Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Mad Gasser of Mullingar?

In the autumn of 1917, a ghostly voyeur was disturbing the sleep of the good people of Mullingar. The Freeman’s Weekly Journal of 8 September 1917 reported:
Our Mullingar correspondent states that the inhabitants of that town are considerably exercised in their minds by stories of a spectral figure which roams the streets after dark. Opinion differs as to who or what he is. Some hold that he is an escaped German from an internment camp; others classify him as a wandering lunatic; and a superstitious section does not hesitate to allude to him as “The Ghost.”
The stranger, who is tall and thin, and dressed in grey, is never seen until darkness has fallen upon the town. Then his pale countenance is seen gazing into ground floor windows, and his gaunt form is to be dimly discerned hovering in the gloomiest corners. A number of unimaginative policemen are now engaged in trying to “lay” this “ghost,” which has annoyed the town for about ten days.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph also carried the story:
A ghost is prowling about the precincts of Mullingar, and the inhabitants thereof have got the shivers. Some think it is a lunatic, and others believe it to be an escaped German prisoner. If it be the latter, and an officer, you have Mr Churchill’s word that you need not salute him.
However, when the Freeman’s Weekly Journal returned to the story a few weeks later, it was because things had taken a sinister turn.
The Mullingar apparition has reappeared, and is no longer content with peering into cottage windows, but has forcibly entered houses, and in one case came to grips with the occupier.
About midnight recently a man named Miller, who resides in a cottage on the road at the corner of Mullingar Fair Green, was awakened by the noise of somebody moving about, and on going to the next room he was confronted by a powerful man, who had an open knife extended in his hand in a threatening attitude. Mr Miller sprang upon him and succeeded in gripping the arm of the man and deflecting the knife. A fierce struggle followed, and the two rolled over in grips on the floor.
Meantime, Mrs Miller rushed out to the door in her night attire and called loudly for help. On hearing her voice the assailant let go of Mr Miller, who, whilst on the floor, was conscious of his opponent using something in either a handkerchief or cotton wool which he believes to have been chloroform, and which, at all events, had a pungent odour and a somewhat stifling effect.
He describes the visitor as clad only in a soldier’s khaki trousers, stockings, and shirt, and the reason he had divested himself of the other portions of his clothing seems fully explained by the discovery subsequently made of his means of effecting an entry. This was through a small window protected by two iron bars, and which would only admit the body of a man with great difficulty. The bars were found to have been torn away, and Mrs Miller, it appears, as the intruder rushed past her in flying from the house, saw him catch up from the ground outside the door a cap, coat, and pair of boots.
On the same night, something later, it appears, the house of a Mrs Rooney, an old woman who resides with her daughter about forty yards from Miller’s – which is at an angle of the Fair Green and not far from the military barracks – was also entered, but on the alarm being raised the intruder made good his escape.
There was a lot going on in Ireland at this time, so it’s highly likely that these events had quite a mundane explanation that never got reported. However, the events in Mullingar do remind me of later events in Mattoon, Illinois [1], but on a very much smaller scale. 
If you can add anything to this story, please get in touch.
  1. See Loren Coleman's Mysterious America
  • Dundee Evening Telegraph, 11 September 1917
  • Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 8 & 29 September 1917

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Earl of Erne's Eerie Light Mystery

A derelict church on the banks of Lower Lough Erne
In 1912, a mysterious light was appearing on Church Island, on Lough Beg, creating much interest and speculation in the newspapers. However, a similar light had been appearing on Lough Erne for years, and the interest in the Church Island mystery prompted the Earl of Erne to ask, via the Dublin Daily Mail [1], for the public’s help in solving his mystery.
“Sir – On December 17 an account was given of a mysterious light which has lately appeared in the vicinity of Church Island, Lough Beg, County Derry, Ireland. A somewhat similar light has at intervals been seen in this neighbourhood, Lough Erne, County Fermanagh.
“Of course it has been put down to supernatural causes, but I cannot help thinking that a scientific solution to the mystery is to be found if there be anyone capable of unravelling it.
“This light has been seen at intervals several times within the last six or seven years by ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ and women too. It is of a yellow colour, and in size and shape very much the same as a motor car lamp. It travels at a considerable pace along the top of the water – sometimes against the wind, at other times with it. It lights up all objects within a certain radius and disappears as quickly as it appears. It is mostly seen on stormy and wet nights rather than on fine ones.
“Perhaps some of your readers could throw some light on the matter.”
The Earl of Erne’s request generated a lot of responses. Most believed that the light was a will-o’-the-wisp. Others, such as the editor of the Derry Journal, believed that luminous owls were to blame.
The Earl was unimpressed. And while he professed to be seeking a “scientific” explanation, he seemed to despair that the public had hot grasped just how strange this light was. In another letter to the Dublin Daily Mail [2], he included a statement from his wife.
“On Easter Eve,1910, about 4.30pm, I saw a light crossing the lake below the windows of Crom Castle. It was like a large motor car lamp, seemingly quite round, and about 2 ft. across, like the sun when it sets on a winter’s evening. Its colour was a deep yellow. Its peculiarity was that it threw no light behind, but in front there was a blaze: so much so that when it passed a small copse on the borders of the lake it lit up the trees, showing each trunk clear and hard. I saw at once from the pace it was going that it could not be a motor lamp. It disappeared behind the trees as quickly as it appeared.”
Lower Lough Erne
Later that same year, according to the Earl, the head gardener at Crom Castle - aka the Earl's house - saw the light. It came directly towards him – then disappeared. And another gardener, who had the misfortune of being on a boat on the lough during his encounter, rowed for his life to get away from it.
What could it be?
A correspondent for the Northern Whig had one more theory: “… meteors of various sizes which change from yellow to red and blue are responsible.”
To the best of my knowledge, the Earl of Erne never solved the mystery.
  1. I couldn’t get a copy of the relevant issue of the Daily Mail, but the letter was reprinted in a number of newspapers, including the Derry Journal.
  2. As above, I’ve quoted from a reprint of the letter in the Northern Whig.
  • Derry Journal, 24 December 1912, 8 January 1913
  • Dublin Daily Express, 27 December 1912
  • Northern Whig, 2 January 1913