Archive for August, 2011

He wasn’t the first, the last, nor yet the most prolific serial killer of all time, but he’s probably the most notorious, with a nickname recognized almost globally: Jack the Ripper.

We can say with fair certainty that the Ripper was responsible for five murders of alcoholic prostitutes over a ten-week period between August 31 and November 9, 1888, in the Whitechapel district of London’s East End, although some “Ripperologists” argue that he was responsible for at least one more Whitechapel murder and has been touted as a suspect in crimes happening as far from London as New York City, St. Petersburg, Russia, Paris–and even Galveston, Texas!
Most of those suspicions, while intriguing, can’t quite be substantiated.

Whitechapel, as the Ripper and his victims knew it, has been all but obliterated by the German blitz of World War II and by massive demolition and reconstruction projects since the 1960s. Tour guides can take the curious to the new buildings that cover the sites of the Ripper’s five known murders, and describe how they were in that dreadful autumn of 1888 in such vivid detail that one almost feels transported back to that time and place.

Do the Ripper and his victims still walk, as ghosts, in Whitechapel? Stories suggest they do.

Mary Ann “Polly” Walker Nichols found dead in the gutter along Buck’s Row (later Durward Street) at 3:45 AM August 31, 1888.

The man who found Polly’s body thought at first that he had merely walked up on a heap of discarded clothing; a second recognized that it was a body, but not until they summoned a constable did anyone realize she was dead. The constable had passed that spot a mere thirty minutes earlier, walking his regular beat; Polly had not been there then.

She had died of a slashed throat and exsanguination. Only later, during an examination at the morgue, were the horrifying mutilations that would become the Ripper’s signature found, hidden by her clothes.

As early as 1895, there were reports that what appeared to be a heap of clothing could occasionally be seen on the spot where Polly died. It gave off a ghastly grayish light, and would slowly melt into the surrounding darkness. Dogs and horses, in those days, were known to shy around that place.

Eliza Ann “Dark Annie” Smith Chapman found dead in the back yard of Number 29, Hanbury Street, at approximately six AM on September 8, 1888, almost decapitated and badly mutilated.

Ill from tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism, Annie Chapman was, like Polly Nichols, out trying to earn the price of a bed. She was seen entering Number 29 with a man about an hour before her body was found.

There are more reports of ghostly phenomena surrounding Annie’s murder than any of the other Ripper victims. The back yard of Number 29, where she was found, was haunted for many years by sounds of struggle, panting, and something very like a body falling, followed by the sound of footsteps running out of the yard.

Annie had, as a wife and mother in her younger days, lived at Windsor. There have been reports of a woman’s ghost sitting on a wall near Windsor Barracks; some think this spirit is that of Annie Chapman, drawn back to a place where she was happy.

Perhaps the most intriguing sightings of Annie’s spirit–and possibly of her killer–were reported over a period of several years in the 1920s by a Whitechapel resident named Chapman (no relation). On at least four different occasions, usually in September and always early in the morning, Chapman saw a woman and man at the door leading into Number 29; the woman caught his attention because she wore shabby Victorian clothing, while the man wore a greatcoat and a wide-brimmed hat with a tall crown. Once, Chapman tried to point the odd pair out to his wife, who just missed seeing them, but pointed out that she should have been able to see the door closing behind them; only then did Chapman realize that he had never seen them open the door and go into Number 29. They always seemed just to pass through it without opening it. The last time he saw the pair, around 1930, he was accompanied by his brother, who saw nothing but heard footsteps, although no living person was walking past Number 29 at the time.

Number 29 was eventually knocked down and built over by the Old Truman Brewery. There were reports that a the shadow of a woman was seen on the wall of a storeroom when no woman was present; the storeroom was built over the place where Annie was found. And, on every September 8, it was said, the brewery’s boardroom would become icy cold–just about six o’clock in the morning.

Elizabeth Gustafsdottir “Long Liz” Stride found dead of a slashed throat in a court off Berner Street (later Henriques Street) at approximately 12:55 AM, September 30, 1888.

Some Ripperologists, citing the lack of the Ripper’s characteristic mutilations, do not think Stride was killed by the Ripper. More than likely, she was not mutilated because the killer was interrupted by the arrival of a man driving a horse and cart into the courtyard where she was found, and only just managed to slip away unnoticed. Liz had last been seen alive about 12:45 AM, talking with a man on Berner Street; she was found dead about ten minutes later.

At the time, her identity was in question. Although she was identified as Elizabeth Stride by Michael Kidney, with whom she shared a room on the notorious Flower and Dean Street, a woman named Mary Malcolm testified at the inquest on her death that she was actually Malcolm’s sister, Elizabeth Watts, who was, like Liz Stride, an alcoholic prostitute living in Whitechapel. Mrs. Malcolm also testified that, on that Sunday morning, she was awake at 1:20 AM when she felt a sudden heaviness on her chest, followed by three kisses, which she felt and heard, on her cheek. She knew then, she said, that her sister was dead.

Catherine Eddowes found dead in the southwest corner of Mitre Square in the square mile known as the City of London–a mere fifteen minute walk from the site of Elizabeth Stride’s murder–at about 1:45 AM September 30, 1888, horribly mutilated.

Catherine Eddowes had been incarcerated at the Bishopsgate Police Station from about eight PM on September 29, after being found “drunk and incapable” in the gutter. Released about one AM on the 30th, she apparently went out seeking a customer and was found dead about forty-five minutes later. A constable would testify that he had walked through Mitre Square at 1:30 and seen nothing untoward; when he returned some fifteen minutes later, he found Eddowes, newly dead, her body and face badly cut.

In a letter which may have been written by the Ripper himself, the deaths of Stride and Eddowes are referred to as a “double event”.

Mitre Square was haunted, for many years afterward, by the sound of screams and by an odd glowing apparition, head in the southwest corner and feet pointing outward toward the square. One couple reported seeing not only this apparition but also what appeared to be a man hurriedly leaving the square in the opposite direction. They approached the corner and thought at first that they were seeing a living woman and were about to summon police, thinking she might have been assaulted and left there by the man they had spotted when a group of young boys entered the square and began playing in that corner–now empty.

Mary Jane “Marie Jeanette” Kelly [Davies] last reported alive about 2:30 AM on November 9, 1888; found mutilated beyond recognition in the room she rented at Number 13 Miller’s Court off Dorset Street around eleven o’clock the same morning by a man coming to collect her arrears in rent. At the inquest, the coroner’s best guess was that she had been killed–probably in her sleep–between three and five AM.

The Miller’s Court site was reportedly haunted by ghostly screams and, on a staircase in a house built there thirty years after Mary Kelly’s appalling death, by the figure of a woman.

The family who occupied Number 13, Miller’s Court after Mary’s murder claimed that there was a bloody handprint on the wall above where Mary’s bed had been. They tried to cover the print with paint, tried to scrub it off, but were unsuccessful; they finally hid it behind a picture of the Crucifixion.

By far the most intriguing story of Mary’s spirit, though, was offered as testimony at the inquest following her death, by a woman named Caroline Maxwell. Maxwell, the wife of a man who ran a boarding house, said under oath that she had talked to Mary around eight AM on November 9–at which time Mary had, by the coroner’s estimate, been dead between three and five hours. Another witness, Maurice Lewis, purportedly spoke to Mary around 10 AM that same morning, in a pub.

The police dismissed these sightings because neither gave an accurate physical description of Mary Kelly, nor did they fit the time frame in which the murder was committed. It’s possible that Maxwell, who claimed to know Mary by sight, had seen her sometime prior to her death, but mixed up the date.

There’s a ghost story that comes from the banks of the River Thames; they say that around the first of December you can see the ghost of a man jumping into the river, and that that man was Jack the Ripper.

Most probably, the ghost seen there is of a Ripper suspect: the failed barrister Montague John Druitt, who, depressed over the loss of a job at the prestigious Blackheath School and fearing that he, like his mother, was doomed to become incurably insane, drowned himself in the river, some three weeks after Mary Kelly’s death; his body was pulled from the river on December 31, 1888.

Druitt was first mentioned as a Ripper suspect in 1894, but the evidence against him is thin at best.

Despite all theories and speculations, the Ripper remains unidentified to this day.

My primary source for ghosts of the Ripper is Peter Underwood’s 1987 book Jack the Ripper: One Hundred Years of Mystery.

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Sunset in August

they quarreled, as sisters will
and Rose Red stalked off to the west

swearing never to speak to Snow White again

she carried her anger a tiresome way
along the far horizon

dropping blood from a wounded heart

till languid blue evening
chilled the scarlet splotches

all the shades between violet and midnight

Rose Red to her dismay
found herself lost and weeping

under the stars

finding home only
when Snow White waved forgiveness

across a milky dawn.

Poem copyright 2011 by Faire Lewis.

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RED ALERT for Share a Square

I’ve blogged before about my friends in the Share a Square project. Headed up by Shelly Tucker, participants crochet 6″ x 6″ squares to be made into afghans, which are distributed to kids and their siblings who attend Camp Quality camps for those with childhood cancers.

Shelly was hoping to have enough squares by August 26 to put together fifty “kits” of eighty squares each; the squares will then be sewn or crocheted together by volunteers and, around next June, Shel will distribute them to the camps.

Many people have donated, and others have squares either in the mail or ready to mail, but Shel says she’s still about 1500 squares short.

To make fifty kits, she needs squares from eighty individuals per kit.

I’ve already mailed a full fifty, so I can’t send more during this go-round. However, I can put out an appeal to my readers. If you crochet yourself, please consider making a few squares–even one or two would be very welcome!!! and sending them to Shel. If you don’t crochet, but have friends who do, please pass the idea on to them. It’s in a great cause. The kids at the camps love getting these afghans with their many colored squares!

For more information about this project of love and hope, check out Share a Square FAQ. Or check out Share a Square’s Facebook page, or Ravelry’s Facebook page.

Come share in the joy, the fun, and the love that goes into this project!

UPDATE!! As of February 10, 2012, Shelly has received enough squares to complete 150 afghans for this project, and has requested that no more squares be sent.

She also has told those who participated that this will be the final Share a Square project. She hopes, though, that all of us will continue to support local efforts with our crochet work.

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a leaf,
dry and simpering,
a winsome jade of last year’s browning;

a wayward spark
an abandoned child of blue lightning
that startles the sky but brings no rain

chase each other around the hill
demure as wallflowers at a dance
until, at last, they catch hands and flame

as the world goes up in a fiddle shriek
of fiery notes
nearer and more brazen than the sun

the asphalt on the road below
bubbles and clings,
chuckling at the fighters

digging frantic firebreaks;
groaning as the roaring ghosts
of pines, blood-orange

and exploding,
exchange winks with the fickle wind
and sashay away to new corners

beyond reach until the tankers come.

“Fire on the Mountain” is the name of an oldtime fiddle tune and of a bluegrass and oldtime music show on TNN back in the 1980s.

I wrote a poem with that title for a college creative writing class in 1983, after an experience I never wish to repeat: riding through a literal fire on the mountain, one late summer evening, when my dad, brother and I were playing in a band up at Coker Creek, TN. That first poem was and is (I still have it stashed back) a piece of crap. I never quite get them right, but this version, twenty-eight years later and inspired by a comment on a previous post, is a lot closer to right than the original. 😉

Poem copyright 2011 by Faire Lewis.

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Two mornings in a row like this: I step out onto the porch to take a look at the weather and find it’s a mere sixty-two degrees, cool and crisp. I’m glad I’m wearing long sleeves!

I’m not the only one bemused by October weather in late August. Our local meteorologist remarked on the same thing just last night; this is more like Indian summer, that last humid, languid, warm spell before fall turns to winter, than the last of the dog days.

Mention the words “Indian summer”, and the soundtrack in my head begins playing a plaintive tune from the big band era: Tommy Dorsey’s “Indian Summer”.

I first heard “Indian Summer” on an old 33 1/3 RPM album that Dad picked up, if I remember right, in the long-gone Firestone store in town. The record, fairly generic recordings by a studio orchestra, had exciting things like the overture from William Tell (which, in the knobs, we still call The Lone Ranger), piquant ones from Victor Herbert musicals, and “Indian Summer” sung by a men’s chorus, the first tenors achingly sweet as they hit the high notes.

As best I can find with some cursory research, Dorsey wrote and recorded “Indian Summer” around 1940.

Call me a redneck or some such, but I have always preferred Glenn Miller to Tommy Dorsey. Miller recorded the song, with vocals by Ray Eberle, during the war years.

You’re the ghost of a romance in June
going astray. . .

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The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon the cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding,
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. . .

So begins Alfred Noyes’s famous 1906 poem, “The Highwayman.” A beautiful, sensuous, moody piece that begins with a lovers’ meeting and ends in tragedy, it has been set to music more than once, by singers as diverse as Loreena McKennitt and the late Phil Ochs, and has served as a theme for a Fleetwood Mac video.

Noyes wrote very much in the tradition of the Victorian writers who preceded him, romanticizing those who made a living by robbing travelers along England’s highways, especially in the years before railroads replaced stagecoaches as the most popular means of travel. The great age of the highwayman lasted from roughly 1650 to 1850, and while a few of the self-styled “gentlemen of the roads” or “Knights of the High Toby” were indeed gentlemen, most were simply thugs. Most of them died either at the point of a pistol or on the end of a rope, and—need I say—many of them left ghosts, of themselves and, occasionally, their victims.

Possibly the most famous of all English highwaymen was Richard (Dick) Turpin, and no one of them was less deservedly so, for Turpin was a sociopath. Born in Hampstead in Essex in 1706, he was originally apprenticed to a butcher, and his earliest criminal activities involved thefts of sheep and cattle. Eventually, he became a member of a gang of Essex delinquents known as “Gregory’s Gang,” because, it appears, nearly half the members came from a family surnamed Gregory. Their depredations so infuriated the country people they were robbing that prices were placed on their heads, and all the members save Turpin were captured and hanged or transported to penal colonies.

Turpin turned to highway robbery. For awhile, he worked with a man named Tom King, who was that rarity—a true gentleman, despite his calling. In 1737, however, Turpin accidentally killed King in a shootout with thief-takers (bounty hunters of a sort) over the theft of a racehorse called White Stockings. King lived just long enough to tell authorities where all Turpin’s hideouts were, and Turpin, deciding to lay low for awhile, changed his name to John Palmer and hid out as a Yorkshire schoolmaster. Probably because that life was too dull for a sociopathic adrenaline junkie, he began stealing sheep, cattle and horses again, got in trouble over killing a game rooster that belonged to his landlord, was revealed to be the infamous Dick Turpin, and was hanged on September 10, 1739, on a charge going back to the theft of the racehorse.

Two stories about the ghost of Turpin will suffice:

While he was a member of the Gregorys Gang, he and some of his associates robbed an elderly woman named Shelley, who allegedly kept a large amount of money hidden in her house. When she did not immediately hand over the loot, the cretins tortured her by holding her bottom over the grate in the kitchen fireplace. Widow Shelley did not long survive her ordeal. After Turpin was hanged, it was said that, three times a year, his ghost was seen riding hell-for-leather down a long hill in front of the widow’s house with the ghost of his screaming victim clinging around his waist from behind.

Turpin has also been seen as a ghost on Hampstead Heath near London, where as recently as the last thirty years or so his horse almost ran down a jogger, just at twilight.

It was the Victorian novelist Harrison Ainsworth who turned Turpin from thug to hero in an 1834 novel called ROOKWOOD. Otherwise, Turpin’s evil exploits are best recounted in that compendium of eighteenth century crime known as the Newgate Calendar.

Another famous highway robber was, somewhat improbably, a woman. Lady Katherine Ferrers (1634-1660) has gone down in history as “The Wicked Lady of Markyate Cell.” Married at the age of fourteen to a man named Fanshawe, she allegedly took to a life of crime because she was bored. Dressed as a man, she worked first with a farmer named Chaplin. After he was captured and hanged, she continued on her own until she was mortally wounded by a would-be victim who fought back. Legend says that she had a secret hiding place in the ruins of a priory called Markyate Cell, in Hertfordshire, and that a servant found her dead body there. The scandal was hushed up, and she is said to be buried in holy ground.

Later historians have wailed that Lady Katherine was not the ruffianly woman of the legend, and that the crimes ascribed to her were actually committed by a woman named Martha Coppin. Nonetheless, Lady Katherine’s life of crime has been the subject of two feature films and inspired the Blackadder the Third episode “Amy and Amiability.” And it’s said that her ghost, dressed in a man’s black suit, can still be spotted in the trees alongside the road near Markyate Cell.

The U. S. had its highwaymen too. One of them, Joseph Thompson Hare, worked on the old Natchez Trace, both alone and occasionally as part of a gang, and while he has not returned in ghostly form, he once saw a ghost on the Trace. One night circa 1812 or 1813, Hare had just robbed a man on the Trace and was making a getaway when he saw the apparition of a white horse that appeared out of nowhere and vanished before Hare’s startled eyes. Hare, badly frightened, stopped overnight at a farmhouse instead of continuing his getaway, and was captured by a posse before morning. Put on trial and sentenced to five years in prison, Hare served his time but returned to his criminal ways and following a robbery on the road near Havre de Grace, Maryland was arrested and at last hanged for his crimes. Until the day he died, however, he talked about the spectral white horse he had seen on the Trace.

Which brings us back to where we started, for Noyes’s highwayman too returns as a ghost:

Still on a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon, tossed upon the cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding, riding, riding,
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn door. . .

to be met by his beloved Bess, also in ghostly form.

There are a number of entries online about Dick Turpin and Lady Ferrers. Other information can be found in the following books.

Supernatural England (1977), by Eric Maple

Haunted England (1987), by Terence Whitaker


Thirteen Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey (1974), by Kathryn Tucker Windham.

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I’ve had a few curious coincidences happen in my life, but this one, involving music and a long lost friend, has got to be the most curious.

I began blogging almost four years ago at a now defunct site. The second post I wrote, in those salad days, was about Marty Robbins’ great hit “El Paso”. During the week I was writing it, word came that the father of a friend had passed away.

I wouldn’t exactly say that Lee (his middle name) and I were childhood sweethearts, but we had been friends from first grade on. He quit school at Christmas of our senior year and went into the military, and I had completely lost track of him. He had had a difficult home life, and apparently, at one point, had cut family ties altogether; nearly twenty years after we lost touch, I happened to meet his mother–who told me that at the time she hadn’t heard from him in seven years.

So I wrote and rewrote my post about “El Paso”. I polished and fretted, I cried with frustration and finally decided if I didn’t post it as was, I would never have the nerve.

Two days after I posted the blog, Lee’s father’s obituary came out in the local paper. And at last I knew where my lost friend had gotten to–

for there, in black and white, I read “son, Lee, of El Paso, Texas.”


Jungian synchronicity?

I don’t know. Either way, it was awful curious.

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