Saturday, 13 January 2018

Posing As A Ghost in the 19th Century

   Newspaper reports from the Victorian era sometimes throw up peculiar side-lights on the pastimes of the inhabitants of that age.  I've posted before about the strange habit of some individuals to pose as ghosts in their communities and scare hapless members of their own communities (see links at the bottom of the article).  The fashion for this went away for decades, until it was bizarrely resurrected in recent times by the hilarious trend of Scary Clowns chasing people with axes, etc.  Luckily, this social past-time has also now receded.

   It was rare for supernatural pranksters in that bygone age to be actually caught and prosecuted for their hilarious japes, but such was the fate of one such person, reported by the 'Courier' on 23 September 1879:

A Forfar Ghost Story.

At Forfar Police Court yesterday - before Bailie Ferguson - Alexander James Harrison Robertson, from Edinburgh, was charged with disorderly conduct by having, between the hours of 8 and 9.30 p.m. on Thursday last at the Junction of Brechin and Prison roads... wantonly and unlawfully disguised himself by wearing a white shirt, and woman's petticoat or skirt over his clothing, also by wearing a slouched hat, for the purpose of annoying, frightening, and alarming the lieges, and by time and place foresaid annoying, frightening and alarming and putting in great fear Jane Caldwell, dressmaker, and others named in the complaint and others of the lieges unknown to the complainer. From the evidence it appeared that a company in two brakes were driving from the east...when at the junction...they observed an "object" dressed in white, and the cry at once got up of "Springheels" and "a ghost".  The most of the lady part of the company said...that they were a little startled at first, but being all together they were not at all afraid...Mr Watson, draper, seemed to have taken the first words with the peace disturber, for he went up to him (he was at this time inside the avenue leading to the prison with the gate closed), and through the bars asked "What's up," when accused said it was a bit of fun. When witness saw he was speaking with flesh and blood he went away...[Some other gentlemen caught the accused.] The "Ghost" was stripped of his ghostly apparel...[but the man] commenced to blubber and whinge, and did not behave like a respectable ghost at all...
   Apparently the joker was staying inside Forfar Prison as a (non-convict) guest and a warden had seen the man and a friend go out into the street.  Yet the magistrate solemnly stated he had no doubt that it was a bit of fun, 'but from fun often proceeded danger.  He had no right to go outside unless properly clothed in male attire'.  The sentence was a fine of £1 or ten days' imprisonment.  The wording of the article is fully as entertaining as the story; love the mention of 'most of the lady part of the company'.

   Ten years earlier the same newspaper reported another, possibly more intriguing incident in Dundee (the 'Courier', 17 May 1869).  Not long before dawn a policeman patrolling the Hilltown saw a tall, thin figure gliding before him, rapidly approaching.  It was certainly gliding and did not seem to possess any feet.  The policeman stood his ground - for a while - then issued a dreadful yell and bolted.  His scream summoned several other bobbies, who all saw the same thing.  Yet they all took the shelter as the apparition sped down the Hilltown towards the town.  It passed down the Murraygate, Reform Street, and 'Some say that it vanished in a ... flame in the Howff burial ground', while others maintained it entered a nearby establishment.  The reporter was more convinced the figure was either a 'velocipedestrian somnabulist' or a certain 'Dashing Young Flesher' who had been seen in a certain part of Dundee days earlier, and whose occult disguise was a ruse to cover his attempted elopement with his neighbour's wife.

Terminus for the Ghost? The Howff.

   The third and final selection from the 'Courier' comes from 8 February 1883 and is entitled 'Ghosts at Lochee':

Our Lochee correspondent writes:-  For more than a week past there have been whisperings that a "ghost" had made its appearance in certain quarters of Lochee.  For a time the ordinary residenter was inclined to pooh-pooh the idea that such a pretended ethereal personality was actually making Lochee the theatre of his nefarious and despicable foolery.  However whispers have now developed into articulate language, and the air is full of the "doings" of the "ghost".  That there is an individual going about during two or three of the hours preceding midnight is widely asserted, and generally believed in.  the haunted localities appear to be the eastern and western extremities of the village, and many stories are afloat of persons having seen the "ghost" in these parts.  A boy delivering milk the other night at the west end was almost frightened out of his wits by a ghostly-looking figure coming across his path.  On Monday night two ladies, while proceeding through a pretty thickly-wooded part of the north-east of Lochee, were terror-struck to behold suddenly emerge from behind a tree a tall individual wearing a loose-hanging garment and slouched hat.  The pretended apparition stood in front of the parties.  The elder lady, however, though in a state of great trepidation, managed to express his detestation of such dastardly conduct, at which the "ghost" speedily disappeared behind a tree near by.  The following night a working man belonging Lochee was returning home from seeing a friend at Butterburn, and when nearing Lochee by the road to the north of Law Hill he was brought to a sudden stop by a figure appearing in an instant in front of him.  It stood for a few seconds, and then disappeared as suddenly as it came.  The man was momentarily stunned by the suddenness of the strange visitant's approach, but from the short glance he got he could state that the "ghost" was attired in a light waterproof overcoat, while over his shoulders was a white muffler.  An ordinary cap covered his head, and the appearance of the face was frightsome in the extreme...Feelings of thorough indignation against the rascally dastards who are the perpetrators of this heinous offence against the peace and comfort of society have been aroused among the sterner portion of the Lochee community, and unless they speedily take end we believe bands will be organised for their capture and punishment.  The matter is certainly a serious one, and ought to be put down immediately, for the amount of excitement and fear in the minds of young people, and women folk especially, is undoubtedly great, many being afraid to go out alone after nightfall.

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