The subjects of these two eighteenth-century paintings are unknown. But there’s a ghost story attached, not to these particular paintings, but to two others, very similar in style–a strange variation on a manabee haunting, in which spirits are somehow attached to an object they owned in life.
A married couple in Atlanta had, on a trip to Austria, acquired two eighteenth century oil paintings of the wife’s ancestors, also a married couple.
For some years the paintings hung in the couple’s dining room, side by side. Then, in a fit of redecorating, the woman had taken the man’s portrait and hung it in her husband’s study.
Over the next two years, things went terribly wrong for the Atlanta couple. Their daughter, who shared the house with them, became suicidally depressed. The parents began having marital problems. Objects began to be moved around and found in places where they should not have been, and a number of items were never found at all. They began to see an apparition of a man in eighteenth century clothes going up the staircase to the second floor, and peculiar shadows appeared in the upstairs hall. Most ominously, what seemed to be tears appeared on the face of the woman in the portrait in the dining room.
The Atlanta couple in desperation called in a medium to investigate. She was able to trace the whole sequence of events back to the original offense; the separation of the portraits. The pair were somehow bound to their portraits. Since the portraits were now in separate rooms, the spirits attached to them couldn’t find each other. Hence, the woman wept in despair, while the husband roamed the house, looking for her–although why he never looked in the dining room, the medium could or did not explain.
She was able, she claimed, to bring their two energies together, whereupon there was a lightening of the atmosphere in the house. Not only that, but the pair decided to leave their attachment to the portraits and return to Austria together. The daughter’s depression lifted; the couple’s marital troubles ended; things stopped moving that shouldn’t have moved; there were no more apparitions or shadows; and they all lived happily ever after.
I have to say, I find this story highly unsatisfactory. I’m no smarter than the average bear, but I think I could have figured out, in no short order, that things went sour when the portraits were separated, and moved them back in no short order.
However, I’ve never been bitten by the redecorating bug, which seems to have short-circuited all progressions of logic in this case.
As for the ghostly couple returning to Austria together, after their miserable two year separation in Atlanta, the writer L.P. Hartley commented in his story “Feet Foremost”, “I suppose it’s the nature of ghosts to linger where they’ve suffered. . .but it seems illogical to me. I should want to go somewhere else.”
Well, if the medium is to be believed, these two did.
As I say, unsatisfactory, if unintentionally humorous.
And I bet the portraits are now back side by side. Just in case.
I first ran across this story in Arthur Myers’ 1990 book THE GHOSTLY GAZETTEER: AMERICA’S MOST FASCINATING HAUNTED LANDMARKS.