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Glimpses of Ghost Land by Lucy H. Hooper

It is no longer the fashion to scoff at tales of the supernatural. On the contrary, there is a growing tendency to investigate subjects which were formerly pooh-poohed by most persons claiming to be well informed and capable of reasoning. It is, however, without propounding any theory or advancing any opinion that I record a few instances of apparently supernatural, or at least inexplicable, occurrences. I can vouch for the truth of nearly all the stories I am about to relate, one of them only not being either my personal experience or narrated to me by some one of the actors in the scene.

My first story shall be one that was told to me by an aged lady who was one of the friends of my youth, and who often mentioned this strange incident of her placid, yet busy life. She was a sensible, practical woman, the last person in the world likely to be led astray by an overheated imagination or deceived by hallucinations. Her early youth had been passed in the country, her father being a wealthy farmer. She had formed a close intimacy with the daughter of a gentleman living at some distance from her father's farm, and the two were seldom apart. An invitation given to my friend (whom I shall call Mrs. L——) to visit some relatives in a neighboring city caused a brief separation between the two girls, and they parted with many protestations of enduring affection. On the day appointed for Mrs. L——'s return she set out at the prescribed hour. The latter part of her journey was to be performed on horseback. On a bright sunny afternoon in June she found herself, about five o'clock, drawing near her father's house. Suddenly in the broad road before her she perceived a female form walking rapidly toward her, and, to her delight, recognized her friend coming, as she thought, to meet her.

"I will make her go back with me and take tea," was Mrs. L——'s thought as she whipped up her horse in her haste to greet the dear one, who was all the more beloved on account of their temporary separation. But as she approached the figure, and before she had had time to speak, or indeed to do more than notice that her friend looked very pale and ill, her horse, an unusually quiet, steady animal, seemed struck with sudden terror, reared, shied, and finally plunged into a hollow by the roadside, from which she had some difficulty in extricating him. When she did succeed in bringing him back to the level road she found, to her astonishment, that the young girl had disappeared. Around her lay the open fields, before her and behind her the road—all in the bright lustre of the summer afternoon—but no trace of the figure could she see. Completely mystified, she hastened home, there to learn that her friend had died suddenly that very morning.

The next incident I shall narrate was told me by a German gentleman whose mother was the heroine of the tale. His father had been appointed to some public office in a small German town, and among the emoluments of the place was the privilege of residing in a large, old-fashioned, but very handsome mansion. The husband and wife set off in high spirits to inspect their new abode, to which some portion of their furniture had already been transferred. They went from room to room, inspecting and planning, till they came to an apartment the ceiling of which was elaborately decorated with plaster Cupids, baskets of flowers, etc., modeled in high relief, and with a centre-piece of unusual size and magnificence. A small table, the only article of furniture the room contained, was placed directly under this centre-piece. The young wife, rather weary of her researches, was standing beside this table, and was leaning on it while she went on talking with her husband, when suddenly a loud, imploring voice called from down stairs, "Caroline! Caroline! come down to me—come!"

"Who can that be?" asked the husband in amazement. "I fastened all the doors and windows before we left the lower rooms."

Again came the loud call, this time with an accent of agonized entreaty: "Caroline! oh, Caroline! come down—do come!"

The young couple hesitated no longer, but hastened down stairs. There was no one there. Doors and windows were securely fastened, and the old house looked as solitary as when they had first entered it.

"Very strange!" said the gentleman. "But now that we are down here, Caroline, suppose we take a look at the garden?" So they sallied forth to examine that portion of their new domain, but scarcely had they entered it when they were startled by a loud crash within the house. Looking up, they saw volumes of what appeared to be smoke issuing from the window of the room they had just quitted, and fearing that the room was on fire, they quickly returned to it. There was no fire: what had appeared to be smoke was only a cloud of dust, for the massive and elaborately ornamented ceiling had fallen, and the heavy centre-piece had crushed to fragments the table against which the young wife had so lately been leaning. But for the warning voice her destruction would have been inevitable. My informant went on to state that the pieces of the shattered table were preserved as sacred relics by his parents, and that his mother always declared that she had recognized in the mysterious voice that of a dear relative long before deceased.

It was once my fortune to pass some weeks in a "haunted house." I was quite young then, a mere school-girl in fact, and the friend whom I came to visit was also very young; and both of us were too gay and frolicsome to care much for whatever was strange or startling in our surroundings. Not that we ever saw anything—my friend herself, the daughter of the house, had never done so—but the sounds we heard were sufficiently odd and inexplicable to fill us with astonishment, if not with terror. Twice during my visit I was roused from a sound slumber by a loud, heavy crash, resembling that which might be caused by the overthrow of a marble-topped washstand or bureau, or some other equally ponderous piece of furniture. The room actually vibrated, and yet a close scrutiny of that and the adjoining apartments failed to reveal any cause for the peculiar noise. It was a sound which could not possibly have been produced by cracking furniture, falling bricks, scampering rats, or any other of the numerous causes of supposed ghostly sounds. The room overhead was used as a linen-room, and was always kept locked; and besides, the noise (which I afterward heard on another occasion in broad daylight, when I was wide awake) was unmistakably in the room where we found ourselves. My friend told me that she had heard it very often—so often, in fact, that she had got quite used to it, and no longer felt any emotion save that of curiosity.

There was another room in which (also in broad daylight) I heard a strange crackling sound like the rustling of a large sheet of stiff paper or parchment turned slowly in the reader's hands. This noise also was one of frequent occurrence. Among the things seen by other members of the family was a light that glided over walls and ceiling in points inaccessible to outside light or reflection. Then there was a lady in black silk who had more than once been seen gliding about the house, but who always disappeared when accosted or followed. Three slow, solemn raps sometimes sounded at dead of night at the door of one member of the family, a skeptical and irascible old gentleman.

But, strange to say, all these uncanny sights and sounds portended nothing, and seemed to be utterly without a purpose or a cause. The house was a cheerful modern one, and the father of my friend was its first occupant; so there was nothing in the past to which these unearthly occurrences could refer. Nor were they warnings of coming misfortune. Neither death nor disaster ever followed in their train, and in due course of time the family ceased to trouble their heads about them—were not at all frightened, and scarcely even annoyed. There were other sounds which I did not myself hear, but of which I was told—stealthy footsteps that paced a certain corridor at dead of night; a sharp, rattling noise like hail dashing against the window-panes, and one or two other trifling yet equally unaccountable occurrences. Once, too, a young lady visiting the house heard in the next room to that in which she was loud and lamentable sounds, as of a woman weeping bitterly and in sore distress. She listened in considerable perplexity for some time, fearing to intrude on the sorrows of some member of the family; but at last she resolved to go and proffer aid, if not consolation. As he approached the door between the two rooms the sound suddenly ceased, and, to her amazement, she found the adjoining apartment not only empty, but with the door locked and bolted on the inside.

I once knew a young lady who, on going to pay a visit to a friend who had recently moved into a new house, was asked to walk up stairs, and on complying saw an old woman preceding her up the staircase. Supposing her to be one of the servants, she took but little notice of her, though struck by the peculiarity of her gait, a sort of jerky limp, as though one leg was shorter than the other. In the course of conversation with her friend she mentioned the old woman, and asked if she was the housekeeper. "Housekeeper? no," said the lady: "we have no such person about our house. You must have been mistaken." The visitor then described the person she had seen, and when she mentioned the peculiar limp her hostess seemed startled. After a pause she said: "No such person lives here now, but the woman who took care of this house before we rented it was exactly such a person as you describe, and was lame in just such a manner. But she died here about six weeks ago—I think in this very room—so your eyes must certainly have deceived you." The lady still persisted that she had seen the old woman; so the servants were called and the house thoroughly searched, but no intruder was discovered.

I have known several instances of persons who have seen the "fetch" or apparition of a living person, called in Germany the "Doppelgänger;" yet, though such appearances are usually supposed to portend the death or illness of the person thus strangely "doubled," I have never yet heard of a case where any unpleasant consequences followed. For instance, an old friend of mine, a gentleman of undoubted veracity, once told me that on one occasion he entered his house about five o'clock in the afternoon, and ran up stairs to his mother's bed-chamber, where he saw her standing near the centre of the room, clad in a loose white gown and engaged in combing out her long black hair. He remained looking at her for some moments, expecting that she would speak to him, but she did not take notice in any way of his presence, and neither spoke nor looked at him. He then addressed her, but, receiving no reply, became indignant and went down stairs, where, to his amazement, he found his mother seated by the parlor window, dressed and coiffée as usual. It was some years before he would trust himself to tell her of what he had seen, fearing that she might consider it an omen of approaching death, and indeed, though not a superstitious man, he was inclined so to view it himself; but his mother lived for many years after the appearance of her wraith. I also knew a young gentleman to whom the unpleasant experience of beholding his own double was once vouchsafed. He had been spending a quiet evening with some young ladies, and returned home about eleven o'clock, let himself into the house with his latch-key and proceeded to his own room, where he found the gas already lighted, though turned down to a mere blue spark. He turned it up, and the full light of the jet shone on his bed, which stood just beside the burner, and there, extended at full length, lay—himself. His first idea was of a burglar or some such intruder. But his second glance dispelled that impression. He stood for some moments gazing at the prostrate figure with feelings which must have been anything but agreeable: he noticed little peculiarities of his own dress and features, and marked the closed eyelids and easy respiration of slumber. At length, plucking up courage, he attempted to pass his hand under the pillow to draw out a small revolver which he usually kept there, and as he did so he felt the pressure of the pillow as though weighed down by a reclining head. This completely unnerved him. He went out of the room, locking the door on the outside, and spent the remainder of the night on a sofa in the parlor. He did not re-enter his chamber till broad daylight, when, to his delight, he found that his ghostly visitor had vanished.

The next story on my list was narrated to me by one of the most sensible and intelligent women I ever met—a lady of great strength of character, joined to a fine and highly cultivated mind. During her childhood my friend (whom I shall call Mrs. X——) dwelt with her parents in a large, roomy house in the vicinity of one of our inland cities. The house was a double one, a solid, substantial structure built of stone, and had been purchased by her father a short time before the occurrences which I am about to relate. A wide lawn at the back of the mansion sloped down to the bank of a small stream, along the verge of which, without intervening bank or path, ran the terminating wall of the grounds. The stables were also situated at the foot of this lawn, and the back windows of these stables looked out on the water. Mrs. X—— had several brothers and sisters, all of whom, as well as herself, were still children at the period of which she spoke.

One summer evening her parents accepted an invitation to take tea with a friend, and went out, leaving the children at play in the library, a room which opened on the main hall on the ground floor. The front door was open, and as it grew dark a large hanging lamp which fully illuminated the hall was lighted, so that every part of it, as well as the staircase, was fully illuminated. Late in the evening the children were disturbed at their play in the library by the sound of heavy footsteps ascending the outer steps and then pacing along the hall. Imagining that it was their parents who had returned earlier than they expected, they rushed to the door to greet them, but to their astonishment they could see no one, though the heavy steps were still heard traversing the hall, ascending the staircase, and finally resounding on the floor of a room overhead. The children summoned the servants, who merely laughed at their story, till one of the maids, who had been busy up stairs, came down and said that her master and mistress must surely have returned, as she had heard them walking along the entry and afterward entering one of the rooms. Upon this, one of the men-servants went up stairs and made a careful search, but without rinding any one. In the midst of the excitement the lady and gentleman of the house returned home, and upon hearing the story the gentleman himself instituted a second and more vigorous search, which, like the first, was wholly without result.

Some time after this the children were playing under their nurse's care on the lawn at the back of the house one gray, dismal afternoon in the early autumn. The attention of the whole party was suddenly attracted by the figure of a man passing slowly outside of the stone wall that stretched along the foot of the lawn, and finally disappearing behind the stable. As he did so a tremendous uproar arose among the horses in the stable, and on examination one of them, a remarkably fine and docile animal, whose stall happened to be next the window that opened on the water, was found to be in a perfect ecstasy of terror, plunging, rearing and struggling to get loose in a manner that rendered the task of releasing and removing him anything but an easy or even a safe one. After the horse was got out of the stable and led away, the question arose, What had frightened him? Could the man they had seen passing behind the stable have done anything to terrify him? Then, for the first time, it dawned on the minds of the whole party that no human being could have walked where they had seen the passing figure, as the wall rose straight from the verge of the water, and there was no pathway between the wall and the stream, which in that spot was deep, though not very wide. Strange to say, the horse could never be induced to re-enter that stable, but always manifested signs of wild alarm and excitement when brought even to the door, though in all other respects he was perfectly gentle and tractable.

Owing to the size of the family, one of the large garret-rooms had been fitted up as a bed-room for one of the younger boys, who preferred having a chamber of his own to sharing the apartment of one of his brothers. He had not occupied it long before he began to complain of frightful dreams, and more than once he came trembling down stairs and took refuge in his mother's room, terrified by something horrible—what, he could not define, but something that came into his room at night and roused him from his slumbers. Thinking that the child was merely nervous and excitable, she changed the arrangements, put him to sleep in the bed-room of one of his brothers, and gave up the apartment in the garret to one of the servants. But in a very short time the complaints were renewed: the girl could not sleep on account of that vague, strange horror, which often drove her shrieking and half awakened from her bed. So the lady had the room dismantled, and used it as a lumber-room, and during the remaining years of her occupancy of the house was troubled no more.

As time passed on, the increasing exigencies of his growing family induced Mrs. X——'s father to purchase a house in town, and he accordingly rented his country-mansion to a childless pair, a clergyman and his wife. The new residents had not been long installed when a series of ghostly disturbances began in real earnest. I believe that nothing more was ever seen, but the kitchen at night, when all the family had retired, would at times become the seat of an appalling uproar of inarticulate voices and clashing dishes and dragging furniture. If any one was bold enough to venture down stairs, the noise would suddenly cease, and the kitchen itself never showed any trace of these unearthly revels, every plate, dish, cup and chair remaining in its accustomed place. Then, too, the footsteps of the invisible intruder were heard again, and often while the minister was writing in his study the steps would be heard coming through the door and across the room, and the unseen visitor would seat himself in the chair that usually stood opposite to that of the clergyman at the writing-table, when a sound as of the pages of a large book with stiff paper leaves being slowly turned would usually ensue. The minister often addressed his invisible companion, but never received any reply to his questions or his appeals.

On hearing these strange stories, Mrs. X——'s father determined upon trying to trace out the history of the house before it came into his possession. He learned that it had originally been occupied by the person who built it, a man of low origin, who, being looked upon as a pillar of the Church by the congregation to which he belonged, had been entrusted with the task of collecting certain sums due to it—whether actual income or subscriptions I do not now recollect. At all events, he never paid over the money, but launched out into sundry extravagances rather unusual for a man in his station of life, amongst which was the erection of this large and handsome house. But from the time the house was finished a blight seemed to fall upon his life. He gave up all his religious and regular habits, frequented evil company, took to drinking, and finally, in a fit of delirium tremens, hanged himself in the very garret room of which I have before spoken. The scenes at his funeral were said to baffle description. The corpse was laid out in the kitchen, and thither all his late boon-companions repaired and turned the sad ceremonial into a hideous orgy. Among other horrible deeds, they took the corpse from the coffin, propped it up in a chair and poured whisky down its throat.

The incidents which I have related happened when Mrs. X—— was a child, and she is now in the prime of womanhood. When she finished her story I recollected that scarce a year ago I had read in a Philadelphia paper an extract from one of the journals of the town near which this house stood, giving an account of an investigation which was then taking place of the cause of sundry strange disturbances occurring in this very house. The extract closed with the history of its builder and first occupant, tallying exactly with what she related to me, though with fewer details. So, after all these years, the perturbed spirit still refuses to rest.

The narrative with which I shall conclude this chapter of ghostly experiences is one for the truth of which I am not prepared to vouch, as I was neither an actor in its scenes nor was it related to me by one who was. Yet were the incidents of any other than a supernatural nature I should consider the authority from which I learned them as unquestionable.

A few years ago a lady in quest of summer lodgings for herself, her sister and her children (her husband being absent) was offered a large, old-fashioned house in the vicinity of one of our seashore resorts on highly advantageous terms. Having inspected the house and found it, though old, in good repair, she engaged it joyfully, and a few weeks after the date of her first negotiations she was settled there with her family. For some time nothing occurred to mar the peace of the household. The children enjoyed the fresh sea-breezes, their pleasant sports on the beach and the large airy rooms, while the ladies sewed and read and looked after household matters and took long walks after the fashion of most people during the summer season by the seaside. One night, when the mother was about to retire to rest, one of her younger children, a bright little boy, called to her from his sleeping-room. Fearing that he was ill, she hastened to him.

"Mamma," he said very earnestly, "I wish you would tell that strange woman to keep out of my room."

"What woman, dear?" asked his mother, convinced that he had been dreaming.

"I don't know her name, and I can't see her face because she wears a big sun-bonnet, but she comes and stands at the foot of my bed, and she frightens me."

"Well, never mind, dear. Go to sleep, and if ever she troubles you again, come into my room and sleep with me," answered the mother, still thinking that the child had been wakened by an uneasy dream. The little fellow, thus soothed and consoled, soon fell asleep, and slept soundly till morning. But a few nights afterward the child came running into his mother's room at dead of night, panting and terrified, and exclaiming, "Mamma! mamma! she has come again!" His mother took him into her arms, and soon caressed away his fears, but thinking that the child's uneasiness was caused by his sleeping alone, she had his bed moved into her own chamber, and fitted up the vacant apartment as a guest-chamber. Soon after this the servants began to complain of strange sights and sounds for which they could not account, and one burning July day the sister, who was seated by the parlor window, happened to say, "Oh, I am so warm!" when a voice, seemingly from the cellar, made answer, "And I am so cold!" Struck with amazement, she called, but no one replied, and subsequent investigation proved that there was no one in the cellar at that moment, nor could there have been, as its only door was always kept locked.

I cannot now recall the details of various strange occurrences which afterward took place, but will pass on to the final one, which may be considered as the dénoûment of the whole story. The lady of the house, a strong-minded, practical woman, had always sternly rejected the theory that the odd incidents that annoyed her had any supernatural origin; so, disregarding them wholly, she sent an invitation to an old friend of hers, a clergyman, to pay her a visit of some weeks' duration. Her invitation was accepted, and in due time her guest arrived and was put in possession of the spare bed-room. Night coming on, the whole household retired to rest. Early in the morning the active hostess rose to see that all was in order for the further entertainment of her guest, when, on going into the parlor to unfasten the shutters, what was her amazement to find him there extended on the sofa, and looking very ill, as though he had passed a wretched night! In answer to her anxious questioning he stated that on retiring to rest he had fallen into a profound slumber, from which he suddenly woke, and saw a woman wearing a large sun-bonnet, which completely concealed her face, standing beside his bed, the moonlight which shone into the room rendering every detail of her figure distinctly visible. Supposing that she was one of the servants who had come to his room to see that he was perfectly comfortable and wanted nothing, he spoke to her. What she replied, or how he first became convinced that the Thing before him was no form of flesh and blood, I cannot now remember; but I recollect two particulars of the interview: one was, that she told him to look for her in the cellar; the other, that he asked her why she wore a sun-bonnet, and she answered, "Because the lime has spoilt my face." At this his failing senses forsook him, and when consciousness returned his ghostly visitor had disappeared.

His hostess heard him in silence. As soon as breakfast was over she requested him to accompany her to the cellar. Careful examination soon revealed a spot where some of the stones with which it was paved had been removed and afterward replaced. Assistants with proper tools were procured, the stones were lifted, and after a few minutes of vigorous digging a mass of lime was disclosed, in which was found imbedded a quantity of calcined fragments of bone, which medical authority afterward pronounced to be portions of a human skeleton. These poor remains were carefully removed, placed in a box and interred in a neighboring cemetery, and the "woman in a sun-bonnet" was seen no more.

Subsequent investigation into the history of the old house revealed the following facts. It had originally been occupied by a retired sea-captain and his only son, the latter a wild, reckless youth of evil character and confirmed bad habits. A young girl went to live there as a servant, and for some months seemed well contented with her place, but afterward she became gloomy and unhappy, and was frequently seen in tears by the neighbors. At last she disappeared, and it was given out by her employers that she had gone to visit some friends at a distance, but she did not return, and suspicion was already directed toward the old man and his son, when one morning the house was found to be shut up, its inhabitants having found it expedient to remove as silently and secretly as possible. The girl was never heard of afterward. The discovery of the bones led to the supposition that the younger man had seduced her, had afterward murdered her to conceal his original crime, and that he had then buried the body in the cellar, taking the precaution to cover it with quicklime.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I neither wish to propound any theories nor to deduce any conclusions from the relations I have given. I can only reiterate my statement that they came to me from sources the reliability of which I cannot question. I have carefully excluded everything relating to the supernatural which I ever heard from the lips of ignorant and superstitious persons, and have only recorded such incidents as bore an added weight of evidence in the shape of the sense, intelligence and unquestionable veracity of their relators.