“The Ghost-Hunter, and His Family” Published 1869 by D. & J. Earlier & Co.
I’ve said many times that someday I will take time to see how far back I can trace the term, “ghost hunter.” I’m sure others have already beaten me to the task. Thus far, in my own personal library, I have only gone as far back as 1869 in having any publications that use the term as if it were published in modern day. It should be noted that I haven’t made any conscious effort at trying to build my library around this historical tracing as more serious research takes priority. But, in terms of general purchases, this book is the earliest I own that liberally uses the phrase of, “ghost hunter.” It is this particular book in my collection that inspires my blog entry for the day.
If there is one thing that believers in ghosts and skeptics have in common, perhaps it is that of having an enthusiasm in expressing their views about the subject. What I have written from an editorial standpoint has been primarily that of skeptical opinion, and I have even devoted an entire composition to why I reject the term of, “ghost hunter,” being applied to me. However, upon introducing a reader to this nineteenth century book, you’ll see why in the spirit of things I will lightheartedly allow the term of, “ghost hunter,” to be used in my vicinity. But, only for this one time (that’s a joke; it’s just a joke).
Allow me to introduce you to the Brady family. The novel, “The Ghost-Hunter, and His Family,” takes place in Ireland in the southwestern part of the country. Randal Brady, the father, is an intelligent and highly resourceful man who is also highly traditional in customs and ethic. He plays host as patriarch to his wife, Betty, and their offspring. The eldest son, Morris, is a character that I give credit to for capturing an ethos that a seeker of ghosts should truly aspire to obtain. As I read excerpts from the book, I think that Morris and I would be related were I a fictional character. Of course, most people do regard me as a fictional character that they have the misfortune of seeing come to life on a daily basis.
I will pick up the story with the family congregating in their comfortable dwelling while they celebrated rites for All Saints Eve. They completed prayers for their deceased neighbor, Dennis Whelan, and the events of the rite in turn allow the reader to be introduced to Morris Brady, the beloved son and celebrated chaser of ghosts in the book’s telling. I apologize for making this piece of writing quote intensive, but one must see the actual words contained in the novel in order to get a true appreciation for the character of, Morris. It is this appreciation whereby his eagerness may be affectionately noted by either side of those who discuss the topic of ghosts.
It turns out that the prayers recited for Mr. Whelan, “had some mysterious effect on the ever vibrating nerves of Morris Brady.” The living quarters were only lit by candlelight as tradition cited that if anyone entered the premises before the proper hour, they were expected to bow and issue prayers for the deceased, as well. Another reason Morris won me over right away is because after having his ears singed by hailings given unto the departed, he,
“provided himself with a slate and pencil, and went on with the solution of a problem in Euclid; for, wild as was his head in many respects, it was a mathematical one during its quieter and more abstracted moments.”
Major points scored by our aspiring ghost detective! Visions of my academic hero, Martin Gardner, are running through my head! I can appreciate this quality of Morris’ all the more since I just scored dismally on a test about analyzing data. Since, on my test, the charts were all different, but with the same data, I did what my brain normally does and saw each comparatively instead of with one standing out. But, Morris would have not been so mortal! Morris thought energetically and mathematically, and thus far, we have the documentation of a ghost hunter I could have taken notes from.
Morris’ sister, Rose, also had her intrigue challenged by the story of Dennis Whelan. She proceeded to question her father, Randal, about his suppositions on Mr. Whelan and the status of his soul, as well as his ghost. But, after hearing his father’s musings, Morris abruptly replied,
“Pugh! there was no ghost there at all.” …He spoke with startling energy, and every eye was fixed on him. “Tho’ I wish there had been,” he added, setting his teeth, clenching his hands, and rolling his disturbed eyes.”
“Morris, that’s a bluff sayin’,” observed his father : “are you positive of its truth?”
“As sure as I have a head on my body, sir,” Morris replied impetuously.
“And how did you make so sure about the matther, my boy? You may have been mistaken, Morris.”
“I’m not mistaken, sir, cravin’ your pardon; I did make sure of id.”
“Tell me how, my good boy.”
” I sat at the loom myself, all night, watching for him.”
“And, he did not come to you?”
“I could neither see him nor hear him at his work : not a mouse stirred in the dark.”
It was at that point when Morris’ mother joined in the back and forth to inject her own interrogation. Her questioning also set up one of the most key answers that Morris gave in letting us see into his character. Betty Brady exclaimed and asked,
“Oh, Morris, Morris! were you crazed in your wits?”
“No, mother ; I had my senses the same as ever.”
“There was no great sign of sense in that action, child! What would you do–the Lord purtect us ! –if the sperit of ould Dinnis Whelan came upon you in arnest?”
The answer that Morris gave is one where I can see a lot of me coming through the pages. Morris had a response for this question that was immediate and one that had been thought out before. He already knew why he was staking out locations in effort to observe a ghost in real-time. Morris had intent, and he wanted answers not just about ghosts, but from the ghosts themselves. The retort to the beloved mother was as follows,
“I’d question him,” replied Morris, standing suddenly erect, knitting his brows, and glancing forward, as if preparing himself on the spot for an interview with the disembodied likeness of the crabbed old weaver, —“I’d question him, till he’d make known to me the throuble that was on his sperit ; an’ then I’d give id rest an’ pace, if mortal man could do such a thing for him.”
Now, we have the essence of a determined investigator captured in its pristinity. Morris and I are kindred souls in the matter of confronting ghosts. Do not only find the ghosts, but while you have their attention, ask them a few questions, too. Never settle for a lack of answers. But, just when you think Morris’ resolve could not get any more resolved, let’s watch his response to his mother’s further questioning.
“But, you poor mad fool of a boy,” continued Mrs. Brady, “supposin’ that ould Dinnis was sittin’ in the loom before you, wid his ould red night-cap on his head, an’ his ould jock fastened wid a nail undher his chin, an’ that he started up to pummel you well for disturbin’ him in work—what would you do then, you poor crature?”
“I’d throttle him!” cried the extravagant Morris, thrusting out his arms and holding nothing at all very tight by the nape of its neck, as it were—“that is,” he added, “if it was possible that a sperit, without bones or flesh, cauld rise an arum against a livin’ man, so as to hurt him; but tho’ I b’lieve in ghosts, as firmly as I b’lieve in the gospel, what foolish people say on that head I don’t put my faith in at all ; how could it be? What’s in a sperit, without his knuckles for thumping at you, any more than there is in a blast o’ wind?—only I’d like to find out the truth ; I’d like to put one of ’em to it.”
Not only was Morris inclined to engage any spectral form, but he was insightful enough to ask what in the world the properties of a ghost would be? Would you even be able to punch it or defend yourself against it? Morris not only embodied the spirit of what an investigator should be, but he also thought about logical questions that he needed to apply to the matter of ghosts. If I didn’t know better, I would say Morris wrote one of my blog entries several weeks back.
Another individual present at this religious celebration’s discussion was Daniel, who on behalf of ghost hunters the world round made an observation they can probably relate to.
“By my good deed!” said the lad at the fire, “I always thought it was a snugger thing to be in my warm bed of a could night, than to be comin’ home to it, shivering, afther watchin’ sperits in the churchyard.”
Daniel was aware of the stakeout approach that can cause a ghost hunter a little bit of suffering for the sake of the cause.
“What does Daniel mane, Morris? asked his father ; “did you ever spend your nights in the churchyard?”
With the gumption that only Morris Brady could issue in the form of a spirited reply, the response was one that should make anyone who has ever spoken of ghosts to rise and stand in respectful salute. The passion of the entire enterprise is reduced in Morris’ comment. It is that embellished motto with which we can all identify, as Morris proclaimed,
“I’d give the right eye out o’ my head to have discourse wid a sperit,” was the answer.
Of course, this determination did not sit well with Randal, as he began to reprimand his son and warn him of the risks of the exploits. He even went so far as to express how he was more concerned about who Morris might run into at night in the form of the living moreso than someone who then existed in an eidolon’s state. Even back in 1869, Kris Williams could have been proud of Randal Brady owning a t-shirt that said, “Ghosts Don’t Scare Me; People Do.” But, before Randal could completely finish his admonishment of Morris, another visitor showed up at the Brady home.
Even before the family could conclude a discussion about the possible ghost of Dennis Whelan, Hesther brought with her stories of another ghost. All over again, Morris’ attention was ignited and challenged by her assurances that the ghost of, Joe Wilson, could be seen. This promise was all that was necessary for Morris to immediately begin thinking about how he could disobey his father’s discouragement of late night stakeouts of haunted locations.
And, now, I will try to begin a synthesization of the encapsulation of the qualities that Morris exemplified for all ghost hunters. His character’s descriptions in the pages of the book are as if they are reflections of my own motivations when it comes to taking on the challenge of ghosts and ghouls. Why, Morris and I even have physical commonalities, as it is reported on page 34 of the book that,
“Randal’s eldest son, was the least handsome of the family.”
Ok, this statement doesn’t translate to me one hundred percent. I’m not the eldest son in my clan. Oh, wait a minute, I’m the only son in our clan. So, yes, I guess that does mean that I’m the eldest son in our clan, too. Morris and I do share ALL of these traits in common. But, no, in getting back to a more serious exegesis of the character, let’s go back to the text.
In revisiting the acumen of Morris,
“Excepting a knowledge of language, his father had given him a very good education. He delighted to plunge into the depths of mathematical calculations, and no problem was too abstruse for his mental powers. Indeed, difficulties, under any shape, whether intellectual or bodily, seemed to be but incentives to almost audacious exertion. Once, in his boyhood, when bird-nesting, he was on the bough of a high tree which broke under his weight, and came down tumbling, to the terror of his companions. Morris, however, did not passively submit ; in his descent he grasped another branch, instantly remounted the tree higher than before ; and there—merely because he would defy and overcome the danger—swung himself to and fro, crying out, shouting, yelling, and grinding his teeth like a maniac. All his associates had a kind of fear and awe of him in his fits of extravagance ; and, no matter at what odds in point of years or strength, Morris never lost a battle in pugilistic warfare. Indeed, his wild, lemon-lime face and manner, and the vehement discharges of abuse with which he accompanied every thump, often stood him in more stead in winning a victory than his knuckles or the force of his arm.”
“Morris’ imagination absolutely floated on the marvelous. He was quite sincere when, to our knowledge, he assured his father, “he would give the right eye out of his head to spake to a sperit.” In truth, the passion of his soul, and the ambition of his life was to meet, face to face, one of those fearful sights from which others shrink. It was part of the theory relating to visionary beings that there were some mortal eyes to which they could never become visible, while to others they revealed themselves in all their terrors and mysteries ; and Morris, persevering as he had been in his researches after fairies, ghosts, and other supernatural things, at last began to fear that his want of success was attributable, according to the doctrine mentioned, to a want of the faculty of perceiving them. But this growing conviction, though it sorely irked him, did not as yet induce the ghost-hunter tongue up his wild and strange pursuit. Even a few nights before we introduced him to the reader, he was standing, erect and determined, beneath the withered yews in the church-yard, his eye glaring on the undulated graves, and his ear listening to every sigh of the wind through the long, luxuriant grass which covered or surrounded them ; and the very night previously he had, as we have heard himself admit, stolen into the widow Whelan’s house, to question old Dennis concerning his nightly operations at the loom. These attempts, however, were only renewed failures ; although, as shall soon appear, he was shortly to be gratified in his heart’s longing, to his heart’s content, and to his own cost, into the bargain.”
So, yes, there you have it, Morris Brady was conducting EVP research in the Whelan home way back in 1869. (OK, minus the audio recorder, but do you see the similarity in the approach you would see on a ghost hunting themed television show?) Talk about being ahead of your time! The detective in him also made efforts to hone his mental sharpness, and he was physically determined in his tenacity so he could push harder in order to find answers. In my opinion, the two paragraphs above really are a snapshot of the quixotic ideal if one is to sincerely put the idea of ghosts to the test investigatively. And, this text reminds us that even with a passing span of one-hundred-fifty-one years, some things may change, but in ghost hunting, a lot of things stay the same. In this discussion, my aim is to resist my, “own cost,” and to not stumble, “into the bargain.”
At this point I will terminate with the overall story of the book so as not to give away the entire plot. Someone may want to read the book to its conclusion and enjoy the story as well as the attention to detail in the character dialogues. I first wanted to introduce the character of, Morris Brady. But, more important than the introduction is to call attention to the persona that the character exudes. He shines as the paragon for the consideration by anyone taking part in ghostly investigations.
I will leave the reader with one last admonition from Morris’ father, Randal.
“Morris, no good man can be a night-walker.”
The same has been said to me. Does a night-walker, by default, not make a good person? I need a chance to explain. There’s more to Morris’ story.
And, there’s more to my own.