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velkommen

Welcome. This is my blog, and you're my most coveted guest. If I seem a bit too intense, it's only because I have so much that I want to share with you, and I can see that you're eager to begin as well. So, please...make yourself at home, sip an East India cocktail (I blended the pomegranate juice myself), and sample some of my domestic and imported Arcana: useless, but fascinating information about Victoriana, Steampunk and other favoured topics; music which evokes that dark, lost Lenore sensibility; and other pleasant or, perhaps, unsettling non sequiters whispered in a darkened room. Linger long or short, leave a comment or refrain, but remember to come back soon to play a (shhhh) parlour game.
Velkommen. Dette er min blog, og du er min mest eftertragtedegæst. Hvis jeg synes en smule for intenst, det er kunfordi jeg har så meget at jeg vil dele med jer, og jeg kanse, at du er ivrig efter at begynde så godt. kan du ...føl dig hjemme, sip et East India cocktail (jeg blandetden granatæble juice mig selv), og prøve nogle af mine indenlandske o importerede Arcana: ubrugelig, menfascinerende oplysninger om Victoriana, Steampunkog andre begunstigede emner; musik der fremkalderdenne mørke, mistede Lenore sensibilitet, og andrebehagelige eller måske foruroligende, ikke sequitershviskede i et mørkelagt rum. Linger lang eller kort,efterlade en kommentar eller afstå, men husk at komme tilbage snart til at spille en (Shhhh) selskabsleg.

ABOUT ME

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I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.

Fuldmane

Fuldmane
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Helvede's så Nocturne

Helvede's så Nocturne
The raw, aching sadness with which the following words were typed has been reformatted to fit your screen. No need to adjust it. All names have been expunged to protect the innocent and the willfully insane.

Nocturne in G Flat major

Chopin, darkness, light, sand and wind, starlight tread. Beethoven, love, fear, madness, redemption in the night. Liszt, waltzing widows, desperate bargains, pleasure's secret plight. Now, then, before, always, forever. Promises made on lonely beaches, celestial summer's perfect kiss, passions quenched in salty breezes, the lure of distant mist-draped heights. Bitter interlude. Final, private nocturne. Burned down like a candle. Doomed bleeding beauty. Fated sacrificial night.
To be continued...

Gentle Visitor

Gentle Visitor
And now, Gentle Visitor, won't you please lend an eye (we've worked so hard)...
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
We love all things dark and mysterious, macabre and obscure, odd and unfathomable. Nothing is too strange or bizarre for our little blog. And although we would never presume to offer definitive answers to the great questions of life, we shall do our best to enlighten, inform and delight our visitors with our whimsical potpurri of facts, anecdotes, trivia and informational outpourings. We strive not to offend, but to edify those who wish to reach beyond their comfort zone and touch the fabric of another time and place, and of distant, but genuine worlds and lives. As Victorian-themed blogs go, ours may not be the most austere, nor the most comprehensive, but we know what we like, and if our readers like it as well, then all is as it should be in this ramshackle corner of our own personal Victorian empire.

A Musical Note

A Musical Note: We feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by one or more of the following musical selections. Then again, we also feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by a glass of absinthe, a bite of lemon cake, and a foot massage (preferably by someone you know). So, to paraphrase the otherwise completely irrelevant-to-our-blog Mr. Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt...but be open to Chopin."
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And now we begin

And now we begin
"One must strive to show decorum even when scrolling." Queen Victoria, Buckingham Palace Blog, August 11,1879

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

THE WEEPING WOMAN OF CHELTENHAM


The late 1880s were a busy time for the Monsauret family of Gloucestershire, a southwestern county in England. Following the unexpected death of Elizabeth Monsauret, the 55-year-old matriarch of the family, in 1886, her widowed husband Edgar and their two daughters, Violet and Estelle had left the family home in Dowdeswell and moved to a country estate in the nearby town of Cheltenham. Edgar Monsauret was a retired university professor who had taught German and French, and his elder daughter Violet was preparing for what would be a groundbreaking career as one of the first women to practice medicine in 19th century England. Her younger sister, Estelle was an invalid, who was sometimes confined to her bed for days at a time, the result of a childhood case of rheumatic fever, from which she had nearly died. An intellectual family, with financial resources that allowed them to live comfortably and to keep their own hours, they were known for their charitable acts within the community, but also for "a marked lack of sentiment when it came to things of a superstitious nature." In other words, the Monsaurets did not attend the local church, and they did not believe in ghosts.
VIOLET MONSAURET, "DISPASSIONATE" HOST TO A GHOST?

But that's what makes their story all the more remarkable. As documented by Violet in a series of diary accounts and letters, it all began shortly after they had moved to their new home in Cheltenham, which was, according to her description, "a pleasant estate set well back from the road and partially obscured from view by an orchard and two large hedges which stood on either side of a high iron gate." The house was relatively new, having been built in 1822, and had only had two previous occupants. The first had been George Simmons, the builder of the estate, who had lived in it from 1822 until his death in 1854, at which point his son, Christian and his dsughter-in-law, Adele had moved in. Two years later, Adele died, and Christian married a local woman called Louisa, whom acquaintances described as "a well-educated woman" with a "stern demeanor." Unfortunately, Christian was a heavy drinker, and on marrying him, the formerly tee-totaling Louisa had fallen prey to the same vice. When Christian died in 1870, from the effects of his chronic alcoholism, Louisa became something of a recluse, spending her nights alone with a bottle, until she, too, expired as a result of her drinking, in the winter of 1881. After her death, the house had stood empty until the Monsaurets purchased it and moved in. These facts were all well known to Violet, who seems to have been something of a historian, as well as the fact that Louisa's married life had been marred not only by alcoholism, but by occasional physical altercations with her husband, whose angry outbursts left marks on her face which she covered with a veil when she went out in public.
"THE WEEPING WOMAN OF CHELTENHAM"

"I was told by a neighbor who had known Mrs. Simmons that, on walking out, she often wore a veil over her face to cover bruises inflicted on her by her husband, as a result of his drunkenness," Violet wrote in a letter to her cousin shortly after moving into the house. "The same neighbor also told me that he had once visited the house to discuss a business matter of some pressing concern, and that Mrs. Simmons had greeted him with a handkerchief raised to her face, which she continued to hold there for the duration of the visit." This small detail is rather important considering what occurred in the first few weeks after the Monsaurets moved into Mrs. Simmons' former abode. According to Violet, she and her family had heard rumors that their new home was "haunted by the figure of a weeping woman in black", but had dismissed them as "idle chatter." But that all changed on the afternoon of June 14, 1887. On that afternoon, Violet and her sister Estelle caught their first glimpse of what the locals believed was Mrs. Simmons' ghost. Once again, to cite Violet, "(Estelle and I) were in the library at about 4 o'clock, talking in a desultory fashion of household matters and other mundane things, when my gaze traveled to the French doors which looked out on the back garden and lit upon the figure of a tall, spare woman clothed in black standing against a tree. As she had a handkerchief pressed against the lower portion of her face, I thought that she must be either weeping or in some sort of distress. Calling Estelle's attention to the figure, I asked her who she thought it might be. She replied, in jest, that it must be Mrs. Simmons' ghost."

However. Estelle's jest lost its punch when the figure suddenly vanished from sight. "At first, we thought that she must have somehow slipped away into the trees and would reemerge on the other side, closer to the gate. But though we watched for some time for her to reappear, she failed to do so." More intrigued than frightened, Violet made a thorough search of the estate grounds, during which process she learned from one of the family's maids that she, too, had seen the strange figure. "She told me that she had seen a woman in black who appeared to be weeping pass by the kitchen window at the same time we had seen her standing among the trees beyond ," Violet wrote. "Just as I had, she went outside to see who it was, but found no trace of her, even after making a complete circle around the house and walking down to the gate to look out on to the road."

A week later, Violet and Estelle saw the figure again, this time from a much closer perspective. According to Violet, she and her sister were in the kitchen when Estelle exclaimed, "There she is!" and pointed toward the window over the sink. Looking in that direction, Violet saw the same tall, spare woman in black passing by the window "as though she meant to come around to the side door which opens into the kitchen." However, "hurrying over to the door", Violet saw no one. Stepping outside, she looked around to see where the woman could have gone, but "the garden was deserted." It was at that point that the future doctor decided that the house was indeed "the lair of a supernormal being of some sort" and began making plans to "either expose the culprit behind an ill-advised hoax or determine once and for all whether ghosts really do exist." She didn't have long to wait. Two nights later, as she and her father were sitting in the library, they heard "a soft sigh" and turned toward the doorway. "There, standing in the hallway, was the figure," she wrote. "There was nothing ghostly or supernatural about her. She looked absolutely solid. I rose from my chair and went toward her, intending to ask her what it was she wanted. As I approached her, her gaze settled on me with a blank expression, which, though unsettling, did not deter me from my intention. Coming to a stop close to where she stood, I asked, "What do you want?" She gasped, as though startled, and then disappeared before my eyes. I looked back toward the library, in which my father still sat, and asked him what he had seen. "Mrs. Simmons, I believe," he replied.
HENRY SIDGWICK, PRESIDENT OF THE BRITISH SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH

Later, investigating the case, members of the British Society For Psychical Research commented on Violet's "dispassion" when relating the details of her many encounters with Mrs. Simmons' alleged ghost. Used to sentimental women gushing about "hauntings" and "spirits", they found Miss Monsaurat's cool, almost clinical attitude toward her own experiences to be a welcome change, as well as infinitely helpful to the investigative process. Writing about it in the society's official magazine, Proceedings, SPR president Henry Sidgwick said that "the Monsauret family were notable in their refreshing lack of superstition regarding the concept of spirits", an attitude that was perhaps due, in part, to Edgar Monsauret's former vocation as a professor and Violet's scientific bent. Whatever the reason, Violet's "dispassion" allowed her to pursue her "ghost" with the same ferocity with which she later pursued her medical degree.

Following several more sightings of the dark-clad figure, the young woman devised "a trap" which she hoped would give some insight into the physical (or non-physical) nature of what she and her family were dealing with. Noting that the figure was most often seen in or near the library, she tied a string between the doors which opened into the room, and waited for the figure to make its almost daily appearance. She didn't have long to wait. That very afternoon, as she, her father, and Estelle sat in the library taking tea, they heard the soft sigh which usually preceded the manifestation. Seconds later, they saw "her" standing in the hallway. "We said nothing, but, instead, merely watched as she moved toward the doorway in a slow, gliding motion, and then proceeded past us to the French windows, where, as always, she vanished before our eyes," Violet wrote. As soon as the figure vanished, Violet jumped to her feet and went across the room to examine the string. "It remained undisturbed," she reported.
POSTCARD VIEW OF CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND, CIRCA EARLY 1900s

Twelve years after moving into the house, Edgar Monsauret died, and Violet, who by that time had graduated from medical school, moved out. Estelle continued to live there for another four years before she, too, passed away. At that point, Violet sold the estate to a private buyer who, a short time later, sold it to a local boys' college, for which purpose it was turned into a dormitory. But that didn't stop the "weeping woman of Cheltenham" from continuing to make occasional appearances. John Howard, who lived in the building for the two years during which he attended school in the area, told the SPR that he was awakened on several occasions by "an unsettling presence" only to be even more frightened by the sight of "a tall, thin woman in black standing at the foot of my bed." Another student reported that he had seen "a lady in grey" who he assumed to be a nun walking down the hallway outside of his room. Several townspeople also claimed to have seen "a weeping woman" in the orchard in front of the house. One of them, a man called Thomas Netting, tried to speak to her, thinking that she was "a real person in distress", but as soon as he spoke, "she vanished."

So, of course, as usual the question remains: was it a ghost that haunted the building in which the Monsaurets lived? And, of course, as usual, the answer is "we'll never know." But thanks to Violet Monsauret's "dispassionate" and extremely detailed accounts of the family's encounters with the mysterious entity, the case, though unsolved, remains one of the most interesting ever investigated by the SPR.

2 comments:

Tom Ruffles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greta said...

Thanks, Tom. I just couldn't resist that "e"...it's one of my favorite nocturnes.