If you’re listening to eerie podcasts at this time of year then we are right there with you! Many of us enjoy spooky tales of hauntings during pumpkin season but for those of us who enjoy ghoulish tales, our love for the eerie isn’t limited to the month of October. Also, Jolly old Saint Nick isn’t the only one who has a corner market when it comes to the winter season. Sinister, creepy and downright terrifying characters are embedded into holiday traditions, superstitions, and folklore across many cultures. While the frigid wind howls through the night and temperatures drop, the icy chill you feel might not be just a change in the weather. You have to be brave enough to dig deep, go where many won’t venture at this time of year. However, as the veil thins you may find yourself making this trek alone.
We are all likely very familiar with what has become one of the most well-known ghosts stories about Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Christmas-hating miser who is visited by the terrifying apparition of his dead colleague, Jacob Marley. He in turn, gets visited by ghosts of the Past, Present and Future. A Christmas Carol by Dickens was published in 1843 and to this day the beloved story is going strong. But scary stories go beyond the Victorian era and have been told for centuries, traced all the way back to ancient cultures.
Stories of people recounting ghoulish stories go back to ancient Roman writings. As far back as the first century, people write about witnessing ghosts, hearing noises similar to your average everyday haunting today. The ghosts are never malicious but seem to simply show up—many times because they were disrespected after death or not buried properly. Occasionally they appear as a warning or to portend some information to the individual who is either lucky or unlucky to see them. Stories became darker and much more menacing in the 18th century when gothic literature came on the scene. Descriptions of dark hallways, disturbing mysterious lovers and ghostly themes became very popular.
As we wander further down the timeline of the ethereal path we come to the early 19th century. And being a true fan of the art of the spine tingling ghost story, one cannot walk this realm without smacking head first into the tales of M.R. James, one of the best ever British writers of the ghoulish genre. If you are one of those who likes to read before bed then James’ Oh Whistle & I’ll Come to You My Lad is enough to keep anyone up at night. The story was adapted into a TV film as well and is often a popular tale during the Christmas season. It tells of a college professor who takes a seaside vacation and finds more than just a getaway. He comes across an old whistle with a mysterious Latin inscription. Without bothering to learn what the inscription means, the gentleman blows the whistle and opens the door to nightmares. In his sleep he is terrorised by dreams of nightmarish dark figures, shadowy images and horrifying scenes of people fleeing in terror. Definitely not a story for the faint-hearted! Do you want to know what is written on the whistle? Well, for that, you must read the story…if you dare.
So as you see, for us ghost lovers, eerie stories definitely have a place during the holiday season and well into the New Year. As mentioned previously, many ghosts emerge because they are not at rest and sketchy burials seem to be the key. One such ghost shows up every New Year on January 1st and there are a couple of theories as to why this may be.
Anthony Wayne, nick-named Mad Anthony for his aggressive and unorthodox way of fighting, was born on January 1st, 1745 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was born to an immigrant family of Irish descent and was an American soldier, officer and statesman. He was considered one of the great heroes of the American Revolution. In 1775 he led the Yorktown campaign to attempt to gain control over the Province of Quebec, which at the time was controlled by the British and he tried to convince the French-speaking Canadians to join the revolution. Eventually, the Yorktown campaign led to the surrender of the British Army led by General Charles Earl of Cornwallis in October of 1781. Mad Anthony was know to lead bayonet-only attacks which some considered to be suicide. By 1783 he was promoted to Major General but retired soon after. He settled in Georgia and briefly represented Georgia in the House of Representatives and returned to the Army to command the US forces. Wayne died on December 15th, 1796 in Eerie, Pennsylvania while on active duty.
Here’s where, perhaps, the ghost story of Mad Anthony begins. He was originally buried at the Old Fort in Eerie Pennsylvania at the St. David Episcopal Church. However, his son, Isaac wanted to have his father’s remains interred at the Old St. David Episcopal Churchyard in the city of Radnor where Wayne was a lifetime member of the Church. Isaac would not let his father rest and ordered his remains to be exhumed. Unfortunately, the box brought to carry Wayne’s body was too small so a surgeon suggested leaving some of his bones at the one location and only taking some to the other churchyard.
The road to Radnor was bumpy and rough and some of poor Mad Anthony’s bones fell off the wagon without anyone realising what had happened. The remaining bones were re-buried in the Old St. David’s churchyard. Legend now says that since his remains were disturbed and scattered, the ghost of Wayne wanders and haunts the trail looking for his missing bones. His ghost and the spectral apparition of his horse, Nancy, are said to appear at midnight each New Year’s Day, which as we remember, is Wayne’s birthday! Townsfolk say they have heard Mad Anthony whistling for Nancy and sounds of galloping hooves are heard across the rough road. Some say orange flashes and sparks fly from Nancy’s hooves as she gallops away with Wayne on her back, his cloak wafting behind him. To this day, Wayne’s ghost is still known to haunt U.S. Route 322 in Pennsylvania every January 1st as the war hero is left wandering between the location of his two gravesites in search of his missing bones.
So yes, the winter months are for putting up beautiful, bright lights, pulling out the colourful wrapping paper and getting ready to toast a brand new year. Well, we love this too, however, we also like to dust off a few ghosts and venture down a more darkened path. We take a stroll through an eerily quiet cemetery, wander down a sinister hallway, drive down a desolate road or descend into an abandoned building. If you are truly a lover of the spooky, whether fact or fiction, we say no need to limit yourselves. Gather ‘round the fire with your favourite Yuletide beverage, dim the lights, grab your favourite book of ghostly tales or turn on your favourite ghoulish podcast. We’ll be along for the journey right there with you…that is, until you happen to look away briefly only to turn back to find that you are, in fact, suddenly and terrifyingly alone. Do you believe in ghosts?
Gina Armstrong & Victoria Vancek
Haunted History BC