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Ghosts in the machines? Haunted hardware and other mechanised mysteries

Ghosts in the machines? Haunted hardware and other mechanised mysteries 17
Somewhere out there is an unnerving diversity of treacherous technology that seems to possess (or be possessed by?) a veritable life of its own! Independently-minded machines boasting seemingly paranormal powers, or weird talents far beyond those implanted into them by their human creators, certainly appear to be much more widespread than we might otherwise suppose – and much too clever for our own good!
WORD PROCESSOR, DODLESTON, CHESHIRE – Spooked by a Ghost Writer, in Every Sense! In the olden days, ghosts communicated with the living via such traditional media as ouija boards – but now, keeping abreast of modern technology, they utilise word processors!
During late 1984, Ken Webster was renovating an old cottage that he had purchased in Dodleston, Cheshire, when his word processor began displaying strange messages and poems that he had not placed there himself. Precisely the same thing happened when he used any of his other computers too. The only common link was the presence of his girlfriend, Debbie, because these unsolicited communications always appeared when she was close by. Yet they could not have originated from her, or from Ken, for one very good reason.
Linguist Peter Trinder, who made a detailed study of them, revealed that they were written in a Late Middle English dialect dating from around the 1500s. For instance:
“Wot strange wordes thou speke, although I muste confess that I hath also bene ill-schooled…thou art a goodly man who hath fanciful woman who dwel in myne home.”
Similar messages even appeared on the cottage floor. Yet whereas Ken and Debbie had no knowledge of Middle English, some of the communications contained unfamiliar words that could only have been known to someone well-versed in this long-vanished dialect.
Greatly intrigued, Ken began answering them on his machines, and eventually he learnt that his computer-mediated contact was a veritable ghost writer. Namely, one Tomas Harden, who claimed to have lived on this same site over 400 years earlier.
Judging from some of Harden’s messages, moreover, the reason why they appeared whenever Debbie was nearby seems simply to have been that he had taken a liking to her! A case, perhaps, of unrequited computer dating across the centuries?
COMPUTER CHESS – Check Mate…Forever! For anyone who may deem it safe to dismiss machines as brainless, dispassionate morons, undeniably helpful but fundamentally harmless, the following cautionary, true-life tale should be made compulsory reading. In 1989, Soviet grand master Nikolai Gudkov had won two successive chess games against his opponent, a Russian M2-11 super-computer programmed to play at world-class level. At the precise moment that he reached out his hand and made the telling move that would have checkmated M2-11 for the third time, however, Gudkov dropped down dead. He had been instantly electrocuted by a sudden surge of power passing through the metal chessboard that his fingers touched as he placed the chesspiece down in his winning move. Just a coincidence…or a chilling demonstration of mechanical mentality?
Equally controversial was the famous Turkish chess player of Hungarian nobleman Baron Von Kempelen. Dating from 1769, and exhibited widely in Europe, it consisted of a slightly larger than lifesize robot-like automaton, in the form and attire of a Turkish man, seated at a wooden cabinet, which, when opened, seemed to contain complex machinery. A chessboard was present on top of the cabinet, and the Baron challenged onlookers to compete against his mechanised Turk. Many did – but all met their match. Eventually, the Turk was sold to an American showman called Maelzl, and during 1835 it was witnessed in action by Edgar Allan Poe – who revealed that its chess-playing talent owed more to conjuring skill than mechanical sophistication. In reality, one of its owner’s servants hid inside the robot chess player, and whenever this servant was ill or absent, all displays featuring the Turk were cancelled.
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Exposing the secret of Baron Van Kempelen’s ‘Mechanical’ Chess Player
TELEVISIONS – Spectres on the Small Screen In 1986, Mainz physicist Professor Ernst Senkowski announced that the first recognisable images of deceased persons had been taped from television. Supporting his claim is the research of electronics engineer J.P. Seyler from Luxemburg. By filming a TV screen tuned to an open channel, Seyler obtained a brief videotape that portrayed a recognisable image of Hanna Buschbeck, a German researcher of electronic voice phenomena (EVP), several years after she had died in 1978. Interestingly, the form in which she appeared on the videotape was as she had been in her youth, not as she had been when she died.
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The alleged image of a youthful Hanna Buschbeck captured on videotape several years after her death
Not all spectres of the small screen can be identified, however, thereby making their unheralded manifestations all the more unnerving. One morning sometime prior to 1988, the three children of the Travis family had been watching television in their home at Blue Point, New York, when they suddenly observed a face materialising on the screen. Obscuring the programme that they had been viewing, it resembled a lady’s profile in silhouette, as confirmed by the children’s mother, who also saw it. Somewhat alarmed, she turned the television off – but the face could still be seen, and remained on screen for more than two days! Before it finally faded away, this ghostly image was filmed by several visiting media reporters, but no-one has ever provided a satisfactory explanation for its origin.
ELEVATOR, PALACE HOTEL, SOUTHPORT – The Lift With a Truly Elevated Sense of Survival! The less technologically-minded among us may be forgiven for suspecting that machines have a life of their own. After all, the lift that refused to die is certainly a case in point.
This particular elevator was ensconced in Southport’s Palace Hotel, which was demolished in 1969. All sources of electrical power were cut off before the demolition began, but three weeks later the lift mysteriously came to life! Without any warning, or any outside assistance either, it began soaring up and down its vertical chute, journeying from one floor to another and, as it did so, lighting up its floor-indication buttons as well as opening and closing its gates – just like it had always done during its 112 years of normal day-to-day operation.
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The Palace Hotel, Southport, not long before it was demolished
A team of electrical engineers was called in to investigate, but all to no avail. They confirmed that the current had been cut off, and that there wasn’t a single amp flowing anywhere inside the remains of the demolished hotel. Following their exhaustive examination, they remained wholly perplexed, conceding: “We can’t find any electrical reason why the lift should work”. But work it did, and with undiminished enthusiasm, even when the glare of television cameras and lights were trained upon it during a special BBC news item.
Faced with the inexplicable, the team did the inevitable. They bludgeoned the elevator to death with some hefty sledge hammers – a tragic end to a loyal if non-human employee that had apparently been unable to accept that its working life had finally come to an end.
AMSTRAD COMPUTER, STOCKTON – You’ve Been Talking in Your Sleep Again! Do computers have nightmares, or talk in their sleep? If so, this may explain the nocturnal activity of an Amstrad computer installed during 1987 in a Stockton architect’s office.
During working hours, it behaved impeccably. But on many occasions at night, when only the cleaners were present, its screen abruptly began to glow, meaningless sentences appeared on-screen for about 30 seconds, and then, just as abruptly, they vanished – after which the computer gave out a loud groan, and switched itself off. What makes all of this even more strange, however, is that it occurred even when the computer was unplugged!
Ken Hughes, editor of Personal Computer, examined this maladjusted machine, but despite stripping it down and inspecting every component, he could find nothing unusual. Yet a video camera, trained upon it for three months, confirmed the authenticity of its evenings’ erratic outpourings. Ultimately, the mere presence of this eerie computer began to disturb some of its human workmates, who lost no sleep, therefore, over the decision to remove it. Whether the computer subsequently continued to lose sleep, conversely, is another matter entirely!
OBLIGING CARS AND LETHAL CARS – The Weird World of Mind Over Motor Self-willed cars are not limited to the fictitious world of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Herbie the Lovebug. Take, for instance, the vigorous Volvo owned by Jack Oates from Yorkshire.
One day in 1984, after Oates had left it parked in a village street, his car inexplicably started up and sped down the street in reverse, only to experience a decidedly close encounter with some parked cars further away. Yet it evidently remained unabashed, for when its distraught owner put the keys into its ignition and tried to turn it off, the recalcitrant runaway steadfastly refused to turn off – until the mechanics arrived, at which point it immediately complied…and then turned itself on again as soon as they had gone!
Rather more affable, yet no less anomalous, was the SAAB owned by David Warner, also from Yorkshire. One day in April 1981, it smoothly reversed across the garden lawn of a local rectory and then carefully parked itself in the corner. Bearing in mind that his car was driverless at the time, it is hardly surprising that Warner watched this extraordinary incident with open-mouthed astonishment.
And now, a warning for automobilophobes everywhere: Never take a dislike to your car – you may not live to regret it! In 1978, a lady from Florida came to a grim end under her car’s wheels – all four of them. According to her colleagues, she had never liked that particular vehicle, and perhaps the feeling was mutual. One day, as she walked away after parking it at a supermarket and turning its engine off, the malevolent motor somehow started itself up, and ran over its disapproving owner. Not content with flattening her once, however, her four-wheeled assassin circled round, and ran over her again, then circled and did it again, then again, and again… Nor would it permit anyone from the large crowd of horrified spectators to retrieve her mangled body, but continued its frenzied, murderous circuit for another quarter of an hour or so before finally coming to a halt.
EERIE CLOCKS – When Death Holds Back the Hands of Time There are many cases of eerie clocks or other fateful timepieces stopping at the precise instant when their owners die, reiterating in reality the song ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ (which also inspired a musical – see image below).
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Professor Colin Gardner, author of Ghost Watch (1989), brought to attention a contemporary case from Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, that actually featured a grandfather’s clock. It had been owned for many years by a man referred to by Professor Gardner for confidentiality purposes merely as ‘Stephen’, who had always taken great joy in caring for it and keeping it in good working order. At the exact moment of Stephen’s death, aged 72, his clock stopped, and for about a year its hands remained resolutely stationary.
Then one day, for no apparent reason, they suddenly moved again, and the clock began ticking as normal. At precisely the same moment, but at a location far away, its late owner’s daughter, Lori, had given birth – to a son, Stephen’s first male heir.
During her many years of research at the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory, Dr Louisa Rhine amassed several similar reports. In one incident, a gold pocket watch given by a Canadian man to his brother stopped at the very instant that the man died several years later, even though it was almost fully-wound.
Perhaps the most famous example is the so-called ‘clock of death’, which allegedly marked the demise not only of its first owner, King Henry VIII, but also that of his son Edward VI, and Anne of Denmark (consort to James I). It still resides in Hampton Court Palace.
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King Edward VI of England, painted by William Scrots
HAUNTED PHOTOCOPIER – Who’s That Girl? In early 1995, Mark Burgess revealed that a firm in Bury, Lancashire, owns what may be a paranormal photocopier. Every so often, when copying documents, it inserts within a batch of normal photocopied documents a single sheet depicting the image of a mysterious girl, whose identity does not appear to be known to anyone working at the firm.
However, it is possible that there is a conventional explanation to hand. In response to Burgess’s account (published in Fortean Times), Alex Kashko revealed that the image may be a test image contained within an internal chip, and that a faulty connection was spasmodically sending the photocopier into test mode, thus reproducing the image. Such a possibility could be readily pursued via an inspection of the machine by its manufacturer’s engineers, but what if an examination failed to confirm this? Yet another case of the spirit world modernising its means of communication with the living world?
PHANTOM FAX MESSAGE – A Timeslip Transmission? During May 1993, corporate affairs consultant Anne Forrest, based in Hong Kong, received a very mystifying fax message. To begin with, it was not apparently intended for her, because it was addressed to a Phil Cundall of Mining Surveys Ltd, and had been sent by a Phil Cross from Dorset. Far stranger than this, however, was its date of transmission – 18 January 1972! In other words, it seemed to have been sent more than 21 years earlier! Substantiating this assumption was the fax’s text, describing how fax machines work, for its terminology was so antiquated that it did indeed appear to date from the early 1970s.
Yet how could a fax message have been lost ‘in transit’ for over 21 years after leaving Cross’s fax machine? Could there be, lurking undetected somewhere in the rarefied realms of electronic communication, a digitised black hole – inexorably engulfing media messages of every kind, and subsequently releasing (and misdirecting) them only after many years had elapsed since their initial transmission? In fact, investigations disclosed a much more prosaic solution. The strange fax message was merely a routine fax-test document, known as the SLEREXE letter, which has been utilised internationally for a number of years.
MECHANICAL SEA MONSTER – Biting the Hand That Built It! Morgawr, which is Cornish for ‘sea giant’, is the name given to a mysterious Nessie-like sea monster sometimes reported off the coast of Falmouth and elsewhere in Cornwall. As such, it has become quite a cryptozoological celebrity, and in 1994 it inspired the creation of a spectacular mechanical version, dubbed ‘Moghar’. Designed and constructed by George Thain, this dragonesque monster’s dramatic features included hydraulic tentacles, and 3-ft-high computer-controlled jaws that could be opened and closed, and which were brimming with sharp teeth. When completed, it was ensconced inside a Land’s End tourist attraction called the Last Labyrinth, where its role was to terrify the visitors – but harmlessly.
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Moghar the mechanical sea monster from The Last Labyrinth, Land’s End (Falmouth Packet)
Moghar, however, seemed to have other ideas. On 30 March, Thain arrived for a close inspection of his monster – a little too close for comfort, as it turned out. For in finest Frankensteinian tradition, Moghar attacked him! Abruptly seizing him in its toothy maw, it refused to let go, gripping him firmly and inflicting severe bruising before technicians were able to release its jaws and free its hapless creator. Computer error was blamed, but just to be safe, all subsequent visitors were distanced from Moghar by a 3-ft-wide no-go zone.
VERBAL VACUUM CLEANERS AND SINGING CHAIN-SAWS – Is Electromagnetic Interference the Answer? In his fascinating book, The Nature of Things – The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects (1990), Dr Lyall Watson included a vast range of unaccountably talkative and tuneful gadgets and gizmos. Take, for instance, the eclectic examples that he cited in the following paragraph:
“In Norfolk Janet Barker’s new cooker talks to her in Dutch. Office-cleaner Madge Gunn in London gets silly orders from her vacuum cleaner: “Proceed at once to Tooley Street.” Doris Gibbons’ electric meter is far more polite. “Hello,” it says. “This is Geoffrey. Come in, please.” The electric organ at a church in Bolton regularly interrupts the vicar’s sermons with relays of the shipping forecast. And Harry Goodchild of Ipswich cut off his toe when his chain-saw suddenly broke into song.” It is very likely that cases such as these are nothing more than a bizarre by-product of electromagnetic interference – Madge Gunn’s talking vacuum cleaner, for instance, is almost certainly picking up messages broadcast on the radio frequencies used by police patrols.
Nevertheless, not all such cases can be so readily resolved. After all, how can straying electronic signals explain why music and voices were heard whenever Virginia Kimmey of Midland, Texas, turned on her kitchen sink’s water taps during November 1960?
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The Nature of Things by Dr Lyall Watson
TELEPHONES OF TERROR – Dial ‘D’ For Death! Telephones with an attitude problem are by no means an uncommon item in today’s ever-expanding roll-call of troublesome technology, but in Nepal they have been revealing a far more sinister – and lethal – side to their nature.
Several people in this mountainous Asian kingdom were killed during the first few weeks of 1993 when, after hearing their telephones emit a long, insistent ringing tone, they picked up the receiver. For at the precise moment that they picked it up, they were instantaneously zapped with a deadly blast of electricity exceeding 600 volts. The official explanation offered by the Nepal Telecommunications Corporation was that a telephone line and a power line had accidentally become connected. Yet if this were indeed so, why had lethal line connections of this type only begun to occur now, after years of danger-free dialling? The telephone company was unable to provide an answer. Could it simply be that certain telephones have developed a diabolical sense of humour?

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