The Museum Ghost
But I was genuinely shocked to discover the fascinating tale of a frock-coated gentleman ghost that allegedly haunts the prestigious Yorkshire Museum while researching for Dancing With Dusty Fossils the second novel in my series about a WW2 York ladies’ detective agency.
I know that there’s more spooky sightings in York than any other city in England. Every medieval tavern seems to have its own ghost who jangles the keys and harasses the guests. Even the buildings on the hallowed ground around York Minster echo with the tramping feet of long-dead Roman legions, the rumble of cartwheels rolling over the cobbles and the screams of Royalist soldiers.
But I never expected to stumble across a ghost story linked to the Yorkshire Museum. This was the main seat of serious scientific learning and discovery before York University was built. The people who ran the museum were archaeologists, renowned antiquarians, and experts in the field of natural history. A ghost just didn’t belong there.
Alderman Edward Wooler of Darlington was one such gentleman. When he died in 1927, he left over 1,600 books on archaeology and local antiquities to the museum. During his life, he was in the habit of pushing letters, notes and other memorabilia inside the volumes; he used them as an informal filing system. But such a haphazard system has its problems – in death as well as in life.
After pulling out one of his own books and flicking through the pages, he tossed it onto the floor for the humans to clear up then promptly disappeared.
It was quickly established that the ghost of Alderman Wooler appeared every fourth Sunday at 7.40 p.m. on the dot, looking for something he’d lost. By the end of that year, evidence of the ghost’s antics – lots of scattered books – had been witnessed by several people, including a journalist from The Yorkshire Evening Press who duly reported it in the newspaper. Although no-one else, apart from the caretaker, had seen his spectral form or heard him speak.
Despite the turmoil, the Society for Psychical Research came twice to the museum to investigate the ghost. Sadly, both evenings were a non-event. No-one saw anything; Alderman Wooler didn’t appear.
Was I tempted to include the ghost of Alderman Wooler in Dancing With Dusty Fossils which features the brutal murder of a museum sub-curator? After all, novelists need book-lovers – and Alderman Wooler was definitely one of those.
Yes, in my more fanciful moments I toyed with the idea. Sometimes the ghost left muddy footprints on the tiled floor. Maybe I could use these as a red herring to distract my two private detectives, Jemma and Bobbie, from solving the murder? Perhaps I could write a scene where the killer spooks the spook – or the other way around?
But, ultimately, I decided to let Alderman Wooler rest in peace.
Most readers of crime fiction – and mine are no exception – expect the case to be solved by dogged detection and brilliant deduction; there’s no place for ghostly interference.
Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the grandfather of the genre, who attended many séances and popped up to Yorkshire to investigate the mystery of the Cottingley Fairies, downplayed his own fascination with the supernatural when it came to writing his stories. Other characters might be superstitious, but Sherlock Holmes isn’t. He’s the embodiment of logic and reason.
And then there was the small problem of space. There’s already three mysteries in Dancing With Dusty Fossils. Apart from solving the museum murder, Jemma and Bobbie are led a merry dance around the city by Jodie, Yorkshire’s most famous and spirited actress, whose aristocratic husband wants evidence for a divorce. In addition to that, Jemma is still looking for her own husband who’s gone AWOL from the RAF.
Quite frankly, there wasn’t room in the book for a ghost story as well, and I didn’t think including Alderman Wooler as a character would have matched the expectations of my readers.
Anyway, Dancing With Dusty Fossils was published – without a ghost – on November 15th 2022 and is available in eBook and paperback from all good bookstores.