Isla De Las Munecas by M J Steel Collins

From Wikipedia

Lying in Xochimilco, in Mexico City, Mexico, is one of the most unnerving places you’ll ever find. Isla de las Muenecas, Island of the Dolls in English, is one of several man-made islands built by the Aztecs as floating gardens when they constructed the canal system that makes up Xochimilco. The island is festooned with around 1,500 dolls hanging from the trees and in a hut, quietly rotting as they stare off into the middle distance.

The reason behind the dolls is rather tragic; approximately 50 years ago, farmer Don Julian Santana, who owned the island, witnessed a young girl drowning in the canals. He was unable to save her and remained traumatised by her death. Shortly after, Don Julian saw a doll floating by in the canal. He fished it out and hung it up on a tree to appease the spirit of the girl whom he believed to now haunt the island. But one doll was not enough. Don Julian began hanging up every doll he saw in the canal. Eventually he began hunting rubbish dumps for dolls on his rare trips off the island, later selling his homegrown fruit and vegetables in order to buy dolls.

As well as hanging up the dolls, Don Julian would also play guitar and sing to the mermaids he believed he saw in the canals. Interestingly, the canals have an association with ancient supernatural beings. Xochimilco is also haunted by La Llorona, a woman who killed her children for the sake of the man she loved. However, he spurned her, and she committed suicide by drowning herself in the canals. On misty days, La Lorona is said to walk the islands calling out for the children she murdered.

As for Don Julian, some thought he was mad, that he believed the dolls he hung up were children who had to be saved from the canals. But those who knew him, his close friends and family said that this wasn’t the case. He knew that the dolls were  just dolls and he simply wanted to make the little girl who drowned happy in the afterlife. Some people even questioned the existence of the girl herself, arguing that Don Julian had just made up the story as a result of the solitary life he led. Others say that the girl was killed by the supernatural beings haunting the canals.

Esparta Palma/Wikimedia Commons

When Don Julian died in 2001, some folk believed that these same spirits had pulled him into the canal and drowned him, as he was found dead in the water by his nephew. But what had actually happened was that Don Julian had died from a heart attack and fallen into the canal. During Don Julian’s life, the Isla de las Muenecas was relatively unnoticed. Now it is operated as a tourist attraction by Don Julian’s family, receiving up to 50 visitors a day. Several TV crews, including the Ghost Adventures team have also visited.

It takes a two hour trip along the canals to reach the island. Those meaning to pass it by say they feel compelled to visit. People have reported hearing the dolls whispering and claim that they move of their own accord. The dolls are believed to be possessed by the spirit of the drowned girl, or several spirits of children. Don Julian’s nephew now lives on the island and says you do get used to hearing the dolls’ whisperings…

For some reason, the island is portrayed as a negative place, but it is generally felt to be quite positive. The spirit of Don Julian himself is now also believed to haunt it.

The first doll Don Julian pulled from the canal is still there, now hanging up in a hut with what are said to be the most possessed dolls. It is now incredibly decomposed, but still stares blankly at the rest of it’s creepy brethren, no doubt thinking doll thoughts.

Further information can be found at


The Ghosts of Self Determination by M J Steel Collins

The Referendum for Scottish Independence is a very big deal. Scottish history is littered with skirmishes when the Scots have battled to rule themselves. And if it’s not a battle, there are even more ghosts up and down the land, quietly reminding us of when more violent methods were used in the name of Scottish self rule. If ghosts could vote, there is no doubt that they’d be joining the reported queues at the polling stations up and down Scotland. Here is just a short list of the battles that have resulted in some spectacular hauntings…

The Battle of Culloden, 16 April 1746

The last battle on British soil, which also saw the Jacobite rebellion squashed and saw something akin to martial law by the army, with the odd escaped Jacobite hiding out in caves and remote areas in the Highlands.

There have been strange stories of ghosts trooping around the area; one person refused to travel past the battlefield after seeing ghostly battalions lining up, whilst an elderly lady saw ghosts marching through her garden, which she discovered was on land where the battle took place. The battle is also said to be re-enacted each anniversary.

In 1936, a woman lifted a tartan plaid from one of the graves at Culloden, to find the ghost of a Highlander lying underneath.

The Battle of Killiecrankie, 27 July 1689

A battle from the first Jacobite uprising, that saw clans supporting James VII/II fight clans supporting King William of Orange. The Jacobites were successful in this one, though their leader was slaughtered. It had an interesting aftermath, where about one month after the battle, it’s ghostly re-enactment in the sky above the battlefield was witnessed. Word of this got back to King James VII/II, who sent a team to investigate. They saw another re-enactment for themselves and even recognised some of the apparitions battling above them, apparitions of men killed in the battle and men who had survived.

Strange things have been reported in the area ever since by several people down the centuries.

The Battle of Langside, 13 May 1568

Previously covered on this site, this saw Mary, Queen of Scots and her army taken on that of the Regent Moray. It was a relatively short battle, which Mary had tried to avoid as she had just escaped captivity Loch Leven, and was heading towards Dumbarton. However, her forces were headed off by Moray’s in Glasgow, and despite a positive start (if there really is such a thing in a battle), Mary’s army were defeated with a loss of 300. She later tried to reach out to her cousin, Elizabeth, but things didn’t turn out very well.

Ghosts are said to rise from the pond in Victoria Park, which was built on the battle ground, on the anniversary of the battle. Like Killiecrankie, they re-enact the battle in the sky, but really only for the odd person wandering home after a late night these days.

Strangely enough, what is probably the ultimate Scottish battle, Bannockburn, doesn’t have any reports of ghosts. It may be that over the years, any haunting has petered out, or the battle is too well remembered to merit a ghost story.

Thankfully, the decision of Scotland’s future involves a lot less bloodshed, well, apart from the odd fisticuffs between those getting overly keen in putting their point across. Hopefully the ghosts of 18 September 2014 will be a lot happier than their historical counterparts.


Australia’s Most Haunted by M J Steel Collins

In the town of Junee, New South Wales, Australia lies an extravagant Victorian pile called the Monte Cristo Homestead. It has quite a chequered history – from its origins as the grandest home in the area to its fall to, and eventual rescue from, dilapidation, accompanied by a cavalcade of ghosts and strange experiences. Monte Cristo, unsurprisingly, has the reputation as the most haunted house in Australia.

The homestead was built by prosperous farmer Christopher William Crawley between 1884 and 1885. A lot of money was invested in its construction, and it played host to several balls, with golf and tennis played by guests in the grounds .Crawley had been farming in the area for a couple of years when he had the foresight to obtain a licence to build a hotel on land opposite what would eventually become the railway station in Junee. The arrival of the railway was good for Crawley and he soon cashed in on travellers passing through the station. Crawley became a rich man and pillar of the local community. He donated land for the local church and contributed financially to its construction.

Crawley was married to Elizabeth. They are described as a typical, stern Victorian couple, who were quite strict with their servants. The couple had ten children, seven of whom survived into childhood. One son died mysteriously, his cause of death lost somewhere in the midst of time. A baby daughter died after falling from her nanny’s arms on the main staircase of Monte Cristo; the nanny claimed that a strange force seemed to pull the child from her arms. Another daughter died from severe burns after her nightgown caught fire. The surviving children, said to be musically gifted, were privately educated and went on to lead successful lives.

Christopher William Crawley died from blood poisoning caught from an infected neck boil at the age of 69 in 1910. Elizabeth survived him for a further 23 years. She hardly left the homestead in that time, apart from two occasions. A very religious woman, she built her own chapel in an upstairs room. She died in 1933 at the age of 92 from heart failure and appendicitis. The Crawley family left the house in 1948, and in the years that followed, much of its grand facade was destroyed by vandals.

Monte Cristo was eventually saved by Reg Ryan when he purchased it in 1963. A tailor from Wagga Wagga, a city near Junee, he worked hard to buy the property and applied the same work ethic to its restoration back to its original condition. Reg and his wife Olive raised their family in the house. It wasn’t long after they moved in that they realised it might be haunted in a well documented incident.

Three days after the move, Reg and Olive were returning home from a shopping trip, when they saw light pouring from every window of the house as they approached the driveway. Olive wondered if it may have been burglars, but Reg doubted it, as there was no electricity connected to the house. The only light source was a then unlit kerosene lamp and various battery operated lights the family had brought with them. As they drove down the driveway, the lights went back out. The strange event was to repeat itself in 1981, when the Ryans’ son Lawrence arrived home – the rest of the family were out.

Over the years, the Ryans discovered several spooky, eerie things about the house. They established a bed and breakfast, restaurant and ghost tour there and found that certain people reacted in strange ways. Some folk fainted or burst into tears, whilst children are prone to have tantrums by the staircase, where the Crawley’s young daughter died. A council workman once entered the hallway, only to turn heel and walk right back out again. On being questioned, he said he didn’t like the homestead and wouldn’t be back.

One of the most dominant ghosts is believed to be that of Elizabeth Crawley. Her apparition has been seen regularly, mainly by women, while Reg Ryan has heard her footsteps walking the balcony of the second floor. One of her favourite things to do is tell women to get out. One girl was found wandering outside rather than participating in the ghost tour after an elderly lady, thought to be Mrs Crawley’s ghost, told her to leave. The spirit has even ordered Olive Ryan to move out.

Balls are held at Monte Cristo every year, with a Victorian dress code. One year, a woman was leaving after the event when she saw what looked like a woman wearing a Victorian dress walk the balcony. Initially she thought it was another guest, but realised it wasn’t when her car headlights shone through the figure. Some sources state that it was the ghost of Mrs Crawley, but others have it that a maid jumped to her death from the balcony, and that the resulting bloodstain on the stairs below stubbornly refuses to be washed away.

There are a number of child ghosts at the homestead, most of who are believed to be the Crawley children who didn’t make it to adulthood. The ghost of a young stable hand is sometimes seen in the yard outside. He is identified as Morris, who died after his boss cruelly set fire to his bedclothes after not believing Morris was too ill to get out of bed and work. Children visiting the homestead with their family often ask their parents why the other children won’t talk to them or play with them – other children that presumably adults can’t see.

The ghost of Mr Crawley has occasionally been seen, though he isn’t as dominant as that of his wife. One night, a guest staying over in the bed and breakfast woke up to see what appeared to be the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Crawley and the three children…

* Sadly Reg Ryan passed away in July 2014
More information can be found on the official web page of the Monte Cristo Homestead .


A Haunting Trip Doon the Watter by M J Steel Collins

The Glasgow Fair isn’t quite the event it used to be. Nowadays, it means only a few days off for Glasgow workers from the daily grind. But a few short decades ago, it saw thousands of happy workers leave the city in droves to enjoy what was for most the only proper holiday they got all year. And a holiday, in the days before the package trip abroad, meant catching a boat from the Broomielaw and sailing down the Clyde to one of several towns and villages dotting the islands and mainland coast of the Clyde estuary as it opens out into the sea.
In many cases, several families would head off to the likes of Dunoon or Arran for the entire summer, and were joined at the weekends by the workers in the family, who couldn’t afford to take the entire summer off. The Glasgow Fair and going ‘doon the watter’ really took off; benefitting working class families in the late 19th century when workers were given paid holidays. The exodus from Glasgow each July became a huge event, with the city train stations and docks bustling with several excited families armed with everything they needed for a wee break by the sea.
By the 1970s, air travel became more accessible and affordable, with many opting to take in the delights of Benidorm rather than Rothesay. The steamers down the Clyde eventually were phased out. The only one left plying the old routes today is the Waverley paddle steamer. Whilst the holidaying Glaswegian might be a lesser spotted creature in the Clyde estuary, denizens of another worldly nature are plentiful, as the following shows…
Greenock, Inverclyde
In 2012, the then Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service (now the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) received a request from a paranormal group, Darkside Paranormal, to investigate the Service’s heritage centre, a disused Victorian fire station in Greenock. Strange stories abound of the old station, with some trades people refusing to work alone in certain rooms.
The museum, in Wallace Place is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a small boy who died during the 1920s after falling from the fire master’s flat.
Gourock, Inverclyde
The Kempock Stone, at 49 Kempock St in Gourock has long been linked to superstition and witchcraft. The land on which it stands has a permanent ban on any building being erected there. Standing at 7 feet tall, the stone looks something like an old woman and is believed to be an old altar to the god Baal, or ancient battle memorial.
There was a tradition amongst sailors and other folk who worked at sea that Granny Kempock controlled the elements, and fishermen used to leave the stone offerings to ensure good weather.
In 1662, several women, including 18 year old Mary Lamont, were the main characters in a witchcraft case involving the stone. They were accused of trying to throw the stone into the Clyde to endanger shipping and attempting to use magic to pilfer milk. Lamont herself apparently confessed to dancing with Auld Nick himself round the stone. Needless to say, they were all executed.
Ghosts are still believed to dance around the stone on some evenings.
Millport, Isle of Cumbrae
A reliable source has it that staff at the Lady Margaret Hospital in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae has had some interesting ghostly encounters, mainly of the apparitions of elderly ladies in their nighties. One in particular seems fond of the toilet. The hospital, founded in 1900, was once a fever hospital, where patients with infectious diseases were sent.
The Garrison in Millport was the site of a public ghost hunt in 2011, carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association. The Garrison, built in 1745, today it operates as a community venue, incorporating the GP surgery, museum, library and cafe. A newspaper report at the time states that some interesting phenomena had already been recorded on prior paranormal investigations carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association, and that it was hoped ghost walks could be operated in the building in future. The Garrison, located in the centre of Millport was the former home of the Earl of Glasgow.
Ardentinny, Cowal
One of the rooms in the Ardentinny Hotel is reputedly haunted by children who have woken occupants during the night.
Gairloch, Wester Ross
The site of some interesting cryptozoology; a monster which sounds like Nessie’s bad tempered cousin was reported by fishermen in 1918. They encountered a beast rising 30 feet out of the water, which then charged at them. Prior to this, circa 1527, sources have it that a rather angry creature emerged from the loch, attacking a hunting party and killing three of them.
Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
Another Scottish water beastie, this time seen traipsing across the beach by a dog walker in 1962, before disappearing into the sea, leaving footprints, a malodorous scent and a traumatised dog.
The Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde

The largest island on the Firth of Clyde, which is heaving with the ethereal:

Lochranza is at the northern tip of the Isle of Arran, replete with a loch with a small island and a ruined castle. The area is reputed to be where Robert the Bruce landed in 1306 when he arrived in Arran during his quest to win back the Scottish crown.
Lochranza also has fairy legends attached to it. In one, a local midwife was collecting the harvest with her neighbours when they came across a yellow frog. Someone was about to kill it when the midwife stopped them, feeling the frog was supernatural. Later, a young boy on a grey horse appeared to the midwife, informing her that she had saved the life of the Queen of the Fairies, who was in the habit of disguising herself as a yellow frog. The midwife was offered safe passage to fairy land and ended up as the Queen’s personal midwife.
Many legends are associated with the Machrie Moor Stone Circle, which rates with Stonehenge as one of the best in the UK. One of the many origin myths behind the circle is that it was created by a group of fairies flicking pebbles onto the moor below from the summit of Durra-na-each. There are several other stone circles to be found on the Isle of Arran.
Brodick Castlesits on a prominent spot on Arran and has an extensive history, and was in the Hamilton family for hundreds of years. It was occupied by Cromwell’s troops during the 1650s and has been attacked several times down the years. The castle has been added to over the years, and in 1958, became the property of the National Trust for Scotland. There are three supernatural tales associated with the castle.  The Grey Lady is believed to be the ghost of a plague victim, when it struck Brodick Castle. Peter Underwood writes that she has been seen by several staff members, presumably in the days before the castle was owned by the NTFS. She was seen on several occasions by ‘a psychic house keeper’ and a butler reported seeing her apparently stopping to talk to a tradesman one morning as he worked in the castle. The Grey Lady haunts the older part of the building.
Another ghost is of a man clad in green and wearing a wig, who haunts the library. A white stag has also been seen on several occasions when a member of the Hamilton family dies.
Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Rothesay Castle is a medieval castle, starting life as a wooden Norse stronghold, when the area formed part of the Norse Kingdom. Like many self respecting Scottish castles, it’s seen a fair few skirmishes, including several sieges by the English. The castle was restored by the Third Marquess of Bute in 1872 and 1879. It came under state control in the 1950s, and these days is operated by Historic Scotland, though still owned by the Stuart family.
The castle is haunted by a Green Lady, who dates back to the castle’s Norse days, when it was attacked by Vikings in the 13thcentury. A Lady Isobel, sheltering there saw her entire family slaughtered by the invading forces. One of the Vikings wanted her as his wife. But she was having none of it and killed herself.  Her greenish figure has been spotted several times on the castle tower and parapet.

Curiously, the Isle of Bute is the subject of a curse. The graveyard in Rothesay has a gravestone, which tells of a man who brought his family to the island to escape from a Cholera outbreak in Glasgow during 1900. Unfortunately, the entire family succumbed to Cholera on Bute and as a result, the man cursed the island.

Special thanks to Dr Patricia Barton, Claire Collins, Alex Henderson and James Campbell for their help in the compilation of this article.


The Cultural Vortex – American Ghosts by M J Steel Collins

As someone who writes a lot on Scottish ghosts, one of the things that interest me is how they are viewed by people from other countries. One group in particular that seems to be fascinated by hauntings in Scotland are the Americans, judging from the number of US documentaries made on the subject and the awe in which US ghost enthusiasts have for Scotland’s ghosts.

But to turn things around, one thing which fascinates me is the American ghost story. There are a number of factors that make US ghosts stand out. First, historically, America is almost like a teenager in comparison to Scotland. There are some ghosts in Scotland that were already creaking with the centuries by time the USA came into existence as a country in its own right. The way in which the States is crawling with ghosts, boasting in some cases, ‘the most haunted house in the world’ – Villisca Axe Murder House, kind of creepy, but I raise you Glamis Castle, my friends – is rather intriguing in such a young country.

I wonder if American sense of history comes into it. I admire the way in which Stateside buildings newer than my tenement block are granted historical protection, are cared for and loved, whilst over here it seems de rigueur to demolish what are frankly, brilliant 300 year old buildings for the sake of another bloody car park or office block that is probably going to lie empty. Ghosts seem to play a huge factor in this. Quite a few of America’s old haunted places boast ghosts, which seem to be the centre piece – take The Whaley House in San Diego for example. Then there are the numerous prisons and asylums, such as Moundsville Penitentiary and Waverly Hills Sanatorium, which are lovingly preserved and restored, whilst over here in Glasgow, the asylum section of the old Govan Poorhouse, now the Southern General, has been demolished in the name of development. We Scots could probably learn a thing or two from the States on protecting our built heritage.

But the thing that stands out the most when it comes to America’s spooky stories is the way in which they have been influenced by the cultures of those who have emigrated there and the indigenous cultures. For instance, Chris Woodyard, in his book The Ghost Wore Black describes the tale of a banshee heralding a death in Indiana, whilst Michael Norman in his ‘Haunted America’ series features the odd tale of a Wendigo, of First Nation folklore. Then there are the ways in which African cultures have permeated that of America; in terms of the supernatural, just take one look at the development of Voodoo in Louisiana.

At the same time, there are ghost stories which can probably be classed as pure American, with little to do with imported memes from different cultures, other than the fact that a ghost is something that gets around. Take, for example, the stories of miners killed in hideous accidents, of which there are many throughout the States, ghosts of the Civil War, and rather glamorously, ghosts of famous Hollywood actors and actresses, such as Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. Presidents aren’t shy about getting in on the act. Abraham Lincoln famously haunts the White House, while more recently, the ghost of Ronald Reagan is reportedly haunting his old ranch in California (or perhaps it was just Obama he was haunting in the 2012 Presidential Election campaign!).

Still, the cultural syncretism of American ghost stories is worthy of note, yet it doesn’t seem to get much mention in collections. Troy Taylor and Jeff Belanger don’t appear to consider it; Michael Norman pays little heed to it, being more interested in just telling the tale. Chris Woodyard is the only person I have seen really comment on it. In The Ghost That Wore Black, he goes into great detail of where in the world the ghostly influence of the story at hand comes from. He mentions the Black Shuck, banshees of course (Irish, not Scots), Springheel Jack, and Native American entities to name a few. American paranormal writers would do well to take heed. One of the things I think is important in recounting Scottish ghost stories is to look at where it comes from, be it a folkloric entity, such as a fairy, or some nasty character from the past, like ‘Bluidy’ George Mackenzie. Given the cultural tapestry that makes up the country, I’d say this is vital in America. Then we can see where a ghost may have come from, rather than just accepting its existence (or not) at face value. There is probably far too much emphasis on gaining scientific evidence to prove a haunting, whilst the cultural origins that have led to the development of the story are equally as fascinating.


Glasgow’s Haunted Hospitals by Amy Van De Casteele

Glasgow is an ancient city, which lies on the banks of the River Clyde, in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland. The land it rests on has been inhabited for millennia, and the city itself first came to prominence during medieval times, so it’s fair to say that Glasgow has witnessed its fair share of human life and all that it brings. Within the old buildings, the city’s foundations and the soil it lies on, there are countless memories and echoes of love, hope, despair, anger, suffering, violence, sickness, ecstasy and death.

The city is home to many fascinating old buildings and many of them are haunted.  Its hospitals are no different. Of course, it isn’t surprising that hospitals should become home to restless spirits, as these buildings are no stranger to death. But for the people who work there it must sometimes be a little daunting, to work in a place where you know you might turn a corner into an echoing fluorescent-lit corridor one night and come face to face with a former patient or a nurse who never wanted to leave her station…

The Glasgow Royal Infirmary, established in 1792, is just one of these haunted hospitals. Among its many ghostly inhabitants is the apparition of a former nurse, who strolls the corridors looking just like any other nurse – except that she is missing her legs below the knee. Meanwhile an old man named Archie lingers in Ward 27 and has been known to hold conversations with dying patients – and the surgical block of the hospital is said to play host to the spirit of a woman, supposedly a nun, who fell down a staircase as she tried to prevent someone committing suicide. Last but not least, another spooky story from the hospital recounts how a doctor had just received notification of a cardiac arrest on one of the wards and was hurrying to respond when he was stopped by a patient asking directions to the hospital exit. The doctor showed him the way and then hastened on to his patient – but when he arrived, it was too late. Most horrifying of all, the dead patient was the same man who had just asked him if he could show him the way out…

Meanwhile, in Stobhill Hospital, there is a well-known story of a helpful ghost who once helped a student nurse to save a patient’s life. The student nurse spotted a woman – who she thought was another nurse – slip into a side ward. Wanting to ask her something, the student followed – but when she entered the ward, she found that the nurse had vanished and the only person there was a patient who had fallen unconscious and needed urgent medical attention. Who, then, was the mysterious woman who had just vanished into thin air? Could she have been the ghost of a former nurse, trying to draw attention to the plight of a critically ill patient? No one will ever know.

Another well-documented hospital haunting is that of nurse Mary McLellan. In 1975, she was working in Glasgow’s Western Infirmary, and was preparing some equipment in a room just off a brightly lit corridor when she became aware of a silver-haired man wearing a blue dressing gown, who was standing in the corridor near the door to the opposite ward. He stood there for a few seconds, watching her, then disappeared. Mary wasn’t alarmed or suspicious in any way, thinking he was an ordinary patient. But a moment later a ward sister, who worked in that ward opposite the room where Mary was, came rushing up to her in a very distressed state because she too had seen the spirit – and knew him to be the ghost of a patient who had passed away two days ago.

Another famous ghost to haunt the Western Infirmary is the spirit of Sir William MacEwen, an eminent brain surgeon, who died in 1924. Shortly before his death, Sir MacEwen allegedly refused to operate on a young artist who had been admitted to the hospital suffering violent headaches. Shortly after, the artist fell down four flights of stairs in the hospital during one of his headaches and died. Sir William MacEwen is said to walk the hospital, regretting not performing the operation.

At the Victoria Infirmary in the city’s South Side, a strange shadow was seen by a member of staff taking a quick break outside. What appears to be the apparition of a disfigured dog, complete with green gunge was seen slinking about a ward by staff and a patient.

In the former building of the Paisley Royal Alexandra Infirmary, just outside Glasgow, staff reported all manner of things when it became a nursing home. Disembodied footsteps in the padlocked loft, beds being lifted and moved, the sound of running water and whispers in rooms with sleeping patients, and most eerily, the apparition of a man dragging a body bag! Though, it is possible the tales dated back to when the building operated as a hospital before it’s closure in 1988, when it was replaced by the Royal Alexandra Hospital on another site in Paisley.

These kinds of stories might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and make you reluctant to be admitted to hospital – but none of the ghosts involved in these hauntings are malicious or evil, merely the spirits of former nurses and patients who have not moved on. Perhaps, when you next visit your local hospital, you should take a minute to reflect on the spirits who may still wander those echoing corridors. Who were they? Why do they remain? Whoever they are, they probably deserve your compassion more than fright or horror. For once, they were patients too… or perhaps they were a nurse, or a doctor, who still likes to check in on patients now and again, from force of habit or genuine care…


The Twilight World of Tallinn by M J Steel Collins

Estonia is apparently a nice part of the world to live in. It rates high for education, economic and press freedom, and is the most democratic of the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. It is also one of the more technological parts of Europe, with high internet usage – it’s the place that brought us that great invention, Skype.

Not exactly the sort of place you would associate with ghosts perhaps. Hallowe’en isn’t celebrated, and the only date in the Estonian church calendar associated with the dead is the 2nd of November, recognised throughout the Christian world as All Souls Day, a day of prayer for the dead. However, scratch below the surface, and you might find that ghosts are in fact a rather important part of the Estonian make up – especially in Tallinn, the capital city. This is the place where a local informed a journalist from Time magazine that it wouldn’t be normal not to have a ghost.

In fact, in terms of the ghostly versus living ratio, Tallinn could be seen as a serious contender for Edinburgh’s crown as The Most Haunted City in the World. Although Tallinn itself was never attacked, razed or pillaged, historically, it could also give Edinburgh a run for its money in the ‘crazy stuff happened here’ stakes. It is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, having been made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997. Tallinn, actually known as Reval until 1918, has traces of settlement dating back 5,000 years. The city is made up of three parts; The Toompea, or Cathedral Hill, The Old Town and The Estonian Town. The first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050, and the area has always been the seat of power, although it didn’t officially become part of Tallinn until 1877. Nowadays, the Estonian Government, Parliament and several international Embassies are located there. The third section is the Estonian Town; Estonians didn’t become the dominant population in the city until the latter part of the 19th century – until then the majority of residents were Baltic Germans.

The Old Town was the centre of Medieval Trade, and it is here where many buildings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries can be found. Tallinn, or Reval, if we’re going to be accurate, was at this point a major port in trade between Russia and Scandinavia, and in 1285, became a member of the Hanseatic League, a military and mercantile alliance of Germanic countries in Northern Europe. Prior to this, it was a place that the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark became very interested in during the Northern Crusades in the early 13th century, when Christianity was forced upon the population. The city was sold to the Teutonic Knights in 1346, and continued to be an important trading port between Western and Northern Europe. At this point, Reval had a population of 8,000 and was a fortified city with walls and 66 defence towers.

By 1710, a plague ridden Reval fell under Russian imperial rule. This was in the middle of the Great Northern War of 1700 and 1721, when an alliance led by Tsarist Russia fought against the rule of the Swedish Empire. Reval kept much of its cultural and economic autonomy until 1889. The 19th century saw the city become industrialised, though it remained a very important port. In 1920, Estonia became independent, with Reval, renamed Tallinn, as its capital. The country remained independent until the Second World War, when it was briefly annexed by the USSR in 1940, and then by Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1944. Following the war, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when it again became independent. A major figure in Tallinn history is Old Thomas, the figure on the weathervane that was erected on the Town Hall in 1530. Old Thomas is seen as one of the guardians of the city.

And what about the ghosts that lurk after the passing of that history? Most of the houses in The Old Town are reputed to be haunted, and there are several tales of cruelty and magic. Our first place of interest is Raekoja Square, next to the Town Hall in The Old Town. It was used for torture and executions during the Middle Ages. Misbehaving residents would be tied up for days on end to the Shame Pole,so the townspeople could throw rotten fruit and eggs at them – a punishment rather similar to the Stocks. The site of the pole is now marked with a large circular stone.

Perhaps the most famous ghost story to come out of Tallinn is called The Devil’s Wedding. This is reputed to have taken place at Rataskaevu 16, a 15th century house, which has a top floor window bricked up from the inside, but a painted window replete with curtains on the outside. The story goes that centuries ago, the owner of the house, then a hotel, was on the verge of suicide, so desperate was he for money. Just in the nick of time, a stranger, clad in a cloak, approached him, offering a large sum of money for the use of an upstairs apartment for a party on the condition that absolute privacy was guaranteed. The deal was struck, and later on that night, the hotel was besieged with well dressed guests, and the sounds of extreme revelry emanated from the top floor.

Now, this is where versions of the story diverge. In one, the hotelier’s servant cannot resist his curiosity, and peered through the apartment’s keyhole. He was found at death’s door the following day, and just before he popped his clogs, he claimed to have seen Old Nick himself having a wedding party in the room. Another version has it that it’s the hotelier himself who can’t mind his own business and has a look through the keyhole to see Satan partying away. Another retelling of the story states that the hotelier went into the room the following day to find a goatskin bag full of gold. Upon touching the bag, the gold turned to dung, and the hotelier dropped dead on the spot. But other accounts have him survive, but finding the room covered in hoof prints and claw marks. Definitely the sign of a good ghost story that’s done the rounds often enough to have so many different versions!

As for the bricked up window, the reasons behind it are unclear, though it is believed by some that rumours of the Devil holding a wedding party in the room led to the city authorities ordering the window to be bricked over. Another explanation is that a later owner of the building got fed up with reports of the sound of partying taking place in the room and bricked the window up. It may be an old tale, but apparently the party isn’t quite over. Not too long ago, a Dutch diplomat rented the rooms below the haunted apartment, and wound up staying in a local hotel after being freaked out by the strange noises coming from above. When the house was recently remodelled, strange artefacts, including coins, papers and even human bones were found in the walls.

Bones were also found in the walls of an old house at Suur-Karja 10 when it was being remodelled in 1928. The house in question had a reputation for being haunted for centuries. Strange noises such as scratching, knocks and voices were reported by residents right up to the 1920s, but the strange activity stopped after the discovery, and eventual removal, of a skeleton in the walls during the renovations.

Tallinn’s oldest school, the Gustav Adolf Gymnasium was established in 1631 by Swedish King Gustav Adolf on the site of a former convent. Despite the fact the school has been on the site for over 400 years, the spirits of the old nuns can still be seen and heard about the school. Pupils and staff have reported nuns walking in the corridors and the sound of bells. Another haunted public building is the city museum, Linnamuuseum, which is housed in a 14th century house. During the Soviet era, a woman in white was reported several times by staff. Meanwhile in the Garden of the Danish King, Tani Kuninga Aed, the ghost of a woman in an old fashioned crinoline dress has been seen walking along the city wall.

Just by the Finnish Consulate, there can be found a pub and a block of flats on the corner of Piiskopi Street, which was previously the entrance to a large fortress in the Middle Ages. One night, during a party held there, a reveller is said to have been killed, and ever since, the sounds of a ghostly party have been heard. The resident spirit went through a tetchy phase, repeatedly making folk trip on the stairs. However, it stopped when a young child nearly took a tumble, the accident only being prevented by an invisible hand reaching out to stop the kid falling.

Next, we go to Toompea, where there is quite the collection of ethereal residents. The Canadian Embassy is regarded as the most haunted house in the area and was once the subject of a film on Tallinn’s haunted houses. It has two female ghosts, one in black and the other in grey. The grey lady was a somewhat amorous spirit, with a habit of kissing men. She was described as having long nails and ‘smelling like the tomb’. An English naval officer accommodated in the premises in 1919 wound up in an asylum after being driven insane by the sound of a woman cackling every night. In Rahukohtu, a French attaché fled his home screaming in French that he was being pursued by the ghost of a woman in white. He collapsed in the street, dead.

Three ancient towers in Tallinn are a hotbed of haunted activity. Lühikese Jala Väravatorn, the Short Leg Gate Tower, is a popular site for the conduction of paranormal research owing to its reputation as Tallinn’s most haunted spot because of the amount of activity reported there. Ghosts of monks have been encountered on a number of occasions; they have been seen dancing around the table, but there is a melancholy individual among their number. One has been seen on his knees several times. Curiously, a visiting psychic made contact with an old monk at the tower. Called Justus, he had started out as the hangman’s apprentice, but somehow wound up in a monastery; part of his misery stems from the fact he can’t make amends for his first career choice.

Other strange phenomena at Lühikese Jala Väravatorn include a ghostly Hanseatic ship floating out of the wall, sailing full wind across the room, melting into the wall on the opposite side. The vicious face of a man would appear in another wall, gurning away until it faded. In a cafe to the rear of the tower, poltergeist activity occurred, with a vase rising and falling to the floor before customers.

The Tallitorn, or Stable Tower, was formerly a prison for small offenses in the 16th and 17th centuries. One prisoner, the son of a Burgomaster, was so scared that he asked to be put in another prison that wasn’t reputed to be haunted. Permission was denied, but he was allowed to take a servant with him for moral support. The two were found terrified in the morning, having been plagued by ghosts all night. Additionally, the prisoner’s mother fainted upon seeing something horrible when she visited her son. The prisoner, who had been incarcerated for ‘inappropriate behaviour in love affairs’ was eventually moved.

Virgin’s Tower was once a prison and place of torture; the city prostitutes were imprisoned here. Nowadays it is a slightly less terrifying cafe, but still boasts an impressive haunting. Waitresses report being grabbed by the ghosts, and there have also been strange footsteps and scratching sounds. A monk drinking wine has been seen too. When the cafe first opened, early morning customers were treated to the sight of a group of phantom men in period costume singing, who would quickly vanish. The cafe workers are not afraid of the ghosts, however, believing them to be the old soldiers returning to their posts protecting the cafe and staff.

Thus ends our tour of ghostly Tallinn – who knows, if you ever visit, that person smiling at you from across the street in Toompea might just not be of our plane…