Thoughts on Place Memory and Residual Hauntings

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In 1890, the parapsychologist Edmund Gurney put forth an idea that he coined place memory. At its most basic level, place memory postulates that certain locations are capable of ‘recording’ emotions, sights, and sounds, particularly during times of extreme stress and trauma. If the conditions are right, these recordings can be played back, creating what can be called a ‘residual’ haunting.

These replays are strictly that: a facsimile of an event passed. Nothing more, nothing less. They will not, indeed, they cannot, interact with observers (unlike apparent poltergeist activity).

They also appear to be limited to the environment as it was when the initial event occurred. This may explain why these replays sometimes appear to travel through solid walls where a doorway may once have stood, or partially below ground level, perhaps treading where an original floor may have existed.

If such a thing as place memory can occur, it may well explain the scores of accounts I have collected of people witnessing such residual hauntings. Accounts such as that shared by one Harry Martindale*.

From the York Echo, dated 25th October 2014:

Harry Martindale was an 18-year-old plumber’s apprentice in 1953 when he saw at least 20 Roman soldiers, visible only from the knees up, marching through the cellar of the Treasurer’s House.

Harry, who went on to become a policeman for some 25 years, claimed he saw a soldier wearing a helmet emerge from a wall, followed by a cart horse and twenty other soldiers. Scared witless, he fell from his ladder and stumbled into a corner.

He was so terrified by what he saw that he took two weeks off work with shock. Friends laughed at his story, so he kept quiet about his spooky sighting until the 1970s, when he was interviewed by a group of academics for television, and York’s most famous ghostly tale was born.

It emerged that an old Roman road ran through the garrison where the Treasurer’s House was later built, and was about 15 inches lower than the cellar floor. The story also gained legitimacy after Harry described several aspects of the Roman soldiers’ clothing that he would not have known at the time.

His son Andrew said Harry was interviewed by various TV stations as the story blew up but, because he worked for the police, he never made any money out of his experiences.

 

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Now, I believe I should address the metaphorical elephant in the room: there is no record of a residual haunting ever being replicated under strict scientific conditions.

I believe there is a very simple explanation for this.

None of it can be replicated under these conditions.

It is the very nature of the scientific method that removes the factors required for the replay to occur. Even the placing of equipment with which to attempt the observation, measurement and recording of a residual haunting is enough to pollute the location with electromagnetic fields, amongst other things (see the observer effect), that are not conducive to activating the replay. There are simply far too many variables at play, variables that are, at best, difficult to predict, let alone control.

Further to this, if emotion is a key factor in the initial recording and playback of these events, how does one go about measuring it? By its very nature, emotion is subjective: there is no equipment to objectively record fear or love, jealousy or sadness.

To create the perfect conditions required to satisfy the scientific method, an event traumatic enough to create a residual haunting would actually need to have occurred inside a laboratory, under controlled and replicable conditions. With the exception of a pair of highly controversial and sadistic ‘experiments’ that took place at Unit 731 during World War 2, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no record of such an event having ever taken place.

Place memory (more commonly referred to nowadays as stone tape theory, after the BBC play broadcast in 1972) is disregarded by mainstream science, and understandably so. By its very nature, it is vague, unquantifiable, and untestable.

And yet mankind’s history is littered with tales of residual hauntings. And why is it that certain locations such as hospitals, prisons, and mental asylums can provoke an intangible sense of dread, as if the very buildings themselves were trying to share with us memories of past misdeeds that have taken place within their grounds?

If only old walls could speak. What tales they might tell.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

More information on the late Harry Martindale’s experience can be found here, and what he witnessed is certainly intriguing. My head tells me that ‘place memory’ can’t be a real thing, but, as the good doctor says, even I’ve walked into certain houses and instantly felt that ‘nope’ feeling – C.R.

The Lightning Bird and the Moonfire

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The following is an extract from an interview I conducted on behalf of the Psychical Research and Investigation Society* with one Ms Edith Cohen, a Northamptonshire resident.

The interview took place on the 20th of June 2000.

‘It was a few weeks ago. The 5th, I believe. I was walking my dog, Bobbins, in the Green Norton Park. It was a clear day; really sunny, not a cloud in the sky. I had my camera with me. I like to take pictures of Bobbins, he’s such a handsome young man. A golden retriever, you know. And he’s so photogenic.’

‘I was tossing a stick for Bobbins to fetch, then getting some shots of him running back to me. It’s his best angle.’

‘Anyway, I’d thrown the stick, and I was down on one knee, and suddenly there was a huge flash of light and this massive crack, like thunder. But, like I said, it was a clear day. The sound was so loud, Bobbins ran away and hid.’ 

‘I was calling out to him to come back to me, when I heard this sound from above, a bit like a crow cawing, but, sort of ‘strangled’. I looked up, and there was this massive black bird soaring above me. It was enormous. I must’ve watched it for a bit, before I remembered I had my camera.’

‘I managed to get a single shot of the giant bird before it flew away.’

‘The picture is a bit blurry, and everyone I’ve shown it to says it’s a stork or a crane. But it definitely wasn’t. I’ve seen those before. What I saw was far too big. And cranes aren’t black, surely?’

I will attach Ms Cohen’s photograph to this file. The picture is indeed blurry, but it does show something in the skies above Green Norton Park, even if that thing is rather difficult to identify.

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Jessica Drummond was born in 1982 in Towcester, Northamptonshire. An only child, she was a conscientious and practical individual, and she excelled at school, particularly in the fields of mathematics and physics. In the summer of 2000, she left Huxlow Science College with four ‘A’ levels and secured a place at the University of Bristol to study mechanical engineering. A fan of the literary works of Jayne Mansfield, she also had rather a poetic streak.

By all accounts Jessica was quite shy and reserved for her age, and her parents insist that she was not the kind of person prone to dabbling in narcotics or drinking to excess.

On the week beginning the 5th of June 2000, she began to experience what her local GP, Dr Kahn, describes as a quite severe case of somnambulism, more commonly known as sleepwalking.

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1st December 2008

I meet Dr Josef Kahn in the The Halt, a quaint little pub tucked away in Chapel Brampton.

A diminutive fellow, with a shock of bright white hair and a surprisingly deep voice, Dr Kahn was the Drummond family doctor, and had been since before Jessica was born. Now retired, it is quite obvious that the events of that first week of June 2000 have taken a toll on him, both professionally and personally.

Over a pint of dark ale, he tells me of his recollections of that summer.

‘I remember Jessica, yes. She was a lovely girl. Very, very intelligent. It was such a shame what happened to her.’

‘Her parents bought her to see me on the Wednesday. She looked terrible; large dark rings under her eyes, the poor thing looked like she hadn’t slept in days. Her father said that they’d found her in the kitchen the last two mornings, and she’d taken all the pots and pans out of the cupboards and laid them out in the garden.’  

‘I examined her, and appeared she was somewhat lethargic, presumably due to the lack of sleep.’

‘It was strange seeing her like that. She’d always been a little reticent to talk, but that day… well, that day it was different.’

‘I spoke to her parents and asked them if she was under any stress, but they assured me that she wasn’t, so I could only assume it was the thought of going away to university that was troubling her.’

‘I wrote her a prescription for some sleeping tablets and advised her parents to keep an eye on her. If it continued, I told them to bring Jessica back and we would look at some other possible forms of therapy.’

‘I wished them luck, said goodbye and then went about my day. I’ll confess, I didn’t expect to see them again.’

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But Jessica’s sleepwalking continued.

The next morning, a local police officer responding to a call found Jessica locked inside the town library, wearing just her pyjamas and surrounded by open books. There was no sign of any forced entry, and the officer was at a loss to explain how the teenager had gained access to the building.

When she was found, Jessica was apparently in a fugue state, muttering to herself about ‘the lightning bird on high.’

She was taken to the local police station and her parents called. Her mother and father were shocked at the news; they were under the impression that Jessica was still in her bed at home.

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Dr Kahn continues:

‘I went to their house once the surgery had closed, and Jessica’s parents were beside themselves with worry. As for their daughter, she had no memory of her escapades the previous night.’

‘I asked to speak with her alone. She seemed lucid, but also a little ‘detached’. She just kept saying how tired she was.’

‘I told her that she could tell me if there was anything bothering her, anything at all, something she thought she couldn’t tell her parents. She said was that when she closed her eyes, all that she saw was a giant black bird in front of her.’ 

‘I gave her some stronger sleeping pills, something that would really knock her out, and sent her to bed. I advised her parents to lock her door from the outside, just in case she went for another nocturnal ramble.’

‘I also told them to call me first thing and let me know how the night had gone.’ 

‘When I didn’t hear from them in the morning, I was under the impression that everything was okay.’

‘How wrong I was.’

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According to the police report, Jessica’s father slept outside his daughter’s door that night. He was apparently awoken at about 3am by two loud claps of thunder accompanied by bright flashes.

No storm was recorded in the area that night.

On hearing his daughter scream from inside her room, Mr Drummond unlocked the door and entered.

Jessica was nowhere to be seen. The small section of window in her room that would open was closed and locked, and a number of large, coarse black feathers were strewn across her bed.

No trace of Jessica Drummond was ever found.

Analysis of the feathers revealed that were from a type of crow, but the exact species was never determined. Their size suggests a wing span much greater than any on record.

There was one another unusual item found in Jessica’s bedroom. It was a picture of a bird, drawn in thick black pen. Underneath it, in Jessica’s handwriting, were the words ‘she comes with the moonfire.’

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There are many perplexing aspects to this case. Jessica Drummond was apparently not the kind of person who had any inclination to run away; indeed, she had her whole life ahead of her. And even if she did, how did she manage to exit her house without alerting anyone? I have seen her bedroom, and I find it difficult to believe she could have crawled out of the window and into the night.

And what of Ms Cohen’s photograph, and the over-sized feathers?

I must confess, I have struggled with this investigation: giant birds and curious meteorological effects preceding the disappearance of teenage girls is a new one, even to me. The only thing I could drag up from the archives was the Native American myth of the Thunderbird, a legendary creature that would beat its wings and throw lightning at the beasts of the underworld.

But surely the appearance of a Thunderbird in Northamptonshire that week in 2000 is too great of a leap of logic?

Sadly, it seems that Ms Drummond’s disappearance will have to remain a mystery.

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Oddly enough, writing up this report made me recall a trip I took a few years ago, to the Museo Thyssen-Boremisza in Madrid. There hangs a picture titled ‘The Lightning Bird Blinded by Moonfire.’ It is an abstract piece, painted by Joan Miró in 1955.

In its jagged lines it is possible to detect a similarity to the drawing found in Ms Drummond’s bedroom.

Perhaps señor Miro was inspired by a similar encounter.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

* This is the same group the good doctor mentioned in An Encounter on the Midland Mainline. I have contacted them , and the chap I spoke to could find no record of a Dr Gotobed having ever worked for them, but he did say that their records were ‘patchy’, at best – C.R.