The Victorian era was the age of Spiritualism, and the average person loved spooky ghost stories--so much that fictional tales were devoured as quickly as they were published. But Victorians really liked to hear true ghost stories of their current times, and there were plenty of ghosts roaming the world during this era!
The Bell Witch
The terrifying tale of the Bell Witch has frightened people since it first surfaced in 1817 Tennessee folklore, pre-dating the Victorian Era. Victorians, with their penchant for fictional ghost tales, were fascinated with this real ghost story. It started out as a tale of a vengeful witch and decades later was a macabre ghost story that Victorians adored retelling and has endured through modern times.
Although the menacing, haunting entity is called a witch, it was in truth some type of spirit, as described by those who witnessed the haunting. John Bell, Sr. was a farmer and first saw the spirit in the form of a dark, frightening creature that he described as being similar to a dog. There were other sightings of odd creatures and even a young girl swinging from a tree limb witnessed by various members of the family.
Soon after, the Bell family experienced poltergeist activity in their home. This began as knocking on the walls and doors. The activity quickly increased with the sound of chains being dragged over the floors throughout the home. Some of the ghostly happenings also included disembodied sounds of dogs snarling, bedding ripped from the beds while the family slept, and hair pulled. The Bell's daughter Betsy seemed to be targeted. She was pinched, slapped, and tormented relentlessly.
The spirit also targeted John Bell, Sr. with a vengeance, and it began vocalizing its threats to kill him. The spirit once identified itself as Old Kate Batts witch. It claimed that John, Sr., had disturbed its resting place. The haunting lasted for four years, during which time John Bell, Sr. died. Many other strange events happened where the spirit was in two places at the same time and visited a local man's family in England. The spirit swore to return in seven years, which it did in 1828.
However, this time when the witch ghost returned, the family ignored the spirit, and it left. Was it possible that the spirit had previously received its power by feeding off of the Bell family's fear and stress? When the family denied it that kind of emotional energy, perhaps the spirit was unable to manifest the same way it had previously.
This tale is so pervasive that several films were made about the Bell family and their paranormal and supernatural encounters with the spirit. Every family member was affected, as well as visitors, including Andrew Jackson. The property that the family owned continues to receive visitors to this day, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bell Witch.
The White Lady
The tragic, creepy story of The White Lady is about a macabre haunting that dates back to the 1800s. The White Lady ghost wanders the night, wailing and calling for her murdered children. There are several versions of what happened to The White Lady's children.
One version tells of her being distraught over her husband's infidelity and in a fit of rage, she murdered their children. She is doomed to walk the Earth in her remorse and guilt, crying out in her agony.
Another less evil version is that she was the victim of a murderer and forced to watch her children slaughtered before she was savagely murdered. She now wanders the Earth trying to find her children.
And yet, another version of this tragic tale, is her children disappeared one morning while out playing near a forest. The White Lady searched and searched for her babies and, so distraught over their disappearance, she took her own life.
Now, she is doomed and never able to join her children in the afterlife. Instead, she is seen shimmering white and wandering about the night, her wailing sobs eerily chilling the night as she calls out to her children to come home. Those who encounter The White Lady report she's kind to women and children, but vengeful towards men.
Ghosts of Drury Lane
The ghosts of Drury Lane began haunting The Theatre Royal soon after it opened in 1663. Today's building is the fourth one with two destroyed by fire and one demolished. With hundreds of years of history, it's no wonder that the theater has accumulated so many ghosts.
In the early 1800s, Drury Lane was known as London's most haunted theater and still is. Over the centuries, actors have died on stage or on premises. These events make the theater primed for ghostly haunts. There are many ghosts that are permanent residents.
Among the most prominent ghosts is the Man in Grey who appears dressed in eighteenth century clothing. This frightening ghost is seen as a dapper gentleman, with his powdered wig and wearing a tricorn hat (three cornered). He appears with riding boots wearing a gray cape. It's usually the actors who see him in the audience.
So, who is this ghost that actors take seeing as a good omen? Some believe he may be the mysterious skeleton discovered during an 1848 renovation. The man's remains were dressed in rotting gray-colored clothing. The most unsettling find was the dagger still in his ribs. To add to the mystery, there were playing cards strewn around his skeleton. It certainly sounds like a card game gone bad.
There are many reports of a spooky white face floating about the theater. People have been terrified when walking through the wings of the theater and coming face-to-face with the floating face. Some believe it is the ghost of comedian Joseph Grimaldi who died in 1837. He would put on a white face for his clown costume, but instead of making his audience laugh, his ghost scares them.
In 1735, Irish actor Charles Macklin got into an argument with Thomas Hallam, another actor. In his rage, Macklin thrust his cane at the man's face and unfortunately the cane tip rammed into Hallman's eye, instantly killing him. Convicted of manslaughter, Macklin lived to be 100 years old. His ghost is seen moving about the theater.
Slamming doors, phantom footfalls, and disembodied voices are just a few of the other scary hauntings that have taken place in the theater that the Victorians whispered about when sharing real ghost stories.
Marie Laveau's Ghost
In the 1800s, Marie Laveau was a well-known Creole Voodoo (also Voodou) practitioner and devout Catholic from New Orleans. She was held in high regard within the Cajun and Creole communities. Her magic and spectacles were a sight to behold as the Queen of Voodou in New Orleans. It was rumored that she used a mixture of Voodoo, occult practices, and Catholicism in her healings.
Marie Laveau was known as a caring and kind person. She nursed patients through yellow fever and volunteered as a religious advisor for prisoners. The legend of Marie Laveau took on a new layer after her death in 1881 at the age of 79 or 98, depending who you ask.
Many residents, friends, acquaintances, and even those who only knew of her spectacular showmanship reputation, swore they saw the Voodoo Queen strolling through New Orleans soon after her death. Those sightings continue to this day. In fact, people travel to her tomb in their pilgrimage to seek her grace and help. Bad people have historically been well-advised to stay out of her path or face the wrath of her contempt.
Ghosts of Spirit Cabinet Séances
One of the strangest ghostly phenomena to come out of the Victorian Era of Spiritualism was spirit cabinet séances. All types of ghost stories surrounded this odd form of medium showmanship. This original creation of the famous magicians, the Davenport Brothers, was eagerly adapted by mediums for spirit cabinet séances.
The medium would step into the cabinet and in front of the audience, tied up and restrained, usually while sitting in a chair. A curtain would be drawn over the cabinet opening. All manner of paranormal activity ensued in the darkened room. Frightening ghost faces would emerge past the cabinet curtains, ghost hands would reach out and often people would scream in fear.
The cabinet supposedly helped the medium produce ectoplasm. Disembodied voices traveled about the room. Those in attendance swore they'd witnessed ghosts and spirits, while much of the performance was done in the dark by cabinet attendants who used all manner of props, included instruments.
Ghosts of Headless Women
In the late 1800s, a young woman, Maggie Bloxom in Woodland, Delaware, was riding in a carriage when the horse was startled as the carriage made its way over a bridge. The carriage along with Maggie toppled over the bridge into the water, and poor Maggie was decapitated.
The Victorians found this a fascinating tale of the ghost of a headless woman who would appear on the bridge as you called her name three times. Some reported the phantom sound of a horse's hooves.
Tales of Maggie answering the call of her name as her ghostly body floated from the woods, holding her head between her outstretched hands. The tale continued in a gruesome request by the decapitated woman begging the witnesses to set her head back onto her body and the terrified witness running away with Maggie's head screeching for them to return and help her.
Another headless woman tale comes from 1898 Buckingham, England. Two men riding late at night in a horse-drawn trap encountered a frightening sight at a crossroads. Standing in their way was a headless woman dressed in all black.
Startled, the horse backed away from the specter and the trap ended up in the ditch. The headless creature disappeared, and the two men got the trap back on the road and continued their journey.
However, the eerie dark figure once more blocked their path. Frightened, the men pulled the horse to a stop and watched as the ghost floated into the nearby pasture and vanished. The villagers avoided this section of the road for several years.
Ghosts in Murdered Man's House
In 1878, a man was killed in his home, but the murderer never found. His cottage remained abandoned for a couple of years until it was rented to a family. Soon after moving in, the family began to experience paranormal and supernatural events.
A ghastly blood stain would appear on the floor where the man was stabbed to death and then vanish. This terrified the family. But it was just the beginning of the reign of terror they endured. The furniture would suddenly move on its own and dishes would fly from the cupboards, and the dining table would lift up and down.
If this wasn't enough to scare the family out of the house, the sudden appearance of the murdered man, peeping in through the windows with a frightening face, certainly was. The next morning, the family packed up and fled the house. No one else ever took up residence in the home and it remained abandoned.
Creepy Dancing Benjamin Franklin Ghost
Sometime in the late 1800s, the first sighting of what was to become many began. Eyewitnesses claimed to see the statue of Benjamin Franklin outside the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania step down from its pedestal and walk through the town. These reports declared the statue came to life and would dance in the streets of Philadelphia.
Other stories surfaced of Benjamin Franklin's ghost wandering about the library and the city. Perhaps the stories of the statue were actually his ghost. No one really knows, but it made for a great freaky ghost story that the Victorians loved retelling. They embellished the story about the toga wearing statue coming to life at the stroke of midnight, or a ghostly Ben Franklin emerging from the statue, to wander about the streets. No matter which version was the true one or if any of the tales were true, it was a favorite ghost story that provided fodder for the era of Spiritualism.
Chilling Victorian Era Ghost Stories
There were many real ghost stories that circulated among the Victorians. Each scary ghost story was told and retold with an insatiable craving for more frightening tales.