allegedly seen walking near a lagoon near Warpsarilla. After consistent sightings it was decided that the matter should be investigated. A gruesome discovery of a murdered woman with her head cut off was found. Were these apparitions real or simply coincidences?? Being skeptical I would assume that the persons who came across these gruesome findings felt strange and simply believed they saw ghosts. It’s not every day one comes across such gruesome findings. But why would they make up the ghosts when their accidental findings would have been sufficient to inform the authorities? These are mysteries which are not easy to answer.
Nearly all ghost apparitions in Australia seem to have been murder victims, but one of the strangest of all was that of Fred Fisher who vanished in 1826. Strange things began to happen at a local hotel. One day a respectable citizen named John Farley walked into the hotel in a complete state of shock. John Farley claimed to have seen a ghost of Fred Fisher on the rail of a bridge. He was pointing to a paddock in the nearby creek and then disappeared. After investigating the matter the body of Fred Fisher was found in the paddock. He was given a Christian burial and the police investigation soon found that Fred had a terrible argument with a local carpenter named George Worrall who was then arrested on suspicion of Fred’s murder. Worrall finally confessed to the murder, but as supernatural stories of ghosts were not permitted in a court of law the original reason for the discovery was not presented. The question is did John Farley have some suspicions about what happened and fearful of the consequences of angering the murderer just made up the story about the ghost which led to the body and finally to the murderer??? Questions that are almost impossible to answer. George Worrall is now buried at a location overlooking Sydney Harbour.
I personally believe that most people who are undergoing extreme stress or feeling of fear often hallucinate or exaggerate sounds around them, they genuinely believe what they feel they have seen, this however does not explain genuine finds of murdered victims. No doubt strange occurrences and hallucinations are to some, real live sightings. Not being a psychologist it’s impossible to fathom what it is that makes people see such apparitions which to them are real live occurrences. The human mind is the most complicated subject I can think of.
To round it up I remember only one time in my life when I woke up shouting, I frightened my wife to no end. It was the late 1970’s and just having bought a house at the tender age of just 22 years old in March 1978, the interest rates soon after jumped to 17%. Finding myself on a three day week I had no option but to find 2 jobs just to make ends meet. With the monthly mortgage so exorbitantly high this put me under immense psychological pressure. All I could think of was that I could lose my home, and my wife and I would be homeless. Knowing that the previous owner Mr Osborne had died in the same house in 1977 was not particularly on my mind, however one night I began to see things. A cat was crawling all over my bed, paralyzed and unable to move I began to shout, my wife ran upstairs and shook me to wake up. I was sweating and terrified. The experience was so terrifying that I have never forgotten it. It seemed so real!
With hindsight I firmly believe the immense stress caused me to hallucinate and believed the event to be real. I never experienced such an apparition again. Could it be that the vast majority of people experience visions and life like hallucinations then actually end up believing them to have been factual? I think they do. Superstition and strong religious beliefs all play their part. I neither believe in ghosts or religion therefore I feel comfortable with my memory that the only apparition I experienced was nothing but a severe bout of stress. Some will no doubt beg to differ.
Some stories of ghosts or rather ”devils” are indeed humorous and deliberately made up to frighten thieves away. One classic example is the name of the famous Chilean wine ”Cassillero Del Diablo.” As the name implies it simply reads ”The cellar of the devil.” A world famous wine, produced by Concha Y Toro. The name ”Cassillero Del Diablo.” originated in the 19th century after the owner Don Melchor discovered that his cellar had been robbed. He decided to spread a story that would scare the peasant Chileans – who were very religious – the story was that his cellar was haunted by devils, and any thieves attempting to raid his cellar would have the devils to reckon with. The name has since become legendary and hardly any wine drinker in the world is not familiar with this exceptionally good wine.
To round it up. Many do believe that ghosts exist, but one funny incident in the winter of 1935 probably goes a long way into how people end up with misunderstood incidents, which to them are totally true but misinterpreted. The 1935 tale which occurred at St Michael’s churchyard in St Albans started when a gravedigger was nearly 6 feet down. Noticing it was getting dark he was wondering what time it was. (not everyone had watches in those days) Hearing footsteps approaching he lifted himself up slightly and stuck his head out of the grave and called out to the passer-by ”Say mate! can you tell me the time?” Having had the shock of seeing a head out the grave in the dusk completely terrified the man. He took to his heels and ran as fast as he could. Going to the local ‘Old Fighting Cocks’ pub that evening, he swore to everyone that the Churchyard was haunted, and explained how he had seen a dead man rise from the grave. Being a small community the story was eventually cleared up.
The question is how many perceived apparitions of ghosts and occurrences are the figment of people’s terrified imagination? That is something we will never know. It is hard to tell thousands who really believe in what they witnessed as simply their imagination or some unexplained mystery caused by nature, and not a spirit or ghost. Or are they?