Earlier this year I posted a story about uncanny doings at a Welsh iron-works, which had been closed down. Recently this similarly baffling story popped up.
A cousin of mine,* when roaming about the world in quest of fortune and adventure, was once in Brazil, and stayed for a time on an estate belonging to a Visconde de B–, Boa Vista, (a hundred miles inland from Rio ]aniero). Adjoining this estate there was a smaller one (a few miles distant), on which a great deal of coffee was grown, and where former Viscondes de B– had resided in a house long since abandoned. Near this house there was a fazenda, and an old enghenio (or mill) where hundreds of black slaves had been employed and cruelly treated by a former Visconde. The whole place was then deserted and the enghenio half in ruins, but excellent coffee was still grown and laid out on the drying grounds around the enghenio. During my cousin’s visit, there was a great deal of coffee laid out in heaps on the drying grounds, and as it was close to a river, it was feared that thieves might carry it off in boats by night, so my cousin volunteered to stay at the house near the enghenio, and be on guard over it, for a few nights; accordingly at 9:00 p.m. one evening he rode over to the enghenio.
Approaching the drying grounds through some orange groves, he was astonished to hear the quick regular beat of the great water wheel in motion; and the rush of water down the mill sluices, and on riding round a corner of the grove, came in full view of the old enghenio, brilliantly lighted up, and crowds of dusky forms hurrying to and fro between the enghenio and the drying grounds, laden with baskets of coffee. His first thought was that the very thieves they had half expected, had actually arrived and were intent on making a clean sweep of all the coffee in the fazenda. There were two overseers directing operations, and some of the natives carried torches.
Pulling out his revolver he cantered forward, and then seeing the hopelessness of his interference, he stopped behind some orange trees close to the enghenio to consider his best move as he did so a thick wreath of white mist seemed to rise from the marshes; the lights suddenly faded from the enghenio windows, the crowds of natives entirely vanished, and there was not a sound to be heard but the croaking of the frogs. With a feeling of dread he went across the drying grounds, and round the enghenio.
Nothing had been disturbed—the coffee lay in the usual heaps untouched; the great water wheel was still and dry, and there was no water in the sluices. He was too astounded for words, and thoroughly unnerved he beat a hasty retreat.
*This incident was recorded in my cousin’s biography, “The Life and Adventures of J. G. Yebb.”
The Occult Review November 1906
I was unable to locate that particular book, but Mrs Yebb published A Strange Career: Life and Adventures of John Gladwyn Jebb, 1895.
This is the shortest of the three accounts I’ve found, all of which agree in substance, if not in style. You can find Mrs Yebb’s version here. Jebb wrote a fictionalized account called “The Haunted Enghenio” for Blackwood’s Magazine. Compare and contrast.
Do machines have souls or astral bodies which go chugging noisily along in some afterlife or other dimension? Stories of phantom trains are common; phantom cars rather less so, and ghostly machinery rarest of all–the Welsh iron-works story was a first for me. What is the mechanism? Is it a type of time-slip? Or just a fever dream?
Thoughts on the ghost in the machine 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.