I’ve been reading A Trojan Feast by Joshua Cutchin with its discussion of food and the world of fairy, aliens, and Bigfoot and it sent me to my files for stories of hungry ghosts: spirits that seem to desire or consume human food. Most hungry ghosts long for the familiar dishes they ate in life, like the spirit of a consumptive who begged for tea and toast or the defunct Champagne Charlie who wanted his magnum. While we think of damned souls crying out for someone to dip the tip of a finger in water and cool the tongue, it is rare to find spirits with the simple, yet intense, longing for water.
A HAUNTING SPIRIT RELEASED
Mrs. L. Welles, writing in ‘The Swastika,’ [“Devoted to Psychic and Mental Science and Phenomena, Metaphysics, New Thought, the Enlargement of Individual Consciousness, and the Solution of Personal Problems.”] relates how she lived in a haunted house in Texas and liberated the unfortunate spirit who produced the phenomena which had distressed previous tenants.
The house agent, to whom she applied for a house which she had selected, told her that he felt it his duty to inform her that it had the reputation of being haunted and that the tenants usually paid a month’s rent and then left. Asked why they did this, he replied that nothing had been seen to alarm the tenants but that the taps were unaccountably turned on and the water was running continually night and day. Mrs. Welles had been clairvoyant and clairaudient all her life and felt interested, so she took the house, which had belonged to a wealthy Southern family before the war, and moved into it. For a week nothing unusual occurred and then, one day:—
The water began pouring from the faucet in the bath-room stationary stand. I had just turned it off after using it, and knew that it was turned off tight, so that it could not slip back. I walked back and turned it off again, and almost immediately the water came pouring from the bath tub. I turned it off and went downstairs and into the kitchen, to find the cook frightened out of her wits, for she was having a similar experience. Well, this kept up all the afternoon, and we each worked faithfully in turning the water off, but to no avail. It seemed as if the more we turned off the water the greater the flow when it was turned on again by—what?
The next day the same thing went on, and although the plumber attended to the taps and fixed new washers, the water began to flow again almost as soon as he had left the house. This state of things began to be very annoying, and Mrs. Welles retired to her own room with the purpose of going into the clairvoyant state, if possible, in the hope of seeing or hearing something that might explain the mystery. After a time of quiet an old white-haired spirit woman appeared, but no word or sign was given, until all at once Mrs. Welles felt almost crazy with thirst. She called to her maid to take her a pitcher of water, and drank until the girl was frightened. She asked for more, which was taken to her, and at last, when her thirst was appeased, she heard the words (clairaudiently), ‘Thank God, I can die now.’ Mrs. Welles said: ‘Who are you?’ and the voice replied, ‘The last owner of this property.’ In answer to the question, ‘Are you happy?’ she replied, ‘Yes, since I got all the water I wanted.’ Then she vanished, and it dawned upon Mrs. Welles that she had freed the spirit from some auto-suggestion that had bound her to earth. At any rate, there was no more trouble with the water, and Mrs. Welles lived in the house for a long time in peace and quiet. She found the physician who had attended the lady, and in answer to her inquiries he stated that the lady had suffered from cancer in the stomach, and was always thirsty. Her nurse declared that ‘her last words were that if they did not give her all the water she wanted, she would haunt the house, and she kept her word.’
Light 12 February 1910: p. 74
I wonder that there aren’t more stories of ghosts begging for water since patients were often denied water by 19th and early 20th-century physicians who believed that it would harm patients suffering from a variety of conditions.
Here’s another story on the same theme:
The Thing I Can’t Explain
by Alice L. Tildesley
Little Judy King week-ended at a house not far from Hollywood. A sun porch, glassed in, led off the dining room next to the butler’s pantry. At noon, the day of Judy’s arrival, she passed through the dining room and heard the clink of glasses and then the sound of water pouring out.
She ran out to the sun porch, but no one was there.
Next day as she passed through the dining room again at midday, she heard the water and glasses again, and once more found no one on the porch.
“Hearing our daily ghost?” asked another guest, coming in. “The water is on the ice box in the butler’s pantry. I asked the maid about it and she told me her orders were to leave it there at noon each day, but she has never seen any one drink from it.”
Knowing her hostess well, Judy demanded an explanation, and learned that her hostess’ aunt had committed suicide on the sun porch, dying while she begged for water. It seemed that the ice hadn’t come and the water had been temporarily turned off and before any could be brought she had died. Presently, serious disturbances began in the sun porch and pantry, all the servants left and no one would live in the house until a spiritualist suggested that a pitcher of ice water be left on the ice box at noon—the time the aunt had died—every day. After which, except for the sound of pouring water and the clink of the glass, there was no further disturbance. The Zanesville [OH] Signal 31 October 1926
There is a school of thought in reincarnation that starvation in a previous life leads to over-eating in the next incarnation or that a drunkard’s soul in its new existence will thirst after something stronger than water.
Dr. Carl A. Wickland of Thirty Years Among the Dead had a theory that the “hungry ghosts” of drinkers and opium fiends could obsess the living and turn temperate citizens into raging alcoholics or drug addicts. His solution was to have his wife, who was a medium, point out to the dead that they were dead and that it was time for them to move along and leave the living to their own vices. If the entities proved stubborn, there was always the last resort of a shot of insulin or electro-shock therapy to dislodge them. Dr. Wickland’s book does not mention any spirits with cravings for water or turning any of the entities teetotal.
Mysterious water puddles and rivulets dripping from ceilings with no pipes are a common poltergeist manifestation. I’ve also had persons tell me that faucets turned on by themselves at their haunted houses. Perhaps, like the women in the stories above, they were haunted by thirsty ghosts and should have set out a pitcher of clean water for the dead or the fairies.
Other thirsty ghosts? Pant like the hart to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
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. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.