Since this is Mother’s Day weekend, and I’ve previously posted about mothers who return to visit or protect their children, here is a story about a vigilant ghostly mama from The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, originally found on my Mrs Daffodil blog.
This story hinges on the age-old dilemma of the step-mother. The nineteenth-century division of labor was such that few men could cope with household chores and childcare without help. A man with children who lost his wife needed to find a replacement quickly. And if that replacement was not kind to the children, there would be hell to pay when a ghost came to call…
From Home By a Spirit.
The Ghost of a First Wife Returns To Haunt Her Successor.
The locality in which this motherly ghost appears is what is known as Baltimore No. 2, a settlement of Irish and Welsh miners, who work in the Baltimore vein [Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.] The houses are red company structures, and in one of them lives Cornelius Boyle, a young man who is quite prominent in politics, having often been chosen as delegate from his ward to Democratic conventions.
Mr. Boyle’s wife died about two months ago, leaving four small children. Two weeks ago he married again. Mrs. Boyle No. 2 spent a very happy week with her husband while on their wedding tour. But since their return she has led a most unhappy existence. She has been haunted, she says, by the first Mrs. Boyle, who during the last week visited her almost every day. After these visits Mrs. Boyle has remained unconscious for several hours.
I went to the place to-day and found Mrs. Boyle in the house of a neighbor, the visit she received from the spirit of the first Mrs. Boyle last Saturday having caused such a serious shock to her nerves that she says she will never enter the house again. Her husband, an intelligent young man, 28 years old, was with her and two children were playing about the room.
SHE IS A YOUNG WIFE
Mrs. Boyle is very young for a wife, being hardly 17 years old. She is a pretty girl. She was Miss Sarah Cullings before she was married two weeks ago, and lived in Ashley, near here. She met her husband last St. Patrick’s Day, and not quite a month afterward they were married in Phillipsburg, N.J., by Rev. Father Burke. The week following they spent in New York and last week arrived at Boyle’s home in Baltimore No. 2.
“I was washing some clothes in the kitchen Monday afternoon when I experienced a most singular feeling, as though somebody were in the room with me. I looked around but could see nobody. Then I went into the parlor, but no one was there. When I returned to the kitchen all the chairs and tables were upset and my washing spilled on the floor. I set them right again. Immediately they were thrown down. At that instant there swept by me a figure of no particular shape, except the head, and that I saw distinctly. The face was a woman’s and had such a peculiar look about it that I cannot forget it. It was gone in an instant and I fainted. The children called in the neighbors, and after some time I was revived. When my husband returned home I told him the story. He called it a joke and said I had imagined it all. I tried to think no more about it.
“The next day,” continued Mrs. Boyle, “I was alone in the kitchen making some bread when I again felt the dreadful sensation of the peculiar presence. It gradually grew in shape, until the head was fully visible. Then I could see the face. It was the same as on the day previous. Then it gradually faded away, and again I fainted from fright.
“Fearing to be alone the next day, I sent for my sister. That night I again told my husband about the ghostly visitor. My nerves were unstrung and I was very much excited. Mr. Boyle got some books to quiet me, and we began looking them over. Among the books was a photograph album. He was turning over the leaves and explaining who the persons were. Finally he turned a page, and there before me was
THE FACE OF THE GHOST
I had seen. So suddenly was the face presented before me that I shrieked with horror. My husband sprang to his feet, and asked me what was the matter. All I could do was to point to the album, which had fallen to the floor, and say, “That face, that face,” “What about it,” cried my husband. “It is the same as the ghost’s I saw.” He was very much horrified at this, and exclaimed, “It is the fact of my first wife.” Then he believed what I had said regarding the apparition, for he knew I have never seen her nor any photograph of her, until he showed me the one in the album.
“On Thursday my sister and I were in the kitchen, cutting carpet rags. Among the old clothing was a jacket of “Jamesey’s,” who is my husband’s oldest boy. I took it out of the bag to give to Annie, my sister. I leaned over to hand it to her. As I did so it was pulled from my hands and thrown on the floor. At the same instant I felt the presence of the ghost, although I could see nothing. My sister then picked the jacket from the floor. As she did so the jacket was torn from her hands, and the ghost stood before us, the eyes glazing as though in anger. My sister shrieked with terror and fell into my arms. I managed to retain consciousness and the apparition vanished. Both Annie and I then went outside and would not go in until my husband returned home. Then Annie went out to Ashley. She was afraid to stay with me.
The next day was Friday and my husband remained at home all day. In the evening he went down to the store and I began undressing ‘Jamesey,’ who is older than the others and had been allowed to stay up. He was very naughty and I had to scold him. Then I put him to bed, and returned to the sitting room.
“As I entered the room, the
GHOST STOOD BEFORE ME
I was becoming less afraid of it, and, although greatly frightened, I managed to say: “what do you want?” The ghost pointed one of its hands at me, and, although I could not see the mouth move, it spoke and said: “Treat my children well,” three times, and very slowly.
When my husband returned a few minutes later I was in a fainting fit. We agreed to leave the house as soon as we could find another. I did not want to stay another day, but my husband persuaded me to stay in order to pack up some of the goods.
“Yesterday afternoon ‘Jamesey’ was a naughty boy again. I caught his arm and began to shake him. Immediately the ghost appeared. It seemed to come from behind the kitchen stove. One hand caught the boy and pulled him from me, while with the other hand she struck me on the head.
“It was all over in a few seconds, and as the ghost disappeared I snatched up the boy and ran out of the house. I went to Mrs. McLaughlin’s across the street. “You look ill, Mrs. Boyle,” she said. “What is the matter? Why, your head is all covered with ashes.” I put my hand on my head and there was ashes there. They must have come from the ghost’s hands.”
The boy “Jamesey” was then called. He is a bright little fellow, about 5 years of age. He was asked what had happened yesterday afternoon. “Me was bad boy,” he said. “She shake me,” pointing to Mrs. Boyle. “Then my mamma—not my new mamma, my old one—come out from behind stove and pull me away. I haven’t seen my old mamma for a long time.”
Mr. Boyle said he did not believe in ghosts, but he believes what his wife says, and will not allow her to go into the house again. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 3 May1894: p. 10
So far, merely a standard visitation from the dead mother as a warning. But things quickly took a more sinister turn.
BABY BURNED BY A GHOST
Mrs. Boyle Declares That the Jealous Spirit is That of Her Husband’s First Wife.
FOUR INCENDIARY VISITATIONS
Wilkesbarre, Pa., May 11, 1894. Mrs. Cornelius Boyle, wife of a well-known young miner of this city, was visited about two weeks ago by a supernatural being, whom she said was Boyle’s first wife.
As told in the Herald at the time, Mrs. Boyle the second was married about two months after the first wife’s death, and the ghost, according to her, had appeared to warn her to take good care of the four children.
The appearance of the ghost so affected Mrs. Boyle that her husband took another house. In this new place they lived happily until Tuesday, when Mrs. Boyle had another visit from the ghost. This time she said that it threatened her with horrible tortures if the children were not properly cared for.
Matters reached a climax yesterday morning when a bed on the second floor was found to be on fire. An alarm was run, the Fire Department responded, and the flames were extinguished, but scarcely had the firemen left when the same bed was again discovered on fire.
The firemen returned and extinguished the blaze a second time. Later in the day the house was found to be on fire again, and the Fire Department was called out a third time.
BLAMES IT ALL ON THE GHOST.
An oil can and some kerosene were found on the floor and bed clothing.
When the firemen arrived Mrs. Boyle put the blame on the ghost and said she could give no explanation as to the origin of the fire.
The house was found to be again on fire this morning. When the firemen reached the house it was found locked and full of smoke. The blaze was located in a bed on the second floor.
“Sam” Bartleson, foreman of No. 8 Hose Company, upon smashing a window and entering the house found a little child lying unconscious in the blazing bed. The child was little Johnnie Boyle, the four-year-old son of Boyle by his first wife.
AGAIN IT WAS THE GHOST
The little fellow was carried across the street to the house of Thomas Manley. His burns were dressed and he is expected to recover. The flames were soon extinguished.
Mrs. Boyle was out when the blaze was discovered, but was found in one of the neighbor’s houses. She blamed this fire also on the ghost, who, she says, is jealous of her and wants to drive her from her children and husband.
Mrs. Boyle is under police surveillance and the house is watched.
Mrs. Boyle is about eighteen years old, bright appearing and pretty. New York Herald 12 May 1894: p. 11
I have not found an end to this story of what seems to be a very wicked stepmother. One does feel a certain sympathy for a 17-year-old bride married after a mere month’s courtship and thrust into the role of mother to four very young children. I cannot discover what happened to the first Mrs. Boyle. The second Mrs. Boyle’s spells of unconsciousness might possibly have been epilepsy or caused by stress, but what do we make of the young son saying that his dead mother came out of the stove? Had he heard his stepmother tell the story?
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.