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
"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?'
"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
"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.