London ~ Ghosts, Part I

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again.
― Henry Scott-Holland

Highgate cemetery … 178 years young, ragged with jungly vegetation toward its gothic gated edges of black iron. Numberless souls linger around these edges where headstones sit cracked, tilting, almost unrecognizable as anything signifying final dignity. You are given a map upon entry (“please return and recycle”) by the nice blond woman in the booth, cranking up a small space heater. I think she reads a murder mystery.

“We seek him here, we seek him there …” is a common exhortation both to the living and the dead who commingle on these trails of peace and grief (Douglas Adams, I’m talking to you), the grave map only a suggestion. A bitter raw cold attends the grave minders this Monday. Finally, we stagger out (“exit thru the gift shop”) after making a few numb grave rubbings (“In loving memory of our darling son Frank G Ferrar, who fell asleep 23rd May 1837 aged 12. — Too dearly loved to be forgotten”).

The nearest pub, the Flask, is a strain of a walk down the hill to Highgate town. “Not likely a cab coming up here any time soon,” I say to my husband, as the black beetled transport itself rolls up by the cemetery’s gate. I wave wanly, sure that it must be occupied by a prospective tenant, but it has only a wizened driver, who looks suspiciously like Clarence, Jimmy Stuart’s spirit guide in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He launches into friendly conversation, a rarity for modern London cab men, as though he were used to regularly picking us up at the cemetery on chillingly cold days. Spirit guide or not, he points out the memorials across the street from the Flask to the recently-deceased singer George Michaels …. and we tell him we will hoist a pint for them both as he rolls away.

But first up was our first night, visiting the Artesian bar at the Langham hotel, probably one of the largest if not the oldest grand London hotel with ghosts attached. There were more than a few pale guests squirming in their seats after imbibing their special ‘bespoke’ cocktails of multiple exotic ingredients (i.e., Talisker Storm, Unicum, verjus, marsh samphire, rain(!)). A little tummy ache at most, but not likely phantoms … so no real siting. But there’s this from a real ghost catcher’s blog:

“The Langham Hotel, England’s first “grand hotel,” built in 1865 in the style of a Florentine palace, boasts the following:

  • A doctor who murdered his wife then killed himself while on their honeymoon. (Manifests as a silver-haired Victorian gentleman with cloak and cravat and, like all ghosts, has blank, staring eyes. Only makes appearances in October.)
  • A German prince who jumped out of a fourth-floor window. (Described as “beefy, with cropped hair, sporting a military-style jacket that buttoned up to the neck.” Frequently observed in the early morning hours walking through doors. Rated most active ghost at the Langham, with a particular penchant for Room 333.)
  • A man with a gaping wound on his face. (Tends to stick to the hallways.)
  • Emperor Napoleon III, who lived at the Langham during his last days in exile. (Now prefers the basement.)
  • A ghost who has a thing for tipping guests out of bed while they’re sleeping. (Once shook the bed in Room 333 with such enthusiasm that the occupant fled the hotel in the middle of the night.
  • A butler seen wandering the corridors in his holey socks.”

R. I. P. all …


About Joy Hendrickson

I am an adherent of the theory that we don't know what we don't know. I enjoy all things literary, visual, mysterious, and just beyond our grasp.
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