Elliott O’Donnell dined out on lurid tales of half-human elementals for most of his career, and while we must regretfully concede that his oeuvre should be taken with a jumbo grain of salt, there’s no denying that his ghastly creations stick with you. I’m not sure I could define what renders these malign beasts so thrilling, but Reginald B. Span, who wrote of similar horrors for The Occult Review, tells a story of an ape-like creature from an unnamed Irish castle which I hope will prove equally memorable—in a hideously satisfying way.
An instance of a ghost having a form half-human and half-animal in appearance, was told me by the Rev. F[rederick T.] Bennett (of the Anglican Church, Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A.). Some friends of his took an old castle in the South of Ireland—a very ancient and picturesque building standing in beautiful and extensive grounds. They heard that the place was supposed to be “haunted” before they decided to take it, but as the rent was low they had no objection to such trifling inconveniences as “ghosts,” and were well content to take the risk of being turned out by some interesting apparition, which they had heard had caused previous tenants to leave in horror. There were strange legends about certain ancestors of the ancient family who owned the castle, whose wicked deeds in mediaeval times had struck terror into all the country round, and resulted in the castle becoming “haunted” by horrible” influences,” which, however, were chiefly confined to the older part of the building which was disused and seldom tenanted.
The new tenants of T__ Castle were delighted with the place, and were soon comfortably settled there. At first all was quiet; and as nothing uncanny could be detected, they came to the conclusion that the reports they had heard were grossly exaggerated, if not altogether untrue, and straightway dismissed the idea of ghosts and the place being “haunted” After a time strange noises were heard at nights, which, however, were attributed to rats and the wind-and their own imaginations. Then the servants began to complain of footsteps outside their doors at nights and some one trying to enter their rooms. It was then thought that they must have heard stories and fantastic legends from the credulous and ignorant villagers, which had excited their imaginations, so that they fancied they heard such sounds. To prevent their leaving they were changed into other rooms, and for a time all went well. One night Mrs. A. (the lady of the house) was very late in retiring, and before getting into bed was sitting before the fire in her bedroom. (Her husband had gone to Dublin, and she was alone for a few days.) Everybody had gone to bed and the house was very still. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sharp bang of a door in the corridor where her room was, followed by the sound of footsteps—but most peculiar footsteps—moving in a stealthy way down the corridor. She opened her door and went outside with a lighted candle to see who or what it was.
At the end of the passage she saw in the dim light an extraordinary-looking figure moving with a clumsy, shambling, but stealthy tread towards the stairway. She held the light above her head to get a better view, and the creature turned round for an instant and looked at her, disclosing a human face of revolting hideousness surmounting what appeared to be the body of a huge ape, and in an instant it had vanished. Shrieking with terror she rushed back into her room.
One of her daughters who occupied the adjoining room was awakened by the noise, and came hurriedly into see what had happened, and learning the cause of alarm tried to persuade Mrs. A. that she had been dreaming—had fallen asleep in the chair before the fire and had a nightmare. It was decided (whether it was a dream or not) not to mention the incident to anyone else. The next day Mr. A. returned, and with his companionship Mrs. A. felt less nervous. A few nights later Mr. A. was coming up the stairs from the big entrance hall where he had been sitting smoking and reading before retiring, when he heard a weird blood-curdling sort of laugh, and looking up to the landing above saw a tall, ungainly figure leaning over the banisters looking down at him. He saw its face distinctly, which was that of a man of about forty years of age—deathly white and hairless-with the most horrible malignant expression. At that moment the features were distorted with a hideous grin, and the form shaking with laughter, whilst the eyes seemed to gleam like red-hot coals. The arms and hands resting on the rail of the banister were like those of an ape, and the whole form was covered with thick, reddish brown hair.
Mr. A. rushed up the stairs toward it, whereupon it gave peal after peal of fiendish laughter and vanished.
Mrs. A. and her son and daughter heard the laughing noise in their rooms, and they joined Mr. A. who recounted his experience, and Mrs. A. then told what she had seen a few nights previously, and they decided to search all the rooms, which they did thoroughly, without finding a trace of anyone, or anything unusual. The servants, fortunately, occupied rooms in another part of the building and heard nothing, and were of course kept in ignorance of what had occurred. In spite of their unpleasant experience they had no intention of relinquishing their tenancy and leaving, but determined to keep a sharp look-out and try and get at the bottom of the mystery. Nothing further happened for some time. There were the usual queer noises in the early hours of the morning, such as footsteps, muffled cries and groans, and occasional banging of doors which they could not account for, but which did not disturb them much. Then a climax came to these phenomena which caused them to leave. Miss A. was one afternoon in the drawing-room alone arranging some flowers. She was standing at one of the tables, when she heard a noise behind her and felt two hands laid on her shoulders. Thinking it was a girl friend who was then in the house, she exclaimed lightly: “Oh, there you are!” and turning round to greet her, came face to face with a most loathsome-looking creature which had just removed its hands from her shoulders and was chuckling with diabolical glee. It was not a human being or an animal and instead of clothing was covered with hair like an ourang-outang. It was over six feet in height and had a most repulsive appearance. It was, in fact, the same creature which had been seen before. Feeling sick and faint with horror and disgust, she gave a piercing shriek, and just as some one entered the room, the apparition disappeared, and Miss A. fell back in a dead faint.
The young lady who came in so opportunely just caught a glimpse of the “ghost” before it vanished.
After this episode the A.’s thought it would be advisable to go, and accordingly left T__ Castle as soon as they conveniently could.
I don’t know whether the place is still to “let,” or whether the picturesque old castle has had many (or any) tenants since. Possibly it is no longer haunted, the ghostly occupants having suddenly departed, as is often the case with haunted houses, where phenomena come and go without apparent reason or cause.
The Occult Review 10 October 1906 : pp. 198-200
These hybrid horrors seem to populate a good many historic houses and homes in the British Isles. Leap Castle, in Co. Offaly, for instance had a Thing described thus by several witnesses:
“Suddenly, two hands were laid on my shoulders. I turned round sharply, and saw, as clearly as I see you now—a grey “Thing” standing a couple of feet from me, with its bent arms raised, as if it were cursing me. I cannot describe in words how utterly awful the ‘Thing’ was, its very undefinableness rendering the horrible shadow more gruesome. Human in shape, a little shorter than I am, I could just make out the shape of big black holes like great eyes and sharp features, but the whole figure —head, lace, hands and all—was grey—unclean, blueish grey, something of the colour and appearance of common cotton wool. But, oh! so sinister, repulsive, and devilish. My friends who are deter about occult things say it is what they call an ‘Elemental.’ The Occult Review December 1908: p. 330
The Thing was about the size of a sheep, thin, gaunt and shadowy in parts. Its face was human, or to be more accurate, inhuman, in its vileness, with large holes of blackness for eyes, loose slobbery lips, and a thick saliva-dripping jaw, sloping back suddenly into its neck! Nose it had none, only spreading, cancerous cavities, the whole face being one uniform tint of grey. This, too, was the colour of the dark coarse hair covering its head, neck and body. Its fore arms were thickly coated with the same hair, so were its paws, large, loose, and hand-shaped; and as it sat on its hind legs, one hand or paw was raised, and a claw-like finger was extended ready to scratch the paint.
Its lustreless eyes, which seemed half-decomposed in black cavities, and looked incredibly foul, stared into mine, and the horrible smell which had before offended my nostrils, only a hundred times intensified, came up into my face, filling me with a deadly nausea. I noticed the lower half of the creature was indefinite and seemed semi-transparent—at least, I could see the framework of the door that led into the gallery through its body.
I cannot tell exactly how long we thus stood, gazing at each other—time seemed to cease and eternity begin—but at last the creature gave a species of hop and landed well inside the room. The Occult Review December 1908: p. 344
In a similar vein, across the Irish Sea, a house in Tenby, Wales, was haunted by a similar species of elemental: ghastly, white-faced and furred:
One old house in Tenby is haunted by a very horrible creature, which from all accounts is evidently an elemental and vampire. This building, like many of the houses in the historical old town, is exceedingly ancient and I believe has quite a history of its own. My informant (an old lady) told me that years ago she had a terrible experience in that house. She occupied for one night the room haunted by this vampire. About midnight she awoke with a sense of unspeakable horror, and felt on her body a flabby furry creature which seemed to be drawing all her life out of her. The creature was clinging to her in much the same fashion as an octopus would. She struggled violently and shrieked and shrieked. As the bedclothes were thrown off in her struggles, she saw for a moment a pair of gleaming eyes in a dead white human face. Her shrieks were heard and as voices outside her locked door showed the presence of human beings the horrible creature slid from her on to the floor and disappeared. When the door was opened and lights brought in, nothing could be found, nor was there any way by which anyone or anything could have entered or left the room. Other people who occupied that room had similar experiences, and it has been shut up. The Occult Review December 1909: p. 304
The story about “T__ Castle,” shared by the Rev. Frederick T. Bennett, seemingly a thoroughly respectable Episcopalian Priest who served parishes in New Mexico and Arizona, was published several years before the lurid revelations about Leap Castle (which was thinly disguised under the name “Kilman Castle”). Any idea of the identity of “T__ Castle”? There are surprisingly few castles whose names begin with “T” in southern Ireland and many of them are ruins of long standing. Thoughts? No hops or other sudden movements and trim those claws, 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. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.