1882: The Maid of Hyde Park Place

During the winter of 1882, Kathleen Leigh Hunt was staying with Jessie Laurence, a cousin, at a house in Hyde Park Place, in London, England, which they were taking care of for Laurence's sister and brother-in-law, the Birds, while they were out of country for awhile.

        One morning after breakfast, around 10:00AM, Hunt headed upstairs and found she wasn't walking alone; apparently the housemaid was walking up the stairs just a couple of steps ahead of her... or so she thought. Upon reaching the top of the stairs Hunt realized she had no idea where the maid had gone!

The housemaid...
The housemaid... [Larger version here]

        Hunt, somewhat puzzled at the sudden disappearance, checked the room nearest the top of the stairs; but the maid was not in it, nor in the drawing-room attached to it. There was only one other room on the floor, and it was empty also. The only other place she could have gone was to the next floor, but Hunt couldn't imagine a way the housemaid could have done that without being seen. Hunt was bothered, but not spooked... she figured that she must have somehow just missed the housemaid's movements, and decided not to say anything to Miss Laurence. Hunt was going out for the day, and didn't want to scare her cousin with what was probably nothing. Hunt herself soon forgot about the matter.

        About two or three weeks later, she remembered it again.

        Around 10:00AM one morning, Hunt heard a knock at the front door; and, because she wanted to talk to the housemaid about something anyway, she decided she'd just catch her when the housemaid was done answering the door. With this in mind, Hunt stood just inside the doorway to the dining room, where she'd be able to see the housemaid as she passed but would not herself be visible to anyone at the front door. She soon saw someone pass by, presumably the housemaid, on their way to the front door.

        After two or three minutes, it struck Hunt as odd that she had not yet heard the door open or shut, and that she'd also not yet seen anyone walk back by... so she looked out into the hall to see what was going on. No one was in the hall. There was only one other room on that floor of the house, across from the dining-hall; it was empty too. There were no other rooms, nor any other doors; the housemaid simply could not have left without passing by Hunt.

        Somewhat mystified, Hunt headed straight for the kitchen, the habitual hang out of the housemaid and cook, and found the housemaid sitting there. She quizzed the housemaid, but discovered that not only had the housemaid not gone to answer the door, she had not heard any sort of knock at the door to begin with... she'd been in the kitchen the whole time.

        This weirdness was just too much, and Hunt felt the need to tell her cousin about the two strange experiences she'd had. Imagine Hunt's surprise to discover Laurence and one of the former housemaids had each also encountered this phantom housemaid!

        Laurence and her family had first moved into the house in 1877; she couldn't say what year her own encounter had happened, as she just didn't remember, but it was some time well previous to Hunt's strange experiences. Laurence had been headed to her bedroom on the third floor of the house about 10:30AM one morning when, upon reaching the second floor, she saw a cotton skirt of a light lilac shade as it just turned around a corner to the steps leading to the third floor.

        Sure it was the housemaid of the time, Laurence called out to her -- "Harriet" -- two or three times to catch her attention. Harriet, hearing the call, came out to see what Miss Laurence wanted... but Harriet had been in a bedroom to the left of Laurence, not on the stairs. When Laurence expressed her surprise because she had just seen a skirt "going round the bend," Harriet remarked that she had often seen the same skirt turning the corner, in a matter of fact way.

        After comparing their experiences, neither Hunt nor Laurence felt there was any form of danger involved. They agreed to not mention anything to Laurence's sister and brother-in-law when they returned, as neither woman wanted to be laughed at or thought to be overly nervous.

        Laurence and the Birds left the house in the autumn of 1882.

        In June, 1884, Hunt sent a letter describing the events above to the Society for Psychical Research [SPR]. In the letter, she also explained that she had been in good health at the time, and had never before nor after had any sort of experience as strange as those two encounters in the Hyde Park Place house. Hunt noted that only herself, Laurence, the housemaid, and the cook had been in the house at the time of her encounters. The cook was a shorter woman who wore dark colors and had a heavy step when walking, so Hunt was quite sure she was not being mistaken for the strange figure... and the actual housemaid had been in different places at the times that Hunt had met the phantom housemaid. The phantom had made no sound when encountered, though Hunt also recalled that the actual housemaid herself was a very quiet walker.

        In a second letter to the SPR, Hunt also stated that she had also heard noises from a dressing-room attached to her bedroom that sounded as if people were walking around and moving things in the room, even though Hunt knew it was empty. Another friend of the household, identified by Hunt as 'Miss E. L.', who had stayed in the house the winter previously, said she had heard the same noises.

        The whole matter was further investigated and the SPR soon had letters from Laurence, describing her own encounter with the phantom housemaid, as well as a letter from Laurence's brother-in-law, Paul Bird... who had also seen the strange figure, as it turned out.

        Bird had returned home around 7:30PM one evening, as usual, and was wiping his shoes off on the mat in the hall when he saw one of the housemaids come towards him a few steps and then turn into the dining-room. Bird took off his coat, and then followed the housemaid into the dining-room to ask her to bring his dinner, but there was no one in the room! Having entered through the only door, Bird was keenly aware that the housemaid could not have left without passing him. Bothered, he went upstairs and told his wife what had happened, whereupon she or Miss Laurence told him that Hunt, among others, had also seen such a figure in the house. Bird never saw the phantom again, though he looked for it... and he eventually came to the conclusion that one of the housemaids must have actually been there and simply have entered a different door than he had initially thought.

        Attempts by Laurence to locate the former housemaid Harriet for the SPR did not pan out, which is unfortunate... it seems she may have encountered the phantom more than anyone else in the house!

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