Raynham HallThe Location
Construction on Raynham Hall began in Norfolk, England, in 1613, at the behest of Sir Roger Townshend, an influential member of English Parliament. Sir Roger had been touring around Europe and had the home built in a popular Italian style that would become the rage in England many years later, making Raynham Hall notably ahead of its time, and infamous as one of the finest stately country homes in the area.
The home is also notable for the extensive work done on the house by famous English architect, landscaper and designer William Kent. Many of Kent's finest pieces - along with a variety of other artwork he hand-picked for Raynham - can still be found in the home to this day.
One of Sir Roger's descendants, Charles Townsend, married a woman named Dorothy Walpole in 1712. Dorothy had a reputation as being promiscuous, which may have fueled some of the strange rumors surrounding her death in 1726. It is rumored that Lord Townsend actually faked his wife's death, so that he could imprison her in the home, possibly as retribution for an infidelity or out of anger after discovering she had been previously involved with a rival. Eventually, Dorothy Walpole (or "Dolly" as she was sometimes called), did die in the house, wearing a brown satin dress.
Today known as "The Brown Lady," the ghost of Dolly is thought to still walk up and down the grand staircase of Raynham Hall.
Colonel Loftus returned a week later and met with the Brown Lady once again. He said she was wearing a brown satin dress and seemed to glow from behind her empty eye sockets. According to legend, the Brown Lady was Dorothy Walpole, a resident of the home who was confined to a single room by her husband, the much younger Charles Townshend. Unable to see her children, leave the room or eat, she died there, in a brown satin dress.
Numerous notable figures from British history claim to have seen The Brown Lady while staying in Raynham Hall. One of the first and most infamous encounters happened to King George IV when he stayed in one of the home's state rooms. He claims to have woken up to find the deathly pale lady hovering right next to his bed. Apparently, the king was so frightened that he refused to remain in the home any longer, and left immediately. A visitor named Colonel Loftus, who stayed at Raynham at Christmas in 1835. He saw the Brown Lady in a corridor of the home and attempted to follow her, only to have her vaporize before his eyes. Later, he returned to Raynham and again claims to have seen the ghost, this time walking on the staircase. This time, he made a sketch of what he said the ghost looked like.
But Is It True?
The Brown Lady is the subject of arguably the most famous ghost photograph of all time:
Which is fairly unsettling. However, the Brown Lady story does feel a bit like the product of the Victorian fascination with both the occult and sexual moralizing, rather than an accurate account of the Townsend marriage. (The vagueness surrounding the reasons for Lord Townsend's sudden decision to imprison his wife and fake her death, for example.) Still, it's hard to argue with the seriousness and integrity of some of these witnesses. If you can't trust a guy named Colonel Loftus, who can you trust?
The Bell FarmThe Location
In 1800, farmer John Bell and his family moved from North Carolina to Red River, Tennessee (today called Adams, Tennessee.) He eventually came to own over 300 acres of property in the area, and became a respected local leader and Elder of the town church.
By most accounts, strange things started happening on the Bell family farm around 1817, which have been blamed on an entity known as the "Bell Witch." There are several popular stories. A few of the more intriguing variations:
- John Bell found a strange animal on the property that looked like a half-dog, half-rabbit.
- The Bell children started hearing strange sounds, which at times resembled vermin invading their rooms and gnawing at their beds
- Faint whispering heard around the house that resembled women softly singing hymns
- The Bells found a vial of unknown liquid sitting around the house. They tested it out by giving some to the cat, which soon died.
Bell grew ill in 1820, by some accounts owing to the stress and terror of believing a witch was haunting him. (In other accounts, John became sick because the Bell Witch had given him some of the strange liquid that killed the cat.) It was said that, after John's funeral, the Bell Witch could be heard laughing and cackling to herself, and taking credit for the death.
But Is It True?
President Andrew Jackson certainly believed so. During the Battle of New Orleans, in which several of Bell's sons had fought, then-General Jackson became intrigued by stories of the haunting of the Bell's Farm, and in 1819, we took a trip there to investigate further. Though peculiar things started happening almost immediately upon his arrival at the farm (such as the wagon he was bringing suddenly becoming immobile and refusing to budge), the skeptical Jackson initially denied the rumors. Eventually, however, he too became convinced the Bell Farm was haunted, and is said to have even come up with the name "The Bell Witch."
However, it's hard to tell how much of this report is folklore vs. actual history. Only one primary source still survives about the Bell Witch, an account written by Richard Williams Bell - the second-youngest child of John Bell - in 1846 called "Our Family Trouble." In it, he provides an eyewitness account of the haunting. It was rumored that the ghost had promised to return to Bell's direct descendent in 107 years, which would have been 1935. No reports of Bell Witch sightings were made at that time.
The story has inspired a number of notable pop culture haunted houses and ghost stories. The horror film "An American Haunting" is a largely fictionalized retelling of the Bell Witch story, though in this version, John Bell is raping his daughter and the Bell Witch is actually a manifestation of her anger and grief.
Borley RectoryThe Location
Borley is a small town in Essex, England, near the border with Suffolk on the Eastern Coast of the country. It was home to a church, also called Borley, and at one time there had been a home as well on the grounds. In 1863, Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull destroyed all remnants of the previous rectory and had his own home built next to the Borley Church, which was to be his parish. Already when the Reverend Bull had his home built, there had been rumors of a ghost on the property, originally of a sad, dead nun who still wandered the grounds, weeping. According to most accounts, there had been some manner of church building - including monasteries - on the site since the 12th or 13th centuries.
The origin of the "Nun's Walk" story dates back to the site's original purpose, as a monastery. Supposedly, a monk from the monastery carried on an affair with a nun from a nearby convent. When the couple were found out, the monk was killed and the nun walled up inside the rectory's familiar red brick walls.
Reverend Bull was himself fascinated by the "ghost nun" story, and purposefully set up his home so he could look out over the area she was said to walk at night. Several sightings - both from guests, Reverend Bull's own family, and servants - from this time were reported of the sorrowful ghost nun haunting the grounds.
After Reverend Bull died, his position was taken up by Reverend Eric Smith, who lived at the Borley Rectory with his wife. Hearing about the area's reputation, the couple invited then-noted paranormal investigator Harry Price to inspect the rectory. Price reportedly discovered a great deal of paranormal activity, of the violent, chaotic sort we'd now associate with a poltergeist. Reverend Smith and his wife moved out of the rectory after a brief 2 years.
The next Reverend to move in was Lionel Foyster, who arrived at the rectory with his beautiful wife, Marianne. The spirit of the rectory appears to have taken a liking for Marianne, singling her out for attention and allegedly even writing messages on the walls for her. (One example: "Marianne please help get."
Foyster arranged then to have the home exorcized of evil spirits, which is said to have worked for a time. But soon enough, the vengeful spirits returned, attacking Foyster's son, turning communion wine to ink and other horrors. The Foyster family moved out of the rectory shortly after.
Harry Price, still intrigued by the strange phenomenon happening at the rectory, purchased it himself in 1937 and began a series of tests and experiments meant to determine exactly what was happening at Borley Rectory. A year later, Price held a seance, during which a spirit delivered a prophecy. The Rectory would burn down that very night, and the skeleton of the dead nun held in its walls would be found. This did not, in fact, happen, but Borley Rectory did burn down a scant 11 months later. Price returned to inspect the grounds and claims to have found a jawbone that could have belonged to a nun.
But Is It True?
Harry Price's "scientific team" logged a large amount of research and observations relating to their time spent at Borley Rectory, and a number of photographs of spirits came out of the period.
As well, a number of the original individuals involved in the Borley legends spoke publicly about their experiences, including Marianne, who suspected that some of the actions credited to the Borley ghost were probably hoaxes or fakes, but still maintained that the house was likely haunted.
It's also extremely unlikely that the "origin story" about the ghost nun is accurate, and by the 1930s, this version of events had already been widely discredited. (It's believed to have come from a popular novel of the time by H. Rider Haggard.) This obviously hurts the believability of all the later stories, as the undead nun trapped forever in the rectory walls seemed to have been the original source of all the other legends.
Finally, though a series of exorcisms were undertaken, and Price even found the jawbone amidst the rubble and gave it a proper Christian burial, sightings of ghosts around where the rectory stood continue to this day. What more could this ghost possibly want after centuries of wandering around aimlessly?
- 9The Location
Sitting atop the famous volcanic "Castle Rock" near Edinburgh, Scotland, the area today occupied by Edinburgh Castle has been continuously occupied since about the 9th Century BC. The first royal castle on the site was constructed by King David I in the 12th Century, and it remained the seat of the Scottish King until the ascension of James VI to the throne of England in 1603. After that, it remained an essential Scottish fortress and military stronghold, and played a part in numerous important historical battles. Today, the site is Scotland's most popular paid tourist attraction, and one of the most iconic images of the country.
Or should I say, "The Legends." Because of the location's key significance in Scottish history, there are too many ghost stories circulating about the place to even compress into anything less than an essay. And I have THINGS to do.
So in brief...
- A ghost "drummer" can be heard throughout the castle whenever it is about to be attacked. (Obviously, this hasn't happened in a while...) Prior to the 1650 siege of the castle by Cromwell's forces, the drummer was spotted and identified as the ghost of a headless boy.
- The dungeons, where numerous prisoners were held and tortured, are thought to be populated by some of these restless spirits. One prisoner in particular is said to have attempted to escape in a wheelbarrow full of dung, only to perish on the craggy rocks below when the barrow was emptied off of the cliffside. Today, it's thought that prisoner still haunts the castle, causing visitors to sense his presence and smell the faint residue of... yeah, dung.
- In 1537, Janet Douglas, Lady of Glamis, was accused of witchcraft and conspiring to kill King James V. (The "evidence" was testimony from her servants, acquired via torture.) She was burned at the stake in the castle, with her son forced to watch from the battlements. Visitors to the castle can sometimes hear her spirit knocking on the walls.
But Is It True?
Well, probably not.
BUT STILL, there's more evidence pointing towards Edinburgh Castle being haunted than almost any other place on Earth. In 2001, Dr Richard Wiseman conducted a study in the castle, testing the reactions of people who had never before heard the legends of its haunting to exploring the castle. 51% of the subjects reported experiencing something supernatural in areas that were previously identified as "haunted." In other areas, only 35% of subjects reported supernatural goings-on. Among the reports were strange light effects, the sensation of something tugging at your clothes
The Crescent HotelThe Location
The gothic-style Crescent Hotel of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is sometimes called the "Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks," and is often listed as the most haunted place in all of the Ozark Mountains (a location known for its colorful folklore.) The hotel and spa was designed by famed Missouri architect Isaac L. Taylor and built between 1884 and 1886 on the West Mountain in the Ozarks. Eureka Springs had recently become infamous as the home of "healing spring waters," which were believed to have curative properties for all variety of ailments. (Lots of bottled Eureka Spring water was also making its way around the country, adding to the region's notoriety.) Tourism to the area also got a boost when a stop on the newly-built Frisco Railroad was built close by.
Interest in the resort waned by the turn of the century, after it became clear that the springs - though delightful for vacationers - didn't actually help cure anything. It has run off and on in the intervening years as a hotel and health clinic, and is currently open as a spa and resort, along with one of America's historic hotels.
Rumors and stories about hauntings at The Crescent started as soon as construction began. It's said that one of the workers - in most accounts, a stonemason named Michael - plunged from the roof to his death, landing in the spot currently occupied by Room 218. Naturally, strange noises have been reported in this room over the years by guests.
Most of the horror stories surrounding The Crescent concern the years it was operated by a charlatan named Norman Baker, who had become famous via a variety of get-rich-quick schemes, including a small fortune made selling calliopes. Baker - who was not a licensed physician - intended to use The Crescent as a homeopathic clinic of sorts, offering a variety of miracle medicines. (Baker had previously touted a "cure for cancer" in his native Iowa before being shut down by the American Medical Association.) Most of Baker's "cures" offered at the Crescent consisted of drinking the local spring water, which was not actually curing people but also was probably not doing them much harm.
Local legends sprung up around the clinic, however, about Baker's cruel and gruesome treatments. Some anecdotes have him scalping patients to search for tumors directly in their brain, or of locking patients away to die in pain so no one would know they had not been cured. Baker was arrested in connection with the scheme in 1940 and did 4 years in prison, abandoning the hospital thereafter. But it's said that the ghosts of his tormented patients still linger there, most famously a cancer patient named Theodora who is accompanied by a ghostly cat that appears on guests beds.
But Is It True?
The Crescent is a popular location for TV shows and documentaries about ghost hunters, and has appeared on Sci-Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters, NBC's Today Show, A&E's Haunted Road Trips and elsewhere. (On the Sci-Fi Channel show, it was suggested that the ghost of famous dancer Irene Castle - who spent her last years in Eureka Springs - was spotted at The Crescent.) It's important to bear in mind, though, that much of The Crescent's business depends on the fascination with its haunting, so it's in everyone's financial best interests to make sure there are an appropriate number of "sightings."
As well, Baker was never charged with torturing or brutalizing patients, merely with defrauding them via the US Mail.
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