Thursday, 26 October 2017

Ghost Impersonators

Have you ever wondered when people started going around in sheets pretending to be ghosts, possibly shouting 'Woo! WOOOO!' during the process? Neither had it, but it has been drawn to my attention that the tradition is as old as it is silly. And it could get you killed. The story of the Hammersmith Ghost is new to me, and one well worth retelling, given the sheer number of ghost impersonators of all sizes liable to descend upon us very soon.
The Hammersmith Ghost.
Ghost or not, there was undoubtedly a public menace in Hammersmith, and people wanted it gone. A bounty of 10 pounds would be awarded to anybody who caught it.
The story is also told here on a legal blog. 
In December 1803, villagers claimed a ghost, covered in a white shroud, was confronting travelers and, in some cases, physically attacking them.
There were lots of other cases, as it seems our ancestors were both very credulous and amply supplied with linen etc. But there was a very serious side to the dressing up,  especially in the days before organised police forces and adequate street lighting.
Like many other pastimes in 19th century Britain, ghost impersonating was a gendered activity: Women, especially young female servants, were often restricted to mimicking poltergeist activity indoors—rapping on doors, moving furniture, throwing rocks at windows—while the sheet-wearing hijinks were reserved for young men who, far too often, had scuzzy intentions.
All in all, fascinating reads. I'm indebted to author Steve Duffy for drawing my attention to this interesting corner of social history.

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