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Monday, 24 October 2011

Tracey's Ghost

     Samuel Johnson is famously said to have given as the reason for a belief in ghosts, "the universal testimony of mankind." On the face of it, this carries weight. After all, if you wanted to make a case for the existence of vampires, you would ultimately have to explain why these animated, blood-sucking corpses are apparently restricted to the Balkans. But reports of ghosts can be found everywhere. Nor are they even uncommon. Back in 1894, a survey of 17,000 people by the British Society for Psychical Research revealed that one in ten in the general population claimed to have seen, heard, or been touched by, something not due to physical causes, and every survey since then has revealed a similar order of magnitude. Of course, it would be unwise to take every single one of these reports at face value, but if ghosts don't exist, then every single one must be ruled out.
     Under such circumstances, where did the orthodoxy, "there are no such things as ghosts" come from? Did somebody, perhaps during the Age of Reason, examine a major sample of the best and most cogent ghost sightings, and demonstrate that all of them had mundane explanations? If so, time has not been kind to him; his name and work have been lost to posterity. You will not find them referred to in any skeptical article. No! What really happened is it was decided, about the same time, that ghosts did not fit into the developing scientific materialist framework, and therefore they couldn't exist - and so, any alleged sighting must have a mundane explanation.
     As for me, I belong to the nine out of ten who have never encountered a ghost. However, I have noticed that if you raise the issue in a group of any size - say a dozen or two - you are likely to find someone who has had the experience. And in one case, the story she told was so vivid and impressive, that I wrote down the details before my memory had a chance to fade.

    The date was 20 January, 1975, and I was boarding temporarily with a group of young fellow-Christians in a house in Epping, Sydney. The youngest of these was a 17-year-old girl called Tracey C-, who had recently joined the group in order to get her life back together after a couple of years of wild abandonment, which had left her with alcoholic gastritis. Tracey was a memorable character in more ways than one. She told us about her recent employment as a cartoonist for Hanna Barbera in Australia, assisting in creating a cartoon of two fat kids for an ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC), and an ad for the short-lived product, Uncle Sam's underarm deodorant. (I'm not making this up.) She liked snakes, and claimed that she had once had a number of pet snakes roaming free in her home. She had first milked them of venom, and then broke the tips off their fangs so that the venom would never accumulate, but merely leak out one tiny drop at a time, which was of no danger. (I'm not making this up, either.) But Tracey liked all poisonous creatures, and the last I saw of her, she was recovering from the bite of a spider she had tried to befriend.
     In any case, on the night in question, a group of us were gathered around a table, and the conversation moved from the recent movie, The Exorcist, to ghosts in general. At that point, Tracey announced she had seen the "Green Girl" ghost, which she heard was about to be the subject of some TV documentary. I asked her to tell the story. When she did, it was in a manner which vividly caught the atmosphere of fear that had been present. I had no doubt whatsoever of her sincerity.
    The events had taken place the previous year. She and her friend, Liz had gone to visit her Uncle Charlie, who was 89 years old. Over the dinner table, he told them a story of his youth: about how, in that house, an Aboriginal fellow had murdered his girlfriend, called Green (and buried her?), and then committed suicide. He had hanged himself in such a position as to be hidden from view when the door was opened, with the result that Charlie, who regularly visited the place, did not discover the body for three days. This being in the country, when he finally did so, he buried it before going to the police. After that, the ghost began appearing regularly in that room.
     This, of course, is just the sort of thing you need to tell a couple of impressionable teenaged girls before putting them to bed in that very room. Uncle Charlie, with the wisdom and nonchalance of age, told them that ghost was quite harmless, so they shouldn't be scared if they saw it. He then went out to sleep on the verandah, leaving the girls lying together in bed. The door was shut, but the windows let in the moonlight, and their eyes became accustomed to the dark. There were trees outside, but Tracey was adamant that they were not so thick that any light shining through them could have caused the effects about to be described. Anyhow, it could not have been a lighting effect, even had the trees been dense.
    The tone of Tracey's voice as she told the story clearly revealed the "spooky" feeling which came over her and Liz as they wondered whether this was the room where the girl had been murdered. They then went outside, woke up Uncle Charlie, and asked him.Yes, he affirmed: that was the room, but there was nothing to worry about.
     Not surprisingly, the young ladies did not share his calm, philosophical view. Going back to the room, they turned on the transistor radio full blast, then pulled the blankets over their heads and cowered. From this you will gather:
  1. The girls were a couple of impressionable, imaginative teenagers; and
  2. There can be no doubt that they were well and truly awake when the phenomena commenced.
    Firstly, the transistor radio went off. It did no gradually die down; it audibly clicked off. Tracey pulled back the blankets and groped for the radio with her hand, confirming that it was definitely turned off. Now they were really scared. In the room appeared a shape like a pale shoulder, with the head pressed sideways against the other shoulder, the arm of which was outstretched laterally. There was a definite hand. However, the face bore no features except for two dark spots not quite the right shape, or in the right position, to be eyes. Below the shoulders, it "melted away" into thin air.
     At first Tracey referred to it as a "light shadow" but, on being questioned, she said that it was definitely three dimensional, moving in front of the walls, not upon them, nor did it change shape as it passed over an object, as a lighting effect would. It was transparent. For half an hour (surely a gross overestimation) it moved around the room, sometimes up and down, but never approaching the human occupants. Sometimes it would turn right around, but then its arm would swing away from them, never towards them.
    One can just imagine how they felt at the time. Incredibly, they did spend the following night in the same room, and witnessed the same phenomena. During the day, she said, poltergeist activity - the throwing of objects around the room - took place.

     Well, folks, that is the story I have been sitting on for the last 37 years. I never did learn whether the TV documentary on the Green Girl went ahead. I also sometimes wonder what happened to Tracey. But at least I wrote her story down while still fresh in my memory. It was unusual, but by no means unique. A couple of years ago, a woman told me how her defacto of 30 years had hanged himself (she had discovered the body), and that he later visited her, and laid his head on her lap.
    Do you know anybody with such a story? Of course you do! You just haven't asked. Probably everybody who has not personally encountered a ghost knows someone who has.

1 comment:

  1. "I belong to the nine out of ten who have never encountered a ghost."

    Don't be so sure mate.

    I'm a Scouser but around the end of the Eighties I was in London with some mates for a job interview and as we were all leaning over some railings I became spellbound by this sort of Gainsborough-like Blue Boy figure standing on the other side of the road (though he/she looked more like something from The Prince and the Pauper period).

    I tried to convince myself I was looking at an actor being filmed by some hidden camera but what made me doubt this was the quality of the garments which were clearly so expensive - I mean astonishingly so - I knew any production company'd go bust with production values that high.

    Of course they could've borrowed some real Tudor period stuff but that was the other thing - the garments'd clearly never been washed and were absolutely filthy.

    Even the skin of the young person wearing them (who looked about 16) was covered in the sort of almost luminous translucent black grease you only see on people who've been genuinely living on the streets for months.

    In spite of which he/she managed to somehow look both magnificently masculinely robust but also somehow femininely elegant and graceful - almost like an androgynous angel trying to pass itself off as an Elizabethan period vagrant.

    In the end unable to work out whether I was looking at an incredibly handsome girl or an unspeakably beautiful boy (and unable to spot where the hypothetical camera might be) I pointed her/him out to me mates and invited their comments only for them to keep on insisting they couldn't see what I was talking making me pissed off with them for teasing me too much - until I suddenly realised the 'angel' with a dirty face wasn't any longer there.

    Even then I kept try'n'o convince myself they must've somehow dashed away in between blinks but they hadn't - they'd simply vanishedn into thin air.

    I've also been in the company of others discussing the novel sights we were seeing only to them to then immediately refuse to discuss the matter any further the moment those novel sights vanished before our eyes.

    My point being Malcolm you've might've seen a ghost but because it was so unghostlike you simply didn't realise it.

    [If I've told you this before I apologise!].

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