Three years ago, on my first trip to England, I visited the Tower of London with my friends Tony and Emily. When I got home and uploaded my pictures, I found this strange blur of light on this photo taken outside the room that housed all the torture implements at the Tower:
I had no idea what that strange blur was. I still have no idea. Probably nothing. I like to think I have a pretty rational mind, and don’t go in for much hooha, but I’ve had a few eerie experiences myself and have heard enough from trusted friends and family that I’m never prepared to truly rule out ghosts. I KNOW: why/how/wtf, etc., but still, sometimes there’s some weird energy or dread or chill some places, and who knows what sort of sad cosmic dust is trapped in whatever space or time involved. This is completely at odds with my feelings about death: I believe that when you’re dead, you’re dead. I’m not going to ask you to do my star chart and I don’t believe in psychics, reincarnation, heaven, hell, or the risen Christian lord, but sometimes I think that maybe there are unexplained things, and some of those things creep me out.
Antonia and I have been talking about going back to the Tower for the past year, and we finally went yesterday. We both love some history and we’re also both intrigued by ghosts. We spend a lot of time talking about creepy things that have happened to us or people we know, or places we’ve read about that are haunted. These conversations are usually punctuated by Ian, stopping drilling or sawing long enough to shout, “It’s not true because there’s NO SUCH THING AS GHOSTS!” from his lair. We ignore him and google “cctv ghost hampton court.”
I told Antonia about my weird photo from 2007, and how I wanted to take another picture in the same place when we went, just for fun. So the first place we went once we entered the Tower was the little plank walkway outside the room where they house the rack and the Scavenger’s Daughter, right outside Wakefield Tower, next to the Bloody Tower.
Unfortunately, the wall where I took my picture three years ago was under tarp and scaffolding. I went ahead and took the same shot anyway, even though I felt ridiculous.
I don’t see anything like what I saw in my original photo.
Then I turned back and took another shot of Esme on the walkway. And when I looked at it on my camera after, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Now don’t laugh at me, but do you see a sort of smudge to the center and right? Like a smudge made of light? Antonia saw it too but Nick didn’t, and Ian refused to even look.
So then we walked around some more. Esme got a princess dress at the gift shop and was making all kinds of friends.
Then we went back to the Bloody Tower, where the two princes were legendarily killed and buried at the foot of the stairs. You go up a tiny spiral staircase into a room that’s set up as an exhibit about them. The room itself felt pretty normal, but they’ve glassed off the top half of the staircase, so I took a shot, thinking, if there’s going to be a ghost anywhere, it’s going to be up there, away from loud people.
Then, after Antonia came up the stairs, I turned back and took one last shot of the empty stairwell. I realize the light is weird and shadowy here, and the Tower’s own spookified lighting doesn’t help, but I really don’t think there’s anything there. I feel like it’s a Magic Eye photo and I’ve just looked at it too long, trying to find some hint of the supernatural.
We went back out to the Green, and I listened to a Beefeater giving a tour about the people executed inside the Tower. I’d heard this same speech three years ago, about how most people were executed in public on Tower Hill, but some people had a more private execution inside the Tower walls. One of these people was Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. She was nearly 70 years old and Henry VIII imprisoned her just to be a dick, to get back at her son who was a Catholic cardinal who was opposed to Henry’s divorce. Margaret Pole refused to put her head on the block because she insisted she wasn’t a traitor, and the executioner ended up chasing her around the yard, hacking at her neck a number of times until she finally died. This story stuck in my mind because Emily and I commented that after two or three hacks with an axe, we’d both probably just lie down and let him finish the job.
A month or so after I first heard this story, I was visiting family in Texas, where my aunt was showing me the extensive genealogical research she’d done on our family history. In some branches of the family tree, she could only trace it back a few generations, but for some, she’d mapped it back to the middle ages. She was really excited to show me that my brother and I were directly descended from Chaucer. (There’s no non-dick way to say that, is there? You sound like you’re bragging no matter how you say it. But it was legit: there was an option on the program she was using that if you clicked it, would show you what famous people you were related to, to the nth degree, and basically, all of America is eleventh cousins of JFK or Elvis, but the Chaucer info wasn’t from that; it was a direct line, straight down to my grandmother’s name. Very cool.) Anyway, I remembered the story about Margaret Pole, and how the Beefeater had said she was a great-great-somebody of Geoffrey Chaucer. So my aunt is thinking I’m going to be excited about the Chaucer thing, but I get all excited and realize if we’re related to Chaucer, we’re related to the old lady who got chased around the Tower of London. She’s a blessed martyr and everything. I bet she’d approve of my Medieval Tapestry Poses Flickr group.
So I listen to hear if the Beefeater mentions Margaret Pole in his execution speech, but he just mentions Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. The crowd dissipates and Antonia’s helping Esme with her new tiara, so I take a shot or two of the green, which looks very peaceful. And again, when I look at the photo afterwards in my camera, I think I see something. It’s possible all the execution talk is messing with my brain, but do you see a sort of glow in the corner here, near the trees, behind those boys on the bench, way in the background?
We went in search of the bathrooms, and Esme was being cute, so I took a shot of her near an old black phone box.
I’m glad I didn’t have her stand in front of it, because when I uploaded these to my computer, I noticed a sort of cloudy light at the very top of the phone booth. Maybe it’s just a shadow or my camera is crappy, but these are starting to a) freak me out and b) make me wonder if I’m losing it a little.
I also took this shot, and it wasn’t until I saw it in the larger size that I saw that woman in the blue jacket in the background. It made my heart stop for a second. I’m clearly starting to see spooky stuff in places where there is nothing spooky to see.
By this time Antonia and I were tired and wanted coffee, but Esme got a second wind due to her pink princess dress, and suddenly wanted to go in every room of the castle. So we took her up to the bit of St. Thomas’ Tower that Edward I used as living quarters, which has been done up to look how it did in his day, 1270-something. This part was quieter and emptier than the rest of the Tower, and they had an audio recording of a crackling fire in the room with the empty fireplace, which was kind of creepy.
Here are some arty shots out the windows.
At this point I had to admit to myself that I was just taking photos wildly, like I was Egon Spengler, trying to get as much evidence for samples later. I was sure this poorly-lit staircase and doorway would turn up something, but no dice:
And the tiny restored private chapel, with the creepy recording of someone saying mass, only you couldn’t go in? I don’t see anything here.
I took one last shot of the main room. Notice how the light from those candles is sort of streaky? Like something’s passing through them? Or the light is refracted strangely? I don’t know, I’m obviously nuts by now, but seriously, tell me you don’t see something weird back there between the candles and the bed curtain.
Then we went outside and the sun was out and everything was shiny and golden and beautiful, and I felt like an idiot for my crazed camera ghost hunt. I want to believe that Ian’s right and there’s no such thing, but I’m still not going to google anything about CCTV ghosts until Nick gets home from work.