"You're ignoring the history!"
Matthew Didier - March 2005
Lately, I've come under scrutiny (and in cases, almost attack!) as seeming like I've jumped the rails and started ignoring the history, legend and folklore in ghosts in favour of the science of the paranormal.
While I admit, whole heartedly, that my notes and editorials do seem to show this, I assure folks that this is not the case... I see all four components in equal weight as far as information and, for lack of a better term, "things to look at" with ghosts and haunting... Actually, I see one thing above all... "Witness Perception/Witness Testimony" is the most important thing... then history, legend, folklore and science come to play.
I think the reason many people see this with us is that there are currently at least three ongoing cases that we're watching where people have experienced "something" at a site... and then desperately tried to stitch together a history that neatly "explains" why the place they experienced things is haunted.
Since they experienced a 'ghost', they feel the need to attach a nasty bit of history to the haunting to justify their experience.
At times, we've watched in these cases where people have matched things to their "ghost" that happened "nearby" (in cases, almost a mile away) and at other times, they get on board with a "history" that seemed to relate, only to react poorly when it is proven (historically) not to hold water. We've watched as the person(s) that brings the data to bear is called a "liar", ignored or literally (in one case) tossed from the membership of a group that was examining a place for being a "sceptic" (read: Non-Believer).
The inherent problem is that many people assume that a ghost must meet historical criteria to exist... and maybe they do, maybe they don't. Truth is, no one knows for sure.
I can think of two cases that I can cite (without fear of being crucified by those that despise "inconvenient facts") that illustrate the problems with historical match-ups with a ghost...
One is in the East Coast of Canada... New Brunswick to be exact.. There's a well know haunted house... it had poltergeist activity of a gentle sort happening such as doors were opening and closing and items were moved around, but nothing too sinister. The popular lore (based on the history of the home) was that this must be the spirit of a former slave.
The house was owned by a U.E. Loyalist family that came over the border during the American Revolution with a favourite slave. Once in Canada, the man was more or less freed but invited, due to his frail age and health, to live out his days as more of a cherished member of the family. He was given a small cottage on the property but was free to come-and-go in the main house. The man, by all accounts, was happy and lived out his old age in a decent and respectful lifestyle with his former "owners".
The tale made sense... It was a gentle, non-malicious haunting and allowed people to put their own "spin" on things... Either he was haunting because he loved the home and didn't want to leave (and there were documents including his own diary to support this), or he was secretly miserable and mad-as-heck to still be in bondage to his former and quite obviously "evil" owners. As you can see, the gamut was run as to why this man was haunting...
Then, they finally had an apparition sighted... not once, but twice from different witnesses. Both sightings matched each other with their description and were from independent witnesses... and sorry to say, it was not an elderly man of colour, but a decidedly "white guy" in a sailors pea-coat and hat.
Two ghosts? It's possible... but think about this... with the poltergeist, there is no sighting... nothing to physically give a description of the "person" responsible for the "ghost"... so how do we "know" that the poltergeist was a former slave and not the apparition?
The answer: We don't.
In fact, most of the locals simply changed their version of the ghost story from the historical former slave to being the mysterious (and not-so easily traced) sailor.
The next case is far more famous... Hampton Court Palace just outside London in England.
Most ardent ghost fans KNOW of the famous and terrible story there... and if you don't, take their tour and they'll be happy to tell you. In fact, pick up a general ghost book and the story is usually relayed in some detail.
Catherine Howard, the fifth (of six) wives of Henry VIII (Henry the 8th) was a young girl when the King's eye fell on her. In fact, she was a free spirit who was raised Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and regularly was (reported to be) in the company of 'young men' (even, scandalously, in her teenaged bedchamber thanks to a pilfered key for her usually locked door while growing up). Henry was probably attracted to her for the reason she was pretty, young and energetic... in other words, her free spirit no doubt impressed him.
Trouble is, at the age of nineteen, she went from being a "crush" for the aging King to becoming the new queen when he managed to divorce Anne of Cleves. (Interestingly enough, Anne not only was a survivor wife of Henry, but instead of becoming his "ex-wife", the King bestowed the title of "King's Sister" on her... even having her attend courtly functions with her 'replacement' and referring to her as his "dear sister".)
But, like all free spirits, her light was a little too bright and rumours of infidelity spread like wildfire within Henry's court. In less than a year, Archbishop Cranmer had enough evidence to "convict" the queen of high treason... You see, messing around on a "normal" husband is cause for divorce... to do it on the King was considered treason and the sentence could be death... as Catherine was about to find out.
Here's the legend...
While being held on the charges at Hampton Court, Catherine managed to break-free from her apartments (rooms) and escape her guards to run to the door of the Chapel Royal in the Palace where, locked behind it, Henry was taking his mass. She banged, screamed and desperately tried everything to get the King's attention and beg for mercy. The King remained unmoved and ignored her pleadings to continue his listening to the service. Eventually, her guards caught up with her and dragged her, literally kicking and screaming, back to her gilded prison within the palace. Not long after, her new accommodation in the Tower of London was her home and her head would meet with the axe. Catherine was executed on February 13th, 1542 at Tower Green and laid to rest in St. Peter ad Vincula (the church in the precincts of the Tower) near her cousin, Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife also accused of "high treason" and meeting a much similar fate.
Since that day, guards and staff have heard the re-enactment of her run to the door... complete with screams and begging. In fact, whenever your humble author has visited the palace, I admit to feeling "ooky" (for lack of a better term) in that hall and by the door leading to the King's seat in the Chapel Royal. I've spoken to people who've also experienced an "energy" there and read several texts that claim the same thing too.
One problem with the legend... and even my own feelings...
Historically, it's hogwash.
Oh, Catherine did die by the axe and was buried in St. Peter ad Vincula near Anne. She did stay at Hampton Court while under suspicion of the "crime" that would lead to her head being taken. She probably was 'guilty' (to a degree) of messing about on the King... even if that might be a little harmless flirting, it was enough and dangerous for a queen to do... especially one that knew the fate of her own cousin.
But, during those last days at Hampton, Henry was bending. He wrote her loving notes (on historical record) saying that he doubted the evidence and doubted Archbishop Cranmer's ideas. He even left the palace to go "hunting" (usually, a trip that took several weeks) and wrote her a note to let her know he'd send for her once he'd "set up camp" where he'd be hunting. Catherine had no worries and was confident.
In a few weeks, however, she was sent for... and moved to a nunnery. Cranmer had managed to convince the King that indeed, the trial should move forward.
The move to the nunnery was precipitous. She had no time to even consider the event before she was whisked away (as evident by letters and reports of the day). Even then, the nunnery was not a "death sentence", but a 'normal' place to set a woman aside before charges were dealt with. I'm sure she was worried, but we're equally sure that she clung to the King's recent love letters and promises and figured all would be well eventually... again, diaries and letters bear this evidence.
Now, a little time after arriving at that nunnery, that's when the guards arrived and told her of her new home... The Tower of London.
That would have been the tip-off. (Forgive the pun.)
So, in order for the legend of Hampton Court of the "run" to happen, we have to assume a women who thought she was safe (after all, she had letters from the King professing his affection and doubting the Archbishop's case against her), ran to a door to a room she new to be empty (as the King was off hunting) and screamed and begged for mercy against a crime she thought she'd all but beaten.
So, are the stories bunk?
Well, the history of Catherine Howard's run seems to be... and, I might add, this story was told as part of the tour for the times I'd been there... despite the evidence to the contrary... which was not brought up during the tale.
Here's the question I pose to you...
Did the people who heard the ghostly re-enactment imagine it? Is that "ooky" feeling to be ignored?
I don't think so... There's a plethora of possibilities, though...
1: Is it a "tulpa" like ghost? A thought-form entity? Effectively, so many people assuming the place to be haunted that they've managed to "create" a ghost on a psychical level?
2: Is it someone else, lost to history? Could another woman have made the run, but somehow, over time, it was attached to Catherine?
3: Are people "just imaging" and the "ooky feeling" is based on a loss of equilibrium due to uneven floors or the like... causing one person to have a hallucination and the rest just fell in behind the story?
They're all thoughts... and history plays an important role in the "solving" of this mystery...
1: Who first reported the ghostly run?
2: Was a second (or third) experience by an independent witness who's perception was genuine and not skewed because they were "supposed" to experience a ghost there?
3: If we can rule out (even to a lesser degree) the idea of "natural causation", is there another place in history that the screaming run might have happened?
But, upon reading this, should we simply "leap" to a "darker" history? Is this were the ghost MUST come from? Apparently not... at least, not on the face of it.
So, it's not that we've started ignoring the history... Far from it! What we have started doing, without question, is ensuring that the history truly matches what the witness(es) is(are) experiencing... and placing a caveat for folks to notice...
If you think a place is haunted, try to interpret what's going on first, then, using this information, see what might fall out of the history tree when you give it a shake... but be prepared to re-think things if indeed, those "inconvenient facts" seem to say you're 'ghost' may not be the 'ghost' you think he/she is!
Have I personally been ignoring history for science? No... but I am trying to see if the events match the history I'm told... or if, indeed, there may be something or someone else to look at as our ethereal presence.
In my opinion, I can accept a little give-and-take with historical interpretation... but if we're going to "blame a ghost" on something or someone historical, we should try to ensure to level the accusations as accurately as possible.
At least, that's my feeling about it... Some may much prefer to have the old ex-slave puttering about his house and Catherine Howard running down a hall begging for mercy... but I believe that the facts must be revealed... as, if for nothing else, it may give us even more insight into what's going on with things "ghostly".
Haunted Royal Homes by Joan Foreman, Harrap Ltd. London, 1987
Ghosts, Pirates and Treasure Trove: The Phantoms that Haunt New Brunswick by Stuart Trueman, McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1975
The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by Dr. David Starkey, Jutlan Ltd., 2003
The Fifth Queen by Ford Maddox Ford, Penguin Books (reprint), 1908