|"Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing," William Blake|
I have discovered many, many strange stories in the old newspapers--some reasonably trustworthy, others not. However, I don’t believe I have found anything more bizarre than a column which on July 15, 1886, appeared without any fanfare in the “Newnan (Georgia) Advertiser.”
The story revealed that “a gentleman living about two miles north of town” witnessed a “strange and thrilling apparition” several days before. This unnamed man was a skeptic who had never given any credence to tales of ghosts or spiritualism. (Although he admitted that his mother was a self-professed medium who correctly predicted her sister’s death, he had always regarded her “foolishness” as a huge joke.) He was still reluctant to believe in the supernatural, although what he had seen made him “now ready to believe in anything.”
On the previous Wednesday morning, this man was out on Wahoo Creek, about three miles from Newnan. In a very dense section of bushes and trees, he noticed “five strange looking creatures, one of whom was very tall and slender, wearing a thin garment of white and black, with a hat neither ancient nor modern, but similar to those worn by a Texas cowboy, and arms long and tapering, with fair and lily-white hands; another not quite so tall but large and broad shouldered, with a voice similar to those birds that fly up and down the Cumberland river in Tennessee, whose dress was similar to the other, only much longer in the train and more difficult to carry through the weeds and briars; another wore a peculiar and thin wrapper, antique in appearance yet artistic in design, revealed a lithe-like form that would have done for a model for an Angelo or worthy the facile pencil of a Raphael, glided about the rocks and cliffs with perfect ease. This creature, human or spirit, he could not divine which, had for companions two little mermaids, habited like the nereids and graces, all of whom were eating blackberries, not plucking them with their hands as people generally do, but gathering them with their bills like birds. Whenever they wanted to go from one bank of the stream to the other they flitted across the water like wrens jumping from log to log in a wood pile. Finally, having satiated their appetites, they suddenly disappeared in the water like young ducks diving for insects in a shallow stream. After regaling themselves for some time they then returned through the woods, flying up into the trees and hanging to the limbs like sapsuckers to a dead pine and leaping the railroad cut above the bridge without the slightest effort.”
This man went on to say that as night came on, the creatures slowly traveled up to the east side of the local cemetery. Although the cemetery was surrounded by a high fence, the beings leaped over it effortlessly. As he went by, he saw them sitting on a tombstone. When they saw him approach, the creatures “raised their arms, gave a hideous shrill and vanished like mist before the sunlight.”
The man, who knew “full well that he was in his right mind,” had no explanation for what he had seen. He could only say “that if there are such things as ghosts, or that the spirits of the dead can return to earth, then what he saw was certainly of that character.”
So, what are we to make of this extraordinary tale? The obvious explanation, of course, is that it is merely one of the very many hoax stories so beloved of the newspapers of the era. (Particularly since the article includes that classic red flag of describing our witness as “noted for his truthfulness.”) However, those fictitious news items generally included some details aimed at giving the story an air of verisimilitude--after all, the whole point was for the account to be believed by their readers. This baby, on the other hand, is just plain freaking nuts.
In short, I make no claims of authenticity for the above story, but it’s such a beguiling slice of The Weird, I couldn’t resist passing it along.