What beck'ning ghost, along the moonlight shade
Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?
The night is chill. Winter hovers like a phantom, not yet visible but there, its breath pushing leaves against the door. Lights behind draperies across the way look not bright nor inviting but murky, wavering slightly as the mist lifts and then slowly settles. It is Halloween, Walpurgis Night, All Souls' Eve; a night for ghost stories over mulled wine before the fire.
Larry Jenkins is young and he has that sort of please-don't-con-me attitude with which so many kids face the world today. The last thing he expected was to have his skepticism, his modern cynicism, shattered by an experience with the occult. Larry works for board and room and a little pin money at Pink-ham Notch, N.H., in the heart of the White Mountains, where the Appalachian Mountain Club runs a camp for skiers and climbers.
Behind the AMC huts looms Mt. Washington, highest peak (6,288 feet) in the Presidential Range. On the summit stand a weather observatory, a broadcasting station and a few odd buildings for tourist accommodation. At night there are five men manning the observatory and occasionally there is one other, usually a student, caretaking in one of the other buildings. Otherwise, the summit is deserted. Or is it?
October 29, 1973
Strange, inexplicable things have occurred on the summit and elsewhere, Larry begins. Such happenings are blamed on the Gook, ghost of the White Mountains. The Gook is not a visible ghost, but he makes his presence felt in a variety of ways. There was the night seven pork chops disappeared mysteriously from a padlocked refrigerator—which might be funny were it not for the price of meat. And there was the berserk behavior of a playful kitten that suddenly stared intently at the closed lavatory door moments before a toilet flushed, though all water had been drained at the end of the season.
The Gook also has been charged with dislodging—sometime between midnight and dawn in the dead of winter—a memorial plaque that was bolted and cemented into a slab of granite. Vandals had to be dismissed. The temperature was 40° below zero that night. Besides, said Larry, "there was no sign of tools, no footprints and the snow around the plaque had not been disturbed."
On the day of his own experience, the morning had dawned bright and clear and sunny. Though it was toward the end of April there was still enough snow in the mountains for skiing. Then about dusk the weather turned bad. When one of the skiers had not returned by nightfall, Mountain Rescue went after him.
Larry was at the foot of the mountain when they brought the skier down. He had apparently missed the track and fallen to his death 1,500 feet below. "It was the first time I have ever seen a...well, you know. I was depressed and I sort of walked around trying to get the image out of my mind. Finally, I started for my room upstairs in the main building. As I walked down the corridor, which has bare floors, I heard footsteps behind me. But when I looked over my shoulder there was no one there.
"I locked the door to my room and, because I was feeling so low, I decided to light the candle that stands on a small table in the center of my room. The wick was so deeply embedded in the wax that I finally gave up trying to loosen it and went to bed. I remember lying there in the dark. About four a.m. I woke up, aware that something was flickering against the ceiling. Still half asleep, I turned on my side facing out into the room. I realized dimly that the candle was burning—then I fell asleep. In the morning I thought I must have dreamt it, but when I went to look at the candle it was burned almost all the way down. I can't explain it. I can only tell you that I did not light that candle."
Wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne, "There is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime." Eric Maple, a pioneer in demonology who explains ghosts as reflections of the human mind, states that "the best authenticated phenomenon of history is the ghost...and purely on statistical grounds alone the case for its existence has been securely established."
There are, in the recorded annals of ghostlore, enough White Ladies and Gray Ladies gliding around to populate a small harem. Criminals clank their chains, carriages arrive and depart (usually into thin air) driven by headless coachmen, and there are enough phantoms reportedly flitting about with severed heads tucked under their arms to start a bowling competition. Observes Maple in his study The Realm of Ghosts: "The ghosts of the slain retain the disturbing habit of returning to the world in the bloody state in which they met their deaths. They are sometimes seen hovering over the sites of all but forgotten massacres, old battlefields or torture chambers, where they wander eternally, howling dismally, searching for their scattered bones and attempting to invoke the sympathy of the wayfarer toward their plight. It never seems to occur to these demented creatures of the night that a less dramatic approach would be infinitely more successful, for they invariably defeat their object by driving away in terror the very ones whose aid they seek."
In the vast array of apparitions clamoring for attention there is a growing number of what might be termed "sporting ghosts," often still out there on the playing fields, reenacting those last moments of glory, or returning perhaps to settle a score long since forgotten. Like his historical counterpart, the sporting ghost wuz robbed, so to speak, his existence cut off" without warning, before the final whistle.
That there are any American ghosts, sporting or otherwise, is a bit surprising. Two hundred years of history is hardly enough to produce a respectable spook, and those we have tend to be either fabricated, explained scientifically or dismissed in Freudian terms. America's ghosts, lacking historical documentation, run to ships sighted through the mists of Maine, a resentful Indian or two and those run to ground by imaginative ghost hunters. Still, there are a few worth shuddering over.
Consider the case of young James Heyward, one of America's oldest ghosts of record. Young Heyward lived in a fine old house in Charleston, S.C., a city that, incidentally, has more ghosts than you can shake a night-light at. James Heyward set off to go hunting one bright morning in 1805 and became the victim of his own gun, which accidentally discharged as he leaned down from the saddle to quiet his dogs. His sister swore that she had seen James at midday (the time of the accident) sitting in his dark green coat and hunting hat at the desk in the library, his head resting on one hand. She had even spoken to him, surprised to see him back from the hunt so early, with words to the effect of, "What are you doing here?" James apparently could not explain what he was doing there, and promptly vanished. But he did not vanish forever.
Some years later an elderly man who had bought the house saw a man seated at the desk in the library, dressed in a dark green coat. Taking him for an intruder, the old man crept out into the hall to get a weapon, but when he returned the stranger had vanished. Not long ago tenants currently occupying the house had occasion to send for a doctor when their child fell ill. A servant passing the library glanced in and saw a young man in a dark green coat sitting in the library and reported that the doctor had arrived. When the father of the child entered the room to greet him, there was no one there.
South Carolina's most charitable ghost is probably the Gray Man of Paw-leys Island. The Gray Man appears just before a hurricane, it is said, and the late Bill Collins, an automobile dealer from Georgetown who was on the island with his wife in October 1954, saw the Gray Man walking on the beach about a week before Hazel hit. While houses within a block of Collins' place were demolished and washed away in the storm, the Collins house escaped unharmed. The legend is that no harm comes to those who see the Gray Man.
Not everyone sees ghosts, of course—only those with a finely attuned or highly developed psychic sense. Children, cats, dogs and horses seem to have built-in receivers. About 20 years ago in the pastures of Virginia there was a psychic horse named Lady Wonder. Lady Wonder required only a stall full of hay to keep her content while she amazed skeptical investigators by solving simple arithmetic problems and answering all sorts of questions put to her. Lady Wonder did this by pushing disks around with her nose.
A district attorney from Massachusetts consulted Lady Wonder about a local mystery he had been unable to solve. Sure enough, the horse made with the disks, and in less time than it takes to run the Derby, the D.A. had his answer. He was reluctant to let it be known that he had consulted a horse—but once the news got out Lady Wonder became famous. Lady Wonder has long since gone to that Great Pasture in the Sky, where she is no doubt boring Man o'War with smart-aleck predictions about future Derbys.
With interest in the occult on the rise, it is now becoming a status symbol to be considered psychic, though Eric Shipton, England's most respected living mountaineer, recalls a run-in with a psychic dating back more than 25 years. It was shortly after World War II, he noted recently, that he was introduced to a young soldier from south Wales. Shipton was asked to escort the young man around the Alpine Club in London, where a number of Tibetan paintings were on display. Shipton, who was then president of the club, became mildly irritated when the boy insisted that there were "auras" in the paintings that he alone could see.
"I thought he was putting on a performance since he had a reputation for being 'a sensitive,' " says Shipton. "Finally I went into the inner room and brought out George Leigh Mallory's ice ax, which we had found some 1,400 feet below the summit of Everest in 1933—about nine years after Mallory and Andrew Irvine had disappeared without a trace during their assault on Everest. Without mentioning either Mallory or Everest, I handed him the ax and said, 'What do you make of this?'
"I think I should say that as far as I could ascertain, the boy knew nothing about mountain climbing. I wasn't even sure he knew what an ice ax looked like. For a few minutes he said nothing, then he suddenly sank down on a settee and seemed to be undergoing some tremendous inner emotional stress. He began to shake as if with cold, but at the same time he was sweating. I was still inclined to think he was putting on an act, but I must say I was taken aback by his first words. He gasped, 'Fifteen hundred feet...to...go.'
"Now, I submit that Mallory would not have known at exactly what height he stood—that would have to be calculated when he came down—but it is reasonable to assume that Mallory, as far as he could judge, would have estimated himself to be about 1,500 feet from the summit. The ax was found at 27,600 feet, and Everest—as closely as we can calculate—is 29,000 feet. Either the boy was an incredible mountebank or he was reliving Mallory's last moments, equally incredible. My skepticism, which had dissipated somewhat, vanished almost entirely when the lad spoke again.
"He began to describe an obstacle that must be got over, the so-called 'second step,' in such minute detail that I was fairly staggered. My opinion was and is that he could not possibly describe this buttress unless he had, in fact, been there. He went on to describe his companion as a man of great athletic prowess. Irvine had, indeed, been chosen for the expedition because of his fame as an oarsman, for his physical fitness. Finally, the boy said there was a mist closing in that he could not see through, not so much an actual mist, I gathered, as a mist of time, which may have been the point at which Mallory lost consciousness.
"When the chap had recovered his composure somewhat, I led him into the inner room of the club, saying, 'In this room there is something closely associated with the owner of the object you have been holding.' Without a moment's hesitation, the lad walked up to the mantel and took down the letter Mallory had left behind at Camp Six, the only other relic we have from his ill-fated climb."
Mountains in general might have been designed in their solitary inaccessibility for spirits of the nether world. Ghosts range from mysterious lights flickering in the Brown Mountains of the Carolinas (said to be the ghosts of Indian maidens looking for their slain warrior lovers) to Tsali, a Cherokee brave who restlessly walks the peaks of the Great Smokies, and the Big Gray Man of the Cairngorms in the Highlands of Scotland, a phantom who has terrorized climbers for years, his noisy, gigantic footsteps unsynchronized with their own.
"Most mountaineers," said Shipton, "once they have reached a certain state of fatigue, sense a 'presence' near them. F. S. Smythe, who was part of the 1933 expedition, once broke a piece of mint candy in half and offered it to the 'companion' walking beside him, only to discover he was walking alone."
At Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland, scene of Shakespeare's Macbeth and birthplace of England's Princess Margaret, there are dark tales told of a sealed room behind which unimaginable horrors once existed, and a bloodstain that had to be hidden with new flooring because it would not wash out. Among the army of apparitions that stalk Glamis, flitting silently about the corridors and in dark stairwells, is the ghost of wicked Earl Beardie, who gambled in the tower with playing cards (the devil's bricks) on the Lord's Day. Beardie, it is related, took on the devil himself one Sunday afternoon when he could find no other partner—and lost. To this day, say skittish servants at the castle, they hear the rattle of dice, the thud of heavy feet and cursing coming from the uninhabited, uninhabitable room.
In Ireland, where the younger generation tends to dismiss spectral goings-on as hogwash, their grandparents still build cairns for the "little people"—just in case. Resident ghost collector of Dublin, Patrick Byrne, in The Second Book of Irish Ghost Stories, directs human feet to the unhuman activities at Glencairn, Sandyford, County Dublin. It was there that American millionaire "Boss" Croker, formerly one of the chieftains of notorious Tammany Hall, built a chateau in which to retire, with 600 acres for his racing stables and stud.
Croker held sway over Irish racing circles about the turn of the century and no doubt reached the highest pinnacle of his career when his horse Orby won the English Derby in 1907. Boss Croker died in 1922 at the age of 80, and stories persist that the Boss is a restless corpse. According to Byrne's account, he was seen as late as Christmas 1970 by a former servant named Bartle, who attested, "and I, seeing him plainly, usually at dusk...in the old frock coat he used to wear, too; white beard and all."
Said another of Croker's old retainers, "Mr. Croker haunts Glencairn, and several of us, myself included, have seen him. There is something on his soul. They said wicked things about him in my time, but to us, and to me, he was the perfect gentleman; plenty of money and fine horses he had." In one room the climate (temperature) gets very cold when the master is due to appear, another witness told Byrne. When Croker died he was buried in a grave overlooking his beloved acres. Some years back the grave was moved, an act of high-handedness the Boss probably resents.
It would be a toss-up as to which attracts the greater collection of phantoms, the mountains or the sea. Tale upon tale is told of ghostly galleons sailing with or without their skeleton crews, and persistent if insubstantial sailors and fishermen walk the wharfs, jump out of holds or bob around on life rafts, vanishing at the moment of rescue. Seamen are notoriously superstitious. "You want to know what a ghost sounds like?" asked a grizzled old captain of Nova Scotia's folklorist, Helen Creighton. "It sounds like somethin' knockin' on nawthin'."
At the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, made famous by Daphne du Maurier in the novel of the same name, the lone figure of a sailor dressed in old-fashioned seamen's clothes has been reported by puzzled tourists. The sailor sits on the low wall outside the inn, never speaking or moving. The ghost's historian has tracked him back to a sailor who, at the end of the 18th century, got off one of the mail packet boats putting in at Falmouth and stopped at Mary's Bar for a drink. Called out of the bar, he put his half-finished pot of ale on the table and went out into the cobbled yard. In the morning he was found dead on the moor, his money gone.
"Many times," writes Jack Hallam in a book called The Haunted Inns of England, "the lonely sailor has been back to finish that drink, his ghostly footsteps stomping along the passage that leads to the bar, or moving about upstairs." What, then, is he waiting for on the wall outside the inn? One can only speculate that, with England's peculiar licensing hours, the thirsty sailor waits patiently, like most Englishmen, for the bar to open.
At The Belper Arms in Leicestershire, which will give you bed and breakfast, if you dare, resides one of the liveliest ghosts on record. For years the locals have called him Five-to-Four Fred, for that is when he arrives, unseen but indubitably there.
Fred is quite a sport, always out to "cop a feel," as the saying goes, and he gives ladies' faces a soft, affectionate caress as he passes. It ought to make up, but doesn't, for the sudden drop in temperature that occurs in spite of a room made warm by a blazing fire. As time goes on, Fred gets fresher, and at least one cleaning lady quit when an invisible hand slapped her across the fanny. Though Fred obviously loves the ladies, men are anathema. Minding their own business over a pint, they suddenly feel cold, clammy hands pressed over nose and mouth in an apparent effort to suffocate them.
For ghost-conscious tourists, Jack Hallam, the level-headed picture editor of London's respected Sunday Times when he is not tracking down phantoms, has published an official Ghost Tour—with a map and explicit directions on how to get to any haunted site the length and breadth of England. Bone for bone, Britain probably rattles in with more documented ghosts than any other country. With good reason: the English have been documenting spirits back to Shakespeare and beyond. Other countries have ghosts of song and legend but, as with so many tales, they lose a bit in translation. The Jews have the dybbuk, really more demon than ghost—and surely Swedish or Slavic spooks abound. It's just that language barriers make these ghost stories harder to come by.
The Cheltenham racecourse at Prestbury is said to be haunted by a former Cheltenham trainer named Old Moses, and the ghost of the once-celebrated jockey Fred Archer has been reported a number of times at Newmarket, scene of his many triumphs, mounted on his favorite gray. Archer, in a moment of despair, took his own life. Since then his ghost is said to be responsible for unexplained mishaps during races when horses swerve or stumble for no apparent reason. Two ladies leaving the track some years ago said they saw a strange-looking jockey riding toward them and later identified him as Archer from a portrait hanging in the clubhouse.
At Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, a motorcycle racer named Percy Lambert was thrown to his death when a tire burst in the course of a competition. An earlier cyclist named Herman had crashed fatally on the same track about 1907, and now when night-shift workers in the area report seeing a misty figure in racing cap and goggles, they assume it is Lambert—unaware that it might be Herman, who, after all, has seniority.
Ghostlore is literally crammed with stories of animals, with and without heads, who have returned to stalk us. There are dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and one talking mongoose on the Isle of Man. The working horse pulls coaches, often with spectral hounds in its wake, and steeplechasers still frolic and jump on moonlit nights, as does Kruger, it is said, a horse killed going over a jump in 1909 at the Hawthorn Hill course.
Football players, baseball players and tennis stars, once achieving the quiet of the grave, seem to stay there. No spirit of the links has been seen out there still trying to make that putt, but a lady ghost is said to be spotted from time to time gliding around the Upminster Golf Club in Essex. When the clubhouse was torn apart for reconstruction some years back, the skeleton of a lady, who for all anyone knows may have been the first golf widow, was found walled up in the building. Lane 17 of the Ambassador Bowling Club, also in Essex, was closed for a while when customers complained that an unseen hand was throwing balls down the lane, and at Chichester, a poltergeist who haunts the castle once threw a cricket bat into the pub.
In the center of Coventry where Lady Godiva took her ride—all too clearly in the flesh—two vacationing ladies were motoring down a road alongside an embankment that used to be the scene of a cycling track. The track went steeply and straight downhill toward a concrete wall that separated it from railroad tracks, with a curve at the bottom. As the tourists drove along in broad daylight, with nothing more occult on their minds than which Roman fortification to visit next, they were first amazed to see a cyclist riding hellbent down the embankment—and then terrified when he missed the bend and headed straight into the wall. Moments later, cyclist and bicycle lay smashed below.
The ladies drove off to the nearest police station to report the horrifying accident, but when police arrived at the scene there was nothing there. The newspapers picked it up and an elderly gentleman called in to say that around the turn of the century a cyclist whose brakes failed in the course of a race had lost his life in a similar manner. The ladies said nonsense, they could see him plain as day, wearing goggles, knickerbockers and a cloth cap.
Motorists around Markyate have frequently been startled to see the figures of two young men dressed in cricket uniforms standing at the roadside about five miles outside Luton where, in 1958, a bus transporting a cricket team home from a match was involved in an accident that proved fatal to two of the team's members. By the time friendly drivers stop to offer the boys a lift, they have vanished. And in Whitby, Yorkshire, motoring can be even more of an adventure, for a poltergeist known as Hob causes travelers to skid into ditches, turns signposts around and lets air out of tires.
The poltergeist is defined as an invisible, mischievous, frequently malignant and always uproarious ghost who likes to hurl crockery across rooms, dump his victims out of bed and send furniture flying. Maple cites the case of a family that lived in a trailer with an uninvited phantom who "ran amok every night, terrorizing the occupants with fusillades of crockery and other flying objects and rocking the caravan until it all but fell off its wheels." When the Bible verses and prayers of a local priest failed to oust the lively spirit, a teen-ager tried his hand at exorcism. "It is evident that the poltergeist was not devoid of the finer instincts," writes Maple, "for whenever the boy sang hymns the disturbance subsided, but if he changed to pop tunes the poltergeist went absolutely berserk."
The Crown pub at Pishill near Henley entertains a ghostly fencing Jesuit named Father Dominique. Landlord John Davies has had two experiences with the ancient monk. Upstairs over the bar there is still a priest hole where clerics were forced to hide during the days when Elizabeth I was persecuting Catholics. Father Dominique, it seems, became enamored of a lady who frequented the place and subsequently died in a fencing duel protecting her name.
"Twice, when I have been upstairs in my rooms opposite the priest hole," said John Davies, "there has been a knock on the door. When I say, 'Come in,' thinking it's one of the locals, the doorknob turns slowly and the door opens slightly, but when I go to have a look, no one is there.
"Not long ago four of us held a seance in the room just outside the pub proper. We rested our fingertips on the edge of glasses on a table, and those glasses really took off. First we asked, 'Is there someone here?' The answer was yes. 'Is it Father Dominique?' Yes. 'Can we see you?' Yes. 'Where?' The glasses spelled out 'in the corner of the pub.' " John Davies paused dramatically. Well? "No one had the nerve to go have a look."
Father Dominique is considered a good and gentle ghost and no one minds having him around, explained Davies. "Too bad he mucked up the fencing."
Years ago, at the Marine Grotto near Sunderland in the north of England, a landlord was drawing off a pint of ale when he heard a strange noise. He went to investigate, leaving the full tankard on the bar. On his return the pot was empty, although the bar was deserted. Since that day a full tankard, always the same one, is left on the bar at closing time, and various managers over the years confirm that it is always found empty each morning.
Many of the pubs in small villages have indoor skittle alleys. At the Holman Clavel Inn just outside Taunton, there is a rain pipe fastened to the wall alongside the alley that conveys the old wooden balls back to the player. The skittle alley has been there as long as anyone in town can remember and it goes full blast most evenings until closing time. What bothers tourists who rent the bedrooms above the pub is the sound of skittles being played at three o'clock in the morning. They complain of pins being scattered and balls clattering down the rain pipe. Said the barmaid, "It's our ghost, Charlie the Skittler." Whether Charlie plays a solitary game or has a companion no one knows, for the score is never posted.
Not far from Taunton is Winchcombe, in the heart of the Cotswolds, where the favorite game a century or so ago was not skittles but kickshins. Two players faced each other and placed their hands on each other's shoulders. The object was to kick each other's shins, guarding their own with their shoes, and often a second pair of shoes were called for, the first being kicked to pieces. Naturally, a town as old as Winchcombe, which still runs a hotel 800 years old, has its array of shin-kicking ghosts.
Then there is Margaret's Hollow, named for a lady who is said to have been murdered there. Perhaps the killer escaped on a bicycle, for cyclists pedaling along say they are compelled to get off and literally drag their machines through the hollow, someone or something holding them back. Nearby on the heath, at the edge of town, said a postman who was willing to talk of the 'auntings, "a white 'orse prances under the full o' the moon." Had he ever seen it? "No," he confessed, "I've never been that drunk meself." And speaking of spirits, the happiest ghost ever reported was undoubtedly the phantom who used to haunt a cemetery until the local inhabitants, for some reason assuming he might be thirsty, poked a hole in his coffin and poured in a bottle of rum.
Legend has it that a ghost will not speak until it is spoken to, with the possible exception of the Talking Mongoose on the Isle of Man, which had the reputation of being a blabbermouth and was always butting in on live people's conversations until a fellow renting the haunted cottage—who didn't believe in ghosts—went out and shot it.