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Archive for March, 2013

Are public lavatories haunted or is it just toilet rumour?

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Many of our readers will be familiar with a heated debate, currently raging in The Lethmachen Echo, regarding the alleged haunting at Croucher’s Meadow. As is typical, our esteemed local rag has only covered a supernatural story for a) light relief and b) to make some reactionary observation on the ‘condition of modern society’. However on this occasion the editors may have been surprised by the intensity and hostility of opinions. Where one school of thought aggressively dismisses the haunting as a hoax, others are firmly convinced they have experienced phenomena first hand. A cursory glance at the comments section on the Echo website reveals that any pretense of balanced discussion has long ago declined in to personal insults, political soap boxing and lurid conspiracy theories. Ever the public servants, we felt the time was ripe for us to step in to the breach and take an impartial look at the public toilets in front of Croucher’s Meadow.

Opened over a hundred years ago, Lethmachen Council commissioned the lavatories at a time when Croucher’s Meadow was a popular focus of the social calendar. At the turn of the century this sprawling public park hosted an array of travelling circuses and funfairs, art exhibitions and country shows, sporting events and historical re-enactments. Unfortunately, as public tastes changed, attention drifted away to new pastimes and venues. As a result, Croucher’s Meadow was allowed to fall in to neglect and grow untended, until it became the half forgotten wilderness it is today. Now considered somewhat off the beaten track, just a little too far from the town centre, the conveniences have also deteriorated into a state of disrepair. Although still open to the public, and regularly cleaned by Council employees, much essential maintenance work has been left undone. With shattered windows, broken pipes and weeds and mould sprouting from the tiles, the lavatories are not exactly hospitable and are rarely used, at least during daylight hours.

Dr Neil Cross, our notorious local paranormal investigator, has taken pains to remind us that ‘The public lavatories at Croucher’s Meadow have long held an unwholesome reputation, and not due to any supernatural interference’. From day one, Dr Cross has been vocal in proclaiming the haunting a hoax and, quite uncharacteristically, has refused to even visit the location and inspect the cubicles. In his defence he states that he is unwilling to engage in a ‘cruel joke’ that in his view is ‘obviously designed to discredit my profession’. Dr Cross has a typically controversial theory as to the perpetrators of the hoax: ‘The types of individuals who occupy these premises are promoting the haunting to keep people away in order to protect and pursue their own secret, shadowy lives’. An opposing view suggests a conspiracy, spearheaded by The Lethmachen Echo, to circulate rumours of a haunting with an aim to having the toilets closed down and boarded up. The local paper has previously run campaigns to this effect, claiming the site attracts ‘undesirable characters’ and Dr Cross is known to have pledged allegiance to this cause.

Whatever truth lies in these allegations, many local men have reported having an ‘uneasy feeling’ when using the lavatories, and a great diversity of paranormal phenomenon has been documented. This has ranged from glimpses of ‘lurking figures’ to ‘strange breathing’ within adjacent cubicles. Of course there has long been a legend attached to this location, generally assumed to be an urban myth, as no records have been unearthed confirming the alleged events and personages. It is said that in the Edwardian era an unmarried girl called Mary drowned her newborn baby in the lavatory before drowning herself in the nearby River Lethe. The ghosts of both mother and child are now said to haunt the toilets, although no explanation has been forthcoming as to why these apparitions only seem to manifest in the gentlemen’s section, when surely it is more likely that Mary would have taken the baby to the ladies on the other side of the wall. Be that as it may, there have been sightings of tiny, kneading hands creeping under the walls of the cubicles and reports that the roar of the hand dryer gradually rises to the wail of an infant. Even more dramatically, some men claim to have encountered a waterlogged woman on leaving, who loiters in the doorway and asks if they have seen her missing child. Most commonly though, shocked patrons have witnessed ghostly writing appearing before their very eyes, scrawled on the walls and doors of the cubicles by some unseen hand. Usually this automatic writing takes the form of a message, purportedly from child to mother: ‘Mary, come back please’, ‘Mary, I’m lonely’ or ‘Mary, I’m thirsty’. Yet often the message is illegible, a seemingly random collection of numbers and images.

Cleaners Nadja Blaszczyk and Clive Ellison both admit they have witnessed ‘some terrible sights’ on arriving for work certain mornings, but nothing related to the supernatural. Perhaps this adds credence to the conclusion of Dr Neil Cross: ‘There is no haunting. There is no story’.

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A model train set replays a murder in miniature?

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Although a haunted dollhouse is more common, at least in literature, word has reached us of what appears to be a haunted train set. The account given below is quoted verbatim from a recorded interview with the individual involved. Make of it what you will…

‘Late last year, I attended a house clearance auction in an affluent area of Lethmachen. According to the local paper the elderly resident had recently passed away, and although the family were keen to put the Regency townhouse on the market, they first found it necessary to offload some of the clutter that swamped the property. Perusing the catalogue in advance, I had identified a few valuable pieces of antique furniture lost amongst the usual, useless bric-a-brac. However, on the day of the auction, it was a late addition to the listings that really caught my eye. Perhaps it had only been discovered at the last minute, more likely the family had disagreed over whether it should be sold, but now last on the bill was an elaborate model train set. I was informed it had been retrieved from the attic and then carefully reassembled on a display unit in what was once the large dining room. Rather than simply consisting of a section of track and some sparse scenery, what was presented was an incredibly detailed panorama of Lethmachen and its district railway, complete with recognisable streets, shops and surrounding countryside. Dozens of hand painted figures milled on the pavements and platforms, livestock grazed sedately in the fields, and every local landmark was present and correct. There was even a Lethmachen Echo newsstand emblazoned with the familiar banner and a headline announcing ‘No clues in case of missing girl’. True, some of the details were now a few decades out of date, but that only added to its period charm. Clearly this had been a prized possession of the deceased, an obsession forever being perfected by subtle revisions and new additions. It would of course make the perfect Christmas present for my son Jonah. Following a rather expensive and hard fought bidding war, I walked away with my prize.

Christmas Eve proved to be a long and frustrating night. It took me hours to reconstruct the train set in the basement of our house, and naturally I had to wait until Jonah had gone to bed before I could begin. Yet I must admit what started as a mechanical procedure did become quite absorbing after a while: the joy of assembling the landscape from scratch, the admiration I felt for the pain staking work that had been devoted to every miniature. Perhaps equally enjoyable was the impression of suddenly being granted power over your hometown, and I could not resist positioning, removing, then repositioning a number of pieces to fulfil my vision. All my effort was amply rewarded the next morning, just as soon as I witnessed the undisguised awe written all over Jonah’s face the instant I whipped away the dust cover. And yet, personally, something about the model now dissatisfied me. Having spent so long arranging the little scenes to my specifications, I could now not recognise what I saw. The arrangement did not match the vista in my mind; things had been changed in accordance with a design not my own. My immediate desire was to correct these faults, to ask Jonah to step aside and allow me to reassert my scheme. However I quashed this selfish feeling and left the basement. Ruth and I barely saw Jonah for the rest of the holiday. He was ensconced down there with his railway set, apparently not even feeling the need to invite friends over and show it off.

Eventually, the weekend before school was due to reconvene, Jonah emerged from his den. He seemed strangely subdued, even anxious, very unlike himself. It took a while for me to prize the reason out of him but, eventually, he reluctantly confessed that what was upsetting him was his new train set. At first he thought he had been imagining it, but now he was sure. Someone was rearranging the display after he went to bed at night. Initially this had merely been an annoyance. As I had done, and no doubt the previous owner also, he had spent hours meticulously arranging all the figures and vehicles in a manner he saw fit. Yet each morning he would find all his hard work undone. Pieces were not where he had left them, they were not where they were supposed to be. In particular he had a favourite character, a certain train guard, who was always straying from his position at the station. It was a mystery to me why Jonah was so drawn to this specific figure, for it was one of the few pieces that was slightly sloppily painted, with crimson paint dripped on the hands. Anyway, apparently this figure never remained at his post, each morning my son would find the figure standing deeper and deeper within a remote, wooded section of the countryside. Sheepishly, Jonah asked if I had been sneaking down at night to play with his train set. I confessed I had been tempted, but had resisted and never touched a thing, unless perhaps I had been sleepwalking!

There was something more. Jonah felt convinced that some of the figures were changing form, shifting poise. He understood this was impossible, however….One morning when he came down, and the guard was again lurking in the woods, back on the platform, at a scale of some miles away, a female figure had raised an arm and was pointing in the guard’s direction, an expression of alarm torturing her face. Jonah assured me that previously this figure had arms down by her sides, carrying shopping, and bore a rather placid, distant expression. Now the shopping bags were on the pavement at her feet, contents spilt. This morning had been the worst. Last night Jonah had made a point of registering where he had arranged all the figures, mingling around the shops or waiting at the station, the guard standing alone on a distant stretch of platform. This morning he had discovered that every single character in the town had turned to look the same way, directed by the outstretched arm of the alarmed lady. Jonah followed their unified gaze, beyond the station, beyond the shops and houses, to where the train guard crouched in the woods, staring down at a disturbed patch of turf.’

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