Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Haunted Tower of London by Charles G Harper 1907

The Haunted Tower of London by Charles George Harper 1907

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Royal palaces should, by all the canons of the supernatural, be haunted. If convulsions of nature happen, according to old belief, when the great die, and if—as was certainly the case— the death of Oliver Cromwell at Hampton Court Palace and the coincidence of an exceptional storm were thought to have some mysterious affinity, it should be the merest commonplace to see ghosts in ancient palaces. Some such legend has taken root at Kensington Palace. It was there that George the Second died, October 25th, 1760. He had long been kept within doors by ill-health, and—hasty, choleric personage that he was—bore it ill. The winds, too, were in the wrong quarter, and kept back the ships carrying anxiously-awaited and long-overdue despatches from his beloved Hanover.

Thus it was that, during his last hours, the King was continually gazing from the windows, up at the curious weather-vane, bearing the conjoined cyphers of William and Mary, that to this day twirls upon the cupola of the quaint tower forming the principal entrance to the Palace. He died before the wind changed; and still, they say, at night a ghostly face peers from the old windows at that weather-sign, and a voice asks irritably, in broken English, "Vhy tondt dey come?"

If one spot more than any other should be haunted, that place is assuredly the Tower of London. Many are the brave and the true; many, too, the brave and yet the false, who have suffered at the hands of the executioner on Tower Hill, or the equally fateful Tower Green, outside the church of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula, whose grim name—Saint Peter-in-the-Fetters—is so thoroughly in keeping with the history and the spirit of the place.

But the historic personages whose lives were cut short by the headsman's axe, or who dragged out a long and hopeless captivity within the massive walls of the grim fortress, sleep untroubled the long sleep of centuries. No stories are told of Anne Boleyn, of Lady Jane Grey, of Lord Guildford Dudley, of Raleigh, revisiting the scene of their last hours on earth; and the tales of ghostly shapes that haunt the precincts of the Tower on the eve of the Sovereign's death are— well, romantic.

But the very remarkable story told in 1860 by Edward Lenthal Swifte, sometime Keeper of the Crown Jewels, has elements of the fantastic and the horrible which leave the ordinary ghost story far behind. Mr. Swifte never ceased to believe in the supernatural character of the inexplicable occurrence he narrates.

"I have often purposed," he says, "to leave behind me a faithful record of all I personally know of this strange story. Forty-three years have passed, and its impression is as vividly before me as on the moment of its occurrence.

"In 1814 I was appointed Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower, where I resided with my family till my retirement in 1852. One Saturday night in October 1817, about 'the witching hour,' I was at supper with my wife, her sister, and our little boy, in the sitting-room of the Jewel House, which—then comparatively modernized—is said to have been the 'doleful prison' of Anne Boleyn, and of the ten bishops whom Oliver Cromwell piously accommodated therein. For an accurate picture of the locus in quo my scene is laid. The room was—as it still is—irregularly shaped, having three doors and two windows, which last are cut nearly nine feet deep into the outer wall; between these there is a chimney-piece projecting far into the room, and (then) surmounted with a large oil picture. On the night in question, the doors were all closed, heavy and dark cloth curtains were let down over the windows, and the only light in the room was that of two candles on the table. I sat at the foot of the table, my son on my right hand, his mother fronting the chimney-piece, and her sister on the opposite side. I had offered a glass of wine and water to my wife, when, on putting it to her lips, she paused, and exclaimed, 'Good God! what is that?' I looked up and saw a cylindrical figure, like a glass tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm, and hovering between the ceiling and the table; its contents appeared to be a dense fluid, white and pale azure, like the gathering of a summer cloud, and incessantly mingling within the cylinder. This lasted about two minutes, when it began slowly to move before my sister-in-law; then, following the oblong shape of the table, before my son and myself; passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder (observe, there was no mirror opposite to her in which she could there behold it). Instantly she crouched down, and with both hands covering her shoulder, she shrieked out, 'O Christ! it has seized me!' Even now, while writing, I feel the fresh horror of that moment. I caught up my chair, struck at the wainscot behind her, rushed upstairs to the children's room, and told the terrified nurse what I had seen. Meanwhile, the other domestics had hurried into the parlour, where their mistress recounted to them the scene, even as I was detailing it above stairs."

The comparative insensibility to, or receptiveness of, phenomena of this kind, which divides human beings into "matter-of-fact" people and into the class from which spiritualistic "mediums" emerge, is illustrated here by Mr. Swifte's statement that, although he and his wife distinctly saw this uncanny shape, neither his sister-in-law nor his son beheld it.

Scepticism met Mr. Swifte at every turn when he told his story next morning, and the chaplain put it to him, "if one person might not have his natural senses deceived? And if one, why might not two?" A very dangerous argument for a minister of religion, dealing professionally with the supernatural (which is the basis of religion), to indulge in; and Mr. Swifte very pertinently answered, "If two, why not two thousand?"—an argument which would reduce history, secular or sacred, to a fable.

"Our chaplain," he continued, "suggested the possibilities of some foolery having been intromitted at my windows, and proposed the visit of a scientific friend, who minutely inspected the parlour, and made the closest investigation, but could not in any way solve the mystery." He suggested that if he were allowed to bring his scientific apparatus and place it upon the table, or if he could plant it on the walls near the window, and have the curtains raised, he could produce a similar illusion; but he did not undertake to reproduce it under the conditions which accompanied its original appearance, nor did he go so far as to explain how an illusion could produce the physical sensation of seizing one by the shoulder.

It was true, as Mr. Swifte candidly remarks, that, a few days before, some young ladies residing in the Tower had been producing apparitions, but no one ever explained how it could be possible for them to introduce anything of the kind into the room where this extraordinary occurrence took place; and the mystery remained a mystery.

Mr. Swifte further recounts the story of a singular incident that took place a few days after his own terrible experience. "One of the night sentries at the Jewel Office, a man who was in perfect health and spirits, and was singing and whistling up to the moment of the occurrence, was alarmed by a figure like a huge bear issuing from under the Jewel Room door. He thrust at it with his bayonet, which stuck in the door, even as my chair had dinted the wainscot; he dropped in a fit, and was carried senseless to the guardroom.

"When on the morrow I saw the unfortunate soldier in the main guard-room, his fellow-sentinel was also there, and testified to having seen him at his post just before the alarm, awake and alert, and had even spoken to him. I saw the unfortunate man again on the following day, but changed beyond my recognition; in another day or two, the brave and steady soldier, who would have mounted a breach, or led a forlorn hope FRIGHTENED TO DEATH with unshaken nerves, died—at the presence of a shadow."

The soldier was buried some days later, with due military honours, in the long-since-abolished churchyard of St. Katharine's-by-the-Tower.

See also The Paranormal and Supernatural - 400 Books on DVDrom

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