History Of Ghost Stories; And, The Most Haunted House In The World
The title above comes from an article originally posted on October 29, 2009 and updated June 10, 2019 on History.com. As we get close to Haloween, scary movies and stories of ghosts will proliferate the airwaves. History.com’s “History of Ghost Stories,” is an interesting look at the origin of ghost stories, fron ancient times, through Medieval Europe, to the present.
“Since ancient times, ghost stories — tales of the spirits of the dead that return to haunt the places they left behind — have figured prominently in the folklore of many cultures around the world,” History.com noted. “A rich subset of these tales involve historical figures, ranging from queens and politicians, to writers and gangsters, many of whom died early, violent, and mysterious deaths.”
What Is A Ghost
History.com explains “the concept of a ghost, also known as a specter, is based on the ancient idea that a person’s spirit exists separately from his or her body, and may continue to exist after that person dies. Because of this idea, many societies began to use funeral rituals as a way of ensuring a person’s spirit would not return to ‘haunt’ the living.”
Early Ghost Sightings
“In the first century A.D., the great Roman author and statesman, Pliny the Younger, recorded one of the first notable ghost stories in his letters, which became famous for their vivid account of life during the heyday of the Roman Empire,” History.com wrote. “Pliny reported that the specter of an old man with a long beard, rattling chains, was haunting his house in Athens. The Greek writer Lucian and Pliny’s fellow Roman Plautus also wrote memorable ghost stories.”
“Centuries later, in 856 A.D., the first poltergeist-a ghost that causes physical disturbances such as loud noises or objects falling or being thrown around- was reported at a farmhouse in Germany,” Histroy.com wrote. “The poltergeist tormented the family living there by throwing stones and starting fires, among other things.”
Three Famous, Historical Ghosts
“One of the most frequently reported ghost sightings in England dates back to the 18th century,” History.com noted. “Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, was executed at the Tower of London in May, 1536, after being accused of witchcraft, treason, incest, and adultury. Sightings of Boleyn’s ghost have been reported at the tower and various other locations, including her childhood home, Hever Castle in Kent.”
“America’s own rich tradition of historical ghosts begins with one of its most illustrious founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin,” History.com wrote. “Beginning in the late 19th century, Franklin’s ghost was seen near the library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; some reports held that the statue of Franklin in front of the society [building] comes to life and dances in the streets.”
“Though many ghost sightings have been reported at the White House in Washington D.C. over the years, perhaps no political figure has made so frequent an appearance in the afterlife as Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president, who was killed by an assassin’s bullet in April, 1865 [at the end of the civil war],” History.com wrote. “Lincoln, formerly a lawyer and congressman from Illinois, is said to have been seen wandering near the old Springfield capital building, as well as his nearby law offices. At the White House, everyone from first lady’s to queen’s, to prime ministers, have reported seeing Lincoln’s ghost, or feeling the presence of Honest Abe-particularly during the adminstration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt .”
Haunted Places; And The Most Haunted House In The World — England’s Black Monk House
“Some places simply lend themselves to hauntings,” History.com noted, “perhaps due to the grisly or dramatic events that occured there in the past. Over the centurues, sightings in spectral armies have been reported on famous battlefields around the world, including important battle sites from the English civil war in the 17th century, the bloody Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, and the WWI sites of Gallipoli (near Turkey) and the Somme (northern France.”
“Another particulary active center for paranormal activity is the HMS Queen Mary, a cruise ship built in 1936 for the Cunard-White Star Line,” History.com noted. “After serving in the British Royal Navy in WWII. the 81,000-ton ship retired in Long Beach, California in 1967; the plan was to turn it into a floating luxury hotel and resort. Since then, the Queen Mary has become notorious for its spectral presences, with more than 50 ghosts reported over the years. The ship’s last chief engineer, John Smith, reported hearing unexplained sounds and voices from the area near the ship’s bow, in almost the same location as a doomed British aircraft cruiser, the Coracoa,had pierced a hole when it sank after an accidental wartime crash that killedmore than 300 sailors aboard. Smith also claimed to have encountered the ghost of Winston Churchill-or at least his spectral cigar smoke- n the prime minister’s old state room aboard the ship. Many visitors to the Queen Mary have reported seeing a phantom crewmwmber in blue overalls walking the decks. Around the ship’s swimming pool, reports have been made of mysterious splashes and ghostly women in old fashioned bathing suits or dresses, along with trails of wet footsteps appearing long after the pool had been drained.”
“Among the major cities, New York is especially rich with ghost stories,” the History.com editors noted. “The spirit of Peter Stuyvesant, the city’s last Dutch colonial governor, has been seen stomping around the East Village on his wooden leg since shortly after his death in 1672. The author, Mark Twain, is believed to haunt the stairwell of his onetime Village apartment building, while the ghost of Dylan Thomas is said to sometimes occupy his usual corner table at the West Village’s White Horse Tavern, where he drank a fatal 18 shots of scotch in 1953. Perhaps the most famous New York ghost is that of Aaron Burr, who served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson, but is best known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Burr’s spectral activity is focused particularly on one restaraunt. One If By Land, Two If By Sea, which is located in a Barrow Street building that was once Burr’s carriage house.”
For those of you looking for a good read on Halloween, Roger Clarke’s 2014 book: “Ghosts: A Natural History — 500 Years — Searching For Proof,” is an entertaining, and sometimes scary read, about ghosts. apparitions, poltergeists, seances, and our longing to believe in the paranormal. Patrick McGrath, who reviewed Mr. Clarke’s book in The New York Times in October 2014, wrote that Mr. Clarke “contends that England is the most haunted country in the world.” And not surprisingly, Mr. Clarke writes that “many dramatic haunting’s have occurred in wartime.” “Clarke looks closely at the case of The Angels Of The Mons, [WWI] and discovered not an authentic instance of supernatural intervention in human affairs; but, rather a case of what’s referred to elsewhere as “fiction reversing into reality..” “The “angels” were winged figures in some recent accounts, and in others, English archers from the Battle Of Agincourt of 1415,“ and one of the most significant military battles of all time.
Hannah Robinson, writing in the October 23, 2017 edition of London’s the Mirror, “The U.K.’s Most Haunted Home? Inside House Where Little Girl;’ Was Dragged Upstairs And Almost Strangled By Curtains,” described perhaps the most frightening paranormal encounter ever ‘documented’. She writes that “ghost hunters consider 30 East Drive in Yorkshore is home to one of the world’s most violent poltergeists, known as ‘The Black Monk of Pontefract.’ Legend has it that a 17th century monk was hanged nearby [directly across the street] for the [sexual] abuse and murder of a young girl — but,” she adds, “some claim it was the murderer’s brother who was hanged — in error.”
It was the 30 East Drive, Yorkshore, a three-bedroom house, also known as the “Black Monk House, where the Pritchard family moved to in 1966. The family claims to have been terrorized over the course of the few weeks the family resided there, with the most frightening, and controversial being the family’s claim that their twelve year old daughter Diane was dragged upstairs to her bedroom and nearly strangled by her curtains. Relatives of the Pritchard family, also claim to have seen gloves clasping mid-air, during an episode of Songs of Praise, Ms. Robinson noted.
Psychology: The Truth About The Paranormal
David Robson wrote an article published in the October 31, 2014 edition of the BBC online, which explained why some of us think we have experienced a paranormal event; but, probably haven’t. Mr. Robinson notes that “psychologists have started to look at why some of us can’t shake off old superstitions, and folk-lore. Their findings may suggest some hidden virtues to believing in the paranormal. At the very least, it should cause you to question whether you hold more insidious beliefs about the world,” he notes.
“Some paranormal experiences are easily explainable, based on faulty activity in the brain,” Mr. Robson wrote. “Reports of poltergeists invisibly moving objects seem to be consistent with damage to certain region of the right hemisphere that are responsible for visual processing; certain forms of epilepsy, meanwhile, can cause the spooky feeling that a presence is stalking you close by — perhaps underlying accounts of faceless “shadow people,” lurking in the surroundings.”
“Out-of-body experiences, meanwhile, are now accepted neurological phenomena, while certain visual illusions could confound the healthy brain and create mythological beings,” Mr. Robson wrote. “For example,” he notes, one young Italian psychologist looked in the mirror one morning to find a grizzled old man staring back at him. His later experiments confirmed that the illusion is surprisingly common, when you look at your reflection in the half light, perhaps because the brain struggles to construct the contours of your face, so it begins to fill in the missing information — even if that leads to the appearance of skulls, old hags, or hideous animals.” I refer you to Mr. Robson’s 2014 article for his entire thoughts on this.
“Psychologists studying religion have long suspected that a belief in the paranormal can be a kind of shield from the even harsher truths of the world,” Mr. Robson wrote. “The idea is that when something unexpected happens — a death, a natural disaster, or job loss — the brain scrambles around for answers, looking for meaning in chaos.” “It’s such an aversive state that if it can’t gain control objectively, we will get it by perceiving more structures around us, even if they don’t exist,” said Jennifer Winston, at the University of Texas, and whom studies pattern perception, judgment, and decision-making. Even simply asking people to remember a time when they felt out of control, can make people see illusory forces at work,” she has witnessed during her years of research. “That included seeing patterns in the random movements of the stock market, for example; but, it could also manifest itself by linking two unconnected events, such as the belief that “knocking on wood” for good luck would improve your chances in a job interview,” Mr. Robson wrote.
Are Ghosts Real?
Patricia Souza an April 30, 2017 article on the website, Fundamentals, “Are Ghosts Real.” Ms. Souza wrote that “there are several [well-known] cases in history, of people that have seen [claim to have seen] ghosts, from presidents [Lincoln], [foreign leaders such as Winston Churchill], famous actors, to personal friends.” But, many of us avoid discussing the subject for some obvious and, not-so-obvious reasons. Ms. Souza ends her article with the assertion that ghosts are likely real.
Then there is Benjamin Radford’s May 17, 2017 article, “Are Ghosts Real? – Evidence Has Not Materialized,” — which was posted on the website, LiveScience. “If you believe in ghosts, you are not alone,” Mr. Radford begins. “Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact,” he adds, “ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomena: A 2013 Harris Poll found that 43 percent of Americans believe in ghosts,” apparitions, or spirits; and, with the proliferation of paranormal television shows, my guess is that number has gotten larger, not smaller.
“The idea that the dead remain with us is an ancient one,” Mr. Souza wrote; “appearing in countless stories from the Bible, to “Macbeth.” “It even spawned a folklore genre: ghost stories. Belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experiences, life after death, and spirit communication. The belief offers many people comfort — who doesn’t want to believe that our beloved; but, deceased family members aren’t looking out for us, or are with us in our times of need?,” Mr. Souza asks.
“People have tried to (or claimed to) communicate with spirits for ages,” Mr. Souza notes, “in Victorian England for example, it was fashionable for upper-crust ladies to hold seances in their parlors after tea and crumpets with friends. Ghost clubs dedicated to searching for ghostly evidence formed at prestigious universities, including Cambridge and Oxford; and, in 1882, the most prominent organization — the Society for Physical Research — was established. A woman named Elanor Sigdwick was an investigator (and later president) of that group; and, could be considered the original female investigator,” Mr. Souza wrote. “In America, in the late 1880s, many psychic mediums claimed to speak to the dead — but, were later exposed as frauds by skeptical investigators such as Harry Houdini.”
The Science And Logic Of Ghosts
“One difficulty in scientifically evaluating ghosts,” Mr. Souza wrote, “is that a surprisingly wide variety of phenomena are attributed to ghosts, from a door closing on its own, to missing keys, to a cold area in a hallway, to a vision of a dead relative. When sociologists Dennis and Michele Waksul interviewed ghost experienciers for their 2016 book: “Ghostly Encounters: The Hauntings of Everyday Life,” (Temple University Press), they found that “many participants were not sure they had encountered a ghost; and, remained uncertain that such phenomena was even possible, simply because they did not see something that approximated the conventional image of a ‘ghost.’ Instead, many of our respondents wee simply convinced that they had experienced something uncanny — something inexplicable, extraordinary, mysterious, or eerie.” “Thus, many people who go on record as claiming to have had a ghostly experience, didn’t necessarily see anything that most people would recognize as a classic “ghost,” Mr. Souza wrote, “and in fact, they may have had completely different experiences whose only common factor is that it could not be readily explained.”
“Personal experience is one thing; but, scientific evidence is another,” Mr. Souza wrote. “If ghosts are real,” he writes, “and are some sort of as-yet\
-unknown entity, then their existence will (like other scientific discoveries) be discovered and verified by scientists through controlled experiments [and] — not by weekend ghost hunters wandering around abandoned houses in the dark late at night with cameras and flashlights.”
“In the end,” he argues, (and despite mountains of ambiguous photos, sounds, and videos) the evidence for ghosts is no better today, than it was a year ago, a decade ago, a century ago. There are two possible reasons for the failure of ghost hunters to find good [compelling] evidence. The first is that ghosts don’t exist, and that reports of ghosts can be explained by psychology, misperceptions, mistakes, and hoaxes. The second option is that ghosts do exist; but, ghost hunters are simply incompetent; and, need to bring more science, [precision and discipline] to the search.”
“Ultimately,” Mr. Souza concludes, “ghost hunting is not about the evidence (if it was the search would have been abandoned long ago). Instead, it’s about having fun with friends, telling stories, and the enjoyment of pretending they are searching the edge of the unknown. After all, everyone loves a good ghost story.”
I personally, have never had a paranormal experience; but, I do not dismiss the possibility that apparitions, and ghosts exist. Perhaps horror writer Stephen King has it right: “Monsters are real; and, ghosts are real too. They live inside us…and, sometimes they win.” V/R, RCP