Have pen, will travel. Sending letters.
A letter from Denmark. In which is recounted a week spent in some secluded haunted manor.
Denmark, November 2016
did you ever spend a night in a haunted house? I mean, would you actually like to? Well – I for one could check this off the list now. Five nights actually …
I was invited to this nice university town in north-eastern Jutland, Aarhus, to give a lecture there and was also kindly offered accommodation in this old mansion belonging to the archaeological museum nearby. Which is a good thing, actually, since this was a perfect opportunity to spend some time there too, having a closer look on some of the peculiar Bronze Age finds in the museum’s extraordinary exhibition and magazines in particular. The only thing is: this nice old estate going by the name of Moesgård, which lies a bit (like a ’20-minute-bus-ride’ bit) out of town, has some ‘ghost issues’. Stop laughing! A surprising amount of people straightforward warned me about the (apparently long) history of apparitions and they had quite the anecdotes to tell about … yes, about colleagues fleeing that house in terror. Seriously, one of them was swearing to high heaven: “I’m a rational scientist, but I’m never going to spend another night in there, dude.” Go figure.
Yet, the manor actually really is quite a lovely place. Situated in a picturesque, romantic-style parkland with small lakes, watercourses and stone bridges, among gentle hillocks and near quaint woods, not far from the Baltic Sea. That, and the view over to the small cemetery behind the house, right there at the forest edge. Of course I could not notice or appreciate it the evening I arrived. It was too dark out there to recognise anything in the rain storm which welcomed me when I moved into one of the little guest rooms under the roof. And to be honest, it maybe was not the worst thing I did not know about that morbid view until the next, rather foggy, morning. All alone in that deserted manor house, rain and wind raging outside in the night, the floorboards creaking within – believe me, that’s already enough to make one double-look over the shoulder when going for the separate bathroom at the other end of the pitch-black corridor.
And then, suddenly a bell was striking the hour. Somewhere outside, in the rain. A rusty, hoarse rattling – like a forging hammer hitting the anvil, over and over again. I freely admit, that creeped me out (and at that moment I didn’t even have had the conversation with a student who told me later, seriously surprised, that the manor’s bell didn’t work for years (apparently it was repaired during most recent renovations)). You bet I didn’t exactly fall asleep easily that evening. And I was awake with a start from the sound of tramping steps outside my door well before midnight. Most certainly another guest en route to the toilet. So I was not alone here at all. I mean … it was another guest, right? Wasn’t it? Either that or a really noisy kind of ghost not really interested in interacting with me (and that does not at all sound like the spirits usually reported from Moesgård Manor).
The illustrious flock of ghosts there, of course, is recruited from the estate’s long history which is reaching back far into the late 14th century (and probably even longer); the name Moesgård literally meaning “bog farm” actually pretty accurately describing the whole set-up. Today’s historicist main building and large courtyard were completed in 1778, after the old manor burned down during the Swedish wars in the mid-17th century. The kind colleagues were really solicitous to make me acquainted with my creepy roommates, but to be honest I can only remember three of the many stories linked to the house’s ghost staff (I mean, in the end one hardly is going to start small talk with a spirit, right?). There is a Ghostly Dog barking and howling through the night, they say (and sometimes even at day, as I was told emphatically). An Unresting Servant is duteously leading a horse around. All around! Through the whole house – upstairs and downstairs. And then, well, then there is the Grey Lady. The quintessential kind of ghost any reputable haunted house needs to keep ready. A translucent, staring woman wandering these halls and rooms seeking … well, yes, something. It’s actually hard to keep track of all the nuances within these tales.
Alas, to cut it short – I did not catch any sight of only one of these prominent Moesgårdians (and heck, to be honest, I’m not complaining at all). But again the colourful anecdotes of colleagues helped to get an idea of what range and nature these sightings actually might be. Said colleague, who spent a couple of days in the rooms up under the roof as well, told me (in a rather conspiratorial tone, I’d like to add) how he faced the horror one night. It must have been close to midnight, the house was all dark and quiet, when he suddenly felt the need to answer nature’s call. Opening the door of his room he left for that distant bathroom cross the corridor. Of course nothing happened. Not until he was on his way back. Back to the comfortable safety of his small chamber and warm bed. But – then he saw it. Her! Right at the other end of the narrow hallway in the dim light coming through low dormers. The Grey Lady! Standing there, motionless, just bowing her head. Of course he was freezing, not even able to breath anymore. They were just staring at each other. Staring for – he actually had no clue how long. Until he, actually more distraught than brave, set a foot into the darkness of the long passage … and with a muffled sigh and groaning planks she vanished. Leaving behind a bewildered scientist – who did not find much more sleep that very long night, as you can imagine. No, the story is not over here, my friend. Not yet. A few days later the very same fellow met another colleague who happened to stay, you guessed it, of course at the manor. Over a coffee he just had to break the tale of this spine-chilling encounter to her. She listened in growing terror. Because – yes, she had her very own experience to share. Just a few days earlier, again in the middle of the night (I mean: of course in the middle of the night) she was on her way to that far-off bathroom herself. The doorknob still in hand, she scared stiff. There. Was. Someone. The Unresting Servant, she was quite sure (even though he somehow seemed to have got rid of that horse). Thunderstruck she rushed back into her room, locking the door – also not really sleeping well thereafter. So they compared their scary stories back and forth. Finally noting that they were talking about the very same night actually. Yes, punch line here is: these daredevils apparently scared the wits – out of each other. Drum roll. Fanfare.
I’m sure sure there is a lesson to be learned here, my dear friend. I just need to figure out which.