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The Ghost of Mecklenburgh Street
A 200-year-old haunted house; PLUS special guest Danny Robins goes Into the Uncanny; ALSO new podcast teaser!
More than two-and-a-quarter centuries ago, in March 1785, several newspapers in Ireland reported a startling tale from a house on Dublin’s Mecklenburgh Street. The tale came from a widow — a long-time resident who was ‘remarkable as a character of integrity and veracity’. It happened on the night of 9th March:
‘After going to bed, she says she was alarmed by hearing a very mournful cry, like that of a female, at her bed-chamber door, which she was at a loss to account for as there was no person in the house but two children which lay in the room with her. In a few minutes after, her alarms were increased by hearing the room door burst open, though she had carefully locked it when going to bed. She says she scarcely had had time to form any conjectures when her curtains were torn down, and, by an illumination like lightning, she saw a tall, meagre-faced female spectre, dressed in black, standing by the bed-side, wringing her hands, and shaking her ghastly head at her. The woman having hid her head under the clothes, the ghost disappeared, but during the course of the night paid her three visits more in the same manner.’
In the morning, the widow told her female cousin and the cousin’s new husband about her terrifying experience. The couple agreed to stay with her that night ‘in order to quiet her fears’. But her fears were not quietened…
‘About the usual hour, the ghost again made her appearance, but notwithstanding she saw her clad in all her horrors, her two bed-fellows could not make out the visitor, until the ghost seized on some of the chairs, and having rattled them and thrown them about, with groans and an uncommon noise, convinced the new married couple that some agent invisible to them was in the room, which raised their terrors as high as the woman, and made them leave the house the next day.’
And there was more haunting to follow.
‘On the third night, a Mr Dixon, one of her neighbours, came into the house and, being incredulous about the ghost, went up to the bed-chamber, and sat up for some time, but soon after came down roaring, and swearing that the spectre had given him a most severe drubbing. He did not for some days recover.’
The widow insisted that she was ‘not only haunted but threatened by the ghost’ and swiftly moved out and into a neighbouring street.
‘The widow has left the house, and the public attention is now much engaged about the ghost of Mecklenburgh Street.’
The press was skeptical about the widow’s story but struggled to properly explain it. This was one Dublin newspaper:
‘The public may depend that the aforesaid account is taken from the testimony of the parties concerned. No doubt there is some imposition in the case, but we are at a loss to account why the widow should hazard her interest in a house she had on very profitable terms; why she also grew lean in a few days, who before that time was remarkably fat; why her hair should now be grey, which nine days since was of a raven-black; and why she should be supported by three others in a corroboration of the story?’
Mecklenburgh Street no longer exists. It ran east of the surviving Marlborough Street, and north of Talbot Street and the Talbot Bridge. It was a desirable street, filled with Georgian townhouses. Property listings show houses with three floors, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, two kitchens, small front yards, and large back gardens. Celebrated architect James Gandon lived in the street at the time of the haunting. (Coincidentally, Bram Stoker lived nearby about a century later, during the 1850s and 1860s.) Was it possible that someone was trying to scare the widow out of her house in order to claim it for themselves?
The house, newly abandoned and boarded up, became a peculiar attraction. ‘Hundreds were daily drawn by curiosity into the street where the haunted house was,’ said one newspaper. The story reached Belfast, then England, then crossed the Atlantic. It was featured in the Gazette of the United States in Philadelphia, which said it was ‘becoming the subject of conversation everywhere’.
And this was not the end of the story. Enter a gentleman named Edward Nolan, ‘well known in the literary world for his poetical and political abilities’. (Records show Nolan contributed poetry to The European Magazine and The Lady’s Magazine.) Nine days after the story emerged, Nolan ‘took up a sporting bet’.
‘Mr Nolan expressed a wish that some person of resolution would put an end to the idle tale of a female apparition having taken nightly possession of a house in Mecklenburgh Street, and added that he would think little of taking the task upon himself; a wager of a rump and dozen [a steak and twelve oysters] that he would not was proposed, he accepted the bet, and accordingly on Tuesday night at nine o’clock, the company present at the wager locked him in the haunted house.’
Nolan entered the house on Mecklenburgh Street with a case of loaded horse pistols ‘for his defence’ and a pen and ink ‘for his amusement’. One report said he also took his dog. He experienced nothing unusual — until after midnight. Then Nolan heard ‘a great deal of noise’ in the house, and declared aloud:
“I fear not the dead, but by God, the first of you that makes his appearance here shall have the contents of this horse pistol in his body!”
At six in the morning, the gentlemen who had locked Nolan in went to release him from the house. They found him asleep, with a ream of verse he had written during the night. In a poem titled ‘Stanzas, Written in a Haunted Room’, Nolan asks why the thought of the dead rising again fills us with dread when so many of the great and good might be restored to life.
‘O! If the flinty prison of the grave
Could loose its doors, and let the spirit flee,
Why not return the Wise, the Just, the Brave,
And set once more, the pride of ages free?
Why not restore a Socrates again?
Or give thee Newton as the first of men?’
In any case, Nolan’s pistol-wielding intervention seemed to do the trick. The ghost was never seen or heard from again:
‘The ghost of Mecklenburgh Street is laid, never more to rise — and tea-tables must get another subject to chat upon, and the kitchen fires another theme of terror, for this horrid spectre, after frightening men, women and children, has itself been frightened by Mr Nolan. The ghost thought proper to desist from its mummery and retire. There is an end at last.’◆
Next up is the Recommended section with special guest Danny Robins.
Into the Uncanny by Danny Robins
I’ve previously written that I don’t believe in witchcraft, ghosts, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or anything else that can’t be proven to exist via science and logic. However, I am interested in the above (and have written about several), largely because I spent much of my childhood reading Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World books and watching the accompanying TV shows. So Into the Uncanny is right up my (shadowy, misty, and eerily gas-lit) street.
Danny Robins is the writer and presenter of the excellent BBC podcast Uncanny, which investigates first-hand accounts of paranormal experiences. An Uncanny TV show starts on BBC2 tomorrow, Friday 13th October, and he’s currently touring UK theatres with an Uncanny live show. His other podcasts include The Battersea Poltergeist, which he’s adapting into a movie with Hollywood horror maestros Blumhouse, plus The Witch Farm, and Haunted. He’s also the writer of 2:22 A Ghost Story, the hit West End play that’s touring the UK. And he grew up in the best city in the world — Newcastle upon Tyne.
In Into the Uncanny, Danny investigates a series of brand new cases, featuring poltergeists, UFOs, and more, while weaving in a memoir of his own supernatural awakenings. I’m very much “Team Skeptic”, but the joy of this book, and Danny’s work in general, is that it takes a balanced approach that treats believers and non-believers alike. Danny’s immersive writing and the witnesses’ vivid experiences make this book an eye-opening treat. Its creepy cases are enough to send shivers up the spine of the most cynical non-believer.
Danny was kind enough to answer some quick questions:
Paul: What was the most hair-raising moment you experienced while writing "Into The Uncanny"?
Danny: I have a lot of hair to raise so it takes quite a bit, but each of the cases I investigate in the book sent major shivers down my spine. It’s the possibilities they present, or rather the impossibilities… And also the level of fear the witnesses still clearly feel to this day. I’ll say this though, going to an apartment in Rome that had been home to alleged poltergeist activity was interesting…
Paul: How do your personal beliefs and experiences influence your investigations and writing?
Danny: A lot. I grew up in a belief-free household and I always felt the absence of belief keenly. Like there might be a club out there who knew secrets I did not. I want to believe. I’m looking for the evidence that would allow me to do that.
Paul: Can you recommend another non-fiction book that readers of "Singular Discoveries" and "Into The Uncanny" might enjoy?
Oh, and if you’d like to listen to the audiobook of Into the Uncanny and pretend it’s an extended version of one of Danny’s podcasts, you can grab a free trial of Audible, which gets you one free audiobook to download and keep, or two free audiobooks if you have Amazon Prime. Just click here.
Now more podcast news…
In case you didn’t hear, Singular Discoveries is now a podcast! It’s a brand new audio series telling unusual true stories from forgotten corners of the past. It launches on 24 October. I sent an initial trailer to subscribers a couple of weeks ago. Now here’s a brief teaser to further excite your ears:
The Singular Discoveries podcast is available “wherever you get your podcasts”, which means Apple, Spotify, Amazon, and everywhere else. Just hit “follow” or “subscribe” to get every weekly episode for free. Click here to find it on Acast.
However, if you’d like to binge-listen the entire series, ad-free, as soon as the first episode drops — and get an exclusive bonus episode — you can become a podcast supporter for just £10. Click here for more details.
If you sign up now, I’ll send you the entire series of ad-free episodes, plus the bonus episode, plus show notes, plus transcripts of all the episodes, on 24 October. Your support will help us make more episodes.
Episodes released weekly from 24 October
Listen on Acast, Apple, Spotify, Amazon and more
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Or become a podcast supporter - binge and bonus:
Get the entire series, ad-free, on 24 October
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All for a one-off payment of just £10
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks for the launch of the podcast. And a couple of weeks after that for the regular edition of the newsletter.
For now, please follow or subscribe “Singular Discoveries” in your podcast app to get the first episodes as soon as they’re released. Do consider becoming a podcast supporter to get the entire series and bonuses. And please share the trailer with like-minded friends and followers. Thanks for listening!◆
As a Halloween bonus, here are some alternative images created for The Ghost of Mecklenburgh Street. Don’t have nightmares…
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Main sources: Dublin Evening Post, 19 March 1785; Saunders’s News-letter and Advertiser (Dublin), 21 March 1785; Belfast Mercury, 29 March 1785; Gazette of the United States (Philadephia), 7 November 1792.
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