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John Michell Mysteries


ARCHIVE for Thursday 1st November 2001 - Haunted houses

Are you frightened of ghosts? Some people, if you ask them that, laugh cheerfully and say they never think of such things. But I wonder if they would be so bold at night time, alone, in a spooky old house, when footsteps are heard in the creaking of the staircase. As a child during the War I lived with grandparents in a Hampshire village. Their house was old and cranky with many dark nooks and corners - In these, I imagined, nasty creatures were waiting to jump out, and I ran quickly past them.

Then I started reading ghost stories. They were so terrifying that I could not sleep, but lay tense in bed, expecting something dreadful to appear. Yet I loved those ghost stories and wem on reading them. The people who write them try to frighten their readers, because they know that is what their readers want.

But is it right to scare children with stories about ghosts and monsters? Yes, it is right, said old Lord Halifax. He was a writer and collector of ghost stories, and on dark winter nights he would read them to his family. When his wife complained that the children were trembling with fear, he replied that it was good for their imaginations. Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book was later published by his eldest son. The stories, he admitted, were terrifying, but it was "a delicious terror", and he hoped other children would enjoy the feeling as much as he had. I am glad now to have been through those terrors. You cannot altogether avoid them, because they occur naturally in dreams, and in the minds of children. At that age ghosts and monsters are active realities. You long to hear about them, from older people who are not afraid of them. Then you grow up and realise there are no such things as ghosts.

But you can never be quite sure. Many people think they have seen ghosts. and some have been frightened to death by the experience. Leap Castle in County Offaly used to be called the most haunted building in Ireland. An old lady I met, who knew it before it was burnt in 1923, said that she had often seen ghosts there. They were harmless and the family had become used to them. But one of them was nasty. It looked like a sheep and it stank like a corpse. The man who described it had jumped out of a tower window to escape it - and had survived. Others had previously died from the fall.

I have long given up being frightened of ghosts, and I do not even read the stories. But if you offered me £100 to spend a night in a haunted house, with just a candle - in a room where there had been a horrible murder - I would ask you to find someone else for the job. I could not trust my own imagination.

John Michell

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Unexplained Phenomena, A Rough Guide Special
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Who Wrote Shakespeare?
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