Some concluding thoughts

Many people throughout the world want to believe in an afterlife. Whether they believe in a god or not, they hope desperately there is something - anything - after they die.

It is this search that prepares us to believe in paranormal phenomena. If only one ghost can be proven scientifically; if only angels would administer to us during an out of body experience; if only we could project ourselves to another place, then surely, there must be hope for life after death.

Since so few people have an out of body experience, or are visited by ghosts, we subconsciously move down the ladder of paranormal phenomena for even a glimmer of some unseen power. If someone can bend a spoon, or move a pencil, or make a Ouija board "talk," it gives us hope. If an unidentified flying object contains an alien from another world, perhaps the visitor can tell us of another existence? If pyramids or crop circles were designed by gods in their fiery chariots, surely they will look after us?

There is only one problem. As we read about the experiences of others, or as a friend tells us about her experience, it is not enough. Each of us has to have our own personal contact with the unexplained.

Now enters the power of suggestion. If you want something badly enough, and if you prime your mind to accept any paranormal experience, it becomes possible to see a ghost where no one else can see it; to see flashing lights in the sky where no radar can track an object; or to hear voices on a stormy night. We crave an experience. We deserve an experience. We need an experience. We are primed and ready when the circumstances are just right.

It is our willingness to accept even a sliver of the paranormal that gives rise to the skeptic. He is not willing to accept even a small demonstration of psychic ability because that would make him as gullible as the imaginative neighbor. Besides, there really is no god, there really is no after life, so why bother? How can you be so stupid?

Wouldn't it be nice if people could be open minded enough to be tolerant to our beliefs, even if they were skeptical?

Unfortunately, it seems that most skeptics attack everything. They are afraid to accept even one paranormal phenomena for fear it will unravel something bigger. If they accept even one ghost, then all spirits are possible. If ghosts come back from the dead, then an after-life is certain. If there is an after-life, then a supreme being just might exist. To avoid all this, the skeptic just puts a halt to anything remotely paranormal.

By dictionary definition, to be skeptical is to have "an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object." Folks, that leaves room for tolerance! Why couldn't the true skeptic have "doubt" about Out of Body Experiences, for example, but be open minded about telekinesis?

Montague Keen wrote in the January 1997 Journal of the Society for Psychical Research:

The depth of feeling this [debate] arouses, and the determination to strike back at anything which attacks what they see as the essentially materialistic nature of the universe, has led many of the leading defenders of the faith into the very errors which they lay at their opponent's feet. One from which serious psychical researchers suffer most, perhaps, is the 'kitchen-sink' approach. By assailing every belief system which defies the materialistic philosophy, the opponents of the paranormal have developed the contamination syndrome. By association of the nuttiest forms of occultist beliefs with such apparently sober-sided areas of anomaly as telepathy, dust is thrown in the face of rational inquiry. Those who believe in astrology or numerology are lumped into the same category as those who accept the validity of dowsing, the veridicality of some hallucinations, the occasional capacity of the mind to foresee an event which has yet to be determined, the transmission of information from mind to mind, or the communication via trance mediumship of accurate evidence about third parties.

. . . .But because he is conscious that his philosophy has been seriously battered, the tenacity with which [the skeptic] defends his citadel is the more ferocious.

Robert Somerlott wrote in his book Here Mr. Splitfoot, "Despite the harangues of scientists and orthodox preachers, most men have always cherished at least a small amount of faith in the occult - a faith that is often summed up in the cautious remark, 'I may be crazy, but I think there's something in it after all.'"

Martin Ebon was reviewing a book by Somerlott when he called the author, "both tolerant and skeptical - an agreeable mixture."

Personally, I prefer to be both tolerant and skeptical.

Is Borley haunted?

I believe something happened at Borley.

While nothing happened to me personally during my two visits to Borley and during my visit to Lionel's grave, that does not rule out the possibility something happened to others. For over one hundred years, scores of people have reported several hundred alleged phenomena at Borley. Surely they can't all be wrong?

I do not have any first hand knowledge of any events at Borley. However, I do have the autobiographical testimony of my mother. Testimony which has never been published prior to my effort, and which I deem important. Some of her other statements are contradictory, but I will concentrate on her own words written in the privacy of her own room where no one was applying pressure about unrelated problems.

Before zeroing in on the autobiographical notes left by my mother, I would like to examine how some of her earlier testimony may have become tainted. For example, in speaking of the contradictory testimony of Mrs. Smith, Peter Underwood wrote in The Ghosts of Borley, "Certainly her apparent change of mind is a good illustration of the psychological factors that must be taken into consideration whenever any testimony is recorded and evaluated. States of mind vary, contradictory beliefs can be entertained even within short periods. Unwelcome facts and unpleasant memories are suppressed, pushed into the subconscious." This diagnosis fits perfectly with the conflicting statements made by Marianne.

Imagine that a series of unusual happenings have entered your life. Some of the events are even mildly amusing, and your family laughs about them. The media get hold of it, and you are all aglow in the attention - at first. The media doesn't let up, and now they are constantly knocking on your door or ringing your telephone. Neighbors cruise past your house and stare quizzically. Friends aren't as devoted as they once were.

You move, but the fame of your experience follows you. You move again. You are found again. It seems nothing will stop the onslaught of questions and those who gawk.

Once more, you pick up your family and move - this time far, far away.

Imagine your surprise when - twenty five years after your initial experience - a private detective knocks on your door!

Now then, ask yourself some important questions:

* do you remember all of the events from 25 years ago clearly enough to report them all accurately?

* do you want to revive all the endless questions and torment you once went through, or do you downplay your answers and hope this interview will be the last? Tell the man none of it ever happened, and perhaps the rest of his kind will stop hounding you?

Trevor Hall spent over five years on the trail of Marianne. When she was found, he backed off at the very last minute and sent a private detective instead. He knew his appearance at her doorstep would produce only panic. Hall had every reason to be careful. Marianne was very frightened at the possibility Mrs. Goldney would come to Jamestown. Marianne knew Mrs. Goldney from visits at the rectory, and considered her a threat. As she told Ian:

"Kid, for the love of God, help me. Tell me - do you think if I wrote to the people [at the Society for Psychical Research] and told them I didn't do it and that all this about my so called love affairs is nothing to do with ghosts and that Harry Price didn't buy the diary they would stop persecuting me? What shall I do. Tell me, Ian.

Tell them what you want, Ian. It is good of you. How foolish can a person get. I made up stories of grandeur to offset the pain and hunger and misery I underwent and Dear God - - - Can you make any sense of this.

I had a letter from Edwin Whitehouse recently. He says that Mrs. Goldney had my address and is coming to the states. I live in the shadow of a volcano. . ." (Emphasis mine)

In the Winter 1956 issue of Tomorrow magazine, Nandor Fodor explained how:

"Mrs. Goldney has a penetrating mind, but God help her subjects. There is no limit to her imagination on the negative side. . . she possess a steam-roller personality, capable of crushing any witness and any independent opinion around her. When it comes to testimonies stretching back over 20 years, the unhappy examinee would have to have a tremendous strength of mind to emerge from three to four hours of cross examination by her without being brain-washed. Having seen Mrs. Goldney at work. . . I am still haunted by the pitiful state in which she left her victim. She is eminently capable of convincing almost any witness that he did not see what he saw."

These were the fears descending on Marianne in Jamestown, North Dakota.

Eileen Garrett explained Marianne's inconsistencies by saying, "I honestly think that so much more has happened to her that she forgets, funnily or seriously."

It just may be that Marianne was trying to remember accurately the events of 25 years past. Garrett gave her the incentive to be truthful. "[She] quite unblushingly told Mr. Swanson that she had every intention of lying to him. I have told her that if she comes clean with Swanson and tells as much of the truth as she can remember, I would help her later on to get a scholarship for the child [Vincent]. She seemed to take great pleasure in this."

From her own hand

In her unfinished autobiography, Marianne wrote, "Many strange incidents occurred at Borley, including the ghost lights, the bells, and the apparitions." (Emphasis mine.)

Note two key words in this extremely important sentence: "many," and "apparitions." She downplayed everything to Robert Swanson, telling him, "I didn't see an apparition of a monster in the passageway." However, in the privacy of her own room, she recalled "many" events, and more than one apparition!

Could the truth be somewhere in the middle? Is it possible someone or something unknown brushed against her in the passageway? As she often told me, "We fear most what we can not see."

She also wrote in her autobiographical notes that after the mediums left she was told, "we would not be really bothered again." This is consistent with all other records. "We might have little happenings, but there would never in our time be much trouble. There wasn't. At least not to be compared with what actually happened." (Emphasis mine.)

The last sentence clearly indicates "many things" had happened up to this point. The visit of the mediums caused the events to decrease, "compared with what actually happened" before their visit!

This same thought is confirmed in the last sentence of her notes. "The house had been quiet enough for over three and one-half years when we left Borley Rectory." That leaves 18 months when things were not "quiet enough!" That is roughly the same time period Lionel detailed in Fifteen Months in a Haunted House. The phrase "quiet enough" may even be extrapolated to mean some events continued, but not at the intense level previously witnessed.

All these details from her autobiographical notes are extremely important. They have never been published before, and deserve careful consideration when trying to analyze what really happened.

Her "confessions"

Not all of her testimony given to others is suspect. For example, she told Swanson:

I don't like the word, "haunted." I think that there was something that nobody had a hand in. I think there was something at Borley that wasn't a human being - certain rooms in the house were unhappy rooms, a person couldn't sit in them with any comfort - there were unexplained drops in temperature. It would become bitterly cold and things like that - the church too had a different feeling compared to many churches. . .there was definitely in the church a knowledge of survival, if I may say so. . .. . . but I think a lot of the so-called phenomena were helped along by other people.

Some other portions of her testimony include statements that may be offered as objective:

"when Ian was there, we went up [to the attic] and. . .found out that the bells could be made to ring by tampering with them. [as if a rat or a bat]"

"Price told [Reverend] Smith that he believed these things, then later when talking with us, he would say that he didn't believe things, that it was the maid who was responsible."

"The first writing that appeared was like m's and u's, loops and letters. It could have been Marianne, but I thought that it might have been some little girl that had used our bathroom facilities. Edwin [Whitehouse] said that it was a spirit, trying to get in touch with me. He wrote "What do you want?" I washed it from the wall and was very annoyed at Edwin, because I had to wash the walls and I didn't like it at all. There were two others times that it appeared. Edwin said that he saw it written on the wall, without a hand as he was passing. He told everybody this; I discounted it. . .I did not write them nor did I see them written on the wall, but Edwin Whitehouse said, to the best of my ability to remember, that as he was going up the stairs, suddenly these writings appeared on the wall. . . I saw them, surely did, but I had nothing to do with them."

"My wedding ring, which Lionel gave me in Canada was at least 3-4 sizes too big. I could wear it easily on my middle finger. I would take it off, placing it somewhere around the house and it would always get lost. [Its appearances and disappearances] was quite a joke."

"There were occasions when we frightened each other, if you know what I mean. We talked about things and we would get ourselves nervous and excited, and then even if the house creaked you imagined things were coming. "

"[One day the laundry] was all strewn about the house and I was very indignant about that. I don't know who did it or what did it but somebody did it and I was very mad about that. I do recall that."

"[Once] there was a lot of noise in the study. . . but it was books that had fallen, as far as I remember."

"I did see this piece of brick fall right on the table, and it fell right down between two glasses."

"I heard the crash [of a bottle in the kitchen]. . . and the bottle must have - oh, I was about to say exploded - because the glass went all over. We had quite a time sweeping up the glass. It just sort of disintegrated very much in minute particles - went all over. When Edwin was there I did see bottles fall, but I don't know where they came from. . .first of all there were stones or something - there were a lot of that - were thrown and I believe it was stones, and then there was a bottle thrown, but I don't know. I know that I saw it crash but I didn't see it start or anything about it."

"I didn't see Harry Bull. I never told anyone that I saw Harry Bull. I know that I saw people at Borley, but I never said I saw Harry Bull."

"there were phenomena that were not easy to explain away, and which I haven't tried to explain away. There used to be a light appear in one of the rooms - there is something there."

"I never saw the headless coachman at all, and I can't say that I saw the nun. "

"To me the whole situation at Borley during the time of its upset was a great nuisance,

and I was so thankful after it cleared up in a way that no one really knows. But if I had wanted to make capital out of it I could so easily have done so."

"As to arranging phenomena, I don't think it would have been very difficult to have manufactured them for payment, if I had gotten in a few unscrupulous persons, which I could have easily done, and got a great deal of money in so doing."

" I made a very beautiful garden there, and I really did like the house. I was happy at Borley."

The Smith testimony

Whatever the Smiths told people in later years, it is fascinating to read their letters to Sidney Glanville and Harry Price in the Locked Book. Whilst downplaying the haunting somewhat, they never-the-less were anxious to help the investigation of 1937. As Guy Smith told Glanville in December of that year, "In short there is nothing like a good family party to raise and welcome the ghosts - so I hope this time they will show up in plenty." [emphasis added] The Smiths planned to bring momentoes with them when they visited - momentoes that reflected paranormal activity whilst they resided in the rectory! At one point, Guy suggested bringing sleeping bags to hide in just "in case the poltergei hurl missles about." And, if nothing happened during their tenancy, why not just say so, instead of being adamant that the "ticking" mirror be brought back for the visit - along with keys, bells and a tricky clock? It sounds very much to me like the Smiths probably suffered from the same paranoia afflicting my mother in later years - too much attention. Tell 'em anything to make 'em go away!

An honorable skeptic

Andrew Clarke is not only a clinical psychologist, but also a resident of Essex. He has made an effort to become familiar with Borley, and has contributed various writings to my work. His skepticism is balanced, under the true definition of the word. His observations then, deserve to be heard.

At one time, Clarke reminded me, "Lionel was taking artificial digitalin for his heart and he was on a cocktail of painkillers for his rheumatism. I'd love to be able to get hold of his medical records. Harry Bull was taking painkillers too, I'm sure. He was severely depressed towards the end of his life, not just the cancer, and would have been taking a prescription for it. What, I wonder? Remember all the bit about falling asleep and having to be summoned to meals, and staying up in the summerhouse? What was that? (and that was not in his final years either) The account of his final years, from [my] friend in Cavendish, indicates clinical depression. He would have had medical treatment for this. Add to that his occasional amnesia due to anoxia, and you find a confused man who does not recognise the extent of his confusion."

This observation is well founded, and I wonder if the applications don't extend further. Perhaps Lionel wrote his journals actually believing what he was writing! Then there is the case of Louis Mayerling. I called him after seeing the potential damage from his book, and he started to tell me how he took the photograph of my mother with the champagne bottle. Is it possible in his advancing years he too, believes the fantasies he has written are true?

If one listens to the dialogue between Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley, an apparition may not even need drugs for stimulation: "A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You [Marley] may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are! . . . I have but to swallow this [toothpick], and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you! humbug!"

Andrew refers to a book by Evelyn Waugh in his analysis of Borley. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinford is described on the back cover of at least one version as his "most remarkable and self-revealing work." Waugh also wrote Brideshead Revisited, Love Among the Ruins, and several other works.
Andrew explained, "The value of the Pinfold book is that it was almost contemporary [with Borley], and the drug cocktail was of commonly prescribed drugs. Evelyn Waugh suffered from chronic depression. There is a large body of medical literature that documents the hallucinations caused by these prescription drugs. Evelyn Waugh's account is by far the most accessible and readable. As a clinical Psychologist, I used to try to get patients to cease as many drugs as possible before treating them. In a surprising number of cases, all symptoms ceased before I did anything else!"

Andrew continued.
"Evelyn Waugh was fighting to keep a grip on reality. He imposes a 'logical' explanation as a way of fighting back against the delusions. The part of Waugh that remained intact despite the psychotic attack battled against the chaos of the completely illogical delusions by imposing logic on them. We do the same with dreams.
"The sickest patients are completely unaware that there is a problem. However, there is usually part of the personality that remains intact and in touch with reality. That part of the personality is ringing alarm bells and saying, 'Hold on, this is not what I remember to be reality'.
"Evelyn Waugh recovered, but he never got entirely better. The idea that it was all due to the medicine he was taking, was his own rationalisation of what happened. The process of explaining the weird experiences had to take place because Waugh could not confront the truth head-on. His doctor, a wise old bird, was the one who advised Waugh to write down the entire experience and make a novel of it. However, Waugh had a fantastically good memory for dialog etc, and I'm sure that the book is very close to what actually happened to him. The writing of the novel was very therapeutic for him
"[Pinfold] is too close to reality to be a comfortable read. It is disturbing because it is the account of the breakdown of reality. Good Ghost-stories are scary because, deep-down, they deal with the same issues (e.g. M R James). I find it scary, but fascinating, because I can pick up all sorts of complex threads from Waugh's life and personality
"It is not meant to be funny. It is as true a record of what happened as Waugh could make. What makes this book unique is that Waugh went right to the brink of insanity and returned. He then recorded exactly what happened. It gives a unique insight into the experiences and the processes. The book is interesting because Waugh was such a complex, intelligent, and tormented man. The only other author I can compare him to is, perhaps, Phil K Dick, or maybe R.L Stephenson.
"Going back to Borley, any delusions or hallucinations are 'explained' by the sufferer in terms of the growing legend, in the same way that Waugh tries to structure and explain his delusions. I suspect that Harry Bull was tormented by delusions that he tried to explain by a pseudo-rational spiritualism, like a drowning man grasping a bit of wood. We suspect that Lionel Foyster suffered at least memory loss (it is pretty obvious from the Diary), and the rational part of his mind tried to make sense of the gradual loss of reality in terms of the 'haunting'.
"Waugh was deeply religious, but always tried to swim to the shore of concrete reality. This does not always happen, and sufferers often try to make sense of the deterioration of their grip on reality by means of a structure of delusional rationalisations. Usually, though, it remains idiosyncratic, shared with nobody. The Borley legend mutated and developed, and was shared by a number of people."

Will we ever know?

We may never know if Borley Rectory was truly haunted. Hundreds of people claim Borley Church has always been haunted, and the pilgrimages continue to that remote site to this very day. Some come away convinced they can add their names to the litany. Most come away as I did, with nothing to report.

Unfortunately, the only way for each individual to answer the question for themselves is to visit - something I strongly discourage. I feel a strong kinship with the people of Borley and join them in urging others to find their answers elsewhere. Imagine people camping out on your lawn, and destroying your property. Pretty soon you too would get sick of ghosts and deny everything, even if something paranormal did happen. Besides, the crowds and the policeman are likely to produce the exact opposite effect you are seeking.

In conclusion, I believe Sarah Hapgood said it best in The World's Great Ghost and Poltergeist Stories when she wrote, "At the core I believe the haunting was genuine, but it has grown so many layers that no one wants to take it seriously." About the church she added, "Like most extensive hauntings, some of it is substantial, and some is just wishful thinking."

Something happened at Borley. What that something may have been, is still open for debate.

"When Does a Haunting Cease to be a Haunting?" essay by Vincent O'Neil