Archive for October, 2011


The writer Elyphas Levi one day saw the ghost of Apollonius of Tyane in his study.

Here are two extraordinary stories which happened to people from what is called Parisian High Society [le Tout-Paris]  These people having preferred to remain anonymous, Guy Breton has given them different names in his text, but certifies the authenticity of all the facts that he reports.

Some years ago, the wife of a great actor – whom he calls Elisabeth – went on holiday to England.  One day, some friends said to her:

“We are invited to spend the weekend with a producer, Arthur Stanley, who has a big house near Oxford.  As usual, there will be around fifteen people there.  Come with us, Arthur will be delighted to meet you…”

Elisabeth accepts.  And the following Saturday, she arrives, late afternoon, with her friends, at a delicious little XVIIth Century mansion surrounded by a park like the ones on paintings by Haddelsey.  Marvelling, she thinks that she has entered a Daphne du Maurier novel.

Arthur Stanley and his wife come to welcome her with warm affability, and a domestic shows her to her bedroom.  She changes for dinner.

When she comes out, a quarter of an hour later, she meets on the landing a ravishing little blonde girl of six or seven who curtsies to her and says:

“Good evening, Madam.  My name is Janet.”

“Good evening, Janet…”

“Madam, will you come later to play ball with me on the lawn?”

“Yes, of course I will!”

“Thank you, Madam!”

And little Janet runs away.

Elisabeth then descends to the salon where she finds her hosts surrounded by their guests, and everyone sits down to dinner. which is very gay.  There are journalists, actors, writers who, as usual, gossip about their colleagues.  Elisabeth takes advantage of a pause in the conversation to turn to the hostess.

“Mrs Stanley, I met your delicious little girl a while ago.  She asked me to play ball with her.  I won’t forget to do it…  She is adorable…”

Mrs Stanley goes white and bows her head without answering, while a kind of embarrassment seems to seize the guests.  Then one of them, as if to make a diversion, begins to recount hunting stories, with rather affected gaiety…

Elisabeth has the impression that she has been indiscrete.  She thinks that little Janet is perhaps not Mrs Stanley’s daughter…  Could she be the daughter of one of the domestics?…  No, her words would not have produced such embarrassment…  Could she be a daughter that Arthur Stanley has had with a chambermaid?

The dinner comes to an end and, as soon as she leaves the table, Elisabeth goes to find her friends in a corner of the salon and tells them of her fears of having been indiscrete.

“Oh!  My dear, it’s our fault.  We should have warned you.  Mrs Stanley lost her daughter two years ago.  Since then, Janet haunts the house.  And everyone sees her…  except her mother!”

***

A great lady of Parisian couture lived for years with a malicious, inoffensive ghost that she called Anatole.

The second story has for principal heroine a very great lady of French couture.  Guy Breton calls her Blanche.  She possessed, forty kilometres from Paris, a very beautiful property that she claimed was haunted.  She said:

“Do you know that I have a ghost in my house?…  Yes, yes, it’s marvellous!  Sometimes, he makes a dreadful noise, he slams doors, shutters, he rings bells…  In the beginning, it frightened me;  but now, I’m used to it, I’m not frightened any more…  I even talk to him.  I call him Anatole.  When he makes too much noise, I cry out to him:  ‘Stop, Anatole!  Come, come, darling, calm down!…’  And he stops very obediently.”

For a long time, Blanche’s friends just smiled and said nothing.  Then, one day, the couturiere was recounting to a group of friends Anatole’s latest exploits, assuring that he had emptied a bookcase overnight while letting out cries of joy, when someone told her to stop talking about her Anatole.  Everyone knows that ghosts don’t exist.

“What?  Anatole doesn’t exist?  It’s easy to see that you haven’t heard him!…”

All agree that they would like to do just that.

“Very well, you shall!  Come to my place this evening.  All of you.  And you’ll see if Anatole doesn’t exist!”

That evening, all the friends arrive at Blanche’s house.  While they are drinking their aperitif, their car horns suddenly start hurling.  Someone laughingly says:

“Your number is well executed.”

“It’s not a number, it’s Anatole.

Everyone snickers.  Then they go to see.  They open bonnets, scrutinize the electrical circuits, without being able to explain how the horns have been able to start.  Finally, as they continue to roar, they disconnect the batteries.  To no avail…

“I don’t understand how you’re doing this, but your illusionism act is perfect!”

“I assure you that there is no trick.  It’s Anatole!”

After a while, as everyone is starting to become deaf, she calls out:

“Right, well, now, that’s enough, Anatole.  Stop!…  Come on, you’ve had your fun!…”

Suddenly, all the horns stop.

The guests return to the house, perplexed.  A young engineer says:

“It’s incomprehensible.  There was no wire, nothing!…  You know, we’ll end up believing in your ghost…”

They sit at the table and dine, listening to Blanche tell anecdotes about Anatole.

The meal ends.  They pass into the salon.

Suddenly, an appalling noise shakes the house.  All the doors, after having opened all at the same time, violently slam shut.  Delighted, Blanche says:

“Ah!  There he is!  Good evening, Anatole!”

Straight away, all the lamps go out and all the doors slam again.

Certain guests laugh a bit nervously.  The others keep quiet and you can feel that fear is beginning to steal over them.

Suddenly, the light comes back, accompanied by a great cry which explodes right in the room.  Blanche says:

“Stop, Anatole!”

The women try to smile;  but they are livid.  At this moment, the piano plays a few notes on its own, as if a child were banging on the keyboard.  Then a curtain detaches itself and falls near a young woman who screams.  She asks her husband to take her home.  She doesn’t want to stay any longer.  Blanche says:

“If some of you want to stay the night, I have beds for you all…  And Anatole hasn’t shown you a quarter of what he can do…  Sometimes, he organizes real sarabands in the kitchen:  all the pots and pans fly into the air…”

But the guests thank their hostess and return to their cars;  except for one, the engineer, who spends the night and whom Blanche finds the next morning, with dark circles under his eyes and a wax-like complexion, at breakfast.

Months pass.  And one day, Blanche has work done in the house.  To make one room bigger, the masons have to demolish a wall.  At the third blow with the pick, they discover a skeleton.  A man had been walled in there a hundred years before…

His bones were taken to the cemetery.

Since then, there have been no more manifestations in Blanche’s house…

***

To be continued.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Henri Rachon.

Toulouse-Lautrec doubtless died an alcoholic, although it is not certain.  But the demand that he makes to the nun for absinthe conforms with reality, so does his anger, as well as the rictus of the drinker.  When Victor, the waiter at the Apollo Bar, did not bring his green liqueur fast enough, he threw terrible tantrums…

***

It is not certain that he had never been to the castle.  Toulouse-Lautrec was born in 1864 and the nuns only settled there around 1888.  In any case, he knew the tower and its occupants since he wrote to his mother

“I can amuse myself well and do anything I want since Maman is supporting, in our old tower at Boussagues, some nuns whose principal function is to pray for my soul’s salvation and who climb up and down inside their donjon like frogs in a bowl!…”

***

The Boussagues donjon.

Like all cases of haunting, three explanations are possible.  The nun, who was certainly a medium, had given birth to a ghost and was acting unconsciously on him by dictating a comportment to him that she knew he had had while alive.  But in this case, the explanation of “hallucinatory haunting” is to be excluded.  Two other explanations remain:  either that the nun had played the role of intermediary, of catalyser of an exterior force, the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec, or that she had been able to receive an impregnation with which the walls of the tower were charged.  It is the typical case of the ghost that Chateaubriand was able to see in his adolescence, and whose image had been imbibing the walls of Combourg Castle for centuries…

***

Numerous authors who have studied the question think that walls are only inert in appearance.  That they impregnate themselves by swallowing all the joys, sufferings, cries of hate, of agony or of love to which they are witnesses.  That they are also capable of restituting them in the form of radiations from which certain people are able to reconstitute, “reincorporate”, the memories that they have accumulated.  For Roger de Lafforest, everything that unfolds inside four walls creates an atmosphere composed of innumerable micro-vibrations which “stud the inert decor of everyday existence, leaving scars which are even deeper in that the impact has been more violent and more repeated”

***

Toulouse-Lautrec phtographed at the end of his life.

This is not the case here, for the painter was not a frequent visitor to the place.  However, Toulouse-Lautrec’s vitality, his “will to live”, which was prodigious (in his brief life he had accumulated an incredible quantity of drawings and paintings) were able to leave their trace in places, without him coming back to them often.  Because of his infirmity, Toulouse-Lautrec felt terrible frustrations that the audacity and aggressivity of his painting well translates.  He says of one of his mistresses, Marie:

“I hated her like anything from the first instant, but I was unable to do without her”.

It is therefore not surprising that such a temperament was able to leave some emanations in Boussagues which the castle’s particular situation contributed to fix…

***

It has been known for a long time that the situation of certain houses favourises paranormal phenomena.  Just like there are cancer houses (certain telluric forces, underground sources or wells seem to produce waves that are nocive for our cells) there are haunted or evil houses, because they are implanted, for example, on faults in the Earth’s crust.  It is the case at Boussagues, which is built on a series of fallen ground of volcanic origin, and with ancient materials, notably stones from past fortifications.  These could have been able to transmit, like perpetual accumulators and exchangers would do, that “wall memory” that the influences of micro-vibratory physics in our everyday life will one day doubtless explain.  But it is already certain that it conserves our thoughts, our actions and our words, for eternity…

***

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Henri Rachon.

A few months later, another rumour is spreading through the town:  Sister Delphine does not only hear voices, she also has visions, which usually arrive while she is saying her Rosary, kneeling on her prie-dieu.  And what does she see?  The Virgin Mary dressed in azure and gold or the Baby Jesus, clutching lilies?  Not at all.  It is a sort of choir-boy who appears to her each time, but of such bizarre appearance that there is no risk of meeting anyone like him in Boussagues…  He wears the little calotte and, over his ordinary clothes, a white surplice with a belt of red material.  Although he is the size of a child, he also wears spectacles and…  a very thick beard of the most beautiful black.  It is whispered that this singular servant of the Mass is afflicted with a tic which makes him continually lick his violaceous lips, as if he were dying of thirst…

It is in the room known as “the study” that the ghost is to be seen, according to an immuable rite.  When the nun hears swishing and sighing, she opens the door to this chamber next-door to her own and shines a petrol-lamp which has a reflector:  the spectre is usually already perched on a chair, in the process of carefully adjusting the Comtoise clock.  Sister Delphine then sees him descend with difficulty and approach her.  She stands aside and lets him enter her bedroom.  He walks with a limp over to the window where he stops.  The nun prays aloud and it sometimes happens that the apparition recites with her one or two Aves before disappearing suddenly, each time letting out a piercing scream…

The petrol lamp that Sister Delphine shone on the ghost dressed as a choir-boy.

Father Blanc of course knows about this too.  He exhorts, he storms, but refuses to see the phenomenon for himself.  It is even worse when, some time later, the nun decides to write to a close family member of the painter, to advise her “that very strange things are happening at the castle”  and to describe the ghost to her in detail down to “the well-starched shirt which billowed under the rising of his breast”

We are in 1914, so other stories, smacking more of gunpowder than of sulphur, come to nourish the Boussagues gossip.  Curiously, it is at this time too that the last nocturnal intrusion of the little man with twisted legs occurs, an apparition marked by an extraordinary coup de theatre.  On this particular night, he appears thirstier than ever and in prey to inhabitual agitation as well.  The nun sees him climb onto his chair and try to grow bigger on his atrophied legs.  A painful rictus crosses his face while he vehemently calls for some absinthe.  The dear nun is now used to this presence which disturbs her hardly more than the flight of a moth around her lamp.  To this unusual demand she is only able to reply by an apology…  Suddenly the ghost goes into mad anger, jumps from the chair and rushes to the Comtoise.  Firstly, he breaks the glass which protects its face, then with superhuman strength rips out the whole pendulum which passes through the upper niche of the piece of furniture, along with the heavy metal weights.  Surrounded this time by a blueish halo, he attacks the pendulum which he had thrown on the ground after having broken the cables which held the weights.

Sister Delphine’s last vision caused even more talk outside than in her bedroom and at the same time relegated the war rumours to second place.  So much so that the owners of the manor asked Father Blanc for a detailed enquiry about these singular events.  The good priest was very affected by it.  But to what point his initial doubts gave in to perplexity can be read in the letter that he sent to the mother of the deceased painter.  Speaking of the voices and the nun’s repeated visions, he concludes by saying:

“This and many other things which happened afterward do not show the intervention of angels and saints…”

***

These facts are little known.  They were revealed well after the painter’s death, by his first-cousin-once-removed, Countess Attems, nee Tapie de Celeyran.  It is  a case of haunting that is exceptionally complete and convincing…

It is convincing because of the quality of the witnesses and protagonists in the story.  What interest would Sister Delphine have in inventing such a story?  She died in 1919, practically in odour of sanctity.

By his bizarre appearance and his weird comportment at the end, the ghost did not give a very edifying image of the other world.  Therefore, it is not likely that she invented it to prove the reality of the after-life.

***

Toulouse-Lautrec (left) dressed as a choir-boy.

The most troubling part of the story is that Sister Delphine always affirmed that, at each of his apparitions, the ghost was disguised as a choir-boy.  She gave a very detailed description to Father Blanc, who had to admit that the apparition resembled in a striking fashion the son of the owners of the manor, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.

***

It is known with certitude that the nun had never met Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.  It is also known that she did not even know of his existence:  the Toulouse-Lautrecs, of ancient high nobility, lived in the Bordelais, and hid from everyone the bohemian lifestyle that Henri led at Montmartre.  Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec had also completely broken off relations with his son.

***

Sister Delphine described the ghost dressed as a choir-boy because that was how she saw him.  It was one of the artist’s favourite attires that his contemporaries saw several times during religious or profane festivals.  The description of the starched shirt is also in the artist’s habits.

***

At the end of his life, Toulouse-Lautrec, who died at the age of 37, always forgot his appointments.  He was very upset about it and was continually asking the time and winding up his watches.  This insomniac suffered a lot from solitude too and confided to his friends that he was bored with life and that killing time was for him an obsession.  There is an evident connection between this character trait and the final destruction of the clock.

***

To be continued.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as a young painter, by Henri Rachon.

At the end of a deep, winding canyon, there is a last, even steeper rise to the arid plateau from which surges a fantastic concentration of towers and walls…  We are at Boussagues, in Cevenol country, an ancient land, where Julius Caesar had already had each rock hollowed into a vigilaire where his centurions lay in wait.  On the surrounding plain, a few sweet chestnut trees break with the roughness of the site, where shades of the Camisards, martyrised by the Sun-King [Louis XIV] still roam.  But there where, between the eagle-nest towers, a donjon rises, covered in rough-cut slates, a charming manor was built during the Renaissance.  It has always been called la maison du Bailly.  After many vicissitudes, it becomes the property, under Napoleon, of the Baron de Senegra, Grand Master of Holland.  This high-ranking person was the sponsor and friend of many of the great painters of the epoch, notably Ingres.  At the end of the XIXth Century, the manor was acquired by a rich aristocrat, a descendant of the Counts of Toulouse, also a painter, and among the greatest of them:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, the “father” of the Goulue and Yvette Guilbert.

As we know, this artist of genius was also a desperate pleasure-seeker.  His brief existence was spent in the places of Parisian pleasure which he studied with a stroke as cruel as his own destiny.  Sometimes he escaped to London, Brussels or Madrid looking for new distractions which he recorded in his sketch-book with incredible intensity.  Despite, and doubtless because of, his infirmity:  this giant of the pencil is a dwarf, the sequel of two falls that he made when he was a child.

Absorbed by his art and his passions, the Count hardly remembers his Boussagues land, the gestion of which he had entrusted to his mother right from the beginning.  She was born Tapie de Celeyran, and had left the property at the disposition of the Sisters of the Holy Family, a rigorous Order whose nuns devoted themselves to educational tasks.  Around the end of the century, two of its representatives settled into the manor.  They are in charge notably of the kindergarten, the Cathechism and the “choir of big adolescent girls”.  Father Blanc is serving the parish at this time.  He has just returned from India, where he had been a missionary, and knows eight or nine languages including Greek, Sanskrit and Tamil.  This exceptional priest does not want to leave Boussagues for anything in the world.  Its strange, desolated site favourises his meditations.

However, this erudite priest does not administer his parish as a Contemplative:  after having listened to his edifying words translated from the Bible of the Hebrews, his parishioners see him climb a ladder and push the tower’s tiles around with all the strength of his long, ascetic body.  Then, with angelic patience, he corrects the homework of the little, poor pupils of this desert…  However, his goodwill does not extend as far as complacency when it is reported to him that some teenage boys had been to visit the sweet chestnut trees with company!  In fact, this good priest is a man of great character who knows what he wants, particularly as it is very little:  above all to live in this retired place as long as he can assume the charges of his ministry and to devote himself to it far from the tumult of the city.

Monsignor de Cabrieres, Cardinal of Montpellier, knows this:  when, for the third time, he wants to name Father Blanc to a more important post, he sends him his successor who receives the order to discharge his furniture in front of the Presbytery and not to move from there.  The curate receives him stoically and with cordiality, but after having shown him his parish, he prays him to leave immediately.  Once more Monsignor de Cabrieres has to give in…

What are the relations between the curate and the two nuns who live in one wing of the house?  One of them, Sister Delphine, is also a character.  Doubtless very necessary up there, where the winters are terrible and life inside the stones of the secular walls, most often melancholic.  Her companion, Sister Saint-Jean, of more fragile health, dies in 1890, in the Great Northern Room on the second floor of the manor…

The Boussagues donjon where Sister Delphine heard the wind blow as through an organ pipe, and recognized the plaintive voice of a deceased nun.

Between Father Blanc and Sister Delphine the atmosphere is sometimes tense…  When the nun garnishes the main altar with too many candles for her vicar, who would like to consecrate more to charitable deeds, or when the scholarly priest is irritated to see her limit his cultural allowance only to Le Pelerin magazine or pious books.  Or again, when she timidly tells him about strange visions which come to her in the night…

This is essentially a setting of such serenity that a convent on Mount Athos would seem dissipated in comparison…

Such serenity?  Without a doubt.  Except for the anxiety manifested by the nun about everything that touches the dead and the existence of another world.  During her lifetime, Sister Saint-Jean shared these preoccupations and they both often spoke of the chances of survival.  The one who died first had even promised to give a sign to the other when she had definitively arrived in her Paradise.  Two years after the death of Sister Saint-Jean this signal reaches the survivor.  One evening in November, her devotions finished, Sister Delphine is about to take her evening infusion, when she hears a door of the donjon creak and immediately a formidable gust of wind rushes in.  It seems to her that the tower has just changed into a gigantic organ pipe roaring all the sufferings of Purgatory…   But, covering the noise, she soon distinctly hears Sister Saint-Jean calling her in a tender, plaintive voice.

Delighted and terrified, the nun sees in this manifestation a tangible proof of the immortality of the soul and makes it her duty to inform certain inhabitants of Boussagues.  She had in the countryside such a reputation for goodness, intelligence and common sense that everyone believes her word.  The curate hears about it and loses his temper for the first time.  He reproaches the nun with exciting his parishioners to superstition and threatens her with exorcism.  This hardly troubles the nun who retorts that her good faith and her conscience uphold her words.

To be continued.

Frederic II of Prussia.

This is a true story.  An English doctor, at the end of the XIXth Century, studied this case and published documents dating from the XVIIIth Century proving that the whole village of Quarrey saw the bizarre manifestation which unfolded in the Presbytery.

***

The prodigies that we have mentioned continued for a few months.  And Frederic the Great, the Philosopher King, Voltaire’s friend, took the thing so seriously that he ordered that the Presbytery be levelled and the curate’s furniture burnt.  The masons came, demolished everything, then burned it, to the great despair of the poor curate who saw himself thrown into the street.  But Frederic the Great had also given the order to build a new Presbytery in another street of the village.  Father Hartmann settled himself into it…

***

In this little Prussian town called Quarrey, strange things occurred in 1762.

There were no more manifestations in the new house and the good priest was able to hire a servant without fearing the too faithful and too irascible Angelica…

***

Gendarmerie Commander Tizane, speaking of cases of haunting that he has observed over thirty years of his career, writes that it all happens

“as if an invisible power, intelligent, malicious, very skilful, endowed with presence of mind and sometimes responding to the witnesses’ wishes, manifested itself from time to time”.

This unknown power can also show jealousy, anger or slyness…

***

Gendarmerie Commander Emile Tizane studied thousands of cases of haunting over his thirty-year career.

In his work Les Maisons hantees, Camille Flammarion reports several rather troubling cases of haunting where ghosts cease to exist – it could be said – when the house that shelters them is demolished.  And he writes:

“Couldn’t we suppose that the living leave behind them certain reliquats of power, of vital fluid, impregnated in the apartment, which, at the contact of the effective presence of a sensitive person, can suffer a revitalisation susceptible of producing these strange phenomena?”

He adds further on:

“Could certain haunting phenomena come from the habitations?  Could the walls, the furniture of a house be impregnated with vibrations and present to sensitive people a special ambience, as psychometry teaches?  Dr Luys has more than once affirmed it to me at the Hopital de la Charite where I saw his experiments, and Pr d’Arsonval appears to admit this hypothesis…”

***

Since 1880, the ghost of a nun and a howling dog can be met in the Borley Presbytery in England.

Frederic II of Prussia.

In 1762, in a little Prussian village called Quarrey, there is a good curate, Father Hartmann, whose elderly maid Angelica is a real pearl.  Rising at Dawn, last to retire, her cooking is delicious.  She polishes the Presbytery floors once a week, knows like none other how to wash and iron soutanes, surplices and altar cloths, embroiders admirable stoles, makes marvellous tarts and jams, and still finds time to play dominoes in the evening with her master – that master to whom she devotes a veritable cult and for whom she cares as if he were her child.

Her role is not limited to looking after the house and flowering the altar, either.  She also does the gardening, rings the bells for the Angelus and energetically protects Father Hartmann from annoying people.  It is no good coming to knock on the Presbytery door when the good curate, his stomach full of sausages and cabbage washed down with schnaps, is taking a nap.  Angelica, ceasing for a moment to be the gentle, humble person who creeps silently through the Presbytery corridors, becomes a veritable watch-dog.  She snarls:

“Monsieur the Curate is busy!  Come back later!”

Several parishioners, who try to insist, have to flee from the threat of a cudgel that Angelica, in her desire to protect her holy man’s sleep, does not hesitate to brandish in fury.  It is even said that one day, she had kicked the rear-end of a bigot, a real flea in the sacristy ear, who had come for the tenth time to ask the curate to bless a gaufrette mould which reproduced the portrait of Saint Irenee…

In short, Angelica is not only an accomplished housekeeper, she is also a woman of character.  She often says:

“When I’m no longer here, I don’t know what will happen to Monsieur the Curate!”

Good Father Hartmann reassures her:

“Angelica, you will bury us all!…  And you will still be making mirabelle jams when our bones have been no more than dust for a long time…”

But the holy man proposes and God disposes.

One day in November 1762, the good and vigilant Angelica returns from the laundry with her teeth chattering, retires to bed with a temperature, but not before preparing a succulent partridge with sweet chestnuts for her master, and, without a complaint, leaves this world for the other…

Naturally, Father Hartmann’s pain is immense.  And it is very reluctantly that, after having buried the unfortunate Angelica, the curate engages a new servant.

This one is called Frida.  She is just forty, the canonic age imposed at the time for ecclesiastic maids, and appears full of good will.

She moves into the Presbytery on 12 November.  It is on the following day that the first bizarre things happen.

On this day, Frida rises at Dawn.  She descends to the kitchen and what she sees freezes her in the doorway:  the cooking-stove is alight, a pumpkin soup – Father Hartmann’s favourite – is gently simmering on it;  the floor has been washed;  on the table, vegetables have been peeled.

Astounded, she enters the dining-room to prepare the fire.  No need:  flames are dancing in the fireplace, the room is already warm.  What does this mean?

Suddenly, Frida becomes red with embarrassment.  Could it be Monsieur the Curate who, up before her, had prepared everything to shame her?

She hears his step on the stairs.  She rushes to him and apologises.  He asks her why.

“It’s you, isn’t it, who prepared everything?”

“Prepared what?”

“The fire, the soup and the vegetables that I found when I got up…  Not to mention the floor that you washed…”

“Me?!  Firstly, my good Frida, I don’t know how to do any of that;  and then, I have just risen…  Come, come, you weren’t properly awake…”

And the Father goes to say his Mass.  When he comes back, he sits at the table.  He exclaims over the pumpkin soup and asks how she had guessed that it was his favourite meal.  Frida bows her head:

“I didn’t guess anything, Monsieur the Curate, because I told you that it was cooking when I came down…”

The curate frowns.  He is wondering if his new servant has all her reason.

At this moment, a noise comes from the courtyard:  someone is turning the well-handle.  Frida and the curate rush out and find a bucket full of water on the coping.  The chain is still moving.  Frida says:

“You see, it’s continuing…”

This time, Father Hartmann is perplexed.  And he is even more so when he learns, half-an-hour later, that his bed has been made by mysterious hands and that a guinea fowl has been found on the kitchen table, plucked, cleaned, ready to be skewered…

Then, Frida becomes frightened.  She declares that she doesn’t want to remain…  There is a ghost…  Father Hartmann replies:

“Of course there isn’t…  There are no such things as ghosts…”

But, deep down inside, he is starting to wonder if Angelica mightn’t have something to do with these strange phenomena.

In the course of the morning, Frida, more and more horrified, finds the house swept, dusted, the wood cut into logs, the wine drawn.

Finally, she goes upstairs to take refuge in her bedroom.  When she comes back down to prepare the meal, she discovers the place laid, the guinea fowl cooked to perfection, the salad prepared, fresh bread and a pear tart still hot.  Then, she goes back upstairs, collects her things, and goes to find Father Hartmann.  She is in tears.

“I’m going, Monsieur the Curate.  I have nothing to do here.  Someone does everything for me.  I can’t take it any more!…  Excuse me, but I’m too frightened…”

And, making the sign of the cross, she flees the Presbytery.

From this moment, Father Hartmann will live extraordinary days.  “Someone” invisible does his washing-up, prepares his meals, washes and irons his lingerie, does his gardening and rings the Angelus.

Rapidly, the whole town, told about it by Frida, talks only of the prodigies that are unfolding at the Presbytery.  They come in crowds to see the well-handle turning on its own, plates traversing space and placing themselves on the table, a knife peeling vegetables and the iron moving over shirts and surplices.

Soon, these strange manifestations are known to the whole province, and one day, the King of Prussia, Frederic II himself, is informed of it.  He immediately orders a captain and a lieutenant of his guard to go to see what is happening.

The two officers arrive the next day at Quarrey and hasten to the Presbytery.  The captain laughingly enquires after the ghost, but stops for, there, in front of him, in the garden, a wheelbarrow is rolling along on its own.  He exclaims that it is the Devil, and instantly receives a formidable kick in the pants and his face is magistrally slapped twice.

From then on, no-one in the little Prussian village has any more doubts that it is the ghost of the good and energetic Angelica…

***

To be continued.

Lurancy Vennum, aged 13, was possessed by the spirit of a dead girl.

This story is known through the Roffs who abundantly recounted their adventure.  The Lurancy Vennum case was also studied by doctors, psychiatrists, parapsychologists who consecrated many works to it.

***

Lurancy returned to her parents’ home and never had any more attacks of catalepsy.  At eighteen, she married a Kansas farmer George Binning, to whom she gave eleven children.  She died at the beginning of World War II, over eighty years old.  Frequently interrogated by psychologists and journalists, she always declared that she had no memory of her extraordinary adventure.

***

There can have been no trickery.  Lurancy knew nothing about Mary Roff’s life.  Mary had died before she was born.  Further, she often related facts which only Minerva or Mrs Roff had witnessed.

***

The Roffs affirmed to the end of their lives that they truly believed that their daughter’s spirit had lived in Lurancy’s body.  They declared:

“From the month of March, we were convinced that our daughter had come back to our home and that it was with her that we were speaking.  Everything, anyway, was proving it to us!”.

***

Lurancy’s parents lived through a nightmare while their daughter was living with the Roffs.  Several times, they went to Dixville, but the little girl talked to them as if they were strangers.

***

Georges Langelaan studied Lurancy’s story and related it briefly in his Cursed Deeds.  He cited the case of young John Juergens who, for a while, was truly “possessed” by the spirit of an adolescent friend of his named Toby, who died after a hunting accident.  But John Juergens was, it could be said, “possessed by intermittence”.  Sometimes he was Toby, sometimes he was John.  And, curiously, the Juergens’ dog perceived the change.  When he sensed “the arrival” of Toby into John, his fur stood on end and he didn’t allow himself to be touched by the adolescent whom he considered to be a stranger…

There is another case that can be classed in the same category, although it is a bit different.  It is that of Iris Farczady.  Iris was a young Hungarian, the daughter of an engineer and a school teacher in Budapest.  In 1935, when she was fifteen, she fell seriously ill after catching a chill which degenerated into pneumonia.  She was hospitalised.  A few days later, on 28 May, she was dying.  But, at the precise moment when the doctor who was watching by her side was noting the decease, the young girl’s eyes opened and her body came back to life.  The next morning, her state was so much better that she started to speak.  The nurses then noticed, astounded, that she was speaking in a foreign language.  Questioned – obviously in Hungarian – Iris signalled that she did not understand what was being said to her.  As she had several times pronounced the word “senora”, an interpretor who came from Madrid was brought to whom she explained with volubility, but in perfect Spanish, that her name was Altarez de Salvio, that she was the wife of a municipal employee in Madrid, that she was forty years old and had fourteen children (eight daughters and six sons).  She added that she had been hospitalised for a cancer of the uterus and that the doctor had not hidden from her that her state was very alarming.

“So, a little while ago, I was feeling very tired;  I closed my eyes and I must have nodded off.  And here I am in another bed, surrounded by unknown people who don’t speak my language.  Explain to me what is happening!”

No-one, naturally, is able to furnish an explanation.

Later, completely cured, Iris returned to her parents’ home and had to learn Hungarian which she then spoke with a strong Spanish accent.  She had no memory of her life in Hungary;  on the other hand, she didn’t stop talking about her children, whose names she gave, about her husband Manuel, whose functions at the Town Hall she explained, and about Madrid, of which she described the streets and the monuments.  On top of that, she started to make succulent paellas and play the guitar…

Finally, the Spanish Ambassador was informed of what was happening at the Farczady home.  Intrigued by the young girl’s declarations, he had an investigation made in Madrid and soon learned that Senora Altarez de Salvio, the wife of a municipal employee and mother of fourteen children, had died in hospital from a cancer of the uterus on 28 May, at five o’clock in the morning, that is to say, taking into account time-zone differences, at the same time that Iris died in the Budapest clinic.  As well as that, all the details that the young girl had given on the life and family of the Senora were recognized exact…

***

This story is known through Doctor Arnall Bloxham from Cardiff, who personally studied the case of Iris Farczady and published many articles about her in British and American magazines.

***

There is no explanation for these phenomena.  But Guy Breton quotes the comment of an American psychiatrist Warren Butler, the author of a book on “personality changes”:

“It seems that at certain moments, our body, of which we know nothing concerning the subtle ties which unite it to our spirit, can be “possessed” by mysterious entities endowed with memory and capable of making it communicate in languages which have not been learnt, or of prodding it to act in paradoxal fashion.  After which, these entities disappear just like they came.  But where do they come from?  Where do they go?  Why do they “occupy” certain bodies?  How are these bodies chosen by them?  So many questions without answers…”

As Maurice Maeterlinck used to say:

“When shall we at last know who we are?”

***

Lurancy Vennum, aged 13, awoke one day animated by the spirit of a dead girl.

When Mrs Roff feels calmer, she declares to Thomas Vennum that she will go to see his daughter Lurancy, but that she would prefer to wait a few days to prepare herself for this meeting…

The following day and the day after that, the Vennums try to make Lurancy-Mary wait patiently as she continues to beg them to take her back to her parents.  She moans:

“It’s been so many years since I’ve seen them!  Why don’t they come to fetch me?”

Her despair is so great that Thomas returns to Dixville and asks the Roffs to come without delay.  He thinks that seeing them might cure her.  Mrs Roff promises to come the next day.

On the following morning, she goes to the Vennums’ place accompanied by her eldest daughter Minerva.  When they alight from the carriole, Lurancy is at the window.  She leaps up joyfully and exclaims:

“It’s Mummy and my sister Nervie!”

These words greatly trouble Mrs Roff.  How can the little girl recognize Minerva whom she has never met and call her by a nickname that only little Mary used to give her?

Lurancy rushes into the courtyard.  She throws herself into Mrs Roff’s arms, crying tears of joy.  Then she embraces Minerva with effusion and leads the two women into the house where Julia Vennum receives them with a sad smile.

When everyone is seated, Lurancy-Mary, without appearing at all affected by the embarrassment reigning in the salon, starts to talk with joyful volubility.  She reminds Mrs Roff of scenes from her childhood in Dixville, talks about her school, asks for news of a dog named Pat, appears sad to learn that it is dead, then evokes immediately afterwards, in a joyful tone, the circumstances of her own agony…

“By the way, Mummy, have you kept the little box full of letters that I received from my friends shortly before my death?”

From the beginning of the conversation, Mrs Roff has been making a considerable effort not to burst into tears.  She manages to answer that the little box is still at home;  but big tears flow down her cheeks.  Lurancy runs to embrace her.

“Don’t cry Mummy.  Because I’m here…”

For a few minutes, Mrs Roff avidly considers this little girl who has just evoked so many minuscule facts known only to herself and Mary.  Is it possible that the spirit of the little dead girl has slipped into Lurancy’s body?  She can’t believe it.  Never has anyone spoken to her about something like this.  But, if it’s not true, who is this child who knows so many things?

Mrs Roff is suddenly taken with such anguish that it seems impossible for her to remain one more minute at the Vennums’ home.  She rises and announces that she is leaving but that she will return.  Lurancy asks why she is not going too.  Mrs Roff replies:

“Not now, in a few days…”

And, gently pushing away the little girl who is clinging to her, crying, Mrs Roff says goodbye to Julia and climbs back into the carriage with Minerva.

***

Two days later, Thomas Vennum returns to see the Roffs.  His daughter now refusing food, he has come to ask them timidly if they would accept to take her with them for a few days.

“We are afraid that she will fall ill.  A little stay with you might help her get better…”

After many hesitations, the Roffs accept and Lurancy, overcome with joy, settles in Dixville.  Straight away, those whom she calls “her parents” notice with great astonishment that she knows not only the smallest corners of their house, but also the places of objects in the cupboards and inside the most secret drawers.  Climbing to the attic, she goes directly to a trunk which holds the doll “Blondie” which had been Mary’s favourite toy.  And when Mrs Roff shows her the famous box of letters, she opens it with emotion and removes a collar from it “that she had worn during a childhood celebration”.  Once more, Mrs Roff’s eyes fill with tears, for Mary, then aged ten, had in fact worn this collar to a fancy-dress ball…

That evening, the little girl goes to sit near the fireplace, in a little rocking chair which had been the favourite seat of the dead child, and continues to evoke former memories.  The Roffs listen, moved, finishing by lending themselves to the crazy illusion of having found their little Mary again…

When it is time to retire for the night, Lurancy takes on a serious air:

“I’m happy to have found you again, but I’ll not stay very long with you.  In May, I’ll have to leave you again…  That’s why, until then, all four of us must love each other a lot and be very happy…”

***

Over the following days, the Roffs, more and more troubled and more and more disposed to believe that a miracle has given their daughter back to them, ask the little girl a thousand questions.  Does she remember this detail?  That cousin?  This outing?  That little school friend?  Lurancy answers, giving astounding details.  They also show her portraits which she identifies without hesitation.  She, herself, takes the initiative of organizing games that the family had forgotten.  For a few weeks, they see former habits return and ressuscitate familiar gestures.  To the point that, little by little, the Roffs become used to talking about Mary in the present tense…

In April, they are convinced that their daughter’s spirit is animating Lurancy’s body.

Then May comes.  For a few days, they are all pretending to live normally.  In fact, everyone in the Dixville house is thinking only of the pending separation, and the Roffs are asking themselves anxiously how it will happen.

It is simple.  One morning, Lurancy-Mary, who is playing in the garden, suddenly rushes towards her “mother” and her “sister” and, hugging them very strongly to her, announces to them “that her time has ended”.

All three start to sob.  Suddenly, the young girl faints.  When she regains consciousness a few minutes later, she looks around her for a long time, stares for a moment at Minerva, then turning toward Mrs Roff, says politely:

“Where am I, Madam?”

She was once more Lurancy Vennum…

***

To be continued.

Lurancy Vennum, aged 13, fell into catalepsy. One day, her body awoke animated by the spirit of a dead girl.

The Vennums were happy people.  Landowners in Wisconsin, USA, they lived peacefully with their little girl Lurancy in a big house surrounded by a beautiful park.  Thomas Vennum’s only worry was to see the price of corn fall.  Julia Vennum’s only preoccupation was the success of her Sunday cake.  They had no problems and were without any worries or metaphysical anguishes.  As faithful parishioners of the Baptist Church, they sincerely believed that the Lord had conceived His Creation according to rules which excluded disorder and anything irrational.  Their Pastor said so.  In this limpid world, one and one made two, what was white could not be black and dead people had ceased living for good.

It is however, at the home of these good people, totally devoid of imagination, that one of the most fantastic stories of all time will unfold.

***

It began in 1877, when Lurancy, then aged thirteen, was suddenly afflicted with a curious ill:  at certain moments she seemed to go to sleep, her body became rigid and she fell to the ground.  During these attacks, which could last a few minutes or whole hours, she spoke strange words, described places that she had never visited and revealed secrets about the neighbouring farmers that Thomas and Julia Vennum, prudish and discrete, were embarrassed to learn.

Sometimes, Lurancy’s voice changed, took accents, and her parents had the impression that the neighbours that she evoked were speaking through her mouth.

These phenomena lasted a few weeks without the consulted doctors managing to agree on the origin of the strange ill with which the little girl was afflicted.  One spoke of puberty crisis, another of overwork at school.  As for a third, more imaginative, he claimed that it was a “state of cataleptic trance due to the sting of an unknown fly…”.

Then, one morning in February 1878, Lurancy rises, leaves her bedroom and goes into the kitchen where Mrs Vennum is preparing breakfast.  For a moment, the little girl looks around her “as if she was trying to discover where she was”, then she says to her mother in a ceremonious tone:

“Good morning, Madam.  Why am I here?  Why didn’t I sleep at home?”

Julia bursts out laughing, tells her to stop playing and eat her breakfast, calling her by her name.  Lurancy stiffens and says that her name isn’t Lurancy, but Mary…

Still thinking that her daughter has imagined one of those bizarre games that children sometimes invent, Mrs Vennum pours milk into a bowl filled with porridge and tells her to sit down and eat, calling her Mary this time.

As Lurancy doesn’t move, she looks up and is struck by her daughter’s fixed, shiny gaze.

“What’s the matter, Lurancy?”

“Not Lurancy, Madam;  my name is Mary…  Mary Roff, and I would like to go back home…”

This time, Julia becomes angry.  Mary Roff was the name of a young girl who had died thirteen years before in Dixville, a neighbouring village, and she doesn’t like people joking about the deceased.

“I forbid you to tell such stupid stories.  We shouldn’t laugh about certain things, you know we shouldn’t!  You didn’t know Mary Roff, but you should respect her memory.”

“Her memory?  But I’m not dead, Madam.”

“Stop, please!”

Lurancy then approaches her mother and, in a firm tone never used by her before, repeats that her name is Mary Roff, that she doesn’t know why she is not at home and she wants to return to her parents.

As Julia is considering her in astonishment, she adds:

“You must recognize me, Mrs Vennum, you met me one day at Doctor Simmons’ place where I had gone to fetch a syrup.  You had a white straw hat and I had a big blue bow in my hair.  As it was undone, you tied it for me…  We were in the window recess.  I remember that at that moment, James Oliver passed by in the street on his horse…”

Julia sits down, unable to pronounce a word.  All this is true.  Fourteen years before, she had met young Mary Roff in Dr Simmons’ waiting-room and had retied the adolescent’s bow.  A scene which had had no witnesses.  She doesn’t even remember having mentioned it to her husband.

How could Lurancy know these details?

Julia thinks that her daughter is again traversing one of her strange attacks and decides to wait until it passes.

“Mr and Mrs Roff live more than five miles from here.  My husband will go to let them know and they will come to fetch you.  Meanwhile, eat your breakfast.”

The little girl docilely swallows her bowl of porridge and returns to her bedroom where she plunges into a book.

At midday, when Thomas returns home, Julia tearfully reports the extraordinary conversation that she had had with Lurancy.  He remains silent for a moment, then decides to go to see her to see if the attack is over.

But when he enters the bedroom, Lurancy calls him “Sir” and asks him if he has been to see her “parents”…

So, he brings her back to the dining-room and they sit at the table.  The meal is strange.  Before her consternated parents, the little girl does not stop joyfully evoking memories of her childhood in Dixville…

After dessert, Thomas says to his wife:

“We’ll wait until this evening.  If she is not better, I’ll go to see the Roffs…”

When he returns from work at the end of the afternoon, something new has happened:  Lurancy-Mary had declared to Julia that she remembered dying thirteen years before.  She had even spoken lengthily about her agony, going as far as reporting details about an incident which had unfolded in the mortuary chamber…

Thomas then took his horse and went to the Roffs’ place.

The Dixville farmers learned what was happening at the Vennum house with a mixture of astonishment and deep emotion.  Then they asked some questions and Thomas reported as faithfully as possible all that Julia had told him.  The parents listened quietly;  but when he arrived at the incident of the mortuary chamber, Mrs Roff let out a cry:

“It is not possible, Sir, that Lurancy could have said that.  At that moment, I was alone in the room next to my little Mary’s body…”

She has an attack of nerves and has to be carried to her bed.

***

To be continued.

The Emperor's bladder stone makes horseriding extremely painful.

Doctor Theophile Anger continues his account.

“On Thursday, 18 August, I came back to Chalons with the Emperor’s household:  on 19th, after luncheon, Napoleon had me called and gave me the order to return to Paris, along with the greater part of his military household.

“The next morning, 20th August, Nelaton took me with him to the Tuileries to report to the Empress on my mission.  She was very contraried about my return and asked me to return immediately to General Headquarters and to remain in constant contact with Dr Conneau.  I straight away wrote to the doctor about my interview with the Empress and that she wished to know me in her husband’s entourage.

“He replied that the Emperor consented to my return to General Headquarters, and I left for Reims.

“On Tuesday evening, 23 August, I rejoined General Headquarters at Betheniville, and then didn’t leave him until Sedan and Bouillon, in Belgium.

“During the Battle of Sedan, the Emperor was always within sight.  He mounted his horse between six and seven in the morning.  At the moment when he left the Sous-Prefecture, a caisson was bringing in Field-Marshal MacMahon wounded.  The Emperor asked me to see him.  I helped to carry him to a bed, and I saw his wound, which I judged to be very serious.  I immediately rushed to the Emperor, who was on horseback and was going towards the battlefield.  I joined him a few hundred metres from the Sedan fortifications and kept him within sight all morning.

“Twice he dismounted to urinate.

“I saw two of the officers who were accompanying him fall around him.

“The Emperor entered Sedan around half-past-eleven.  I didn’t see him again this same day;  the next day I joined him around half-past-seven in the morning at the Chateau de Bellevue.  Around ten o’clock, Bismarck and Molke arrived in a fiacre.  Half-an-hour later, the capitulation was signed.

“In the afternoon, the Emperor had me called and said roughly this to me:

” ‘Doctor, I have not needed your services up until today, and as tomorrow I am going to Cassel, as a prisoner of war, it is probable that I shall not need them any more.  I am taking with me Conneau and Corvisart;  I hope that they will suffice me.  Return to France and do whatever your heart and your patriotism dictate to you.’

“During the night, I left in a cart with the Marquis de Massa to reach the railway at Beaumont.

“I omitted to recount to you an interview that I had before my departure, on 15 or 16 July 1870, with my former head of service, Professor See.  I went to see him to say goodbye, and as I added that I was going to General Headquarters with Conneau, he guessed straight away the nature of the role that I was called to fill.  ‘I’m very happy that you were chosen’, he said, ‘because three days ago I was called in consultation to the Emperor at Saint-Cloud.  I’m certain that the Emperor has a stone;  he has all the signs;  I drew up a consultation in that sense, which the Princess de Mouchy was to give to the Empress.’

“Nelaton had been more reserved with me, and he was less affirmative, the Emperor not wanting to be sounded.

“My dear colleague,

“Yours, etc.

“Th. Anger.”

***

What conclusions can be drawn from this collection of witness reports?

In contradiction to the assertions of a few people, the Emperor never made the slightest allusion to his state:  in any case, he never used this state as a pretext for adjourning the events which he very well knew he couldn’t prevent.

It would not be correct to claim that Napoleon III had full freedom of mind, tortured as he was by physical suffering;  but although he displayed great moral energy, and showed that a valliant soul always wins over the body that it dominates, his incapacity was even more obvious.

No-one contests that the Emperor displayed courage, but wasn’t it rather a fatalistic resignation, and perhaps also the consciousness of his responsibility before History, which made him go towards death, which didn’t want him at that time?  The Margueritte brothers put this state of mind in singular relief:

“Despite the atrocious torture for him to remain on horseback, he stiffened his rounded shoulders and offered himself in an expiatory holocaust.  Conscious of his supreme responsibility, feeling rejected everywhere, by his army, by Paris, by his family, he had, in Napoleon, looked for the end of an emperor.  Gripping his saddle, ahead of his etat-major which he stopped at the foot of the slope, he remained for long moments on the mound, open to all the crossfire, letting his troubled gaze wander over the tragic plateau.  He saw one of his aides-de-camp cut in two beside him, two others fall seriously wounded.  He did his best to tempt fate, his hour had not come.  So, he turned his horse around, and set off at walking pace as if he were sleepwalking.  When the Emperor crossed the bridge over the Meuse, an obus exploded before his eyes, killing two horses.  He continued on his way, mournful, spectral…”

***

Now, the question is the following:  if Napoleon had been in good health, would the war have ended the same way?

The Emperor was of goodwill, humane and generous.  He organized numerous charities to help the poor.  But, at the same time, he was convinced of having a role to play in History.  Napoleon III often hesitated, was subject to diverse influences, but, in definitive, he only did what he wanted.  Most of the time, he hid his ambitions and suddenly imposed them, like the coup d’Etat of 2 December 1851.

Napoleon III was not much of a military chief, nearly always agreeing with the last opinion given;  neither did he have the firmness and resolution that a Head of State should display in such a conjuncture.

But other weaknesses, independent of the Emperor’s health, also contributed to the Sedan defeat.  At the time of her entry into war, France was not ready.  She managed, with difficulty, to send 250,000 soldiers to the front.  In August, they had only reached 300,000.  To this must be added a not very competent Command, the generals having a tendency to remain on the defensive.

In the Prussian camp, the troops are higher in number and more mobile, the artillery is superior, and supply better organized.  These differences will weigh on the issue of the conflict.

The French army, sent into Lorraine, arrives on 28 July at Metz.  The formation of the troops is carried out in a disorderly fashion.  Awaiting an hypothetical alliance, the French army remains in its positions, along the border.  No strategy is devised, and the enemy dangerously has the initiative.  This inertia is imputable to the Supreme Command, that is to say, the Emperor.

The French lines are quickly overrun and Napoleon III then thinks only of returning to Chalons to cover Paris.  Upon his arrival, he reorganizes the Second Army and makes Bazaine Commander-in-Chief of the Rhine Army.  Unfortunately, Bazaine is not ready for such a post.  Retrenched at Metz, he allows the Prussians to come, without risk, and encircle the French army at Sedan.  Napoleon III capitulates to avoid a massacre.

***

The Sedan defeat was therefore not an unforseen accident, but the fatal conclusion to a long series of mistakes, for which the Emperor should not be the only one to be blamed, particularly as, from 12 August, he no longer has any power, either civil – Empress Eugenie is Regent – or military – Bazaine becomes officially Commander-in-Chief of the army.

***

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