Archive for October, 2015

Duncan is best known for being the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act, 1735. She was born November 25th, 1897 and died December 6th, 1956. At school she was known to have alarmed fellow pupils with prophecies of doom and displaying hysterical behaviour.

She married Henry Duncan in 1916 who supported her talents and in 1926 she went from clairvoyant to medium, offering séances to summon recently deceased spirits via emitting ectoplasm. She worked part time in a bleach factory and was a mother of six, a pretty busy lady.

In 1928 photography showed her tricks via dolls and old sheets as drapes. In 1931 the ectoplasm was supposedly cheesecloth, paper mixed with egg-white and toilet paper. In 1933 a trick to summon ‘Peggy’ a spirit was investigated and she was fined £10 for fraud, Harry Price concluded it was all fake and so why am I reporting on her? Well… here goes.

November 1941, WWII, she held a seance in Portsmouth and laid down the claim that a sailor spirit told her the HMS Barham had been sunk. An official announcement for the sinking came months later in February 1942. Due to this the Navy took interest in her claims. There was scepticism about her claims of the spirit telling her this because close family members of the victims had been informed about it. It was summarised that she might has known as around 861 families at the time could have been discussing it with the links they had, and she may well have over heard the news.

Duncan’s claims were taken seriously enough that they arrested her on a minor other issue, but then found the clause of witchcraft. She had a mock-up of an old HMS Barham hat band but after 1939 they hadn’t been worn. There seemed to be concerns that she would leak more confidential information, whatever her source, and that she was exploiting the recently bereaved. Seances did not come cheap, incidentally they don’t these days either…

She was found guilty on one count, and she was imprisoned for nine months. Winston Churchill seemed unimpressed by what seemed to be a waste of time and resources on “obsolete tomfoolery”. In 1945 she was released and promised to stop, which clearly wasn’t the case as she was arrested again in 1956. There was no sign of anything odd about her death after though, she had been suffering ill-health from around 1944 and was an obese woman who would move slowly due to heart trouble.

All too often when the media talks about these events it is with a very sceptical approach. Replications of their so-called trickery has been given as the reason not to trust mediums etc. Helen Duncan was unfortunate in the media enough times I’d question why folks even continued to see her, but the grief of a lost one is hard and people may well have given her more benefit over doubt due to this.

In the case of HMS Barnham, she was in Portsmouth, a naval town in a time where it was already considered a badly kept secret. Sailors of the living variety may have been talking and she overheard it. Perhaps she truly was told by a spirit but I hate to admit full poo-poo on the situation however I would say the only S involved here was media speculation and sensation.

Helen-duncan-cheesecloth

Advertisements

London has plenty of ghostly tales, so I’ve picked one of the stories that caught my eye. In the early hours of some mornings a number 7 bus had been witnessed around the Cambridge Gardens, the last report was May 1990.

In 1934 it got public attention, a motorist swerved for what seemed no reason and was killed when his car impacted with a wall and then set fire. An inquest was duly helped and witnesses spot about the phantom bus. It was seen pretty much at the spot of the fatal accident. It always appeared around 1.15am, the time the crash occurred. It would race towards the driver, terrifying them as it came down along the centre of the road.

There would be no sign of a driver, there were no lights on either. Motorists would be convinced of the oncoming collision and swerve to avoid the bus. When they looked around again the bus had vanished without a trace.

You can take London Bus Tours that focus on the fact London has a great many spectres and ghouls. The history of London is both impressive and lengthy, from burials grounds, coffin’s transported on trains, London Tower itself and more.

 

Ghost Bus Tours Routemaster

Vancouver has an island with the HMCS anchored as a Canadian Naval Base, it’s a pretty looking island with a more sinister name, because there are tales of human sacrifice and slaughter attached to it.

Local legend has it that in the 1700’s two tribes of the North and South Salish tribe were at war, during one particularly fierce battle the Southern tribe took women, children and elders as hostages. They were marked for death, the Northern tribes had hoped for peaceful reconcile but they were cruelly slaughtered and more than 200 Northern warriors were killed.

After a while the stories were forgotten and it was a burial place for the Salish First Nations and then European settlers. John Morton was one of Vancouver’s first settlers to visit in 1862. He discovered 100’s of red cedar boxes tied up in the trees and one had fallen open, it revealed a pile of bones and a tassel of black hair.

The new settlers pushed the Salish away, they used the island and grounds for their own cemetery which meant they were disturbing native grounds. On the grounds they buried suicides, railway casualties, Chinese lepers, prostitutes and all manner of what might be unsavoury types. Victims of the Vancouver Fire and the smallpox epidemic were added there too.

Burials stopped in 1887, ghost strories did not. Tales of inhuman and blood-curdling screams being heard from the island have been recounted. Supposedly figures walking on the island in the fog, with red glowing eyes, are amongst the tales.

A01923 CVA 677 136 Deadman's Island 191.jpg
A01923 CVA 677 136 Deadman’s Island 191” by Unknown – This image is available from the City of Vancouver Archives under the reference
number CVA 677-136
This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.

Vancouver Museums and Planetarium Association fonds. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.