"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, January 15, 2024

The Journalist and the Ghostly Dog

Accounts of ghostly animals are more common than you might think.  In his 1939 book “Days of Our Years,” journalist Pierre Van Paassen relates such a story, which is unusual mainly for its utterly inexplicable nature.  The episode took place in the early 1930s, while Van Paassen was living in France.

Sitting alone in my room at nights, I had more than once heard a slight tapping sound on the walls.  I had dismissed the matter from my mind and for years I scarcely paid any attention.  We had two German police dogs.  The bolts and locks on the doors were in good order so that there was not the slightest danger of unwelcome guests intruding without some more racket than a few taps now and then.  Moreover, I did not believe in supernatural manifestations.  We had a ghost tradition in the family on my mother’s side, but that ghost had been left behind in Holland years ago, attached to its traditional haunts.  A ghost does not cross the ocean, apparently, and the stories I had heard about it had almost faded from my memory.

One winter evening I felt the room growing chilly, and thinking that the coal in the furnace was burning low, I went downstairs to the cellar to throw a few shovelfuls on the fire.  It must have been about eleven o’clock.  Returning to my room, while ascending the stairway, I felt something brush past me and looking around I saw a large black dog running down.  I must say that I was more surprised than alarmed.  I turned on my heel and, switching on all the lights in the house, looked for the animal in every room.  I could not find it.  Then I unbolted the front door and called in the police dogs.  They showed not the slightest sign of agitation, although their sense of smell was so acute that when I had stroked a dog somewhere on one of my trips, whether in Moscow or in Damascus or no matter how far away and how long ago, they wagged their tails in recognition as they sniffed my clothes upon my return home.  This time they remained unmoved.  The black dog I had seen had apparently not left a scent behind.  I went back to my room, but found the door standing open, although I was certain that I had closed it before going down to the cellar.

The following night, again at the very same hour, I heard a noise on the stairs, a noise as if a dog were running down swiftly.  The sound came from the second stairway on which no carpet lay.  I flung the door of my room open and switched on the light in the hallway.  I saw the same black dog running down the stairs.  I began to tremble.  I investigated again and called in the dogs once more.  No trace of the intruder…

I did not speak to any members of the household about the incident, not wishing to disturb anyone’s peace of mind.  Yet the manifestation repeated itself as regularly as clockwork on several ensuing evenings.  Then they stopped abruptly.  A short time thereafter I had to go to Rumania on a newspaper assignment--it was the time when Carol returned to seize the throne--and remained away five weeks.  When I returned I was told that the maid was quitting our service because she would not remain in a haunted house.  She had even then started to sleep out.

I questioned the girl.  She said she had been awakened several times at night by a big black dog which pushed open the door of her room and walked about.

“You have been dreaming,” I said; “there is no black dog in this house.  I don’t know of one in the whole village.”  But the girl would not stay with us.

The business was growing serious.  The villagers would stop me and ask questions.  I told my neighbor Crèvecœur about it and he offered to come and sleep in the maid’s room to clear up the mystery.  He arrived one evening at half-past ten with his son, a boy of nineteen.  They had armed themselves with heavy sticks and Crèvecœur pere had brought his army revolver.  We sat in my room with the door wide open and all the lights in the house on full blast.  And sure enough, at the stroke of eleven we heard the patter of a dog’s feet coming down from the second story.  We ran into the hallway, all three of us, but saw nothing at first, until young Crèvecœur called out, “There it is!”  A big black dog stood at the foot of the stairs in the vestibule downstairs.  The dog looked up at us.  My neighbor whistled and the animal wagged its tail.  We started down the stairs, keeping our eyes on the apparition.  We had not gone three steps when the outline of the dog grew fainter and fainter and presently vanished altogether.  Then we searched high and low once more, but no trace of a dog.  For the rest of that night the Crèvecœurs stayed at the house and we all slept peacefully.

There were two years to run on the lease and being poor I could not afford to sacrifice so much rent by moving out.  Moreover, I had decided to see the thing through:  so long as the canine phantom did not bite or bark, its presence for a brief moment each night was bearable.  It was not pleasant and it was slowly wearing our nerves thin, but we had to put up with it.  There was no other way out.  We tried to joke about it, spoke about “Fido, the phantom poodle,” and shrugged our shoulders when anybody inquired about the phenomenon.  At the same time, nobody slept a wink before eleven in our house.

One evening I decided--I do not know why the idea had never occurred to me before--to bring our two police dogs into my room and have them present before the apparition should make itself heard and not afterwards.  This led to a horrible scene.  The dogs pricked up their ears at the first noise on the floor above and leaped for the door.  The sound of pattering feet was coming downstairs as usual, but I saw nothing.  What my dogs saw I do not know, but their hair stood on edge and they retreated growling back into my room, baring their fangs and snarling.  Presently they howled as if they were in excruciating pain and were snapping and biting in all directions, as if they were fighting some fierce enemy.  I had never seen them in such mortal panic.  I could not come to their aid, for I saw nothing to strike with the cudgel I held in my hand.  The battle with the invisible foe lasted less than two minutes.  Then one of my dogs yelled as if he were in the death throes, fell on the floor and died.

I was like a man stricken with the palsy.  I was still trembling from head to foot when the knocker banged on the front door and I opened it.  It was my good neighbor, Monsieur Crèvecœur.  He made me drink some water and the first words I said when I recovered my wits were, “Tomorrow I move out of this place.  I am damned if I stay another day!”  I told him what had happened.  Crèvecœur examined the dead dog and his cowering brother who sat softly whining in a corner, still shaking like a reed.

“I am notifying the mayor tomorrow,” I said.

“What for?” asked Monsieur Crèvecœur.

“I want an official declaration that this house is haunted.  He can send the gendarmes to investigate.”

“The man to send for is the Abbé  de la Roudaire,” answered my neighbor.  “The gendarmes cannot help here.  You need the priest for this.  He will rid you of the phantom if anyone can.  The priests have a secret formula which they use to banish les revenants.”

I looked up the Abbé  next morning.  He had already heard of the mysterious goings-on at our house.  Instead of taking the matter lightly or laughing it off, Monsieur de la Roudaire was very serious.  He promised to be with us that same night.

Crèvecœur also came with his son.  The Abbé  was in the house promptly at ten o’clock.  We took up our vigil again in my room and drank a glass of warm wine, for the night was cold and snow was falling.  We had left the door open, so that we had a view of the stairs to the second story.

At last the pendulum struck the hour of eleven.  Silently we waited for the last stroke.  As the sound died away, the patter of a dog’s feet was heard upstairs.  I began to shake.  I do not wish to boast but I have never feared any physical foe.  I do not remember having trembled in no man’s land.  Yet that night I was weak with fear.  My nerves had been worn raw.  As soon as the Abbé , who had been sitting nearest the door, heard the noise, he rose quietly and walked a few steps towards the entrance.  I took up my stand by his side.  The pattering footsteps stopped on the stairway.  A big black dog stood on the stairs staring straight at the priest.  The animal was wagging its tail.  The Abbé  did not say a word, but his eyes were fixed straight on the apparition.  He took a step forward and the dog emitted a low growl.  Then its outline became hazy and presently it vanished.  The Abbé  walked back into my room.

“Now we can drink in peace,” he said.

“And sleep?” I asked.

“Sleep, too,” he said.  “This is over.”

We telephoned to the cafe of the Golden Lion for a hack.  When we heard the rattle of the carriage outside, the Abbé  wrapped himself up in his cape and I showed him out.  As I placed my hand on the bolt he paused and took me aside.

“You have a young girl in this house, fourteen, fifteen?” he asked.

“Yes, Monsieur l’Abbé , we have a girl who runs errands.  She is fifteen, I think.  She was recommended to us by her mother, a widow--you know her, Madame Germaine.  Why do you ask?”

“Pay her a month’s wages and let her go!” said the Abbé .

“You do not mean this girl has anything to do with the apparition?”

“I certainly do,” he smiled.  Such instances of Poltergeist frequently center around a girl in puberty.  But it is the first time I have seen it take the shape of a dog. D’ailleurs, there is nothing to worry about now.  You should have called me before.”

“Mais, Monsieur l’Abbé !”

“We will talk of this business again someday!”

But he never did.


  1. The ghost-dog seemed friendly to humans, but to other dogs...? Strange, indeed.

  2. Maybe the ghost-dog felt threatened by the German shepherds. Sad that one of them was killed!


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