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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wick

Horror During Christmas

Hidden beneath the saccharine-sweet exterior that saturates the Yuletide season, there lies a somewhat dark and ominous history. For many families, Christmas was one of the few times of year when they might occasionally find themselves united under one roof, which led to the evolution of some customs and traditions which may not seem appropriate compared to how we now spend the festive period.

The concept of recounting scary stories and ghosts tales in an effort to shock and appal your assembled audience might seem like something more at home during Halloween. And yet historically, the act of trying to out-scare your relatives with ever more horrifying and gory anecdotes used to be a key part of festive gatherings.

Tales shared during Christmas

Tall tales involving the ghosts of departed relatives and neighbors were a traditional and regular feature of Christmas day, as well as stories detailing the grisly exploits of a number of festive demons and monsters. Witches and vengeful spirits such as Krampus and Hans Trapp remained a significant trope in Yuletide celebrations, acting as a reminder that sometimes the more ungrateful members of society could expect to receive nothing more at Christmas than what they ultimately deserved.

Over time, these darker elements have slowly disappeared from the festive landscape, but with the rapid expansion of global communications and the mass media, it has never been more evident that for a certain percentage of the world's population, the 25th of December can often turn out to be just another day. The reality is that unexpected things could potentially happen to people all year round and the season of goodwill won't necessarily protect you from the dangers that are lurking out there in the darker corners of society. This was certainly the case in the three stories we're going to look at now, all of which involved seemingly average and everyday participants, who ended up being subjected to some far from happy holidays.

Disappearance of Oliver Lerch

On the evening of the 24th of December in 1890, the Reverend Samuel Mallalieu had been invited to celebrate the festivities at the house of one of his congregation. Mallalieu was the Methodist Minister for the town of South Bend in Indiana and the property in question belonged to a local farmer named Tom Lerch. When the clergyman arrived, he found the celebrations in full swing, with many other guests already in attendance. In addition to Mr. And Mrs. Lerch themselves, their sons Oliver, and Jim were also present, as well as several of the family members and neighbors.

Amongst this number was Lillian Hirsh, the daughter of a Chicago Attorney and the girlfriend of 20 year old Oliver. By 10:00 pm, the gathering had managed to drink the entire supply of water. As a result, Oliver was asked by his father to go and fetch some more from the outside well. There had been something of a blizzard in the week previous, and the Lerch property was covered in a thick blanket of crisp white snow, apart from the main carriageway which had been cleared for the arrival of guests.

Pulling on his snow boots and a thick jacket, Oliver kissed his girlfriend and then made his way out into the night carrying two empty pails. Approximately five minutes later, the visitors were shocked to hear what sounded like screaming coming from outside and several of them including Mallalieu and Hirsh ran out to see what was happening. Mallalieu would later testify that when he had run outside, he could clearly hear Oliver's voice being carried along the night sky, screaming and pleading for help.

The only problem was that Oliver himself was nowhere to be seen. In the dim light coming from the moonlit clouds above, the Reverend could see the missing man's footprints in the snow, traveling in a straight line up to a point just short of the well itself, where they came to an abrupt halt. There were no signs of a struggle or a disturbance and one of the two metal pails he had been carrying lay discarded next to where the footprints ceased.

Suddenly, Oliver was heard to shout, "Help, help, it's got me!" As the throng of worried guests looked all around in bewilderment, there was a further piercing scream and the assembled witnesses suddenly realized that all of his cries were coming from inside the clouds directly above them. For the next few minutes, Oliver continued to cry out and plead for help, his voice gradually becoming fainter and fainter until it faded away altogether. The following morning, a full search of the farm land surrounding the house was organized by the authorities, but no trace of Oliver Lurch was ever found. It was as if something had come down out of the night sky and carried him away.

Theories about what might have happened to the missing farmer's son range from the unlikely to the downright impossible. Some speculated that he had been followed outside by another party goer who had murdered him and then thrown his body down the well. The killer had been concealed themselves and imitated his voice successfully, fooling the drunken guests who had stumbled outside before rejoining their ranks. Another suggestion was that the Unlucky youth have been snagged on the anchor line of a passing hot air balloon, and had been slowly carried away to his death, his body deposited some distance away and never identified.

More outlandish explanations include that he was taken away by some form of flying cryptid, or that he may be one of the earliest recorded victims of a UFO abduction. But many skeptics argue that the tale is entirely fictitious and is nothing more than an adaption of Charles Ashmore's Trail by Ambrose Bierce.

'The White Lady'

Bramshill House is a sprawling Jacobean Mansion, which is located in the northeast of the English County of Hampshire, not far from the town of Wokingham. Whilst a residence of some kind has existed at the location dating as far back as the 14th century, the house in its current form was constructed in the early Sixteen hundreds and holds the accolade of being one of the most haunted properties in the United Kingdom. Throughout the years, no less than 14 different ghosts have been reported by both guests and visitors. These include the spirit of a gardener who drowned in the lake that was situated on the property and also the apparition of a young boy who is often seen crying, manifesting in the library and attempting to hold the hands of the people who see him. But it is Bramshill's most famous resident, The White Lady, which terrifies the guests more than any other, the precursor to a harrowing tale which all began in Italy.

The Orsini clan had longer associated themselves with the upper echelons of Italian society, and in time it was the turn of their youngest daughter Ginevre to marry into the ranks of another family of equal nobility. The excited fifteen-year-old went on to be married on Christmas Eve of 1747, in a lavish ceremony at her ancestral home.

When the wedding breakfast had ended, the young bride playfully took hold of a sprig of mistletoe and then challenged her new husband to a game of hide-and-seek. After a short time, the young groom conducted a search of the house, but was unable to find his young wife. Enlisting the help of some of the guests, he tried again, but there was still no sign of her. As time passed, further frantic searches of the property were conducted, but young Ginevre was never found.

Eventually, her anguished family abandoned the house, leaving for a new life in France. It was only when their old home was being renovated for new owners, that builders moving an old oak chest down from the upper levels found the skeletal remains of the missing girl lying inside, still clad in her wedding gown and holding mistletoe in her hand. It was clear that after she had concealed herself inside the chest, the spring lock had snapped shut behind her, entombing her within.

The mistletoe chest, as it came to be known, was later acquired by Sir John Cope, a British banker and politician who had made Bramshill House his family home some years previous. He has been holidaying in Italy and took his new purchase home with him when he returned to England. It soon became apparent that the chest itself was not the only thing that the Baronet had imported. Sightings of a woman dressed all in white and weeping to herself were soon reported in both The long Corridor and the Fleur De Lys room, both of which were in the same part of the house where the chest had been placed.

These encounters with the white lady continued through the years, with Lady Joan Penelope Cope recalling in her memoirs that both her and her brother had been visited by the apparition in their bedrooms when they were children. During the second world war, the deposed King Michael of Greece, resided with his family at Bramshill's house. Almost at once, his children came to him crying, stating that a lady in a white dress kept walking through their bedrooms at night.

At first, the king did not believe such tall stories, until he himself witnessed the ghost walk past him and right through a wall when he had been seated in his study. The panicked Monarch ordered that the chest be subjected to an exorcism, but still sightings of the right lady persist.

One reason not to consume too much alcohol

For some considerable amount of time, the small village of Seneca in Northern Illinois was famous for little more than the fact that the native people Kickapoo tribe had taken great exception to the visiting French missionary who had first tried to convert them to Christianity during the late sixteen hundreds. They had demonstrated their rejection of his efforts by hacking him to pieces, as he prostrated himself before them in prayer. But the settlement would find itself somewhat unexpectedly thrust into the national consciousness following a chilling event which transpired there in the early hours of Christmas day in 1885.

The incident in question took place at an isolated farmstead on the periphery of the village where Patrick and Matilda Rooney had been celebrating Christmas Eve with their son Jonathan, and a farmhand named John Larson. All four occupants of the premises had merrily consumed a considerable amount of whiskey that evening and had not retired to their beds until a suitably late time.

In the early hours of the following morning, Larson had awoken suddenly after experiencing a severe coughing fit, before shrugging off the event and falling back into a deep slumber.

When he woke again sometime later, he was startled to see traces of what appeared to be blood and soot stained on his pillow.

Arising in a state of confusion, he made his way out of his room on to the upstairs landing, to find the door to Mr. And Mrs. Rooney's bedroom unexpectedly ajar. To his shock, he found Patrick lying deceased on the bedroom floor, but nothing could prepare the farm worker for what awaited him downstairs in the kitchen. In the center of the kitchen floor, a three foot wide hole had been burned right down through the wooden floorboards of the building. A small pile of ash and bone had been unceremoniously deposited onto the scorched patch of Earth and rock that was now exposed, along with what appeared to be a human skull and pieces of backbone. But it was what was lying on the floor alongside the hole that truly horrified the farmhand.

A pair of familiar leather shoes lay discarded to one side, still containing the owner's feet, which were blackened and seared but remained largely intact. As he struggled to take in what remained of his employer, Larson noticed a half-burned candle on the kitchen table. But besides a strange and greasy substance which had been deposited on the roof ceilings and walls, nothing else appeared to have been damaged by the fire. The local physician. Dr. Floyd Clendenin found his initial irritation at having people back to attend the address on Christmas day, being replaced with a feeling of utter disbelief.

Matilda Rooney had weighed approximately 160 lbs and the doctor estimated it would have taken temperatures in the region of 1400 degrees Celsius to reduce her body to nothing more than the small pile of sooty particulate that now remained. And yet, not a stick of furniture in the kitchen had sustained any significant level of damage. The cause of Patrick Rooney's death was later discovered to be smoke inhalation. A diagnosis that was seemingly confirmed when the hapless John Larson also went on to expire a mere two weeks later. The cause of his death proved to be severe damage to his lungs.

It has been hypothesized that Matilda died from a mysterious phenomenon known as spontaneous human combustion, where a person's body can be near completely destroyed by a rapid and intensely burning fire which bursts into life with no apparent source. With his bedroom door left open, it is possible that her husband died from a cloud of smoke and soot that was propelled upstairs during this rapid burn, with John Larson's life only partially prolonged by the fact that his bedroom door had been closed at the time.

Arguments have been made that Larson bore ill will to his masters and that he died as a result of a botched attempt to kill them. But no explanation for how he was able to light a fire in a wood furnished cabin and prevented it from spreading has ever been offered. For the God-fearing people of Seneca, there was only one explanation. Alcohol was the work of the devil, and in this case, committing the sin had also acted as the punishment, its fumes fueling the flames of the candle that had caught Matilda as she staggered past on her way upstairs to bed.

So, however you choose to spend the Christmas period, love, laugh, eat and drink if you are so inclined, spend your time with those closest to you, for as we have shown, life is too short.


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