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The Floating Head Of The Benrachett Inn Near The Perth Road Dundee

Some years ago, when I was engaged in collecting cases for a book I
contemplated publishing, on Haunted Houses in England and Wales, I
was introduced to an Irish clergyman, whose name I have forgotten, and
whom I have never met since. Had the incident he related taken place
in England or Wales, I should have noted it down carefully, but as it
occurred in Scotland (and I had no intention then of bringing out a
volume on Scottish phantasms), I did not do so.

My memory, however, I can assure my readers, in spite of the many
ghost tales committed to it,--for scarcely a day passes that I do not
hear one,--seldom fails, and the Irish clergyman's story, which I am
about to relate, comes back to me now with startling vividness.

One summer evening, early in the eighties, Mr. Murphy--the name by
which I will designate the originator of this story--and his wife
arrived in Dundee. The town was utterly unknown to them, and they were
touring Scotland for the first time. Not knowing where to put up for
the night, and knowing no one to whom they could apply for
information, they consulted a local paper, and from the long list of
hotels and boarding-houses advertised therein selected the Benrachett
Inn, near the Perth Road, as being the one most likely to meet their
modest requirements. They were certainly not disappointed with the
exterior of the hotel they had chosen, for as soon as they saw it they
exclaimed simultaneously, What a delightful old place! And old it
certainly was, for the many-gabled, oaken structure and projecting
windows unquestionably indicated the sixteenth century, whilst, to
enhance the effect and give it a true touch in detail of ye ancient
times, a huge antique lantern was hung over the entrance. Nor did the
interior impress them less favourably. The rooms were large, and low,
the ceilings, walls, floors, and staircase all of oak. The
diamond-lattice windows, and narrow, tortuous passages, and
innumerable nooks and crannies and cupboards, created an atmosphere of
combined quaintness and comfort that irresistibly appealed to the
Murphys. Viewed under the searching rays of the sun, and cheered by
the voices of the visitors, the interior of the house, for artistic
taste and cheerfulness, would indeed be hard to beat; but, as Mrs.
Murphy's eyes wandered up the stairs and down the corridors, she was
filled with misgivings as to how the place would strike her at night.

Though not nervous naturally, and by no means superstitious, at night,
when the house was dark and silent, and the moon called forth the
shadows, she was not without that feeling of uneasiness which most
people--even avowed sceptics, experience when passing the night in
strange and novel quarters.

The room they engaged--I cannot say selected, as, the hotel being
full, they had Hobson's choice--was at the end of a very long
passage, at the back of the house, and overlooking the yard. It was a
large apartment, and in one of its several recesses stood the bed, a
gigantic, ebony four-poster, with spotlessly clean valance, and, what
was of even greater importance, well-aired sheets. The other furniture
in the room, being of the same sort as that in the majority of
old-fashioned hostels, needs no description; but a fixture in the
shape of a cupboard, a deep, dark cupboard, let into the wall facing
the bed, instantly attracted Mrs. Murphy's attention. There is always
something interesting in cupboards, particularly old and roomy
cupboards, when it is night-time and one is about to get into bed. It
is then that they suggest all manner of fascinating possibilities.

It was to this cupboard, then, that Mrs. Murphy paid the greatest
attention, before commencing to undress prior to getting into bed. She
poked about in it for some moments, and then, apparently satisfied
that no one was hidden there, continued her investigation of the room.
Mr. Murphy did not assist--he pleaded fatigue, and sat on the corner
of the bed munching a gingerbread and reading the Dundee Advertiser
till the operation was over. He then helped Mrs. Murphy unpack their
portmanteau, and, during the process, whiled away so much time in
conversation, that they were both startled when a clock from some
adjacent church solemnly boomed twelve. They were then seized with
something approaching a panic, and hastened to disrobe.

I wish we had a night-light, John, Mrs. Murphy said, as she got up
from her prayers. I suppose it wouldn't do to keep one of the candles
burning. I am not exactly afraid, only I don't fancy being left in the
dark. I had a curious sensation when I was in the cupboard just now--I
can't exactly explain it--but I feel now that I would like the light
left burning.

It certainly is rather a gloomy room, Mr. Murphy remarked, raising
his eyes to the black oak ceiling, and then allowing them to dwell in
turn on each of the angles and recesses. And I agree with you it
would be nice if we had a night-light, or, better still, gas. But as
we haven't, my dear, and we shall be on our feet a good deal
to-morrow, I think we ought to try and get to sleep as soon as

He blew out the candle as he spoke, and quickly scrambled into bed. A
long hush followed, broken only by the sound of breathing, and an
occasional ticking as of some long-legged creature on the wall and
window-blind. Mrs. Murphy could never remember if she actually went to
sleep, but she is sure her husband did, as she distinctly heard him
snore--and the sound, so detestable to her as a rule, was so welcome
to her then. She was lying listening to it, and wishing with all her
soul she could get to sleep, when she suddenly became aware of a
smell--a most offensive, pungent odour, that blew across the room and
crept up her nostrils. The cold perspiration of fear at once broke out
on her forehead. Nasty as the smell was, it suggested something more
horrible, something she dared not attempt to analyse. She thought
several times of rousing her husband, but, remembering how tired he
had been, she desisted, and, with all her faculties abnormally on the
alert, she lay awake and listened. A deathlike hush hung over the
house, interrupted at intervals by the surreptitious noises peculiar
to the night--enigmatical creaks and footsteps, rustlings as of
drapery, sighs and whisperings--all very faint, all very subtle, and
all possibly, just possibly, attributable to natural causes. Mrs.
Murphy caught herself--why, she could not say--waiting for some
definite auditory manifestation of what she instinctively felt was
near at hand. At present, however, she could not locate it, she could
only speculate on its whereabouts--it was somewhere in the direction
of the cupboard. And each time the stench came to her, the conviction
that its origin was in the cupboard grew. At last, unable to sustain
the suspense any longer, and urged on by an irresistible fascination,
she got softly out of bed, and, creeping stealthily forward, found her
way with surprisingly little difficulty (considering it was pitch dark
and the room was unfamiliar to her) to the cupboard.

With every step she took the stink increased, and by the time she had
reached the cupboard she was almost suffocated. For some seconds she
toyed irresolutely with the door handle, longing to be back again in
bed, but unable to tear herself away from the cupboard. At last,
yielding to the demands of some pitilessly exacting unknown influence,
she held her breath and swung open the door. The moment she did so the
room filled with the faint, phosphorescent glow of decay, and she
saw, exactly opposite her, a head--a human head--floating in mid-air.
Petrified with terror, she lost every atom of strength, and, entirely
bereft of the power to move or articulate a sound, she stood
stock-still staring at it. That it was the head of a man, she could
only guess from the matted crop of short red hair that fell in a
disordered entanglement over the upper part of the forehead and ears.
All else was lost in a loathsome, disgusting mass of detestable
decomposition, too utterly vile and foul to describe. On the abnormal
thing beginning to move forward, the spell that bound Mrs. Murphy to
the floor was broken, and, with a cry of horror, she fled to the bed
and awoke her husband.

The head was by this time close to them, and had not Mrs. Murphy
dragged her husband forcibly out of its way, it would have touched

His terror was even greater than hers; but for the moment neither
could speak. They stood clutching one another in an awful silence.
Mrs. Murphy at length gasped out, Pray, John, pray! Command the thing
in the name of God to depart. Mr. Murphy made a desperate effort to
do so, but not a syllable would come. The head now veered round and
was moving swiftly towards them, its awful stench causing them both to
retch and vomit. Mr. Murphy, seizing his stick, lashed at it with all
his might. The result was one they might well have expected. The stick
met with no resistance, and the head continued to advance. Both Mr.
and Mrs. Murphy then made a frantic attempt to find the door, the head
still pursuing them, and, tripping over something in their wild haste,
fell together on the floor. There was now no hope, the head had caught
them up; it hovered immediately above them, and, descending lower,
lower, and lower, finally passed right through them, through the
floor, and out of sight. It was long ere either of them could
sufficiently recover to stir from the floor, and when they did move,
it was only to totter to their bed, and to lie with the bedclothes
well over their heads, quivering and quaking till the morning.

The hot morning sun dissipating their fears, they got up, and,
hurrying downstairs, demanded an interview with their landlord. It was
in vain the latter argued it was all a nightmare they showed the
absurdity of such a theory by vehemently attesting they had both
simultaneously experienced the phenomena. They were about to take
their departure, when the landlord, retracting all he had said,
offered them another room and any terms they liked, if only they
would stay and hold their tongues.

I know every word of what you say is true, he said, in such
submissive tones that the tender hearts of Mr. and Mrs. Murphy
instantly relented, and they promised to remain. But what am I to do?
I cannot shut up a house which I have taken on a twenty years' lease,
because one room in it is haunted--and, after all, there is only one
visitor in twenty who is disturbed by the apparition. What is the
history of the head? Why, it is said to be that of a pedlar who was
murdered here over a hundred years ago. The body was hidden behind the
wainscoting, and his head under the cupboard floor. The miscreants
were never caught; they are supposed to have gone down in a ship that
sailed from this port just about that time and was never heard of

This is the gist of the story the clergyman told me, and, believing
it as I undoubtedly do to be true, there is every reason to suppose
that the inn, to which I have, of course, given a fictitious name, if
still in existence, is still haunted.

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