Who Believes in Ghosts!?
..and things that go "bump" in the night!
Who Believes in Ghosts!?
“With her head tucked underneath her arm,
She walks the Bloody Tower
On the midnight hour..”
Most kids in Britain are familiar with the macabre old verse about the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn as she parades around the Tower of London after being executed, ostensibly for failing to bear King Henry 8th a son. If she and Catherine Howard, the other wife this despot had beheaded, are also condemned to exist in spirit-hood, they are in good company, as thousands of people met their maker in the Tower over the 800 years it has glowered over the river Thames. Anne was the most popular and, according to old art we have, a pretty and vivacious lady making her by far the more likely contender for ghost material. Many have said to have seen her, including tower guards in the Nineteenth Century, who ran their bayonet’s through the spirit with the subsequent lack of blood and friction causing much surprise and alarm. (We hope it was just their bayonet’s).
Undoubtedly the most tragic case of murder in the tower was not that of the anguished queen, sad as it was, but of the two little princes, Edward, 12, and Richard, 10, in 1483. They were secretly murdered in their rooms, without much doubt by assassins sent by the Duke of Gloucester to clear the way for him to become Richard 3rd. The case never went to trial but Shakespeare’s play made Gloucester the villain of the piece and history has condemned him on circumstances alone.
For 200 years after the assassination, ghosts of the two Princes were regularly seen around the tower until workmen discovered two sets of children’s bones in a casket in 1674. Convinced the remains were of the two, King Charles 2nd ordered a royal burial for the bones and the ghosts were said to have been laid to rest and not seen since.
One thing is certain. Pandora’s Box could not hope to contain as many demons as the number of horrific acts committed by the British establishment over the last 1000 years; the Devil in Hell will surely be hard put to find enough punishing occupations for the kings and other assorted offenders against humanity who arrive at the fiery gates after Judgment Day. Of course, we all know the truth: there is no justice for the oppressed, poor and weak and God seems to always favor their oppressors.
As I scan through the wonderful “Encyclopedia of Ghosts,” by Daniel Cohen, the source of information and inspiration for this article, still, I believe, in print, it amazes me that I have heard of so few of the ghostly luminaries tabled in the 307 pages. This is why I won’t attempt to list them herein as I doubt many of you have heard of them either. The book summons 105 ghosts to our attention, including animal ghosts, like the Dog of Doom and Ghastly Pets; Poltergeists, like one you will know, The Exorcist. Some arrived seeking revenge, to warn or as a result of crisis. Then there are phenomena such as another promoted through Hollywood, the Amityville Horror. This was a really scary movie with great special effects and one of the best of the genre I have seen. It sprang from the real-life murders of his parents, two brothers and two sisters, by Ronald DeFeo, (The name significantly means “the ugly” in Spanish), in Amityville, Long Island. This became the worst crime in the area’s history and attracted national attention. De Feo eventually earned 6 life terms for the acts after defending himself by saying “voices” had ordered the killings. This, of course, is a classic syndrome of homicidal schizophrenia. Later, the Lutz family purchased the house where the crimes had taken place, only to abandon the place in haste one month later after being subject, they claimed, to a series of terrifying happenings, some of which fans of the film will remember, especially the powerful performance of the “ghost buster,” the little old granny, an addition from Hollywood. The graveyard and the appearance of the “undead,” was also made up by Hollywood. The whole thing is seen as a hoax today.
As well as the Tower of London, Henry 8th’s great residence, Hampton Court, is unsurprisingly peppered with ghost stories. In fact, Henry, might well be the greatest manufacturer of ghosts in history due to his tendency of removing the heads of those who opposed or displeased him. Anne Boleyn’s headless apparition is said to visit there from her usual haunt of the Tower, as does Catherine Howard who was evidently dragged, screaming, from the palace as Henry disposed of her. Cardinal Wolsey, who built the palace rather too well and was kicked out by envious Henry, visits his old home several hundred years after his death. Archbishop Laud, another of Henry’s victims, pops around for a bit of diversion, but he is more famed for rolling his head along the library floor in St John’s College, Oxford.
Hampton Court also has the Gray Lady, a Mrs. Penn, who was a nurse for Henry’s children. Evidently, lightening disturbed her burial place and liberated her to be able to return in ghostly form to her old place of employment. There are many more, sometimes seen as a gorgeously attired group somewhere in the royal gardens.
Ghostly legends touches a familiar chord. You will remember the story of the Flying Dutchman, just one of the countless tales of ships being abandoned by passengers and crew, yet still sailing past amazed onlookers in the mist. Many of these are cases in fact of private yachts whose crew went swimming while their ship drifted away, or their single captain fell overboard sick or suicidal. The Dutchman, though, has caught the imagination since it became part of folklore at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.
The world seems to be divided between those who believe in ghosts and parapsychology and metaphysics in general, and those who don’t. This contributor lived in Mexico for many years and found that few people would admit to believing in ghosts, witches and black magic, etc., but in truth most did! Even in enlightened Britain, I bet far more people than those who admit to being believers, actually do. It’s a bit like the old saw that says there are no atheists in the trenches. When it’s a dark, night and the wind is moaning around the eves and we hear a sudden, unexplained sound or catch a glimpse of a vision, how many of us can honestly say we don’t feel our pulse speed up a bit and our glance move to that dark corner outside the glow of our lamp…?? Of course there couldn’t be anyone in the cellar…but, where’s the poker, I’ll just take a quick peep! How many of us can go and watch a ghostly movie, like, say, “Hound of the Baskervilles” and not feel unease as we hear the howl of the Hound From Hell? Even though we all knew it was a Great Dane with a devil-mask on. Pass the coke, Sherlock!
If anyone had the visage and demeanor to make a good ghost, it was Abraham Lincoln. He often sat for hours withdrawn into himself in what contemporaries have said must have been spiritual reverie or meditation. I don’t expect many had the sand to ask the President, “Cat got yer tongue!? What was more probable was that this busy man was taking advantage of a nap. His bushy eyebrows prevented anyone seeing if his eyes were open or closed.
It has also been said he was a prophet, even forecasting his own death by assassination. He was, or course, sent to an early grave at the theater by John Wilkes Booth. His life had been threatened many times and this accumulated menace must have a psychological effect on anyone.
After his death, he naturally became the target of mediums and other fakers. Many accounts of ghostly sightings of Lincoln, his funeral train, and of him in his residences exist. It’s strange how much attention famous people get from the spirit world while the disenfranchised and poor are lucky to have their names remembered outside the immediate family.
Well, perhaps this isn’t the best book to read when you’re all alone in a creaky old house…Lotta nonsense anyway…Wait a minute! I was sure I locked that back door…!!