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>> Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I promised ghost stories, so I shall deliver. Honestly, I'm running out of good things to blog about this time of year. I could use a good dose of spring. Absent that, I can at least tell some ghost stories for sitting around the fire of an evening. After all, I love to tell stories. I guess that is part of the reason I started this blog in the first place.

I mentioned last week that I spent some time living in York, England when I was in high school. York is a spectacular old walled city, with incredibly old buildings, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and wonderful atmosphere. One of the things I loved most about York was the sense of history just radiating off those cobblestone streets.

On the walls of the city:

Check out this ancient church and its wonky floors. I stumbled upon this one afternoon, tucked into a courtyard surrounded by buildings.

There are dozens upon dozens of tiny passageways and alleys around the city, referred to as "snickelways". While not the most romantic and medieval of all the snickelways, this snickelway was actually in the house I lived in, and led to the walled garden behind the house.

With a city that old, one is bound to have some sordid bits of history, like Clifford's Tower.

What a sad story - I cannot even comprehend having to make the kind of decision those 150 people had to make on that March night in 1190.

With history, especially gruesome history like Clifford's tower, tend to come ghost stories. York was named by the Ghost Research Foundation International to be the most haunted city in the world, with 504 recorded hauntings. For 17-year-old me, that amounted to some great history lessons, and a whole lot of fun, too.

There are a number of different ghost tours in York, and they compete fiercely with each other for business. I went on several in my time there because I got such a kick out of them.  It was fascinating to compare the different versions of the same story told by the different tour guides.  Some of those tour guides were talented actors.

Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when, on my first ghost tour, the tour stopped at...

My host family's house.  Yikes!

The house was supposedly named "The Plague House" in some old city records. In an ancient city like York, the bubonic, pneumonic, and/or septicemic plague made its rounds through the city more than once, often decimating the population. During outbreaks, city officials would mark an "X" on the door of any house in which someone was infected with the plague, warning people to stay away from the house. Eventually, officials would then enter the houses to remove the bodies.

I heard two different stories about the house at 5 Minster Yard. In one version of the story, during one of the plague outbreaks, a young girl living in the house contracted the plague. Her parents panicked and abandoned her, leaving her to die alone in the house.

In the other version of the story, the whole rest of the family contracted the plague - everyone except the young girl. Because of the X on the door, no one would approach the house, despite the girl's desperate cries for help from the window. In that version of the story she died of starvation.

When the officials later came to clear out the bodies, they found her lifeless body.  Presumably just for dramatic effect, the story tellers would often suggest that the girl had slipped into an opening in the wall while she was crying out the window for assistance, and that when the officials came to collect her body they merely left her there and bricked her body in. That bit of the story I never did understand - why on earth would they leave her? I admit, though, that it kind of wigged me out that if you measured all the rooms on the second story of the house, it did seem that there was some space in the middle that you couldn't access. A hidden room, long ago bricked up? Probably nothing so exciting, but one does wonder.

Surely the question you all want to know the answer to is, was the house really haunted? I never saw anything suspicious during my brief time there, and at least at that time my host family hadn't, either. However, the people who had lived in the house before my host family had allegedly seen a young girl's ghost crying in the spare bedroom.

Whether because of that rumor or perhaps just because they wanted to keep the spare room free in case they had other guests while I was there, my host family renovated a room in the attic for me rather than putting me in the spare room. Although I have a wicked sense of curiosity about such things, I think I'm glad I didn't have to sleep there. I would have worked myself up to a major case of the willies every night.

The only curious thing that I experienced wasn't until I got back home and developed my pictures. Near the end of my stay, I took some photos of the inside of the house. One turned out very strange. There were no reflective surfaces in the room other than the window you see in the photo, which had curtains hanging in front of it. This doesn't look like anything in particular to me - I certainly don't see the shape of a ghostly, night gowned, plague-ridden child in it - but it is interesting. I still wonder what caused the weird effects.

The window that the ghost tour guides would stop and point at was a tiny little window, not the one in the photo above.  You can hardly see the ghost tour window in this photo:

If you look at the little stone house on the end of the row, you can see one large bay window on the end, and just to the right of that is a much smaller window. I'm certain the tour guides point to that window for effect because it is a charming little window. Inside the house, that window merely led to a hallway, not a room:

The girl I exchanged with and I had tremendous fun scaring people on the ghost tour.  We would hide in that hallway and wait until the tour guide got to the most suspenseful bit of the story. Then I would silently press my hand against the glass of the window, and we'd collapse into hysterical laughter at the screams of all the poor souls on the tour. Even the tour guide was a bit taken aback the first time we did it.

I still chuckle to remember it.

The next installment of the ghost chronicles:  The York Minster and the Treasurer's House.


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