I WOULDN'T BE SEEN DEAD WEARING THAT.
Updated: Oct 5
I watched one of those awful ghost shows recently, those 'reality' programmes, 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 it was. In a series of dramatic reconstructions, with actors and extremely ominous music, it showed how a child named Billy often passed a creepy old house at the end of his street.
Noticing how there was always another young kid sitting on the porch, staring and looking sad, Billy befriended him and the two played together every day for a couple of weeks. This enigmatic kid, named Sam, was very pale with dark patches around the eyes (which looked like actor's make-up), he couldn’t touch offered objects, such as footballs and chewing gum, and after several visits Billy was shocked to discover what every viewer (apart from absolute morons) had guessed from the very start.
Yes, Sam was a ghost.
The show then cut to the programme's resident ‘psychic expert’ who explained how the child must have died in the house many years before and he was lonely and reaching out. No one from the production team 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 once lived there.
Things then got much, much spookier. The incident with the ghost boy Sam occurred decades ago and we were introduced to Billy as he is now, a middle-aged, all-American man in a baseball cap. He told us about last year, when he was approached by a friendly stranger as he walked across a Costco car park one sunny afternoon. This 'stranger' 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 was the dead Sam from his childhood who, like Billy, was now also grown up.
Again, no one questioned this staggering statement about spirits continuing to age after death, 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, with jeans and trainers of that year, and apart from his pallid complexion, he didn’t look in any way out of place. Years later, the grown-up dead Sam had changed into adult clothes which, again, were of the current time. This was, presumably, after several changes into gradually larger clothes over the intervening years to accommodate his ghost body as it grew in size. He now also sported a hipster beard, which proves that not only are ghosts fashionable, they also grow hair in the spirit world and need to shave.
For some reason, the 'psychic expert' 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 to the living. These apparitions perform the same motions in a sort of loop, like execution victims walking the passages of Hampton Court, or those 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 outfit 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 very 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 much better place.
This is where it all gets a bit peculiar.
These days, most people die in bed, usually a hospital or a hospice bed, where they’ll almost certainly be wearing pyjamas, a nightie, or a standard hospital gown (unfortunately backless, with their arse on show). When they appear to us, they should look like the apparition in the movie below, It Follows, but this is never the case. Just as those soldiers who were shot in No Man's Land, appeared in the uniforms they died in, if a person slips in the bath, hits their head and drowns, they should appear to us naked and dripping water.
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. NEVER a hospital gown, but 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 ever 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.
Shirts, of course, don't have a soul or a spirit. Do shirts, dresses and shoes have some sort of spirit basis which allows these inanimate objects to exist on a different plane and be worn by ghosts? Other inanimate objects, such as swords and walking canes, pose similar questions. People talk of seeing a ghostly coach and horses; there’s a famous example that passes by the site of Borley Rectory in Suffolk. Dead horses may have spirits which we can see, but the coach itself? Well, that's a tricky one.
There are other stories of ghost cars, ghost trains and ghost aircraft – a famous airplane often flies over Derbyshire near Ladybower reservoir. The stone tape theory is completely redundant here, as the open air above us has no way of absorbing past events. This must mean the fabric of the plane itself had a spirit that existed after, er, after its death.
Some experts, if indeed there is such a thing in the world of the paranormal, say ghosts can appear wearing anything they wish – they sort of just '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 this brilliant power.
Instead of the usual "Granny appeared in her powder blue cardigan", how much more interesting would it be if you heard: "My dead granddad always liked a laugh. He’s appeared at the foot of my bed several times since the funeral and each time he’s dressed as a different member of the Village People.’
Ooh, put something on. You'll catch your death.