Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 22, 2013 7:13:06 GMT -5
A Christmas Carol: Ghost of Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a story about ghostly visitors, had a profound and lasting effect on the English-speaking world. To many, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Maybe it is this keen concentration on the supernatural that has resulted in so many British ghosts having chosen to appear at Christmastime.
Although ghost stories had long been a Yuletide tradition in England, after Dickens wrote his memorable tale, ghost stories became as much a part of Christmas as holly, roast goose and plum pudding.
Dickens was a young man, only 31-years-old, when he penned what has become the most popular secular Christmas story of all time. He was a prolific writer – the Stephen King of the 19th century, one might say – producing such memorable works as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Bleak House and Great Expectations. Yet, even after he reached old age, A Christmas Carol remained the most popular and was the story he was asked to read again and again before paying audiences. The most memorable reading of the Dickens classic by its author took place March 18, 1870, after which The London Illustrated News reported, “A Christmas Carol is the most delightful of little stories, and always commands the most profound attention. Mr. Dickens reads it with marvelous pathos, and in the reading, discriminates the characters with wonderful tact and evidently well-practiced ability.”
It must have been an unforgettable reading, indeed, for 39 years later, Dickens’s granddaughter, who was just 9-years-old when she attended the event, recalled her memory of her grandfather on stage that night as “the most vivid of all ... The awe and excitement of the occasion make my heart beat a little faster even now as I recall it.”
Perhaps this particular reading by Dickens was the most memorable because it was his last. Age had not been kind to Charles Dickens. Once a handsome young man with a thick head of lustrous hair, the passing years had turned him into a stooped, wrinkled, balding old geezer with a wispy, grey beard.
By the spring of 1870, Dickens was not only elderly, but ill. Still, he refused to succumb to his infirmities and continued to entertain and correspond with friends. In fact, he was working diligently on a new serial, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Six parts of the 12-part novel had been completed when Dickens suffered a paralytic stroke while having dinner the night of Wednesday, June 8, 1870, at Gad’s Hill Place, his country home near Rochester. He never regained consciousness and died the following day.
The famous author was laid out on his bed and a cloth tied under his chin to hold his mouth closed – a common practice at the time. As he lay there, growing cold, John Robert Millais sketched the great novelist. Mamie Dickens described the drawing as “most delicate and refined, and the likeness absolutely faithful to what my father looked in death.”
Dickens was born in Hampshire, but made Rochester his home and in later years, expressed a desire to be buried in the small graveyard adjacent to Rochester Castle, probably because many ideas came to him as he walked the streets of the historic town. But as often happens when an individual dies, those they leave behind often have ideas and Charles Dickens was laid to rest, not in the little burial ground he had chosen, but at Westminster Abbey, a more fitting final resting place for an author of his stature.
Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that the spirit of Charles Dickens himself “walks” on Christmas Eve. Whether it is because he resents the fact his family did not comply with his final wishes, or he just loves the Holiday season, shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, Mr. Dickens’s ghost – appearing as a young gentleman, not the bent old man he became in later life – materializes in the graveyard near Rochester Castle and strolls the cobbled streets of the city he loved.
Witnesses have observed the long-dead author standing in the deserted street – snowflakes glistening in his thick, dark hair – wistfully gazing upon what is now called Restoration House (below), so named because Charles II spent time there in 1600. It was on this spooky old building that Dickens based Miss Havisham’s Satis House in Great Expectations. In the well-known story, Pip muses: “I had stopped to look at the house as I passed, and its seared red-brick walls, blocked windows, and strong green ivy clasping even the stacks of the chimneys with twigs and tendons, as if with sinewy old arms, had made up a rich attractive mystery, of which I was the hero.”
But what Pip encountered inside Satis House was much more disturbing than any mystery he could have imagined. In the drawing room at the back of the dwelling, which had captured Pip’s interest, a table was laid for a wedding feast. But the wine, cakes and other delights tempted no one – at least no one among the living – for everything in the dimly lit room was enshrouded by cobwebs. The once tempting treats had been reduced to disgusting mold and the only guests were rats and spiders. (For those interested, Miss Havisham’s dreadful feast has been faithfully re-created at the Dickens Centre, Eastgate House, Rochester.)
After perusing Restoration House, the apparition of Mr. Dickens continues along the streets he knew so well in life. He arrives at the Corn Exchange at the stroke of midnight, looks up at the clock, tarries a few seconds to set his pocket watch, and disappears, not to be seen again until the following Christmas Eve.
Sources: Britain's Haunted Heritage by J.A. Brooks; The Life of Charles Dickens by John Forster; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; Historic UK; and Rochester Ghost Walks.