Ghosts seem to be eager adopters of technology. Where the dead formerly spoke through the lips of entranced priestesses or mediums, with the introduction of the telegraph séance communications came through on the “spiritual telegraph” via rappings. When the telephone was a newly-introduced novelty, almost from the very beginning, the dead began to ring up their friends and neighbors.
A DEAD FRIEND AT THE ‘PHONE
Corporation Counsel Walker of Chicago Has a Weird Experience
New York Telegram.
Corporation Counsel Walker of Chicago, who was at the Hoffman house during the week, is probably the first and only man who ever talked with a ghost through a telephone. Mr. Walker is not a man who dreams dreams or sees visions. Neither is he of a nervous or hysterical nature, subject to hallucinations. He does not believe in spirits, except in the fluid state, and his mental make up is that of a trained lawyer. A few years ago, however, he encountered a group of facts that the rules of law and deductions of logic failed to explain.
Mr. Walker had a client and friend who was a large dealer in coal. As his family is living in Chicago, let his name be Miller. Besides being the closest personal friends, Mr. Walker had an intimate knowledge of Mr. Miller’s business affairs. Mr. Walker had drawn his family’s will, and had promised to look after his family and business affairs in the event of the death of the latter.
One day the coal merchant met with an accident that caused his death. Mr. Walker was one of the pallbearers, and was deeply grieved at his friend’s untimely demise. Near midnight of the day of the funeral, the telephone in Mr. Walker’s home rang. Awakened suddenly from a deep sleep, and surprised at a telephone call at so late an hour, no thought of the sad event of the day remained in the attorney’s mind, and—but let Mr. Walker tell the story:
“I was somewhat surprised and a little annoyed at being awakened at that time of the night, but my mind was as clear and as free from the thoughts of the previous day as it is now,” said Mr. Walker. “I went to the telephone, and a voice said: ‘Mr. Miller wants to speak to you.’ ‘Well, what does he want?’ I asked before I realized that I had just attended his funeral. When the thought did come to me, I confess that cold shivers crept over me. I kept the telephone receiver at my ear, however, and waited for an answer. None came. I called to the voice two or three times, and asked what it wanted and who was talking, but received no response. The voice was not that of Miller in life, and I did not recognize it as that of any member of his family or of any person I had ever known.
“Three other times in as many days, the telephone bell rang and the same voice repeated the same question, ‘Mr. Miller wants to speak to you.’ The message went no further. I could not elicit a response. I inquired at Miller’s office and his home if anyone had called me up, but found that during the four days no one had tried to talk with me by telephone. Neither did the telephone people know anything about the various calls.
“I have never been able to explain the ringing of that telephone bell. I was wide awake each time I answered the call. I was not suffering from any delusion. It has been suggested to me that Miller was so anxious about his family after his death that he desired to communicate with me about his affairs, and that his spirit used this method of calling my attention to his business affairs, but if this is a tenable theory, why did he not tell me what he wanted me to do. I never could find out any human agency rang that bell, and I don’t want to go on record as saying that a ghost rang it.”
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 8 April 1900: p. 28
My question is, did Mr. Miller have a secretary/administrative assistant in the Afterlife? The voice is using a standard business telephoning line from the period when a businessman would not make his own phone calls, but relied on the operator.
I’m sure there is a term for what happens to those who are unfazed when confronted with the paranormal: rolling over and going to sleep after a bedroom visit from a ghost or aliens; greeting the figure of a dead friend in the street, “not remembering” that they have died; and, as Mr. Walker described, forgetting that he had just attended his friend’s funeral. Are these experiences a type of waking dream?–for everything, no matter how illogical, seems to make sense in dreams. The theme repeats itself in paranormal accounts of many types.
The first of my Haunted Ohio books contains a short tale of a woman in Middletown, Ohio who experienced a phone call from the dead. The night they buried her father, the phone woke her from sleep. When she got out of bed and answered the phone she heard her father’s very distinctive voice. He addressed her by a pet name and said, “What am I doing here? What has happened?” In shock she hung up, utterly unnerved, thinking perhaps she was going crazy. But she was certain it was her father’s voice. When she told me about it she finished, “It was a very bad connection. Like long, long distance.”
Other phone calls from the dead? Dr Beachcombing has explored the origins and searched for the earliest examples. Ring me up, but not after 10: 00 p.m., please 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.
Brian Chapman kindly sent this in:
A relatively recent book on the subject is Telephone Calls from the Dead (2012) by Callum Cooper http://www.amazon.com/Telephone-Calls-Dead-Callum-Cooper/dp/0957107412. He is no skeptic; this quote is indicative of his thinking: “If no rational explanation can be applied to an anomalous telephone experience, and if no paranormal explanation seems to apply either, perhaps we should consider the possibility that the telephone is somehow conscious at a certain level and is therefore creating the bizarre calls and ringing itself” (143). One motif he mentions is that sometimes the sound of the phone ring changes when the dead call (59, 83, 135). That one was new to me.
The following is from Louis C. Jones, Things That Go Bump in the Night. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1983 [New York: Hill and Wang, 1959], pp. 108-9.
I have also heard of a woman whose husband was a salesman on the road and one day he came home to find she had done herself in. The next tenants had a terrible time: she would go upstairs and open the bedroom doors and go back down again; she would go to the attic and makes noises as though she were moving boxes and cases about, but when they were examined they seemed not to have been moved; she would turn the key in a lock while someone was watching the door, but when the door was opened she was not there. And on two occasions she did something I know of no other ghost doing. She would go over to the telephone and dial it; people in the room could see and hear it happen. No one seems to have had the presence of mind to lift the receiver and find out whom she was calling, and so a good story is lost. Makes you wonder, though, when the telephone bell rings in the middle of the night and you crawl out of bed to answer it, and there is no voice at the other end. At least it makes me wonder.