#1Sep 21st, 2006
The Bully and the Fly
Hannigan and the bully Stoneley
In Edwardian times, a curious Irishman named John Hannigan appeared on the Liverpool scene. Nothing about the middle-aged Hannigan was known, except that he came from County Meath in Ireland around 1905. The rest of his background is a blank. He didn't seem to work, but was never short of money, which was mostly spent in the public houses of Liverpool. He wore a pair of wire-framed spectacles and sported a trimmed moustache, but was said to be handsome, and seems to have had many female admirers. He was popular with most people because of his storytelling talent, and he was also something of a psychic and a philosopher.
In June 1908, he told startled drinkers in the Vines pub on Lime Street that 'a great terror from the stars that could destroy England' was about to collide with the world. Some shuddered, knowing how many of Hannigan's previous predictions had been strangely accurate, but a few drinkers laughed and called the Irishman a drunken fool. On the following day, The Times newspaper reported that an object - thought to be a gigantic meteorite or a chunk of a comet - had impacted into Siberia. The object from space had exploded with the fury of a modern thirty-megaton nuclear bomb. It had wiped out entire forests and incinerated herds of reindeer, and the shockwave had circled the Earth twice. Had the object arrived on Earth slightly later, England would have been instantly devastated.
During the stay-behinds at the Vines, Hannigan would inevitably end up encircled by spellbound listeners to his predictions, his supernatural tales of Ireland, and his philosophising on the way society was progressing. One such night at the Vines, Hannigan was relating his tales to the clientele in front of a crackling coal fire, when a well-known lout named Bob Stoneley threw half a glass of stout into the Irishman's face.
'You didn't see that coming John,' the drunken Stoneley mocked, 'but you're supposed to foresee things.'
Stoneley and two of his fawning cronies laughed as Hannigan wiped his face and spectacles dry with a handkerchief. The landlord glared at Stoneley, but didn't tell him to leave because the latter had a reputation of being a hard man. Gerald McGuinness, a muscular seaman, confronted Stoneley, but the landlord told him there was to be no fighting in his pub.
'I'll catch up with you later Stoneley.' McGuinness threatened.
'And I'll tear you apart,' Stoneley retorted, and he started to rant about how he was afraid of nobody, and of his younger days in the violent 'High Rip' gang.
Unruffled, Hannigan suddenly remarked: 'Nothing frightens Mr Stoneley then?'
'Nothing.' Barked Stoneley.
'Even death?' Hannigan asked, and the question was followed by a hush. 'A piece of churchyard fits everybody, even you Mr Stoneley.' Hannigan added.
Stoneley was gripped with a mounting sense of dread.
'The hour of your death is near. Something in here will lay you in the ground.' Hannigan told the bully.
'Who? Who will lay me in the ground? Jed McGuinness?' Stoneley's face turned red with rage.
'No, no, a fly will kill you.' Hannigan said languidly. There were twelve witnesses to his bizarre prediction.
Stoneley left the Vines a nervous wreck. How could a fly kill him? Then he thought about the diseases a fly carried; typhoid, cholera, and polio. Stoneley bought fly papers. He scrubbed his hands before he ate. But it was all in vain. In July 1910, he was once again taunting John Hannigan.
While laughing out loud, a fly flew into his mouth. Bob Stoneley choked to death as his cronies looked on in sheer horror.
Copyright Tom Slemen 2001
SHE BOUGHT A GHOST
Older readers, cast your mind back a bit and you may remember the "Maxi Mart" pages in the Liverpool Echo where you could buy and sell quite a range of miscellaneous items, including the kitchen sink! In February 1977, a Knotty Ash housewife named Chrissie Bradley saw a three-piece suite in beige vinyl advertised in the Household Goods column of the Maxi Mart. The three-piece suite was said to be in very good condition and the asking price was £25. Chrissie phoned the man who was selling it and he said he would actually bring the three-piece suite to Chrissie's house so she could see how good it was. The man - a Mr Posterway - turned up with the furniture and invited Chrissie to see it in the back of his transit van. Chrissie was impressed and immediately paid Mr Postaway the £25.
Not long after Chrissie had put the settee and two armchairs in her living room, weird things started to happen. Chrissie's 12-year-old daughter was sitting on the settee when she said her back felt damp. When she got up off the settee, the girl had bloodstains on her white school shirt. There were ruby beads of blood condensing on the settee.
Mr Bradley wiped down the settee, but the blood returned later on in the night. Chrissie telephone Mr Postaway and asked him why the settee was oozing the red sticky liquid, and he said he didn't know what she was on about and hung up. He took his phone off the hook and Chrissie couldn't get through.
On the following day in the afternoon, Chrissie and her two friends were having a cup of tea - when the impression of a hand appeared on the beige vinyl of the settee. It just looked as if someone had dipped their hand in blood, then pressed it onto the settee. Chrissie wiped it, but the hand returned later on. Two oter family members also reported seeing the spooky silhouette of a man sitting on the sofa when they entered the living room at night. As soon as they switched on the light, the figure vanished. In the end, Mr Bradley thought there was something weird about the settee, and he decided to dump it in the alleyway, along with the two armchairs.
When the binmen called, they saw pools of what looked like blood under the settee. The ganger of the binmen was suspicious and he ripped the settee open, but it was dry as a bone inside. Years later, Chrissie Bradley learned that Mr Postaway had bought the settee from the wife of a woman whose husband had committed suicide on the sofa in 1972. The man slashed his own throat as he lay down on the sofa because he mistakenly thought he had cancer. The sofa was cleaned and sold, but the bloodstains kept reappearing on it. If you are thinking of purchasing something second hand - buyer beware…
©Tom Slemen 2004
This is a weird, but touching story which allegedly took place in the Dingle area of Liverpool, England in the early 1980s. The case has been investigated by a staggering number of paranormal investigators, and yet the tale has had no publicity at all - until now.
It is the story of a lonely old bachelor named John Blythe.
John Blythe was born in 1907 in Aigburth district of Liverpool. Even from an early age, Mr Blythe realised he could see things his four older brothers and two sisters couldn't see. One of his earliest memories was a smiling, kind-looking man with a long beard rocking his cradle. Years later, when he was seven, John Blythe saw a portrait of the bearded man in his mother's bedroom, and he was told that the man was his granddad who had died in 1902 - five years before John had been born. In other words, a ghost had rocked John's cradle.
At the age of 13, when John's school friends were discovering the opposite sex, John told his puzzled mother that he had sent a love letter to the beautiful auburn-haired girl across the road. John asked his mother if she knew the girl's name. Mrs Blythe said that there was no girl living in the house opposite, just two old brothers. It soon transpired that the love-struck teenager was infatuated - with the ghost of a girl who had committed suicide at the house across the street forty years before. Almost every day John would go missing for hours, and return late each night, all dewy-eyed, telling his parents that he had just walked Emily home. John's intrigued parents asked the boy where he had been on his 'date', and their blushing son told them that he had been walking hand-in-hand with Emily around the Palm House in Sefton Park. Mrs Blythe was naturally worried about her son's tales, and rather than believe that he was courting a phantom, she surmised that he was just confused and fantasising the episodes he'd mentioned. But one day, John Blythe came home in tears. He said that Emily would be 'going away' soon because her house was to be demolished. John said that Emily wouldn't be able to live in the new house that would be built over her one. And sure enough, just under a year later, the house facing John Blythe's was condemned and knocked down. John was devastated, and almost starved to death because the heartbroken teenager refused to eat.
Around this time, an elderly man who heard about John's so-called imaginary girlfriend confirmed that a girl named Emily Webster did once live at the house that stood facing the Blythes house. The girl in question hanged herself from the stairs after discovering that her fiancee intended to marry another girl.
During the Second World War, John Blythe served in the Irish Guards, but refused to shoot at the enemy. Whenever he confronted the German troops he would fire over their heads. He was almost discharged from his platoon because the sergeant thought he was insane when private Blythe threw up his arms after saying there were Germans closing in all around. Minutes later, over two hundred bodies of German troops were found scattered in the next field. Blythe said that he had mistaken the bewildered ghosts wandering the field for living German soldiers. Blythe's eerie comments naturally put the wind up the other platoon members, and his sergeant told him to shut up about his weird experiences in future.
John Blythe continued to live in this world and the next one for the next forty years, and was often misunderstood and sneered at because of his talk about the 'invisible society' of kindred spirits that was all around us.
He finally moved into a terraced house in Colebrooke Road in the Dingle area of Liverpool, and at this final residence old John Blythe happily settled down with his family; a family of assorted ghosts, that is.
John's nephews and nieces regarded their old uncle as an eccentric but loveable soul, and constantly advised him to move into sheltered accommodation. But Mr Blythe said he was happy with his 'spirit-wife' Deliah, who had departed the world of the living in 1900. The other members of Mr Blythe's adopted phantom family were Edward Goode, a refined top-hatted Victorian gent who was fascinated by the television set and the telephone, and Mrs Ludwig, an old German maid who had also lived at the house in the 19th century. There were two other family members, and they were the 12-year-old twins Thomas and Alice, but they were always moving backwards and forwards between this world and the hereafter for some reason.
John Blythe's living nephews and nieces obviously assumed that there uncle was going senile and making all the tales of his spirit family up. But something later took place which made everyone have second thoughts about the family of ghosts.
In March 1980, John Blythe tripped and fell down the stairs at his Dingle home. He lay unconscious at the foot of the stairs with blood dripping from a gash to his forehead and a badly-broken arm. He most probably would have died there, if someone hadn't telephoned Mr Blythe's nephew, Steven.
Steven's phone rang incessantly at 8 a.m. on that Sunday morning, and when the young man answered, an excited, well-spoken voice said: "Please send help. I beseech you to send assistance, for Mr Blythe has suffered a terrible fall at his home."
Steven thought the call was a prank, as he didn't recognise the caller's voice, and so he said: "Who is this?"
And the caller replied: "My name is Edward, and I live at Mr Blythe's address. Please come at once or he will not be long for this world!"
Steven said: "Look, if this is some - "
But the caller hung up.
Steven hastily got dressed and drove from his Knotty Ash home all the way to the Colebrooke Street house. He hammered on the knocker but could get no answer. He pushed back the flap of the letterbox and saw something that he was to remember for the rest of his life. A concerned-looking man in a black outdated suit and a long top hat was crouched over a man slumped at the foot of the steps. Steve saw that the man on the floor was his Uncle. Nearby two twins were giggling and pointing at the inert-looking Mr Blythe. They were a boy and a girl of about 10 or 12 years of age, dressed in matching royal blue satin outfits embroidered with pearls.
Steven shouted "Hey! What's going on. Open the door." And he stood back and waited. But the door never opened. Steven looked through the letterbox - and saw that the top-hatted stranger and the twins were nowhere to be seen. Mr Blythe's nephew backed up and charged at the door. He did this three more times, and the neighbours of the adjoining houses came out to see what the racket was about on this sunny Sunday morning. When they learned that Mr Blythe was unconscious, the neighbours also put their weight behind the door, which finally yielded.
An ambulance was called for, and Mr Blythe was taken to hospital. In his hospital bed, the old man asked his nephew how he had known about the fall down the stairs. Steven said that a mysterious man named Edward had telephoned him. Mr Blythe gave a broad smile, then said: "He finally did it then."
"Did what?" one of the old man's niece's asked.
Mr Blythe tried to explain. He said: "Mr Goode was always trying to use the telephone. He was absolutely intrigued by the workings of it, but he used to hold the receiver upside down and couldn't dial properly. He must have called you."
Sadly, Mr Blythe passed away in his sleep on Christmas Eve of that year. Strangely enough, the sounds of a woman laughing were heard in his bedroom that night when his nephews visited him. Perhaps it was Mr Blythe's spectral wife Deliah, overjoyed because her husband had crossed over to join her in the spirit world. And here's the strange epilogue to this incredible story. In 1996, one of Mr Blythe's niece's phoned up a certain highly-rated medium being featured on a local Liverpool radio station. She asked the psychic if there was anybody on the "other side" with any messages for her. The psychic said "Your uncle John is over there. He said something about a house in the Dingle and that he's with his wife Deliah and the twins. The funny thing I'm picking up is that these people go way, way back."
Mr Blythe's niece was absolutely shocked at the medium's comments.
The radio psychic then said: "Who's Edward? He keeps saying something about a telephone."
Voice Across the Mersey
One rainy night in October 1887, 34-year-old Mary Dunn of Islington went in search of her husband Joseph in the pubs of London Road. At 11.20 p.m.she finally found him enjoying his milk stout in a public house called the Lord Warden on the corner of Camden Street, and he was very surprised to see Mary, as she was almost teetotal. Joe immediately imagined the worst, and asked his wife if the children were alright.
'Yes, Joe they are,' Mary said, and shoved Joe to a quiet corner of the alehouse.
'Then what is it?' Joe inquired.'
'Joe, I heard my mother shouting me tonight, just before eleven o'clock,' Mary told him with an earnest look.
'You must have good ears Mary; your mother's in Birkenhead!' Joe joked, but then he saw that his wife was deadly serious.
'I swear on the seven sacraments that I heard my mother calling me tonight,' Mary said, clutching her husband's hands. 'I just know something terrible has happened to her Joe.'
'Gawd, you and your premonitions and voices,' Joe muttered, recalling the other occasional supernatural episodes his wife had experienced. He then turned his thoughts to the mundane practical world and asked Mary what she wanted him to do.
'Couldn't you go over to Birkenhead and see if mother is alright?' Mary replied.
Joe glanced at the clock on the parlour wall. 'It's half-past eleven woman!'
'I know that Joe, but I won't sleep unless I know my mother has come to no harm. Perhaps I should go to the police.' Mary said.
'Think will you Mary - they'd lock you away in an asylum if you told the coppers you'd heard voices in your head,' Joe told his wife.
'I knew you'd be of no use!' Mary turned, and ran sobbing out of the pub.
Joe stood in the pub doorway, watching his wife hurrying home up London Road. He returned to the pub parlour and ordered a scotch. By half-past midnight, Joe's friend, an elderly man named Billy Ormerod, said the ferry service had stopped for the night, but there was a way to get to Birkenhead if a person had the guts. Joe asked what way that was, and old Billy said it was possible to walk from Liverpool to Birkenhead by way of the railway tunnel, which ran beneath the Mersey. The drinkers in the pub argued fiercely over the elder's claims, and bets were waged. Old Billy accepted a wager and announced that he and Joe Dunn would set out to Birkenhead via the railway tunnel. Joe reluctantly agreed to the bet, and within the hour he and Billy were walking down the steps of the James Street railway platform. The barman of the Lord Warden had given them candles for the journey. A gaggle of drinkers stood on the platform, and watched the two men walk across the sleepers of the tracks in the long dark tunnel. Joseph Dunn and Billy Ormerod encountered nothing but the odd rat down the deserted train tunnel in their trek of one and a half miles. They emerged at the Green Lane station at Birkenhead and narrowly missed being discovered by a policeman on his beat. Joe Dunn took Billy to his mother-in-law's home, and heard the woman groaning in the hallway. Joe kicked the front door open and found his mother-in-law lying at the foot of the stairs. She'd suffered a bad fall but fortunately recovered. She told Joe that the fall had taken place just before 11 p.m., and that she had called out her daughter Mary's name. These facts seem to validate Mary Dunn's account of hearing the telepathic cries of help from her mother. Joe and Billy later returned to the Lord Warden to claim their money from the daredevil bets.
©Tom Slemen 2003.
Mirror to another dimension
Strange creature with tentacles
Local Mysteries with Tom Slemen, Maghull & Aintree Star
THE year 1972 will be remembered by those who lived through it as a turbulent time of industrial strikes, IRA bombings of mainland Britain, three-day weeks, airplane hijackings, the Women's Lib movement, an inept Government and power-cuts brought on by a national coal strike.
In the winter of that year, a power-cut struck Liverpool and plunged the flats in a house on Princes Avenue, Toxteth, into darkness one evening.
Maureen Kelly, one of the tenants, rushed to light candles she had bought earlier that day. Maureen was living alone at the flat after separating from her husband, who hit her every time he came home from the pub drunk.
Her children were being looked after by her mother in Kensington until Maureen could find ahouse whereshe and her kids could live, far away as possible from the wife-beating drunkard.
Maureen's flatwas adjacent to the flat that had been vacated twice by tenants because of allegedsupernatural goings on, but Maureen was a down-to-earth woman who didn't believe in ghosts, and she never really paid much attention to the strange stories other lodgers had told her about the haunted apartment next door.
She certainlyhadn't seen or heard anything strange.
However, all that was to change thatwinter evening as Maureen sat listening to an old battery-operated Dansette radio forsome company. It was tuned in to Radio Luxembourg.
Three candles flickered around the room, and one of them suddenlycast an enormous shadow of something terrifying and unfamiliar on the wall. It looked like the shadow of some creature with writhing tentacles.
Maureen turned, with her heart pounding, but sawnothing, even though the shadow was still being cast by something.
She wondered if a spider suspended from a thread was casting the frightening shadow, but couldn't see one.
The shadow flitted across the room and vanished, leaving Maureen feeling very uneasy.
She sat there in her curlers, and decided that she'd go out to the local pub at 9pm, just to escape from the spooky atmosphere of the candlelit flat.
The station on the radio drifted away, and Maureen thumbed the tuner wheel when she suddenlyheard afloor-board creak behind her. She turned the radio's volume down and froze.
Her eyes glanced about for a weapon to hit the intruder with, when she heard an odd rasping sound. Something cold and heavy slid over her shoulder. Maureen started to whimper when she saw the thing was atentacle of some sort.
'Jesus Christ!' she cried out, and the thing behind her repeated the phrase, parrot fashion, in an unearthly voice. Maureen ran to the door, opened it and ran screaming down the stairs and out into the street.
An old man named Mr Dewhurst, who had once lived at a flat in the Princes Avenue house found Maureen in a dreadful state on nearby Sel-borne Street, and when she told of her bizarre experience, he didn't doubt her, ashehad heard many strange stories about the flat when he lived in the house.
A local ghost-hunter named Tony Prince investigated the case and discoveredthat the "thing" had been reported since 1968.
Tony was something of a free thinker amongst ghost investigators, and he believed that the entity was either trapped between dimensions or deliberately intruding on our dimension through some weak point in the barrier which separates our dimension and another space-time continuum.
He left a sound-activated tape recorder in one room and captured the eerie sound of something talking in an un-known language.
In the end, Tony decided that mirrors in the flat were acting as portals for the tentacled creature, and he advised the landlady to remove them.
This was done, and the "thing" was never seen again.
Fatal step back in time
Local Mysteries with Tom Slemen, Maghull & Aintree Star
A RETIRED policeman told me a very strange story a few years ago. In the 1990s, the decomposing body of a man in his mid-forties was found in the middle of a former factory on the outskirts of Liverpool.
The man, who I will call Mr Smith, had been missing for some time, and his brother had informed the police about his suspicious absence.
Mr Smith was a highly successful businessman and millionaire.
In 1996 Mr Smith told his brother that he had experienced something amazing which had deeply affected him.
One misty summer morning Mr Smith had driven to the neighbourhood in the Scotland Road area where he had lived as a child, and had walked through all that remained of the childhood haunts, when he had suddenly found himself back in another era.
Around 9.30am he had noticed a greengrocers shop, and quickly realised that no such shop had been at that location a week before, when he had previously visited.
Nor had he noticed a shop called Costigans, yet here it now stood, and he was standing under its canvas rain cover.
Smith then witnessed an amazing mirage-like vision. As he glanced down the long road which now cuts through the area, he saw the houses and shops of old 'Scottie Road' appear one after the other in the morning mist.
It was a breathtaking sight, which alarmed him and yet filled him with nostalgic euphoria. A deeply satisfying sense of coming home filled Mr Smith's very soul, and he beamed an inane smile at the phantoms of yesterday, people of the 1950s, who walked by suspiciously silent.
The old voice of scepticism - 'This can't be happening' spoke inside his head, and sure enough, the scene around him slowly vanished.
The timeslip experience deeply affected Smith, and he ploughed a lot of his wealth into a personal project which convinced his brother he had suffered a nervous breakdown.
Smith bought the premises of a closed-down factory near Speke, and set about hiring joiners, plumbers, electricians and scenery experts from the theatre to reconstruct the inside of his old home on Scotland Road.
The end result was a strange mock-up of a 1950s home with two upstairs rooms, a back and front parlour, and a kitchen.
The black and white television was wired to a video players loaded with television programmes from the Fifties, and the radio was hooked up to a long-playing tape, featuring period pieces like Hancock's Half Hour, The Clitheroe Kid, Journey Into Space, and PC 49, as well as all of the musical hits of the period. Smith spent a lot of his time at the reconstructed house.
In the following year, Smith's brother went to visit relatives in Australia, and when he returned a month later he tried to contact his brother, and in the end he contacted the police and told them about the 'house' at the factory.
They went to investigate and found Mr Smith's body in the parlour. He was dead in an armchair with a reprint of a 1950s Evening Express on his lap.
The body had lain there for quite some time, filling the room with a stomach-turning odour. Death had been from a massive heart attack, and probably instantaneous.
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