A Gloucestershire Road Ghost? A CJ case from 1996
In late autumn 1969 a young couple were driving down the Cheltenham road through Longlevens (a suburb of Gloucester, UK), when a girl appeared in front of the windscreen. The time was approximately 11.30pm and they were coming from Oxstalls in Gloucester and heading to Churchdown were the young lady lived, a distance of less than 5 miles. The two were courting and he was driving her home. For the sake of this report we will call them Mr Black and Miss White.
As they drove the short distance to her home, a journey they had made many times before they appeared to run down a child of about 12 years old. They had passed Anderson’s garage (now the BP Garage) and at the same time as the Miss White screamed Mr Black slammed on the brakes. However, it was too late, and they felt themselves drive over the body.
Miss White continued to scream “you’ve killed her” and the poor Mr Black got out of the car to find the body, and call an ambulance. Both were extremely shaken and deeply upset about having run into this child and when they couldn’t find the body they panicked. Mr Black looked at the front of the car to examine whereabouts he had run into her, and yet there were no marks, broken lights or dents anywhere on the car. However both had seen her and both had felt as if they had driven over her. He went to look a second time for the body; perhaps she had ended up further away? Still he could not find her.
The couple eventually married but never satisfactorily resolved what had happened on that night.
Such experiences are of course not uncommonly reported; they are often described as “road-ghosts.” Recent investigations have shown that in February 1963 a woman was killed on the exact spot where the apparitional experience occurred, which is incidentally some 500m from the nearest surface fault line, too far for us to consider this as relevant. There is no particular reason to connect the two incidents at this time, though work continues.
Often “road-ghost” experiences occur to drivers who are severely fatigued or have driven long distances. In this case neither applies. Another common factor is that the anomalous experience occurs in a rural area; in this case it occurred in a busy suburb, with considerable traffic and in a residential area. There was no feeling of disruption of normal consciousness before or during the experience.
The length of road in question is straight (unlike many road ghosts which appear after a sharp bend), and was in 1969 as today well lit. The modern garage has moved about 20m along the road towards Cheltenham, but the original site of Anderson’s Garage is apparent if the area is inspected.
There is one last factor which may be relevant. While researching we spoke with local children who claimed to have seen a “ghost lady wearing blue” walk through the wall of a burnt out building situated in an alley immediately opposite where the experience occurred. On walking around to the other side of this wall we found an electricity sub-station, which presumably emits a powerful electrical field. We have not been able to trace if this was here in 1969, but it is about 10 meters from the spot where the road ghost appeared.
The children who witnessed the apparition of the “blue lady” were habitual substance abusers, sniffing glue and lighter fluid. We did not pursue their sighting further as their testimony is highly unreliable, but the original Mr & Mrs Black were as far as we could tell reliable witnesses.
Very interesting case CJ.
I’m struck by the fact that the couple claim to gave ‘felt the car run over the body.’ Rather unusual when hitting an incorporeal spirit… I can’t help wondering if they unconsciously added this ‘detail’ in afterwards. That doesn’t detract from the truthfulness of the couple or their experience, of course.
I have a hypothesis that more road ghosts and UFOs appear on roads which run east-west than on roads which do not run east-west. My thinking behind this is that sunrise and sunset may produce dazzling and unfamiliar light patterns. It would be interesting to find out if the A40, A14, M4, A4 etc. have a higher incidence of reported ghosts than other roads of similar traffic volumes. Although I’d probably want to rule out the A303 from the collection given its vast numbers of, ahem, “diverse” travellers.
Another mundane factor worth considering with “car crash ghosts” is large vermin such as urban foxes and rural badgers. Badgers, in particular, can take quite a pounding and walk away. Foxes will also tend to run/walk/crawl away to die rather than remain at the crash site. Remember the tank-like Austin Montego? I once hit a badger at at least 50mph in a Montego; the numberplate smashed into hundreds of fragments and the front bumper (metal, in those days) was buckled beyond repair, yet the badger sauntered off. It is incredibly difficult to judge size when approaching at any speed from a seated driving position. Consider the “30mph” road paintings that you see when entering or leaving some built-up areas; they look like perfect circles when approaching at 30-50mph but if you walk past one, or look on aerial photos, they are clearly very elongated ovals.
I’m with you on this: pheasants can survive a 30mph glancing impact on occasion, because obviously the impact sped is not 30mph, so it would not surprise me if a badger could be hit much faster, and write off the vehicle, before crawling off. Road kill might account for a lot of such cases. In this case I think a deer or being in Gloucester (well Longlevens) a large dog might be more likely. Or maybe there really was a kid, she escaped by a fraction of a second and while their hearts were still pounding ran off down the path opposite? Next time I go to Gloucester I will take photo of the spot, unless anyone else goes there first.
I managed to find a photo that shows the site as it was before the garage was demolished and the modern garage built (slightly further back I think). I have asked the owner if i may show it here, but for now here is a link – it has some nice recovery vehicles which might interest Dave Bradshaw ad Hirez if they ever come this way! http://roadvehicles.fotopic.net/p7225269.html
The difficulty which I have with accounts of this kind is: what is the intended audience? Let me try to explain.
A summarised account like this will never impress a sceptic – and that’s not a way of saying that sceptics are too deeply prejudiced ever to be impressed! What I mean is that the sceptic will want to get behind the story and examine the evidence. Can he please see Mr Black’s and Miss White’s own written (or videotaped?) account of what happened? And how soon after the events described was the account recorded? Are there photographs of the car taken before and after the event? Were there any other witnesses of the event, such as passers-by in the road? Have they recorded what they saw? Also, can we please know more about Mr Black and Miss White, their background and education, with a view to deciding how reliable they are as witnesses?
It’s this kind of stuff, probably relating to a lot of different incidents of this kind, which a sceptic needs before there’s any chance that he will cease to be a sceptic. He’ll never be impressed by what you might call ‘ghost stories’ no matter how many of them are produced.
Of course, the intention may not be to impress sceptics at all; perhaps the intended audience consists of people who are already convinced of the reality of paranormal phenomena of this kind. But, if so, what value to them is there in an isolated account of a single incident? Surely, the crucial question is: Is there any pattern to be detected across numbers of such incidents? Is there any hope of determining a cause, or causes?
In this case, the electricity substation was mentioned as a possible cause of what happened. Have there been other strange incidents close to this substation? Or close to other substations? Is there reason to think that the strength of the electrical field there is greater at some times than at others? Has it ever been measured? Have there been relevant laboratory experiments to assess the effects of electrical fields on human subjects?
These are just some of the questions which immediately spring to mind.
In sum, I’d like respectfully to suggest that ‘ghost stories’ of this kind don’t greatly serve the cause of serious psychical research.
Hi Guy, thanks for the thoughtful comment. In response to your questions…
1. Can he please see Mr Black’s and Miss White’s own written (or videotaped?) account of what happened?
Nope, but I do have the audiotape of my interview with them. If I can trace them I will seek permission to reveal their identities and to place the full recording on the web, and do a follow up interview and video it – 14 years have now passed since I recorded their story.
2. And how soon after the events described was the account recorded?
As I state, the piece was written in 1996 after the interview, based upon the tape recording. The incident occurred in 1969. So 27 years had passed between the incident and recording. I a couple of months old when it happened to them.
3. Are there photographs of the car taken before and after the event?
I don’t even know the make; it may be on the tape. I shall ask, but certainly it was not photographed intentionally at the time – they may have family snapshots showing the vehicle.
4. Were there any other witnesses of the event, such as passers-by in the road?
No, I asked that – the incident was late at night and they saw no one in the area.
5. Also, can we please know more about Mr Black and Miss White, their background and education, with a view to deciding how reliable they are as witnesses?
We could, but I am not sure it would be relevant to the enquiry. So far as I can make out from Sidgwick et al (1894), DJ West (1948, 1994), and Evans (2002) the percipients educational level does not usually seem to be a factor in the experience. I would say they struck me as sound, sane, normal people. They reported no other anomalous experiences, and must have been what 60-ish when I interviewed them?
5. In this case, the electricity substation was mentioned as a possible cause of what happened. Have there been other strange incidents close to this substation?
Correlation is not always causation, and I would be less prone to link the incident and the substation now, it was just a hunch I was following in 1996 when Persinger and Budden were very influential. I am now deeply sceptical of such claims.
However the answer is yes: that was why I made the link – as I wrote above —
“There is one last factor which may be relevant. While researching we spoke with local children who claimed to have seen a “ghost lady wearing blue” walk through the wall of a burnt out building situated in an alley immediately opposite where the experience occurred. On walking around to the other side of this wall we found an electricity sub-station, which presumably emits a powerful electrical field. We have not been able to trace if this was here in 1969, but it is about 10 meters from the spot where the road ghost appeared.”
The house is about 3m away at the point where the children describe seeing the ghost. So yes is the short answer.
6. Or close to other substations?
Yes, quite a few I can think of. One famous case involved a “Burning Man” seen by a man who received extensive burns in the 60’s in Ipswich. Interesting account, I’ll dig it out, usually cited in Ufology articles as I recall.
7. Have there been relevant laboratory experiments to assess the effects of electrical fields on human subjects?
Yes many! In fact there is a huge literature on the area, and research on the area continues. I can happily provide a list of key sources in the debates if you want. I do not think most humans are remotely effected by exposure to electrical fields – a train journey from Edinburgh to London will cause you to pass through more EMF variations than would naturally occur ever, in very fast sequence, and I do not see much in the way of effects. There is a debate about electrical sensitivity and allergy, where much woo has been written, but there is plenty of hard science on electrical fields and the human organism. Start with Bell, G. B., Marino, A. A. and Chesson, A. L. (1992) Alterations in brain electrical activity
caused by magnetic fields: detecting the detection process. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 83, 389-397 to see some of the issues in even studying brain activity and EMF – I mean we use technology like MRi every day in hospitals, but much still is being learned, and there are issues that complicate things, as always.
I’m confused by this though “He’ll never be impressed by what you might call ‘ghost stories’ no matter how many of them are produced.” We know full well people experience hallucinations and possess the mechanisms for both misperception and full blown hallucination and we know that in some cases multiple witnesses attest to witnessing the same phenomena. The bare phenomenological facts seem beyond doubt: the witnesses gained nothing by volunteering the story after all, and we know that many experiences of this kind – the so called “road ghost” – have been reported. The aim of study of the experience in surely to find commonalities in the data, and to derive models we can test?
Ah I see “. But, if so, what value to them is there in an isolated account of a single incident? Surely, the crucial question is: Is there any pattern to be detected across numbers of such incidents? Is there any hope of determining a cause, or causes?” Yes absolutely. Becky Smith is currently working on a PhD collecting just such a database sponsored by the SPR, and it was while she was generating themes and coding that I dug out this report to show her, because of one odd feature of it – I won’t discuss it here, as not strictly relevant. I myself an working on a paper on spontaneous cases based again on the Sidgwick Census question – so far I have 52 incidents coded. We are both using Grounded Theory as a methodology, and are sharing data as we go, and the aim is to so just what you suggest in the tradition of Tyrell’s Apparitions (1948) and Hornell Hart’s Six Theories of Apparitions (1938) and Evan’s Seeing Ghosts (2002). This however was just a fun anecdote to share with readers of my blog, as I had permission to publish it!
Finally you note “In sum, I’d like respectfully to suggest that ‘ghost stories’ of this kind don’t greatly serve the cause of serious psychical research.” This is where we disagree sharply – too much psychical research as been top down theorising, building models and then trying to fit the facts in to them. I believe that only by a “ground up approach”, starting with the very basic aspects of the experience, collecting data from these anecdotes, and then constructing our research questions based on what the data is telling us can psychical research hope to proceed.
Fascinating comments though, and i have attempted to answer properly