I love a great ghost story!
The following story comes from miscellaneous notes extracted from ‘Local Records’ held in the Durham Mining History Museum in England, and from the “Historical Register of Remarkable Events” by John Sykes, published in 1833.
In 1631, two men, Mark Sharp and John Walker were accused of murdering Anne, a young relative of Walker’s, who kept his house and was supposedly with child.
The case for the prosecution rested on the testimony of a miller named Graham (or Graime¹), who claimed to have been haunted by the blood-soaked ghost of a young woman with five open wounds to her head, who told him her name was Anne Walker, that her corpse lay in a coal pit on the moor, and that she had be murdered with a pick axe² by Mark Sharp who had been acting on orders from John Walker, the unnamed father of her unborn child.
According to Graham, Anne’s ghost threatened to haunt him until he relayed the information to a justice of the peace. After the apparition appeared twice more, Graham relented and told the local magistrate. A search was made to verify the story, and the body of Anne Walker was found with five wounds to the head in the exact location the ghost had described, together with a pick and bloody shoes belonging to Sharp. Sharp and Walker were apprehended, found guilty and hanged.
1. Local Records or Historical Register of Remarkable Events by John Sykes, Published in 1833 in two volumes. http://www.dmm.org.uk/localrec/lr-1631.htm
2. Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain p.106.
Reflections of the Soul
When Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in the East Room of the White House, “The heavy gildings of the frames were entirely enshrouded, while the plates of the mirrors were covered with white crape.”¹
The belief that all the mirrors in the house of the recently deceased should be covered stems from the 16th century belief that mirrors reflected one’s soul. It was thought that at the time of death when the soul was free to leave the body, it was vulnerable to being trapped in the mirrored glass and taken by the Devil. During the Victorian Age, it was commonly held that if you saw yourself in a mirror in a room where a person had recently died you, too, would die shortly thereafter.²
(Coggeshall, William Turner. (2013). pp. 110-1. Lincoln Memorial: The Journeys of Abraham Lincoln; From Springfield to Washington, 1861. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1865)
In 19th century Europe and America, the dead were always carried out of the house feet first. This was done to prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning another member of the family to follow.
It was also believed that if the body came out head first, the spirit would be able to remember what the house looked like and could return. However, if the body was carried out feet first, the spirit wouldn’t know which house it came from, and so could not come back.
Touching the Dead
The custom of Touching the Dead still lingers in many countries today, including some rural areas in the North of Britain.
One explanation for this custom is that touching protects the person involved from being haunted by the ghost of the deceased.
It was also once believed that a murdered victim’s body would bleed at the touch of his or her murderer. Long after this crude form of ordeal had been abandoned by the courts, it was often resorted to in secret. Refusal to participate in the test often left a person under a permanent cloud of suspicion.
Source: “Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain” 2nd Ed. 1977 The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London.