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Paul is dead?

19 May

One of the (many) strange things to come out of the 1960s was the bizarre rumour that, before George and John died, the first Beatle to pass away was Paul McCartney. Weird? Yes. In bad taste? Almost certainly. According to the main source, an article written by a Michigan University student in the Daily newspaper in 1969, Paul died in a fiery car crash in 1966, the only survivor of which was his then girlfriend Jane Asher. According to the rumour, as this would have finished off the Fab Four, a lookalike replacement named Billy Shears (or William Campbell) was found. With a little plastic surgery and the growth of some scar-covering facial hair – matched by George, Ringo and John for the sake of fashion consistency – The Beatles kept on rocking. The ongoing aversion of McCartney (or Shears, or Campbell, depending on whom you believe) to spontaneous photography is said to be owing to his fear that the cover-up will be rumbled. However, The Beatles could not keep the truth hidden, and their post-Paul songs and albums are riddled with hints of McCartney’s ‘death’. Let’s look at the so-called ‘evidence’.

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Have yourself a scary little Christmas!

23 Dec

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To celebrate the swift onset of Christmas (as well as the minor matter of the 150th post on Ghost Cities!) I thought I’d re-blog a selection of past festive posts that have appeared on this site for you all to enjoy. The blog is going on hiatus now until the New Year but I hope that this little collection will keep you amused until then.

Wishing a Merry (Scary) Christmas and New Year to everyone!

Ghost Stories for Christmas

A Very Dickensian Christmas

The Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens

Yuletide Chills: The Wild Hunt

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

 

 

 

 

 

Just as a special treat I thought I’d include with today’s post a selection of past Halloween-themed posts that have appeared on this site. Enjoy!

As The Days Grow Shorter…

A Halloween Tale

October Dreams

A Treat for All Hallows’ Eve

The Day of the Dead

Winter Masks

28 Oct

With the fateful day not far away now, it struck me recently that Halloween is all about masks. When I was a child everyone seemed to wear them – and not just on All Hallows’ Eve. It all started with the perception that people seldom said what they really felt about anything. I wasn’t sure why, but I soon learned that apparently there was something impolite about frankness, and politeness was something that I took seriously growing up. I also came to believe that success or failure in life might be measured by how one handled one’s mask. The most famous actors of the day – Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise etc – were born with wonderful masks, or maybe they grew up with them, I didn’t know for sure. But in any case they handled them brilliantly and so putting on a mask, I thought, was a wonderful thing. If I could have got away with it, I think I would have worn one all the time – which made Halloween just about my favourite time of year! When I was young Halloween wasn’t something that you spent a lot of money on. Not many children went around in full costume as werewolves, witches, devils or what-not, but masks – which rarely cost more than a couple of pounds at most back in those happy days – were another matter. Each year the challenge became picking a mask that you could cobble up a matching costume for with little or no money. Eventually not just Halloween but the entire final third of the year became associated with masks and masquerades for me. As the old poem goes: ‘The winter light is pale and bright, and so the serpent basks. On snowy floor we waltz the score, we masquers are our masks’.

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The Devil’s Triangle

7 Oct

The Bermuda Triangle represents one of the most interesting scientific enigmas of our time. It was in 1945 that the authorities were first alerted to the fact that there was something frightening and dangerous about the stretch of ocean between Florida and the Bahamas. Flight 19 – five Avenger torpedo bombers which took off from Fort Lauderdale for a routine two hour patrol over the Atlantic – vanished completely in the area that came to be known as the Devil’s Triangle. A giant Martin Mariner flying-boat, with a crew of thirteen, which was sent to rescue Flight 19, met with the same mysterious fate. At the time the authorities took the view that these disappearances were a rather complex accident, due to a number of chance factors: bad weather, electrical interference with the compasses, the inexperience of some of the pilots and their unfamiliarity with the area. Similar explanations were adopted to explain a number of similar tragedies during the next two decades: the disappearance of a Super-fortress in 1947, of a four-engined Tudor IV in January 1948, of a DC3 in December 1948, of a Globemaster in 1950, of a British York Transport plane in 1952, of a Navy Super Constellation in 1954, of an Air Force Tanker in 1962, of two Stratotankers in 1963, of a flying boxcar in 1965 and of civilian cargo planes in 1966, 1967 and 1973… The total number of human lives lost in all these disappearances was well in excess of two hundred. What lurks out there in the Bermuda Triangle, and just why is it so hungry for mortal souls?

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The Riddle of Richard the Third

23 Sep

King Richard III was one of England’s most famous, most hated and in many ways most important monarchs. Although he reigned for only two years, between 1483 and 1485, he is remembered for a variety of reasons. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field was the decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses and is sometimes regarded as the end of the Middle Ages in England, before the ushering in of the Tudor period and the English Renaissance. He is rarely spoken of fondly, however, and is often regarded as the pantomime villain of English history. History has forever tarred him with the accusation that he murdered his young nephews Edward and Richard, following the incident of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, even though the evidence of Richard III’s alleged crime is circumstantial to say the least. As an unpopular king, Richard III had to face more than one rebellion and it was in a successful revolt by Henry Tudor (later crowned King Henry VII) that he ultimately met his end – the last English king, incidentally, to fall in battle. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Richard III, however, is what happened to him after his death – or more specifically to his body.

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A College Mystery

19 Aug

Visitors to Cambridge will find Christ’s College – the alma mater of both John Milton and Charles Darwin – in the middle of a crowded shopping precinct. To get in, you will normally have to go through a narrow door set in the large oak portal of the gatehouse. At once, you are a world away from the hustle and bustle, in a court that leads to another court that leads to a garden that could be in the heart of the countryside. When it was founded in 1505 (or more accurately re-founded – the college has been around since the early 1400s in one form or another), Christ’s College lay on the edge of town and this has enabled it to expand over the centuries. Now, beyond a gatehouse decorated with mythical horned beasts (known as ‘yales’), the college is one of Cambridge’s most attractive enclaves, boasting extensive gardens that must have been a Paradise Gained for Milton. Yet in the heart of any paradise there is almost always a serpent and at Christ’s this takes the form of an unusual and unsettling ghost story. Alfred Ponsford Baker, a graduate of the college, used Christ’s as the setting for a novel entitled A College Mystery. Published in 1918, this tells the story of how the ghost of Christopher Round came to haunt Christ’s College. Although it was ostensibly a work of fiction, it has since come to be widely accepted as true.

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Edinburgh: Dark Deeds in the Old Town

15 Aug

With the Edinburgh Festival upon us again, I thought now would be the perfect time for a reblog of one of my Scottish-themed posts from last year…

 

 

 

Ghost Cities

I’ve always found Edinburgh a splendidly atmospheric city, which is why I’ve visited it time and again over the years. The city is perched on a series of extinct (we hope) volcanoes and rocky crags – a setting so striking that Sir Walter Scott was moved to call it “My own Romantic Town”. In my opinion, however, it was another native author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who perhaps best captured the feel of this city with the following description in Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes: “You go under arches and down dark stairs and alleys. The way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall; so steep that, in greasy winter weather, the pavement is almost as treacherous as ice.”

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Whitechapel

11 Mar

One of my favourite shows on TV at the moment is Whitechapel, which explores the many dark and disturbing urban legends of one of London’s famous suburbs. The first series of the show focused on a suspected copycat killer who copied the modus operandi of the most infamous and terrifying serial murderer ever to plague old London town – Jack the Ripper. In the words of Jack himself:

“Below the skin of history are London’s veins. These symbols, the mitre, the pentacle star, even the ignorant and degenerate can sense that they course with energy… and meaning. I am that meaning. I am that energy. One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th Century.”

In one sense this is true yet, in spite of the epidemic of 2oth century serial killers with sobriquets like the Boston Strangler, the Buffalo Slasher, the Sunset Slayer and the Yorkshire Ripper, it is Jack who still remains by far and away the most infamous. This is not due simply to the grisly picturesqueness of the nickname but to the fact that the murders took place in the gaslit, fog-shrouded London of Sherlock Holmes and that – unlike the other criminals mentioned above – the identity of Jack the Ripper is still a total mystery.

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The Curse of the Idol’s Eye

24 Jan

The Hope diamond, once the eye of a Hindu god, is the world’s unluckiest gemstone. Suicide, violence and ruin have dogged the footsteps of those who have possessed it. The diamond was purchased by Louis XIV in 1668 from a French trader named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who is believed to have stolen it from the eye socket of an idol in the temple of Rama-sitra, near Mandalay. Tavernier subsequently went bankrupt, sailed for India to try to recoup his fortune, and died en route. The French king had the diamond cut into the shape of a heart, and it was worn by his mistress, Madame de Montespan, who was also involved in the notorious ‘affair of the poisons’, in which a number of old crones who told fortunes provided poisons for killing off unwanted husbands. Black magic was allegedly involved and, though the scandal was suppressed, Madame de Montespan fell from favour and the old women were tried in secret and later burned. Tavernier and the King’s mistress were by no means the only ones, however, to whom the idol’s eye brought misfortune.

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