How would you like to spend the night alone, in total darkness, and in a cold, damp church waiting for three ghosts to meet you?
That's exactly what happened to a brave ghost detective named Mrs. Goodeve about 100 years ago in the small English town of Snettisham. Her experience provides one of the strangest and most remarkable cases of haunting ever recorded, for it involved three visits by up to three ghosts at two locations Over 200 miles apart!
She first met the ghosts when she and her children were visiting the Ackland family near Bristol, England. Apparently, the Acklands lived in a house haunted by the ghost of a former resident, a Mrs. Seagrim. They had heard strange noises, and one member of the family had been sprinkled with water once in the attic, as if someone had shaken a wet paintbrush at her. Despite these events, no one had actually seen Mrs. Seagrim’s ghost. In fact, nothing unusual had happened in the house at all in over two years, until Mrs. Goodeve came to visit in October 1893.
Because the Acklands' house was small, Mrs. Goodeve slept in the same bedroom as her two daughters. During their first night, Mrs. Goodeve was awakened by footsteps in the hallway three different times. By the third time she wondered if something was wrong, so she lit her candle and walked quietly to the door so as not to disturb her daughters.
Finding no one in the hall, she returned to bed and read for awhile. She dozed off with the candle still burning, and awoke a lit tie later to find that the candle had burned low and was flickering out.
In the dim light Mrs. Goodeve saw a woman standing near her bed. She had light brown hair and was wearing a soft, white shawl draped over her head and around her shoulders.
The woman looked at Mrs. Goodeve and said “Follow me.” Without wondering what was happening, Mrs. Goodeve got out of bed took the sputtering candle and followed the woman out of the room across the hall into the upstairs drawing room. The woman walked to the end of the room.
She turned and said, “Tomorrow.”
Then she disappeared.
At first, Mrs. Goodeve figured that she must have been sleepwalking and dreaming at the same time. She thought of Mrs. Seagrim. Could she have seen Mrs. Seagrim's ghost, she wondered? Mrs. Goodeve's suspicion was reinforced when she returned to her room and found one of her daughters awake.
“Who was that lady?” the sleepy daughter asked.
Mrs. Goodeve was surprised. “It was just me,” she replied, careful not to frighten her. “Now go to sleep.”
The next morning, when Mrs. Goodeve told Mr. Ackland what had happened, he refused to believe her.
“But the drawing room is locked at night,” he told her. “You can't have gone in there."
“I tell you that we walked into the drawing room,” she said.
Mr. Ackland summoned the maid and asked if she had forgotten to lock the drawing-room door the night before.
“Oh, no, sir, " she said. “I remember locking it. And it's still locked now, for I haven't unlocked it yet this morning."
“But I have a candle that I took from the drawing room " Mrs. Goodeve told Mr. Ackland. “I know that I was there last night."
With the maid, they checked the room. Mrs. Goodeve showed them where the candle had been.
“I put fresh candles here last night as I always do," the maid said. “I know I put one on this stand."
Convinced that Mrs. Goodeve might have had an encounter with Mrs. Seagrim, Mr. Ackland arranged for her to meet Mrs. Seagrim's physician, Dr. Marshall, who might be able to confirm that she had seen Mrs. Seagrim's ghost. When Dr. Marshall heard Mrs. Goodeve's description of the brown-haired woman, he agreed that she must have seen Mrs. Seagrim's ghost.
Even though the ghost hadn't frightened Mrs. Goodeve, she was troubled by the idea of seeing the ghost again. Mr. Ackland had an idea, however. He rigged up an electric bell, which he placed under her pillow. If she saw the ghost again, she was to ring the bell and Mr. Ackland would come to help her.
That night, Mrs. Goodeve had her daughters sleep in another room while she tried to stay awake reading a book. Sometime after midnight, though, she fell asleep despite her precautions. When she awoke, she saw Mrs. Seagrim. This time, the ghost seemed very agitated.
She leaned over the bed and said, “II have come back. Listen! I need your help.”
“I must be dreaming," Mrs. Goodeve found herself saying.
“If you doubt me,” Mrs. Seagrim continued, “you will find that the date of my marriage was September 26, 1860.”
Immediately, another ghost appeared to her right. This ghost—a tall, handsome man—was about sixty years old and dressed in ordinary clothes.
“I am Henry Barnard,” he said. “I am buried in the Snettisham churchyard.” Then he gave the dates of his marriage and death. Mrs. Goodeve made a mental note of the dates, even though she had never heard of Henry Barnard or Snettisham.
“You are to go to Snettisham," the ghost of Henry Bernard said, “and verify these dates in the church register. If you find that these dates are correct, then that same night at one-fifteen you are to enter the Snettisham church, where you will find the grave of Robert Cobb. We will contact you there.”
Henry Bernard then game Mrs. Goodeve specific instructions: she was to take the train to Snettisham, a town northeast of Cambridge and over 200 miles away.
“When you get to Snettisham,” he continued, “you will receive help from a man names John Bishop. And you will stay in the house of a woman whose child who drowned and was buried in the Snettisham churchyard. When you have one done all this,” he concluded, “ you will hear the rest of our story.”
As he finished talking, another ghost appeared behind Mrs. Seagrim. This man—whose name was never revealed by Mrs. Goodeve—looked very troubled. He covered his face with his hands and seemed to be in great distress. Slowly, the three ghosts faded from sight.
Only then did Mrs. Goodeve think to press the bell. When Mr Ackland rushed in a few moments later, he found her passed out on the floor beside the bed.
For the next few days, Mrs. Goodeve faithfully recorded the details of the haunting in her diary, including all of the dates that the ghosts had mentioned. She verified with Mrs. Seagrim’s daughter the date of mother’s marriage; it matched the date given by Mrs. Seagrim’s ghost. Mrs. Goodeve Mrs. Goodeve didn't doubt at all that she had seen three ghosts, and that one of them was Mrs. Seagrim. What she couldn't explain was why they had appeared to her. What help could she give them—especially at 1:15 A.M. in the Snettisham church? Despite any worries that she had, she decided to travel to Snettisham to see if the dates that Henry Barnard had given her were correct.
On the morning of Saturday, October 14th, she began her journey to Snettisham. When she arrived that evening, she found that a village fair was in progress and that no empty rooms were available. When she finally located a room for the night, it was in the home of John Bishop. When she told him that she was in Snettisham to confirm some marriage and death dates in the church register, he told her that he was the church clerk and could arrange for her to see the register. What’s more, the next morning, Mrs. Bishop mentioned that her child had drowned and was buried in the churchyard. Almost everything Henry Barnard's ghost had told her had come true. Mrs. Goodeve was convinced that the dates Barnard had given her would be found in the church register.
Shortly after breakfast, Mrs. Goodeve got her first look at the parish church in Snettisham. On the east edge of town, it is approached by a dirt path lined by Irish yew trees. Mrs. Goodeve looked like the other parishioners on her way to church that morning, except that she had a supernatural mission to accomplish.
After the service, she examined the register with John Bishop. The dates Barnard had given her were confirmed in the register. She also discovered that John Bishop had known Henry Barnard. When she described the ghost, John Bishop said it sounded like she had seen Henry Barnard. Mrs. Goodeve asked Bishop to take her to Barnard's grave. He led her through the overgrown graveyard that surrounded the church to a small, railed area that contained Barnard's grave. Growing wildly over the railing were flowering white rose bushes.
In the afternoon, Mrs. Goodeve walked with Mrs. Bishop through the town and into the countryside. Eventually, they passed Cobb Hall, the house that had been owned by Henry Barnard and now belonged to his daughter. Mrs. Goodeve considered calling on her, but thought better about it. After all, she didn't want to tell the daughter that she planned to meet her father's ghost--and two others--that night.
Mrs. Goodeve attended the evening church service and prayed for strength. Afterward, she waited outside until all of the lights were extinguished, wondering if she would have the courage to go back later than night.
At 1:00 A.M., she and John Bishop opened the rear door of the church and entered the minister’s chambers, Together they searched the church’s interior but discovered no sign of anyone else. Then Mrs. Goodeve located Robert Cobb's grave inside the church: in the southwest corner near the oven where Communion bread was baked. She ~e took a seat in a nearby pew and asked Bishop to go. He did so, leaving Mrs. Goodeve in complete darkness.
What happened next isn't completely known, since Mrs. Goodeve was reluctant to give all of the details. According to her, the three ghosts appeared and asked her help in sorting out a legal problem. When Henry Bernard had purchased Cobb Hall from Robert Cobb, something illegal had been done. Mrs. Goodeve was given instructions to correct the wrong. She was also asked to pick a white rose from Bernard’s grave and deliver it personally to his daughter at Cobb Hall.
At 1:45 A.M., John Bishop knocked at the church door and asked Mrs. Goodeve if she was ready to leave.
“Yes,” she told him. “My business is almost finished."
Early the next morning, she walked to Cobb Hall and handed Barnard's daughter the white rose.
“You look very much like your father," Mrs. Goodeve told her. They talked awhile, and Mrs. Goodeve passed on other messages that Barnard had given her.
The three ghosts never visited Mrs. Goodeve again. Nor was the Ackland house ever again haunted by Mrs. Seagrim. Mrs. Goodeve's work as a ghost hunter ended abruptly, leaving a number of mysteries unsolved.
Why did the three ghosts appear together? Did Henry Barnard know Mrs. Seagrim? And who was the third ghost? How was he related to the Cobbs and the Barnards? Was each of the ghosts so troubled by the illegal real estate deal that they united after death and decided to correct it?
Perhaps the most important question of all is: why was Mrs. Goodeve selected for their visit? Others had lived in and visited Mrs. Seagrim's house. Why didn't the ghosts appear to them, or the Acklands, or even Henry Barnard's daughter? Something about Mrs. Goodeve's personality must have made her a likely accomplice for the ghosts.
Despite many attempts to unravel them, the mysteries remain, making this one of the most intriguing unsolved hauntings ever.
Copyright © James M. Deem. Originally published in Ghost Hunters (Avon, 1992). All rights reserved.