Ghost debunking in 1876
From the Vancouver Independant, January 22, 1876 (a predecessor to The Columbian) comes this ghost tale:
A Haunted House
How Dr. Todd exorcised the spirits.
The following incident is from the autobiography of Dr. John Todd, recently published.
Hardly were they settled in their new home when there began to be rumors that the house they had occupied was “haunted.” It was a large three-storied house with brick ends, wood front and back. It was well lighted with a multitude of windows. It stood in the midst of a thick neighborhood, other houses clustering all around it. In short, there was nothing about the house, inside or out, that would lead one to suspect it was the place where ghosts would resort.
It was the last place one would select for a murder to be committed, and yet the house was said to be haunted. It stood empty and strange noises were heard in it. Sometimes it would seem to be filled with groans, then again with sighs, and then the patter of little feet would be heard and the wails of an infant.
The neighbors became excited. Some heard noises of all sorts, some only one, and some almost heard them.
In the night, when all was stillness and darkness, the noises were almost fearful. Some felt sure that “all was not right there;” some said “strange secrets lie concealed within these walls,” some were very sure that a murder had been committed there, and the dead one was haunting the place.
They were not exactly sure whether the murdered one was a full-grown man, as the many groans would seem to indicate, or whether it was a little child whose feet were pattering on the naked floor. They were almost afraid to go past the “haunted house” in the night and no one even in the day dared to enter it.
As I had occupied the house last, and as I had lost my little infant boy there, it was natural that I should hear of it; and, though I believe no one actually accused me of murder, yet they shook their heads and arched their brows and thought the whole thing wonderfully strange.
At first I paid no attention to it, but as the hints became louder and the whispers deeper, and the murmurs clearer, I saw it would injure the character of the house and prevent the owner from renting it, even if it did not injure me.
I must confess, however, that though I could never hear any noises as I passed by in the evening, yet the testimony of so many staggered me. I determined, therefore, to investigate it myself, and that very quietly.
So I procured the keys, and strange to say, went towards the house, and was seen to have the hardihood to enter it alone.
The neighbors gathered round the front door in the street to watch the result. I said nothing, but went in. A few moments satisfied me about the little feet that pattered on the floor!
There had ben many such, for the rats had made the house their headquarters, gnawing the floors, tearing off the paper from the walls, scattering the plaster and leaving their little foot-prints very abundantly. But the groans! I could find nothing that cast any light on them.
The house was silent as a tomb. The sunlight streamed in the windows, and I had only to think over the hours of joy and sorrow I had passed there. There I had had a happy home, had rejoiced over my first-born child and had there seen him breathe out his young spirit to God who gave it.
From room to room I wandered, and all was silence till I opened the chamber where my child died. Then instantly there was a sharp, deep groan.
What could it mean? The people about the door heard it, and what an awful feeling of terror went through them. I was not frightened, but I was at a loss to account for it. It evidently had been called out by my opening the door.
But the room was perfectly bare, not a thing in it.
Soon, the groan repeated. I now went to the chimney and tore away the fireboard, and looked up. And there, just in the throat of the fireplace, was – not a ghost – but a shingle that had blown into the chimney and had fallen down and lodged in the throat so that it could swing backward and forward and, when the wind blew, it would groan sharp, or shrill, or deep, according to the strength of the wind.
Thus it was that, on my opening the door and letting the wind into the room, the shingle swung and nearly filled the throat, and the air rushed and groaned past it.
I took pains to call up the people and I verily believe they wished rather to go home that to go in.
I put back the fireboard and opened the door, made them hear the groans, took away the fireboard again, showed the shingle and how it rattled and groaned, then took it away and put things back and opened the door. And – there were no more groans.
A little ratsbane scattered on the floor stopped “the pattering of little feet” and the house ceased to be haunted, and yet it was haunted as really as any one ever was, as I verily believe.