Come here, you: Huggin’ Molly

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers (and to anyone else who enjoys eating a lot and being appreciative generally)! For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time when we visit family and reminisce about decades past. Sometimes we even become something of the selves that we were in those years: Siblings rib on each other; younger generations roll their eyes at old-timer’s antics; and parents lecture their children about the dangers of the world, especially after dark.

As the nights get longer and colder, there’s a lot of dark to go around. This full moon, we’re going to visit a monster that is just as concerned with keeping you safe as the most paranoid of parents.

Welcome to Abbeville, land of free hugs

creepy street night
I.e. if the street looks something like this, hurry home.

Abbeville is a town in southeastern Alabama that’s been around for almost 200 years. For at least half of those, parents there have been warning their children that after sunset–especially on those nights that are the blackest and most quiet–it is not advisable to be caught out of home. The familiar warning carries a special weight in Abbeville: There, anyone wandering the streets after dark is liable to get a visit from Huggin’ Molly.

The stories about Huggin’ Molly comprise a fairly transparent effort to get children to behave. Still, I’ll be damned if they aren’t effective. Molly is said to tower in the shadows, almost seven feet tall, wide as a door, and dressed completely in black (either a shroud, a cloak, or a dress and wide-brimmed hat, depending on who you ask). She moves quickly, often too quickly for anyone to escape. And if she catches you–when she catches you–you learn how Huggin’ Molly got her name: She wraps her arms tight around you, presses herself close, opens her mouth wide next to your ear, and screams.

Herding children since the late 1800’s

When discussing Huggin’ Molly, many cite the story of Mack Gregory, an Abeville native who had a run-in with the monster when he was a teenager in the 1920’s. Mack worked for a grocery store at the time, and had just finished his final delivery as it was getting dark.  He was walking home when he sensed someone behind him. He turned and made out a figure following in the shadows: very tall, very wide, all dressed in black.

Mack walked faster, and the figure increased their pace to match. He slowed, and the figure, coy, slowed too. Knowing that he was unlikely to be able to outrun Molly entirely, Mack hurried at a jog until getting in sight of his front door, and then sprinted with all his might to get inside, slamming the door behind him.

When he looked back out again, Molly was gone. Her message, however, stuck around: From that point on, Mack refused to do another night delivery.

Free hugs sign
Well, I’m sold.

A similar story comes from the mother of another teenager who was out late. A sixth sense told her that he might be in danger, and she was compelled to run out to the porch. There, in the dim light of the night, she saw him hurrying up the way, a dark figure coming up fast on his heels. She screamed at her son to run, and held the door open until he could rush into the safety of the house.

In both cases, although the child got away, Molly still achieved her goal: She got their butts inside. Her legend was powerful enough to motivate not only the kids who actually saw her, but any who heard their stories.

Will the real Huggin’ Molly please stand up?

I love the Huggin’ Molly not only because she is odd and profoundly creepy, but also because at least at one time, she appears to have been based in reality.

Some say that Molly was never a ghost (contradicting what I had initially assumed), but a human with a supernatural talent for making people poop their pants. The original Molly might have been a mother distraught from the death of her only child, seeking comfort by forcing her love on other children. Another theory is that (especially given her size) she might actually have been a “he”–some grown man with an unusual interest in public safety, a cruel sense of humor, or both.

black-lady-creepy-ghost-980263
Stylin’.

There are at least three situations in which Molly was definitely a human. The first involves a disgruntled professor from the Southern Alabama Agricultural College, which used to be local to Abbeville. Students from out of town liked to go out and visit friends at night, roaming the streets and generally causing a ruckus. The professor hated that. He donned the Molly disguise to scare them back to their beds. It is quite possible that he was the original Molly, and the legend simply outgrew him.

Then there were the copycats. In Baton Rouge, a man capitalized on his Molly costume to chase after pretty young women and girls. In Headland (a couple of towns over from Abbeville), a Huggin’ Molly impersonator caused such a stir that the editor of the local newspaper had to post a strongly worded warning:

“Some unprincipled person is parading the streets of Headland at all hours of the night dressed as a ‘Woman in Black.’ It is frightening the women and children and causing our large number of dogs to be kicking up a racket at most any time of the night. I have been requested to notify the person or ‘Thing’ that it will be shot on sight by a certain husband and father whose wife and children were frightened out of their wits the other night. Somebody is likely to get ‘hurted’ if they don’t learn to behave themselves.”

No word on whether the announcement had any sort of effect.

Huggin’ Molly today

There are many who still remember the tales of Huggin’ Molly that they heard as kids–some who even might tell the same stories to their kids now.  Either way, her legend is still going strong.

The last time that Molly was seen (that I have found recorded) was in 2010 during the annual Yatta Abba Day, a celebration of the Abbeville’s heritage. A local teacher was leading a tour through the cemetery when a dark figure appeared between the headstones and stormed away, scaring the living daylights out of everyone present. It is unclear if this was just a publicity stunt; if it wasn’t, at least no one got hugged.

Molly’s legend doesn’t just survive through stories and sightings. One Abbeville resident has capitalized on her popularity to build a 50’s diner-style restaurant called “Huggin’ Molly’s.” Themed menu items feature “Molly’s Fingers” and “Come back sauce.” As one Youtube video says, it is “sure to give you goosebumps and leave your stomach screaming for more!”

If I am ever in that area, I am going out of my way to visit.

Do you enjoy hugs? What is the worst hug you have ever experienced? Share your horror stories in the comments below.

 

 

Image credits: Thank you to yoyoj3d1 on Flickr for the free hugs photo, Phillip Mullen on Pexel for the creepy street shot, and Archie Binamira (also on Pexel) for the ghost lady!

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Quite the monkey on your back: the Myling

Happy (almost) Halloween! To best illustrate the topic of today’s post (and in the spirit of the season), let’s start off today’s post with. . .

A spooky story

full moon
OooooOOOOOOoooooh!

Late one fall night in Norway, some 300 years ago, a man (let’s call him Daniel) decided to take a shortcut through the woods. He was familiar with the path–the way was not long. He had spent all day in the next town over, and wanted nothing more than to wrap himself in a blanket in front of his own fireplace, and to sleep in his own bed.

The trees stood quietly as Daniel made his way down the path. Finding the soft noises of the night to be peaceful, almost soothing, Daniel paused for a moment to enjoy them.  

A dark shape jumped out at him from the corner of his eye. Daniel looked up.

A child stood in the middle of the path. It was a little girl, no more than two or three years old and badly underdressed for the cold. She sucked on one knuckle morosely.

Daniel started to take a step forward. “Are you alri–” he stopped. Something was wrong. Her skin tone was off–gray, patchy; her hair was limp and matted; her eyes were too large, too flat, as if she were–

Dead. Daniel’s stomach dropped; he tried to scramble away, but the girl moved faster. With fantastic agility, she leapt onto his back. Daniel screamed and struggled to get her off, but she clung on tightly, clammy arms wrapped around his throat so that he could barely breathe.

“Take me to a cemetery,” she whispered into his ear. “Please, a cemetery, please.”

Daniel bellowed, feeling like his eyes were straining out of this head. He stumbled a few steps forward. The girl’s grip tightened.

“Hurry,” she said.

The nearest cemetery was i the next town over–Daniel’s hometown. The trip should take no more than 30 minutes, less if he ran. Daniel saw no other way out. He started to run.

The trouble was that the girl was much heavier than she looked, and with every step, Daniel swore that she was getting heavier. Though he was an agile young man, it wasn’t long before he was sagging under her weight. Daniel panted, and then wheezed. Still, he pressed forward.

Then his left foot sunk deep into the cold, muddy earth, and he nearly toppled over. The girl’s weight was literally driving him into the ground. Heart richoteing off his ribcage, Daniel pulled his foot out and lumbered forward. If he stopped, he was worried that the ground might swallow him entirely.

The trees were getting thinner now–he could see patches of the field by the church in the pre-dawn light. The church and its cemetery were right at the edge of town. He could make it. He had to.

But now every step sunk him deeper into the earth. Daniel cursed as he struggled to pull free his feet, then his ankles, then up to his knees.

They came out of the trees, into the field. A lone bird began to sing as the sky slowly brightened. Headstones loomed up ahead. They were so close. The girl’s arms tightened around his throat. She weighed as much as another man, as a horse, as a–Daniel’s ankle twisted, and the incredible weight on his back made something snap.

Daniel screamed, black dots crowding his view of the headstones and grass.

“Hurry,” the girl whispered.

“Hold on,” Daniel sobbed. “Please, I just need a minute–”

Light shined over the curve of the hill–the first rays of the sun.

“Too late,” the girl said. She gripped the sides of Daniel’s head and twisted. Daniel heard a pop, and the sun went out.

graveyard with sun

What in the Sam Hill?

We have Scandinavian folklore to thank for this one. A Myling is the vengeful spirit of an unbaptized or abandoned child that seeks to be buried on consecrated ground. Many encounters look like the one in our Spooky Story–Mylings latch on to unwary travelers and demand passage to a graveyard before sunrise, or else. Other stories feature them haunting the homes of their mothers, leaving behind bloodied corpses, and otherwise seeking revenge on those fortunate enough to have parents that kept them.

In all cases, the Myling is roughly the same age as it was when it was abandoned, and appears not nearly as decomposed as it should. It is often very large, very heavy, or both, and only gets heavier as you attempt to get it to consecrated land.* If by some miracle you succeed, it will leave you alone.

Otherwise, you can kiss your head (or innards, or whatever) goodbye.

GuiltTM

The Myling are born from a practice that no one wants to talk about. Back in the day (and still in some places today), if a woman had a child out of wedlock, she could be faced with severe punishment, even death. (No word on any punishment for the man who made up the other half of the equation.) As such, incriminating babies were sometimes left out in the cold. Ditto for children born to families who didn’t have the resources to feed them.

In both cases, burials in Christian cemeteries were out of the question–not only could they be expensive, but to have a funeral, you would have to be willing to explain how your child died in the first place. Yet without a proper baptism or burial, the unwanted child’s soul could never be at rest. Hence, Mylings.

Ugly practices beget ugly monsters. A lot of angry spirit myths are born out of shame and tragedy, and this is no exception. Out of all of the Scandinavian ghosts, the Myling is said to be the most malevolent. Only they are willing to finish the business that the living are too cowardly to tie off.

On a less heavy note, you’re welcome for trotting out the creepy child trope.

creepy child
Yippee!

Happy Halloween!

 

 

When running to the nearest cemetery with a malevolent child ghost on your back, what is your first choice for footwear? Is arch or ankle support more important? What kind of tread works best for off-roading? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

Special Message: Happy 50th, everybody!

In addition to being 2018’s Halloween post, this is our 50th post to this site overall. I think that merits some kind of celebration. Monster Meet is what I like to call a (Very) Slow Blog, but it has been a pleasure to return to these three years. I appreciate those of you who have stuck with it throughout. Here’s to the next 50 posts (which at this rate we’ll celebrate sometime in 2023…HAHAHAHA)!

 

 

*And good luck if you don’t know where the nearest cemetery is. Is there an app for that?

PHOTO CREDIT: All thanks to Wikimedia Commons! Moon by Katsiaryna Naliuka; Graveyard by Parrot of Doom; Creepy child by psyberartist. Thanks, all! Long live Creative Commons!

Trussst in me: the Flathead Lake monster

I love old maps. Maps used to be full of monster drawings, especially pre-17th century ones created for the upper class. Cartographers weren’t just trying to dazzle people–they were trying to educate them, and illustrated creatures based on real sailors’ reports. Why is it, then, that so many include a beast like this?

sea monster
You know, the one with the humps?

This full moon, let’s take a look at a specific example of one of these serpentine horrors: a Loch Nessian-style monster right here in the U.S.

Flathead Lake sits in northwestern Montana, and is the largest lake in the contiguous U.S. west of the Mississippi. It’s nearly 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, and can get up to 370 feet deep (over 34 stories). In short, it’s a lot of water. 75 million years ago, Flathead Lake was actually an inland sea, one full of sharks and the aquatic reptiles of the dinosaur era. Some people–lots of people: lawyers, doctors, policemen, engineers, biologists; locals and non-locals alike–say that not all of those monstrous species have left.

Take Julia and Jim Manley, who had considered themselves skeptics of the strange sightings. One beautiful, breezeless summer day in 2005, they went out on it in their boat to enjoy the water. When they tried to go home, their engine wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. They were stranded out in the open lake, with not a single other soul in sight.

Anxious, they called their daughter, hoping that she could come rescue them. She said she was on her way. But as the Manleys settled in for their wait, they heard a loud, heavy slap against the water. They heard the sound again–it was close, worryingly close. Then they looked over the side of their boat and saw it.

Per Julia: “The first feeling I had seeing it was just shock. I knew I was seeing it, but it’s so unbelievable to think about it–”

sea_serpent_cape_ann_1639
Like this, maybe, only the monster’s head wasn’t showing and also it was 2005.

There were black, sinuous humps slithering through the waves–a giant chain at least as long as their 24-foot boat. As they stood in horrified silence, they saw something else coming at them over the horizon: their daughter’s boat. The monster slipped away into the water before she could see it, and the Manleys realized that now they were the ones who would have to convince those skeptical of the monster of Flathead Lake.

Consider this combined with with the accounts people have shared of schools of fish jumping out of the water, as if fleeing a massive predator.  Or the account of a man’s fishing nets having enormous, unexplainable holes in them. The account of the fisherman whose boat was violently rocked by a “monstrous shadowy shape.”  The account of the 3-year old that fell in the lake, and when asked how he survived, said “the Flathead monster lifted me up.”

Flathead lake Monster
Legit.

The first Flathead monster sighting recorded in writing was in 1889, when 100 steamboat passengers saw the beast and someone freaked out and shot at her. Before that, there was a Kutenai legend that involves a giant monster breaking through the lake ice and drowning half the tribe. All accounts are surprisingly consistent, in spite of people not knowing each other and outsiders not knowing what might be in the lake. “Flessie” (as the locals call her, a play on the very similar “Nessie” of Loch Ness) is between 20 and 40 feet long, eel-like, with dark brown or blue-black skin and dark eyes. Sighting reports roll in at a rate of about 1 to 2 per year, with 92% occurring between April and September.

The only time this varied was in 1993, when there were a whopping 13 sightings, some within 20 minutes of each other. With how big the lake is, that temporal proximity leaves us with a few possibilities: a) someone is lying, b) someone saw a log, or c) there might not be one Flathead Lake monster, but two.

Some reports say that nearly all people local to Flathead Lake have seen Flessie at some point; others say that there are fisherman that have been out on the water for decades without catching so much as a ripple. Regardless, the monster has been around for a long time, and doesn’t seem to be going away. Skeptics blame sightings on everything from a dead monkey to an escaped buffalo, but belief persists. Many who come forward to share their stories have been reluctant to do so, not wanting to seem crazy, but needing to share their story with someone. Perhaps it is to all of our benefit that they do.

You never know when it might be important to know where there’s a monster on the map.

 

What’s your favorite water-based cryptid? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. See map image here; old-timey illustration here, and glow-in-the-dark eyeballs here.

Cry me a river: the Weeping Woman of Riverview Cemetery

I love graveyards. They are heightened places where where you feel both the weight of the past and future: full of history, and a reminder of what’s to come. Of course, they are also ripe for monsters. My favorites are ones like the Weeping Woman of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where you have a personality that embodies the graveyard itself, and all the memories therein.

Parkersburg is an old town, settled just after the revolutionary war. Its motto is “Where West Virginia began.” Its history is rich. Riverview cemetery–a 2.5 acre plot of land filled with a wonderful variety of monuments and headstones–boasts governors, congressman, and Civil War senators among its collected dead. It also houses the relatives of the famed Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

weeping woman statue
The lady herself, courtesy of Angie on Flickr.

Looking over the Jackson plot sits a statue of a woman half collapsed over a large, deep headstone. A veil stretches out behind her, covering her body and feet. One arm covers the bottom of her face; the other reaches out over the stone to clutch an unfurling scroll that reads “In the silence and to thee,” and then, in large letters, “JACKSON.” Protected by the curve of the paper, the center of the scroll still shines white after a hundred years of vigil, but rest of it–and the rest of the statue–is stained with streaks of gray, green, and black. The woman looks out over the plot from under the curve of her brow. She grimaces with grief.

Weeping woman statue 2
A closer look at the lady’s profile, also courtesy of Angie.

The Weeping Woman statue has gained some notoriety among paranormal circles, but in my research, few mention where it came from or who it is supposed to depict. From what I can tell, the woman is of Lily Irene Jackson, an artist and arts organizer who may have designed the statue herself. She lived a long, full life, but thought of death and eternity often. In the end, she did not shy away from it. She died a spinster in 1928, and passed into the Riverview Cemetery with the rest of her family, leaving behind works entitled things like Watching and Waiting and Anticipation.

So, too, the statue waits. Like any good statue, every so often she decides to move. Some say that happens on a full moon, when she’ll stalk through the graveyard and wail over the conflict between the North and South. Others claim that the movements are more subtle, that she’ll change the position of her hands or head.

The Weeping Woman is famous enough that people come from miles around to see her, to film giggling, frightened Youtube videos or to reverently ask her to grant a wish. If you are pure of heart and intention, she might give you what you need. She’s known especially for granting pregnancies within a year of touching her, for whatever reason.

But beware if you’re not. As you turn to walk away, you might feel a stone hand twist itself in your shirt. The Weeping Woman rips clothes, pulls hair, and, most troublingly, unzips the pants of those who displease her.

Weeping woman statue face
Look into her eyes. (Courtesy again of Angie.)

Due to a large number of trespassers and vandals, the Riverview Cemetery gates have been closed to the public at night. Perhaps that is for the best–the Weeping Woman should not be disturbed during her moonlight walks. But the city has ensured that the grounds remain well-kept. Just last year, they installed a wrought-iron fence to restore the look the cemetery had had closer to its inception. More projects and fundraising are underway, to make sure that we in the present do not lose that link to our past, to our future.

As one visitor noted, “History can never be erased. History is history. It won’t go away. It is still here.” The Weeping Woman embodies that history. And she still bites.

 

Have you ever seen unexpected movement while visiting a graveyard? Share your story in the comments below.

 

Enjoy Angie’s photos as much as I do? Check them out on Flickr here.

Let’s Go For a Swim: Matthew Hopkins – Witch Pricker

Hey monster lovers! This month features a guest post by the esteemed Paul Karle, who is covering for me while I am away at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. In it, he covers a bit of a different kind of monster–a man who was depressingly real. I hope you enjoy; I’ll see you on the next full moon.

***

The year is 1645.

You’ve been arrested and locked inside a stinking cell. You aren’t allowed to eat or sleep for hours. You are stripped naked and your body is closely examined. All hair is violently shaved from your body and your head so that nothing can be hidden. There seems to be no concern for your privacy–in fact half the town is watching.

The man leading the investigation isn’t a member of local law enforcement. He’s an out-of-towner. Mild-mannered, perhaps a bit bookish, but obviously smart and perceptive. He points out a blemish on your arm. It’s the devil’s mark, he says. A clear sign you’ve made an unholy covenant with Satan.

You try to argue that it’s just a mole, a mark you’ve had all your life. There’s nothing sinister about it, but you’ve been kept awake for hours, your mind is muddled and your words incoherent.

scottish_witchpricker_needle
Witch pricking needles. Necessary tools of any Jacobian charlatan. Perfect for kids 10 and up.

The investigator orders you restrained. You feel the prick of a needle being stuck in your arm. There is a gasp from the crowd. He finds another mark, this one on your thigh. He jams the needle in. You gasp in pain.

Finally, he examines the bottom of your foot and finds another mark on your heel. He slips the needle into your callused flesh. To your relief you feel almost nothing.

The investigator seems pleased. He explains that a ‘devil’s mark’ doesn’t feel pain like the rest of your body. This is all the evidence he needs to prove that the mark truly is supernatural.

This is a very common sign of witches, you know. It’s how they feed their familiar. Their magical animal companion. The creature sucks blood from the mark as a child would feed from its mother.

A signed confession would seal your fate but you still refuse to provide one. You’re returned to your cell and kept awake for days. You can feel your mind breaking as you sink deeper into exhaustion.

Eventually you will do anything just for a little sleep. Sign anything. Confess to anything. Even if it means your death.

Your shaking hand scrawls out your barely legible confession. The witchfinder watches you with a satisfied expression. He’s the cat who caught the canary. He’ll be collecting his pay shortly; twenty shillings plus expenses. Not a bad price to rid your town of evil.

Matthew Hopkins, Witch-finder.
Hopkins trying his best to look pull off the Quaker Oats look.

This man was the star of the English witch hunts of the 16th century. Matthew Hopkins: self-proclaimed Witchfinder General. A total, murderous fraud.

You’d spit in his face and curse him if you could, but that’s hard to do from the end of a rope.

The spark that launched Matthew Hopkin’s career was struck by King James VI of Scotland–a monarch uniquely obsessed with the study of witchcraft. This guy was seriously into witches. When he became king Shakespeare wrote MacBeth in his honor. He was sure to include three nasty witches right in the first act. That’s some next level fanservice right there.

James even wrote a book on the topic: Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Books: By the High and Mighty Prince. Despite it’s long-winded title, it managed to create a public fascination with the topic, inadvertently creating the perfect market for Hopkins.

He seized the limelight when he published his unofficial sequel, The Discovery of Witches. He one-upped James’s text by filling it with his ‘personal’ experiences in the finding of witches. It was filled with tall tales that would make a modern day reader roll their eyes.

In one anecdote Hopkins told how he’d spied on some witches in a wood near his house and heard them mention the name of one of his neighbors. He’d tattled to the local authorities and had her arrested. After four days of interrogation she not only admitted to being a witch, but also provided the names of her familiars.

matthew_hopkins with witch familiars
Matthew feeling awkward around some witches and their adorable familiars.

These familiars, it turned out, had some pretty silly names and descriptions. One was Vinegar Tom, a greyhound with the head of an ox. Another was a chubby, legless, spaniel-like creature named Jarmara. After four days without sleep, she was probably just thinking of the family cat.

Hopkins took his show on the road. He journeyed from town to town, investigating any suspected witchcraft through highly questionable methods.

He was at first very fond of the swimming test in which the suspected party was tied to a chair before being thrown into water to see if they would float. Anyone who failed to sink like a stone was clearly guilty. Hopkins explained that witches rejected their Baptism, which meant that all bodies of water would reject them.

Fortunately, even the impressionable public of this time had problems with the swimming of witches. There were obvious risks in being tied to a chair and thrown in the water. It was something that anyone, witch or not, might be concerned about. The practice was eventually abandoned.

Sleep deprivation and ‘witch-pricking’ became the Witchfinder General’s bread and butter instead. He would often stab a needle into a suspect’s ‘devil’s mark’ to see if it bled or caused pain. These days, experts speculate that Hopkins and his ilk may have even used retractable trick needles to sell the illusion. What fun!

Usually the needle was simply inserted into any blemish that looked suspicious in search of one that showed no sensitivity. That’s right–they’d go around sticking needles all over your body to see what kind of reaction they could get. It’s also worth noting that torture had supposedly been outlawed in England at this point. Ahem.

witches_familiars_1579
“Here you go, have some freshly squeezed human-juice. I drained it out of the weeping sore on my arm just for you. Drink it while it’s hot!”

These supposed devil’s marks were a particularly damning piece of evidence. According to Hopkins ‘research’ these marks weren’t just to show your Satanic allegiance. They were also a kind of infernal nipple from which your familiar could suck blood for nourishment. Apparently a legless spaniel can’t survive on Purina alone.

Hopkins blazed a bloody trail across England, his investigations leading to the deaths of an estimated 300 women in just two years. He became a minor celebrity from his witch hunts, but he also amassed a huge amount of criticism. Even Parliament was reticent to give him full recognition, refusing to bestow his self-chosen title of Witchfinder General officially upon him.

As the public fervor surrounding witchcraft faded, Hopkins faded into history. His reputation diminished, and in the eyes of many he became known a ‘fingerman’, an old-timey word for someone who lies and slanders on behalf of the authorities.

Legend says that Hopkins was eventually accused of witchcraft himself and drowned after being subjected to the ingenious ‘swimming’ test. Sadly, this story is nothing more than a hopeful bit of legend. Hopkins succumbed to tuberculosis in his own home, which probably sucked almost as much as drowning.

His legacy lived on across the pond where his book helped inspire the abortion of justice that was the Salem witch trials. Fans of pulp fiction will no doubt recognize him as the inspiration for Robert E. Howard’s puritan witch finder Solomon Kane, though he was truly closer to a Jacobian Joseph McCarthy.

It’s no coincidence that the modern term of witch hunt describes a trumped-up, unjust investigation against an innocent party.

If this sparked your interest in Matthew Hopkins, I recommend you check out the 1968 Vincent Price film: Witchfinder General. This sensationalized account of Hopkins career is cult movie gold. You really can’t go wrong if you’re looking for something morbid to watch.

 

ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. Photo of Witch-Pricker by By Heinrichkramer.

Code brown: the Lady of Raynham Hall

When I was about 5 years old, my family squeezed into a minivan and took a trip through the English countryside. I have a lot of scattered memories from that vacation, among them mist, cobblestones, and seeing this picture on the back of some tourism brochure and being scared sh*tless by it.

Raynham_Hall_ghost_photograph

I never knew the story behind the photo–to be honest, had forgotten about it entirely–I until this week, when happened upon it again by chance. I knew then that I was fated to write this blog post.

The photo’s subject is a spirit called the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, so named for her customary 18th-century brown brocade dress. It’s not surprising that I stumbled across her (I’m embarrassed I haven’t covered her already); her photo is among the most famous paranormal images in the world.  

lady_dorothy_walpole
Dorothy in life.

Let’s start at the beginning. Our most fearsome lady is reported to be Dorothy Walpole (1686-1726), sister of the first Prime Minister of England and 13th child of a Whig member of Parliament. Dorothy fell madly love with one Lord Charles Townshend, who loved her in return. But when Dorothy asked her father for permission to wed, he refused, fearing that people would assume he had arranged the marriage for his own monetary gain. So Lord Townshend went off to marry someone else, leaving Dorothy alone.

Lord Wharton
The notorious rake, apparently.

Enter Lord Thomas Wharton, a politician and rake “void of moral or religious principles.” It’s unclear if Dorothy actually had an affair with Wharton, or if their relationship was nothing more than a mild flirtation. It’s possible that she went for it–after all, she’d lost the man she loved and Wharton was a smart, charming dude willing to comfort her. But Wharton was married and kind of a douchebag, and theirs could not have been a long-term thing.

Then Lord Townshend’s wife died, and suddenly he was available again. He hadn’t heard about the business with Wharton, and asked Dorothy to marry him anew. Dorothy’s father was no longer around to get in the way, and she gladly accepted.

Now, I feel obligated to mention that contemporary sources–as well as recent documents uncovered by the descendents of the Townshends–indicate that the two’s 13 years of marriage were happy and normal. But if crime television has taught us anything, it’s that a cheerful facades can hide terrible secrets. According to legend, the Townshends had terrible secrets.

Lord Townshend, love of Dorothy’s life, was none too happy when he finally discovered that she’d hooked up with Wharty-poo (never mind that he himself had abandoned her to bang another woman). Some versions of the story go that she was still hooking up after she and Townshend had married, which would have been a bold move, considering her husband’s violent temper. However it went, Townshend took his revenge by locking Dorothy away, refusing to let her even see her children.

Eventually, she died. Officially, the cause was smallpox. Unofficially, people wondered if Townshend hadn’t pushed her down the stairs, or worse, if the funeral was a sham and he wanted her to die alone, shut up in Raynham Hall. Either way, no one would ever see Dorothy alive again.

raynham_hall_1937
Raynham Hall.

About a century later, one of Townshend’s descendants held a Christmas party at Dorothy’s old estate. As they headed to bed, two guests were surprised to see a woman standing at the end of the hall, wearing a very dated brown brocade dress. Before they could approach her, she faded out of sight.

They might have assumed that they had been seeing things. But then, the next day, one of them ran into the woman again, this time face-to-face. Her pale skin all but glowed in the dark, and her eyes had been replaced by dark, gaping holes.

When this story came out, several servants quit and abandoned the premises. The legend of the Brown Lady had begun.

There were, of course, detractors. One was author Frederick Marryat, who decided to stay in the haunted section of Raynham Hall to prove how bunk the ghost stories were. Here’s his daughter’s account of how that went:

…he took possession of the room in which the portrait of the apparition hung, and in which she had been often seen, and slept each night with a loaded revolver under his pillow. For two days, however, he saw nothing, and the third was to be the limit of his stay. On the third night, however, two young men (nephews of the baronet), knocked at his door as he was undressing to go to bed, and asked him to step over to their room (which was at the other end of the corridor), and give them his opinion on a new gun just arrived from London. My father was in his shirt and trousers, but as the hour was late, and everybody had retired to rest except themselves, he prepared to accompany them as he was. As they were leaving the room, he caught up his revolver, “in case you meet the Brown Lady,” he said, laughing. When the inspection of the gun was over, the young men in the same spirit declared they would accompany my father back again, “in case you meet the Brown Lady,” they repeated, laughing also. The three gentlemen therefore returned in company.

The corridor was long and dark, for the lights had been extinguished, but as they reached the middle of it, they saw the glimmer of a lamp coming towards them from the other end. “One of the ladies going to visit the nurseries,” whispered the young Townshends to my father. Now the bedroom doors in that corridor faced each other, and each room had a double door with a space between, as is the case in many old-fashioned houses. My father, as I have said, was in shirt and trousers only, and his native modesty made him feel uncomfortable, so he slipped within one of the outer doors (his friends following his example), in order to conceal himself until the lady should have passed by.

I have heard him describe how he watched her approaching nearer and nearer, through the chink of the door, until, as she was close enough for him to distinguish the colors and style of her costume, he recognised the figure as the facsimile of the portrait of “The Brown Lady”. He had his finger on the trigger of his revolver, and was about to demand it to stop and give the reason for its presence there, when the figure halted of its own accord before the door behind which he stood, and holding the lighted lamp she carried to her features, grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner at him. This act so infuriated my father, who was anything but lamb-like in disposition, that he sprang into the corridor with a bound, and discharged the revolver right in her face. The figure instantly disappeared – the figure at which for several minutes three men had been looking together – and the bullet passed through the outer door of the room on the opposite side of the corridor, and lodged in the panel of the inner one. My father never attempted again to interfere with “The Brown Lady of Raynham.”

candle_in_the_dark
Ambience!

And so it went. King George himself visited the property at one point, and woke up to find the lady standing over his bed, hair disheveled, eyes wild. He fled immediately, swearing to “not spend another hour in the accursed house, for tonight I have seen that which I hope to god I never see again.”

Now we come to the famous photograph. In September 1936,  London-based photographer Captain Hubert A. Provand visited Raynham Hall along with his assistant Indre Shira with the aim of capturing property photos for Country Life magazine. According to their account, they were setting up a photo of the stairway, Provand with his head under the camera’s fabric, when Shira spotted a vapoury form coming at them down the stairs. He cried at Provand to take the shot. The photo that resulted is the one that the world wonders at today.

Since then, the Lady has not been seen much. Doubt is back in style. People maintain that the Country Life photograph could be easily faked–that there is damning evidence of double exposure and maybe even prop placement with a Madonna statue. I could also point out that Marryat’s story was doubtless exaggerated–not only did Marryat write fiction himself, but his daughter (who wrote the passage I quoted above, which is often quoted by people telling the story of the Lady) also wrote sensational novels, in addition to being an ardent Spiritualist. Between the two of them, it would be hard not to embellish.

Still, Dorothy Walpole’s legend has a nice ring to it, and has survived the better part of 300 years. The current owner of Raynham does not believe the photo was a fake. When asked about his infamous relative, he simply replied: “She isn’t there to haunt the house but she is still there, I know she’s there and I’m glad she’s around.”

 

What’s the most terrifying thing you’ve ever taken a photo of? Share your story in the comments below.

 

 

All images–except that the candle–were pulled from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain. The candle photo is by Paolo Costa Baldi [CC BY-SA 3.0], also from Wikimedia Commons

Dogs of war: the Hound of Mons

Ah, World War I: an especially large-scale example of humanity getting itself into way deeper water than it was prepared for. 18-year-olds marched bravely with bayonets, just as their fathers and father’s fathers had done before them, to face enemies with mustard gas and machine guns. Add to that a dash of corpse-clogged trenches, a pinch of aggressive rats, and a heavy dose of feet-rotting mud, and you start to run out of adjectives that would adequately describe the experience. When I think of that war and what it did to people psychologically, I think of this photo:

Shell Shock 1916
A Canadian Soldier in 1916 who is pretty damn far from okay.

So that’s pretty much the baseline for this post. When your world is that inside out, what sort of supernatural monster could keep you up at night?

Let’s situate ourselves in the Belgian city of Mons. Mons was the place where the British entered the war, and the place where its last shot was fired. The official Battle of Mons is nigh legendary, where a group of British soldiers defied the odds and held off a large number of Germans for two weeks before being forced back. During that battle, men reported visions of angelic archers coming to the Allies’ aid. But we’re not here to talk about inspiring things. We’re here for what happened after.

According to Canadian Captain F.J. Newhouse, on November 14, 1914, a man named Captain Yeskes took four men out to patrol no man’s land. They never came back. This in itself was not unusual–”no man’s land” was not so named for its hospitality. But when another team went to recover their corpses, they found them not riddled with bullets as expected, but punctured with teeth marks, throats torn out.

Corpse in Trench
I think this post has the best ambience images yet. (Courtesy of Anders on Flickr)

That was bad enough. Then, a few nights later, as the Allies shivered in the mud of the trenches, an animal howl ripped through the camp. The link between the sound and the bodies was easy to make. They gave a simple name to this new, unknown terror: the Hound of Mons.

Over the next two years, many more soldiers would be found ripped apart among the blackened tree stumps and strings of barbed wire. Cries of pain and that long, terrible howl would echo through dark, either uncomfortably close or at a distance, near the trenches of the Germans. Some reported a grey shadow flitting through no man’s land, fast and low to the ground. It seemed that something had come up from hell itself to frighten the men to death.

And then, without warning, it all stopped. The beast was never seen again.

Civilians looked down on these stories as hysteric fantasy–British propaganda–but Newhouse claimed there was proof that the creature that been real. Secret papers had been recovered from the residence of the late German doctor Hochmuller–notes from an experiment as terrible than the war itself.

According to the papers, Dr. Hochmuller had hunted down and then cut the brain out of a man driven insane by his hatred of the Allies. Hochmuller transferred said brain to the body of a giant siberian wolfhound, abandoning the man to die.  After a few months of training, he let the wolfhound loose on the battlefront. Sure, there might have been some friendly casualties, but by and large, this experiment had been a success. The hound had been the ultimate German weapon.

Now, many have noted that there are issues with Newhouse’s story–his dates don’t line up with historical events, for one. There is no record of Hochmuller ever existing, and Yeskes almost certainly didn’t. Even with today’s scientific advances, a transplant of that caliber is not possible. Yet I don’t doubt that the terror in the trenches was real.

World War I was the first time dogs were used in a large scale, organized manner; one website postulates that the Hound of Mons might be an exaggerated, politicized account of the breeding of the German Shepherd.  It could be that soldiers saw stray dogs eating the corpses of their friends, and lost it.

Even if it wasn’t dogs, the hound could have been a desperate effort to rationalize what was happening with the rats. That is where my money would be. There are accounts of rats as big as cats, fat with human flesh; rats gnawing through up people’s eyes before they burrowed into their corpses; rats attacking and eating injured men who couldn’t defend themselves. Seeing something like that could easily leave a soldier spinning tales about hell hounds as a method of comfort.

In the end, demons might have been preferable to reality.

What’s your favorite type of puppy? Any adorable Youtube recommendations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

WANT MORE HORRIFIC WWI PHOTOS? Check out Anders on Flickr here.