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Hauntings Don’t Just Happen at Houses
Sharing a house with a supernatural or paranormal being has given rise to some fascinating horror stories, and the reasons it chooses to remain on the earthly plain instead of “moving on” are often more interesting than how it manifests itself.
Borley Rectory in Essex in the United Kingdom has been called “The Most Haunted House in England”. The unearthly sightings at the property include a headless man, a woman dressed in white, unseen footsteps and ghostly whispers, strange lights, the sound of a horse-drawn coach pulling up to the front door… and the ethereal image of a nun wandering through the garden, her head bowed in sorrow. The visions apparently dated back to the 13th century, when there was a monastery on the site. A young novice fell in love with a beautiful young nun, and when the affair was discovered the lovers were put to death – the monk was hanged and the unfortunate nun was walled up alive in her convent. During the centuries that following many stories were told by local folk of ghostly encounters on and near the property. In the mid-19th century Reverend Henry Bull built the rectory, disregarding warnings from local residents about the apparitions and paranormal activity on the site.
It wasn’t long before his daughters and his servants began to encounter the “beings” – ghostly knocking and rapping, the sound of footsteps and misty images became a regular feature of life at Borley Rectory. None of this bothered Reverend Bull – in fact he built a summer house, where he and his son Harry would relax in the evenings, waiting for the sorrowful nun to wander past them! Harry took over the rectory after his father’s death, and lived there in relative harmony with his ghostly guests until his death in 1927. His successor lasted just one year, unable to remain in the now deteriorating house and unwilling to put up with the ghosts. In fact, a female skull was discovered in a brown bag at the back of a cupboard soon after the family took up residence. Until 1930, when Reverend Foyster and his wife moved in, the ghosts were relatively quiet; perhaps relishing the absence of human companions. Paranormal activity increased with the new occupants, and things became unpleasant. Guests were locked out of their rooms, windows were broken for no reason and furniture was moved around.
The worst of the violence was aimed at Mrs Foyster, who found herself targeted by invisible assailants. Household objects where thrown at her during the day, and at night she was thrown from her bed. She was slapped by invisible hands, and once nearly suffocated by her mattress. Messages directed at her began appearing on the walls, addressing her as Marianne (her first name) and asking her to “say Mass prayers” and “get help”. The renowned ghost hunter Harry Price believed one spirit was sympathetic to Mrs Foyster, and her messages asking for help appeared to show a Catholic lien. At a séance contact was made with Marie Lairre, a French nun who left her convent to marry Henry Waldegrave, whose wealthy family had once owned a manor on the site of Borely Rectory. Her husband had strangled her, and buried her in the cellar – unconsecrated ground. She was doomed to wander the property, searching for eternal rest. Some months after Marie Lairre’s appearance, another spirit claimed it would burn the house down and the unfortunate nun’s body would be found. Exactly eleven months later the new owner knocked over an oil lamp and burned the house down.
Price found several very fragile female bones in the cellar, and concluded they belonged to Marie Lairre. A service was held for her at Liston, and her remains were interred in consecrated ground. No further sightings of the young woman have been reported since.
While there is indeed evidence that Price was perhaps not always honest in his work, the facts and stories around Borley Rectory have all the elements of a classic haunted house, made even more interesting because they date back for centuries. The fact that the property was occupied by a “man of God” was no deterrent to the ghosts, which goes against traditional beliefs. I chose this example because there are so many elements to this specific haunted property, and each one is an interesting story in its own right.
Writers have used haunted places to great effect, creating a diverse selection of interesting horror stories. Here’s a brief synopsis of a few published stories featuring haunted houses. Each one shows the only limiting factor is the writer’s imagination:
The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining” took on a life of its own, as a host to a community of ghosts and evil spirits. The Overlook wanted to absorb young Danny Torrance, because his psychic powers would give it more power and strength.
Belheddon Hall in Barbara Erskine’s “House of Echoes” is an ancient house in Essex and no man has ever inherited the property. The new owner Joss learns the house’s history – during the 15th century, a powerful witch cast a spell on King Edward IV to make him fall in love with her daughter Katherine. 500 years later the spell is still effective, binding King Edward to pursue Katherine’s descendents, of whom Joss is one. At the same time Katherine’s angry ghost attacks any men living at Belheddon Hall.
Adams, Tennessee is the location The supposedly true story of a poltergeist is the theme of Brent Monahan’s “The Bell Witch: an American Haunting”. In a twist on the traditional poltergeist manifestation the being in this story attacked John Bell in the family home while developing a more friendly relationship with the rest of the family. At first the poltergeist stayed true to its supernatural roots; throwing rocks on the roof, chewing on bedposts and pulling covers off beds. However it soon changed its attitude, and began integrating itself into the Bell family. It would obtain news for the family about distant relatives, sang in four different voices, rescued children in distress and allowed itself to be touched. For three years it joked, debated about theology, allowed itself to be touched and rescued children in distress. When Mrs Bell fell ill it helped nursed her. At the same time it affected Mr Bell with a variety of physical ailments, from nervous tics to palsy. Each illness was more intense than the previous one, and the poltergeist did nothing to easy John Bell’s terrible suffering…
Harrow is a boy’s prep school on a Hudson River Estate in Douglas Clegg’s “Nightmare House”, the final book in a trilogy based around the school. Suggestions of hi storic evil and occult experiences in the first two books – “Mischief” and “The Infinite” – are realised when Ethan Gravesend inherits the estate from his eccentric paternal grandfather, who built the mansion on supposedly cursed land. Almost immediately eerie apparitions are seen lurking in Harrow’s shadowy halls and gloomy grounds. A boarded-up room reveals the proverbial skeleton in the family closet that serves as the entrance for the supernatural forces to enter Harrow.
A good story about haunting will stay with a reader forever. In the examples given above the spirit has its own story; a reason for being in the building. And hauntings are not restricted to houses, either.
On Mount Everest climbers claim to have seen the ghost of a climber, believed to be Andrew Irvine, who disappeared while trying to reach the summit with George Mallory in 1924. In 1975 two climbers said they shared a snow hole with the ghost during their climb…
Since 1978 many people have died in car accidents on Hong Kong’s Tuen Mun Road, and the death toll is blamed upon ghosts. It is said the ghost suddenly appear in the middle of the road, causing drivers to swerve to avoid hitting them and crashing their cars. The ghosts are believed to be those of past victims, and many drivers say they’ve lost control of their vehicles for no obvious reason…
If one stands in the Screaming Tunnel in one of the woods near Niagara Falls, and lights a wooden match in the middle of the tunnel at midnight a scream will be heard when the match burns out. The scream belongs to a young girl who was burned alive by her unhappy father after he lost a legal battle over her. Another story claims the girl’s ghost stalks the living, and anyone it catches will die suddenly. There are also reports of her father wandering through the wood, carrying a lantern…
Since opening in 1886 Melbourne Australia’s Princess Theatre has hosted several ghosts. Singer Frederick Baker, who died in 1888 while singing the role of Mephistopheles in “Faust”, was seen by the rest of the cast taking his bow with them at the end of the show. For many years a seat has been left vacant for him in the dress circle, where his appearance during rehearsals is taken as a sign the show will be a success…
Haunting at Ireland’s Leap Castle began during an argument between two princes over the kingdom. One day, while the younger brother was conducting a sermon the older sibling rushed in and stabbed him. The combination of fratricide and an unfinished sermon damned the castle for eternity. The bloody chapel’s name was earned when the walls turned red for no reason. A seven year old princess died after an inexplicable fall down the stairs. In 1924 a woman felt a hand on her shoulder, and saw a being resembling a half-human/half sheep that stank of sulphur. Terrified she fled the castle. Her husband never emerged, and his body was never found…
Indonesian legend claims the daughter of the Queen of the South Sea killed herself by leaping off a cliff into the sea. Bathers are advised not to wear green when they swim, because it is the queen’s favourite colour and her daughter’s ghost will pull the offending swimmer under the water. Room 308 at the Samundra Beach Hotel is supposedly reserved exclusively for the queen’s use…
The reason Sarah Winchester built Winchester Mystery House is San Jose in California was to protect her from the ghosts of people killed by her deceased husband’s famous rifles. Today it is said she haunts the mansion…
The forest called Aokigahara at the foot of Mount Fiji is said to be haunted by the ghosts of those who commit suicide there – the location is a popular place for suicides…
During the hasty construction of the Manila Film Centre in the Philippines in the early 1980s the ceiling scaffolding collapsed, causing workmen to fall into the wet cement in the orchestra pit. The cement was drying at the time, and in the interests of haste (and apparently under the instructions of the wife of the then President Ferdinand Marcos) no rescue would be undertaken and the bodies must be covered by cement. Some of the workmen were still alive when this was done. Subsequently paranormal activity was reported on the site, particularly strange noises, ghostly voices and poltergeist activity. Efforts have been made in recent years to appease the souls of the entombed workmen, many of whom have moved on. But many locals claim ghosts of the dead workers still remain…
In conclusion, it seems no place on earth is safe from a supernatural being; be it a house, castle, film centre, forest or highway. Inspiration is everywhere, and the only limit is YOUR imagination…
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