Unidentified Exploding Object

06 30 tunguskaToday is the anniversary of what is known as the Tunguska Event. It is named for the Tunguska river in a very remote area of Siberia. On June 30th 1908, it was the site of a massive explosion. The blast destroyed 830 square miles (2,150 sq km) of forest. It is the largest such event in recorded history and, even now, no one can really agree on what caused it. Luckily it was such a sparsely populated area that no fatalities were reported, and hopefully this is because there weren’t any.

Because it happened in such an isolated place, and because Russia was facing a period of extreme political upheaval at the time, no one visited the area to investigate the cause until 1921. There are a few eyewitness reports of the event. This is what a man named Semyon Borisovich Semyonov had to say when he was interviewed in 1930:

“…the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest. The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn’t bear it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few metres.”

Among those who witnessed the event, a few said they had seen an object in the sky, To some it was a red fiery ball, to others it seemed to be shaped like a tube and was blue or white in colour. Many agreed that it was too bright to look at. Most people just heard it and described a noise like thunder, or like artillery fire, or falling rocks. The tremors were recorded all over the world. For three days afterwards, glowing clouds were seen in the night sky, so bright that it was possible to read a newspaper, all over Northern Europe. The name for clouds that glow in a dark sky is ‘Noctilucent Clouds’, which is lovely. Here is a picture of some…

06 30 noctilucent clouds

The explosion is thought to have been caused either by an exploding meteorite or a comet. Leonid Kulik, the first man to investigate the site, expected to find a huge crater in the middle of the area of devastation, but what he found was a clump of trees that were stripped bare but still standing. For miles around the trees had been knocked down in a direction away from the blast. It seems that what ever caused it had exploded in the air, stripping the trees directly below it, with the force radiating outwards when it hit the ground.

Some mineral samples taken in the area suggest a meteorite, but it is far from conclusive. The lack of any obvious impact sites and the reports of glowing clouds suggest a comet. The glow could have been caused by fragments of dust and ice from the comet in the upper atmosphere catching the sun’s rays. I did find an eyewitness report that claimed a new lake had been formed in the explosion, and that it boiled for two days. But this seems to have been dismissed. However, there is a lake nearby called Lake Cheko which may or may not have been created by a fragment of meteorite. A team of investigators from the University of Bologna believe they have identified a large rock, deep in the lake which may be a piece of the meteorite. They also have evidence from the sediment in the lake that it may be only a hundred years old, but because the area is far from any centre of population, nobody can be certain how long it’s been there.

There are many other explanations on offer. Some suggest that a cloud of natural gas, from under the earth’s crust, may have been forced to the surface and then been ignited by lightening. Others that it was caused by a scientist called Nikola Tesla, who claimed to have invented, and therefore perhaps tested, a weapon that could transmit electricity through the air. Among some of the even crazier theories are a black hole colliding with the earth, an exploding spaceship and a nuclear bomb that somehow travelled back in time and exploded over Siberia. What ever happened, we are incredibly lucky that it did not explode over a major city. St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo are all on the same latitude, and could easily have been in the path of a comet, meteorite, spaceship or time-travelling bomb.

Don’t Stop Me Now

06 24 dancing plague 2Today is, as I mentioned yesterday, the feast day of Saint John the Baptist but, as I’ve already mentioned that, lets have a look what happened on this day in 1374 in Aachen, Germany. There was a sudden outbreak of Saint John’s Dance. A Dancing Plague was not an uncommon occurrence, there are many instances between the seventh and seventeenth centuries and their true cause is not known. The outbreak in Aachen was a pretty serious one. People began to dance hysterically and also to experience hallucinations. More and more people were drawn in and over the ensuing days thousands were involved. They danced until they were exhausted. They danced until and fell to the ground twitching and foaming at the mouth. Then, they got up and danced again. The plague spread to nearby towns and onwards across Europe for the next two years. The victims certainly were not enjoying their dancing. They were in pain. They often screamed for help and begged for mercy. Dancing Plagues were seen as a curse from Saint John or from Saint Vitus, but we can only guess at why they happened.

Several explanations have been put forward for the cause of the outbreaks. Ergot poisoning has been suggested. Ergot is a fungus that grows on wheat which would certainly have caused convulsions and hallucinations, but more commonly limbs were affected resulting in gangrene. You’d think if that had happened as well, someone would have mentioned it. It is also quite possible they occurred because people were under a great deal of psychological distress. Europe had been devastated by the Black Death and, in the area around Aachen there had been a terrible flood that washed away all the soil and would have made growing crops very difficult. Similar conditions preceded another outbreak of the Dancing Plague in Strasbourg in 1518. Some people probably just cracked and went crazy and then others followed suit.

No successful cure was really found. Many thought it was caused by demons and tried exorcism. Oddly, some people thought that music could be the cure. Some musicians were engaged to encourage the dancing in the hope that those afflicted would just become exhausted and stop. Others tried to play music to match the pace of the dance, hoping that if they gradually slowed the tune, they could bring the dance to a halt. In the Strasbourg outbreak, a special stage was constructed in the centre of the town in an effort to contain the dance. It didn’t work. Putting the dancers in such a prominent position only encouraged more to join in. Some attempts were made to remove things that seemed to upset the afflicted and make the dancing worse. For example, they seem to have been especially troubled by the sight of anything red. They also had a particular aversion to pointy shoes.

Although the dancing plague in Aachen is pretty well documented, I’ve found it hard to get to the historical accounts as medieval German isn’t one of my strong subjects but I did find a few fragments suggesting that those who started the dancing were not the townsfolk at all. They are described more like a band of travelling pilgrims of a peculiar dancing sect who wore colourful clothes They sought out holy places to perform their rituals. One chronicler notes that ‘in their songs, they uttered the names of devils never before heard’. Another that ‘many dance manias turned into mass orgies.’ It seems to be the Czechs and Bohemians that were regarded as responsible for the plague as they were considered well known for ‘sexual immorality including annual festivals involving the free partaking of sex.’ So it may have been, for some, just a more attractive proposition than praying in church, especially if you could blame it on a plague.

Incidentally, I found out the dancing plague is not the town of Aachen’s only claim to dancing fame. In October 1959 it possibly opened the first discothèque. That is, a dance hall in which records were played instead of having a live band. So it also may have employed the first DJ, a man named Klaus Quinine who called himself DJ Heinrich. I’d love to be able to say he rolled in from Bohemia with a crate of twelve inch remixes under his arm. But I can’t.

Throbbed like a Wounded Snake

06 18 moonOn the 18th June 1178, in Canterbury, just after sunset, five monks were gazing up at the moon when something very unusual happened. No one knows what is was, but it looked like this…

“There was a bright new moon, and as usual in that phase, its horns were tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn split in two. From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals, and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the moon which was below writhed, as it were, in anxiety, and, to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then after these transformations the moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.”

We know this because it was written down by a chronicler called Gervase of Canterbury. He had the story directly from the eyewitnesses. It must have looked as though the world was about to end. They must have been terrified. Sadly, as it happened more than eight hundred years ago, we can only guess at what really happened. There are a couple of theories though.

In 1978, a geologist called Jack B Hartung published an article suggesting that what the monks had witnessed was a comet or asteroid colliding with the Moon forming the 14 mile wide crater on the far side of the moon, now called the Giordano Bruno Crater. I mentioned Bruno only a few of days ago. A man whose entire body of work was banned by the Catholic Church between 1600 and 1966. Yet in 1961, he had a crater named after him. Which just goes to show, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

06 18 giordano bruno craterThe crater was certainly formed relatively recently as the impact marks are still visible on the lunar surface. But in geological terms, recently means any time in the last 350 million years. While 18th June 1178 is certainly a date within the last 350 million years, it is odd that no other historical records anywhere have anything to say about it at all.

More recently, in 2001, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, called Paul Withers, did a bit more research. He calculated that a crater of that size would have been caused by an object that was somewhere between a half and two miles across. It would have thrown around ten million tons of debris into the Earth’s atmosphere. It would have caused a week long meteorite storm. There would have been maybe 50,000 meteorites an hour raining down all over the planet. Yet a search of historical records from Europe, the Middle East, China and Korea finds no mention of it.

It is much more likely that what the monks saw was an exploding meteorite, directly between them and the moon, hurtling straight towards them. Still pretty exciting, but with less catastrophic potential. Such an event would only be visible if you were in a very specific spot, or at least within a mile or so. This would explain why only five people saw it.

I love historical descriptions of events that are completely mystifying to us. They paint such a fascinating picture, yet explain nothing. I enjoy the gulfs of understanding between us and our predecessors as much as the similarities. If you’re in the mood for more unexplained phenomena from history, there are more here.

One of Three

05 04 Saint_quiricoToday is the feast day of Saint Judas Cyriacus, bishop of Ancona, who was martyred in 360 AD. There are loads of saints and some of them have similar names, or even the same name. There is also a Saint Judas Cyriacus, bishop of Jerusalem, who died around 133 AD, who was the great-great grandson of one of Jesus’s brothers. Then the ‘Cyriacus’ part gets variously translated as: Quiriacus, Quiricus, Kyriakos, Ciriaco and Quirico. The picture on the left is the main one on his wikipedia and appears on pretty much every post I’ve seen about him. It’s certainly a good one, but I don’t think it’s him. I think it’s someone completely different from both of them. More of that in a minute though, I’ll tell you about him first.

He appears in a story about Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. She was sent to Jerusalem by her son, to search for the cross that Jesus was crucified on. There is a poem in old English called ‘Elene’ that you could look at, which will tell you the whole of this story. But it is extremely heroic and long, so probably don’t. Anyway Judas helped her, but only after he had been imprisoned in a dry well for seven days without food. Judas showed her where to find Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion. Then there was a sort of earthquake and a smell of perfume and Judas was immediately converted to Christianity. He began to dig and, underneath three hundred years worth of debris, he unearthed three crosses. But how were they to tell which one Jesus was crucified on? This is how they found out: They brought out a dead man and held over him each of the crosses in turn. When they came to the third one, the man was miraculously restored to life. Then, the devil appeared. He was angry because he had been cheated out of a soul. But Judas argued with him until he disappeared. After some more digging, he also found the nails that had pinned Jesus to the cross. Helena sent these nails to her son Constantine who had them fashioned into a bit for his horse.

The cross was soon broken up into smaller and smaller pieces and could be found in churches throughout the Christian world. Even in the year 348, the world was said to be full of relics of the cross of Jesus. By the sixteenth century, there were so many pieces of the ‘true cross’ that a man named John Calvin said there were enough to fill a large ship. Some theologians responded to this by explaining that wood from the true cross could miraculously multiply itself, thereby creating whatever amount was required to meet the need. You can’t really argue with that.

Judas was made bishop of Ancona, which is in Italy, and was martyred during the reign of Julian the Apostate who was the last non-Christian emperor of Rome. Which brings me to this painting. According to the story of his martyrdom, he had molten lead poured into his mouth and was roasted over a fire, whilst tied to an iron bedstead. After that, he was thrown in a well full of poisonous snakes which died as soon as they touched him. Then, the emperor prepared a cauldron of boiling oil. But Judas was so happy as he got ready for his ‘bath’ that the Emperor grew angry and killed him with his sword.

Yet, the picture above is the one that wikipedia has chosen to show us. I can find no mention of a massive saw in any of his martyrdom stories. Also, the caption underneath reads ‘St Quirico’ which could be just a translation of Cyriacus into Spanish. There is a Saint Quirico, but he was martyred at the age of three, so it can’t be him either. This painting is part of a twelfth century Catalan altarpiece that definitely shows Saint Quirico in the middle, with his mum. As well as the guy being sawn in half, it also features two people waving in a cauldron, a guy being sliced with swords and another guy having nails hammered into his head. I have no idea who any of them are. If you do, please tell me…

05 04 altar from durro


It’s a Mystery

04 30 kaspar hauserToday might be the birthday of Kasper Hauser. I say ‘might’ because of the great mystery surrounding his sudden appearance in the town of Nuremberg in 1828. The boy carried with him two letters. One addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. The anonymous author said that the boy was given into his custody as an infant on October 7th 1812 and that he instructed him in reading, writing and the Christian religion, but never let him “take a single step out of my house”. The letter stated that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman “as his father was” and invited the captain either to take him in or to hang him. The second letter seemed to be from his mother to the person who had written the first. It stated that his name was Kaspar, that he was born on 30 April 1812 and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead. Both letters were in the same handwriting and it is now generally supposed that Kasper had written both of them.

When spoken to he would only repeat the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” and “Horse! Horse!”. He seemed physically healthy but intellectually impaired and he soon became the subject of much curiosity. He would eat no other food but bread and water.

People generally assumed that he had been raised half wild but Kasper proved to be a quick learner and later he was able to tell a different story of his previous life. He said that for as long as he could remember he had been kept in a small darkened cell with a bed of straw and two horses and a dog carved from wood to play with. Each morning he found bread and water next to his bed. Sometimes the water would taste bitter then he would sleep for longer and wake to find his straw had been changed and his hair and nails had been cut. He said that, not long before his release, he had been visited by a man who concealed his face. He had taught Kasper to walk, to write his name and to repeat the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was.” but he didn’t know what it meant.

04 30 kasper's drawingKasper was given into the care of a schoolmaster called Georg Friedrich Daumer, who found out that he had a talent for drawing. That’s one of Kasper’s drawings on the left. Daumer also conducted some odd experiments on him, including some sort of magnetic experiments. Some believed, at that time, that the body was full of magnetic humours that could be drawn about to some effect, but more of that next month when it will be Franz Mesmer’s birthday. Kasper claimed that the north pole of the magnet made him feel as though his stomach was being drawn out and that he could feel a current of air coming from him. The effects of the south pole, he felt less keenly, but said that it blew upon him.

Kasper suffered a number of mysterious wounds. The first, he claimed had been inflicted by the man who had visited him in the cellar whilst he was captive. On October 17th 1829, he was found in the cellar of Daumer’s home with a severe wound on his forehead. He claimed he had been attacked whilst sitting on the privy. The trail of blood showed that he had first fled to his room before climbing through a trap-door into the cellar. This has led to speculation that he inflicted the wound on himself with a razor that he afterwards took back to his room before hiding in the cellar. Kasper was taken to another house where he was kept under guard, but later suffered another wound to the side of his head. He claimed he had been standing on a chair, reaching for a book, when he fell, knocking down a pistol on the wall which had gone off. Both of these incidents happened shortly after Kasper had been accused of lying, which was something that he did frequently.

In 1831, an English nobleman took an interest in Kasper Hauser and gained custody of him. His name was Philip Henry Stanhope who was half brother to the adventuring Lady Hester Stanhope, who I wrote about in March. Stanhope had Kasper removed to Ansbach but, although he continued to pay for his upkeep, concluded that Kasper was a fraud. On 14th December 1833, Kasper returned home with a deep stab wound in his chest. He claimed that a stranger had stabbed him then given him a bag. After a search, a violet purse was found which contained a folded note written in mirror writing. This is what it said:

Hauser will be

able to tell you quite precisely how

I look and from where I am.

To save Hauser the effort,

I want to tell you myself from where

I come _ _ .

I come from from _ _ _

the Bavarian border _ _

On the river _ _ _ _ _

I will even

tell you the name: M. L. Ö.

04 30 kasper's noteThe note was folded into a triangular shape, in a way that Kasper always folded his own letters. It also contained one grammatical and one spelling error that were typical of him. Also, although he seemed keen for the purse to be found, he never asked what was in it.

Kasper died from his wound three days later. No one really knows what happened. His death was as mysterious as his sudden appearance. Some accused Stanhope of being complicit in his murder. Others, that he stabbed himself to gain attention. Some have speculated, as they did in his lifetime, that he was the son of the Duke of Baden, who had been switched at birth so that someone else could inherit his title. Recent DNA tests have proved inconclusive but the story is an unlikely one. Probably, we’ll never know Kasper’s back story but he has inspired numerous works in print and on film, including Werner Herzog’s ‘The Enigma of Kasper Hauser’ which is where I first came across him back in the 1980s.

Tilting at Windmills

04 17 windmillI have a mystery to tell you about today. On this day in 1897, a UFO crash landed in Aurora, Texas. Or did it? It is claimed that the crash caused one fatality… the pilot. There is supposed to be an alien body buried in the local churchyard.

Between 1896 and 1897 there were several reported sightings across the USA of a cigar-shaped airship. On April 17th at about 6 am, according to a contemporary newspaper report, the early risers of Aurora spotted the airship. It was travelling much closer to the ground than it had been at previous sightings and much more slowly, about 10 – 12 miles an hour. There seemed to be something wrong with its machinery and it was getting lower all the time. It passed right over the town square and headed north. Then it collided with a windmill belonging to a man called Judge Proctor. The windmill was completely destroyed, along with a water tank and the Judge’s flower garden. The debris was scattered over several acres.

It seems the only person on board was the pilot. The report says that the body was badly disfigured, but enough was recovered to prove that: ‘he was not an inhabitant of this world’. A Mr T J Weems, an officer of the United States Signal Service, was of the opinion that the pilot had come from Mars. The pilot had with him, papers that were written in undecipherable hieroglyphs. The ship was too badly wrecked for anyone to tell what it was like or how it worked, but it seems to have been made from a metal resembling a combination of aluminium and silver. It was estimated to weigh several tons. The report, of April 19th 1897, goes on to say that the town was full of people picking up pieces of the wreckage and that the pilot’s funeral would be the following day.

The wreckage from the crash was dumped in a well that was underneath the wrecked windmill. In later years, the new owner of Judge Proctor’s property, Brawley Oates, cleaned out the well, because he wanted to use it. Afterwards he developed a severe case of arthritis which he blamed on poisoned well water. In 1957, he sealed up the well and put a building on top of it.

It is possible that the entire thing was a hoax. The newspaper report, which appeared in the Dallas Morning News, was written by a resident of the town called S E Haydon and he may have made the whole thing up. The town of Aurora was having a pretty tough time. Their cotton crop had been destroyed by boll weevil. Much of the town had been destroyed in a massive fire. There had been an outbreak of ‘spotted fever’ which had almost wiped out the people who hadn’t died in the fire. The town was quarantined. Then they were bypassed by a planned railroad. It may have been Haydon’s attempt to save a dying town. He never sent a follow up story. He might have written a second report about the alien’s funeral, but he didn’t. It was also later claimed that Judge Proctor had never even had a windmill.

But then, in 1973, an organisation called ‘MUFON’ which likes to investigate the sites of alleged UFO crashes, turned up two more eyewitnesses. Mary Evans, who had been fifteen at the time, remembered her parents going to the crash site. She had been forbidden from going but she remembered that an alien body had been found. Charlie Stephens, who was ten, had seen the ship pass over, trailing smoke. He too had not been allowed to go to the crash site, but his father had gone to town the next day to see the wreckage. MUFON checked out the cemetery and found a grave marker that seemed to show some sort of flying saucer. They also picked up readings with a metal detector. They asked for permission to dig up the grave but they were refused. Later, the grave marker mysteriously disappeared and was replaced by the three-inch pipe. Their metal detector no longer picked up any readings. They concluded that the metal had been removed from the grave, but they couldn’t rule out a hoax.

In 2008, a television programme called ‘UFO Hunters’ investigated again. They were allowed by Tim Oates, grandson of Brawley, to unseal the covered well. They found no debris, but they did find unusually large amounts of aluminium in the water. They also found the remains of a windmill base. It had been there after all. They investigated the cemetery but, as in 1973, were refused permission to dig. They found the grave, using ground penetrating radar, close to other 1890s burials. But the grave was so badly deteriorated that they couldn’t tell what was in it.

I don’t want to draw any conclusions about this story, because I like a mystery. Perhaps is was a hoax to raise the profile of the town. Perhaps it was a military experiment gone wrong. The US Signal Service were quite enamoured of balloons at one time. Perhaps it was a crashed space ship from another world. In an infinite universe, all things are possible.

Burning Down the House

02 27 borley rectoryWinter is almost over and the days are definitely getting a bit longer here. Soon, I’ll be able to look forward to getting home from work before sunset. But, until then, maybe there’s time for just one more ghost story. Today, I want to tell you about Borley Rectory in Essex, a Victorian mansion that was built in 1862. It was built to replace a previous rectory that had burned down in 1841. Borley Rectory became famous as the ‘most haunted house in England’. On this day in 1936, it was destroyed by a fire.

The church at Borley may date, in parts, from the twelfth century. It served a small rural community and not far away, there were the ruins of an old house called Borley Hall which had once been the seat of the Waldergrave family. A local legend spoke of a Benedictine monastery in the area and a monk there who had begun a relationship with a nun from a nearby convent. They were discovered. The monk was hanged and the nun bricked up alive in the walls of her convent. Many people claimed to have seen the ghost of the nun. In fact, she had been seen so often that, in what would become the garden of Borley Rectory, there was an area known as ‘Nun’s Walk’.

Almost from the start, people reported hearing unexplained, heavy footsteps in the house. The first incumbent of the rectory, the Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull died in 1892 and his son, Harry Bull took over the living. He had a large family of fourteen children and, in 1900, four of his daughters claimed to have seen the nun in the garden. But when they tried to approach her to talk to her, she had disappeared. Others said they had witnessed a coach driven by two headless horsemen.

The second Reverend Bull died in 1928 and Reverend Guy Eric Smith moved in. His wife was clearing out a cupboard in the house when she came across a brown paper package. Opening it, she found a human skull. After that, there were a number of incidents. More footsteps, servants bells ringing even though they had been disconnected and lights appearing in the windows of rooms that were empty. Mrs Smith thought she saw a 12 27 harry pricehorse-drawn carriage. In 1929, the couple wrote to a newspaper called the Daily Mirror about their experiences and asked to be put in touch with the Society for Psychical Research. They sent a reporter and also arranged for a psychical researcher called Harry Price to visit them. As soon as he arrived, new phenomena appeared. Stones were thrown and spirit messages were tapped out on the frame of a mirror. These sort of occurrences ceased as soon as Harry left the property. The Smiths left Borley about a month later.

The new Rector, Lionel Foyster, was a distant cousin of the Bulls. He moved in with his wife Marianne and their adopted daughter Adelaide in 1930. Lionel Foyster kept a record of the strange events that happened between then and October 1935 which he sent to Harry Price. Bells rung mysteriously, windows were smashed, stones and bottles were thrown. Writing appeared on the wall that seemed to appeal to Mrs Foyster for help. Adelaide was locked in a room that had no key and Marianne reported that she had been thrown from her bed. Reverend Foyster tried twice to conduct an exorcism, but it was no help. On the first occasion, he was struck in the shoulder by a fist-size stone. These incidents made their way into the Daily Mirror where they attracted the attention of several psychic researchers. The Foysters left Borley in 1935 when Lionel became ill.

Borley Rectory remained empty until 1937, when Harry Price took out a year long rental on the property. He gathered a team of forty-eight researchers who stayed there, mostly at weekends, and reported anything unusual. In 1938, the daughter of one of his researchers conducted a séance in Streatham, London and seemed to make contact with two spirits connected to Borley Rectory. One was a French nun called Marie Lairre who had left her order to marry a member of the Waldergrave family from the now ruined Borley Hall. But she had been murdered in a building that once stood on the site of the rectory. The second was a spirit called Sunex Amures who told her that he would burn down Borley Rectory that very night, March 27th 1938, and that the bones of a murdered person would be found. This did not happen.

02 27 ruined rectoryOn February 27th 1939, the new owner of the Rectory, Captain W H Gregson was unpacking some boxes in the hall when he upset a lighted oil lamp. The fire spread quickly and the house was badly damaged. Insurance investigators concluded that the fire had been started deliberately. A local woman claimed to have seen the nun looking out of one of the building’s upper floor windows during the fire. The house was left a ruin. In 1943, Harry Price returned and conducted a dig in the cellar of the rectory. He found two bones supposed to be that of a young woman. They were buried, with ceremony, in a churchyard, but not at Borley. They refused the remains because they believed them to be the bones of a pig.

Now, I need to tell you that there was no written information about the hauntings at Borley Rectory prior the the involvement of Harry Price. Someone who remembered the Bull family, Louis Mayerling, tells us how much Harry Bull’s fourteen children all loved the story of the ghost nun and exploited it at every opportunity. They claimed to have a magic piano that was played by spirits, but in fact it was one of the children hidden behind it, plucking at the strings with a poker. They found they could set off the servant’s bells by prodding at them through a nearby window. No doubt later occupants found they could do the same.

Certainly the discovery of a skull in a cupboard is a bit weird, but once you realise that the rectory garden had once been part of the cemetery, it’s exactly the sort of thing that might have been dug up by accident and held on to as a curiosity. The Smiths had written to the newspaper hoping that all the phenomena could be properly investigated and reasonably explained. Instead, they got Harry Price, who they rather suspected was responsible for the increased activity during his visit. Price did very well financially when he wrote two books about the hauntings at Borley Rectory. Marianne Foyster later admitted that she had faked some of the psychic phenomena to cover up the fact that she was having an affair with their lodger, Frank Peerless. Peerless himself probably faked some of the others. The house’s final owner, Captain Gregson, had bought the property for £500, but he had it insured for £3500.

Until the house fell down completely, the ghostly nun was still sometimes seen through the windows of the upper storey, even though there was no longer any floor there for her to stand on. With so many people having obviously faked the psychic evidence, it is now impossible to know whether the most haunted house in England was every really haunted at all.