Haunted Houses

A great many persons believe more or less in haunted houses. In almost

every community there is some building that has had a mysterious

history. This is true in all countries, and among all races and nations.

Indeed it is to this very fact that the ingenious author of the

"Twenty-seventh-street Ghost" may attribute his success in creating such

an excitement. In fact, I will say, "under the rose," he predicted his

of success entirely upon this weakness in human nature. Even in

"this day and age of the world" there are hundreds of deserted buildings

which are looked upon with awe, or terror, or superstitious interest.

They have frightened their former inhabitants away, and left the

buildings in the almost undisputed possession of real moles, bats, and

owls, and imaginary goblins and sprites.

In the course of my travels in both hemispheres I have been amazed at

the great number of such cases that have come under my personal


But for the present, I will give a brief account of a haunted house in

Yorkshire, England, in which some twenty years ago, Kirby, the actor,

who formerly played at the Chatham Theatre, passed a pretty strange

night. I met Mr. Kirby in London in 1844, and I will give, in nearly his

own language, a history of his lone night in this haunted house, as he

gave it to me within a week after its occurrence. I will add, that I saw

no reason to doubt Mr. Kirby's veracity, and he assured me upon his

honor that the statement was literally true to the letter. Having myself

been through several similar places in the daytime, I felt a peculiar

interest in the subject, and hence I have a vivid recollection of nearly

the exact words in which he related his singular nocturnal adventure.

One thing is certain: Kirby was not the man to be afraid of trying such

an experiment.

"I had heard wonderful stories about this house," said Mr. Kirby to me,

"and I was very glad to get a chance to enter it, although, I confess,

the next morning I was about as glad to get out of it."

"It was an old country-seat--a solid stone mansion which had long borne

the reputation of a haunted house. It was watched only by one man. He

was the old gardener,--an ancient servant of the family that once lived

there, and a person in whom the family reposed implicit confidence.

"Having had some inkling of this wonderful place, and having a few days

to spare before going to London to fulfil an engagement at the Surry

Theatre, I thought I would probe this haunted-house story to the bottom.

I therefore called on the old gardener who had charge of the place, and

introduced myself as an American traveller desirous of spending a night

with his ghosts. The old man seemed to be about seventy-five or eighty

years of age. I met him at the gate of the estate, where he kept guard.

He told me, when I applied, that it was a dangerous spot to enter, but I

could pass it if I pleased. I should, however, have to return by the

same door, if I ever came back again.

"Wishing to make sure of the job, I gave him a sovereign, and asked him

to give me all the privileges of the establishment; and if his bill

amounted to more, I would settle it when I returned. He looked at me

with an expression of doubt and apprehension, as much as to say that he

neither understood what I was going to do nor what was likely to happen.

He merely remarked:

"'You can go in.'

"'Will you go with me, and show me the road?'

"'I will.'

"'Go ahead.'

"We entered. The gate closed. I suddenly turned on my man, the old

gardener and custodian of the place, and said to him:

"'Now, my patriarchal friend, I am going to sift this humbug to the

bottom, even if I stay here forty nights in succession; and I am

prepared to lay all "spirits" that present themselves; but if you will

save me all trouble in the matter and frankly explain to me the whole

affair, I will never mention it to your injury, and I will present you

with ten golden sovereigns.'

"The old fellow looked astonished; but he smirked, and whimpered, and

trembled, and said:

"'I am afraid to do that; but I will warn you against going too far.'

"When we had crossed a courtyard, he rang a bell, and several strange

noises were distinctly heard. I was introduced to the establishment

through a well-constructed archway, which led to a large stairway, from

which we proceeded to a great door, which opened into a very large room.

It was a library. The old custodian had carried a torch (and I was

prepared with a box of matches.) He was acting evidently 'on the

square,' and I sat myself down in the library, where he told me that I

should soon see positive evidence that this was a haunted house.

"Not being a very firm believer in the doctrine of houses really

haunted, I proposed to keep a pretty good hold of my match-box, and lest

there should be any doubt about it, I had also provided myself with two

sperm candles, which I kept in my pocket, so I should not be left too

suddenly and too long in the dark.

"'Now Sir,' said he, 'I wish you to hold all your nerves steady and keep

your courage up, because I intend to stand by you as well as I can, but

I never come into this house alone.'

"'Well, what is the matter with the house?'

"'Oh! everything, Sir!'


"'Well, when I was much younger than I am now, the master of this estate

got frightened here by some mysterious appearances, noises, sounds,

etc., and he preferred to leave the place.'


"'He had a tradition from his grandfather, and pretty well kept alive in

the family, that it was a haunted house; and he let out the estate to

the smaller farmers of the neighborhood, and quit the premises, and

never returned again, except one night, and after that one night he

left. We suppose he is dead. Now, Sir, if you wish to spend the night

here as you have requested, what may happen to you I don't know; but I

tell you it is a haunted house, and I would not sleep here to-night for

all the wealth of the Bank of England!'

"This did not deter me in the least, and having the means of

self-protection around me, and plenty of lucifer matches, etc., I

thought I would explore this mystery and see whether a humbug which had

terrified the proprietors of that magnificent house in the midst of a

magnificent estate, for upward of sixty years, could not be explored and

exploded. That it was a humbug, I had no doubt; that I would find it

out, I was not so certain.

"I sat down in the library, fully determined to spend the night in the

establishment. A door was opened into an adjoining room where there was

a dust-covered lounge, and every thing promised as much comfort as could

be expected under the circumstances.

"However, before the old keeper of the house left, I asked him to show

me over the building, and let me explore for myself the different rooms

and apartments. To all this he readily consented; and as he had some

prospect before him of making a good job out of it, he displayed a great

deal of alacrity, and moved along very quick and smart for a man

apparently eighty years of age.

"I went from room to room and story to story. Everything seemed to be

well arranged, but somewhat dusty and time-worn. I kept a pretty sharp

lookout, but I could see no sort of machinery for producing a grand


"We finally descended to the library, when I closed the door, and

bolting and locking it, took the key and put it in my pocket.

"'Now, Sir,' I said to the keeper, 'where is the humbug?'

"'There is no humbug here,' he answered.

"'Well, why don't you show me some evidence of the haunted house?'

"'You wait,' said he, 'till twelve o'clock to-night, and you will see

"haunting" enough for you. I will not stay till then.'

"He left; I staid. Everything was quiet for some time. Not a mouse was

heard, not a rat was visible, and I thought I would go to sleep.

"I lay down for this purpose, but I soon heard certain extraordinary

sounds that disturbed my repose. Chains were clanked, noises were made,

and shrieks and groans were heard from various parts of the mansion. All

of these I had expected. They did not frighten me much. A little while

after, just as I was going to sleep again, a curious string of light

burned around the room. It ran along on the walls in a zigzag line,

about six feet high, entirely through the apartment. I did not smell

anything bituminous or like sulphur. It flashed quicker than powder,

and it did not smell like it. Thinks I: 'This looks pretty well, we will

have some amusement now.' Then the jangling of bells, and clanking of

chains, and flashes of light; then thumpings and knockings of all sorts

came along, interspersed with shrieks and groans. I sat very quiet. I

had two of Colt's best pistols in my pocket, and I thought I could shoot

anything spiritual or material with these machines made in Connecticut.

I took them out and laid them on the table. One of them suddenly

disappeared! I did not like that, still my nerves were firm, for I knew

it was all gammon. I took the other pistol in my hand and surveyed the

room. Nobody was there; and, finally half suspicious that I had gone to

sleep and had a dream, I woke up with a grasp on my hand which was

holding the other pistol. This soon made me fully awake.

"I tried to recover my balance, and at this moment the candle went out.

I lit it with one of my lucifers. No person was visible, but the noises

began again, and they were infernal. I then took one of my sperm candles

out, and went to unlock the door. I attempted to take the key out of my

pocket. It was not there! Suddenly the door opened, I saw a man or a

somebody about the size of a man, standing straight in front of me. I

pointed one of Colt's revolvers at his head, for I thought I saw

something human about him; and I told him that whether he was ghost or

spirit, goblin or robber, he had better stand steady, or I would blow

his brains out, if he had any. And to make sure that he should not

escape I got hold of his arm, and told him that if he was a ghost he

would have a tolerably hard time of it, and that if he was a humbug I

would let him off if he would tell me the whole story about the trick.

"He saw that he was caught, and he earnestly begged me not to fire that

American pistol at him. I did not; but I did not let go of him. I

brought him into the library, and with pistol in hand I put him through

a pretty close examination. He was clad in mailed armor, with

breastplate and helmet, and a great sword, in the style of the

Crusaders. He promised, on condition of saving his life, to give me an

honest account of the facts.

"In substance they were, that he, an old family-servant, and ultimately

a gardener in charge of the place, had been employed by an enemy of the

gentleman who owned the property, to render it so uncomfortable that the

estate should be sold for much less than its value; and that he had got

an ingenious machinist and chemist to assist him in arranging such

contrivances as would make the house so intolerable that they could not

live there. A galvanic battery with wires were provided, and every

device of chemistry and mechanism was resorted to in order to effect

this purpose.

"One by one, the family left; and they had remained away for nearly two

generations under the terror of such forms, and appearances, and sights

and sounds, as frightened them almost to death. And furthermore, the old

gardener added, that he expected his own grand-daughter would become the

lady of that house, when the property should have been neglected so

long and the place became so fearful that no one in the neighborhood

would undertake to purchase it, or to even pass one moment after dark in

exploring its horrible mysteries.

"He begged on his knees that I would spare him with his gray hairs,

since he had so short a time to live. He declared that he had been

actuated by no other motive than pride and ambition for his child.

"I told the poor old fellow that his secret should be safe with me, and

should not be made public so long as he lived. The old man grasped my

hand eagerly and expressed his gratitude in the strongest terms. Thus,

Mr. Barnum, I have given you the pure and honest facts in regard to my

adventure in a so called haunted house. Don't make it public until you

are convinced that the old gardener has shuffled off this mortal coil."

So much for Kirby's story of the haunted house. No doubt, the old

gardener has before this become in reality a disembodied spirit, but

that his grand-daughter became legally possessed of the estate is not at

all probable. Real estate does not change hands so easily in England. So

powerful, however is the superstitious belief in haunted houses, that it

is doubtful whether that property will for many years sustain half so

great a cash value in the market as it would have done had it not been

considered a "haunted house."

It is to be hoped that, as schools multiply and education increases, the

follies and superstitions which underlie a belief in ghosts and

hobgoblins will pass away.