Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
VII BIRDS AND THE UNKNOWN
_Hauntings by the Phantasms of Birds_
One of the most curious cases of hauntings by the phantasms of birds happened towards the end of the eighteenth century in a church not twenty miles from London. The sexton started the rumours, declaring that he had heard strange noises, apparently proceeding from certain vaults containing the tombs of two old and distinguished families. The noises, which generally occurred on Friday nights, most often took the form of mockings, suggesting to some of the listeners--the enaction of a murder, and to others merely the flapping of wings.
The case soon attracted considerable attention, people flocking to the church from all over the country-side, and it was not long before certain persons came forward and declared they had ascertained the cause of the disturbance. The churchwarden, sexton, and his wife and others all swore to seeing a huge crow pecking and clawing at the coffins in the vaults, and flying about the chancel of the church, and perching on the communion rails. When they tried to seize it, it immediately vanished.
An old lady, who came of a family of well-to-do yeomen, and who lived near the church about that time, said that the people in the town had for many years been convinced the church there was haunted by the phantom of a bird, which they believed to be the earth-bound soul of a murderer, who, owing to his wealth, was interred in the churchyard, instead of being buried at the cross-roads with the customary wooden stake driven through the middle of his body. This belief of the yokels received some corroboration from a neighbouring squire, who said he had seen the phantasm, and was quite positive it was the earth-bound soul of a criminal whose family history was known to him, and whose remains lay in the churchyard.
This is all the information that I have been able to gather on the subject, but it is enough to, at least, suggest the church was, at one time, haunted by the phantom of a bird, but whether the earth-bound soul of a murderer taking that guise, or the spirit of an actual dead bird, it is impossible to say.
_The Ghost of an Evil Bird_
Henry Spicer, in his _Strange Things Amongst Us_, tells the story of a Captain Morgan, an honourable and vivacious gentleman, who, arriving in London in 18--, puts up for the night in a large, old-fashioned hotel. The room in which he slept was full of heavy, antique furniture, reminiscent of the days of King George I, one of the worst periods in modern English history for crime. Despite, however, his grimly suggestive surroundings, Captain Morgan quickly got into bed and was soon asleep. He was abruptly awakened by the sound of flapping, and, on looking up, he saw a huge black bird with outstretched wings and fiery red eyes perched on the rail at the foot of the four-poster bed.
The creature flew at him and endeavoured to peck his eyes. Captain Morgan resisted, and after a desperate struggle succeeded in driving it to a sofa in the corner of the room, where it settled down and regarded him with great fear in its eyes. Determined to destroy it, he flung himself on the top of it, when, to his surprise and terror, it immediately crumbled into nothingness. He left the house early next morning, convinced that what he had seen was a ghost, but Mr. Spicer offers no explanation as to how one should classify the phenomenon.
It may have been the earth-bound spirit of the criminal or viciously inclined person who had once lived there, or it may have been the phantom of an actual bird. Either alternative is feasible.
I have heard there is an old house near Poole, in Dorset, and another in Essex, which were formerly haunted by spectral birds, and that as late as 1860 the phantasm of a bird, many times the size of a raven, was so frequently seen by the inmates of a house in Dean Street, Soho, that they eventually grew quite accustomed to it. But bird hauntings are not confined to houses, and are far more often to be met with out of doors; indeed there are very few woods, and moors, and commons that are not subjected to them. I have constantly seen the spirits of all manner of birds in the parks in Dublin and London. Greenwich Park, in particular, is full of them.
_Addendum to Birds and the Unknown_
Though their unlovely aspect and solitary mode of life may in some measure account for the prejudice and suspicion with which the owl, crow, raven, and one or two other birds have always been regarded, there are undoubtedly other and more subtle reasons for their unpopularity.