|New Hall of Lincoln's Inn, 1840s|
This somewhat unusual London "ghost" story--let's call it a miniaturized version of "The Devil's Footprints"--appeared in the "Daily Mail" for May 16, 1901:
It is very easy to laugh at a ghost story. Here is one which, laughable or not, actually happened on the night between Saturday, 11th May, and Sunday, 12th May, in a house in a square in one of the inns within a stone's throw of the Law Courts.
A personal explanation is inevitable in a thing of this sort. I will make it as short as possible. I am not a believer in ghosts--neither am I a disbeliever. I am no spiritualist, nor am I a sceptic. I simply don't know; but I am curious.
A rather well known man of letters, a personal friend took chambers about eighteen months ago in the said inn, of which he is not a member. It was an old house--early Georgian, probably--and consisted mainly of sets of lawyers' chambers. His rooms, three sitting rooms and a bedroom, were the only rooms in the building inhabited at night, save for the caretaker, who lived in the basement. The writing man's rooms were on the third floor, and shut off from the rest of the house by a short staircase and a solid door.
He paid an unusually low rent, and explained this by admitting that there must be something queer about the rooms, as there had been seven or eight tenants in two years. They had one and all left in a hurry, and the agents were anxious to let at almost any rent.
My friend filled up most of the wall space with books; read, wrote, and mused during most of the day and part of the night, and admitted in his more confidential moments that "things happened." He did not specify exactly what occurred, but after a time he became nervous and fidgety. Last month he left the chambers rather suddenly, declaring "he could stand it no longer." He cleared away all his belongings, and once more the rooms were empty.
With another friend who is of much the same temperament as myself I arranged an all-night sitting in these rooms where "things happened." Two chairs and a table were absolutely the only furniture left in the place.
We unlocked the front door a little before midnight, locked it behind us, and turned on the electric light. We were alone in the house.
After mounting the stairs from the outer door, there was a smallish room, through which we passed into the principal apartment. This had a fireplace in the north wall and two doors in the south wall, through one of which was the entrance from the stairs. The other door was that of another small room, which had no other means of communication, so that there was no connection between the two small rooms save through the large room.
We searched the place thoroughly, closed and locked the windows, and pulled down the registers of the three fireplaces. There were no cupboards or recesses, no dark corners, and no sliding panels. Even a black beetle could not have escaped unobserved. The walls were entirely naked. There were no blinds or curtains.
On the floor of the two smaller rooms we spread powdered chalk, such as is used for polishing dancing floors. This was to trace anybody or anything that might come or go. We had been warned that nothing happened in a room in which folks were watching.
The doors leading to the little rooms were closed, and we sat in the big room and waited. We were both very wideawake, entirely calm, self-possessed, and sober; expectant and receptive, but in no way excited or nervous.
It was then about a quarter past midnight. We talked in ordinary tones, told each other tales, exchanged experiences--and, curiously enough, discovered we had a mutual friend whom we had never mentioned before, although we had known each other for years.
I only mention these trivialities in order to imply that so far as I am able to judge we were in quite an ordinary frame of mind. We did not deem it necessary to feel each other's pulses or take one another's temperatures, but I am convinced that had we done so we should have found ourselves to be entirely normal.
At seventeen minutes to one the door opposite to us on the right, leading to the little room to which there was no communication save through the room in which we were sitting, unlatched itself and opened slowly to its full width. The electric light was on in all the rooms. The click of the turning of the door handle was very audible. We waited expectantly--nothing happened. At four minutes to one precisely the same thing occurred to the door on the left. Both doors were now standing wide open.
We had been silent for a few seconds watching the doors. Then we spoke. "This is unusual," said I. "Yes," said the other man; "let's see if there's any resistance."
We both rose, crossed the room, and, expecting something, found nothing. The doors closed in the usual way, without resistance. "Draught, of course," was our comment ; and we sat down again. But we knew there was no possibility of draught, because everything was tightly shut. While the two doors had stood open we had both noticed that there was no mark on the sprinkled chalk.
We talked again, but there was a tension, a restraint, which we had not felt before. I cannot explain it, but it was there. A long silence ensued, but I am sure we were both wide awake. At 1:32 (my watch was on the table with a pencil and slip of paper on which I noted the times) the right-hand door opened again, exactly as before. The latch clicked, the brass handle turned, and slowly the door swung back to its full width. There was no jar or recoil when it became fully open. The opening process lasted about eleven seconds. At 1:37 the left-hand door opened as before, and both doors stood wide.
We did not rise, but looked on and waited. At 1:40 both doors closed simultaneously of their own accord, swinging slowly and gently to within 8 inches of the lock, when they slammed with a jar, and both latches clicked loudly, the one a fraction of a second later than the other.
Between 1:45 and 1:55 this happened twice again, but the opening and closing were in no case simultaneous. There were thus four unaided openings and three closings. The first time we had closed them ourselves.
The last openings took place at 2:07 and 2:09, and we both noticed marks on the chalk in the two little rooms. We sprang upland went to the doorways. The marks were clearly defined bird's footprints, in the middle of the floor; three in the left-hand room (the passage room) and five in the right-hand room. The marks were identical, and exactly 2 3/4 in. in size. We are neither of us ornithologists, but we compared them to the footprints of a bird about the size of a turkey. There were three toes and a short spur behind. The footprints converged diagonally towards the doors to the big room; and each one was clearly and sharply defined, with no blurring of outline or drag of any sort.
This broke up our sitting. We raised our voices to normal pitch; measured the footprints, made a sketch of them, lighted our pipes, and sat down in the big room.
Nothing more happened. The doors remained open and the footprints clearly visible. It was just 2:30. We waited till 3:30, discussing things we understood nothing about. Then we went home, locking the outer door behind us, and dropping the key, in an envelope, into the letter box of the house agent's office near by. On the Embankment we were greeted by an exquisite opal and mother-o'-pearl sunrise.
I have stated here exactly what happened, in a bald, matter-of-fact narrative. I am not convinced, nor converted, nor, contentious. I have simply recorded facts. And the curious thing about it is that my curiosity has not been cured.
It eventually emerged that the author of this story was Ralph Blumenfeld, News Editor for the "Daily News." His companion was Max Pemberton, another prominent journalist. Years later, when Blumenfeld was asked about the tale, he insisted that he had described their strange experience quite truthfully, "but don't ask me for an explanation."
Blumenfeld went on to say that the house--which stood in Lincoln's Inn--had been demolished after WWI, and that nothing paranormal had been reported in the building that went up in its place. The Turkey Ghost of Lincoln's Inn is fated to remain an enigma.