One of the most dedicated ghost hunters in Ireland was Mary Wilkins, who lived in Dublin around 1900. Although not much is known about her personal life, she was a respected member of the English, Irish, and American Societies for Psychical Research. In September 1913, she published an article, “Personal Experiences,” in which she described eleven cases of ghostly occurrences that had been reported to her from 1905 to 1913 by her friends and relatives.
One of the best of these is (“Case IV,” which concerns a family identified only as Family L. Family L is of special interest because spirits of the dead attempted to contact Mrs. L. or her middle daughter, Rachel, in three related incidents and in two different houses.
The first encounter took place shortly after the family rented a newly built house along the southern coast of Ireland. One afternoon, soon after the family had moved in, Mrs. L was standing in the kitchen when she heard and felt an explosion. She discovered nothing, however, that could explain the blast. A few days later, she learned that the wife of her favorite uncle had died at the exact time of the mysterious explosion. Was the explosion a message from a ghost of the dying? Or was it merely an odd coincidence? Mrs. L wasn't interested in finding out.
Not long afterwards, the whole family began to hear knocking sounds at different times during the day: rapping on the doors, the windows, the walls. Sometimes the raps were "like a sledge-hammer, loud and dying away, and sometimes quick and sharp, two or three or five in succession."
One night, around four o'clock, Mrs. L was disturbed by a loud knock on her bedroom door. At first, she thought it must be the maid, so she said, "Come in."
The knocking continued so loudly and persistently that her husband also woke up.
"See what it is," Mrs. L told him. He got up from bed and went quietly to the door. He jerked the door open, but the hallway was empty. Then he searched the entire house from attic to basement, but found nothing.
Later that morning, a telegram arrived announcing the death of Mrs. Ls favorite uncle. He had died around the time of the mysterious knocking. Mrs. L began to wonder what was happening to her. Was the knocking another coincidence? Or could her dying uncle have been trying to communicate news of his death to the family? And what about the explosion she had heard? Maybe it hadn't been her imagination after all. . . .
Deeply disturbed by these events, Mrs. L became ill. To help her feel better, the family moved to a new house. While Mrs. Leery regained her health, a young male friend named Richard had come from England to live with the family and help with the chores.
One night Rachel, the middle daughter, woke up and glanced at the window by her bed. There she saw a person's face peering in at her. Am I dreaming? she asked herself.
She blinked her eyes a few times and decided that she must be awake. Then she took a closer look at the face and realized that it was so muffled in cloth, except for the eyes, that it resembled a mummy. Then the figure disappeared, and Rachel went back to sleep. The next morning Rachel told her family about her strange experience. She didn't argue when everyone said that she'd had a dream.
A few nights later, she awoke to see the same face, still draped in cloth. The mummy's face was pressed against the window pane and seemed more menacing. Before she could scream, the face disappeared. In the morning, no one believed again.
Finally, another night soon after, she relived the same experience. This time, the mummy's face seemed to move through the glass toward the bed . . . toward her. She closed her eyes, but felt the mummy's presence as it bent over her body. Then, she opened her eyes.
Inches away from her was the mummy's face, its eyes staring at hers. She screamed, and the mummy disappeared.
The next morning, a telegram arrived for Richard. It said that his mother, who lived in England, had had an unfortunate accident the night before and had died; he left immediately for the funeral.
After her mother's experiences with the explosion and knocking, Rachel knew that the mummy's face and the telegram were somehow related. She also sensed that the face would never bother her again.
Family L contacted Ghost Hunter Wilkins and related their strange experiences, hoping she could explain them. After interviewing every member of the family, Mary Wilkins investigated why Rachel had seen a face wrapped in cloth. She learned that Richard's mother had died from injuries received in a fire while she slept. Her face was so badly burned that it had been wrapped in cloth.
Only her eyes had remained uncovered.
Mr. L told Wilkins on March 1, 1913, “I cannot understand or explain our strange experiences.” A wise ghost hunter, Mary Wilkins let her readers supply their own explanation.
Copyright © James M. Deem. Originally published in Ghost Hunters (Avon, 1992). All rights reserved.