Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Highgate Investigation - Part 2

THE NEXT MEETING OF THE BRITISH PSYCHIC AND OCCULT SOCIETY was mainly occupied by arranging an investigation into the Highgate Cemetery affair after it had now been assumed that at least some of the reports might be authentic.
It was decided that a continuous nightly vigil would take place at the cemetery, two Society members at a time being stationed in turn at the two places where the apparition had been seen to appear. Cameras and tape recorders would be set up, but as yet, no 'psychic means' - such as conducting a seance, for example - would be employed to bring about the entity's materialization. This was because, it was concluded that in the initial stages of the investigation, the gathering of evidence and observation, were of greater importance than any attempt to make direct psychic contact - especially because of the entity's apparently malignant disposition. Instead, the cemetery's history would be checked out; in particular, sightings of any other unusual phenomena in the area that might be in some way connected. Anyone who laid claim to witnessing the entity would be interviewed and statements kept of their accounts. To obtain details of other sightings, it was agreed that a short and 'non-alarmist' letter be sent to a local paper inviting people to tell of any genuine experiences so that any subscribers could be interviewed first hand.
When the investigation proper began in January 1970, I undertook the task of checking the cemetery's history. Some interesting things came to light ... First, it became apparent that stories of an apparition at Highgate Cemetery had by no means begun with the current sightings. Indeed, similar tales dated back to the Victorian era and, interestingly enough, many of them had 'vampiristic' connotations.
Perhaps the reason for this was that Stoker himself had possibly been influenced by the existence of 'something' in Highgate Cemetery. When he wrote his unique book Dracula, he makes direct reference to Highgate Cemetery (or at least, an area in the close proximity of Highgate Cemetery) as being the last resting place of one of Count Dracula's disciples.
Although Stoker may have also been influenced by the eerie case of Elizabeth Siddal who died in 1855 and who was buried in Highgate Cemetery. In 1862, her body was exhumed by a distraught relative anxious to retrieve some poems said to have been buried with her. A witness present, Charles Augustus Howell, described the 'awesome sight' of the undecayed body with 'luxuriant red-gold hair' that 'practically filled the coffin' - the implication being that Elizabeth was 'Undead', or in a state of catalepsy.
One of the common tales of that time also told of a 'tall man dressed in black' who used to disappear mysteriously through the cemetery wall. It was especially interesting to note the similarity between the Victorian sightings and the present day manifestations - especially as there was approximately 100 years difference between the two. If nothing else, this provided proof that the cemetery had been reputedly haunted for some time.
But perhaps most interesting was the 'vampire-like element' that had crept into these stories. Although it was difficult to pin-point the reasons or origins from whence the vampire legend came, it had nevertheless become an integral part of the cemetery's supernatural traditions. The Victorians, with their deep-rooted fears of the unknown and self-righteous attitudes towards religion, morals and death, may have contributed towards establishing - or perhaps re-establishing - a legend that was already in existence.
Whatever the case, it is reasonable to suppose that the Highgate phenomenon could have been connected with stories of vampirism.
Something obviously gave substance to the original sightings, though whether this 'something' was occult in origin or had a rational explanation that had been dismissed by some superstitious mind, was only debatable. One thing seemed certain, however: whatever formed the foundation of the original sightings, predated the Victorian era. To begin with, Stoker's reference to the immediate area in connection with 'vampires' almost certainly suggests that he was familiar with the local tales by then already in existence. But there was another fact to substantiate this. It dated back to the 15th century when Highgate was used as a mass burial ground for victims of the Great Plague. Highgate was probably chosen for this purpose as it was then an accessible outlying village within convenient range of London; far enough away to reduce the risk of further contamination. These unfortunate victims were brought out in cartloads from the Old City and deposited in an area which is now known as 'Church Yard Bottom', in Highgate's Queen's Wood.
All this, of course, was no more than historical fact. But what was interesting here was the possibility that the Plague deaths could have been the cause of many stories of vampirism. Basically, these burials were carried out quickly and in bulk and in all probability some people were buried whilst still alive - or in a cataleptic state.
Yet to return to the present day, the investigation also uncovered another fact of great significance, which alone possibly provided the key the current spate of hauntings. Exploration, and subsequent photographs taken in the cemetery, confirmed beyond doubt that Satanic masses had been taking place there. Furthermore, it became apparent that these masses had been conducted with great professional style (some in a maze of catacombs that ran beneath the cemetery) and were not the work of misguided amateurs.
One particular tomb hidden deep within the heart of the cemetery (in fact, a small mausoleum with a marble floor but which contained no coffins), had been converted into a small Temple, and, judging from the inverted pentagram and magical symbols inscribed on the floor and walls, was in regular usage. But more significant still, was the fact that the particular magical signs and symbols used, could only be applicable in a Rite dedicated to one of the most malign Deities to rule amongst the Old Kings of Hell and that such a Rite could only be performed by the highest of adepts, for no amateur would be capable of calling forth this Deiform.
In fact, in accordance with Satanic belief, this entity could only be summoned to the earthly plane if it was to perform some mission, and could not 'return' until that mission had been fulfilled.
Yet most important here, (and as I stated at the time), the fact that the cemetery was being thus used by dedicated Satanists, might also have a direct bearing on the frequently witnessed spectre. For just as this Deity might be invoked to visible appearance by means of a magical ritual, so might other forms of evil entities that might remain permanently 'earth-bound'.
It was therefore quite feasible to assume that the cemetery phenomenon was an evil entity that had been summoned up as the direct result of a Satanic ritual or alternatively, that the Satanists had succeeded in 'awakening' the latter-day vampire which had laid dormant for so long.
Whatever the case, it was evident that the Force (or Forces) being dealt with was malignly supernatural and protective measures may eventually have to be taken to safeguard against psychic attack.
Such a possibility was not taken lightly, in view of the apparent performance of the entity so far and the added frequency of its appearances.
Already, just two weeks after the investigation had started, two of the nightly watchers spotted it again on two separate occasions.
The first time, it appeared behind two Society members on watch at the 'Thornton spot'. Swinging around as if compelled by some over-whelming impulse, they both saw the entity hovering behind, but just as abruptly, it disappeared. Again, two other members saw it through the top gate on their way to keep the nightly vigil. On neither occasion, however, did the entity appear for more than a couple of seconds. It was almost as if it 'knew' it was being hunted down and had no intention of allowing anybody to fire flash-guns at it.
It should be said here that - contrary to popular belief - some types of supernatural phenomena, albeit not apparently discernable in the normal sense, can be photographed and there was every indication that the Highgate spectre fitted into this category. Although such photographs are rarely taken as credible evidence for the proved existence of ghosts, they would nevertheless have eliminated any logical causation (such as the possibility of hoaxing, for example) that could otherwise have accounted for the sightings.
But photographs did reveal several more foxes that were discovered dead in the cemetery. Unlike the previous one discovered, however, many of these had deep wounds to the throat.
There was no direct evidence to link these attacks to stories now circulating about a 'vampire', of course, but it was an interesting speculation (some might say a chilling reminder) to recall that in his book Dracula, Bram Stoker refers to a 'vampiric entity' that wandered in the vicinity of Hampstead at night and was responsible for 'attacking' young children.
In the meantime, there was a significant response to my letter to the local newspaper, The Hampstead and Highgate Express (Ham and High). This had taken the form of a simple request for information about the reported ghost, and to avoid any frivolous response, I had deliberately omitted any reference to a 'vampire'.
The week after I had made this request, in fact, four people wrote in to the newspaper all more-or-less confirming the phenomenon's existence. One lady wrote:
My fiancée and I spotted a most unusual form about a year ago. It just seemed to glide across the path. Although we waited a little while, it did not reappear again. I am glad someone else has spotted it; I was convinced it was not my imagination.
Audrey Connelly.
(Ham and High, February 13th, 1970)

Another reader confirmed the existence of a ghost at the cemetery but although not having seen it himself, concluded ...
The ghost will sometimes appear nightly for about a week, and then will not be seen again for perhaps a month. To my knowledge the ghost always takes the form of a pale figure and has been appearing for several years.
(Ham and High, February 13th, 1970)

The Ham and High obviously noticed the local interest in the subject and themselves took up the story inviting other readers to write in and tell of their experiences. Although with typical newspaper sceptism, they warned that they would check the authenticity of all letters received lest anybody attempted to 'spoof them with spooks'.
Prompted by this invitation, the following weeks brought many more letters from people who claimed to have seen the apparition.
Wrote one reader:
A figure such as that seen by readers does haunt Highgate Cemetery. I caught sight of it while I was walking around the cemetery. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw something move and immediately looked around to see a 'form' moving behind some gravestones. My first reaction was that it was somebody 'mucking about' but looking back it seems strange that the thing made no sound and seemed to disappear into nowhere.
D. Winbourne
(Ham and High, February 20th, 1970)

Another reader expressed great dismay that her house was perhaps situated a little too close to the cemetery and that in view of all the stories, the cemetery entity should be seriously looked into.
Yet some readers portrayed more than a little sceptcism. One wrote:
Swain's Lane on a cloudy, windswept moonlit night, with its cemetery, overhanging branches, sparsely-peopled, ill-lit, and rather Gothic, has the same effect on some people as reading a good ghost story, and we all see ghosts after reading ghost stories ...And he concluded:
... The British Occult Society is to be congratulated on fighting a brave last ditch battle on behalf of the romantics in bringing their 'wampyr' [vampire] out of its dusty covers and presenting it once again for public display, but alas, it is too late, by at least three generations.
(Ham and High, February 27th, 1970)

Although some letters contained irrelevant fact, many contained valuable information and by interviewing their subscribers, it was possible to put together a fairly concise record about the nature of the phenomenon and its appearances. Basically, it seemed it usually took the form of a tall dark figure and appeared mainly in an area around the top gate.
This corresponded more or less exactly with my encounter, and those of Thornton and the old woman.
The Ham and High, however, seemed especially interested in the 'vampire' possibility and the fact that black magic had been taking place at the cemetery. On March 6th, 1970, they ran a front page story entitled, perhaps appropriately "WHY DO THE FOXES DIE?" The implication was, was that in some manner the 'ghost' was no less than a 'vampire' which had been responsible for the death of the foxes. It was interesting hypothesis, and one which had not been overruled by the author himself. In fact, I held the view that as the phenomenon seemed definitely malevolent by nature, it was quite conceivable that it possessed sufficient power to have some affect upon 'weaker forms of intelligence's' - such as animals. Alternatively, there was the possibility that the foxes had somehow been trapped by the Satanists and used as sacrifices in black magic rituals.
In reality, the Satanic group that were using Highgate Cemetery hadn't taken kindly to the Society's investigation which had exposed their activities to the public view. The weeks that followed brought a spate of threatening letters to the Society. Essentially, these letters warned that the Society's investigation at the cemetery must be stopped or there would be 'disastrous consequences' - namely, 'death' to be effected by means of black magic.
A typical letter to the author, read:
By your interference with the work of our High Order, you have invoked the wrath of Lord Hadit. By His element and the power of the Seven-Fold Cross, you shall now be destroyed. This is decreed by His Grace, and this wish will be fulfilled through our Order. Be it thus so ...
The letter was signed in blood and adorned with satanic symbols; mainly to the effect that I had offended the Satanic god Hadit who, through the media of his worshippers, was about to reek terrible revenge.
There was no doubt that the sender - or senders - of these letters were genuine Satanists. For one thing, the secret signs which adorned the letters, would only be known to authentic practitioners of the Black Arts. Yet the letters did not cause undue concern. Previous experience by the Society with black magic groups gave us enough confidence to file these letters and forget about them.
In the meantime, public interest in the Highgate Cemetery affair had attracted the interest of Independent Television. They were preparing a programme on the 'ghost' and invited the author to give an account of the investigation. Initially, this request had to be denied, as Society policy forbade the release of any information to the media about internal investigations unless, or until, these were complete. But I finally agreed to verify my own personal encounter with the phenomenon. This programme was shown on 13th March, 1970 - although it was not filmed without some mishap. When the film crew began filming outside the top gate (they were not given permission to film inside, the cemetery Superintendent, Mr. William Law, explaining that this was 'against regulations'), the camera man suddenly clutched his throat and passed out. The filming had to be postponed until a replacement took over. Sandra Harris, the interviewer, was visibly shaken; more so probably, as she had already witnessed the deplorable damage inside the cemetery. (In fact, whilst she was walking through the cemetery with the film crew and myself a little earlier, we had all witnessed a vandalised coffin that had been removed from an old vault and was lying in the middle of a pathway. Its lid had been ripped off, and the skeleton inside was clearly visible.)
During the interview, and to avoid any possible sensationalism about 'vampires', I took great care to avoid such a term when referring to the phenomenon. Of course, it was realised that local opinion tended to support a 'vampire theory', but I certainly didn't accept the existence of vampires in their strictly commercialised sense and I had no intention of being misunderstood or misquoted. Another man who was being interviewed, however, (a somewhat theatrical character dressed in undertakers' clothes who had been pestering local newspaper's looking for publicity since he had first become aware of the Society investigation), claimed that the phenomenon was really the 'King Vampire' and, after producing a crucifix and a home-made wooden stake, announced that to destroy a vampire one must ... 'first drive a stake through its heart with one blow, chop off its head with a gravediggers shovel’ and then ‘burn what remains’!
Of course, this amateurish verbiage would not have been taken seriously by genuine occultists but the situation was made worse when this person went on to claim that ... " 'David Farrant' would be returning to Highgate Cemetery that same evening' to 'perform this dangerous mission." And for further effect, he warned of what he saw as the 'dangerous consequences' facing anyone foolish enough to ‘take on the King Vampire’!
Although these remarks were obviously intended to create maximum publicity, in reality, they were based on a misunderstanding of a report in the local Press the previous week when, humouring some over-zealous reporter, I had stated that if the apparition at Highgate Cemetery turned out to be anything like a 'vampire', I, for one, would be prepared to take any means necessary so that everybody could 'rest in peace'.
But to make matters worse, this person's remarks were put over the air, and later that night following the television transmission, several hundred people converged on Highgate Cemetery to witness a non-existent 'vampire hunt'.
One of these was a school teacher from Essex called Alan Blood (in fact, his real name) who had travelled to London after seeing the programme to take part in the 'vampire hunt'. He had even brought several students with him to join in this quest.
I was approached by Alan Blood who wanted permission to join in the 'hunt' but I was forced to explain that it was not possible to conduct any serious psychic investigation under the unfavourable conditions created by the television programme (people were flocking to Highgate Cemetery en-masse including groups of hooligans carrying beer cans and makeshift weapons to take on the 'vampire' and who looked as if they could have turned nasty) and that the whole charade had been instigated at my expense.
Needless to say, no Society members joined in this charade, but the 'hunt' still went ahead, its outcome being reported in the Press the following day.
The London Evening News reported the situation by saying:

Nearly 100 people joined in a vampire-hunt at Highgate Cemetery today. They included a vampire expert named Mr. Alan Blood who journeyed 40 miles to investigate this legend of an 'Undead Satan-like being' said to lurk in the area. Spectators gathered in the spooky darkness after watching a TV interview last night, Friday 13th, in which a man said he was going to exorcise an evil spirit he claimed he had seen three times.
Curious onlookers managed to scale the 10 foot wall in search of an open tomb. Several people scrambled back frightened claiming they had seen 'something crawling' in the dark.
Anthony Robinson aged 27 of Ostel Road, Hampstead came to the cemetery after hearing of the torchlight hunt.
"I walked past the place and heard a high pitched noise, then I saw something grey moving slowly across the road. It terrified me.
"First time I couldn't make it out, it looked eerie. I've never believed in anything like this, but now I'm sure there is something evil lurking in Highgate."
The vampire expert, history teacher Alan Blood, 25, travelled from Chelmsford, after he saw David Farrant, 24, speak of his plans to stake the vampire through the heart with a wooden cross.
(Evening News, March 25 1970)

Yet aside from the 'sensational slant' of this article, I remained sceptical about this particular sighting. It was more likely over-wrought imagination combined with a mild form of mass hysteria, had created 'ghosts' where there were none to be seen. There was more concern about the potential effects arising from such publicity for this was bound to attract further vandalism to the cemetery, which in turn, would hamper the investigation proper and upset both the cemetery authorities and the police. Added to this, was as a result of the unsubstantiated ravings made by the person on the television and subsequent coverage of these by the Evening News, 'David Farrant' had been irrevocably branded as the main instigator of this mass vampire hunt and a man who quite literally believed in the existence of 'blood-sucking vampires'.
Meanwhile, the vigil by the Society at the cemetery continued, although there were no significant developments and the phenomenon was not sighted. It seemed the 'vampire' had not taken kindly to the mass intrusion of its privacy and had 'gone to ground' to avoid further persecution.
It was therefore decided to carry out the original idea and conduct an occult ceremony at Highgate Cemetery one night in order to summon the entity forth, and possibly, communicate with it. This ceremony was to be conducted with a High Priestess and other members of the Circle, some of whom were members of the British Psychic and Occult Society.
Unfortunately however, an unforeseen event prevented this planned ceremony from taking place, although it was agreed that another date be set for this at the first available opportunity. . .

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Highgate Vampire - How It All Began - Part 1

LONDON 1969, AND WIDE REPORTS WERE COMING INTO the British Psychic and Occult Society concerning a tall black apparition that had been seen lurking among the tombs of London's Highgate Cemetery. Most of these reports were from people who claimed to have been confronted by this apparition which invariably took the form of a tall dark figure and petrified people both in, or passing, the cemetery. Where possible, most of these reports were followed up but unfortunately (as is frequently the case in psychic investigations) many turned out to be vague repetition of local gossip or the result of unqualified rumour. Eventually a man was traced, however, who claimed to have had a first-hand encounter with this phenomenon, although he requested that his name be withheld to avoid his account from being subjected to ridicule. According to this person (referred to here as 'Thornton'), he had been 'hypnotized' by 'something' in the cemetery after he had gone there late one afternoon to look around.

As the light began to fail he decided to leave, but somehow, he became hopelessly lost. Not being a superstitious person or even believing in the existence of ghosts, he walked calmly around looking for the gate when he suddenly became aware of the presence of something behind him. Swinging around, less than six feet away, he saw a tall dark spectre hovering just above the ground. He found himself transfixed to the spot completely unable to move; drained of energy by some powerful 'hypnotic force' that in a matter of seconds rendered him unconscious to any sense of time or his surroundings. So great was the intensity of this force, that he remained like this for several minutes (or what seemed like several minutes) before the spectre abruptly vanished and he slowly regained his normal faculties.

Recalling the incident afterwards, Thornton said that it was almost as if some force of terribly evil proportions had actually sought him out with the intention of doing serious harm.

This account was intriguing. Thornton was a sincere and logical person and not the type liable to fantasy or exaggeration. (His profession as an accountant by itself suggested that his interests lay in things of a logical nature.) That he had seen 'something', there seemed little doubt, but what was especially interesting was that he had described the entity as 'seeking him out' and actually trying to cause physical harm; an uncommon occurrence with reports of ghostly confrontations when ghosts themselves are rarely reported as exercising any physical control over their human counterparts. It was a fair conclusion that the phenomenon was definitely malevolent by nature.

Several more people were interviewed in the following weeks, but again, most of these accounts turned out to be second-hand reports or exaggeration of what by now had become an already established rumour.

An exception to this, however, was one old lady who claimed she had been frightened by a 'tall dark man' who floated at her from within the cemetery gates. She had been walking her dog late one night but as she approached the gates of the cemetery, it started to howl and tried to retreat. She looked up and saw a figure with 'glaring eyes' staring at her. In a matter of seconds, it promptly vanished.

This account was also entered on the Society's files, but it seemed the next step to obtaining more precise information was to visit Highgate Cemetery in daylight to check the sites of the phenomenon's reputed appearances and perhaps discover some clues that could have otherwise accounted for its presence.

This visit was made by the author who had taken a personal interest in the case, although it turned out to be disappointing as nothing significant was found that offered any explanation - by way of a hoax or otherwise - for the two sightings.

I arrived at the cemetery in the morning and spent several hours there. It was the first time I had been there for over two years and the increase in vandalism was immediately apparent. Vaults had been broken open and coffins quite literally smashed apart. One vault near the top gate (although not visible from outside it) was wide open and one could see the remains of a skeleton where it had been wrenched from a coffin. Another vault on the main pathway had been thus entered and one of the coffins inside, set alight. Although this vault had been padlocked and chained, the door was made up of an iron grill and the vandalised coffin was available for all to see. Furthermore, it appeared that virtually no attempt had been made to repair any of the damage.

A strange thing that was discovered was a freshly dead fox lying in the middle of a main pathway. This was puzzling because there were no outward signs betraying the cause of death, and besides, a wounded animal would usually have crawled away and hidden itself if it sensed impending death.

All this, however, came no nearer to solving the mystery of the black apparition. Indeed, apart from rumour and other unsubstantiated local stories, the only real 'evidence' were the testimonies of just two people, and it seemed the only way to credit their accounts (or discredit them as the case may be) and thereby justify a full investigation, was to spend a night in the cemetery to see if the phenomenon - or whatever it was - could be witnessed. The place where Thornton had been confronted inside the cemetery seemed an appropriate place as it was secluded and there was no risk of being seen by anybody happening by the top gate - the place where the old lady had seen the entity. The date chosen was December 21st - the eve of the winter Solstice and a traditional time (due to the maximum hours of darkness) when potent psychic forces have easy access to the 'earthly plane'. That the entity may be dangerous from a psychic point of view, was a fact not overlooked. But I was confident that previous experiences with potentially malevolent psychic forces would enable me to deal with any such possibility.

Around 11 PM on the proposed night, I set off for the cemetery. It was a bitterly cold night and the surrounding area was deserted. Walking down the narrow lane that ran alongside the cemetery, there was a sudden awareness of some 'alien presence'. This was difficult to define, except in so far as there was a distinct impression of no longer being alone.

Reaching the top gate and preparing to scale this, I decided to wait a couple of minutes with the intention of perhaps noticing some material object through the gate (such as a shadow cast by a tomb-stone or from a tree moving in the wind), that could have otherwise accounted for the old lady's phantom.

Peering through the rusty bars of the gate scrutinizing the pervading darkness, objects near the gate itself lining the pathway, were fairly easy to discern. But after 20 yards or so the path disappeared into impenetrable blackness. Staring into this, perhaps due to some trick of the light, there was a distinct impression of 'something moving'. What appeared one minute to be a definite black shape or shadow, would suddenly alter its form or change in density. The wind moving through the undergrowth was probably the cause of this, but it was equally feasible that this could have been the cause of the 'black apparition' seen by the old woman.

To the right of the path, some large animal was scurrying through the undergrowth. Then suddenly, something caught my eye and looking up, just inside not 5 yards from the gate and clearly visible, was a tall dark shape.

Instinctively, my conscious mind rejected this figure as being supernatural. It was more consoling to assume that it was somebody wandering through the cemetery; notwithstanding that the figure appeared to be over seven feet tall. Any immediate doubts were soon dispelled when I saw two reddish eyes meeting my gaze from a 'black mass' at the top of the shape, which I took to be its 'head'. But these eyes were not human, rather reflected some 'alive presence'; they were dull and penetrating like some hungry wolf, although the rest of 'it' had no discernable features, apart from a vague 'human' shape.

The whole situation seemed unreal - like some unwanted dream - but with determined effort, I tore my gaze away realising that the entity was malevolent and that I had come under psychic attack. Without warning, the figure then suddenly vanished, and it appeared that for the moment, at least, the entity had retreated . . .