Friday, 21 January 2011

The Laughing Ghost of Wrotham

The laughing ghost of Wrotham is no jovial fellow, but a chilling and terrifying ghost. Fortunately he has not been seen for some years, though there is always the chance that he might reappear. the haunting is notable as it became the subject of one of the very earliest serious attempts to investigate a ghost.

The phantom in question walked at Wrotham House in the years before World War I. He was dressed in a fine grey three piece suit of late 18th century cut and edged with elegant silver lace. His usual walk was along a corridor, up a flight of stairs and into a bedroom at the rear of the house. Once in that room he would laugh, but there was no humour in the sound. Instead it was a cold and evil laugh, as if he were planning some crime and gaining much enjoyment from the anticipation of it.

He was, indeed, an evil man for this ghost was that of a former owner who had murdered his own brother as he slept in the haunted bedroom. Perhaps the cold laugh was given as he bent to his work that night. The deed proved fatal to both brothers, for the killer was hanged for his crimes.

The haunting was thoroughly investigated by the Lord Halifax of the day in the 1870s. He questioned a Mrs Brooke and her maid, Miss Page, who had both seen this unpleasant ghost. Lord Halifax gathered details about the ghost and his appearance as well as the story behind the haunting. Unlike other amateur investigators of his day, however, Halifax went further and made determined efforts to look beyond the haunting at the science behind it.

Halifax took as his starting point that neither Mrs Brooke nor her maid knew anything about the haunting before seeing the ghost - both of them being only visitors to the house. This meant they were unlikely to have dreamed or hallucinated the ghost after having been told about it. Whatever they saw had not been unprompted by stories of the phantom. He also insisted that both ladies be willing to put their names to their experiences in public, thus escaping the charge that he was having his leg pulled by anonymous friends.

One interesting point that emerged from the investigation was that the maid was in the habit of wedging a chair under the door handle whenever she slept in a strange house. She had seen the ghost open the door and enter her room, yet when she herself tried to leave the room the chair was still firmly in place. This might mean that the ghost had only temporarily disturbed the door and chair, effectively creating a local and short-lived disturbance. On the other hand the door may never have actually opened, meaning the maid may have imagined the whole scene or may have perceived a vision which had no real physical presence.

Another feature Lord Halifax noted in this case was that the room had become suddenly very cold just before the ghost appeared and did not warm up again until a few minutes after it had gone. This drop in temperature has since been noted by many investigators into ghosts and the paranormal. It is not merely a perceived chill felt by witnesses, but has been recorded by scientific instruments in haunted rooms. One theory holds that whatever it is that causes ghosts to appear draws its energy from the surroundings. As that energy is sucked away the temperature falls dramatically. It is, of course, just a theory but it does fit the facts.

Lord Halifax investigated a number of hauntings and put his findings together in a book entitled, obviously enough, Ghost Stories. Although by the standards of modern day psychic investigators, Lord Halifax was rather clumsy and unscientific in his methods, he did set an example of subjecting ghosts and hauntings to rather more exhaustive treatment than the mere recounting of fireside horror tales.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Kent by Rupert Matthews

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