1885 – A Lafayette Square Ghost Story

Adapted from a story by the St Louis Post Dispatch of December 25, 1885

LAFAYETTE PARK GHOST.

IT STRIKES TERROR TO THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Seen by George Wilson and a Couple of Inquisitive Young Men – It Is Fully Identified as Supernatural – A Newspaper Investigator Solves the Mystery and Relieves the Pressing Fears 

 George Wilson, an ashman who lives on Jefferson Avenue near Russell Avenue, while passing through Lafayette Park last Saturday night, saw a ghost. The apparition nearly crazed him with terror for a time. Wilson is known as a faithful and trustworthy fellow by those who have had occasion to employ him. He is truthful and inclined to be religious. He is positive that he is not mistaken in saying that he saw a ghost and his earnestness in telling his story carries conviction with it. The man was so overcome by the sight that he is wiling to take a most solemn oath that he really saw the spirit. He believes it is the ghost of Charles Uhde, who recently suicided in Lafayette Park. 

WILSON IS POSITIVE

that he cannot be mistaken in what he saw, and that it really was a spirit from another world. 

James Hardy and Willis Martin, two boys who told their stories at the Lafayette Park station, will also bear testimony to the fact that something of an extremely supernatural appearance has been seen in the park. They saw it themselves but were so overcome with terror at the apparition that they did not stop to investigate and cannot describe it accurately. In todays’s Post-Dispatch they will first see the explanation of the strange and awful mystery. 

George Wilson, who first saw the ghost, and was seen on Monday, admitted that he had a drink or two, but nevertheless he claimed that the ghost was

NOT A MYTH, BUT A REALITY

He told the story of his experience with the spook to a policeman, as follows:

“I was just going home about 11 o’clock and cut cat-a-corner through the park so as to get home quicker. It was dark as pitch and as quiet as a graveyard, but I slumped along mighty lively, as I was afraid someone might rob me if I wasn’t careful. I had just gotten about half way through he park when all of a sudden I heard what sounded like a sigh. It came from a clump of brush by the side of the path. 

“Who’s there?” I shouted.

“Then there was another long ripping kind of sigh and my hair stood straight up.

“Good Lord, I thought,

THE DEVIL HIMSELF 

was in that brush, but I was kind of nailed to the spot and couldn’t have stirred anyway. Then there was a kind of hissing sigh, as though the ghost was getting mad. All of a sudden I saw something white and wavy come slowly out from the brush. It came straight for me, with another long sigh, and I turned and ran as fast as my legs would carry me. I didn’t look around at all, because I expected to feel that ghost grab me at any second, but he didn’t and I got out of the gate in double quick time. No, sir! you couldn’t hire me to go in that park again after dark. That ghost must be the spirit of that fellow that shot himself there a few days ago. Oh!  I know a ghost when I see one, you bet. I’ve got no time for ghosts.”

The story was circulated around the neighborhood, and Wilson was willing to take an oath as to the truth of his story. 

Two young men, James Hardy and Willis Martin

DECIDED TO INVESTIGATE

the matter. They were not afraid of ghosts and would demonstrate the folly of people getting frightened at nothing. So Monday night they took their station near the scene of the ghost’s reported haunts and waited. After sitting on a bench for about an hour they came to the conclusion that there was no ghost, and as they thought they had sufficiently proved their valor, decided to return home. Just as they arrived at this determination Hardy suddenly seized Martin by the arm. 

“What’s that?” he said, in a nervous whisper. “That white thing towards the lake?”

His companion was rather unnerved at this sudden change in the conversation, and said in a shaking voice:

“Wha-a-a-t do you see?”

“Look there,” the other said, excitedly. “See that white thing coming across the grass. Look! Look! it’s coming toward us. See! Oh, Lord!”

The sound of hasty footsteps on the walk was a very effective and proper conclusion to the conversation. 

This episode tended to 

INCREASE THE INTEREST

in the ghost, and the neighborhood conversation was all upon that one subject. There have been a series of several meetings held in the Park Methodist Church, but those who lived on the other side of the park, instead of taking a short cut through, now walked around the park, saying that it was a pleasant evening and they liked to walk around. They did not say anything about a ghost, but the young ladies were all greatly relieved when their escorts arrived at this conclusion just the same. Only large parties have undertaken to make the trip through the park since last Sunday. 

Uhde’s ghost has been the subject of conversation at many a dinner table in the neighborhood of Missouri and Lafayette Avenues. Wilson and the two boys were willing to take an oath to the fact that they saw the ghostly apparition as it moved almost noiselessly across the sward within twenty feet of where they stood. 

The report reached the Post-Dispatch yesterday.

A CANVAS OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD

was made. Everybody was talking about the ghost, but in the above the readers are given the direct testimony gathered. A milkman named Mohrman, driving along Mississippi Avenue on last Monday morning, saw something white just inside the fence, but his testimony was no more definite. 

Of the fact that there was some unusual apparition there could be no doubt – to disclose the ghost was a job to be undertaken.

Last night it was decided to find out what the ghost really consisted of, or what there was to give rise to the stories in circulation. There were a number of parties who had seen something, but what it was no one could exactly say, although the idea of it being a ghost was generally believed. it was absolutely necessary that the mystery be cleared up in some way, as the park had become

ALMOST WHOLLY DESERTED

after nightfall, and even those who claimed not to believe in ghosts had a “creepy” sensation when the subject of a stroll in the park was breached.

The disclosure was undertaken last night. The park was entered about 10 o’clock. There is something to the opposite of exhilarating in the idea of bearding a ghost in his den,

especially if there is no companion to consult regarding the quickest mode of escape. The park was as still as death, and the rumbling of a street car did not tend to enliven the scene. The lake was as calm and still as a mirror, and not a sound broke the oppressive silence which hung over the beautiful little park

LIKE A HEAVY PALL 

The investigator sat on a bench for a few moments, and then, thinking that it might be the one on which Uhde killed himself, moved to another one, but this was just as liable to have been the one. 

There was very little satisfaction in this, so he stood up. If there ever was a place more suitable than another for the ghostly gambols of a spook, it is Lafayette Park on a dark still night. The tall trees completely shuts out the light in some places, and the darkness becomes so oppressive as to be almost felt.

Suddenly the investigator was startled from his reverie by a little noise, so slight as to be almost imperceptible. Then there was a long-drawn sigh, which appeared to die away in choking gasps. The investigator’s hair began to raise, and with a nervous movement he jammed his hat down over his ears to keep it from being lifted off his head. Then there was another one those long-drawn sighs, such as are supposed to be given by all well-bred ghosts. A hasty retreat was rendered difficult by the fact that it was uncertain from which direction the sounds came. Suddenly,

FROM AMONG THE THICK BRUSH

there appeared something white. It seemed to have distended eyes, and to be of immense size. Horror upon horror; it came nearer and nearer, with a wavy undulating motion, giving vent to those ghastly sighs. It was making direct for the investigator, who stood rooted to the ground with terror. It appeared to be in a stooping posture, with two skinny arms, enshrouded and outstretched, as thought to embrace the spectator and carry him away to a sudden reckoning. The investigator tried to flee, but his limbs, paralyzed with terror, refused to do their duty, and with a shriek of terror he shut his eyes and hurled his walking stick at the apparition.

A SQUAWK OF PAIN

was the result. The investigator, encouraged, opened his eyes to observe the result of his throw and saw something scudding up the walk, giving vent to a long-drawn squa-a-a-wk. 

It was no ghost, only one of the tame immense swans in the park. The reporter was satisfied to let it escape. After finding his walking stick he noted that the place of such a strange experience was deserted and silence once more enveloped the now peaceful scene.

Uhde’s ghost will no more trouble pedestrians in Lafayette Park. This will also be pleasing news to officers Summers and Atkinson, particularly as Superintendent Hunt says he will hereafter have the night-prowling swan locked up. 

Ghost stories were very popular during Victorian times.  The stories were easy to write, easy to serialize, and sensational in the extreme. From the universal appeal of the ghosts in Dickens’ A  Christmas Carol to Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven, to tales of the undead like Frankenstein and Dracula, the era proved fertile ground for vivid imaginations. Part of this may have been the way large wealthy homes were constructed, with back stairways, dumbwaiters and an unseen staff. Part may have been the advent of telegraphic and then telephonic communication. In light of technical revolutions who was to say that you couldn’t communicate with the deceased. It’s even speculated that gas lamps in the winter could induce a kind of carbon monoxide narcosis, causing hallucinations. 

If you lived in a time like this, wouldn’t your imagination be a little more receptive to the creaky floor, the scratch at a window, or shriek of the wind? We may also have simply wanted a little of this action for ourselves, here in Lafayette Square. Pleasant dreams. 

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