Awhile ago I posted a shockingly lurid story of a goblin orgy, written by one T.P. for the Cincinnati Enquirer. At that time I noted that the author, whose identity I still do not know, had published a series of uncanny tales in the Enquirer. These stories, all of a sensational and weird nature, were told as actual occurrences, although the participants were rarely named and the locations obscured. I look for patterns in supernatural narrative; most of T.P’s tales were packed with bizarre and incongruous themes: for example, a story about a crumbling Gothic manor in Kentucky included a phantom infant haunting a spring and a giant ghost carrying a bloody club. One might expect to find Theosophical vampires, Spiritualist insanity, tittering demons—and blood—lots of blood. The author seems to have chosen his plot-points by drawing supernatural motifs at random from a hat and the more the merrier! he seems to cry.
This story, which is actually one of T.P.’s more cohesive productions, tells of a fateful Hallowe’en party attended by monstrous entities, doppelgangers, sheeted spooks, aural hauntings, and what appears to be a visitation from the fairies.
Of Invisible Riders.
A Carriage Procession That Was Heard, But Not Seen.
Uncanny Guests Who Were Late at a Social Function.
How a Conspiracy To Affright Was Strangely Reversed.
Sprites Who Turned the Tables Upon Their Imitators
Humorous Antics of Elfish Urchins.
In September last and following that date the phenomena described below were witnessed by the family of a professional gentleman, well known to the writer, and are not only strenuously avouched by them, but substantially testified to by visitors at their home:
On the evening of September 12 the lady of the house entertained company at cards. The husband was absent upon the business of his calling, and the assemblage was mostly of the gentler sex, but some placid, intelligent, able-bodied gentlemen gave a staid aspect to the affair. All were substantial people, of high social standing, fairly cultivated, and upon the affairs which interest the majority of men and women their judgment would be honoured.
At 10:30 the principal and booby prizes were awarded to the contestants, and refreshments introduced. Banter, anecdote and hilarity now broke forth, and were the order of the occasion. There were shrill voices in protest against the relation of certain funny incidents, and boisterous laughter when they were related notwithstanding, and merriment was plentiful. It was a happy company, bent upon enjoyment, and one would think that nothing could prevent the realization of this object. But all the rousing hilarity was suddenly stopped, almost as if every member of the party had been stricken dumb.
The interruption was in the street. A terrible clatter as of horse’s steel-shod feet upon the stone pavement was heard approaching the house. Cries, as of persons in peril and sorely affrighted, reached the ears of the company, and for a moment held them spellbound. Then they rushed in a body to the front porch.
Sounds of hoofs in contact with stones was still more manifest here, streams of fire were struck out by the clickety-click of the fast-approaching cavalcade, and the cry for “help!” alarmingly intoned, smote the ears of the expectant people. But neither horses nor riders were apparent to their organs of vision. The rush came to an abrupt stop at the gate fronting the house, as if at that point quadrupeds and bipeds were plunged into an unfathomable abyss, and here the shrieks for help were most urgent, in feminine and masculine voices strangely intermixed.
“For God’s sake, help us!”
“Oh, save me!”
“Check this mad pace!”
Were among the imploring expressions which reached the ears of the listeners, none of whom saw anything beyond the little spurts of fire which followed the horses’ fierce plunging.
Both sides of the street were brilliantly lighted, and the space which seemed to be occupied by the riders was open to an unobstructed view, and yet not the least shadow nor indication of motion beyond the sounds described was there manifest. The uproar continued for some three minutes, and then it stilled as abruptly s it had commenced. In the circle to which the family belonged this happening was ravenously canvassed for several days, and wiseacres were full of the idea that it foreboded calamity to somebody, doubtless to members of the household in front of whose home the cavalcade had found its goal. Examination of the pavement next day failed to discover the footprints of the wild procession, and their absence was by no means reassuring, but was rather an addition to the fast thickening mystery. The sound had been like that in the thundering charge of a squadron of cavalry, and bright sparks from the horses’ heels were certainly in evidence among a cloud of witnesses. Where was the explanation? We cannot divine, but are permitted to describe.
In the following month there was another gathering at the same residence, more numerous than the first, as it was known the head of the family had resolved to remain at home and if anything unusual happened solve the problem on the spot. That is the kind of man he is: full of common sense and a study, outspoken disbeliever in things occult. “To perdition with ghosts and all who believe in them,” was his daily aspiration. In his lexicon there was no such word as mystery and no definition of natural law which admitted extra-natural power. He pledged his life to make every crooked thing straight without turning a hair of universally accepted truth in the effort. But he didn’t.
There was just a little card-playing on the second night. Conversation absorbed everybody’s interest, and stories of the supernatural supplied the favorite topic. The host tried in vain to change the direction of thought into a more enlivening channel, but apparently the guests were preparing their minds for an expected and possibly hoped-for ordeal, and they discussed the weird and ghostly in all phases. It was remarkable the great sum of knowledge some of them displayed in and about the subject and the new light they threw upon it by a comparison of views and experiences.
When 10:30 came and time passed on smoothly to 10:45 without disturbance a more cheerful view took possession of the company, like the mental rebound which follows a long season of worry. Ladies and gentlemen raised their voices to a cheery pitch and somebody proposed music. Two ladies stood up to sing and third had seated herself at the piano to accompany them with that instrument when an ominous alarm came from the street. Those who were present a month previous understood it at once, although it was widely different from that previously heard. Now it was a combination of steel-shod feet and rumbling of wheels upon the stone pavement, and they were pelting ahead through a heavy rainstorm.
“Let us find out what is coming,” said the host.
The whole company at once repaired to the front porch. To judge from the sounds they heard, not only the street, but the sidewalks, were crowded with carriages propelled by horses trotting rapidly, and even the voices of the drivers were all invisible. There was every semblance of human and animal tumult addressing the ear, but absolutely nothing in it for the employment of the eye or other organ of sense. The host was the most profoundly surprised among the spectators, and did not try to hide his chagrin. But, in spite of the rain and his wife’s entreaties, he insisted upon a better propinquity for purposes of observation. He would go to the street, and thence he proceeded to cross that thoroughfare. His hat was by some force smashed down upon his ears and his head severely bumped. Guests saw him standing upon the opposite pavement, where he straightened out the castor, and caressed his head with his hand. The carriages seemed to move with an increased rush, and when the gentleman sought to recross to his own side he was twice knocked down, and a perfect chorus of “whoas” followed these repeated mishaps. He returned to the company covered with mud, and in a state of astonishment rarely exceeded, opining that no authority less than the devil could have charge of such a programme
“POOR OLD DEVIL.”
Exclaimed a spectator: “He is made the scapegoat for everything inexplicable.”
Attention was called to the stopping of the sound made by the equipages when they seemed to have arrived opposite the gate belonging to the residence where the company was assembled, and at the same time it was announced that guests were evidently alighting from the carriages as if to join those who had already arrived. Almost immediately light footsteps were pattering upon the porch and into the house, and several declared they distinguished the frou-frou of delicate raiment at times when the mortal guests were not moving. In the house light laughter was heard by those on the porch, for no mortal had yet essayed to re-enter, and now, the rumbling of wheels having stopped, the mysterious guests left the house as quietly as they had entered, and at once the rush of animals sorely urged, and the thunder of wheels was heard moving in the contrary direction.
Our informant states that 100 carriages, with due complement of horses and drivers, could not make more noise were they all in motion at once within the limits of a single square. Next morning neighbors asked him if a convention of new women had met at his house over night, sufficiently indicating that the unusual sounds were real to all mortal sensibilities. He admitted that to his apprehension they were quite new, and added that their object was frolic, rather than anything serious. Following their departure the booby prize had been sought in vain. It was the photo of a long-eared animal, and the unbidden guests had either appropriated or concealed it. The gentleman to whom it belonged was consoled by the prediction that he would soon win another.
Our sceptical friend was disinclined to discuss these phenomena, but all the particulars reached the ears of his acquaintances, and he was therefore forced to answer questions.
“Yes,” he said, “something occurred at my house which I cannot explain. Neither can anybody, I apprehend. In fact, we cannot explain earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones, nor why a woman longs for a bonnet that costs more than that worn by the dearest friend of her heart. It is not appointed that we should know everything in one neighbourhood, but if anything else of the same kind occurs I shall make a supreme effort to find out just what it means, and then you shall have the whole story. Have patience, please, meanwhile, which is more than I possess just now.”
Halloween was decided upon as a good time for another test of the disturbing premonstration, when, it was thought, manifestations of a positive and perhaps conclusive nature might be reasonably anticipated. Ostensibly the gathering was for social enjoyment; really it was
A SÉANCE OF INVESTIGATION.
All who received invitations were promptly on hand, and they constituted a full house of fun-loving, mischief-making and mystery-seeking ladies and gentlemen, most of whom were in the classification labelled “young people.” The early hours were devoted to cards and frolic, neatly varied with light refreshments. At 10:30 a young miss who had smuggled a frightful disguise into the house, repaired to the hostess’s boudoir to array herself therein and five minutes thereafter another young feminine “mischief” hied her to a different apartment for the same blood-curdling object. The plans of both were known to the hostess and this second masquerader and to no one besides. At a few minutes before 11, when most of the company were in a state of anxious expectancy and dreading something in questionable shape, a piercing shriek from the upper rooms assailed their ears, immediately followed by a concert of shrieks and calls for help from several voices.
“Don’t be frightened; I know what that means,” said the hostess, in a reassuring tone. “Let none but ladies come with me now. They need not feel timid, for this is only a little joke.”
Screams were redoubled, doors slammed and the scudding of many feet through the upper halls was heard, as the ladies ascended the stairs, some 20 having joined in the sortie. They were led by the mistress of the household, who, on the way, gave an outline of the little game one of the young ladies had designed to play upon the company, and another miss, she continued, having obtained an inkling of it, had prepared to scatter the first conspirator by a section of her own plot before she had an opportunity to play it upon the company. The ladies stopped to laugh at the cuteness displayed in the involved plan, but on the instant they were urged forward again by more and louder screams and much accelerated hustling from room to room, apparently produced by a host of fugitives seeking to elude an army of pursuers. When the upper halls were reached, they were found to be really infested by spirits in white sheets and horrible masks, and they flitted about in pursuit of each other with remarkable airiness and speed, screeching and laughing without intermission. At first there appeared to be six or eight of these phantom-like entities, then 20 or more, and by graduations the calculation quickly rose to 100 and then distanced all facility of enumeration by the spectators. There were several too many for an innocent conspiracy, and the confusion and look of incomprehensibility upon the hostess induced a panic in her insufficient force of coadjutors. Not appreciating the real situation in any degree, she raised her voice and called the names of her young lady friends who were supposed to be masquerading.
A multitude of sprites came crowding around her and made very low and ceremonious courtesies. Madame’s reputation for politeness suffered at this juncture. She did not return the greeting, but in great amazement stared tremblingly, and her immobility accentuated the perplexing enigma there present. Then a scream of terror went up from 20 fair throats, repeated indefinitely and ending in a loud cry for help. There was an ideal completeness in the echo of this cry, at once amusing and terrifying, for it was taken up by the airy beings whose presence elicited it and prolonged in a thin treble that might have been heard two squares away. Everybody upon the lower floor rallied to the rescue and rushed upstairs, the gentlemen, whose suppressed curiosity had been illy contained taking the lead with much apparent bravery. As they filled the halls the elfish appearances, as if panic-stricken, flocked to the stairway of the third floor, up which they glided, indulging in peal upon peal of hoydenish laughter. They were countless. Coming from all the rooms, great multitudes thronged the passages, reminding one of those enormous bird flights in autumn which wing their way from the chilly north to more genial latitudes, and all were en masque. More than 60 mortals witnessed this scene in awe-struck wonder.
When the disappearance of this disturbing element was complete and the life current in the spectators had resumed its accustomed channel, inquiry was started to discover the whereabouts of the
They were found in madam’s boudoir, where one was nursing the other back to life from a fainting fit, both incased in their uncouth toggery, except masks, and heartily repenting their part in the adventure. When they were able to converse, some curious facts were presented to the astonished listeners. It seems that Miss Cecile, the first conspirator, when ready to descend and frighten the company, had turned to the mirror for a final survey of her appearance, and was engaged in hiding a few stray ringlets under her cap, when she saw, peering over the shoulder of her reflection in the glass, a perfect duplicate of herself and her ghostly outfit. Turning in great trepidation to learn the source of this double, she came face to face with it, and so great was her fright that her friend, Miss Margery, disclosed her identity at once and proposed that they go down together and astound the guests. This was agreed to, but just as they had started to go down an unprecedented obstacle intervened. Two figures, exact counterparts of themselves, barred the door! As they stopped, discomfited, low laughter was heard behind them. Turning, they described four figures, one in each corner of the apartment, exact counterparts of themselves and very hilarious over their embarrassment. And more of the elfish forms continued to pop out of the darkness into the light till the room was almost full. They were romping, playful, happy things, and had great larks among themselves, occasionally trying to induce those two frightened mortals to join in the sport. Failing this, three removed their masks and displayed Medusan horrors to the gaze of the dear girls—hair of writhing snakes and basilisk eyes! Then Miss Margery fainted, just as any nice girl should do. At once the room was cleared of the apparitions, who seemed to be chagrined at the result of their little joke.
The séance of investigation has never been repeated at the residence of the good doctor. He says it is not needed to prove to him that there are more things in heaven and earth than he has heretofore dreamed of, for some of those funny little spooks continue upon his premises and occasionally startle him with mouse-like subtlety as they doge out of secret recesses or peer at him with laughing eyes at unexpected moments from hiding places behind doors and curtains. And some appear in the guise of brownies, who, seating themselves upon the busts of Pallas and Spurzheim which adorn the doctor’s office, jeer him unmercifully upon the jousts with death in which he is so frequently vanquished!
“Brownies,” he says, “are a great mistake in the spookish economy.”
The Enquirer [Cincinnati, OH] 11 January 1895: p. 10
We could probably make a game of T.P. Supernatural Bingo by checking off the various motifs. Ghosts in sheets, check; horrifying masks, check; devil mentioned, check; invisible shriekers, check (were these people taken by the fairies, begging for help?); mysterious sounds, check; fairy (?) horses, check; man assaulted by invisible entities, check; the Gentry tripping lightly from their carriages to the party, etc. etc. No doubt the booby prize would be a picture of an animal with long ears.
I cannot make up my mind if the author really expected these stories to be believed or if he was just mixing and matching half-digested Gothic horrors from the penny-dreadfuls. I imagine him ripping out the page with the corpse-green elemental from Madame Satan and pasting it next to the bit about the nun walled up alive from The Horror of Greystone Abbey. That would explain a lot about these bizarre tales.
Now if only I could only unmask T.P… 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.