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Archive for March, 2011

There are quite a few stories around of haunted churches or cathedrals, especially in England. The story of the Veiled Lady of Langenhoe, south of the city of Colchester in Essex, UK, is unusual for several reasons–not the least of which is that only one Rector of Langenhoe ever reported the phenomena.

Langenhoe’s church of St. Andrew is no more; badly damaged in an earthquake that rocked the island of Britain in 1884, it was repaired but never structurally stable thereafter. Abandoned in 1955, it was torn down seven years later. There are those who say that the decision to tear it down had less to do with its instability than with a series of paranormal events recorded by the Rev. Ernest A. Merryweather.

Rev. Merryweather came to Langenhoe in 1937, from a parish in the North of England. The odd events in his new parish began with a bang, literally; he recorded in his journal that he was in the church, alone, on September 20 of that year when the great doors at the building’s west front suddenly slammed shut, unassisted by him or by the wind.

Twice in the month of October that year, Merryweather recorded that a small traveling case, in which he carried his vestments and books, locked on its own when left setting in the vestry, and could only be unlocked after he left the church. The first time this happened, he had a witness; the second, he was alone.

Thereafter, things were quiet for some years, particularly during the war years of 1939-1945. No sooner was peace declared in 1945 than odd things began happening again, this time involving flowers with which church and altar were decorated at various seasons of the year. Again, the first time, there were witnesses; a parishioner and her daughter were arranging flowers when they were called out of the sanctuary for some other task. When they returned mere minutes later, the flowers had been removed from the vase and were found lying on one of the pews. Several times after that, flowers simply disappeared altogether after being placed in the church; other times, blossoms would appear on the altar and in the pews, seemingly out of thin air, when no one was in the church at all.

Sometime in the fall of 1947, the oddities were ratcheted up considerably, when the rector, visiting at the nearby manor house of Langenhoe, was given a tour of the rooms by the then owner. The lady led him into an upstairs bedroom, remarking as she did so that she had a particular dislike for the room, which had, to her, a strangely chilling atmosphere. She went back out into the hall. The rector walked over to a window which faced the front lawn of the manor, and stood looking at the view, turning around to get the shock of his life; he was, he recorded in his journal, embraced by an indisputably female form, a passionate clasp that lasted only a few seconds. This tactile experience, oddly, was just that: no apparition, smell or sound accompanied it.

In 1948. during the summer months, Merryweather and the entire congregation heard odd thumping noises coming from the vestry every time he gave Holy Communion. More than once he and a couple of parishioners investigated, only to find no source for the sounds. By November, the thumping sounds had stopped, but he had another odd experience; he saw his biretta (a square cap sometimes worn by Anglican or Catholic clergy) rotating, completely untouched, on a makeshift hatstand.

That same day, when his biretta spun under its own power, Merryweather heard voices inside the church, at a time when he knew no parishioners were in the area. Determined to make sure the local toughs weren’t in the building playing tricks, he armed himself with a knife and went into the sanctuary, only to have the knife torn from his grasp to the accompaniment of a female voice that came seemingly from nowhere: you are a cruel man, the invisible woman whispered. Merryweather said later that, after some thought, he could localize the sound to the church’s tower.

More dramatic phenomena followed during Advent that year: coughing behind a sealed-up door, once a private entrance for the local manorial family; a small bell, usually kept on the communion table, ringing on its own; and a phantom rifle shot which seemed to come from inside the church. For some months thereafter, the bell rang unassisted on a number of occasions, and lamps were seen swinging on their own.

Some of these odd occurrences surely must have been related to movements in the old church’s damaged and ill-repaired structure. On August 21, 1949, however, Merryweather was confronted with something that could not be laid to structural instability. He was celebrating Communion when he happened to glance up and see a young woman–no older, he would later estimate, than about thirty years old–walking down the aisle of the church nearest the old tower, from there crossing to the choir and then vanishing out the southwest corner of the building, straight through the stone wall. She was, he recalled, wearing some kind of head covering that obscured her face.

The auditory phenomena, meanwhile, expanded to knockings and footsteps. The lock on the vestry door was found smashed one morning; before a locksmith could be summoned, the door was found to have locked itself again.

In September of 1950–thirteen years, almost, to the day after the west doors shut on their own–, the sanctuary was suffused, wildly out of season, by the scent of violets. A few days later, Merryweather heard the beautiful voice of a young woman singing what resembled Gregorian chant in the empty church, followed by the sound of a man’s heavy footsteps walking up the aisle. A week later, two workmen, working on the lawn, told Merryweather they too had heard the singing and footsteps inside the church, but were unable to get inside the locked building to investigate. Merryweather himself heard the singing again and was prepared to swear the voice was singing in French!

On Christmas Eve, the good reverend saw another apparition: a tall, well-built man in a tweed suit, walking up the nave toward the chancel. vanishing when he reached the pulpit.

In late January, a woman’s handprint showed up on the door of the rector’s study. The powdery print stayed on the door panel for nearly two weeks, and was observed by his housekeeper and her daughter as well as by himself.

In the summer of 1951, Rev. Merryweather saw the apparition of the veiled woman for a second time. She vanished through the bricked-up private manorial entrance as he watched. A few minutes later, he heard phantom voices: two or three people carrying on a conversation in those irritating low voices that one knows for human, but with the words indistinguishable. At length, there came the sound of a deep sigh, after which the voices ceased.

And there were more noises: bangs, pops, rattlings, footsteps. Once an unlit candle suddenly flamed up and then went out.

That year–1952–Rev. Merryweather recorded the last of the apparitions he would see at Langenhoe. In late October, while reading a psalm in front of the altar, he got the feeling someone was behind him. Turning, he confronted a young woman–not the same one he had seen twice before–standing some distance away. She was wearing a cream-colored dress and had a pale, lovely oval face and blue eyes. They looked at each other in silence for a few minutes, then she vanished.

Merryweather did some research and learned that there was a tradition that a former rector of the church had had a secret sweetheart among the women of the congregation, whom he had murdered, although whether the episode with his knife or the phantom rifle shot was connected with that legend he was never able to learn. The man in the tweed suit may have been the ghost of the murderous rector. The identity of the second girl ghost, he was never able to establish, except that she seemed in form not to resemble the veiled lady.

There’s a possibility that the young murdered girl–whichever of the two phantoms she was–may have met with her lover in that second floor bedroom at the manor house, which would seem to explain her passionate embrace of Rev. Merryweather in that room.

But all of it remains speculative, with no documentation to support any of the legends. After the old church was abandoned in 1955, the reports of paranormal activity died out.

My source for the story of the Veiled Lady of Langenhoe is David Knight’s 1984 book Best True Ghost Stories of the 20th Century. Some internet sources identify Langenhoe’s legendary murder victim as a seventeenth century heiress named Arabella Waldegrave, but be forewarned: that name is also attached to the legends of a long-destroyed and much better known haunted place just down the road a piece from Langenhoe: the infamous Borley Rectory.

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Dogwood Winter

It’s dogwood winter again in Knobite Corner, that cold spell that comes when Canis florida, that lovely crooked little flowering tree, blooms. It’s chilly and damp but sunny today, after an EF3 tornado tore up trim (and everything else) in Greenback, a few miles up Highway 411, followed by several days of sporadic rain showers.

This tree is, hands down, my favorite flower–my sign that, chill notwithstanding, spring has come to sit a spell. 😉

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Right out of the gate, when he became a full-time member of the Statler Brothers, Jimmy Fortune wrote this gorgeous, wistful number one hit. He later reminisced that it had its genesis in an afternoon when he was watching an old Elizabeth Taylor movie (either Elephant Walk or Raintree Country; I can’t recall which) and was impressed with her remarkable beauty.

More than a quarter century later, the song is as classic as was the lady who inspired it.

May she rest well.

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Over the past week and more the news has been dominated by reports on the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation of Japan on March 7. Perhaps inevitably, talk has turned to major fault lines on the North American continent that could potentially affect nuclear installations in the US as those in Japan have been affected.

There’s a major fault line centered near New Madrid, Missouri, which has the potential to affect all or part of seven surrounding states, one of which is my home state of Tennessee. The greatest effect a quake along the New Madrid fault has had in Tennessee is the doozy of a tremblor that struck the region on February 7, 1812. That one, variously estimated at a strength somewhere between 7.4 and 8.0 on a seismic scale that did not exist at the time, formed Tennessee’s only natural lake–the aptly named Reelfoot, in the far westen corner of the state.

The Chickasaw tribe of Native Americans have a legend that gives color and a bit of romance to the formation of Reelfoot Lake. It begins with an unfortunate Chickasaw chieftain named Kalopin, who was seeking a wife.

Kalopin was the son of a Chickasaw chief, and became chief upon his father’s death. He was of an age to marry, but was having no luck in finding a wife; Kalopin had been born with a club foot, and walked with a limp, which none of the Chickasaw maidens found attractive.

Kalopin finally concluded that he must look farther afield for a mate. He journeyed southward, therefore, into the lands of the Choctaw. In one of the Choctaw villages, he saw and fell desperately in love with the daughter of a Choctaw chieftain. He eagerly requested her hand in marriage, but the girl–and her father–refused to entertain his suit; the daughter did not wish to marry a man with a limp, and her father decreed that she should marry none save a Choctaw warrior.

Kalopin, therefore, followed a tradition hallowed by time, if unseemly, to get his bride. One night he kidnapped her, and took her back, a journey of several days, to his home village.

Word had reached his home that the chief was returning with a would-be bride. As the pair–the eager chief and his reluctant captive–approached they could hear drums beating, as welcoming ceremonies began for them.

Scarcely, though, had they reached their destination than the unthinkable happened: the ground began to pitch and roll and thunder beneath their feet. As the whole village struggled to keep their footing, a great hole opened up in the earth. That hole was suddenly filled by a wall of water from the nearby great river, a wall taller than the trees, that smashed down upon the village and within a matter of seconds completely obliterated it.

The vast hole filled up and is now a fairly tranquil lake. The legend says, though, that sometimes locals and tourists will hear the sounds of drums. The sounds come from deep beneath the surface of the lake. . .ghost drumbeats, forever welcoming Kalopin and his bride home.

The lake, incidentally, is named for Kalopin. In English, Kalopin translates as Reelfoot.

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Another legend about the earthquakes of the winter of 1811-12 involves the first of the series of quakes–that of December 16, 1811–and tells a story of a prophecy made by the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh, who formed a confederacy of tribes to go to war with encroaching white settlers and drive them from Native American lands forever.

One of the tribes to which Tecumseh journeyed on his quest was known as the Alabama, with their main village on the banks of the southern Mississippi River. He made his plea to them, but they refused to join him. Their chief openly derided Tecumseh, telling him that talk was free, as the wind was free; therefore, his talk meant nothing.

Tecumseh, infuriated by this response, made a prophecy on the spot: when he returned to his home in the north–near Detroit, Michigan–, he would stamp his feet and shake down all their houses, since he had been treated with such disrepect.

Tecumseh left the village, still angry.

A few weeks later, on December 16, the first of two earthquakes along the New Madrid fault that would strike that day, making waterfalls in the Mississippi where none had existed and causing the river to flow backwards in some areas, destroyed the Alabama village, among many others. The survivors had no doubt what had caused the earth to tremble and shatter.

Tecumseh had stamped his feet at Detroit!

The legend of Reelfoot Lake is taken from Dennis William Hauck’s 1994 edition of Haunted Places: The National Directory.

Some versions of the legend of Tecumseh’s curse attribute it as a prophecy, rather than a curse, to his brother Tenskatawa (sometimes given as Elskatawa), also known historically as the Shawnee Prophet, with whom the so-called Zero Year curse on American presidents is said to have originated. In that version, the Prophet simply said, in a prophecy made c. 1807, that there would be a great earthquake in December of the year 1811; there was no mention of stamping of feet. That version also comes from Hauck’s book. In attributing the curse to Tecumseh, I have followed the version given by Michael Norman and Beth Scott in Historic Haunted America (1995).

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RIP Ferlin Husky

Country Music Hall of Fame artist Ferlin Husky passed away yesterday at the age of eighty-five. Nothing seems more appropriate this morning than this, his own number one hit from 1957, as a memorial:

Rest well, Ferlin. Rest well.

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I half-facetiously took an informal poll yesterday regarding today’s St. Patrick’s Day post: would y’all prefer a gory Irish ghost story or a recycled misadventure of a fictional psychic called Madame Sadie, who used to turn up at my previous blog from time to time? Overwhelmingly, my public favored a gory Irish ghost story, so here we go. This one has its origins in an appalling episode from fifteenth century Ireland, and is taken from James Reynolds’ 1947 book Ghosts in Irish Houses.

Along the shores of Liscannor Lough there stand the blackened ruins of an ancient castle. Known as Kerrigan’s Keep, it was built in a ten-year period between 1360-70 by a chieftain called Roe Kerrigan.

Roe’s son (or, more likely, grandson) Anair took a wife in 1410, a Leinster woman called Marra Dartry. Thereafter Anair vanishes from the story, his only purpose being to give Marra three sons. Two of those sons would die defending Marra in battle; the third would be the cause of the dreadful haunting of the old Keep, which has echoes right down to the twentieth century.

Marra Kerrigan was an Irish warrior woman. She had not been long married to Anair before she took a fancy to the broad and prosperous acreage of their near neighbor, Liam O’Conahey. Failing to purchase it, she raised an army–which she led into battle herself–and took it from The O’Conahey by force of arms, killing him and taking his garrison as serfs.

The O’Conahey was only the first of those to lose land and life to the crafty, greedy Marra Kerrigan. Only one of them ever defeated her in battle: an Ordlin O’Downey, whose own army beat hers to a pulp and sent her home to recover from wounds of her own. For some years she remained there, raising her sons and managing her ill-gotten property.

When her elder sons were in their late teens, Marra went for vengeance against The O’Downey. It would be her last battle. One of her young and inexperienced sons somehow managed to set up camp in a swampy area called the Bog of Bealaclugga, and the army settled in to sleep.

The O’Downey, who had raised an army consisting of most of the great chieftains of the West of Ireland, attacked at dawn, out of a fog that had risen overnight. By noon it was all over. Marra Kerrigan and her two elder sons lay dead. Marra’s right arm, still clutching in its dead hand the bronze sword of the Kerrigans, only carried by its chieftain, was cut off at the shoulder and found lying nearby. On the hem of the garment she wore under her armor she had written, using her left index finger and her own blood, four words:

Avenge me. Never cease.

Fast forward some fifty years: the O’Downey, now ninety years old and senile, was about to travel from his home to that of his daughter, near Moycullan, where he would end his days in peace. The route taken by him and his hundred retainers would take them right past Kerrigan’s Keep, now ruled over by Marra Kerrigan’s only living son, Dulin.

Dulin Kerrigan had been too young to fight at Bealaclugga, but he had possession of one item: Marra’s bloody undercoat, with that crimson message on its hem. When he learned that The O’Downey would be traveling past the Keep, he knew that he could carry out his mother’s dying directive.

For some years he had been remodeling at the Keep. He had added some stone pillars as roof supports for the great hall–curious supports, for they were hollow. He had also added a narrow hall that led to a tall, narrow room, its floor deep in the ground and reached by a long stone stairway. It was here that he would conceal the bodies of The O’Downey and his hundred retainers.

He stopped the party as they were passing the Keep and told The O’Downey that the bridges between the Keep and Moycullan were out, and offered him the hospitality of his house until they could be repaired. The O’Downey accepted readily; he had long forgotten that this man’s mother had called on her son to avenge her death, and in any case, Dulin Kerrigan seemed a polite enough chap.

On the second night the party was entertained at a banquet celebrating the coming of age of Dulin’s son. Some of The O’Downey’s retainers thought, as the night drew on, that they could hear sounds from the seemingly solid stone pillars of the great hall, but nothing was said. By orders of their chieftain, they carried no arms, an omission they paid for in blood. Dead on midnight, the stone pillars burst open and armed men came out. In the slaughter that followed, The O’Downey and every one of his hundred retainers died, while Dulin Kerrigan sat at the head of the table murmuring four words, over and over: Avenge me. Never cease. Avenge me. Never cease. Avenge me. . .

The bloody bodies were cast into that tall, narrow and heretofore seemingly purposeless room, pitched headlong down the stairs into pits, which were hastily covered with flat stones–some about the size of a hand,–mortared into place. Then the room itself was sealed, and remained so for nearly a century.

By the year 1600, the direct line of the Kerrigans had died out, and the old Keep was inherited by a nephew named Connard Kerrigan. Connard removed the portcullis from the front of the Keep, replacing it with a Renaissance doorway. He also made the mistake of opening the wall that echoed so oddly, as if hollow, down the little corridor behind the great hall. He was, it seems, the first to encounter the horrifying ghosts of the O’Downey party, but he wouldn’t be the last. Nor did he leave any description of what sent him at a mad run out of the Keep to his death in the lough below. The wall was hastily resealed.

In 1730, another cousin, this one a Dartry, inherited. He had a mania for family history, and in the course of some research came across an account of the death of Marra Kerrigan and Dulin’s dreadful vengeance against The O’Downey. The Dartry sent a workman to open up the wall, and the man made it partway down the stairs into the room before those outside were startled by a roaring and crashing: the roars sounded like human voices and the crashing like stones smashing against a wall.

The workman managed to crawl back up the stairs, only to die at the top without a word. He appeared to have been stoned to death.

A year later, The Dartry died in a fire of unknown origin that swept through the Keep.

By 1802, the Keep was in poor repair, and the family had trouble keeping staff; the strange deaths of Connard Kerrigan and of The Dartry’s workman had not been forgotten. That year, it was inherited by a great-nephew of the Dartry who had died in the fire, many years before. This heir built a home called Kerrigan’s Acre, about a mile from the old Keep.

During a hunting party at the Acre, a young British officer named Hambelton heard, for the first time, the story about the sealed room at the Keep. He determined that he would debunk the legend; when reminded of the terrible death of the workman, he retorted that the man probably was killed by stones falling from the roof, loosened by the action of unsealing the door.

Hambelton, accompanied by several of the house party, rode to the Keep the next day. They took a look at the roof above the infamous room, but found that not a stone of it appeared to have shifted since Dulin Kerrigan’s day. Still, Hambelton insisted he would prove to them there were no supernatural phenomena involved.

The wall was unsealed once more, and Hambelton started down the stairs. Those above reported hearing a babel of human voices, moaning and wailing, and a fusillade of stones clashing with stones. When the noises stopped, they found Hambelton halfway up the stairs, bloody, unconscious, and still alive, his hands groping for the door above. A doctor, summoned to care for him, found that nearly every bone in his body was broken.

Hambelton lived ten days after he went down to disprove the legend. He regained consciousness toward the end, and left the only full account of what happened down in that awful place. He said that by the light of the lantern he carried he could see, when he got about halfway down the steps, that the stone floor suddenly began to pitch and roll, like waves coming in off the sea. He tried to shout for his friends to take a look, but all at once the biggest stones–long flat ones–seemed to stand on their ends, a hundred or more of them–Around each stone, he could see eyes–human eyes–glaring at him out of the darkness, and he could hear voices moaning and shrieking and wailing, but could make out no words.

The hands were worse. He could see hands rising up out of the dirt, each with filthy rags of clothing hanging off them, and each hand holding a stone.

And then, the hands hurled the stones at him.

Hambelton died. When the secret room was resealed, not a single stone appeared to be out of place.

The Keep was abandoned for good after Hambelton’s death, and was quite a ruin by 1924, when the sealed room was reportedly breached for the last time. That time, a parapsychologist called Dr. Santley begged permission from the current family at the Acre, who used the name Dartry-Kerrigan, to try to exorcise the ghosts. He was permitted to open the room, but nearby workman heard the noises of the legend and were just in time to catch the hapless doctor, who came racing out of the old Keep as if hounds of hell were chasing him, before he threw himself into the lough.

Dr. Santley was shortly thereafter confined to an asylum, where he lived out his days ranting about moans and wails and eyes and hands.

The door to that monstrous chamber was sealed, for the last time, and the old Keep left to fall into complete ruin.

PS: I must say, this story reminds me of another, better known one of a sealed room in Scotland’s Glamis Castle, where a member of the Lyon (now Bowes-Lyon) family shut up sixteen members of Clan Ogilvy to starve–However, the Ogilvies never put on a show anything like as horrifying as the O’Downeys who lay in a dreadful room beneath Kerrigan’s Keep.

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Spring Cleaning

chaos has a taste:
grit and ink,
lint and cobwebs,
and a faint dry smear of bug crap
torment the palate mercilessly

the words on the list struggle
beneath gauds of highlighter;
bruised letters smoulder under a neon assault
of greens, yellows and pinks
as they gobble away at item after item,
annihilating one task, then another

spitting out some as too noxious
for this day:
perhaps put off in pique;
perhaps numbness sets upon the heart
as enormities of memory long denied clatter in
like elephants run amok

until it flags; muscles rebel;
that sullen grit sandpapers the will,
the will shuts down the hands;
the hands flutter one last protest

put up one last fight
to vanquish the grime
only to go down to defeat–this day–

a shower eases grubby skin and hair;
toothpaste and mouthwash triumph
over a taste the mouth clasps
like the savor of a lover

but do nothing to banish dreams
haunted by the dust of springs past

copyright 2011 by Faire Lewis

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