Share this...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Me and my ghosts...Ms. Stuart is at home

I’ve always had a fascination with ghost stories which I suspect began with my mother’s tale of a ghostly encounter in a Youth Hostel in Wales. My mother is an extremely sensible woman and not one given to histrionics or flights of fancy. The story, as she tells it, is that she and a friend on a cycling tour of Wales in the early 1950s stayed the night in a converted castle that was now used as a Youth Hostel. She woke during the night to the sensation of a woman’s fingers brushing her cheek. She could clearly see a woman bending over her and as she watched the figure dissolved into the wall.

My own paranormal experiences have been far less impressive and really take the form of an emotional response to a place rather than ghostly figures. The most powerful occurred when I visited Warwick Castle in my early 20s and like all tourists went down to the "dungeon" below the castle. The feeling of misery was so overwhelming I felt as if I would suffocate. On subsequent visits to the castle nothing and nobody has been able to induce me to go down to those cells again.

Ms. Stuart and friend at Warwick Castle in 2005
I have, to my knowledge, worked in at least two haunted buildings. Both of them were former nineteenth century mansions and both had been used by the Australian Army for many, many years. The first, “Netherby” in Melbourne was the Headquarters of the 3rd Training Group during my time but had been, reputedly, used by ASIO (Australian Security and Intelligency Organisation) or its equivalent in the 1950s. There were stories of soundproofed cellars and secret tunnels but no evidence has ever been found of either, even during Netherby’s more recent conversion to a wing of a modern hotel. Nothing untoward happened to me in all the years I worked at Netherby but I did start to pick up the stories of “Albert” reputedly the lonely ghost of a Rumanian spy. After collecting quite a few eye witness reports of Albert's activities, it started me on a quest to track down more ghost stories from Army establishments. I figured soldiers made fairly reliable witnesses. 

The other haunted mansion is Grosvenor (close to Netherby) which served as Headquarters 4th Brigade when I first went there. Like Netherby it has long since been sold and is now a rather depressed facade to some particularly ghastly apartments. Grosvenor was far grander than Netherby and was reputedly haunted by “Esmerelda”, a young maid servant who had been found drowned in the swamp that is now Albert Park Lake. Esmerelda and I did have some firsthand contact and like Albert she is well chronicled.

I will save the stories of “Albert” and “Esmerelda” for later posts.

One of the more unnerving experiences occurred on a visit to Housesteads Roman fort on Hadrians Wall. No one has ever been able to give me a reasonable explanation of the mark ('the blur") that appears on this digital photograph. It's not present on the photographs taken just minutes before or after... so its not a smudge on the lens. The weather was fine so its not rain.  Frustratingly I can't even say I felt cold chills.  

The "blur" at Housesteads Roman Fort
Over the years, wherever an opportunity has presented, I have gone on ghost tours some hokey and some downright spooky. You will have found me trailing lantern bearing guides in York, New Orleans, Edinburgh, Port Arthur in Tasmania (now there is a spooky place!) and Sydney Quarantine Station to name a few. Books about ghosts abound on my bookshelves because behind every good ghost there is a potential fodder for a writer and in my September release...GATHER THE BONES, I pulled together a few of these stories and created my ghostly characters. 

Hunting for ghosts - Underground Vaults, Edinburgh

I have written at least two ghostly short stories and one these...THE PROMISE is freely available on my website. Both stories are in TOWER OF TALES

Next month in "At Home with Ms. Stuart":  I will share the sad tale of Albert, the ghost of Netherby. Watch this space.