Author Archives: tokemper

Woburn Abbey Ghost Story

TK: Did you ever see a ghost?

LK: No but they moved all the bathroom doors and wardrobes open and everything.

TK: Wait explain.

LK: I went to see my friend he lives in Woburn Abbey in England (was a house to priests or monks or something) for the weekend. I left after one day, I couldn’t do it, it freaked me out. (stuttering) It’s a house a family owned, it was an abbey, now it’s a public inn; not sure what it is to see all the stuff. It is known to be haunted. My mom’s friend grew up there and always saw ghosts growing up as a child. Mind you, he only told my mom this much later.

TK: Who’s they?

LK: Robin, aka Lord Russell. We went for dinner and spent the night. Robin was in his room, I was in my room and who else went with us? I don’t know, a couple other friends? Robin told us stories about when he was a kid when he grew up it was haunted.

TK: What was?

LK: The house. It freaked me out and I couldn’t believe we were out there stuck, two hours away from everything, couldn’t get back, and had to spent the night there. It was a residence on the top floor. They gave me a room that had three wardrobes, one on this side, one on that side and one with the TV. The bathroom door was over here (gesturing). I left the bathroom door open and all the wardrobes were shut

TK: Were you in the room alone?

LK: Yeah, everyone was ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HALL. So I was watching television and the TV kept popping in and out like a switch (acting it out) Meanwhile his mom came in to give me a pill to calm me down because I couldn’t handle it. I guess I finally fell asleep with the TV on and woke up to find every single wardrobe door open and the bathroom door was shut and the door to the bedroom was locked.

TK: Then what?

LK: I freaked out a little bit. I got up, I closed the wardrobe drawers, went to the bathroom and unlocked the bedroom door (laughing, thinking, nodding head) um…all the stuff in the bathroom and the toiletries were on the floor, toothbrush, toothpaste, everything that I had used to shower and everything.

TK: So then what?

LK: Picked everything up. I would say that was about three in the morning-ish. I opened the bedroom door to see the hallway, you know, I was freaked out.

TK: How did you go back to sleep after that?

LK: I sort of laid there. I thought Robin was playing  a trick on me, you know, so I actually walked down the hall, now that I think about it and walked all the way down the hall to see if they were up and didn’t really know which room they were in for sure and decided not to go all the way (shaking head) I didn’t want to see anything I was petrified. So I went back to my room put the TV on and I guess eventually fell asleep again and that was it. I woke up in the morning.

TK: What happened in the morning?

LK: I asked them if they had played a joke on me and they said no, oh come on, laughing, they go not at all. It was freaky. We were having breakfast and I said that’s it we’re not staying here anymore and his parents were laughing.

TK: Who were you with?

LK: His parents live at the house and his younger brother and I went there with Robin. And that was it.

THE INFORMANT: The informant was my mom. She was family friends with the Russells who were occupying the estate, and this occurred in the late 80s. This was the only time she experienced a ghostly visitation and the way she describes it makes it clear that she was disturbed by the incident although the family did not take it very seriously, possibly because they had dealt with the ghost before.

ANALYSIS: Woburn Abbey has long been known as a place haunted by ghosts and spirits, much like other English estates with a long history and many previous occupants. According to the website Ghostly Rooms, which catalogues ghost sightings in homes, “It is also said…there is a spirit that haunts the private chambers of Woburn Abbey. This spirit manifests itself by walking through the lounge, without being seen. The door will open on one side and the sound of footsteps move across the floor as the spirit passes through. Once on the other side the other door would open and then slams shut as the spirit leaves. In the 1960s this ghostly activity became so frequent that the Ducal family had to move their television to another room so the could watch the television without the chance of being disturbed.” This seems eerily similar to the experience my mother had, in which she was in one of the private chambers and noticed doors opening without explanation as well as a disturbance of her possessions.

White Mountain skinwalker

Informant discusses a personal experience she had in Arizona over a decade ago.

SP: I was maybe ten at this point– I think it was probably ten or eleven, and I remember the first thing that freaked me out was my dog growling like crazy at nothing we could see. We were driving from Santa Fe and we crossed the border into Arizona and there’s this mountain chain there called the White Mountains. Super pretty, green, all that. Anyway, we had our dog with us, he was a terrier so pretty small and generally pretty chill, but he started doing this low growl and staring out the window. Almost like he wanted to launch himself out at something.

TK: So what did you see? I remember you telling me about this a while back. An animal, right?

SP: I looked out and there was this tall figure that looked like a mountain lion– some kind of big cat like– umm…it was standing on its hind legs, like a bear might, not natural. Maybe like fifty feet off the road in the woods. Not a bear, for sure.

TK: Did you guys stop or do anything?

SP: I told my parents and they figured it was some kind of illusion. I was reading a book in the backseat like usual and I guess they thought it was my imagination. But I remember being freaked out and the dog wouldn’t stop growling until like five miles later.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a mid-twenties female who grew up traveling with her family frequently and was always interested in myths and legends at a young age, specifically in cryptids (unproven or mythical animals) due to a childhood fascination with shape-shifting animals. She has never seen anything like this since but has heard similar stories of large animals walking on their hind legs in mountainous or rural regions, often chasing or looking at cars.

ANALYSIS: There seems to be a cultural emphasis on shape-shifters that is especially prevalent around communities of Native American tribes, who call them skinwalkers and usually choose not to talk about them at all due to the belief that discussing a thing will give it power and/or summon it (also seen in the Christian idea of summoning demons and, pop-culturally, in the Harry Potter universe as a protective spell against Voldemort– “he who must not be named.”) The skinwalker is often described as an evil person who got too involved in black magic and lost his or her human form, becoming more of a spirit and sometimes known to shift shape (mostly into animal forms) and often chase cars. Skinwalkers usually are described as being larger than average size, if they do appear as an animal they have eerily human mannerisms such as walking on their hind legs, and those who encounter them often report a true feeling of dread. The informant does not know much about this tradition and cannot say for certain much more about the appearance of the creature.

One for Sorrow, Two For Joy (nursery rhyme)

According to an old superstition, the number of magpies one encounters will determine whether one experiences bad or good luck. Like many folk songs and nursery rhymes, there is considerable variation regarding the lyrics, but here is a contemporary version:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.

ANALYSIS: Magpies have frequently been considered a bad omen in many cultures, specifically Britain as far back as the early sixteenth century. As the rhyme shows, most of the numbers have good things associated with them; the only bad magpie to see is one lone magpie. For this reason, in many parts of the United Kingdom, “people will salute a single magpie and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” By acknowledging the magpie in this way you are showing him proper respect in the hope that he will not pass bad fortune on to you. By referring to the magpie’s wife you are also implying that there are two magpies, which bring joy rather than sorrow according to the popular rhyme.” The fact that this superstition has lasted so long reminds us that, especially in places with such ancient culture as the UK, old superstitions die hard and many of our modern ways of behavior stem from them.

Kelpie (Scottish cryptid)

The Kelpie is a mythical water-beast from Scotland which is supposed to take the appearance of a gray or white horse, notable because, unlike a real horse which would likely not be found near water or at least swimming in it, the Kelpie’s mane and tail are always dripping wet. The Kelpie was said to drag people underwater, drown them and eat them. Some versions of the story have it that the skin of the Kelpie is an adhesive and anyone who touches it will be stuck to it, hence being dragged underwater; therefore, the only way to escape a Kelpie is to cut off one’s own limb that is attached to it and then–if one makes it back to shore– to quickly find a surgeon before blood loss leads to death.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a woman who grew up in Ireland hearing both Irish and Scottish legends, although she said this one is mainly from Scotland.

ANALYSIS: The kelpie is a well-known cryptid (animal whose existence has been suggested but never proven by scientific methods). A commonly accepted explanation for the kelpie myth is that, historically, many people in Scotland lived by the coast or by a lake, of which Scotland has many, but were unable to swim, hence causing a cultural fear of water and drowning. Ironically, even fishermen were unlikely to learn how to swim,  because they believed that knowing how to swim was tempting fate and that they would be caught in an accident where they would need to swim for their lives. The kelpie could simply be a manifestation of that fear, told to children as a warning so that they would not stray too close to coastlines without being able to save themselves in the event that they fell into the water. Scottish folklore is a very robust part of the country’s industry, showing up perhaps most notably in the case of the Loch Ness Monster, who has even been suggested to be a relative of the kelpie.

Moment of silence before a trip (Russian Jewish superstition)

Before leaving the house on a long journey, the entire present family must sit in silence for a period of time (which varies by family and local custom) in silence. This is often considered a useful custom because in the frenzy of preparing for a trip, this time allows for people to think carefully about whether they have forgotten to pack a useful item, but it is also considered good luck to sit with the departing family in order to protect them on their upcoming journey or, if they die during the trip, to attain closure so that one does not retroactively regret not taking time with this person before they leave.

THE INFORMANT: Mid-twenties woman who has studied Russian and Georgian culture for many years, despite not having grown up in either cultural group. She currently works in diplomacy and is researching Russian Jewish superstitions for an unrelated project and out of intellectual curiosity. She says this is also put into practice in Georgian communities in which she has lived and it is mostly considered a time of meditation and respect for the traveler putting themselves in the risky situation of long travel.

ANALYSIS: Due to the anxiety that the prospect of a long trip can often induce, it is unsurprising that so many superstitions have developed as pre-travel rituals. Furthermore, the focus on familial relationships that pervades Jewish culture, as well as the many folktales and superstitions from Russian culture, have combined here to create a more or less secular experience that is still retained in many families (both in Russia/Eastern Europe and in immigrant homes) as a way to protect the departing travelers. Many cultures have similar customs, such as the Christian blessing or prayer to be said before a journey, asking for protection. In the Catholic tradition, this idea of protection is translated into a physical emblem, as the St. Christopher medal is used to protect weary travelers from potential harm.