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For Halloween: a history of horrible happenings

In order to mark the spookiest, grisliest and downright strangest time of the year, NORMAN FERGUSON has created an hour by hour guide to the moments in time that will put a chill down your spine.

Agnes Sampson was put on trial for attending an East Lothian convention of witches
Agnes Sampson was put on trial for attending an East Lothian convention of witches
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Writer Norman Ferguson has re-imagined history by creating a chronology of events arranged by the time of day they took place. Here, weird and macabre moments of history form a virtual day to mark Halloween.

Midnight

Superstitions abound at this time on Halloween; If a woman pulls a plant out of a single man's garden its shape and size determines her future husband’s appearance. In Shetland if a woman dips her smock’s sleeve into a south-flowing stream then hangs it up to dry, at midnight a vision of her future husband will appear down the chimney.

According to legend, at this time blues musician Robert Johnson meets the Devil at a crossroads and is given the ability to be a great guitar player – in exchange for his soul. He dies aged 27 after being poisoned by a jealous husband, taking several days to die. (Late 1920s /early 1930s)

1 am

On Ben Macdui, two men are awoken by something moving outside their tent. Tom Robertson and Derek Blake become terrified when their tent is ripped open and they see a 10-feet-tall hairy creature which is making a low, mumbling sound. They had gone to investigate the mystery known as the Big Grey Man which was reported in the 1920s when Professor Norman Collie reported being chased down the hillside by a 10-feet-tall creature that resembled a yeti. The two men soon make their way off the mountain. (July 2004)

1.30am

A soldier stationed at St James's Park in London makes an unusual report: "I perceived the figure of a woman, without a head, rise from the earth at a distance of about three feet before me. I distinctly observed that the figure appeared to me to be enveloped in a cloud." (3 January 1804)

2 am

A “bright and shining moon” shines into the bedroom of a young Englishwoman called Mary Godwin. She is staying near Lake Geneva with friends who include her future husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron who have all been challenged to invent scary stories. During her moonlit “waking dream” she sees a "hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life". It is the inspiration for a novel she will write called Frankenstein. (16 June 1816)

3 am

Dick Turpin's corpse is discovered being removed by grave robbers. He had been buried two days previously after being hanged for horse theft. His execution used the ‘short drop’ method and he took five minutes to die. Turpin had also carried out housebreaking, deer poaching, torture and murder as well as the highway robberies he is remembered for. His life is heavily romanticised by writers following his death. (10 April 1739)

4.15am

A body is discovered in London’s East End. It is that of Rose Mylett, a prostitute who has been strangled. Mylett's death is included in a series known as the Whitechapel Murders. Despite much attention the chief suspect - known as Jack the Ripper (or ‘Leather Apron’) – is never apprehended. His nickname stems from the gruesome nature of the killings: some of the dead have internal organs cut out. (20 December 1888)

5 am

The killing starts in one of the most notorious events in British history. The Glencoe massacre sees troops who have been staying with the MacDonalds turn on their Highland hosts. Thirty eight men, women and children are killed immediately with as many dying of exposure later. The government soldiers are led by Captain Robert Campbell and his clan earn a tainted reputation, despite evidence they helped some of the MacDonalds escape. (13 February 1692)

6.40am

The first current of electricity passes through William Kemmler, the first criminal to be sentenced to death on the newly invented electric chair. Kemmler’s electrocution does not go smoothly and he is subjected to an eight-minute ordeal before succumbing. One of the witnesses says: “I would rather see 10 hangings than one such execution as this.”(6 August 1890)

7.30am

A wing of an aircraft flying near Montrose collapses. The pilot, Lieutenant Desmond Arthur, falls free and is killed instantly. Over the years a number of witnesses at the airfield see a mysterious figure who they believe to be Arthur. The apparition is seen in front of personnel approaching the airfield’s buildings, then disappearing as he reaches the door. Another sighting places him sitting at the foot of an airman’s bed. (27 May 1913)

8.05am

Bodysnatcher William Burke ascends the scaffold. With William Hare, Burke has murdered at least 15 people for the purposes of dissection at Edinburgh’s College of Surgeons. Hare escaped punishment after turning King’s Evidence. For the execution notices were put up advertising "Windows to let", with some viewpoints going for a guinea. Over twenty thousand turn up to see the hanging. Burke’s body is taken for dissection at the university where crowds queue to view his corpse. (28 January 1829)

9 am 

During certain months of the year the ghost of a woman is reported to walk towards St Michael's Church at Linlithgow Palace at this time. She wears a blue gown and is said to disappear when a short distance from the wall.

10.32am   

American Aron Ralston has taken the first step to free himself. He was been trapped in a narrow canyon in Utah's Canyonlands when his right arm got caught under a large boulder. On the sixth day of his entrapment Ralston cuts off his arm with a knife. Bleeding heavily and in shock, he makes his way out and is able to reach help. He later cremates the severed arm and scatters the ashes in the canyon. (1 May 2003)

11 am

William Henderson leaves his Mount Stewart farm to travel to Perth on business. When he returns he finds his sister Janet in a pool of blood, her skull crushed by the blunt end of an axe. No one is convicted of the crime described by a local paper as "one of the most atrocious and mysterious murders" and it remains Scotland's longest unsolved murder case. (30 March 1866)

12 pm

The lighthouse relief vessel SS Herperus reaches Eilean Mor, one of the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides. The relief crew find no sign of the three lighthouse keepers. A prepared meal sits uneaten, the clock on the wall is stopped. The mystery of the keepers' disappearance is never solved although the lighthouse superintendent's view that a freak wave has taken the men to their deaths is the most plausible. (26 December 1900)

1 pm

The jury returns its verdict at the trial of William ‘Deacon’ Brodie. A well- respected member of Edinburgh society, he has been living a double life and carrying out a series of burglaries. When a raid on the Excise Office goes wrong one of Brodie's companions is caught and turns Kings evidence. Brodie is sentenced to death. Brodie's life is used as an inspiration by Robert Louis Stevenson for The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (28 August 1788)

2 pm

James Wilson emerges from his Glasgow prison cell. He has been found guilty of High Treason after being briefly involved in the Radical insurrection. It was said the 60-year-old man had a look of “bewildered astonishment” as he stands on the scaffold. After he is hung his head is chopped off. The executioner holds it up and cries “Behold the head of a Traitor!”. The 20,000- strong crowd respond with shouts of “Shame!” and “Murder”. Several of the soldiers on duty faint. (20 July 1820)

2.30pm

Bela Lugosi's funeral takes place in Los Angeles. The Hungarian-born actor played Dracula in the first talkie movie about the Transylvanian vampire in 1931. Ironically for someone who portrayed a character adverse to close contact with them, Lugosi is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery. He is dressed in his Dracula costume and cape. (18 August 1956)

3.05pm

A miner called Matthew Clydesdale is hung in Glasgow for murder. His body is taken to the University where it is dissected and subjected to "galvanic phenomena" by Professor Andrew Ure. In front of thousands of onlookers the cadaver is given electric shocks. It has a startling effect: Clydesdale’s leg shoots out – almost kicking over a lab assistant. His finger extends, to point at audience members. When his facial muscles are stimulated his face grins and grimaces, leading some to leave in terror. Ure suggests that had the body been intact, it may have risen again. (4 November 1818)

4 pm

A couple are driving past Loch Ness when they see something crossing the road ahead of them. They describe it as being dark elephant grey in colour and around 30 feet in length. It is just one sighting of what is termed the Loch Ness Monster. GK Chesterton later wrote: “Many a man has been hanged on less evidence than there is for the Loch Ness Monster”. (22 July 1933)

4.25pm

Netherlands monarch Queen Wilhelmina leaves the White House. Her visit was interrupted by knocking at her bedroom door one evening. She opened the door to see a bearded man wearing a stovepipe hat, who she recognised as the late president Abraham Lincoln. The queen immediately fainted. Winston Churchill was also reputed to have seen Lincoln’s ghost at the White House. (7 August 1942)

5 pm

A travelling gentleman in Dorset asks a publican directions to Blandford. He then heads off and hours later sees a distant light. Then he spots an opaque object that resembles a ghostly group of men that frightens his horse. He reaches the light which turns to be the same public house he visited earlier. Somehow he has gone in a complete circle. The publican says the strange object has put fear into the local population who are frightened to go out at night. (A winter's evening 1748)

5.30pm

A shot rings out above Loch Linnhe. Two rounds hit Colin Campbell of Glenure in the back and he dies half an hour later, saying “I am dead”. His death starts a famous case in Scottish legal history known as the Appin Murder. It is notorious as being a miscarriage of justice when a man called James Stewart is found guilty of the shooting by a 15-strong jury which is composed of 11 Campbells. After his execution Stewart’s body is left to hang, rotting for 18 months. The incident inspires two Robert Louis Stevenson novels: Catriona and Kidnapped. (14 May 1752)

6 pm 

A charred body is found in the basement of Edinburgh’s Empire Palace theatre. The previous night a fire had broken out during a performance by American illusionist The Great Lafayette (real name Sigmund Neuburger). Ten people were killed. The burnt body is Neuburger’s body double, mistaken for his star’s, and is close to being buried as Neuburger when the mistake is discovered. The issue is quickly resolved and Neuburger’s ashes are buried with his favourite dog ‘Beauty’. (12 May 1911)

7 pm    
The time when the Canadian bogeyman known as "Bonhomme Sept-heures" (The Seven O'Clock Man) visits homes to take children away who are still awake. Good children who have already gone to sleep are safe. The idea of an evil figure who roams around looking for non-obedient children is one common to many parts of the world.

8.30pm 

At Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh the mausoleum of Sir George "Bloody" MacKenzie is broken into. One of the thieves cuts a skull off a mummified body and plays with it, as if was a hand puppet. Mackenzie was a vicious persecutor of the Covenanters, notoriously imprisoning over a thousand in a field next to Greyfriars, resulting in hundreds of deaths. His poltergeist is said to have caused numerous injuries to visitors to the graveyard. What, if any, repercussions happened to the grave robbers remains unknown. (30 June 2003)

9.25pm

The BBC start to broadcast a programme called Ghostwatch. The 90-minute- long show is introduced as “an unusual and disturbing film marking Halloween”. It is presented as being the first live broadcast from a haunted house but is in fact a pre-recorded drama. Fooled viewers deluge the BBC switchboard with complaints and it is claimed the show leads to a teenager’s suicide.(31 October 1992)

10 pm

In Edinburgh a servant girl named Isabel Carr goes into her master's foundry. She utters incantations and throws down hempseed. She runs out when a tall, thin figure appears to her. Despite placing a Bible under her pillow later that night, she takes unwell and her hands become swollen and black. A doctor pronounces her to be suffering from apoplexy and may not live long. She dies a few minutes later.(31 October 1802)

11 pm

Agnes Sampson arrives at North Berwick kirk. She’s there to attend a convention of witches, led by the Devil who speaks from the pulpit. Sampson and others are later arrested and tortured when it is revealed that the witches of East Lothian attempted to kill King James VI by raising a storm when he was on a sea journey. The king takes part in Sampson’s interrogation. She is later bound to a stake, strangled and then burnt. (31 October 1589)

11 pm 

A man named Francis Smith, arranges with a watchman to find the Hammersmith Ghost. A person has been wandering about at night wearing a white sheet, putting terror into the locals. Smith sees a white figure and fires. And kills a bricklayer returning home in his white work clothes. Smith is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. A royal pardon saves him from the gallows. (3 January 1804)

Chronologia: History by the Minute, by Norman Ferguson, is published by The History Press, £8.99

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