I WOULDN'T BE SEEN DEAD WEARING THAT.
I watched one of those awful ghost programmes recently, those shows bought cheaply from the USA and shown on obscure Freeview channels – When Ghosts Attack, Paranormal Nightmares, Ghost Adventures, I Shagged a Ghost, etc – I don’t recall which one. In a series of dramatic reconstructions, with actors and extremely ominous music, it showed how a child named Billy often passed the creepy old house at the end of his street.
He noticed another young kid sitting on the porch looking sad, he befriended him and they played together every day for a couple of weeks. This enigmatic kid, Sam, was pale with dark patches around the eyes, he couldn’t touch offered objects like footballs and chewing gum, and after several visits Billy discovered what every viewer (apart from morons) had guessed from the start. Yes, Sam was a ghost.
The programme then cut to their resident ‘psychic expert’ who explained how the child must have died in the house many years before and he was lonely. No one from the show bothered to check the history of the house and ascertain if this was in fact the case and if a dark-haired white kid named Sam had lived there.
Things then got much spookier. The incident with Sam occurred decades ago and Billy is now a middle-aged man. He told us about last year, when he was approached by a friendly stranger as he walked across a Costco car park. This man chatted with him about the weather for a few seconds before incredibly vanishing into thin air. Once again the programme cut to their ‘psychic expert’ who explained how this will have been the dead Sam from his childhood who was now also grown up.
Again, no one questioned this staggering statement or asked how much the psychic was being paid to spout such utter shit.
But the weirdest thing about all this was the ghost’s clothing. When Billy first met the spirit kid, he didn’t sense anything was wrong. According to the psychic, Sam had died many years before, yet he wore the current fashion of that year and, apart from his pallid complexion, he didn’t look out of place. Years later, the grown-up dead Sam had changed into adult clothes which, again, were of the current times. This was, presumably, after several changes in the intervening years to accommodate his ghost body as it grew. He now also sported a hipster beard, which proves that not only are ghosts fashionable, they also grow hair and need to shave. For some reason, the psychic didn’t cover this.
So leaving aside these abysmal American programmes, and one or two British examples, what is it with ghosts and clothing?
Paranormal investigators are convinced of the existence of ‘stone tape’ ghosts, who haunt certain sites, almost as if the stone walls have absorbed tragic episodes from the past and are replaying them. These apparitions perform the same motions in a sort of loop, like execution victims walking the passages of Hampton Court, or the famous Roman soldiers passing through the cellar of the Treasury House in York. These ghosts are clothed in period costume and, traditionally, spirits in older sightings seem to wear whatever they died in.
You hear old stories of Victorian brides waiting at the altar who discover their husbands have been murdered by a jealous suitor. They run from the church in hysterics and throw themselves into a river. Whenever these dead girls are seen after that, it’s invariably in their wedding dress. These ghosts never get changed into anything else.
During the two wars, there was a common ghost story that often happened to a friend of a friend. Many people had sons and brothers fighting overseas and they'd receive an unexpected visit from them in their homes. Naturally they'd be quite shocked to see their loved one who was supposedly posted abroad, but these young men would smile reassuringly before eerily vanishing. Days later, a telegram would arrive that sadly explained their loved one was dead AND they’d died at the exact moment they appeared in the house. These ghosts were always in uniform, because that’s what they were wearing at the moment of death.
Things have changed since then and modern ghosts are different. How many people do we know who believe in the reality of spirits because their grandfather, grandmother, father or mother visited them shortly after the funeral. Granny appeared at the foot of the bed (no, they were definitely awake) and said: cheer up, because she was okay, her pain had gone, and she was in a better place.
This is where it all gets a bit peculiar. These days, most people die in bed, usually a hospital or hospice bed, where they’ll almost certainly be wearing pyjamas, a nightie, or standard hospital gown. When they appear to us, they should look like the apparition in the movie It Follows, but this is never the case.
Ask anyone how their ghost grandmother was dressed when she appeared in the middle of the night, and it will be that memorable outfit from last Christmas, or that lovely blue cardigan she always liked. Something nice, that you’d probably see them wearing if you weren't awake, but actually asleep and dreaming about them.
Do dead people have access to some bizarre spirit wardrobe where they can change from their hospital bed attire into something more suitable? If so, why didn’t ghosts bother to use it in the past? Victorian spirits often appeared in their grave shroud, which must have been a little scary for relatives, and this is where we get the classic description of a ghost draped in a white sheet.
Do shirts, dresses and shoes have some spirit make-up which allows them to exist on a different plane and be worn by ghosts? Other inanimate objects pose similar questions. People talk of seeing a ghostly coach and horses; there’s a famous example that passes the site of Borley Rectory in Suffolk. Dead horses may have spirits which we can see, but the coach itself?
There are other stories of ghost cars, ghost trains and ghost aircraft – a famous airplane flies over Derbyshire near Ladybower reservoir. The stone tape theory is redundant here, as the open air above us has no way of absorbing past events. This must mean the plane had a spirit that existed after, er its death.
Some experts, if there is such a thing in the world of the paranormal, say ghosts can appear wearing anything they wish – they sort of project the clothing onto their bodies like Mystique in the X-Men. This is a great idea and it makes you wonder why they don’t make more use of the power.
‘My dead granddad always liked a laugh. He’s appeared at the foot of my bed several times and each time he’s dressed as a different member of the Village People.’
Ooh, put something on. You'll catch your death.