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  • Writer's pictureBryan Williams

Ghost Sightings by Daylight?

Stories, folklore, horror films, and the ghost hunting shows all tend to continually emphasize and perpetuate the idea that ghosts are a nocturnal phenomenon - that they only appear at night, or under conditions of near or total darkness. Running counter to this idea are the fair number of instances in which people have said they've seen apparitions during the day or under lighted conditions. British psychical researcher Andrew MacKenzie devoted a whole chapter of his classic book Apparitions & Ghosts [1, Ch. 3] to reports of spontaneous encounters with spectral figures that occurred either in daylight or at dusk (when there was still enough daylight to see). Among the encounters reported in that chapter is the following one, which is a personal account given by a nurse in London: "First let me say I did not believe in ghosts or visions, but while I was working in a nurses' home, which was a new building, I opened the door of a small room and saw a man washing his hands at the sink, although I did not see any water. The man was dressed as a doctor, and it was as clear as life (nothing blurred), and this happened at eleven in the morning. He walked towards the door that I had opened and vanished behind the door "blank wall" (into a wall as I [MacKenzie] discovered from correspondence with [the nurse]). I pulled the door forward and looked behind it and he was gone. I was very shocked and shaken as I did not think it was possible..." [1, p. 62] Though one might figure that one would likely run across a doctor in such a building, the nurse stated that no doctors actually worked in that particular building.

In examining the various apparition cases collected by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), William H. Salter had come across and cited a case in which a man and his wife had both sighted a spectral figure at a time when dusk was approaching: "In April of last year, while the light was still good, I was returning home from a walk with my wife, and when within a few yards of the gate, which opens into a straight path leading to the house, both my wife and I saw a woman pass through the open gate and walk straight to the house, when, on reaching the door, she disappeared. I ran to the door, opened it with my latchkey, and expected in my astonishment to find her inside, for she seemed to have walked through the door. It all seemed so real that I at once searched the house, but in vain. We were the only two people in the street and did not see the figure until she entered the gate, when we simultaneously exclaimed, 'Who is that?' She seemed to come out of space and go into space again in a most marvellous manner. She wore a plaid shawl, and her bonnet was a grey-black with a bit of colour in it. We could not remember hearing any sound as she walked, but otherwise we have never seen anything more apparently substantial. It is impossible for us to conceive how she could have disappeared if she had been flesh and blood...We are neither of us believers in ghosts or the like, but are two ordinary matter-of-fact people." [2, Case 10] The man's wife gave a similar account which seemed to corroborate his, and she noted that "the time was about sunset with light enough to read out of doors." Another case which took place in the evening hours was the personal experience described by physician Lindsay Johnson, who was staying at a local inn with a friend, Mr. Frith, while they were visiting Norway at the time [3]. The experience basically went as follows: After ordering supper, Mr. Frith went off for a brief evening walk while Dr. Johnson stayed behind in order to write some letters. About 15 minutes after he'd left on his walk, Dr. Johnson heard a tapping noise on the nearby window, and looking up, saw Mr. Frith standing there at the window, "dripping wet, [with] an expression of agony on his face" [p. 252]. He was beckoning Dr. Johnson to come outside. Dr. Johnson quickly exited the inn, but Mr. Frith was nowhere to be seen. Nor was he found when a quick search of the premises was made, and no traces of his footprints were found outside the window. By the next morning, Mr. Frith had failed to return, and it was only after ten days that his body was eventually discovered in the river running beside the inn, at a spot almost right across from the window where Dr. Johnson had been sitting when the tapping noise was heard. At the time of the experience, Dr. Johnson had noted that: "It was then about a quarter past five; the rain had quite ceased and the sun was shining brilliantly" [p. 252]. It should also be noted that one of more intriguing cases in the SPR collection - that of the "Scratched Cheek" (discussed in more detail in a previous Halloween post) - also took place in broad daylight. As the witness in that case had noted, the "...hour was high noon" [4, p. 18] when the spectral figure was seen. There are also some haunting cases in which an apparition was reportedly sighted in the daytime. One such case was investigated by parapsychologists Michaeleen Maher and George Hansen in the early 1990s [5]. The sighting in this case was experienced by the teenage son of a family that was staying at a reputedly haunted New Jersey estate house owned by a Mr. & Mrs. Andrews. Once in the late afternoon, the boy had looked out the window and saw a male figure in dark-colored clothing that was standing out in the pasture, facing away from the estate house. Thinking that the figure was Mr. Andrews, the boy decided to go out and offer him a hand with whatever he was doing. As he made his way out to the pasture, the boy's view of the dark male figure was momentarily blocked by some tall shrubs that were lining the driveway. As he came around the other side of the shrubs, the boy was surprised to find that the figure had vanished from sight. Puzzled by its sudden disappearance, the boy made a wide search of the yard, but he couldn't find any sign of the figure that he'd seen only moments before. On a broader scale, some case surveys seem to indicate that daytime sightings of apparitions may be more common than one might initially think. For instance, in her survey of 370 cases in the SPR collection, psychical researcher Eleanor Sidgwick noted that " to the light by which ghosts are seen, no rule can be laid down. They are seen in all kinds of light, from broad daylight to the faint light of dawn - from bright gaslight to the light of a dying fire" [6, p. 144]. And in his book The Departed Among the Living [7], the late Icelandic researcher Erlendur Haraldsson evaluated 449 accounts of apparitional experiences given by people from all walks of life. Interestingly, his survey indicated that the percentage of experiences reported during the day was roughly equal to that for experiences which occurred at night. In other words, this survey seemed to indicate that apparitions were just as likely to have been experienced during the day as they were at night. In addition, roughly half the people in Haraldsson's survey had stated that they'd had their apparitional experience either in full daylight, or at a time when electric lights were turned on. On the basis of these observations, it would seem that the idea that ghostly experiences can only occur at night or in near/total darkness is not likely to have much of a solid basis to it. Thus, the take-home message here for investigators would seem to be that there's no shame in doing an investigation during the daytime or in a lit room, as these observations suggest that these conditions wouldn't necessarily prevent a ghost from manifesting. Just something to consider when planning future investigations. :-)


References: [1] MacKenzie, A. (1971). Apparitions & Ghosts: A Modern Study. New York: Popular Library. [2] Salter, W. H. (1938). Ghosts and Apparitions. London: G. Bell & Sons, Ltd. [3] Johnson, L. (1906). A strange case of apparition. Annals of Psychical Science, 3, 252 - 254. [4] Myers, F. W. H. (1889). On recognised apparitions occurring more than a year after death. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 6, 13 - 65. [5] Maher, M. C., & Hansen, G. P. (1995). Quantitative investigation of a "haunted castle" in New Jersey. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 89, 19 - 50. [6] Sidgwick, E. M. [Mrs. H.] (1885). Notes on the evidence, collected by the Society, for phantasms of the dead. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 3, 69 - 150. [7] Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. Guildford, UK: White Crow Books.

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