Halloween Spooktacular – The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall

Hello kiddies! Hehehehe…. Inasmuch as Halloween is coming up, I figured I’d step way, way out of my comfort zone and cover some ghosts, spectres, revenants, and other animated unliving undead things. ABC is not about those for the sake of focus, so why not talk about them here? I will endeavor to bring you some of those obscure spirits over the next few days. But there isn’t a ghost of a chance they’ll end up in the book! Hahahahaha!

Ahem. Our first entry in our Halloween Spooktacular is the Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, from the short story of the same name by John Kendrick Bangs. I have vivid memories of this story because it was in one of those reading textbooks and I really liked the ghost. But little did I know of an important alteration that had been made…

Onwards! You can read the entire story at this site, and both the images (illustrator unknown) are from there. I could post the entire story here but I’d rather not!

The first paragraph of the story lets us know straight away what the problem is.

The trouble with Harrowby Hall was that it was haunted, what was worse, the ghost did not content itself with merely appearing at the bedside of the afflicted person who saw it, but persisted in remaining there for one mortal hour before it would disappear.

It never appeared except on Christmas eve, and then as the clock was striking twelve, in which respect alone was it lacking in that originality which in these days is a sine qua non of success in spectral life.

The ghost in question is the Water Ghost, a “damp and dewy lady” with “cavernous blue eyes”, a “gurgling voice”, and “long, aqueously bony fingers” twined with “bits of dripping seaweed”. She shows up and sticks around her victim for one whole hour, successfully drenching them, soaking their clothes, flooding their surroundings, and dampening their spirits.

water ghost01

Who is our leading lady? She reveals herself to be a distant ancestor of the Oglethorpes that live in Harrowby Hall.

“I was not to blame, sir,” returned the lady. “It was my father’s fault. He it was who built Harrowby Hall, and the haunted chamber was to have been mine. My father had it furnished in pink and yellow, knowing well that blue and gray formed the only combination of color I could tolerate. He did it merely to spite me, and, with what I deem a proper spirit, I declined to live in the room; whereupon my father said I could live there or on the lawn, he didn’t care which. That night I ran from the house and jumped over the cliff into the sea.”

“That was rash,” said the master of Harrowby.

“So I’ve heard,” returned the ghost. “If I had known what the consequences were to be I should not have jumped; but I really never realized what I was doing until after I was drowned. I had been drowned a week when a sea nymph came to me and informed me that I was to be one of her followers forever afterwards, adding that it should be my doom to haunt Harrowby Hall for one hour every Christmas eve throughout the rest of eternity. I was to haunt that room on such Christmas eves as I found it inhabited; and if it should turn out not to be inhabited, I was and am to spend the allotted hour with the head of the house.”

She is also not above some repartee with her haunting victims either.

“Far be it from me to be impolite to a woman, madam, but I’m hanged if it wouldn’t please me better if you’d stop these infernal visits of yours to this house. Go sit out on the lake, if you like that sort of thing; soak the water-butt, if you wish; but do not, I implore you, come into a gentleman’s house and saturate him and his possessions in this way. It is damned disagreeable.”

“Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe,” said the ghost, in a gurgling voice, “you don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Madam,” returned the unhappy householder, “I wish that remark were strictly truthful. I was talking about you. It would be shillings and pence — nay, pounds, in my pocket, madam, if I did not know you.”

“That is a bit of specious nonsense,” returned the ghost, throwing a quart of indignation into the face of the master of Harrowby. “[…] It is no pleasure to me to enter this house, and ruin and mildew everything I touch. I never aspired to be a shower-bath, but it is my doom. Do you know who I am?”

“No, I don’t,” returned the master of Harrowby. “I should say you were the Lady of the Lake, or Little Sallie Waters.”

“You are a witty man for your years,” said the ghost.

“Well, my humor is drier than yours ever will be,” returned the master.

“No doubt. I’m never dry. I am the Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, and dryness is a quality entirely beyond my wildest hope. I have been the incumbent of this highly unpleasant office for two hundred years tonight.”

She continues to plague the masters of Harrowby Hall until the newest heir finds himself a diving suit, which he stuffs with warm clothing and wears, remaining perfectly dry.

water ghost08

Then he gets rid of her, in a twist that caught younger-me by surprise and which I saw as being needlessly cruel. He goes for a stroll in the cold winter air, and the ghost has no choice but to follow him. She freezes solid in the middle of crying and begging him for mercy. Then she is shipped off to a refrigerated warehouse to stay for the foreseeable future. The end! *laugh track*

… or is it? While this fate worse than death seemed to be a straightforward ending and we’re supposed to sympathize with Oglethorpe, it turns out that the reading book I got it from had pruned the very last paragraph, which, when added, suggests a whole new way to read the story.

As for the heir of Harrowby, his success in coping with a ghost has made him famous, a fame that still lingers about him, although his victory took place some twenty years ago; and so far from being unpopular with the fair sex, as he was when we first knew him, he has not only been married twice, but is to lead a third bride to the altar before the year is out.

Oh. Oh…

Not that the story isn’t open to feminist readings, what with sentences like a “sudden incursion of aqueous femininity”. But I’ll leave the reader to discover and judge for themselves.

That’s it for now. Tuck yourselves in, have a nice drink of water… do you thirst for more? HAW HAW HAW!


  1. I always thought the story was cruel, especially since Bangs told us she was compelled to haunt the place against her will, making the punishment unjust as well as ungallant. Bangs may have had a misogynistic streak. I always hoped that she was freed by a bomb demolishing the warehouse during the blitz.


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