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The Ghost of the Copcutt Mansion

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This story was published in The World's News (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 9th November 1907, for which Frederick Hughes won $50 prize money.

By 1912, a much embellished version of this story was being circulated in US newspapers.

Click here for photos of Copcutt Mansion, as it stands today.

A True Prize Story


Up to the time I moved into the now famous Copcutt mansion in the city of Yonkers I had never been accused of incredulity in things supernatural. All my mysteries had been of the mundane order and, after the fashion of my friends and associates, I scoffed at the weakness or ignorance of all those who believed in the return of the dead and in the alleged communications of invisible spirits. My only acquaintance with spiritualistic mediums and seance-purveyors had been that of the detective seeking evidence of fraud and I had assisted in driving many of these flagrant counterfeiters out of Philadelphia.

But I have had a strange experience, which, happening as it did in that series of most wonderful experiences that befel myself along with more than a score of other credible witnesses in those eventful months of November, December, and January last received much publicity at the time through the newspapers of Westchester county. But the actual story of the return of old John Copcutt to the scene of his earthly life and his two appearances to the new tenant of his mansion has not yet been told apparently.

Vision in the “Den.”

The first occurred in what I called my “den.” in this room was a great bookcase containing some rare old volumes I had purchased from the Copcutt estate and a Morris chair. On this occasion I had taken one of these old books down and was stretched in the Morris chair with my back to the light, I remember I heard footsteps in the adjoining room. I knew there was no one in the room and half arose. The massive sliding doors of rare rosewood were closed and yet I saw a strange light against the polished surface, and through this path of light I saw an old man approaching.

The ghost of John Copcutt reveals himself to Frederick Hughes

He appeared to come through the closed doors and my heart gave one leap. A feeling of intense and sympathetic interest, stronger than any curiosity, possessed me as this wave of light seemed to submerge me. I knew that I was not frightened, neither was I greatly surprised. The only way I can express my feelings was that it seemed a perfectly natural thing for that old man to be coming through that door; it seemed that he had a right there. The figure was bent but still tall, and carried with it a certain dignity and authority. He was neither slight or heavy, but with the shoulders well bent forward and the chest hollowed.
The face was smooth and flabby in puffs near the mouth, which seemed to turn down, as will the mouth of an old man who has no lower teeth. The nose was prominent and the forehead bald, with very grey hair, almost white, combed back from the ears and long and straggly. He appeared to be about 75 to 80 years old, and at first seemed to walk with a cane, which however, mysteriously disappeared and melted into nothingness when he raised his hands. The two hands were uplifted as if in prayer, and the fingers moved spasmodically and then he spoke.

The Ghost Spoke.

“Too bad! Too bad! The place is cursed! The place is cursed! The trees will die! The trees will die! Betrayed for money! For money! The old home sold!”

This was said as if to himself or some person above him.

He then turned to me, as if he had then just became aware of my presence, and the bitterness of the voices seemed to change to a pathetic protest. The voice was that of an old man, high pitched, and halting, and I noted that before each exclamation he began with a “hem,” as if suffering from some throat infection. The most remarkable feature to me was the expression in the sunken eyes. There was something about or back of them that gave the appearance of youthful zeal and earnestness. If it had been a case of disguise, I would have declared that youth was masquerading in the garb and form and face of old age. The voice that addressed me seemed to choke back a sob as it lowered in tone and repeated:-

“The place is cursed! The trees will die. They were planted by these hands. The house is mine; still mine, and they shall not desecrate it!”

It was like the petulant cry of a man in his second childhood, and I felt sympathy I tried to express; but when I spoke my voice sounded hollow and unnatural, and at the sound the apparition faded away and I was alone.

I called my wife, who was then in the kitchen, and asked her if she heard anyone speaking. She had not, and I dismissed it as a possible day dream.

Some time afterward a Miss Ann Copcutt, daughter of the original owner - in fact, the builder of the stone mansion - called on us for some articles she had stored in the attic of the old home. During a conversation with her I jokingly mentioned the peculiar visitor and described him as I have above. I noticed theĀ  surprise on her features, but even then did not anticipate the connection. When I finished she turned to the wall as if dizzy and said tremulously: Why, Mr Hughes, you described my dead father perfectly!”

Possibly a week after the visit of Miss Copcutt I was again standing in the library with the window door open toward the garden when the thought of the strange visitant came into my mind. I looked in the direction of a clump of dead cherry trees with the words of the old man ringing in my memory: “The place is cursed! The trees will all die! They were planted with these hands!”

I stepped out on the broad piazza which extends entirely around the great house, and then became aware of a strange presence in a corner of the porch. I knew the form and even made out the cane he carried, although it was growing dark and he was in the shadow. He was looking intently at the garden, which had once been very beautiful, I had been told, but which now presented an appearance of desolation, even the hedge which had surrounded it having died and the flower bedsĀ  and walks having been given to the grass and weeds.

The form lifted his face and it was marked with sadness. He was suffering, and I did not speak, remembering the effect of my voice on the former visit. I heard a distinct sigh and then the figure turned and walked off the porch down the steps leading to the garden. As he reached the steps I seemed to see the same light encompassing him as when he had first come through the door. He turned and beckoned me with his cane, and almost involuntarily I followed him out into the garden. It was about 8 o’clock in the evening and a bright moonlight was flooding the place. I passed near my wife in reaching the garden steps and she called to me, but I waved her to be silent. She was on the porch all the time I was in the garden with my visitor and she saw at one time what appeared to be a light beside me, but saw no form and heard no voice. My wife also informed me that I was gone not more than three minutes, while it seemed to me that I walked and listened to the old man for fully 30 minutes, and the conversation which I repeated and which she wrote down for me that night after he had departed, consumed fully ten minutes in the repetition.

Wished To Come Back.

I am sure it was no subjective vision, for I saw the moon and the trees and the house. The cherry trees were dead, and beyond I saw the street lights of the city. The dead arms of those cherry trees struck me as grotesque in that blooming garden. All the time my visitor was talking to me; every word, spoken in subdued, but still high pitched voice, impressed me with a tremendous power and earnestness that did not seem to belong to the bowed figure. There was something kindly and pleasant in spite of the sadness, and I drank in the words like a child in fairyland.

“I am permitted to come back because I desired it intently and was willing to bear the burden of sorrow. I have revisited the old home many times, as all the departed are permitted to do when they pray for permission. John Copcutt is not an old man and I am not dead, as they think, but the only road back to the earth life is the one we travel out. A child must come back through its childhood and the old through their worn out forms. Thus you see me come back through the gateway of this bodily form through which I departed. And it is hard to come and make yourself visible and talk even when your inner eyes and ears are opened, but still you only see the shadow of my real self.”

Instinctively at the word “shadow” I glanced at the ground. There was my own dark shadow cast by the moon, and he was near my side, but what struck me as most strange his form threw no shadow, and yet the same moon was full on both of us equally.

“I come back to do acts of repentance,” the voice continued, “and it is by helping others; but they shun my help and will not listen to my leading. Will is still wandering in the wilderness. Poor prodigal! John was the elder brother. The one forsook me and my council, but the others have sold the old home to a strange church. This beautiful garden, the dear trees, the ground itself is cursed and dead, and the bargain was unholy. Be not afraid to speak the whole truth, for wonderful manifestationsĀ  are to come to you from the eternal world, and a powerful spirit society will direct and sustain you. They are sustaining me now, for in my own strength alone I could not appear for an instant. We cannot compel you or any one to work with us. You must choose in freedom. My strength is going. I am called and must go!”

And, with a turning toward the garden, he seemed to melt away, and I found myself standing alone.

I had walked from the corner where the Spanish bayonet grass grows to the upper beds of the lilies of the valley, and a thousand of them were shaking their bells at my feet. He was gone, but here was proof of the wonderful visit, and I turned and called to my wife, who was waiting for me on the garden steps of the porch. She came down the steps to me and I pointed to the place of the lilies.

She asked me what it was I wanted her to see and I looked and they were gone. In their place the autumn leaves had drifted and the night air grew chill as I told her of the unseen garden and the departed guest. She too is sensitive to impressions and she understood and believed me, and it seemed to both of us that we were surrounded by a multitude of silent, unseen friends, and in this ecstatic frame of mind and body we went together into the old manse.

The Author

The ghost of the Copcutt mansion was the first and only ghost that Frederick Drew Hughes ever saw. Before the remarkable materialisation of the spirit of the dead owner of the house in which he was living, Mr. Hughes never had faith in the stories he had heard and read of ghosts.

Mr. Hughes is a tall, finely built man who moves with the grace of a trained athlete. Sharp, discerning eyes from which nothing escapes go well with his occupation of detective. Despite the many remarkable events that have crowded themselves into his life during his pursuit of criminals, Mr Hughes places his meetings with the ghost of Copcutt mansion as the most remarkable of all.

“Until the die I die,” Mr. Hughes declared, “I shall carry with me a mental photograph of the old owner of Copcutt mansion.”

Psychical Research Society’s Investigation.

The truly remarkable incidents related by Mr. Hughes aroused instant interest throughout the United States. Wholly unknown to the “World,” the Psychic Research Society of America was attracted to the story instantly, and since its publication has spent considerable time and money in making a thorough investigation of the facts as related. The results have more than borne out the story as told by Mr. Hughes. Every one of the incidents he related having been substantiated, besides many more remarkable circumstances.

Dr. Hyslop, vice-president of the society, and his assistant, Dr. Hereward Carrington, who served as one of the judges of the “World” contest, believe that in the Copcutt ghost the “World” has given to psychic searchers one of the most valuable cases that have ever come to their knowledge. The investigations that have been made thus far will be pursued for at least another year.

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