Ghosted by a ghost: the black monk of Pontefract

It was August, 1966. In an unassuming house at 30 East Drive, Pontefract, England, Sarah Scholes was watching her 15-year old grandson Philip Pritchard while his parents and sister were away for the holiday week. Though the weather was hot, the house was curiously cold. Then Philip walked into the living room and stopped: There was a fine white dust falling silently from chest-height all around the room. 

30 East Drive.

The pair were very confused. It would make more sense if the dust were drifting down from the ceiling (though not much more, as the house had been recently renovated). But appearing mid-air? Sarah called Philip’s aunt Marie over from where she lived across the street to get a second opinion. Marie did not know where the dust came from, either, but she knew it needed to get cleaned up. She went into the kitchen to get a rag, and slipped in a puddle of water that hadn’t been there a moment before. Grumbling to herself, she mopped the puddle up, only to have another appear. And another.

They called the water company. The water company couldn’t figure out where the puddles were coming from, either. Marie went home, and Sarah and Philip tried to move on with their lives. Then, around 7 o’clock, Philip’s startled cry came out of the kitchen.

“Grandma, it’s happening again!”

Loose leaf tea and sugar lay strewn all over the counter. The button on the tea dispenser clicked and then depressed, splashing steaming tea over the mess. Then it went down again. And again. And again, hissing, continuing to depress even as the water ran out, faster, and faster. “Stop!” Sarah cried. “Stop it!”

CRASH. Something in the hall. They stumbled over see what it was. The hall was empty, dark. The silence built, and then light clicked on, startling them both.

Rue Morgue notes that a typically agreed-upon definition of a poltergeist is trickster-like activity stemming from from psychokinesis (often perpetuated by a young person in distress). The poltergeist doesn’t seriously harm its victims, and quickly goes away with time or therapy. 

The things happening at 30 East Drive don’t fit that definition. For one, the presence there has shown itself on multiple occasions to not just be energy, but a tall figure robed in black. It has a tendency to come in full force and then fade away, but has persisted for over 50 years. Instead of coming from children, it attacks children. And it means people harm.  

Still, they call the Black Monk of Pontefract a poltergeist, anyway. The most violent poltergeist in Britain

Who you gonna call?

After that initial day of horror (which culminated in a violently rocking dresser and the two fleeing the house to sleep at a neighbor’s), the activity ceased for a full two years. Grandma probably  got tired of trying to convince the family that they hadn’t been seeing things; maybe she even managed to convince herself. 

A grandfather clock was one of the many objects hurled around.

But just as they started to relax, the ghost came back full force. Loud crashes became a part of daily life, as did objects (including a solid oak sideboard) flying through the air or disappearing and reappearing in odd places. Green foam burst out of the sink. An aunt got an entire carton of milk dumped over her head. The daughter of the family, Diane, was thrown out of bed, and, on a few occasions, would wake up on the floor with her mattress on top of her.

Things escalated from there. The disturbances became so common that the family gave the ghost a name: Fred. Though there were bad signs–attacks focused on Diane, family photos brutally slashed–the Pritchards refused to move out. It was their house, after all. 

Instead, they tried to force the ghost out with exorcisms. These were met with walls weeping with holy water, people getting slapped and shoved down the stairs, upside down crosses, and a pair of women’s fur gloves conducting the songs meant to drive Fred out. 

Then one night Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard woke to find a tall, dark figure hovering over their bed. He quickly disappeared, but later, other people started seeing him around the house, too, though they never saw his face. More people–the family and visitors alike–got pushed, slapped, scratched, bruised. Then Diane’s hair stood straight up, and she was dragged, screaming, up an entire flight of stairs. The incident left her badly traumatized, and with finger-shaped bruises on her throat.

And just like that, all supernatural activity cut off again. The ghost, it seemed, was over it.

Historical reenactments

A Cluniac monk, to help along your imagination.

But the living were not over the ghost. 10 years after Fred took his leave, Cluniac monk researcher Tom Cluniff happened to hear about what had gone on at 30 East Drive. He put the  pieces of the past together with the present. A 16th-century monk had been convicted for the rape and murder of an adolescent girl (in an uncomfortable twist, an adolescent girl about Diane’s age), and hanged just across the street from where the house now stands. 

Suddenly the black robes of the figure so many people had seen in the house (and around the neighborhood, by the way) made sense. Of course! Fred was a monk. And thus the moniker “Black Monk of Pontefract” was born, and the interest in the ghost renewed. 

One of the interested parties was director Pat Holden, a Pontefract native related by marriage to Jean Pritchard, matron of 30 East Drive. Holden was so excited about Cluniff’s findings–and what he’d heard about the haunting–that he decided to make a movie. 

Back in black

In 2012, Holden’s When the Lights Went Out captured both the idea of poltergeists as psychokinetic energy as well as the history of the Black Monk. Though the indie film garnered mixed reviews, it further reignited the imagination of the public, and, in so doing, reignited the haunting. 

Producer Bill Bungay discovered house was for sale, and bought it so that he could have his movie premier in style. He didn’t believe in the ghost, so even though his phone behaved oddly in the house and there were reports of strange lights and noises, he didn’t think much of it. He dismissed the warnings of the neighbors, who had seen Fred around again. He shrugged off the psychic who said during the premiere that she could see Fred watching them from his favorite place on the stairs. 

Then came one night when Bungay was outside 30 East Drive alone, locking up the gate after a day of documentary shooting. He put the plunger on the gate down and secured it (with difficulty) with a cinderblock. Then he turned to lock the door to the house. But his house key had disappeared from his pocket. He glanced uneasily over his shoulder, and found that the gate that he had just shut stood wide open. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

Marbles are a common projectile.

Bungay has shown Fred more respect after that (though Fred often throws things at him, missing him by a hair). He now rents 30 East Drive to people curious about the haunting. This has resulted in a number of interesting photos, and 288 accounts of happenings at the house. Included in them is a story where the neighbors were visiting Bungay, and one of their granddaughters came into the room, taking a bite out of a polystyrene orange. Her grandmother quickly took it and scolded her, asking her where she’d even got it from. The girl replied innocently: “A man in black gave it to me.” 

You can browse the rest of the occurrences here. They range from your typical bangings and mutterings to reports such as the following:

“Asked sister in toilet “Are you alright” which she replied “Yes thank you” BUT at the exact same time she replied the WHOLE GROUP said “Wow, did you hear that!”? A man’s “HMM MMM” mocking sister’s reply.”

“Possible spirits of dogs photographed.”

There are also a few more serious ones:

“Arriving early the group knocked on the door of 30 East Drive on the off chance there was someone in but the house was locked and vacant. As the group turned and walked back down the path someone started loudly and aggressively banging on the window as if to get their attention. The group presumed someone was indeed inside and returned only to reconfirm that the house was still firmly locked and vacant, a fact later confirmed when the house was opened for the waiting group 30 mins later.”

“Group leader asked if ‘Fred’ wanted to “play”. Then a noise was heard on the landing so the group leader rushed to see and standing in the doorway off the small bedroom was a really tall black figure which moved into the room behind the door. Not thinking, the group leader walked straight into the shadow, an experience that affected him badly.”

Want to get in on the fun? 30 East Drive is available for rent today for £300-400 a night (free if you happen to be a theoretical physicist). If you’re not in the UK, don’t have that kind of cash, or don’t have the desire to spend the night in a place where the bed was recently flipped over and trashed at 3am, you can join the 30 East Drive Facebook group

Either way, I would hurry up and get involved before Fred ups and loses interest again. It’s only a matter of time. 

Flour, snow, talc, or cocaine? Free associate your thoughts about white powder in the comments below. 

IMAGE CRED: Mark Stevenson for the house photo; Twdk for the grandfather clock that is not THE grandfather clock (but it will do); F. A. Gasquet for less murder-y monk; James Petts for the marbles (again, not THE marbles, but hey).

Time to Clean House: The Kikimora

If you’ve read or played anything in The Witcher franchise, you likely looked at the title of this post and thought immediately of a insectoid swamp creature with taloned paws. While the Witcher kikimora are awesome, I want to take you back to where the monster began: pre-insectoid, and with more intelligent, devilish intent.

The short description of the Kikimora makes her sound almost quaint: she’s a Slavic house spirit, one that’s been around at least since before the advent of Christianity and likely before the advent of the written word. Depending on who you ask, she’s either the wife of the friendly house/forest spirit Domovoi or the less friendly, flesh-eating swamp monster Leshy. Many versions of the legend claim that she appears as a beautiful woman with her hair down, and that she’ll stay with the house and help you with your chores. Sounds great, right?

Unnerving illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Except that when you look closer, the Kikimora might not be as cute as you thought. She’s got some strange deformities, including the occasional chicken-like hand or foot. Truth be told, if you see her at all, you’re probably screwed. If you catch her spinning in the dead of night (which she does endlessly and without producing any thread), for example, you can expect to die within the week. An even less fun way to spot her is if she slips through the keyhole of your bedroom door at night to sit on your chest and try to strangle you. This latter habit can become such an issue that people try all manner of rituals to get her to stop, from turning a broom upside down by the door to sleeping with their belt on top of their bedspread. That might stop her from throttling you outright, but your problems don’t end there.

The Kikimora might help out with household chores, but woe betide the family that doesn’t keep their home in order. Invisible, she’ll whistle, make disturbing noises, break dishes, and generally poltergeist the hell out of the place. Variable in size, she can hide under the floorboards or in crevices beneath the hearth, sometimes coming out to roam the attic, leaving strange wet footprints in her wake. If someone doesn’t like you, they can make a Kikimora doll, hide it under a beam or the front corner of your house, and effectively curse you forever by calling her there. You might also just have the bad luck to inherit her…if a child died on your property or was buried somewhere below your house, she’ll be waiting for you. However she gets in, once she’s with you, she’s very difficult to make get out.

The mayhem the Kikimory (plural for Kikimora; there are more than one) create helped them get their name: pretty much every component of the word alludes to something awful. Kikimora may have descended from the Udmurt word kikka-murt, meaning scarecrow or–even better–”bag-made person.” This explains some of the weirder, more elderly descriptions of the creature. Mora is also linked with the more recognizable mare (as in nightmare). In Croatia, mora cause the same sleep paralysis the Kikimora does, appearing as beautiful women that suck the life out of their sleeping victims. In Poland, mora are the souls of living people who leave their bodies at night, which can be seen as little wisps of hair or straw, not unlike what the Kikimora might look like when she shrinks down to hide in the floorboards or slip through a carefully locked door.

The only way to dissuade the Kikimora from totally destroying your life is to a) keep very clean, and b) complete elaborate rituals to appease her. These include washing all of your pots and pans in fern tea, hanging juniper over the chicken coop (on top of everything, Kikimory love stealing eggs), and reciting involved prayer-poems before bedtime. No word on how to get her out of the house permanently; sorry.

But free maid, right?

Sassy spinner courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How thoroughly would the Kikimora destroy you upon seeing the state of your home? Share your story in the comments below.

Special announcement: Heading to Readercon 27? I’ll see you there. Tweet at me if you want to meet up and exchange some ghost stories.