Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Ghosts

Article excerpt

John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism, believed that the rectory he grew up in was haunted by a ghost called 'Old Jeffery; a Jacobite who would angrily knock on the walls when anyone prayed for George I.

Land and water speed record holder John Cobb (1899-1952) was killed on Loch Ness on September 29th, 1952, when his motor boat Crusader, powered by a De Haviland Ghost jet engine, overturned at around 240 mph.

John Henry Pepper (1821-1900) revived the fortunes of the Department of Science and Art at the Royal Polytechnic, London by demonstrating a stage trick first suggested by technology historian Henry Dircks (1806-73). This illusion used a system of mirrors to project the ghostly image of a person onto a theatre stage and was first demonstrated on Christmas Eve 1862 during a performance of Charles Dickens' The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain. The optical effects, soon known as 'Pepper's Ghost', proved a sensation.

An engraving of the head from William Blake's (1757-1827) painting The Ghost of a Flea was published in John Varley's Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1828). The book claimed to demonstrate how differences in human character and appearance could be put down to the influence of heavenly bodies at the moment of birth.

Arthur Koestler (1905-83) wrote out the possibility of psychokinesis in his 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine. He and his wife left nearly 1 million [pounds sterling] in bequests to endow a chair in parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh.

Film actor Basti Rathbone (1892-1967) blamed the lack of good film roles in his later career on being typecast as Sherlock Holmes. His final films included The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) and Autopsy of a Ghost (1967).

Anglican clergyman and spiritualist William Moses (1839-92) revived Britain's oldest psychical research organisation, the Ghost Club, in 1882. Its membership has included Charles Dickens, Siegfried Sassoon and Peter Cushing. Moses himself claimed to be in spiritual contact with Plato, Aristotle, the prophet Elijah and Samuel Wilberforce, among others. …