When Apparitions Are Seen of Those Who Died Long Ago (Part 1)


I have written several previous posts on apparition sightings. One  group of seven posts dealt with 150+ cases in which some person did not know that another person had died, but saw an apparition, only to later learn that the person corresponding to the apparition had died at the same time. In three other posts I discussed cases in which multiple witnesses reported seeing the same apparition. But there's another category of apparition sightings I have not discussed: cases in which someone reports seeing an apparition of a person who died long ago. This will be the topic of today's post.

The site www.archive.org is a great place for finding entire books that can be read online. One of the many books on the paranormal you can read at archive.org is the voluminous The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, which can be read here. In the book we read countless claims about apparitions of those who died long ago. For example:

  • "Ghostly civil war soldiers light campfires in the mountains around Harpers Ferry, especially on South Mountain." (Page 222.) 
  • "The ghost of Sir Christopher Wren is said to be hurrying up and down the stairs of Hampton Court every February 26." (Page 226.)
  • "Edith Wharton’s one-time country retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts, called The Mount, is said to be haunted by various ghostly figures, including Wharton, her husband Edward, and author Henry James." (Page 326.)  
  • "During the latter part of the 19th century, numerous witnesses reported glimpsing Dolley Madison’s ghost, clad in elegant fashions of the day, and smelling of lilacs, standing or dancing in the house." (Page 350.)
  • "The ghost of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who aided Booth during his flight, is said to haunt the doctor’s farmhouse in Charles County, Maryland." (Page 286.)

The article here at History.com mentions numerous alleged sightings of apparitions of those who died long ago, mentioning quite a few historical figures who supposedly were seen long after they died. We read quite a few statements such as these:

Sightings of [Anne] Boleyn’s ghost have been reported at the tower as well as in various other locations, including her childhood home, Hever Castle, in Kent...Franklin’s ghost was seen near the library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia....At the White House, everyone from first ladies to queens to prime ministers have reported seeing the ghost or feeling the presence of Honest Abe [Lincoln]....The spirit of Peter Stuyvesant, the city’s last Dutch colonial governor, has been seen stomping around the East Village on his wooden leg since shortly after his death in 1672. The author Mark Twain is believed to haunt the stairwell of his onetime Village apartment building, while the ghost of poet Dylan Thomas is said to sometimes occupy his usual corner table at the West Village’s White Horse Tavern, where he drank a fatal 18 shots of scotch in 1953. Perhaps the most famous New York ghost is that of Aaron Burr, who served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson but is best known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Burr’s ghost is said to roam the streets of his old neighborhood (also the West Village).”


Tower of London: a "hotspot" for ghost sightings?

But the article has relatively little value as evidence, because it does not quote specific people describing seeing an apparition of someone who died long ago. It is better from an evidence standpoint to have a single person publicly describing very exactly what he saw (in a non-anonymous way) than to have a dozen such “it is said that his ghost can be seen in this place” kind of claims, which could be just kind of urban legends.

Much better as evidence is an account I will now quote from Volume 2 of Frederic W. H. Myer's lengthy scholarly work “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.” The account can be read here.  The account was made by a F. G. of Boston, and we are told “Professor Royce and Dr. Hodgson vouch for the high character and good position of the informants,” which included this F.G. and his father. F.G. was interviewed by Dr. Hodgson, who called him “a first-class witness.” F.G's account is as follows:

In 1867 my only sister, a young lady of eighteen years, died suddenly of cholera in St. Louis, Mo. My attachment for her was very strong, and the blow a severe one to me. A year or so after her death the writer became a commercial traveller, and it was in 1876, while on one of my Western trips, that the event occurred.... I suddenly became conscious that some one was sitting on my left, with one arm resting on the table. Quick as a flash I turned and distinctly saw the form of my dead sister, and for a brief second or so looked her squarely in the face; and so sure was I that it was she, that I sprang forward in delight, calling her by name, and, as I did so, the apparition instantly vanished. Naturally I was startled and dumbfounded, almost doubting my senses; but the cigar in my mouth, and pen in hand, with the ink still moist on my letter, I satisfied myself I had not been dreaming and was wide awake. I was near enough to touch her, had it been a physical possibility, and noted her features, expression, and details of dress, etc. She appeared as if alive. Her eyes looked kindly and perfectly natural into mine. Her skin was so life-like that I could see the glow or moisture on its surface, and, on the whole, there was no change in her appearance, otherwise than when alive.
Now comes the most remarkable confirmation of my statement, which cannot be doubted by those who know what I state actually occurred. This visitation, or whatever you may call it, so impressed me that I took the next train home, and in the presence of my parents and others I related what had occurred. My father, a man of rare good sense and very practical, was inclined to ridicule me, as he saw how earnestly I believed what I stated; but he, too, was amazed when later on I told them of a bright red line or scratch on the right-hand side of my sister's face, which I distinctly had seen. When I mentioned this my mother rose trembling to her feet and nearly fainted away, and as soon as she sufficiently recovered her self-possession, with tears streaming down her face, she exclaimed that I had indeed seen my sister, as no living mortal but herself was aware of that scratch, which she had accidentally made while doing some little act of kindness after my sister's death. She said she well remembered how pained she was to think she should have, unintentionally, marred the features of her dead daughter, and that, unknown to all, how she had carefully obliterated all traces of the slight scratch with the aid of powder, etc., and that she had never mentioned it to a human being from that day to this. In proof, neither my father nor any of our family had detected it, and positively were unaware of the incident, yet I saw the scratch as bright as if just made. So strangely impressed was my mother, that even after she had retired to rest she got up and dressed, came to me and told me she knew at least that I had seen my sister. A few weeks later my mother died, happy in her belief she would rejoin her favourite daughter in a better world.”

On page 124 of Volume 6 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read the following account:

"The Rev. John Douglas sees an apparition of a woman whom
he knows at the door of her husband's house ; she passes him so close as to touch him, but he feels nothing, and she then vanishes. He hears next morning that she had died seven weeks before."

On page 41 of Volume 14 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which can be read here, we read this account by John H. Gower (written in August of 1908):

"Last Christmas the body of a man employed in one of our
business buildings was found dead at the bottom of the elevator shaft. Recently an apparition answering the description of the dead man has been seen by three or four people at different times in the midnight hours in the engine room of the same building. Neither of the parties seeing the ghost knew the deceased at all, and it was therefore only by the description given that my friend, who runs the building, could place him. I carefully examined the engine room, and believe it would be almost impossible for a 'joker' to make his escape. I have closely questioned the percipients and am quite impressed by their declarations. They, at least, are quite convinced that they have seen the 'real thing.' "

On page 262 of Volume 19 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which can be read here, we read this account: 

"The following case is one in which an apparition was twice seen by two independent witnesses in a place which the dead man had frequented during his hfe. The apparition was first seen about a year after death and again about three years later."

On page 66 of Volume 25-26 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the following account, describing events in the middle of January:

"Mr. W. Kent, of Foley Road, Worcester, manager for many years of a large furniture shop here, left his work on Monday, after saying to his head salesman that he would die this week. He said that he was sleeping in the bed in which his wife died shortly before Christmas. He awakened in the night. 'When I woke up I saw my wife,' said Mr. Kent according to the salesman.  'She seemed quite happy. She beckoned to me, walked across the room and vanished. I knew what she meant.'  Mr. Kent died a few days later."

On page 703 of Volume 7 of the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, we have the following account:

"It seems that her first experience, according to her own account, was an apparition of her grandfather when she was about eleven 
years old and a few months after his death. She saw him on the 
corner of a street in Huntington and was greatly frightened by 
the vision. She first heard his voice and turned around to see 
as she would a living person. She then saw him standing before her after she turned about."

On page 54 of Volume 5 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read of a Mr. Johnson who saw "an apparition of a neighbour who he found next morning had died, unknown to him, seven weeks before."

On page 180 of Volume 6 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we have an astonishing account of a ghost appearing to a soldier, the ghost of a woman who died about a year ago. 

"The figure leant down over me, and at first I felt much alarmed and shrank back. The figure said something, my name, I think, and added : 'I am the spirit of Mary Madden, and bespeak your attention.' Mary Madden had been the wife of a comrade of that name, now at the Depot of the 46th in Ireland, and she had died just about this time last year.  I was a great friend of hers, and was beside her when she died, and put her into her coffin. She was dressed precisely the same as the figure then before me....I then felt rather reassured, and asked her what she wanted. She replied 'that I must communicate with her late husband, Madden, and
severely warn him as to a certain evil course he was pursuing ; that he was to desist, and that, if he did not desist, his soul would be in immediate peril.' She then told me to warn him of some other matter, and finished by telling me, hy way of proof that she was Mrs. Madden's spirit, a circumstance and conversation unknown to anyone in the world, that took place between us before her death, and this I must decline repeating. It was proof to me that Mary Madden's spirit was then beside me, and nothing on earth will convince me to the contrary." 

On page 474 of Volume 7 of the Annals of Psychical Science (1908), a Francesco Graus gives this account:

"On November 25th, 1906, when quite awake and in a normal condition, she was sitting reading in her husband's dispensary, when the form of a young woman, dressed in black, apeared before her, and said : 'If  you wish to do something to improve the health of your distant friend ' (this was an allusion to my brother, who was seriously ill at Naples, and who was unknown to the medium by name), ' send him the recipes I will dictate to you.'... Judging from the details of the apparition with which the medium furnished me, I came to the conclusion that the phantom was that of my sister-in-law, my sick brother's wife, who died in 1879, when about 30 years of age, and who ·was unknown, even by name, to the lady living in Capistrello. I wished, however, to make sure if my conjecture was correct, and so I enclosed in an envelope forty photographs of living and deceased ladies, placing among them the portrait of my deceased sister-in-law."

Francesco let the woman who had seen the apparition look at the set of forty photos. The woman identified one of the photos with the apparition: 

"I was therefore much surprised when, after a short interval, I saw her coming quickly towards me with the portrait of my sister-in-law in her hand. She exclaimed : 'This is the mysterious lady I saw; she is, however, more beautiful than in the portrait.' From November, 1906, until now the phantom has frequently appeared and given much useful advice." 

On page 3 of a paper on apparitions by three writers, we have the modern account below:

"About four months after her son Tommy had been tragically murdered, a woman was out walking Tommy’s dog in the daytime and they were passing by the parking lot where Tommy had kept his Jeep when the dog began barking and pulling on the leash. Looking up, the woman saw a young man standing in a blue outfit about 30 feet away, although she could not see him clearly because she was not wearing her glasses. When she finally put them on, she recognized Tommy standing there on the sidewalk and smiling at her, wearing a blue outfit he had bought but never got to wear before he died. She immediately called out to him, and she and the dog began running toward him. But then, the image of Tommy seemed to slowly turn around and glide away, his feet being about an inch off the pavement. Despite how fast they ran, the woman and the dog could not catch up to him, even after pursuing him for three blocks."

On page 247 of Death and Its Mystery: After Death by the astronomer Camille Flammarion, we have an account by a V. Schwartz who saw an apparition of her husband who died long ago:

"My husband died five years ago....I went to bed; it was dark in the room. With my eyes open, I saw my husband before me, in a suit of clothes which he had worn out a long time before. His expression was mild and calm; it was as though his face were lighted up. His features were not bright, but were clear and distinct and seemed unsubstantial. I asked myself if it were really he. He bent over and kissed me. ... 'Is that really you?' I asked. Slowly he vanished."

On page 254 of the same book, we have this account by a nun who spoke to a figure outdoors:

"Suddenly his features, the glasses, the collar, and the checked handkerchief reminded me of the father superior of our order, who had died six months before. Then I pointed to the road he must take, looking in that direction. When I turned toward him again I did not see him: he had disappeared!"

On page 256 of the same book, we have an account by someone looking after some sleeping orphans at an asylum or orphanage. The person reported seeing a "small cloud of light," and sensed being kind of telepathically told to stay in bed. After falling asleep, and waking up hours later, the person was told by one of the orphans, "My mother came to me last night." 

On page 259 of the same book, we read the following:

"My cousin Baroness de M---- was living in Paris, Some months after the death of her son Rene she was coming home, after visiting friends. It was broad daylight. She entered the drawing-room, her mind perfectly calm, and saw her son seated in an arm-chair before the fireplace. She fled, and never again entered that drawing-room."

On page 5 of the paper here by three authors (including Bryan Williams of the University of New Mexico), we have an account of a doctor who was at the deathbed of his mother-in-law, in a coma.  He states the following: 

"I was standing by her bed and no one else was in the room. She had an agonal inspiration, and at that moment I had a very clear picture of G. C. [her late husband] standing across from me with his arms outstretched, and he said, 'Flora, I’ve been waiting for you.' I did not really have to look to see that my mother-in-law had died, but the physician in me pushed me to verify that."

In part 2 and part 3 of this post, I will have many additional cases of those who saw an apparition of someone who died long ago.