Domestic Terrors: Phantom Houses in Ghost Lore
Experiences of “vanishing houses” – usually believed to be evidence of time slips or “wrinkles in time”-- have been told in many parts of the world and in many eras.
Probably the most well-known of these incidents became known as the Moberly–Jourdain incident, otherwise known as the Ghosts of Petit Trianon, which supposedly were experienced by Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain in Versailles, France, in the early 20th century. During a visit to the Petit Trianon, a small house on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, the two women claimed to have been transported to the site the way it had looked in the 18th century, and to have even seen a bridge and other structures that they could not have known about, but which had been demolished years before. They also claimed to have seen the ghosts of Marie Antoinette and other prominent 18th-century characters.
Above, the Palace of Versailles, where the Petit Trianon incident occurred.
During the experience, the women said they felt an overpowering sense of oppression and a sinister feeling from the people they encountered. They also described the scenery and its inhabitants as “flat and lifeless.”
The pair became interested in the history of Versailles after their experience, and they soon returned to visit the Trianon gardens again, but they could not find the path they had walked. Nor could they locate the bridge they’d seen. Further, while the gardens had been nearly empty on their earlier visit, populated with just a few antiquely- attired people, now they were filled with modern tourists. In 1911, the two women published their experiences in a book called An Adventure. Though the book was widely popular, the pair was roundly shamed by critics, including the illustrious Society for Psychical Research, who believed the two women had simply been mistaken about the preternatural nature of what they had seen.
Rougham Green, in the English region of Suffolk, has for a century and a half hosted a phantom house. In 1860, a local farmer, Robert Palfrey, was baling hay on a summer evening when he felt a sudden chill on the warm night. He looked up to see a large, red brick house with lush gardens surrounding it, though no house existed in the area. Some years later, in 1912, Palfrey’s grandson, James Cobbold, was driving a pony trap with the village butcher, George Waylett, when again the temperature plummeted and they heard a whooshing noise. The animal reared, throwing Waylett to the ground. There, in front of the men and the pony, had appeared a massive Georgian house, surrounded beautiful blooming gardens, though a moment before there had been only a farm field and no structures of any kind. Seconds later, the house became enshrouded in mist—and then vanished again. The house would be seen again in 1926 when a young teacher and her pupil were walking through the area and came upon a huge house with a wall surrounding it and huge iron gates at the entrance. Returning home, the teacher—new to the area—inquired as to the residents of the grand home. She was informed that there was no such house in existence. Sure enough, when the pair returned to the site on another walk, they found the spot empty.
Similar tales have been told in America, most predominantly of the mysterious area known as Bachelors Grove, just southwest of Chicago. This old pioneer settlement--now overtaken by forest preserves--has not boasted any houses or structures since the 1920s, but this does not stop visitors from seeing a mysterious "Magic House" in the woods here. The house will be there one moment and gone the next, or shrink as the curious approach it, blinking out like a light bulb after a time. Many have described the house as giving off a malevolent aura, and more than one person has had nightmares about it after seeing it off the forest path.
Above, vandalism--along with a vanishing house--has long haunted Bachelors Grove Cemetery, just south of Chicago. This photo was taken in 1989, the day the last burial was done here. Today, vandalism is less frequent, but much decay, and many ghost stories, remain. Photo by Clay Krueger.
In a similar vein, at the (very real) old estate called Summerwind in the Wisconsin North Woods, a former owner insisted that the sizes of the mansion's rooms would change shape and size through some sinister mechanism, and this observation was part of what led his family to flee the house forever.
You can read the original story of the Petit Trianon on Google Books at this link.
Psssst.... We make fragrances inspired by Bachelors Grove and Summerwind. You can see them among our Cargo elsewhere on this site.
You can learn more about Bachelors Grove at my website, Bachelors Grove Forever. Enjoy!