“The Spectre of the Laird,” by Allen Upward: A Minor (and Somewhat Disappointing) Discovery

Fans of occult detective characters might recognize the distinctive name of Allen Upward. Along with a wide range of writing, in 1905, he penned five tales about haunted-house investigator Jack Hargreaves for Royal Magazine. See The Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives — Early 1900s for details and links.

This is why I recognized the name when I was searching for a different kind of haunting. Seeking material to include in After the End of the Line: Railroad Hauntings in Literature and Lore, I discovered a ghost story written by Upward. It’s titled “The Spectre of the Laird,” and I can’t find it published or republished elsewhere, so maybe it can be considered “lost.” Unfortunately, while there is a train trip briefly mentioned in it, it’s certainly not a story about a railroad haunting. I won’t be including it in that particular book (scheduled to be available this fall, if not earlier).

Allen Upward
Allen Upward (1863-1926)

Instead, the adventure involves a student named Forbes, who’s a nerd about occult subjects, and a fellow student who comes to him for help regarding a possible family curse. Unfortunately, the case winds up being fairly routine, if not lackluster. Upward’s ending especially disappointed me, and I wonder if the author had to truncate things for publication. You see, Forbes fails to solve the case. As a result, it would be a stretch to call him an occult detective, despite his scholarly interests. On the other hand, the character exhibits a few signs of one day becoming an occult doctor, and that made things a bit more interesting. Well, more interesting for me, at least.

“The Spectre of the Laird” was published in two parts in the Evening Express, a newspaper based in Cardiff, Wales. There’s a good chance it was published in other British newspapers, too — that was a pretty common practice — but, luckily, the National Library of Wales offers it online for free to anyone. The first part was published on April 13, 1910, and the second part on the next day, April 14.

If you’re interested in Edwardian ghost stories or curious about the author, you might take a moment to read this tale by Upward. As I suggest, though, you might also keep your expectations of it downward.

— Tim

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