I don’t remember quite how I tripped over this little collection of “true” ghost stories, but it turned out to be a fairly entertaining read. Charles Lindley Wood, the second Viscount Halifax (1839-1934), was president of the English Church Union, an Anglo-Catholic advocacy group, and also an enthusiastic collector of ghost stories. After he passed away, his son, the third Viscount Halifax (also named Charles Wood), published a selection of tales from his father’s “ghost book,” as Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book in 1936. The book proved to be so popular that Halifax put out a second selection, Further Stories from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, in 1937.
Lord Halifax was particularly interested in “true” or “authenticated” ghost stories, and a large number of the stories in The Ghost Book come from letters written to Halifax by his friends, often with additional attestations from the people involved (not included in the collection). Halifax fils tries to annotate each story with their sources, and a number of interesting names come up.
It’s also inevitable that the occasional urban legend, FOAF tale, or misremembered literary tale should pop up, and astute readers have found at least one. Here’s a few tales with additional, external, points of interest.
The Man in the Iron Cage: An English family living in Lille, France, just prior to the French Revolution endures uncanny experiences in a haunted house. This was said to be Lord Halifax’s favorite ghost story, to the point that he evidently asked for it to be read to him on his deathbed! The tale also captured the imagination of the public, probably because one version of the events was given directly by a family member who lived through the experience. I write more about the Ghost of Lille in this post on Dark Tales Sleuth (includes links to two versions of the story).
The Passenger with the Bag: As reader Dan Smith pointed out on Goodreads about a decade ago, this anecdote is an abbreviated version of Amelia Edwards’ crime/ghost story, “The Four-Fifteen Express,” written in 1866. The correspondences include the name of the ghost (Dwerringhouse vs. Dwerrihouse), and the ghost’s complaint about The Blue Room at his relative’s house. Depending on when Halifax collected this tale, either someone misremembered the fictional account as true, or Edwards elaborated on a “true” story that she had heard making the rounds.
The Man in a Silk Dress: Halifax records that this tale was told by the Rev. Dr. Jessop (sic), then Headmaster of Norwich Grammar School. In fact, Augustus Jessopp is a name quite well known to fans of antiquarian ghost stories, for, well, “An Antiquary’s Ghost Story,” published in Jessopp’s collection of essays, Frivola (1896). Jessopp was headmaster of Norwich School from 1859-1880; and in Frivola, he mentions that “An Antiquary’s Ghost Story” was first set down sixteen years previously — around 1880. This post from the Haunted Library blog says “An Antiquary’s Ghost Story” first appeared in The Library Magazine and The Athenaeum in January of 1880. Since the text of “An Antiquary’s Ghost Story” is identical to the text of “The Man in a Silk Dress,” it seems plausible that the version in Halifax’s collection is from one of those two publications.
The Strangling Woman: Halifax fils writes that this was the first story in his father’s book, and was written in his father’s own hand. Halifax père heard the story as an original experience from his friend, the artist Reginald Easton, who actually made a sketch of the ghost! Halifax even had a copy of the sketch, which, unfortunately, did not get reproduced in The Ghost Book. But you can find examples of Easton’s work at the National Portrait Gallery, and other places.
The tales from Lady Margaret Shelley: Lady Margaret Shelley, daughter of the first Earl of Iddesleigh, was also a collector of ghost stories (not necessarily authenticated ones, it seems), and she contributed several stories to Halifax’s ghost book. Why do we care? Because Lady Margaret was the older sister of Amyas Northcote (1864-1923), author of a single but notable collection of ghost stories, In Ghostly Company. So Lady Margaret’s hobby is perhaps of historical interest, to fans of Amyas’s work.
Lady Margaret’s contributions to Halifax’s ghost book include “Head of a Child,” “The Mad Butler,” “Lady Goring’s Dream,” “The Sexton of Chilton Polton,” and “Lord Lytton and a Horoscope.” This last story concerns Robert Bulwer-Lytton, First Earl of Lytton, and the son of Edward “It was a dark and stormy night” Bulwer-Lytton and his wife, the much-abused Rosina Bulwer Lytton.
Since Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book was published in 1936, it is unfortunately not yet public domain in the United States. U.S. readers can find reasonably priced copies at Biblio.com and other online bookstores. The book is in public domain in (at least) countries where copyright expires 50+ years after the author’s death, like Canada. Readers from those countries can find the book at Faded Page (the Canadian public domain book archive), and other sites.
Featured Image: Still Life with Skull, Candle, and Book, Paul Cezanne (1866). Source: WikiArt