Yesterday was the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, so it’s time for some simian spook stories. Ghostly monkeys are relatively uncommon in the paranormal literature. There’s Martyn’s Ape of Athelhampton Hall and the phantom ape that materialized and was photographed at one of Kluski’s séances (although personally I think it looks like someone in a burlap suit.) Nick Redfern has covered the terrifying Man-Monkey, while a more recent panic was caused by the Monkey-man of Delhi. And we mustn’t forget the classic horror story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs.
In an equally classic folkloric vein is this road-horror:
About half-past six o’clock on Sunday evening last, as a man named Edward Cock was going from Wadebridge to St. Columb, on the common, about three miles and a half from the latter place, he heard a singular kind of noise which proceeded from the side of the road and immediately he felt his legs grasped by what he conceived to be a demon from the dominions of his satanic majesty, and which dragged a chain after it. The appearance of the demon was black, and it had a tail which it twisted round his leg with great force. The poor fellow was dreadfully terrified and cried for help most lustily, endeavoring to extricate himself from the grip of the fiend, but in vain.
A person from a hollow on the roadside called to him to stop, and conceiving himself beset by thieves and devils, he cried out that they might take his watch and what money he had, but entreated they would spare his life and rid him of his ghostly enemy.
At this person, the quick approach of some persons was heard, and Cock was quickly freed from his terrors by the departure of his assailants, who taking with them the imp which they readily induced to quit his hold, made off across the common. The persons whose approach had freed poor Cock from the fangs of his adversary, proved to be a man and a woman; but after hearing his account of the adventure, they felt no disposition to pursue the fiend and his associates. Some foreigners with a large black baboon had passed through St. Columb a few days before; they solicited charity, but it is supposed they have trained the animal to assist in more forcible appeals when opportunity offers for making them.
Spectator [New York, NY] 20 February 1821: p. 1
Cornwall is a county notorious for its residents’ enthusiasm for the marvellous. The very air is saturated with tales of piskies, giants, King Arthur, mermaids, and knockers in the tin mines. Appearances by the Devil and his minions were routine and one wonders what Mr Cock was making such a fuss about? Cornwall was famous for its wrestlers, but perhaps Mr Cock’s boyhood training lacked manoeuvers against a fanged and tailed adversary.
The notion that a trained baboon was touring with its handlers makes this anecdote an early variant of the “wild animal escaped from the circus” wheeze.
Much as I enjoy a good ape-aping-the-Devil story, the occasion seems to demand an actual story (albeit an as-told-in-America one) of a ghostly Chinese monkey:
The spirits of animals are supposed to manifest themselves and act much as do “human” ghosts. A case in point is the monkey ghost which persecuted a certain Mr. Ling, a resident of Canton.
Mr. Ling was the owner of a monkey belonging to a species known as yuan, which is supposed to possess an almost human mind. The monkey had been in Mr. Ling’s family for 40 years. One day Mr. Ling’s little son was passing the monkey when it snatched away his cap. The child complained to his father, who beat the animal with a whip. The monkey became sulky, refused all food and in a few days was dead.
Shortly after the monkey’s ghost began to haunt the house. Food placed on the table disappeared mysteriously, strange noises were heard and other curious phenomena attributed to ghostly interference took place unaccountably and Mr. Ling moved.
But the monkey ghost followed and continued its persecutions. Again Mr. Ling moved, and again the ghost followed. As a last recourse Mr. Ling took a room in the Temple of 500 Worthies. The monkey ghost did not dare to face the gods, and left him in peace in the temple.
Evening Tribune [San Diego, CA] 30 August 1922: p. 7
And, in a completely random observation, as my mind swings from topic to topic, celebrity medium D.D. Home was accused of carrying in his pocket a small monkey which was said to have been trained to make rapping noises and twitch sitters’ dresses. Whether or not this is true, or if any other mediums deployed simians in their séances, “pocket monkeys” were a popular pet with the ladies:
Just at this time a “pocket monkey” has become the fad in New York. The little monkeys are really so small that they can easily be stowed in an ordinary pocket. They have long soft hair and bushy tails. Their bodies are only a few inches long, and their bright little eyes are almost human in their expression. These impish looking pets, with their faces no large than a 25 cent piece, are very affectionate. When one of them is excited, it gives a sweet whistling chuckle that sounds almost like part of a birds warble. When the pocket monkey is put upon the shoulder of its mistress, it at once winds its fluffy tail around her throat and folds its wee hands together much after the manner of a complacent little old lady making an afternoon call. New Bethlehem [PA] Vindicator 27 April 1900: p. 4
A clothed and perhaps masked monkey would make a very effective revenant in the dark. It could also climb noiselessly above sitters’ heads, suggesting a levitating medium or an aerial spirit.
Other monkey ghosts? Lure with a piece of fruit to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Jim Dalton writes:
Your current post “Aping the Devil” reminded me irresistibly (if not quite relevantly) of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s classic story Green Tea; wherein a pious clergyman’s wanton overindulgence in the titular stimulant opens his psychic vision to the Beyond. This exposes him to the relentless stalking of a demonic little black monkey, visible to its victim but to no one else. The bete noire‘s most endearing habit is to squat on the open pages of the clergyman’s Bible during sermons and make faces at him, much to the detriment of his clerical demeanor.
Note to self: drink more green tea.
Thanks, Jim! How could I have forgotten that classic!
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.