Some weeks ago, I reported on my findings regarding American ghost pamphlets published in the 1860s and 1870s. I was not surprised later to find that this tradition goes back earlier than that, and it isn’t exclusively American. In fact, I found information on four more pamphlets, all of them British. Unfortunately, I only found two that have been scanned and posted online. Let’s start there.
Take a deep breath because the title is: “An Authentic, Candid, and Circumstantial Narrative, of the Astonishing Transactions at Stockwell, in the Country of Surrey, on Monday and Tuesday, the 6th and 7th Days of January, 1772.” It begins thusly:
Before we enter upon a description of the most extraordinary transactions that perhaps ever happened, we shall begin with an account of the parties who were principally involved. . .
Along with this introduction to “the cast,” the writer vouches for the credibility of most of them. (I found a similar appeal to the reputable character of the eyewitnesses in many of the articles in Spectral Edition: Ghost Reports in U.S. Newspapers, 1865-1917.) The pamphleteer seems to be saying something like: “I’m not necessarily saying this stuff really happened. I’m just saying that my sources don’t seem like kooks.”
The story that follows involves a poltergeist that seems to follow around a Mrs. Golding, whose dishes and food have a disagreeable habit of flying off shelves and smashing. One of the weirdest moments comes when poor Mrs. Golding is on the point of fainting. She enjoys that eighteenth-century cure-all: bloodletting. The writer explains:
Among the persons who were present, was Mr. Gardner, a surgeon, of Clapham, whom Mrs. Pain desired to bleed her aunt, which he did; Mrs. Pain asked him if the blood should be thrown away; he desired it might not, as he should examine it when cold. These minute particulars would not be taken notice oſ, but as a chain to what follows. For the next circumstance is of a more astonishing nature than anything that had preceded it; the blood that was just congealed, sprung out of the basin upon the floor, and presently after the basin broke to pieces; this china basin was the only thing broke belonging to Mr. Gresham; a bottle of rum that stood by it broke at the same time.
In 1830, the haunting was debunked in the pages of The Every-day Book and Table Book. Anne Robinson, Mrs. Golding’s maid, was always around when the weird stuff was happening — and when she wasn’t, the weird stuff stopped. A source says he heard Robinson confess that she had used horse hairs and wire to create the illusion of dishes and food flying without being touched. At times, she simply threw things when no one was looking. “She was astonished at the astonishment she caused,” so she ran with it.
I’ve also come across a pamphlet titled “Sampford Ghost: A Plain and Authentic Narrative . . .,” written by the Reverend Caleb Coulton and published in 1810. Apparently, Coulton faced some backlash for saying this case was proof of a supernatural visitation, and he wrote something of a sequel to it: “Sampford Ghost: Stubborn Facts Against Vague Assertions. . . .” I haven’t had time to read either of these.
The next two pamphlets are reproduced in other sources. First, there’s Oliver Goldsmith’s pamphlet about the Cock Lane case. This was thought to have disappeared, but it was found again around 1865. Some copies survive to this day, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a copy of this pamphlet available online for free. Goldsmith was a bit of big deal, though, and his novel The Vicar of Wakefield might ring a bell. The pamphlet has been reproduced in at least one collection of Goldsmith’s work.
And then there’s an account of the famous haunted house next to a mill in Willington, England. Apparently, this was first made public in a pamphlet, one that’s now very scarce if not completely dust. Luckily, like Goldsmith’s, it was reproduced in full afterward. I would certainly appreciate comments about whether or not the Cock Lane or Willington ghost pamphlets can be found somewhere online in their original form.
Is there an unhatched book gently tapping at its eggshell here? Perhaps so, perhaps so. But I’d still like to know quite a bit more about the subject before taking that prospect seriously.