Today’s Object of the Damned is on a rather larger scale than some of the haunted curios posted previously. Supernatural vehicles of all makes and models— phantom coaches, funeral carriages, and hearses—have had a long run on the roads of Britain. In the modern era phantom motorcycles and autos still clock quite a bit of mileage, but this is the first example of a haunted cab I’ve run across. Many of us are familiar with the two-wheeled Victorian “hansom cab,” but this haunted vehicle was the antiquated four-wheeled hackney carriage (also known as a “growler”) of the traditional phantom coach pattern.
A Haunted Cab.
IN A LONDON MEWS.
If one speaks of “haunted” cabs, one is likely to be greeted with a cynical smile. Nevertheless, in a certain mews in London there is an old and exceedingly dilapidated four-wheeler, which is treated as a valuable relic, and spoken of with awe and deference by the cabbies who visit the yard. This ancient wreck is time-worn and worm eaten. Its cushions smell musty, moths and mice have played havoc with its linings, and there is a vast hole in the roof that ventilates in a most uncomfortable manner its shabby interior. On certain nights muffled moans and harsh cries may be heard by those who are daring enough to venture near it, after dark. And, if anyone is so fool hardy as to sit upon its dingy cushions the whole yard shivers at the audacity, and trembles for the consequences.
The cab is said to be the oldest four wheeler in existence, and the story concerning it runs as follows:—
One certain dismal night, before Kensington was what it is now, the driver of the haunted cab was crawling slowly along when he was met by a man who rounded a. corner and hastily jumped in.
“Drive for your life!” he shouted in a voice hoarse with terror. “Drive to the devil! I’ve got gold here—you shall have whatever you ask.”
It took the cabby a second or two to collect his muddled thoughts and to remember that the fare had given no direction. He looked round helplessly. To get down seemed waste of time, and the fare had sunk back, apparently breathlessly, among, the cushions. He therefore recklessly decided to drive anywhere, and, taking up the reins, whipped up his tired horse into a feeble gallop. He had scarcely driven five minutes before his fare put his head out of the window.
“Go on!” he cried hoarsely. “For heaven’s sake, go on! Go on! Go on! GO ON! I tell you.”
The driver lashed into his horse, and the vehicle plunged forward. A little later the man’s head was out of the window again.
“They’re behind us!” he cried. “I can hear them! Confound you, man! Do you want me to be hanged after all?”
The cabby looked round. The man was leaning out of the cab bare-headed; his face ghastly white, his eyes frantic with terror, and his hands clutched fearfully at the casement of the window. Behind them the road’was clear and empty. Not a soul was in sight; not a coach or carriage to be seen. The cabby felt his blood run cold. Was his fare a madman or something worse? He strained his ears to listen, to catch any sound that might come from the distance, but he could hear nothing. He whipped at his tottering horse, and the beast started on again. A little later he fancied he heard a faint sound borne on the breeze like the trotting of horses and the rolling of wheels and he looked round expectantly. When he found that the road was still empty, a sort of terror seized him. He shivered involuntarily, and when his fare put his head out of the window again he started with almost a scream, and whipped and lashed at his horse until the animal grew terrified at the unusual treatment. How long they went on, how many hours elapsed until the horse fell exhausted by the wayside, no one knew, but when the race came to an end at last Kensington was left far behind, and before them stretched a long, uneven road, arched with trees and heavy mud.
With the sound of the trotting horses still in his ears, the cabman descended hastily from his box. He looked back over his shoulder as he did so, and probably, to his disturbed imagination, the road was filled with the figures of the pursuers. Heaven knows what terrors filled his mind as he sprang to the window and called out to his fare, but a fresh horror awaited him. The fare made no sign. Instead of raving with impatience, as the driver expected, he was silent and invisible, and when the cabby looked into his vehicle he started back in affright. The man was lying on his seat, with his head rolling upon his shoulder, with his throat cut from ear to ear. A long stream of thick blood trickled slowly over his clothes, and his band, clasping a short knife, was stained with red. As the driver looked the suicide’s eyes seemed to turn upon him. He shrank back with a cry, seized the reins, which had fallen to the ground, and clambered to his box again. In the morning they found him whipping wildly at a dead horse! For the next few days he was kept in custody. Then he was discharged, as nothing was found against him, and a night or two afterwards he was found dead in his bed—strangled by the ghost of the suicide, they will tell you; but little inquiry will ascertain the fact that he had been drinking all day, and that the events of the night of the suicide had so undermined his reason that he was quite likely to die of fright. Still it is a pity to spoil a good legend, and the cab, unless it has lately passed out of existence, is a picturesque object round which to weave a romantic history.
Marlborough Express 20 February 1903: p. 5
A grim and grewsome (yes, that’s a common 19th century spelling) penny-dreadful sort of a story, is it not? If true, it seems like it could have been the inspiration for any number of horrific urban legends.
Apropos of nothing, I am reminded of this heartless Victorian joke. I wonder if the Parisian papers had a London version.
The latest phase in Parisian suicide is to shoot yourself in a hack. It is apt to damage the linings [horse-drawn hackney cabs had linings of cloth, like modern cars], but enables the suicide to be promptly conveyed to the morgue.
Fort Wayne [IN] Daily Gazette 4 February 1882: p. 6
Are there other accounts of this haunted cab? Were you tempted to cut your throat if you were foolish enough to sit in it? And most important of all, does the cab still exist in some transport museum? Hail me at 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.