Mother’s Day is coming up, so I feel obligated to do something on the theme of maternal devotion, especially since, last year, I rather savaged Motherhood in a piece on Maternal Influence and Monsters. This first story is a curious tale of apparent psychokinesis focused on a very young child–between 2 and 3 years old, one supposes, from clues in the story.
A PLEASANT GHOST STORY
Supposed Visit of a Dead Mother to Her Child
[From Elizabeth, N.J. Herald.]
A rather a queer story is told and can be vouched for by over a dozen persons in Springfield. It appears about three years ago a young man living in Summit got married, and in due time his wife gave birth to a child, which was a girl. When the child was about one year old the mother died. About five months later the young widower became lonely and took unto himself another wife. But before doing so he took all his first wife’s clothing, packed it in a trunk, locked it up, and allowed no one to have charge of the key but himself. Among the clothing put away was her wedding shawl and a pillow his wife had made for her first-born, and also some toys she had bought just before she died. Then he brought home wife No. 2, who, it is said, made as good a mother as the average step-mothers do. Things went on lively till one night last week, when there was a party at the next neighbor’s house. So, after putting the babe in its little bed, the father and mother No. 2 went over to spend the evening at the party. Shortly after they left, two men came along on their way to the party also. They saw a wonderful light in the house as though it might be on fire. They also heard the cries of the babe, as though in great pain. They went to the house, and as soon as they reached the door the light went out, and all was silent as the grave within. They hastened on to the house where the party was and told the man what they had seen and heard in his house as they came by. Five or six men, including the owner of the house, started to investigate the report. When they arrived they found every room and door fast as they were when the owner left. On going inside everything was found to be in its place except the child, which, after a long search, was found upstairs under the bed on which its mother died, covered up with its mother’s wedding shawl and its little head resting on the pillow its mother made for it, sound asleep. Alongside of it lay its playthings. On examining the trunk it was found to be locked and nothing missing except the above mentioned articles. Now, how the things got out of the trunk and the key in the owner’s pocket, and he half a mile from it, and how the child got upstairs, is a mystery. The above may sound a little dime-novelish, but, as, we said before, the facts of the case can be and are vouched for by over a dozen respectable citizens of Springfield.
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 September 1878: p. 6
Here is a similar story, again with inexplicable movements of the child.
A Dead Mother Visits Her Living Child—She Sits at Its Cradle and Caresses It.
Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.
Richmond, VA., Jan. 23.
A strange story is current in certain circles here. About two years ago Mr. A. married. In due time he became a father, but the wife died when the child was a few months old. On her deathbed she exhibited intense anxiety as to the fate of the little one she was to leave behind her, and earnestly besought her husband to confide it, after her death, to the care of one of her relatives. He promised, and, I believe, did for a while let the child stay in charge of the person whom the mother had designated. Some weeks ago, however, Mr. A. again married, and at once reclaimed the child, who as yet had never learned to speak a word, and was unable to crawl. One day this child was left alone for a few moments in its stepmother’s bedroom, lying in a crib or cradle some distance from the bed. When Mrs. A. returned she was amazed to see the child smiling and crowing upon the middle of the bed—In her astonishment she involuntarily asked:
“Who put you here, baby?”
“Mamma!” responded quite distinctly the child that had never before spoken a word.
On a strict inquiry throughout the household it was found that none of the family had been in the room during Mrs. A’s brief absence from it. This, it is solemnly averred, was but the beginning of a series of spiritual visitations from the dead mother. Whenever the child was left alone it could be heard to laugh and crow as if delighted by the fondlings and endearments of someone, and on these occasions it was frequently found to have changed its dress, position, &c., in a manner quite beyond its own unaided capacity.
Finally, as the account is, the first Mrs. A. appeared one night at the bedside of Mr. A. and his second wife, and earnestly entreated that her darling should be restored to the relative whom she had indicated as the guardian of the child on her death bed. The apparition, which, it is declared, was distinctly seen and heard by both Mr. A. and his wife, promised to haunt them no more if her wish was complied with. Both Mr. A. and his wife were too much awe-stricken to reply; but the next day the child was carried back as directed by the ghostly visitant. Such is the story as seriously avouched by the principal parties concerned, who are most respectable and intelligent people, and no spiritualists.
New Philadelphia [OH] Democrat 10 February 1871: p. 2
It’s practically obligatory for the ghostly mother in this genre of story to assert her dominance over her successor or make sure that her children are being properly treated. Even with some advances in obstetrics, women knew that death was a possibility with every pregnancy and anxiety over what would become of their motherless children is a constant theme in death-bed narratives. Martha Jefferson, for example, fearing the proverbial cruelty of a stepmother (perhaps from personal experience–her father had married twice after the death of her mother), begged Thomas Jefferson not to marry again.
For a previous story of a ghostly mother who threatened a new stepmother, see this post. That story also appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past. Mrs Daffodil also tells a heart-warming story of a ghost-mother who comes to assist her dying boy to the Other Side.
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.