Youth attempts a grisly dare but learns to regret his impudence
By Richard Holland
This is the second of the two ghost stories to be found in Leonard DeVries’ 1974 book ‘Orrible Murder. It is an extract from The Illustrated Police News of July 10, 1869. Unfortunately, the extract is clearly a follow-up to an earlier story, so I am unable to offer any further details about ‘the man Crookes’. Right at the end of the piece we are given a location, Dronfield, in northern Derbyshire (a place more recently in the news for having seen a lot of UFO activity recently). I don’t normally print yarns about fake ghosts but this one amused me – and it’s a great picture.
‘On Saturday evening a company of young men were in conversation about the man Crookes, who had committed suicide a few days before by hanging himself, and a bet was made by one of the party that he dared not go and touch the tree where the fatal act had taken place any time between eleven and twelve o’clock at night. At the time appointed he made his way to the spot, inspired with all the courage necessary for his errand, care being taken that a second person had been despatched before him in the character of a ghost.
‘On his arrival the youth found the mysterious citizen of another world there guarding the sacred tree, dressed in white and having on his head a human skull, inside which a lighted candle was burning. Nothing daunted the valorous hero marched boldly up to the tree, and on attempting to touch it, its spiritual guard dealt him a blow with a stick and threw him down.
‘Upon this his courage began somewhat to give way, and, on rising in a state of great trepidation, he assumed a devotional attitude and raising his hands he exclaimed “Oh, spirit, I conjure thee, harm me not; although thy body is dead I know thy soul still liveth.” Having partially rallied from the first encounter he made a second attempt to touch the tree; he was again repulsed and another blow dealt him across the arm.
‘The second round seemed to have the effect of renewing his courage, and determined to test his antagonist as to whether the was a spiritual or a corporal visitor, the plucky adventurer made the fence near, and, while in the act of drawing a hedge-stake, the ghost appeared close behind him and threw him against the thorns and briars. Having extricated himself he was again thrown on the ground and kept down until midnight was turned and so lost the wager. When released he scampered down the fields to Dronfield at a furious rate, shrieking and screaming until he reached home.’
One wonders how the chap dressed as a ghost managed to keep his candle alight. That’s assuming it really was a fake and not the irritated spirit of the unhappy suicide.