Ghost Club, The First Society Dedicated To The Study Of Ghosts
A 19th-century English club counted among its most illustrious members W. B. Yeats, Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In many ways, ghosts continue to inhabit the world of the living. In our collective imagination, they’ve been named and represented for centuries. But English culture is, perhaps, that one culture most fascinated by the nature of these supernatural beings. From the haunting by the ghost of King Hamlet to the specters of Dickens and Oscar Wilde, spirits have populated English art and everyday life since time immemorial. It’s no accident, then, that the first organization created for the study of these beings, the Ghost Club, came to be in the British Isles.
Founded in 1862, the club was founded in the English town of Cambridge. Its earliest beginnings date from 1855, when a group of students at Trinity College began to discuss and investigate cases of ghosts and appearances. The official founding, though, happened in London in 1862, and in those years meetings were attended by writers Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as by academics and clerics. One of the investigations was the then-famous fraud of the Davenport brothers, who’d used illusionist tricks to demonstrate their ability to contact the dead. The group continued investigating spiritist phenomena until the club’s dissolution during the decade of 1870, soon after the death of Dickens.
But the Ghost Club was then reopened on November 2, 1882 – All Saints’ Day – by the famous Reverend and medium, Stainton Moses, and by the writer, Alaric Alfred Watts, who claimed to be the original founders of the organization. For years, their unique group remained selective and secret, composed of members who believed blindly in the existence of ghosts as an unquestionable fact and who were dedicated to investigating the large number of cases and reports of paranormal activity of the time. Every November 2nd, the names of all the members (living and dead) of the eccentric club were recited (some participants claimed that sometimes deceased members of the group would make appearances at such meetings).
The end of the 19th-century represented the apogee of the Ghost Club, and it should come as no surprise, as Victorian England was characterized by an intimacy with death in cultural expressions like memento mori, post-mortem photography and a taste for practices like occultism and spiritualism. All of these resulted in curious artifacts intended to detect ghosts and other eccentricities. At the club’s height, meetings of the curious group included discussions of Egyptian magic and superhuman abilities like clairvoyance, among other topics.
The dawn of the 20th-century brought new airs to the Ghost Club. Poet, W. B. Yeats joined the organization in 1911, and research began to take place more in laboratories than through paranormal rites. The discipline of psychology also began to permeate the club’s studies but, through a lack of support, it closed its doors in 1936, after 485 meetings. The archives of the group were stored in the British Museum, with a warning that they should not to be opened until 1962. But the Ghost Club was reborn again and again, and in fact, it exists to this day. Over time, research into sightings of UFOs and beings from other planets have also been incorporated into its mission.
The Ghost Club continues to meet every month at the Victory Services Club, in central London. Even today, it carries out dozens of investigations of paranormal events every year. The group, besides inheriting a remarkable lineage, reminds us of the interminable enchantment that people feel for those with whom we subtly coexist; the ghosts.
*Images: 1) Ada Deane – Spirit Photographer, 1922, Gargantuan sound’s flickr; 2) William Hope, 1920, Tom Goskar’s flickr / Creative Commons; 3) William Hope, 1920, Wikimedia Commons
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