I’ve written before on 19th-century Men in Black. They are one of my favorite fortean personalities, if, in fact, they can be said to have personalities. Here is an excerpt from The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past featuring a Man in Black from 1853 and multiple witnesses.
A Ghost Story
The era of ghosts and goblins it seems has not wholly passed away. The following account of the latest manifestation of this sort we find in the Ballston Democrat. Our readers are at liberty to believe just so much of it as they please:
“Something of the ghost order—vouched for, by the bye, by reliable individuals—occurred at the axe factory of Messrs. I. Blood & Co., a short time since that may be as well jotted down, even if it is not deemed credible. It has been necessary for some time back, for the proprietors of the axe factory to keep the grinding shop in operation for the most part of the night, in which some fifteen men were employed.
About twelve o’clock one night some time since, one of the men at work saw a man dressed in plain black, but whose countenance was pale and livid, enter by one door and pass through from one end of the shop to the other without the least apparent noise. On mentioning the fact to his comrades they had seen nothing of the kind, and the occurrence was considered as some optical illusion. It was but a few nights afterwards, however, and at the same hour, another workman saw the same apparition, and informed his shopmates of the fact, but, as before, no other person had witnessed it.
By this time some curiosity was excited to know who it was who thus noiselessly and without any invitation paid these midnight visits, and the door was afterwards carefully shut and barred. But doors and bars did not seem to exclude the white faced man dressed in black; and but a few nights afterwards as another person was at his work the same incorrigible individual entered the shop without being perceived, and took a stand by one of the workmen, who, on looking over his shoulder saw his white face and shining black clothes as he stood behind him to excellent advantage. In an instant the figure had vanished; but not so with the trepidation of the workman the apparition had created. He left his seat in quite a hurry, and did not stop his running until he had reached his residence in this village, a distance of more than a mile. Since then it has been impossible for Messrs. Blood & Co. to induce men to work in the grindshop after dark.
Daily Ohio Statesman [Columbus, OH] 9 July 1853: p. 3
NOTE: The name seemed a little too good to be true, but I. Blood & Co. was an axe and scythe company taken over in 1837 from the founder, his father Sylvester, by Isaiah Blood in Ballston, New York.
Do the shining black clothes suggest the oilcloth suit of Spring-heeled Jack? The axe factory burnt down sometime in the early 1850s. If I knew the exact date, it would be a pleasant fortean coincidence to tie it to the MIB’s appearance.
This story comes from a chapter called “The Men in Black: Unearthly Entities.” I am always on the look-out for pre-UFO MIB–like Angels of Death and banshees, they are rare, but highly prized when found. Don your dark shades and send 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.