A Phantasmagoria of Wonder: Violet Tweedale’s Ghost Hunting Life

tweedale
Violet Tweedale (1862-1936)

Ghosts I Have Seen (1919) is Violet Tweedale’s memoir of her psychic experiences, some of which involved ghost hunts she conducted. In fact, the very first chapter recounts the investigation she shared with her father of Scotland’s Broughton Hall, alleged to be haunted. Though Tweedale doesn’t mention how old she was, there’s something in her father’s encouraging to her to join him on a prowl around the Hall that suggests she was probably a teenager or close to it. After many disappointing visits to the Hall, a soundless apparition — a woman in white sleepwear — rushed toward and past them. Young Violet was bowled over with fear, but her father managed to chase the ghost a short distance before it vanished before him. More father-daughter ghost hunts were to follow.

These paranormal investigations become a bit overshadowed by Tweedale’s reminisces of her literary life. Her father, Robert Chambers, and her uncle, William, were both prominent publishers, probably best remembered for establishing Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal. This popular magazine lasted well over a century and launched the writing careers of Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, and a few other important authors. Later in life, Tweedale moved from Scotland to London, where she hobnobbed with the elite and royalty — even Queen Victoria! “Being very tall,” she says, “I always had a certain difficulty in getting down low enough to kiss the tiny Queen’s hand.” There’s a lot of history in Ghosts I Have Seen, and while I found it charming, I know some readers might find the detours in Tweedale’s stroll through her memories a bit irritating.

Still, Tweedale name-drops many of the important figures in the history of psychical research and Spiritualism. The author knew Madame Blavatsky, for example, and it turns out that the Duke of Argyle had an impressive repertoire of ghost stories. Be warned that many of the ghostly encounters chronicled in the book were narrated to Tweedale by other people. Also, a few famous cases — notably, Glamis Castle and the Angel of Lourdes — are presented as if Tweedale should have titled the book Ghosts I Have Seen and Others I Wish I Had Seen. Nonetheless, readers do get a good number of the author’s own experiences, especially those stemming from her psychic abilities. (What’s the deal with Scots and second sight?)

Another ghost hunting expedition is detailed later in the book. Violet is now married, and her husband seems to have replaced her father as a ghost hunting companion. Wintering in Torquay, England, the couple learned of Castel a Mare, a villa that couldn’t be rented or sold due to its reputation for being haunted. In classic ghost hunter fashion, Tweedale got the keys from the real estate agent with the promise of either debunking the haunting or exorcising it. Over several days, the Tweedales confirmed that locked doors would later be found opened and that an eerie sensation of being watched permeated the empty house. At first, the ghost hunt ended with odd but inconclusive results. However, Tweedale provides a sequel — a subsequent probe — that led to much stronger manifestations, making the investigation of Castel a Mare probably Tweedale’s most extensive ghost hunt. I’ll let you read about it on your own.

While Ghosts I Have Seen rambles a bit, I recommend it as an insight into the psychic scene of the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods. I found it both enlightening and endearing.


Go to the Ghost Hunter Hall of Fame page.

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