Monday, October 31, 2016

The Man Behind the Door - A Brockley Ghost Story

For Halloween, here's a ghost story written by Elliot O'Donnell for the London 'Weekly Dispatch' and then reprinted in the Australian 'Express and Telegraph', 6 August 1910.

The location of the events is given as '200Y Brockley Road, SW', said to be haunted by 'the phantasm of a tall man in a frock coat and top hat'. The house number is obscure (perhaps the Y was to indicate that it was somewhere in the 200s rather than identify a specific house) but there was no Brockley Road in SW then or now so it must refer to the SE4 one, something reinforced by the mention of St Johns Road.

(Indeed the story is retold in his book 'More Haunted Houses of London' and the location is given as 'Brockley Road, SE'. In that version he says that he first heard about it from the house's former inhabitants at a friend's house in Norwood)

The investigator gains access to the house and  spends an evening there with his dog, Ghoul, and apart from some footsteps on the stairs notices nothing out of the ordinary. Returning a second time though he feels 'the presence of the occult was now most marked'.  After the clock strikes 12, the front door flies open and he perceives 'a tall, pale luminous figure... dressed in a frock coat and top hat, with jet black whiskers and brows, and the most appalling white skin and gleaming eyes... one the most perfect and unusual examples of pychic phenomena I have ever witnessed'. He concludes that this must be the 'earth-bound phantasm of Percy Stephens' who had apparently lived there before killing himself  'over the cliffs at Ramsgate' in despair at his son's wayward behaviour.

Elliot O'Donnell (1872-1965) - pictured below - was an Irish-born 'ghost hunter' and author of numerous books on ghosts and related matters. Like many of his trade, his reputation is controversial and the line between fact and fiction in his work decidedly uncertain. In this case it is notable that in the version of the story retold in 'More Haunted Houses of London' (1920), he gives a completely different explanation of the ghost. This time it is apparently the spirit of  a Mr Mills, who drowned himself in the River after his wife left him for a 'handsome foreigner'.  You might say this calls into the question the whole story... but hey you can suspend your disbelief for a moment on a dark Halloween night!

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