1886, April: The Woman on the Verandah

In April, 1886, Mrs. Alderson and her son, an undergraduate in college, were spending Easter vacation at a house near the beach in the town of Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, England. The house had a good view of the ocean, with no tall plants or other obstructions in the way; and, as it had been a clear and beautiful day, and was an equally fine evening, when Miss Jowett -- the landlady's daughter -- brought in a lamp for Alderson and her son, Alderson requested that the blinds for the main window be left open, as she wanted to watch the ocean while lying on the sofa. Her son was occupied at the table, reading.

        Alderson had received a letter from her sister earlier in the day telling her that one of the servants had claimed to see a ghost; so, admittedly, Alderson had been thinking about ghosts and odd matters at the time. So, when she first saw the outline of a woman standing on the verandah, she did not immediately react, rather studying the figure while questioning her own perceptions of it.

        The woman was just outlined against the sky in the darkness but, despite Alderson's sureness that the figure was some form of phantom, appeared to be completely solid. The figure was of a broad woman, not very tall, wearing an "old fashioned bonnet," and white gloves on her hands. After examining this figure for quite some time, Alderson looked away, purposely for a short time. When she directed her gaze back to where the figure had been outside the window, there was now a white marble cross with a bit of the top broken off in front of the figure, hiding the hands, and a railing on one side of the woman, "such as one sometimes sees in graveyards."

        Alderman watched the figure for a further 20 minutes before she asked her son to come from the table and look; she didn't tell him what she was looking at, just to come look. His first response was "What an uncanny sight!" He then described to his mother the same woman and cross that she was seeing. Alderman then rang her bell, summoning Miss Jowett, and asked her to look also, again not saying anything else in advance. She also described seeing the woman and the cross.

The figure.
The figure... [Larger version here]

        All three of them looked about the room for anything that might be creating a reflection that would explain the figure, but nothing could be found. Alderson's son then went out to the verandah through an open window on the side, from which the figure could not be seen directly, and walked to where the woman should have been... and found nothing out on the verandah. When he re-joined his mother and Jowett, the figure could still be seen from their position within the room.

        As they continued to discuss what they were looking at, Jowett became increasingly worried that it might be a bad omen that foretold death or misfortune, and as Alderson and her son were trying to calm Jowett down the figure disappeared, though no one directly saw this happen. The figure had been visible for nearly an hour, from about 9:00PM to 10:00PM.

Investigations

        The original report was made to the Oxford Phasmatological Society, a group devoted to the investigation of strange matters that existed from 1879-1885. This group was founded before the better known Society for Psychical Research [SPR], and shared much of their work with the larger society... the account above was published in the SPR's Journal for April 1888, two years after the event had occurred, but all of the investigation had been done in 1887 by F. C. S. Schiller of the Oxford Phasmatological Society.

        Schiller asked for and received letters from both Miss Jowett and Alderson's son, E. H. Alderson, largely confirming Mrs. Alderson's account of the strange matter. The account above is summed up from all of these.

        The main question, of course, is what did the group see? While the figure could be a ghost, it was one unknown to the group. Alternatively, they may have all hallucinated... but Alderson's care in not telling either her son or Jowett what she was seeing makes that a very unlikely possibility. It's an odd case, most definitely.