The story of that unfortunate gentleman in Australia who was dragged away from his birthday party and killed by an crocodile has been much in the news. That ghastly story reminded me that I had a saurian ghost story to post, perhaps one of the strangest animal ghost stories in my collection. What are we to make of this rather vague ghost story and its accompanying Theosophist (?) claptrap spouted by, inevitably, a Man in Black?
WEIRD AND GHOSTLY
Remains of “General Davis” Said to Be Haunted.
ONLY AN ALLIGATOR
Strange Actions of a Mysterious Visitor.
Said He Could Restore Life to the Body of the Dead Reptile.
The remains of “General Davis,” the late lamented alligator for whom Captain Collins took so much pains to make life comfortable while living, have been stuffed and mounted and will henceforth occupy a prominent place in the fisheries exhibit.
There are some weird and peculiar stories floating around the fisheries building in connection with the death and final disposition of the remains of the “General.”
Among the attendants in the building these stories are passed about in whispers, much after the style of awe-inspiring stories of midnight adventures in country graveyards.
In sort, it is the belief of nearly everybody about the building that the remains of the General are haunted. One of the attendants said yesterday that he distinctly heard a harsh, guttural sound like the dying groan of an alligator issue from the remains of the “General” one night soon after he had come anew from the hands of the taxidermist. Another claimed that he has repeatedly seen the “General” wink his eye since his spirit was supposed to have winged its flight to alligator heaven and his remains stuffed with common saloon floor sawdust. Here is what one of the attendants tells about the curious behavior of the stuffed “General:” “When the taxidermist was at work on the remains of the dead alligator, I often saw him in conversation with a little, old, dried-up-looking man, dressed in shiny black, and wearing an old-fashioned dilapidated silk tie. I frequently asked the taxidermist who this man was, but was always put off with some evasive answer.
The Mysterious Stranger.
This curious-looking stranger usually came in with the taxidermist when he returned from lunch. One day last week I made it a point to hide under the operating table while the taxidermist was out at lunch, just to see what this curious pair were talking so earnestly about while the operator was fixing the “General “ up. Well, it was a curious talk I heard when they came in and got to work. The odd-looking stranger had a vial filled with a curious-looking liquid in his hand and was insisting on pouring some of it over the material with which the head of his gatorship was being stuffed, while the taxidermist remonstrated in a half-earnest, half-amused sort of way.
“’Oh, quit your tomfoolery; there is nothing in your theory, and you will only make us both ridiculous,’ I heard the taxidermist say. Then the little old stranger, who seemed very nervous, and who spoke English with a curious foreign accent, got very much excited, and I could just make out that he had some sort of a theory that the liquid in his bottle would in course of time set up some sort of a chemical action on the stuffing in the ‘gator’s hide which would eventually result in time in turning it into alligator flesh and blood and start up the functions of life again in the dead ‘gator. He kept repeating “’I bring him back to life, I bring him back to life; let me have my way.’ Then he went on in a long talk about what was the reason why animals died at all and claimed that the spirit only left the body when it got disgusted with the worn-out material on which it had to act to manifest itself in the form of life carnate.
A Magic Liquid
“He claimed that his liquid would not only prevent this wearing out process with the living but would actually transform almost any kind of matter into the condition necessary for vital or spirit force to manifest itself in the peculiar forms which the scientist call species. He claimed that so long as the general outline was left to the material form in which nature had molded any particular life it was an easy matter with his chemical to either prolong that life or call it back after having taken flight from its material home.
“Well, anyhow he succeeded in getting the taxidermist to let him try the liquid on ‘General Davis’’ stuffing and to tell you the truth from what I have seen and heard since that ‘’gator’ was mounted I wouldn’t be surprised to see him just start and walk off at any time. To tell the truth I am afraid to go near the cussed thing of a night. It all sounds very silly for a man to talk that way, and I would not want to be quoted for fear some of the boys would give me the laugh, but just let some of the doubtful ones see what I’ve seen and hear what I’ve heard when I’ve been around that ‘gator’ of a night and they won’t be so ready to laugh, I can tell you.”
Captain Collins’ Story.
Captain Collins was asked what he knew about the strange manifestations which had been noticed in connection with ’General Davis’” post mortem conditions, but he only laughed and evaded the question.
“Why, the General was the laziest of that proverbially lazy tribe of crocodiles,” said the Captain. “I am satisfied his soul would not come back if he was furnished with a brand new set of copper-plated vitals and a stomach which would digest turtle shells. Why, the ‘General’ was too lazy to shed tears when his mate Columbus died and all the little gators were groaning the most affecting dirges ever groaned in the alligator language. Why, he was so lazy he would not take the trouble to open his mouth to receive the choicest viands ever placed upon a menu-card for an alligator banquet. About two days before his death I offered him a dainty bit of fish which had been separated from life for three or four days and subjected to a high temperature, but the ‘General’ only smiled in a tired sort of way and intimated as plainly as could be that if I would open his mouth he would not mind swallowing the morsel. I encouraged his habitual lethargy to that extent and he only testified his thanks by a faint smile and fell off into a deep sleep from which he was never entirely aroused. His spirit passed away so quietly and with so little effort that we did not know it was gone until a faint odor of decay began to rise from the remains. Oh, no, I don’t think the ‘General’s’ spirit will come back, that is, if it has left the building. Of course it may be possible that his spirit has never really left his body but is just hanging around too tired to move. In that event, if the little man in black’s liquid gets to work pretty lively, the ‘General’s’ spirit might go to work again, but I doubt it.”
The little man in black has not been around since the “General’s” skin was mounted, and further developments in this peculiar case are awaited with interest by everybody about the fisheries building.
Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 21 May 1893: p. 6 ILLINOIS
NOTE: “General Davis” was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, in the Fisheries Building. This little squib explains the origins of the creature. Apparently he did not live very long.
THEY ARE CLASSED AS FISH
Two Big-mouthed Alligators are Received at Jackson Park.
Captain Collins, of the Fish and Fisheries Department, received a present yesterday alongside of which a white elephant would pale into insignificance. An admirer of his sent on from the St. John’s River in Florida two choice alligators. They will make an interesting addition to the aquaria, where they will be placed in tanks. But as pets the saurians do not shine. They are ugly chaps at best, and about as long as a rowboat. One of them, which will be named “Moses,” runs to mouth, being split halfway down to his tail. The other one Captain Collins thinks he will call “Carter H.” They are each over twelve feet long and are perfect specimens in their way.
Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 18 April 1893: p. 5 ILLINOIS
Does anybody recognize the incantation of the little man in black: ’I bring him back to life, I bring him back to life; let me have my way.’? Place answers in a tightly stoppered curious vial of liquid, 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. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.