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Ghosts & Hauntings

What Do We Fear When We Fear Ghosts?

What do we fear when we fear ghosts? Certainly, they evoke the possibility of elemental entities hidden in the world, at least mischievous and even malevolent.

Chillingly, the “Enfield poltergeist” remarked to an interrogator, “I like annoying you.” There is the terror too of the touch of a ghost, the paradoxical physical presence of the disembodied. Or sometimes, in the most ghastly tales, the horror that the ghost may drag us off to whatever alternative space they so drearily inhabit; that we might become like them. Yet, ultimately, the greatest fear must be that, due to some madness or mistake in perception, some hunger or lack, the ghost that dogs us comes from within.

In a 19th-century treatise, the Scottish physician Robert MacNish unravelled the “philosophy of sleep”. He describes a woman trapped in a stultifying marriage, who haunted herself. Beckoning from above, or glimpsed in further rooms, her own apparition, a kind of mirror, flitted and passed. Having lost herself in the process of living, she had doubled up as a kind of ghost, a split figure answering mysteriously to some otherwise unexpressed inner need.

On the evidence of this highly enjoyable (and disturbing) work, Roger Clarke proves impervious to such wimpy frights. Where others naturally flee ghosts, he pursues them. There turns out to be so many British ghosts that it starts to seem odd we all haven’t seen one. Yet sightings remain rare – and for all his assiduous pursuit, Clarke has never himself caught a glimpse. Bernard Shaw remarked to the more credulous Henry James: “No man who doesn’t believe in a ghost ever sees one.” I wonder if that is the case, and side more with the marquise du Deffand, who declared: “Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I am afraid of them.”

Ghosts certainly exist in the sense that people report experiences of them – but what, this book sets out to ask, are they? What do we talk about when we talk about ghosts?

I’ve never seen a ghost but I have, I sometimes suppose, heard one. Once, about 25 years ago, in a small hotel in Cork, I came back from an evening in town with my girlfriend. I had, I admit, already once been spooked, believing on the walk home that I had seen a figure peering down from a darkened upstairs window. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a coat hanging from a window frame. I had, as a sop to the sceptics, also drunk two or three beers. I was, I maintain, far from drunk.

Our hotel room had no lavatory, so I set off down the long, well-lit, carpeted corridor to the bathroom. It was perhaps around 40ft from our bedroom door to the far end. Halfway down, someone whispered into my ear my first name – sharply, urgently, unmistakably. I assumed my girlfriend had crept down the corridor after me, in an effort to spook me once again, and turned to her. There was, however, no one there. I sped back to my room, and would not venture out again to the bathroom all night. My girlfriend was doubting, and more courageous, but when she came back, seemed disturbed too and conceded that there was an odd feeling in the space outside. We both slept; we both had terrible nightmares; the next morning, we drove on.

That is my single ghost story. Very likely it was an auditory hallucination, a fracture in perception, an intimation of nothing but a brainwave. And yet, who knows? It has had no consequences; it came from nowhere, and led to nothing.

What does one do with the experience of encountering a ghost? It’s somehow an event extraneous to a life, odd and somewhat embarrassing, impossible to assimilate into the process of experience. The experience is private, perhaps merely individual; to share it is to invite scepticism. The ghost story is a form that depends on reticence, on what is not clearly seen, on what is not fully expressed. As stories, they have no clear place to end. The ghost appears, and appears again. Dark phenomena disturb us; they peak, or they subside. In early modern times, the ghost usually needed something – an inheritance delivered, a funeral rite observed. But the modern ghost seems free of such desires, unless it is the desire to annoy us. The ghost is truly that which resists categorisation, that which cannot be assimilated or understood. They have their own genre – the ghost story – but what in such stories the ghost definitively is, or wants, remains open and undetermined.

Faced with the open-endedness of such tales, Clarke nonetheless classifies his ghosts, from the returned dead to poltergeists, from the beguilingly beautiful time-slip stories to confrontations with phantasms of the living. His “ghosts” are spirits, or they are the residue of powerful experiences imprinted in space, or manifestations of pubertal rebellion; they are slippages in consciousness; they are, most recently, expressions of their own emotional disturbance. They are produced by failure to honour the wishes of the dead; they are produced (in the brain) by a low hum.

His approach is partly chronological, but also thematic, or rather taxonomic, dividing up his ghosts according to types. For those who might see the phenomenon of the ghost as embedded in shifting social concerns, this method is sometimes alien. However, he remains alert to the determining impact of the cultural (he writes especially interestingly on the London crowds that pursued the spectacle of a ghost in the Victorian era and on the gender politics of the séance). More vitally, his method is entirely apt for what his title already tells us is “a natural history” of the supernatural. He is a man looking for family resemblances in ghost stories across time and place. Yet the historical changes he presents are themselves suggestive with implications. It’s curious and telling, for instance, that in the early modern past the ghost was someone familiar to you, a friend or family member, while more recently, as society as urbanised and atomised, the ghost tends to be a random stranger, the unknown fellow tenant. It’s equally interesting and apt that, statistically speaking, the French don’t see ghosts.

Clarke appears to have been an infant prodigy when it comes to an interest in the supernatural, the William Hague of the ghost-hunters. I am in awe of his intrepidity, yet feel that the healthiest response to such occult phenomena is simply to leave them well alone. (The spectre of the morbid unwholesomeness of a preoccupation with “the night-side of nature” is there in the sudden insanity of Catherine Crowe, the mid-Victorian expert on spooks.) But I also understand his fascination. For all the technological apparatus of the modern ghost-hunter, the lure of the ghostly is a fevered, romantic desire. It belongs with Percy Bysshe Shelley trying to summon up spirits, a home counties adolescent Faust desperately “pursuing hopes of high talk with the departed dead” … the allure of the past in such stories, the yearning for something beyond.

Moreover, behind this fey longing, this wish to sup with horrors, there is – for all the fear of an actual ghost – something snug and domestic about them. This homeliness of the ghost story appears in its relation to Christmas, an intimation of darkness at the darkest time of year that entwines with festivity, rebirth and childhood memories – of the secure past and of familiar infant terrors. Clarke’s book conveys the cosy plenitude of British eccentricity that lies close to the local ghost story. True or not, his tales are great, and he tells them effectively and engagingly. But such stories cannot help but raise the question: are true?

How do you measure a spirit, or dissect a phantom? For many, ghosts are beyond the frontier of what science can interest itself in, one boundary for the discipline. For others, ghosts, being a phenomenon like any other, are equally open to objective study. Yet most interesting of all, the technologies and machines that define the modern world and would investigate the spectral themselves have seemed prone to being haunted.

The process, perhaps, began with the gloomy railways of Charles Dickens’s “The Signalman” or Arnold Ridley’s “The Ghost Train”. But soon it spread to demon-driven cars, to mezzotints, to haunted motorways, ghostly presences in lifts, or confined to a cursed submarine. Most intriguingly, the instruments that ghost hunters themselves would use have seemed spooked: the photograph that freezes a vanishing moment catching the recurring vanishing of a ghost; the tape-recorder left on in an empty room that picks up bodiless voices; the numerous tales of eerie messages on mobile phones or ghostly disturbances within computers. Like our photos, our recordings, our texts and our tweets, the ghost is a trace, linked to technology, detected within it, and somehow inhabiting it. When the familiarities of life are themselves revealed to be haunted and strange – when there are slight deviations from the customs that conceal our relation to death – we are closest to the anxious heart of the ghost story.

Ghosts & Hauntings

Loftus Hall is the most famous haunted house

Almost any house built 150 years ago is tempting to think of ghosts. Of course, if it was not restored beyond recognition. But a special pleasure is to visit, or at least look at photographs of a house in which ghosts are definitely found. Well, exactly: in the opinion of its owners and those who live nearby.

Loftus Hall is one of those. Even if, in the opinion of the locals, ghosts were not found in it, they would be worth inventing again – this is how the atmosphere of this gloomy house located on the windswept and washed by waves of the Hook Peninsula in the Irish County of Wexford has to do this.

But, before we tell you what is so paranormal in this Loftus Hall, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with real historical events related to the house. Moreover, they are worthy of attention without any devilry.

Photo # 2 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

We can say that the history of the house began in 1135, when the Norman knight, Raymond Le Gros, landed on the peninsula. To assimilate faster, the knight renamed himself the more familiar to the Irish ear by the name Redmond.

The castle, built by the knight, stood for two centuries, until in 1350 the descendants of Redmond built a new house in its place. It is interesting that they were building right during the Black Death – a plague pandemic that arrived in Ireland by ship from Bristol a year earlier. The new house, Redmond Hall, was named.

Photo # 3 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photo: Shutterstock

Three centuries later, in 1650, the house became the site of one of the fiercest sieges of the Irish Uprising. The owner of the house, 68-year-old Alexander Redmond, with his two sons, a couple of local activists and a tailor who happened to be in the house at an unfortunate time, barricaded himself and bravely repulsed the attack of almost 90 British for several days. 

In all fairness, most of these Englishmen have crawled into neighboring villages, indulging in robbery and violence, instead of laying siege to an impregnable home.

The attack was repulsed with the help of the Irish forces arrived in time, which attacked the British under the cover of a thick fog, which in time fell on the Hoek Peninsula.

According to local chronicles, Alexander repelled several more attacks. When the British nevertheless conquered Ireland in general, and Redmond Hall in particular, Cromwell even let Alexander die in peace in his own house – for his courage.

Photo # 4 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

Well, after the death of Redmond, his relatives were evicted from the house and soon the house was sold to a family of Englishmen named Loftus, who live nearby. 

Subsequently, the Redmond repeatedly tried to sue Loftus Hall back, but to no avail. But as compensation, they were given land in the neighborhood.

The Loftuses moved rapidly up the court stairs. If in the 18th century the head of the family was called Baron Loftus of Loftus Hall, then already in 1800 the title of Marquis of Eli was created especially for the Loftus.

Actually, the 4th Marquess of Ely gave the modern look to Loftus Hall. A major renovation was undertaken by the Marquis in the second half of the 19th century: he very much hoped that Queen Victoria would come to visit. After all, the Marquis’s mother was her maid of honor!

Photo # 5 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

The Queen never came. But the 4th Marquis of Ely became the owner of a luxurious house with such unprecedented conveniences as flush toilets at that time. And, alas, the owner of huge debts. Soon the house had to be sold and its wanderings began among different owners.

In 1917, the house was sold to the monastery order of the Sisters of Providence. In 1983, the house was converted into a hotel. Well, in the early 2000s, it was acquired by the Quickly family. In 2020, it became known that the house was again put up for sale. Moreover, Quickly emphasize that they will not choose a new owner, but “the house will choose him.” And that’s why…

The story of how the devil sailed to Loftus Hall and what happened after his visit dates back to the 19th century. It sounds like this.

On a cold rainy night, a dark-robed rider rode up to Loftus Hall on a dark horse. He said that his ship was caught in a storm and had to dock in a nearby bay. The Loftuses were away, the family of their distant relatives, the Tottenham, lived in the house. They sheltered the rider and offered him shelter and bread.

Photo # 6 - Loftus Hall: Ireland's Most Famous Haunted House
Photoloftushall.ie

Tottenham’s daughter, young Anna, immediately fell in love with a mysterious stranger. A couple of days later, in the evening, everyone sat down to play cards. During the game, Anna dropped the map and, bending down to pick it up, saw that the stranger had cloven hooves instead of legs.

The stranger realized that he had been discovered. He immediately soared up, surrounded by devilish flames – and, as expected, made a huge hole in the roof.

It would seem that the devil is expelled, you can live on. But Anna, after the disappearance of the stranger, became not herself. She went crazy by leaps and bounds. The family, frightened by this development of affairs, locked the girl in her favorite sewing room.

There Anna sat, almost motionless, clasping her knees with her hands and soon died. 

According to another version of the legend, before her death, she managed to give birth to a child – that is, the devil did not lose time during two days in the house. 

Anna was not buried in an ordinary coffin: they could not straighten her and buried her in a sitting position, in which she spent the last months of her life.

Since then, according to numerous testimonies of guests and owners of the house, ghosts of a girl have been walking around the house. And the house itself has become a place of attraction for lovers of everything paranormal and creepy – excursions, especially popular on Halloween, are regularly conducted in Loftus Hall.

If you consider yourself a mystic, but do not have the opportunity to visit Loftus Hall yet, we recommend watching the gothic horror film The Lodgers 2017. It is filmed entirely in the luxe and eerie interiors of Loftus Hall, and has received excellent critical reviews. Here’s the trailer:

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Ghosts & Hauntings

The ghost of the Haycock Manor Hotel: a beautiful legend about a frequent visitor to an ancient building

For decades, the Haycock Manor Hotel, located in the small English village of Wansford, has attracted tourists by claiming to be the home of the ghost of Queen Mary Stuart.

Mary of Scotland, aka Mary Stuart, according to legend, visited the Haycock Hotel on the way to Fotheringay Castle, where she was executed. Why, in this case, she chose a hotel in a small village as her last refuge , and not a stone castle, is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, visitors to the hotel claimed to have seen the ghost of Queen Mary, the Mirror writes.

The last resting place of Mary Stuart

Because of her intrigues against Queen Elizabeth I of England, Mary Stuart was put on trial and sentenced to death, which took place at Fotheringay Castle. On the way to the castle, Mary of Scotch stopped at the Haycock Hotel.

Mary Stuart

Despite the fact that the woman spent only one night in the hotel, this is the place she, for some reason, decided to choose as her last home. At least that’s what those who encountered her ghost say.

Manifestations of supernatural powers

Many of the hotel guests, who ventured to spend the night in the last refuge of Mary Stuart, complained about strange things that happened to them.

Some guests claimed to have seen a ghost, which they identified as Mary of Scotland. Why they were so sure that the ghost was exactly Mary Stuart is not clear, because the history of England has a large number of women rulers, and it is simply impossible to remember them all.

Other hotel guests recall seeing an obscure ghostly cloud-like figure in the oldest part of the hotel. They also shared that they often encountered the feeling that there is someone else in the room – someone who cannot be seen, but can be felt.

Hotel Haycock

Guests also reported that they heard quiet voices and footsteps, although there was no one else in the rooms.

Despite the fact that such stories can scare ordinary people, they are not of interest to real seekers of the paranormal, since they can easily be explained by the dilapidated state of the building.

haycock hotel

Haycock Manor is currently closed for renovation, which means that if the phenomena of supernatural forces could be explained by the state of the hotel, then after the renovation they should disappear.

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Ghosts & Hauntings

Ghost in an abandoned fort: British filmed a paranormal phenomenon

Tony Ferguson and Paul Kissell, whose hobby is exploring abandoned buildings, managed to film the paranormal. According to friends, they were lucky enough to encounter the ghost of the fort’s keeper, who “takes his duties seriously, even from the grave.”

British “ghostbusters” explored a long-abandoned fort in Hampshire, hoping to witness some unexplained phenomenon. To this end, Ferguson and Kissel placed cameras around the perimeter of the building.

The two young people left one of them in the corridor of the building. When friends moved away from the recording device at a decent distance, their dog Sam began in every possible way to attract the attention of the owners and “lead” them to a certain place. Researchers of the paranormal immediately returned to the cell in the hallway and found a door that they had left open and closed.

The friends did not even consider the draft version, because the door was very massive. Considering that except for the seekers of the otherworldly there was no one in the fort, the only explanation for what happened was a ghost.

Ferguson and Cassel decided that it was none other than the ghost of the caretaker, who “takes his duties seriously after death.” It is he, according to friends, who makes sure that everything in the building is according to the rules, but at the same time does not frighten visitors, correcting all the shortcomings quietly and unnoticed.

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