#1Sep 19th, 2006
More strange - but true - stories from Liverpool paranormal investigator Tom Slemen.
The Devil's Umbrellas
with Tom Slemen, writing in the Maghull & Aintree Star
ONE rainy afternoon in the late summer of 1900, a handful of drinkers in the Midland Hotel pub on Ranelagh Street were being entertained by an outlandishly dressed black banjo player known as the Ethiopian minstrel.
With his stars and stripes top hat, yellow frock coat, embroidered waistcoat and gold lame trousers, the minstrel was a sight to behold, and he had the voice of an opera singer, with incredible range and distinctive timbre.
He finished his songs, went around collecting with his hat, then got ready to leave the public house.
A flash of lightning lit up Ranelagh Street, followed by a heavy roll of thunder and a vicious downpour.
Moments later the door of the saloon swung open and in came Mr Antonio, the local 'ice-cream Johnnie' who had his gaily decorated barrow outside on Cases Street.
He gave the Minstrel a cone of Neapolitan ice-cream and ordered a gin.
The weather was ruining the ice-cream vendor's business.
Seconds after Mr Antonio entered the pub, a tall stranger, dressed in black, came into the pub, clutching half a dozen umbrellas.
He asked if anybody wanted one of the brollies, and most of the drinkers shook their heads - until the man said he wanted nothing for them.
When the minstrel saw this stranger, his eyes widened, and he backed away, then hurried out of the pub.
People obviously thought this was strange, and when the man had given out the umbrellas, several drinkers asked him why the street musician had scarpered.
The man smiled and said nothing in reply.
He silently left the pub and walked off into the sheets of rain.
The umbrellas the odd man had given away were all black, and their handles were adorned with a very unusual feature; a small metal human skull.
Antonio, the ice-cream man, was very superstitious, and said there was something evil about the umbrellas, but a railway guard named Williams laughed at the idea and said the man in black had been eccentric.
However, Mr Antonio's instinct proved to be correct.
The railway guard suffered horrific nightmares each night from then on, and a month later, he hanged himself after apparently suffering from a nervous breakdown.
The five other people who had taken one of the umbrellas all suffered vivid, heart-stopping nightmares, and one by one over the space of six months, each of them met their death.
One boarded a ship called the Primrose Hill and drowned after it was wrecked on rocks at Holyhead, another died of influenza, and a woman who owned one of the umbrellas passed away as she gave birth to her child.
The remaining person was a Londoner, and he died in a fire in the East End.
When the Ethiopian Minstrel returned to the Midland pub a year later, he was not surprised at the news of the six deaths, as he had seen the man who gave the cursed umbrellas away many times before in other pubs, and believed him to be the Devil himself.
"Did none of you notice his small feet?" the minstrel asked, "They were cloven feet. "He comes in many disguises, but always has some imperfection."
A chill ran up everyone's spine when they heard this.
* Tom Slemen is presenting a Halloween ghost talk at the Cricketers' club, off Long Lane, Wavertree, Sunday 30 October at 7.30pm. Admission is £5.
Driver's encounter with a ghostly bus
Local Mysteries with Tom Slemen, Maghull & Aintree Star
JUST after midnight on July 1 2005, Alan, the driver of a heavy-goods vehicle was pulling out from a lane to join a major road near Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside.
He was crawling along at about 15 miles an hour as he reached the junction, and saw that the road to his right was deserted. There was no oncoming traffic.
As the HGV swung into the road, Alan saw the light from some approaching vehicle flood his cab. What happened next was as baffling as it was terrifying.
An old fashioned green double- decker bus came careering up the road, towards him, from his right.
The driver braced himself for a collision, but the green bus passed through the middle of the goods lorry and continued on down the road, where it vanished into the night.
Alan pulled over and examined the vehicle, and, seeing there was no damage from the ghost bus, he scratched his head and continued on his way.
If we assume that ghosts are the spirits of the dead, how can we explain 'soulless' phantoms of inanimate objects such as the Newton-le-Willows spectral bus?
My explanation is that the ghost bus has something to do with the nature of time, which scientists are still struggling to understand.
It's as if two time periods temporarily overlap now and then, and inanimate buildings, vehicles and perhaps even ships from the past, are glimpsed in the present.
If this happened at sea, it would perhaps account for the many tales of ghost ships of the Flying Dutchman type
Even ghostly planes have been viewed over Liverpool.
One evening in July 1988, a number of drivers near Speke Airport reported seeing a plane slanting down out of the sky, looking as if it was about to crash.
One observer was John Jones, an expert plane spotter who had just been to Speke Airport. He identified the seemingly doomed plane as an old four-engined Viscount - and held his breath as the aircraft plummeted out of sight behind a factory.
There was no explosion or any sound.
Mr Jones then realized with a shudder that such a plane had crashed on the very same date back in 1965.
On July 20, 1965, Viscount Oscar Lima, returning from the Isle of Man, crashed into Thompson and Capper's factory complex; a place stocked with highly inflammable liquids and other combustible chemicals used in the manufacture of Mothaks moth balls.
The two men on the plane had died and two women at the factory were also killed. The cause of the crash was never discovered.
Just why the ghostly actionreplay from the past took place is anyone's guess.
* Tom Slemen is at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton, on Sunday, September 18, 2005, presenting an illustrated talk on ghosts and local mysteries, with Pete Price as guest. All tickets are £7. Phone the box office on 639 4360.
Evil imp was playing a flute
Local Mysteries with Tom Slemen, Maghull & Aintree Star
ONE Sunday at 8.45pm in June 1976, a 52-year-old man named Mick left his home in Kensington, Liverpool and decided to walk through the warm, pleasant evening to see a friend who lived off Falkner Street in south Liverpool.
Mick had a swift half-pint of bitter at a pub on Irvine Street, then continued on his way to a rendezvous at a pub known as the Red Duster.
He came around the curve of Mount Vernon Road into Minshull Street in the Paddington district, then crossed a green near to the old vestiges of what was once a part of Crown Street.
Mick was passing St Stephen's church on his way to Florist Street, which was a rather secluded and poorly-lit lane, when he saw something that struck him as rather eerie...
A small, misshapen man in dark green clothes was sitting at the base of an overhanging oak tree, and he was playing a long wooden flute.
The odd-looking, impish flautist gave an unnerving, sinister grin and his dark-rimmed eyes stared at Mick, who was now striding along rather quickly.
The weird music of the flute drifted in the air, and gave him goosebumps.
He hurried almost into a trot, and at the end of the lane, when he passed the Oxford public house, an old woman he knew named Heidi came out and told Mick that earlier in the evening she had seen a dwarf sitting under a tree playing a flute, and how his eyes had followed her as she passed him.
She thought there was something supernatural about the figure.
Mick said: "I've just seen him, he gave me the creeps."
That same evening as twilight fell, a gang of children passed St Stephen's church and decided to swing on a rope dangling from a branch, when they saw a terrifying dwarf rush towards them from the Grove Street side of the church.
He was dressed in dark green and his face looked disfigured.
The gang fled in fright, but one child was caught by the diminutive man, and he fainted in fright.
He was later picked up by his mother, who lived in Paddington Gardens, and that child suffered from fits and terrible nightmares for years afterwards.
That same night, the spooky, under-sized flute-player was seen by several more people, and a disquieting pattern of events soon took place which seemed to show that the menacing little stranger was a harbinger of death and bad luck.
Heidi, the old woman who saw the small man in green, died that same night of a brain haemorrhage as she sat in her armchair, and Mick, a man who had also set eyes on the evil-looking flautist, was told when he reached the Red Duster pub that his friend had suffered a massive heart attack earlier in the day as he was coming home from work.
The encounters with the little man in green by the oak tree at St Stephen's church went on for about a month, and those who came into close proximity with the frightening flute player after dark did seem to have an unnatural share of deaths in their families and streaks of bad luck.
I have many letters from people who encountered the accursed little man, but the church he haunted for a while no longer stands, and let us hope the evil-eyed imp never returns.
Chased by spooky apparition
with Tom Slemen, Maghull & Aintree Star
ON THE night of Sunday, November 15, 1959, a full moon hung over Liverpool, and a gang of schoolchildren hurried homewards in terror from Garston Dock railway station, where they had been playing dangerously on the tracks and sidings - until they were confronted by a real-life witch.
In the midst of a savage howling wind, a pale-faced young woman with a crooked, disjointed body, long greasy red hair and penetrating black eyes had appeared at the deserted station, and chased the children.
She had glided off the platform, onto the railway tracks, and pursued the kids across a verge of overgrown grass, screaming at the top of her voice.
Somewhere along St Mary's Road, the supernatural pursuer gave up the chase, but the children ran on through the windy moonlit night.
Tommy Dinsdale, aged 10, ran panting down Russell Road with a stitch in his side, and saw the welcoming sight of his grandmother waiting for him on the doorstep.
When he regained his breath, and told his gran about the screaming witch, she made the sign of the cross and bolted the front door.
This scared Tommy, and he asked his grandmother if she knew who the woman was who had chased them from the old railway station.
As she brought her grandson his pyjamas, she said, in a matter-of-fact way: "Screaming Ginny, that's who you saw."
A long time ago, in the previous century, a strange clannish family by the name of Kneele had moved to an old house in Cressington.
rumour went around claiming the family were all witches. Neighbours who didn't like the family died in mysterious circumstances.
One of the young daughters in the family, a girl named Ginny Kneele, fell in love with a local lad named John Reed, but when he discovered she was a witch he became frightened and left her.
Ginny put a hex on John to make him love her but her mother broke the spell and told the girl she could never marry 'one of them' or she'd lose her powers.
Ginny was willing to sacrifice her supernatural gifts for John's love, but he became engaged to a 'normal' girl. One day, Ginny followed John and his sweetheart to the station and ran screaming onto the track.
A train killed the girl instantly, but the Kneele family would not allow Ginny to be buried in the local churchyard, and her ghost was said to haunt Garston Dock Station - even after it was closed in the late 1940s.
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