The Longleat Light

According to his son, Frank De Felitta was charged by NBC news with creating a documentary based on Diane Norman’s book, “The Stately Ghosts of England.” De Felitta was a writer and may be more recognized as having been the author of the book turned film, “The Entity.” The connection between the case that, “The Entity,” was based on and the UCLA parapsychologists linked with the story is an important one. I plan on addressing this importance at some point in a future blog entry.

The production of, “The Stately Ghosts of England,” dates back to 1964 and it was hosted by Margaret Rutherford and Tom Corbett. Rutherford was a beloved English actress and Corbett was a professed psychic. The show is quite dramatic, yet entertaining, and easily accessible on YouTube should you ever decide to watch it. (the light starts around the 18:00 minute mark)

Included in the documentary is footage of a supposed ghostly light traversing a hallway in Longleat Castle of the seat of Marquesses of Bath (England). The provenance of the spectral light is traced to an electrician named, Jeff Smith. The way I became aware of the Longleat Light was because it was rebroadcast on the TV show, “Sightings,” in the 1990s. Tim White hosted an hour long episode that was strictly devoted to ghosts. I made a mental note of the footage at that time and never forgot its existence.

A few years ago I decided to go back and look at the Longleat Light again. Apart from watching the footage, I also emailed the business operation that oversees tourism at Longleat castle. Because I had a hypothesis I wanted to test, I asked if someone there could take some photos for me of the hallway in question. Because of security reasons, and understandably so, my request was denied. I had intended to write up a full report trying to further my hypothesis with images, explanations, and even some trigonometry. Unfortunately, I allowed the excuse of a busy schedule to impede my plans and I still have yet to put together a more formal analysis of the film.

I still need to improve my knowledge of photography and videography so I can speak more technically to anomalistic electronic imagery. Without getting lost in terminology, I feel it is rather simple to explain what is happening in the footage when the light is seen in motion.

What may first be considered is the fact that Jeff Smith says the windows in the area had been blacked out. He states that the observing conditions were controlled by eliminating the possibility of outside sources of light. I realize these are the words that are said, but one must consider the possibility that not enough controls were in place after all. The film frames capturing the light indicate that there was indeed an allowance of some form of light into the immediate environment. My first guess is certainly not that of light from car headlights, either. There are already apparent sources of light in the footage in the form of a lightbulb farther down the hallway, as well as the illumination of the upper right portion of the hallway up above and in between the two doors where the light supposedly travels through. But, these two light sources are not the ones in question that account for the mystery light.

1. To begin, a sliver of light first appears on the smaller door on the left before it takes that of a full rectangular shape. This fact implies angularity that is relative from the angle of the light source to the opening allowing light to pass through. The light is backgrounded by the flat surface of a small door which allows a viewer of the film to see the light begin to travel its path. There is never even a need for the invocation of a form of physics defying light that can teleport itself.

2. The light moves across the lower side of the wall and across the bottom of a doorway. The gap in space between the two doors does not reflect light because there is the brief absence of the continuity of a flat surface, such as a door or wall. The angle is such that the light is most likely higher than the floor at that point and is temporarily being concealed by the corner wall of the second door until the light makes its way over so it can make contact with the flat wall of door number two. You only see the light pick back up again in its more rectangular shape once it has time to move across the open area and reflect off of a flat surface again on the lower second doorway. This momentary interruption adds a bit to what may appear to be a snakelike effect given to the band of light that is moving across from door to door.

3. The light source causing this event is coming from the above left. I asked the Longleat tourist business office for photos so I could see if there is a transom or any other type of an opening that could have allowed light to pass through at a steep angle from up above and to the left. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that there is an allowance of a form of purely natural light (not supernatural) emanating somewhere from the upper left corner of the field of view. We have to keep in mind that this is a TV production, so when it comes to TV productions, there is always the possibility of license to consider. But, I am not assuming anything suspect took place by Mr. Smith. Hoaxes are not always the cause for flawed pieces of evidence.

4. A good portion of the second door on the right also briefly reflects this source of light across a greater part of its entire surface right before the light goes away. This would indicate the peak of the light comes through the opening as its source moves to the left, shortly before it begins to become concealed as it moves out of range of whatver opening or point of origin it is beaming through. Once this fact is recognized, the appearance of the light traveling through one door and into another becomes even less believable. What is happening is there is quite a normal source of light being allowed to shine down on the first door, then by the incoming light’s moving in a right to left motion, the light is merely shining its way down the hall until it goes behind whatever opening allowed it to enter the hallway in the first place. Only the illusion is given is that an intelligent light is passing from one door to another.

5. This explanation would come to make even more sense if one considers the frame rate at which the footage is shown. If the frame rate per second is slowed down at all, then such a measure would add to the appearance that the light is slowly moving and ambling as with purpose versus there just being a ray of light quickly passing through a window from side to side. The same effect could happen if the frame rate were advanced to replay what could also be elapsed time of light shining through an opening. If minutes passed while the source of light was passing through an opening and into the hallway, then if the frame rate is sped up to show the path of the light in just seconds, a distortion of what is really being seen would occur. But, if you listen to the sound effects of the reel-to-reel projector in the documentary, the suggestion is being made that we are supposed to be getting a rewind and replay of the footage played at a standard rate in frames per second. When I watch the clip, I am not convinced that what we are seeing take place is actually in standard frames per second.

There are several factors at play. If the light source is passing through an unaccounted for opening, window, transom, etc., how big is the opening? You could begin to calculate the amount of time it would have taken for a beam of light to travel from door to door. Also, I am left to explain this piece of footage as if it definitely was obtained during the nighttime. When I went back and watched the clip many times a few years back, I really felt that a big part of the answer was in the frame rate at which the footage is observed. I felt that if you had sunlight entering the hallway and it was filmed, then by advancing the frame rate you would then see the light in time elapsed form, which would contribute to a ghostly quality. But, I am forced to assume the nighttime is when the footage was taken because of the mentioning of automobile headlights, because Jeff Smith mentions that the light could not have been caused by the moon, and because Mr. Smith specifically mentions the word night. Based on Mr. Smith’s words he is indicating that the camera would have been running when there would not have been a chance of sunlight.

I had kept this possibility, however low, on the table should there have been a chance that sunlight was picked up at dawn at the conclusion of an overnight stakeout, or perhaps nearer to dusk had the beginnings of an overnight stakeout occurred before full sunset. This postulate, however, would have to take into account the position of the sun at a particular time of day and whether or not that angle of the sunlight would correspond to the point of origin in the Longleat hallway.

I wanted to ask the Longleat staff what orientation the hallway lies on as far as the East/West directions? I have briefly searched for some floor plans, and if I ever have time to sit down and do some more research, I could figure out the answer. But, trying to pinpoint where there might be an opening for allowing light into the hallway would be a much tougher task. I will probably never have my questions answered fully, but all the same, I have no doubt that the light is quite normal in nature, regardless of its source. The only reason I thought about the sunlight is because of the frames per second question, and also because when it comes to anecdotal description of a said event, it is still best to keep all options on the table and allow the analysis of evidence to lead to the best conclusion. I am not saying that sunlight is the answer. I am tasked with explaining the light as a nighttime event, which is nothing dramatic. This assumption of the Longleat Light occurring at night just means that the source of light would have been something other than the Sun.

This whole Longleat Light affair is simply explained through the correlations of a light moving right to left while passing through an exposure that is not blacked out from light, allowing a light beam to shine down on a hallway, with the angularities easily explaining the travel of the light.

These numbered notes above are very brief,  and as I intimated, the entire case can be broken down with much more detail. If time should ever allow I would look forward to trying to document the cause of this Longleat Light with more technical specificity. In the meantime, I have tried to generally illustrate how stepping back and looking at a claim can sometimes lead to much better candidates of explanation than that of ghosts. It can be far too easy to quickly sanction a piece of evidence as proof before first evaluating it against natural explanation. Ghostly lights that walk through doorways in the halls of haunted castles make for much better stories, but in terms of reality, I am much better off taking the time to look for the most right explanation. I fervently feel that the Longleat Light is not adequate evidence for ghostly activity, but is rather made conducive to explanation through description of a combination of light and angles.



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Image courtesy of Eupedia

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