Timeless Tuesday – October 2014

Tuesday October 28, 2014





Before I actually read this article I was fully prepared to makes jokes about the “dead letter office”, but now that I HAVE read it, I just can’t.  Lots of ghost stories are sad, and I don’t know if it is just the way this one is written, but it just breaks my heart.



Chicago Tribune edition 10/14/1906


ARONSON’S ghost has reappeared.

Clerks, mail carriers, distributors, window men, and especially the men at the general delivery windows of the Chicago postoffice, are excited over the reappearance of the ghost which for many years was supposed to have been laid forever.

The ghost of the Swede which for nearly ten years is alleged to have haunted the general delivery window in the old postoffice building, and which disappeared after the old structure was torn down, ahs reappeared in the new and magnificent pile which arose on the site of the old ruin.

Aronson, or Aronson’s ghost, still is looking for its letter – the letter which never has arrived. Twice recently, according to the statements of the clerks and other employees of the postoffice, the ghost has been seen, just before closing time, in the corridor of the new federal building, cringing and apologetic, humbly and hopefully approaching the general delivery window, and then turning, disappointed and dejected, away from the window, to disappear in the shadows of the corridor.

Swede First Appeared in Old Postoffice

ct10141906crop2There is a story connected with the ghost of Aronson which the older men in the office know, especially the men who worked in the old ruin that stood in the square bounded by Clark and Dearborn, Adams and Jackson boulevard. The older employes knew Aronson and Aronson’s ghost well, and they believe he still is looking for his letter.

It was in 1891 that Nels Aronson first began appearing at the general delivery window at the postoffice. He was slight and blond, and his English was bad. Every evening just before closing time, he slipped into the old west corridor of the postoffice, sidled apologetically up to the window, and in broken English asked for a letter for Nels Aronson. Each time he came his dull, heavy face was lighted with the light of hope, and each time that he went away it fell back to dull disappointement and hopelessness.

In time the clerks at the window began to know him and to reach for the “Ar” box as soon as he hove in sight. But somehow Aronson never became a joke with them. There was too much tragedy in his humble query at the window, and the droop of his shoulders was too pitiful for jest. The clerks, without knowing, the trouble, realized that behind his daily gleam of hope and his sudden collapse into utter hopelessness lay nothing for any jest.

Letter That He Longed for Never Came

One say some one told him to try the dead letter office. Perhaps the letter had been misdirected and gone there. For days he went from the general delivery window upstairs, and after making inquiries sent off laboriously written letters to Washington. The only letters he ever received from the general delivery window were officially stamped missives from Washington, and when he had pondered over them laboriously the glow of hope died from his face and he shambled out.

It was in January, 1894, according to Clerk Washbourne, who then had charge of the window, that Aronson ‘ceased to appear at the window. The clerks had noticed that he was shabble and more scantily clad than ever, and that he coughed and coughed when asking if his letter had come yet. They watched him, bent and coughing, with his faded blue coat buttoned tightly across his narrow chest, and felt sorry.

It was at that time that Clerk George Miller heard his story.  He met Aronson in the corridor and took him out to get a drink. Warmed by the drink and encouraged by the kindly treatment the man in simple, broken English told his story.

He had been born in Noorkoping, and there he had loved the most beautiful girl in the world. Her hair was bright, like moonshine, and her eyes were blue, her cheeks like pink roses. Se he had come to America to make his fortune, and when he sent money she was to come and be his wife. A year after he reached Chicago he had sent the money – and she had not come. Daily he expected to receive a letter telling him that she had started – It was for that letter that he haunted the general delivery window.

Aronson Disappeared for Two Months

Only a few weeks after Miller heard the story Aronson ceased to come to ask for his letter.

“Old Aronson must have given up hope,” remarked the clerks.

That was in January. For nearly two months there was no sign of the “patient Swede,” and he was forgotten when one afternoon about 5 o’clock Clerk Nels Jansen was at the window gazing out into the corridor. The evening was cold and dark, and fog had settled over the city. He was looking straight out into the corridor when suddenly there appeared the slouching, apologetic figure of Nels Aronson. Mechanically Jansen reached for the “Ar” box and ran through the letters there, then turned, half pityingly to say, “Nothing for you today.”

The figure approached to within five feet of the window, gave a long beseeching look, and, with a half whine, disappeared, leaving Jansen shivering with cold and fright.

Jansen’s story of seeing the ghost of Aronson aroused a roar of laughter, but less than a week later Ed Fender, a sub clerk, saw it in the same way.

After that the ghost of Nels Aronson became a fixture in the old postoffice. At least four men in the general delivery department vowed that they saw Aronson’s ghost appear out of the dimness of the corridor just before closing time, approach the window, and when within a few feet of the window, whine and disappear. Their fellows tried to laugh them out of it, but the postoffice ghost became a fixture.

Once a janitor fled in wild terror from the third floor of the old building, declaring he had met the ghost walking over the loose and noisy flags of the corridor, whining and seemingly looking for something.

The clerks at general delivery got so that they took the ghost almost as a matter of course. Some of the declared it was no ghost at all, but the man himself, slinking into the dimly lighted corridor, too hopeless and too heartsick to approach the window and ask for his mail.

Once, Dan McBeth, looking up suddenly from his work, says he saw the face of Aronson at the window, peering at him with haunted, piteous eyes. A low wail came through the window, a wail that made McBeth shiver in spite of himself. He rallied and called out loudly” “hello, Aronson, come for your letter?”

At the sound, McBeth says, the ghost disappeared as if in thin air, and a sob filled the whole corridor.

“I may have imagined it,” says McBeth. “It may not have been a ghost at all, but when I got a chance to transfer from the window, I transferred real quick. I didn’t want to see Aronson again. I used to wake up at night and see that pitiful face, and lie awake for hours.”

When the old postoffice was torn down and the postoffice was established in the temporary building on the lake front there was much jesting among the clerks as to whether or not Aronson’s ghost would find the place and hunt for his letter there.

Wondered Whether He Would Reappear

For years, while the new federal building was being completed, there was no sigh. New clerks came, new men manned the general delivery windows, and Aronson’s ghost almost was forgotten. A few of the old timers remembered and sometimes told the story, but it seemed as if the ghostly Swede at last had abandoned hope that his sweetheart in Sweden would write to him and tell him she was coming to be his wife and help him build his fortune in the new land.

Then, when the long delays were over and the department was moved into its magnificent, if badly arranged, quarters, Aronson was forgotten.

Seen by an Old Acquaintance

Since then only one other person claims to have seen the visitant. That man is George Miller, who knew Aronson of old. He declares he saw Aronson’s ghost loitering near a pillar, gazing piteously towards the general delivery window.

“I hadn’t thought of Aronson or his ghost for four years anyhow,” said Miller later. “I was standing at the window, relieving one of the fellows who had gone out to telephone. It was getting dark in the corridor – and there were shadows along behind the pillars. A few persons, dripping with the rain, were passing through.

“Suddenly my flesh began to creep, and, looking up, I saw Aronson – just as I saw him five years ago. He seemed to be coughing, but I could not hear any cough. I was afraid he would come to the window. I gave a look at the box to see if the letter he expected really had arrived. That was my first thought – that the letter had come and he had returned to claim it. There was no letter – and when I looked out the window again Aronson, or his ghost, was gone.”

So the postoffice emplyes are excited, and they believe that Aronson has come back to look for his letter, and they watch for his ghost every dull, rainy afternoon.

chicgo post office

Tuesday October 21, 2014

Do Ghosts of Unhappy Victims of the Tower of London Return to Sinister Room Where They Last Breathed?


I think this week’s article is missing something!! I want to know if the happy victims of the Tower of London return…don’t you?


San Francisco Chronicle edition 12/03/1922


Hitherto Hidden Chamber Opened to Public, Is Declared Spook Rendezvous

Many Apparitions Have Been Seen About Famous Old Prison, According to Story; Famous Figures in History Recalled in Its Legends




LONDON, Dec. 1. – This year’s late American visitors to London, who love a thrill and all come next year will be able to go into a haunted room wherein the ghostly occupant is of – shall I say royal blood or royal vapor? And in England’s most famous prison, too. Revelations have been made this week.

In the Tower of London many ghosts ought to abide if ghosts are anywhere, for the grim old building on the side of the Thames was the scene of many tragedies in the old days and was (according to popular, but unofficial report) the scene of the death of many a German spy during the late war.

That corner of the ancient fortress which is reputed to house the most dramatic and fascinating of the ghosts is called “Martin tower.”

It is perhaps the strongest portion of the great, thick-walled pile, and this quality for a long time was recognized by the fact that the crown jewels of the English royal family were kept there. But fifty-five years ago they were removed to another part of the queer old building’s vast interior and encased in a strange, large, glass-sided show casket which will disappear into solid masonry also if one of the numerous constant watchers becomes suspicious of a visitor and puts his hand upon a button.

After the crown jewels had been removed Martin tower became the residence of the principal keeper of the tower of London, and the fact that half a dozen men holding that position have since lived and reared their families in it without super natural disturbance has not at all upset the general belief in the fact that it is the abode of a strangely grewsome apparition, not less terrifying because it never has taken human form, according to the tales.

The story of the ghost which is best known was told by a man who certainly believed what he set down in an affidavit and swore to. And he should have been well informed, for he was keeper of the crown jewels from 1812 to 1842 was almost constantly in Martin’s tower and was himself a victim of the apparition.


His tale, transformed into modern language, is as follows:

“On a Sunday night in October, 1817, I was sitting at supper with my wife in the little old room of Martin’s tower. Absolutely nothing in the way of illness affected either of us and we had not been discussing grewsome or unusual things.

“The doors leading from the room were all closed and the blinds were drawn at every window. We had for illumination only the light from the two candles which stood on our table.

“Suddenly, to my great amazement, my wife cried out in terror and I saw her looking into the air before her. I followed her gaze with my eyes and saw a pale figure, like a glass tube filled with a dense white and blue fluid, hovering just above the table at which we sat.

“Speechless with horror we watched this strange thing for a moment and then I saw it move toward my wife. In a second more she screamed:

“’Oh, heavens! It has seized me!”

“Thereupon I rose from the chair in which I had been sitting as if petrified, seized it and struck at the strange thing above the table. The legs of my chair seemed to pass through it without disturbing it in the least; but presently it moved from its place above the table and seemed to merge itself into the shadow at one side of the room.”

He was then busied with the task of reviving his wife, who had fainted, and when he had an opportunity to make a search for the cause of the strange phenomenon could fine none.

The keeper said little of the episode for a short time, fearing that if he told of it he might lose his appointment, but the story came but a short time later when a sentry, just outside Martin Tower lunged at something grey and shapeless which seemed to him to come out of the old building, and then fell in a faint.


He was picked up unconscious immediately afterward and was court-martialed, on what charges does not appear in the old records. He was saved from punishment by officers, who, looking through a window into the courtyard where the episode had occurred, testified that they had heard him challenge and then had seen him make a lunge with his bayonet at something. Immediately afterward he fell to the ground.

This is the best authenticated of the thousands of ghosts stories that hang about the Tower of London.

In no less than six of the hundreds of rooms weeping is said to be heard by the plucky person who approaches their closed doors at night and listens.

Heaven knows, there has been weeping enough in most of them for all at one time or another have been the prison cells of prisoners of note waiting to be killed. Every room in the whole tower has such a tragic history.

In certain corridors at certain hours wayfarers to this day will swear that they have heard a rustling pass them, as if a woman dressed in heavy silks went by.

An officer of the guard saw a light one night in a window of the Norman Chapel where no light should have been at that hour and climbing to the window to look in saw “something horrible and unbelievable.” What it was is not recorded in the archives of the tower, which was rather mean of the historians. At any rate the officer fell fainting from his ladder.


Tower Green, the grass plot in the great inclosure, has two ghosts. One is that of a woman who walks across it clad in filmy white during the night of every May 19. The other is the shadow of an executioner’s ax, which falls upon it on bright days at certain intervals, not regular, but apparently having some connection with the health of members of the British royal family. Many living witnesses can be found about the tower today who will swear that they have seen this shadow of an ax.

One ghastly tale is told about a workman’s terrible experience in one of the innumberable bricked-up underground vaults, which have been found below the building.

It is well to state that not all of these probably are known even today, for every now and then now ones are discovered when repairs require the tearing down of some apparently solid foundations, believed to be built against the solid earth without.

While the Underground Railway was being built a secret chain of such vaults was found to extend to extraordinary distance underground, going far beyond the walls of the Tower itself and its inclosed grounds.

But to return to the workman in that particular subterranean vault.

He was busily engaged in his prosaic labor of tearing down a wall when some brick work fell out on him and he saw within an empty space – no, not empty, for out of it sprang gibbering things which rattled bones and clanked chains as they sped past him as if in their escape.

He, too, fainted, and a short time afterward lost his reason. In the walled-up inclosure which he had opened were skeletons of two men and a woman, with manacles still locked about the bones of their wrists and ankles and others which had been fastened about their waists.

Nothing in the records of the tower indicate who these prisoners whose ghosts escaped (doubtless) as the walls came down could have been in life.

The keepers of the tower (known as beefeaters and garbed today in their picturesque mediaeval costumes) say that they never have had so many visitors to deal with at the tower as they have had this season, and that a very large proportion of them have been Americans.

They say that all these americans seem to have read up especially on the grewsome points of the aged building’s history before they come.

Local Man Is Delver in Ghost Land

The strange store of the ghosts of the Tower of London recalls recent mystifying experiences of Dr. C.E. Nixon of San Francisco, who invented and built ‘Isis,’ the strange “thinking figure,” and who has succeeded in registering certain though impressions through a delicate detector, which proves them in the nature of electrical vibrations akin to the radio wave.

Dr. Nixon believes that the physical phenomena of thought generates minute electrical or other waves which are given off into the ether and probably remain active for years. These waves, hovering about the Tower of London may be the cause, in delicate and receptive minds, of the strange spirit manifestations there.

A Queer instrument invented by Dr. Nixon performs seeming miracles in thought detection, which he explains, however, as being purely physical and scientific. He recently performed his experiments before the Society of American Magicians, of which he is an active member. Although he does not deny the existence of spirits after death, Dr. Nixon has never found a spiritual manifestation that he has nor repeated by scientific means apart from the occult.



Tuesday October 14, 2014



Stories like this always make me thing of two things: “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest” and “Why’s the rum gone?” The last one is of course the ruination of my pirate fantasies by certain movies. I was much happier when my “pirate” visions were a swashbuckling Errol Flynn


The Chicago Tribune edition 6/16/1901

Ghosts of the Sea

LANDSMEN boast of their haunted houses and the weird spirits that dance in country graveyards at midnight. But there’s not a house, no matter how black and dismal and how far back from the public road it may be sitting, nor how many murders may have been committed within its walls years ago, that can compare in supernatural terrors with the haunted ships with their crews of dead men that haunt the trackless waves of the ocean. And there’s not a ghost on land, no matter how many graveyards he may prowl around, nor how many old mansions he may rattle chains in and groan and disport himself, that can hold up his head for one minute in the presence of one of the gristley, grinning, matted, dank ghosts that ships as A.B. on a ghost ship.

There is an air of vagueness and unreality anyhow about the ocean that makes it naturally a more fit abiding place for ghosts than the prosaic shore. The great trackless, unfathomed, mysterious deep, with its centuries of nameless horrors still locked firmly in its silent bosom, is the proper place for ghosts. And so it is no wonder that they who go down to the sea in ships believe as firmly in spirits and spirit ships and roving hulks with crews of men dead centuries agone as they believe in their own existence.

The sailor man doesn’t like to tell of the things he has seen during the watches of the dead of night, but win his confidence and furnish him with a plug of tobacco and let him sit on a coil of rope “up for’ards” in the mystic twilight hours and he will spin tales of ghosts and dead men and skeletons and phantom ships that will send you down below expecting every moment to see Davy Jones himself coming over the side.

Even the officers on board ships at sea have enough of the sailorman’s superstition to tell you if they think you will not laugh at them, some unexplainable things they have seen during their voyaging. They won’t say it was a ghost, and they won’t say it wasn’t. “But there that thing stood, sir, as near as I am to you, and without a word it bounded up the rigging and lay right out on the yardarm and furled that sail as neatly as you pleased, and there wasn’t any man on the ship could have done it with all that wind and the ship rolling like it was going to turn over every minute. And after that, sir, the ghost or whatever else you please to call it, climbed right up to the peak of the foremast and stood there waving its hand, and then it gave a jump and went right overboard, and then I saw a white boat pick it up and sail away with it. Now you don’t need to believe this unless you want to. Only it happens to be so, for I saw it with my own eyes.”

One of the spectral ships best known to landsmen generally is the Flying Dutchman, with which Captain Marryat made his readers acquainted. The Flying Dutchman was trying to round the Horn some time in the early part of the seventeenth century. The ship was repeatedly driven back by contrary wind and tides until the ship’s Captain, Vanderdecken, swore a fearful oath he would round if it took til judgment day. Vanderdecken was taken at his word, and now for three centuries he and his worn crew have been battling to round the cape. Sailors watch with fear and trembling when their ships are rounding the Horn, afraid that every moment may bring into view the spectral Flying Dutchman. It is believed that every appearance of the Flying Dutchman will be followed by death or misfortune to some of the crew of the ship that sees the ghost vessel.

In the private journal of the late Duke Clarence and his brother, the present Duke of Cornwall and York, during their cruise on the Bacchante in 1879-1882 an account is given of their experience with the Flying Dutchman, which they fell in with near Syndey. The Duke wrote:

“July 11, 1881, at 4 a.m., the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light, as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midges of which light the masts, spars, and sails of the brig, 200 yards distant, stood out in bold relief. As it came up the lookout man on the forecastle reported it as close on the port bow. The night being clear and the sea calm, thirteen persons altogether saw it, but whether it was Van Diemen or the Flying Dutchman or who else must remain unknown. The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, which were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red lights. At a quarter to 11 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman, fell from the foretopmast crosstrees and was smashed to atoms. . . . At the next port we came to the Admiral alse was smitten down.”

Off the stern, rock-bound coast of new England is not infrequently seen the ghost of the ship Palatine, whose appearance scudding in the teeth of a gale is always supposed to betoken disaster.

ct06161901crop02The Palatine was a Dutch trading vessel that was wrecked on Block Island in 1752. The wreckers, who by means of false beacons along the shore had lured the ship to its doom, made short work of the vessel. They stripped the ship of everything movable and then set fire to the hull to conceal the traces of their work. As the boat lifted up by the tide floated away down the channel a piercing scream was suddenly heard from the cabin and a woman clad in white, but wreathed around in red flames, was seen standing in front of the mainmast. She had been a passenger on the ship and had hidden below to escape the wreckers. She burned to death in sight of the people along the shore, and since that time the ghost of the Palatine with the figure of a woman in white standing in front of the mainmast has been seen hundreds of times by sailors cruising in those waters.

The Dead Ship of Salem is well known off the Massachusetts shore. Just 200 years ago the ship was ready to sail to England, when two mysterious people, whom none in the village had ever seen before, came hurriedly aboard and secured passage. They were a young man and woman of strange but forbidding beauty. The ship was detained so long by adverse winds that the townspeople began to suspect witchcraft and prophesied disaster. But the skipper jeered at their fears, and when the wind changed put out to sea on Friday morning.

No word or sign of that ship or its living freight was ever seen or heard again. But later that same year incoming vessels reported having met a craft with shining hull and luminous spars and sails spinning along with every cloth drawing in the teeth of one of the wildest gales. A crew of skeletons manned the ship, while on the quarterdeck stood arm in arm a handsome pair, a young man and a woman.

Down deep in solitude of the lonely everglades the sailors say is a ghostly pirate ship doomed to forever cruise about in the muddy bogs and shallow grass-grown lakes of the great swamp.

Three centuries ago a buccaneering crew that raided the Spanish main captured a merchant brig off Cape Florida and speedily rifled it of its rich cargo. Furious at the length of the chase and the brave resistance of the gallant crew of the merchantman the pirate Captain cruelly forced every one of the crew to walk the plank, with fiendish ingenuity keeping the skipper’s wife to watch their fate and that of her brave husband.

She, mad with fear and rage, fell on her knees and, raising her hands above her head, called won the judgment of heaven on the murderers. At that moment a curling line of foam came sweeping down over the calm expanse and, lifting both vessels in its embrace, carried them away.

On, on, the tidal wave bore the pirate ship on its snowy crest. Across the sandy shallows, high over the beach, above the tallest trees for miles the great wave carried the pirate until it finally set it down in the center of the great pittiliess solitude, where the pirates all soon died of fever and starvation.

Now the Indians and hunters in the Everglades tell of seeing the pirate ship with rotting masts and hull and with skeletons manning the threadbare sails – trying to find a channel out of the sawgrass pools into the deep blue waters of the sea.


Tuesday October 7, 2014



Oh to have a time machine and go back to experience the birth of spiritualism and be able to compare it to today. You have to wonder what the “pale shades” think considering in some ways spiritualism and science have not advanced one foot in over 100 years. But, in a light-hearted vein, you have to just love an article that uses the phrase “phantasmal” so freely.


Washington Post edition 03/03/1912


Present Status of the Ghost


(Harper’s Weekly)

THE interval between the time when the ghost was referred to in whispers as a “pale shade,” and that when it is coolly indexed as a “telepathic hallucination” has been prolonged and perilous. Nothing could have seemed more likely than that a being of such notoriously fragile tissue should have failed altogether to survive its various ordeals of neglect, skepticism, and, finally, determined investigation. For those, therefore, who have had, throughout, the courage of their credulity, there is profound satisfaction in the permanent scientific footing upon which the ghost may now be regarded as having placed itself.

When ghosts were in their heyday, mortal beings did their part in supplying suitable accessories.  Isolated chambers and unlighted, draughty corridors were the accustomed setting. But such unambiguous additions to interior furnishing as electric lights and steam heat, beyond being a menace to apparitions in general, did away, one cannot but believe, with certain of the more sensitive and timid wraiths.  The tendency in this country to tear down old dwellings and to remodel others, the craze for light and air and sanitation, must have been extremely prejudicial. The superficial enthusiasm for “science” involved a passionate, if ignorant, hostility to the unexplained. Indeed, there came a period when, because of these many discouraging influences, the ghost was probably in lower repute than at any time during the history of the world. Moreover, the widespread vogue of spiritualism, both in this country and in England, had vulgarized the subject, inasmuch as the induced or manufactured ghost has never had the enthralling attributes of the spontaneous phenomenon, and belongs, of course, in an entirely different category. Specters were, therefore, taboo in general conversation; and although the practice of “telling ghost stories” was still occasionally followed, these were always tagged with some unimaginative materialistic explanation, involving the blowing of a curtain or the rattling of a shutter.

Those who really knew can scarcely have been affected by the prevailing skepticism, but they had their reputations for sanity to maintain and kept silent. Meanwhile, story-writers, faithfully reflecting the sentiment of their period, forebore mention of the phantasmal, or, where they failed to, publishers rigidly excluded material that they classed as obsolete.

But at that very moment the rehabilitation of the ghost was under way. The Society for Psychical Research in England had already begun its investigations, the fruit of which was to take shape as some of the most remarkable literature in the language; literature which now stands readily accessible to the perversely uninformed. Because of the personal distinction of this early group of ghost-hunters, which included, as everybody knows, Prof. Sidgwick, Mr. Edmund Gurney, and the brilliant Mr. Frederic Myers, the subject to which they devoted their intelligence and energy ceased after a time to be considered something too vulgar and puerile for mention. With noiseless but unchallenged steps the ghost emerged from its soiling and obscuring influences, passed from discredited shadow into something that was almost substance, became authentic and respectable. Ghosts from every quarter of the United Kingdom, indeed from all over the world, found their way into excellently attested print. The loose, picturesque phrases of folklore gave way to a newly contrived scientific phraseology of a curiously fascinating character. Family and local specters took on a fresh importance. The private cult of the ghost because almost a fashion and led in turn to such associated pastimes as crystal gazing and experiments in thought transference; and even the much ridiculed phenomenon of “table-tipping” was again seriously countenanced.

But unfortunately for the continued prominence of the ghost, pure and simple, the rapidly accumulating evidence, not alone of apparitions, but of telepathic phenomena of carious sorts, proved to be, in a sense, too convincing. To certain of the leaders in research, notably including Mr. Myers, communication between the dead became a matter of such absorbing moment that uncommunicative, spectacular wraiths were very much subordinated. With proofs of human immortality within reach, as Mr. Myers and Mr. Gurney believed, the merely curious and mystifying was properly negligible. Interested followers of the movement must sincerely lament this fact, not only because the study of the ghost itself fell into abeyance at a critical point, but also because of the rather pitiful result at the present day. In England, the inheritors of the movement devote themselves to securing “cross-correspondence” with mediums through whose automatic writing the supposed spirit of Mr. Myers tries to prove its identity. While in this country an intelligence allegedly belonging to the late Dr. Richard Hodgson acts as the unreliable and evasive “control” of the overworked Mrs. Piper, and the American branch of the S.P.R. is chiefly occupied with the far from dispassionate researches of the now fervent spiritist, Prof. Hyslop.

Yet it may not be wholly a matter for regret that the ghost has escaped an exhaustive analysis, that its chemical formula is still unknown. We feel it right that a certain degree of enveloping mystery should be permanently conceded to the phantasmal; and even while we pursue them, we secretly hope that those pale, chilly, fleeing figures may never surrender their precious impalpabilities. We are at least deluded by no superstition, for the fact that there are ghosts – whatever be their insubstantial essence – seems as well established as the intangible can ever be. Indeed, as Prof. William James has said, “those for whom the volumes of the S.P.R. proceedings already published count for nothing would remain in their dogmatic slumber though one rose from the dead.”

One would suppose that absolute skepticism would be difficult to maintain after reading the two richly packed volumes of “Phantasm of the Living,” and that to one familiar with Mr. Myers’s wonderful and enthralling work on “Human Personality,” such an attitude would be impossible. The fact has to be faced that the literary imagination, valiantly as it has set itself to the task, has never produced ghosts that, as compelling dramatic figures, rank with certain of those assembled in these books under the guise of statistics.

It must be taken for granted that ghosts are permanent and ineradicable phenomenon; that they have always been seen and always will be, though possibly never again with the uncontrollable terror that their pallid masks and cryptic pantomime have formerly aroused. But if they still do manifest themselves, persistent and insatiable of life, who is it, after all – the very young or the very ignorant may ask – that sees them? Well, it may be yourself, when the inevitable moment comes. In any event, it is certain to be someone within your familiar knowledge. To put it very loosely, every family group has had a phantasmal encounter. Your neighbor may boast of the emptiness of his own experience, but if you press him he is sure to admit that his grandmother or his uncles’ wife has a strange whispered knowledge of apparitions. The S.P.R. found that 78 percent of Englishmen and 12 percent of Englishwomen had hallucinations, and this has since been regarded as an underestimate. It would be profoundly interesting to possess corresponding statistics regarding our own countrymen; to discover whether the ghost-seeing average is a constant quantity, and whether the more favorable conditions (of tradition, setting, and so on) that England undoubtedly affords is balanced in our own case by, perhaps, a keener psychic sensitiveness, or some such circumstance.

The idea, however, that the seeing of ghosts in general depends upon some unusual characteristic or condition in the seer is, of course, a fallacy. Nothing could be more inaccurate that to confound the inconsequential specter with the vision of the mystic; seeing a ghost by no means implies a condition of ecstasy. It has often been taken for granted by the uninformed that if not actually the hysteric, it is at least the highly organized person, or the excessively eager ghost-fancier who sees ghosts. On the contrary, the patient keeper of expectant vigils is rarely rewarded by as much as the teasing flutter of a ghostly garment. And if the thing is governed by any law, it is that ghosts appear by preference to persons of sound health and unimaginative temper who do not anticipate their experience. In an authentic story that stands on record, the apparition was seen by a nurse, a stolid literal-minded young woman, professionally inured to death-beds. As her patient, a lady’s maid (and a complete stranger to her) lay dying, there entered the room a ghostly figure of interesting definiteness; that of “a short, dark woman, wearing an apron with a hole in it, and carrying a brass candlestick.” Though there was no resemblance, the nurse was convinced that the apparition was that of a patient’s mother, and when a few days later, the mother did some in the flesh to her dead daughter’s funeral, the correspondence proved to be exact; even the apron and the candlestick being identified as articles of constant use by her. This, of course, was not a ghost in the usual sense, but a “phantasm of the living,” but the closeness with which it was verified makes it a serviceable text.

Nor may it be said that it is simple, untrained, easily deluded folk who bring record of ghostly experience, as is shown in the celebrated case reported by “Miss Morton,” a case in which the chief percipient was surely almost as remarkable as the apparition. The ghost in this case, which was that of a woman “dressed in widow’s weeds and carrying pressed to her face a handkerchief held in her right land.” Was seen in all by 20 persons, by some of them several times over – an amazing case of “collective percipience.” “Miss Morton,” a highly intelligent and incredibly self-possessed young Englishwoman, who oftenest saw the figure, set herself to obtaining proofs of its immateriality. She lightly fastened threads with glue across the staircase, and saw the figure pass through them. She watched it appear and disappear in a room with locked doors. She even deliberately “cornered” it, while begging it to speak; but the silent phantasm, after the immemorial manner of its kind, even then successfully evaded contact. If all phantoms had had as competent observers, the spectral tribe would be as unquestioned a fact as cabbages.

What, then, beyond being a dramatic and highly decorative feature of life, is found that a ghost really is?   Unquestionably the long-prevailing notion must be denuded of its most familiar characteristics. It is sufficiently established that the ghost is not a “supernatural visitant,” a messenger from “beyond the grave.” It does not come, for instance, as fiction has repeatedly represented it, to indicate buried treasure. It does not issue warning or foretell disaster. Neither does it hope to do penance; or to exact vengeance.  “The authentic ghost brings no message from the dead to the living.” Says the dispassionate and dependable Mr. Podmore, a statement that of course is not intended to apply to the enormously large class of “telepathic hallucinations” that announce death and form a class by themselves.

As near as its baffling nature may be understood, the ghost appears to be a visual echo, a psychic shell, an attenuated astral self, a reflection, in too sensitive either, of a life vividly lived or agitatedly relinquished; or an undeliberate strayer-in, it may be, from the looser confines of extra dimensional space. It is probably that Mr. Myers put it almost too strongly when he said that the ghost was a “manifestation of persistent personal energy. “ It seems more likely to be as he alternately suggests, a “verdical after-image.” Despite the awe that it has inspired from earliest time, it is evident that there is no need to fear it. It is as devoid of evil as of good; as innocent of purpose as of intelligence. It is useless to ask a ghost its errand. No specter has ever answered that stammered question. Nor is it wise to suppose it moved by the emotions of which we feel the constant urge. The heart of a ghost is as shadowy a matter as the unsubstantial fabric of its cloak.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *