"The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine." ~ J.B.S. Haldane
Poets - Lord Byron
The celebrated poet Lord George Gordon Noel Byron (1788-1824) was born with a clubbed foot and a caul covering his eyes. Students of folklore believe that a child born with the membrane is gifted with an extra psychic sensitivity and his infirmity made him doubly so. At the age of ten upon the death of his great uncle the murderous "Devil" Lord William Byron the lame youngster became the sixth Baron Byron and inherited Newstead Abbey, an ancestral estate in the heart of Sherwood Forest in Nottingham, England. His infamous predecessor the fifth Lord Bryon had cantankerously allowed the great hall and grounds to fall into disrepair to spite his own son whom he outlived, thus the new young Lord Byron came to spend his formative years in a picturesque ancient ruin. The abbey had been founded by King Henry II in 1163 as atonement for the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet since the religious Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII had undone that act of penance, the site had long held the reputation of being both cursed and haunted. Perhaps this eerie atmosphere is the underlying cause for the poet's scandalous and erratic behavior that spurred one cast-aside lover to describe him as "mad, bad and dangerous to know".
As his writings increased in popularity and his fame grew Newstead Abbey became the scene of wild debauched revelries wherein Byron played the host for a coterie of friends and sycophants, yet no matter how outrageous his guests' drunken behavior, the poet managed to outstrip their antics by drinking from a goblet fashioned from a human skull. Polished and mounted upon a silver stem, rimmed with gold and etched with the words of his poem Lines Inscribed Upon A Cup Formed From A Skull the debased young lord boasted that the gruesome relic had belonged to "some jolly friar or monk of the Abbey" he'd unearthed from a burial plot upon the estate.
Lord Byron incorporated into his works some of the spirits at Newstead Abbey with which he was intimately familiar, most famously the "Black Friar". Believed to be a prior of the black robed Order of St. Augustine who inhabited the abbey for more than four hundred years, he was said to appear only to the heads of the Byron family. In the romantic opus Don Juan the title character encounters the spectral monk and is petrified with fear, overcoming his fright only when the shade vanishes as unnaturally as it had arisen. The friar is said to be a harbinger of misfortune, often heralding a tragedy or death and appeared just before Byron's ill-fated marriage to Annabella Milbanke which ended after only a year.
Additional phantoms loathe to depart the abbey were Sir John Byron of Colewycke, the initial owner after the monastery had been appropriated by the crown, and his son Little Sir John. Servants refused to enter the library even in daylight for fear of encountering the long dead Sir John taking his ease with pipe and cup before the great fireplace or Little Sir John stepping down from his portrait to wander the corridors. Another is the Rose Lady. Though no one has ever actually seen her, staff and visitors know she is about when the odor of roses and lavender fill empty rooms and hallways or hear soft invisible footfalls along with the sound of rustling silken skirts. Witnesses have attested to the presence of other spirit monks, a phantom cavalier, disembodied voices and a spectral carriage and horsemen haunting the grounds, as well as an eerie funereal music that issues sometimes from Byron's now empty bedroom. Even Washington Irving, the American author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, wrote extensively of the supernatural activities at Newstead Abbey after staying there for a time.
Amid all these ghostly vapors perhaps the most tragic is the White Lady. In life her name was Sophie Hyatt and she lived at Weir Mill farm, a property adjacent to Newstead Abbey. A deaf-mute, she carried everywhere a slate upon which she could communicate and always wore white so as to be recognized by the local populace should any circumstance arise wherein she might be unable to summon help. Shy and timid, though a great admirer of Lord Byron, she was allowed to roam the estate's grounds and walked in the Monk's Garden everyday. Whether it was his wild and fickle nature or her disability and impoverishment, Byron paid sweet Sophie little heed; still she spent her days contentedly reading or writing and was often seen sitting beneath a tree where the poet had carved his name. Her silent worship from afar ended one market day in Nottingham. Unable to hear warning shouts, she died upon the town square's muddy cobblestones, crushed beneath hooves and the wheels of a runaway cart. Yet, so often has her mute spirit been seen along the beloved pathways she strolled in life, that one is now called the White Lady's Walk in her honor.
A truly accomplished talent may draw inspiration from any number of imaginative sources, yet to have as one's creative wellspring the ghosts that kept a lame child company must surely be unusual even in the odd worlds of artisans and PARANORMAL CURIOSITIES.