Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Five Investigators and the Mystery of the Cowled Figure

The following appears to be either a fabulous urban legend, or the synopsis of a Three Investigators story. But I’ve included it for two reasons: it was reported as news in May 1929; and I have fond memories of The Three Investigators.
Two years ago a distinguished a distinguished Dublin citizen purchased a house and fishing rights in a desolate part of County Wicklow. When he went to reside there during the summer months weird occurrences began by night. Bells rang without apparent cause, doors supposed to be locked were heard slamming, and ghostly figures flitted through the rooms and corridors. The wife of the owner of the house awoke one morning to find three lighted candles arranged around her bed. A few mornings later six lighted candles, similarly arranged, were found round a maid’s bed. This was more than the occupants of the house could stand, and they promptly returned to Dublin.
Last Christmas the son of the owner of the house set out with four friends, resolved to pierce the mystery. Nothing happened till one of the party left the house to recover something he had left behind in the motor car outside. Then from a dark window overhead he saw an old-fashioned blunderbus pointing at him, and as he crouched for shelter he observed a cowled figure leave the house and go towards the out-offices. He got the impression that the stranger did not open the door on leaving the dwelling.
While the young man and his companions were discussing this puzzling manifestation there came loud reports as of gunshots discharging, doors banging, and furniture falling. Then the cowled man appeared before them, a terrifying apparition described as having a luminous face, malevolent expression, and ghastly gaps in his teeth, two of which were exceptionally large.
The startled investigators saw the cowled man go upstairs. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery they endeavoured to follow, but were driven back by bottles and other missiles which clattered downstairs with an awful din. Eventually they procured lights, and worked their way to the top of the house, where through a trap door giving access to an attic they saw the apparition of the cowled man hanging head downwards. The investigators thereupon decided it was time to go home.
One suggested explanation is that the strange figure is what is known in Germany as a poltergeist - an evil spirit full of malicious tricks. There are many more stories of the strange doings of this queer manifestation, but this one is especially worth recording. One of the youthful investigators made as soon as he got home a sketch of a cowled figure with the intention of showing it to his father. His companions agreed that it was an excellent likeness, and he put it in his pocket. When, however, the youth later took the sketch from his pocket the drawing had disappeared, and the paper was blank. Other people intent on solving the mystery have since visited the house, but the ghost did not turn up for examination.
  • The Derry Journal, 3 May 1929

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Journalist and the Poltergeist

In July 1910, a poltergeist moved into a room in a boarding house on John Street, in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. The room was already occupied by “two young men and a boy,” and, according to the Dublin Daily Express, they had lived there for “a considerable time” without incident.
One night in July [no date is given by either source] the boarders went to bed at their usual time. At midnight, one of the men was awoken by the sound of tapping. It came at intervals, and from different parts of the room.
But he paid little attention to it.
Then, the bedclothes were pulled slowly off the bed. He thought that the others were playing a joke and asked them to stop.
The tapping started again.
Now that everyone was awake, they lit a candle and searched the room. Finding no one else in the room, they locked the door, put out the candle and went back to bed.
The tapping started immediately. They lit the candle again. The tapping stopped. They extinguished the candle. The tapping started.
This went on for two hours.
In the morning, they found that what would become known as “the haunted bed” had been moved across the room.
The next night followed the same pattern, prompting the haunted bed’s regular occupant to refuse to sleep in it. Which, given what happened next, was a very wise choice. As he and his friend cowered in one bed, the haunted bed floated to the ceiling, flipped over, and was then gently lowered to the floor.
That was their last night in the room.
After their departure, the room remained unoccupied. It was checked each morning. And each time it was checked, the furniture in the room was found to have been rearranged.
“The occurrences have caused much surprise in the town, and their cause is still a matter of mystery,” wrote the Dublin Daily Express.
A few days later, a local journalist arrived to investigate. He examined the beds, the floor and the walls. “Everything was found to be in perfect order, with no sign of a trap in any place.”
That night, accompanied by a companion, the journalist went to bed in the haunted room. They extinguished the candle at 11pm; and at 11.30pm the infamous tapping began.
It grew quicker and quicker.
From the other bed, the journalist heard his companion shout: “The clothes are going off me. Good God, they are going off me.”
On lighting the candle, the journalist could see the bedclothes being slowly pulled from his companion’s bed. His companion was terrified, and seemed unable to move.
When the room was calm again, the candle was put out. The tapping started immediately. And once more his companion cried out: “They are going again. They are at me. Something is shoving me. I am going.”
Once more the journalist reached for his matches. This time he found his companion on the floor, with a sheet under him and a quilt over him, “as if he had been carried from the bed.” He was white, trembling, and dripping with sweat.
Despite the terror at least one of the men was experiencing, they stayed in the room for about four hours.
“The watchers left at three o’clock in the morning, having secured absolutely no clue to one of the most weird occurrences that has startled the town and district for many years.”
  • Dublin Daily Express, 30 July 1910
  • Derry Journal, 5 August 1910

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Phantom Car of Barnes Gap

A phantom car was haunting a section of road between Gweedore and Letterkenny in 1936. Sightings began in December 1935, but by January 1936 the car was appearing nightly, and the area - an isolated beauty spot known as Barnes Gap - was crawling with curiosity seekers from Donegal and Derry.
The following is from the Derry Journal of 20 January 1936.
Considerable attention is still being attracted over a large area of Donegal by the recent report in the “Derry Journal” of the appearance of a phantom motor car at Barnes Gap on the main road from Letterkenny to Gweedore. The car which has made its appearances practically every night during the past two months, has been seen regularly by motorists, carters, pedestrians and cyclists. It is usually observed coming at great speed with headlights illuminating a considerable stretch of the road, but when within a few yards of the observer the lights are extinguished and the car seems to vanish completely, no trace of it remaining.
Accompanied by a number of companions, a “Journal” representative visited Barnes Gap one night last week, in order to find out for himself what amount of truth was in the reported occurrence. Meeting a resident of the district, our representative questioned him regarding the nocturnal visitor. This man said that he had seen the car on several occasions and once while on the road with a horse and cart he drew his horse to one side in order to allow the passing of a swiftly moving car but when it drew almost level with him it vanished without a trace. He also informed our representative that on one occasion a car appeared to a lady unexpectedly in the middle of the Gap, and that she could clearly see the head and face of a man sitting at the wheel, but when she approached to the spot where the stationary car sat, all trace of it disappeared in an instant. While the story of the phantom car continues to spread and draw hundreds of people nightly to the Gap, in the hope of seeing the mysterious visitor, our representative was not rewarded by the sight of anything unusual, but he hopes to repeat the visit at an early date.
The same issue carried a possible explanation for the phenomenon.
A theory has been advanced by Mr J Gorman, a mail car driver in the Derry and Lough Swilly Railway Co., who has gained much experience of motoring conditions on the Donegal Roads.
He is of the belief that, owing to heavy fog and mists, the headlights of cars recently have been reflected in such a manner as to deceive observers, and that, as it is very often the practice for motor drivers to shut off their lamps when going through the Gap, the apparent disappearance of the vehicle may be thus explained.
Memories are short at the Derry Journal. This wasn’t Ireland’s first experience of a phantom car; six years earlier, Drogheda in County Louth was being haunted by an invisible car, and the Journal covered the story.
A phantom motor car, which recently was alleged by several residents of the locality to be haunting the Tullyallen district, a country village two or three miles outside Drogheda, has now invaded Drogheda. It passes generally late at night, and while such trifles as brilliant lights and an old woman sitting at the wheel have been added in the telling of the original story, those persons who have heard the ghost are positive in their statements that it can only be heard and not seen.
A Drogheda man told a “Sunday Independent” representative that on Friday night when going home a bit late but perfectly sober, he was operating his hall door when he heard the roar of a motor car coming, he thought, over the street. He waited at the door to see the car pass, but nothing passed, and on looking down the street he saw that it was deserted.
A possible explanation of the mystery would seem to be that the Shannon Scheme high power cables acts under certain conditions as wireless receiver, and carries the noise of distant motor cars to places where there are none, and in this way creates the impression that a phantom motor car has passed.
Derry Journal, 10 March 1930 and 10 January 1936

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Fun with Kites

I’ve covered mystery lights recently, but the following stories really tickled me. The first appeared in The Ballymena Observer on 14 January 1878.
On Friday night last an incident which may be considered somewhat amusing occurred in Monaghan. About half-past nine o’clock the inhabitants were thrown into a state of consternation by a phenomenon which appeared in the heavens in the shape of a large blazing star. The star kept shooting from right to left, up and down, and performing numerous pantomimic “capers,” which in no slight degree terrified the nervous people of the town. At times it would soar high up in the sky, and then suddenly dive down as if it were determined to reach the earth and consume it. Large crowds had assembled, the city fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers had congregated in groups to view and comment upon the singular phenomenon. Some persons were wondering, others, others were predicting the rapid approach of the Day of Judgement and the burning of the earth. The local astronomer was sent for, and his advice eagerly sought. The sage reviewed the object of the people’s terror, looked extremely wise, thought at first he could explain, but afterwards confessed that he was unable to do so; that he had never beheld anything so extraordinary. People were in a dreadful state of excitement, and were patiently awaiting what they considered inevitable – the burning of the earth – when the object raised itself in the heavens, and then, with one sweep, directed its course in the direction of the assembled multitude, who ran helter-skelter, terror in their very hearts. At last the star rested on terra firma, and those present were awaiting something terrible to ensue, but the blaze began to die out. One young man, more courageous than the others, approached, though cautiously, the fading blaze; and after a good deal of reconnoitring stepped forward and lifted a large kite, with a lighted turf suspended to the tail by means of a piece of wire. This discovery caused no small amount of satisfaction, and every person breathed more freely after it.
The people of Monaghan were lucky to have had their mystery solved in an evening. Some have had to wait a hell of a lot longer, if this item from the Belfast Evening Telegraph of 1873 is to be believed (it seems plausible – until the last sentence, that is).
Sixty years ago considerable excitement was caused at Brattleboro, Vermont, in the United States, by a strange meteor which appeared one dark night, and, after hovering in the sky for about twenty minutes, suddenly vanished with a loud explosion. Many persons considered the phenomenon to be a supernatural omen, and so mysterious and striking was the occurrence that it has never been forgotten in the district, and the story of this wonderful light in the heavens has been handed down from one generation to another as one of the most remarkable events of the present century. The mystery has at last been solved. An old gentleman has lately died at Brattleboro, and, according to a Vermont paper, on his deathbed he confessed that when a boy, in 1811, he made a kite and attached a paper lantern to it, in which he put a candle, arranging the contrivance so that when the candle burned out it would explode some powder in the bottom of the lantern. He kept the secret entirely to himself, and, choosing a dark night when nothing but the coloured lantern was visible, managed unobserved to get his kite into the air, thus producing the sensation which so profoundly affected the district. Having made this confession, without which he could not die comfortably, the old gentleman turned his face to the wall and expired in perfect peace.
Belfast Evening Telegraph, 6 January 1873
The Ballymena Observer, 14 September 1878