I know that I get tired of the same old ghost stories: those Ladies in White, misty revenants, and headless horsemen appearing before terrified witnesses who later find some explanation in family lore or local folklore for the apparition.
Ho, as they say, hum.
Far more interesting are ghosts who manifest in other ways—through the sense of smell, for instance—like this particularly malodorous ghost that appalled the inhabitants of a London house.
A Correspondent sent to the Daily Chronicle of April 15th an account of the weird experience of a family in connection with a haunted house near London. In his letter he says:—
“It is exactly six days from the time of writing when the ghost of which I am speaking made its last appearance; if appearance it may be called, for this particular spectre is invisible alike by day and by night. But, although invisible, it is unfortunately by no means intangible, inaudible, or, what is worst of all, inodorous, for the special peculiarity of this ghost is that it carries about with it the smell of a charnel-house.
“About two years ago a lady friend of mine took an eight-roomed cottage in a village within twenty miles of Charing Cross. It was old-fashioned and had a name of its own, which, of course, I suppress, but which I will call Carmine Villa.
“The rent was phenomenally low—only 10s. a week for an eight-roomed house in fairly good repair—so low that it might have occasioned remark, but my friend asked no questions, and took the house. She now wishes to leave it, for reasons which will be very easily understood by anyone who follows this narrative to its close.
“Without going back any further than the present year, my friend’s daughter, who knew nothing of the story or the antecedents of the house, occupied a spare bedroom near the roof, which seems to be the headquarters of the spectre. The girl, who is about fourteen years of age, had fallen asleep, when she was suddenly aroused by the consciousness of the presence of someone standing by her bedside in the dark. Startled, she was about to cry out, when a flabby, large clammy hand was pressed firmly over her mouth.
“She was a strong-minded girl. With an effort she sat bolt upright in bed, trying to tear the hand from her mouth. To her horror she found the hand of the invisible intruder strongly forcing her back on to her pillow, and at the same time she was conscious of an intolerable odour. Hastily pulling the bed-clothes over her head, she went fervently over her prayers—I may say it is a Catholic family- and, to her great relief and delight, the grasp of the hideous Invisible relaxed, and she went to sleep.
“In the morning she thought it might have been a nightmare, and said nothing about it. The next time, however, when she had to sleep in that room the same horrible haunting occurred. Again there was the presence in the room, again the horrible odour as of decaying flesh; again the gruesome, flabby, clammy hand pressed on her mouth. She screamed, jumped out of bed, and went down to her mother, declaring that nothing would induce her to sleep in that room.
“Some time later a relative visited Carmine Villa and spent three weeks in the house. She might have stayed longer, but on the twentieth night she had the same experience as the daughter of the house. She was awakened by the pressure of a hand upon her mouth. She shook herself clear and angrily addressed her visitor, but received no response. On the twenty-first night the same visitation occurred. This time the odour was so intolerable that she had to fly from the room, dreading suffocation. The next day she left the house. I enclose you her name and address.
“I also enclose you the name and address of another lady, not a relation, who for three nights in succession endured the haunting horror of the darkness, the phenomena in every case being the same: first the presence, then the hand, followed by the insufferable smell. My friend invited me to spend a night in the haunted chamber. It is an experience which I do not covet.
“If this evil entity from the beyond would confine himself to this spare bedroom of Carmine Villa, the room might be set apart for his accommodation, but unfortunately this is not the case. Last Thursday, for instance, while the family were sitting at lunch, they were subjected to what has now become quite a familiar visitation. Steps were heard descending the stairs from the haunted bedroom, apparently those of a heavy man wearing loose slippers. When he reached the foot of the stairs he entered the dining-room, and with him came, as a moving column, the pestilential odour!
“They could see nothing, but heard the footsteps cross the floor, and presently there was a sound as if someone had sat down heavily in one of the chairs at the table. They heard the chair creak, but saw no one. To finish the meal was out of the question. The room smelt like a pest-house. All the windows were opened, but the odour filled the house.
“I mention this because it occurred as late as last Thursday, but a similar occurrence may take place to-day, or may have taken place yesterday for all I know, for the malodorous spectre is fitful in his habits.
“On a recent occasion, when the wife of a well-known Eastern potentate came to lunch, the meal was disturbed by the unbidden guest, and it was impossible to explain the secret of the visitation. Of late he has developed a habit of passing from room to room, leaving behind him the odour of the charnel-house, and occasionally he persists in looking in at five o’clock tea.
“As may be imagined from the fact that my friend has stood this for months, and is still standing it, she is very strong-minded. Believing that she is in the presence of a discarnate personality, who, for some strange and mysterious reason, is earth-bound to Carmine Villa, she has sometimes followed him to the bedroom, and attempted in vain to get into communication with him. Addressing him, whoever it may be, she has pointed out the extreme inconvenience which his inconsiderate visits were occasioning to the family. She has begged him to inform her what he wanted, undertaking to do any— thing for him in reason to ease his perturbed spirit, if thereby she could but secure release from his detestable presence. To all her adjurations and appeals there was only one reply — the continuous terrible odour.
“Many people have occupied the room without experiencing any inconvenience. Some have, as I have mentioned, slept in it safely for three weeks, and then have been disturbed brutally in the last two nights of their sojourn there. An investigator, therefore, might spend night after night in the house and have nothing to report; on the other hand, he might be driven half out of his wits by the clammy hand pressed upon his mouth, while his nose was left free to inhale the odour of putrefaction.
“It only remains to add that, on making inquiries in the village, my friend was told that the last occupant of that house was an old imbecile, who had died in what is now known as the haunted chamber. He was an enormously corpulent man, and it was some time before they could effect the structural alterations in the house necessary to remove his corpse, upon which decay had made great ravages before it was finally transferred to the grave. That is the story in the village, but why the smell and the presence should persist years after that malodorous funeral, I leave to wiser heads than mine to decide.”
The Annals of Psychical Science, Vol. 7, 1908
Shades of Marjorie Bowen’s “The Crown Derby Plate”:
She shook and shuddered in the damp, trying to get out of her clothes and her nostrils–that indescribable smell.
Other ghosts that manifest primarily through the sense of smell? Spritz me at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com And look for several upcoming posts on the subject including the same story above, as told by the eye/nose-witness, An Overwhelming Odour of Corruption.
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.
This just in from Tom Baker: