Monthly Archives: November 2016
As October drew to a close, darkness fell quicker and the veil between this world and the next shifted.
Some see glimpses of apparitions or shadows, while others feel a presence around them, like someone is watching or reaching out.
At Eldon House the past came alive as visitors took a tour in search of its ghosts, hoping to look back in time.
This annual tour, The Great Eldon House Ghost Hunt, is an event not to be missed. I can’t think of a better way to spend an October evening than in a Victorian home left as if the occupants had just stepped out.
Just as I experienced Becoming Sarah Harris, other spirits were present at the Great Ghost Hunt as a part of the living history night. While Eldon’s hauntings are many, there is one ghost to rule them all: Wenman Wynniatt.
A British officer of the 83rd regiment, his ghostly appearance makes for one of London’s oldest haunted tales (perhaps one of Canada’s oldest). Wherever Sarah Harris is portrayed, Wenman Wynniatt is never far behind. I can’t write or research about Sarah without considering Wenman, the two are forever joined in this romantic tale from beyond the grave.
Known for his sudden appearance in the library on May 14 1841, Wenman was seen walking through that room, into the hallway then into the ballroom (a room formally known as the dining room). During the Great Ghost Hunt, Wenman Wynniatt presided over the dining room, allowing visitors to sense an echo from the past and sample first-hand what his ghost might have experienced that fateful night. Images of an officer in uniform, staring broodingly out of a window are not soon forgotten. Nor is the sight of a man in love, who’s lost his chance, try mournfully to keep his promise. Theirs is an eternal love story that transcends time.
Another ghostly experience is a presence in the kitchen, where the service bells have been reported to ring, despite being disconnected. Who knows what phantom hand pulls the strings from within this house at the top of the hill overlooking the Thames River. Is it a cry for help from beyond, or simply a spirit who’s forgotten there’s to be no tea, evermore.
In the green drawing room at the back of the building, a seance was once held in the 1960s, before Eldon House became a museum. A spirit board and glass were used to attempt to contact occupants from the past. In front of the fireplace, a small group sat at a table, arms outstretched as the glass moves slowly across the board, seeking answers from an unknown force. We know not the questions that were asked, but perhaps we know the last answer was final, as the glass hurtled off the table, smashing into the fireplace!
Guests during this tour were also shown the blue morning room, where a woman in white is said to have be seen sitting in a chair; and separately, in an unrelated manifestation, a pair of beaded slippers belonging to no one once appeared from out of nowhere on the servants quarters staircase.
As the tour ended, some ventured upstairs for a look at Eldon’s more intimate rooms where a restless spirit, sometimes sensed on the stairway, is portrayed by a mysterious woman roaming the shadows of the landing in period style clothing.
Whether guests continued on to The Grand Theatre for the last part of the tour, or to the Eldon House interpretive centre for cider and a tarot reading, they soon wouldn’t forget the spirits of Eldon, London’s oldest residence.
In the meantime check out these previous posts and thanks for visiting!
Somewhere between researching London’s oldest supernatural tale and learning about the people at the center of this fascinating story, I became deeply connected to Sarah Harris, heroine of the Eldon House ghost story.
Part of it has to do with all the letters, diary entries and literature that I’ve read about Sarah, the Harris family and what life was like in Upper Canada during the 1840s. Through this, I’ve gained insight into what she was like before she met her beau Wenman Wynniatt, the types of events she would have attended during their acquaintance, and an understanding of how Wenman’s ghostly appearance and the news of his death would have affected her.
The other part of getting to know Sarah is sensory and intuitive. Reading words written from her perspective, seeing her penmanship, walking the gardens and sipping tea from a china cup on the shaded porch of her family home, these all have brought me closer to her. Quiet moments spent inside Eldon House, built in 1834, sitting in rooms where wood paneling and wallpaper look the same as they did during her time, to the point where I can feel the emotion those walls have absorbed. Standing in the bedroom upstairs that she likely shared with her sister, I picture her daily routine looking out the windows while brushing her hair, sitting at her writing desk with a candle and finally crawling into a four-poster bed in her long white nightgown whispering secrets to her sister in the dark.
This October I had another chance to renew my acquaintance with Sarah Harris as I stood in the very library where she saw an apparition of Wenman Wynniatt on the night of May 14, 1841 at her family’s ball. I reenacted her supernatural story for multiple visitors throughout the night, sharing the details of her experience and the turbulent emotions that she must have felt.
As I got ready for the event I didn’t just feel I was putting on period inspired attire, but also layers of a persona, becoming Sarah both inside and out. I imagined the anticipation she must have felt as she put on her chemise and first petticoat, that initial layer between bare skin and corset, thinking about what the day held for her. How she may have inhaled deeply, her breath catching as her sister tightened her corset laces while talking about horse races and British officers. Layering more petticoats and my vintage raspberry coloured underskirt, I thought about the effort that Sarah must have put into her attire, feeling this may be the day she’d know where their love would lead.
Buttoning my high-collared blouse, I thought about the air of reserve she’d have followed, to meet parental and social expectations and how that might have been challenging to navigate against her emotions. How do you reciprocate affection without being too forward? How to accept romantic gestures without setting tongues wagging but gracefully enough to avoid deterring an appropriate suitor? As I pulled on my black over-skirt and brocade jacket, I wondered if she was a strategic young woman, planning her every move, or if she rolled with the day as it unfolded, leaving her expectations on the doorstep…perhaps her family’s expectations were enough.
I pinned up my hair as I imagined Sarah may have done and adjusted the curls for my 1840s hairstyle, borrowed from a painting of Sarah’s sister Amelia, the closest portrait we have of that time period (all images of Sarah are when she is much older for some reason). I realized while doing this that my hair is a similar shade of brown to the early Harris women, quite coincidentally (or not). Lastly I selected three simple but elegant pieces of jewelry appropriate to Sarah’s age and the family’s financial status, representing some finery that she may have worn at that time. While my timepiece necklace isn’t antique, I wore it to symbolize the clock out in the hallway which was there on the night Sarah saw Wenman’s ghost, the very hallway that he moved into and then disappeared into the ballroom.
As I looked into my reflection when all was done, I saw Sarah looking back at me. Perhaps it was the different hairstyle, or the thought process during dressing, but in that moment I felt that I was Sarah, and Sarah was me…we were one and the same. Years of research, writing and thinking about Sarah had allowed me to draw her out and step into her world.
On the night of the event in Eldon House, the library felt charged the moment I started Sarah’s monologue.
While it may have been the heightened energy from the mock-seance going on in the drawing room or the cool air leaking in from one of the windows, I felt that there was a phantom presence in the room all evening, despite many moments spent alone. There was a sadness to it, but also curiosity. As if somehow they were studying me.
That night at Eldon House I reached into the past… I think they heard me.
In the meantime check out these previous posts and thanks for visiting!