What happens to celebrities, royal personages, notable leaders, acclaimed politicians and a host of other exceptionally talented, privileged or famous persons after they die? Do their fame and other factors which conferred a special status on them melt away into nothingness and do their souls or spirits then stand at par with, say, the souls or spirits of those who lived in obscurity, unknown or relatively unknown and unsung? In that sense, is death really a great leveler? You’ll be surprised. A quick review of haunted places around the world reveals that the most sought after by both tourists and people interested in the supernatural are those where the spirits or ghosts of well known personalities still roam or are said to roam—as famous after death as they were in life. Curiously, if one goes just by the number of people who want to visit the places frequented by their spirits and the amount of media coverage— print, films, television, the Internet and social media networks—focused on them, they seem to excite even more interest after death than they did in life.
As a guide to haunted places quipped, “ They are alive and kicking long after they are dead. Whether they revel in their continued fame I have no means of knowing but what I do know is that even after death they haunt places on their own terms just as they lived life on their own terms. Even the spirits of those who met tragic ends seem to have rules and preferences which are very much their own. You can’t, for instance, order their spirits to appear before you if you’re visiting a haunted place. They will materialise only if they wish to and will do so at a time of their choosing. You’ll have to wait for that time. Sometimes of course, if you disturb them or for some other reason, they’ll appear suddenly and scare the wits out of you.”
Dated 1515 A.D., Hampton Court Palace in the United Kingdom, believed to be haunted by royal ghosts and others associated with them, has 1,300-odd chambers with passages and galleries linking them. Some years ago, Lucy Worsley writing for U.K.’s “Daily Mail” reported that “the building’s curator says it’s jam-packed with spooks”. The curator confessed that “Even I feel something of a chill when I leave the office by darkness, and make my way out along the Haunted Gallery. This is, notoriously, the part of the building where paranormal activity has most often been experienced.” Worsley revealed further that Ian Franklin, a first aider at the palace, said “‘When I hear over the radio that a visitor has fainted,’ he explains, ‘I always head straight to the Haunted Gallery, even before I’m told the location of the incident. More often than not, that’s where it happens.’”
The gallery’s ghost, Worsley continues, is Catherine Howard, the teenage fifth wife of King Henry VIII. In November 1541, Henry was sitting in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court when he was handed a letter from Archbishop Cranmer. Evidence had been uncovered that Henry’s young wife of only 18 months, Catherine, his “rose without a thorn” as he called her, had been unchaste. This was an accusation of treason, and execution at the Tower of London followed. Her ghost has been spotted running down the Gallery screaming and crying.
The ghost of King Henry VIII himself is said to haunt Windsor Castle. According to the Readers Digest, “Said to be Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite place to live, Windsor Castle must also be the favorite of King Henry VIII as he hasn’t seemed to have left even though he died hundreds of years ago. Many witnesses have spied his spirit wandering amidst the rooms of the castle looking despondent and agitated, specifically, ‘a large man pacing furiously and shouting loudly.’ Since he beheaded two of his wives and had many others executed on his orders, this may be one majestic spirit to avoid.”
Indeed, author Elisa Roland has made the point that royal ghosts have been making the rounds in Britain for centuries. Prince Edward V and Prince Richard, Duke of York, just 12 and 9 years old, were taken to the Tower of London in 1483 because King Richard III did not want his nephews to usurp him as king. “No one really knows what became of them, although some believe they were likely killed. Their apparitions can be spotted staring from the windows of the ghostly tower.” According to Haunted Places in the World, “the princes have been spotted in the Bloody Tower wearing white nightgowns and holding hands. They never make a sound and can only be seen for a few fleeting moments before they fade into the stonework.”
Buckingham Palace too is known to be haunted by King Edward VII’s—who reigned from 1901 to 1910—private secretary Major John Gwynne. Unable to cope with the opprobrium after he divorced his wife— divorces were frowned upon in those times—Gwynne shot himself in the head in the first-floor office of Buckingham Palace. “The Queen’s official workplace staffers”, it has been written, “have reported a strange aura in that room and supposedly a single gunshot has been heard coming from that room.”
In more recent times, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth gave Anmer Hall, the lavish Georgian country house that formed part of the Queen’s Sandringham estate to her grandson Prince William and his wife Catherine—the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, soon after their 2011 wedding as a wedding gift. Curiously, along with Anmer Hall Prince William and his wife also got its ghostly occupant, Henry Walpole, who was hung in the Tower of London in 1595. The Walpole family owned the estate originally. The Express.co.uk reported that the royal couple didn’t have an issue with sharing their home with a ghost and instead said, “No old home would be complete without its ghost.”
Similarly, no country in the world today, including India, is complete without its ghosts or spirits of quite a few celebrities, royal personages, notable leaders, acclaimed politicians and a host of other exceptionally talented, privileged or famous persons. Death and the passage of time have served to enhance rather than dim or diminish the special status that was theirs—yet more testimony to my mind of the indestructible quality of souls or spirits and a tribute to the enduring quality of fame. In the context of fame, I wonder at times whether death really is a great leveler, which is not to say that there are no fascinating stories about places haunted by people who lived ordinary lives. But certainly, most times it is the spirits or ghosts of notable personalities that hog the limelight.