The expression ‘you look as if you have seen a ghost’ is occasionally used to describe people who appear pale or shocked. In folklore the traditional reaction to a ghostly encounter was to feel one’s hair stand on end, which has Biblical precedents. More recently, films and television programmes such as Most Haunted have played upon the popular desire to be both entertained and scared. But in 19th century and early 20th century
England there were a number of press reports describing individuals who were alleged to have been literally ‘scared to death’ whilst participating in communal ghost hunts. Inquest juries occasionally recorded fright as either a contributor to, or the actual cause of death, in an era before underlying medical conditions were fully understood as they are today. This presentation will examine the motif of death through supernatural cases
with reference to a case study of alleged ‘death from fright’ from Sheffield, Yorkshire, in 1855. The death of 48-year-old Hannah Rallison was precipitated by a ghost ‘experience’ at a séance in the city and was the
subject of a widely reported coroner’s inquest. This paper will discuss this example in the context of wider supernatural belief and contemporary legend in Victorian England, and Yorkshire in particular. The Hannah
Rallison case will be featured in the author’s book Scared to Death & other ghost stories from Victorian Sheffield, to be launched on Hallowe’en 2013 at Sheffield’s Off the Shelf literature festival.
PAPER PRESENTED AT EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY'S 5TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE IN YORK, 2013. For more information about Exploring the Extraordinary's annual conferences, please go to etenetwork.weebly.com
For more information about Dr David Clarke, please go to drdavidclarke.co.uk/