Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Ghost hoaxes

Peter Millington has sent the following to the Talking Folklore newsgroup:

The Boots branch in Lincoln was built over a section of the old Roman city wall, and the public was occasionally allowed in to view it in the basement. Apparently the shop’s porter was a bit of a card. Every now and then, he would dress up in a Roman soldier’s costume, and walk silently across the distant end of the basement within the view of the sightseers. They would then swear that they’d just seen a ghost – naturally.

Whether or not the visitors were put wise to this wheeze I was not told, but it seems likely that the Lincoln Boots ghost could have entered local folklore. Can anyone tell me if this happened?

In the course of my ongoing research I've come across similar stories of such practical jokes. One hotel night security officer used a remote control to switch a ceiling fan on, creating unexplained spectral effects with the emergency lighting. Like Peter, I've also not come across the evidence of these stories actually entering local tradition.

What intrigues me is their relation with actual ghost beliefs. (This short introduction gives more information about my research). Reimund Kvideland has suggested that these kind of practical jokes indicate a decline in the belief, but he also acknowledges that such practical jokes could be used, too, "to defend a belief or to secure its continuation." (1)
Certainly they rely on traditional images and motifs which may not reflect current belief: one practical joker told me his intended victim had simply said "You look bloody silly in that [white sheet]" when the "apparition" happened. But this imagery, and the fakery, may also serve to reinforce a different set of beliefs. Discrediting an incident like this may not discredit the historical body of beliefs and images on which it relies, but may serve to nuance and reinforce them further.
1) Reimund Kvideland, 'Legends Translated Into Behaviour', Fabula, 47.3/4 (2006), 261

1 comment:

  1. Joined the group - thanks for that Paul! Pity I can't go to York at Halloween, too busy storytelling! Do send me a copy of the paper so I can blog about it on my folklore site!