This is the latest London ghost story for the month leading up to Christmas; perfect for these cold dark nights.
Highgate Cemetery is one of the best known cemeteries in London, if not the whole country. It is split into the West and East sides and is separated by Swain’s Lane. The western side is the oldest and contains many fabulous tombs and catacombs – many are based on Egyptian designs which the Victorians loved. It was opened on the 20th May 1839 and dedicated to St James. The first burial took place on the 26th May and was for Elizabeth Jackson who had lived in Little Windmill Street in Soho.
Perhaps the best known tomb is that of Karl Marx. He actually has two burial sites in the cemetery, but the modern one with the large bust of him is the one most people know about. His original grave can be found up an overgrown path but it is marked out in the cemetery’s own guide books. Other notable names include the scientist and novelist Douglas Adams, the artist Patrick Caulfield, novelist George Elliot, anatomist Henry Gray the author of Gray’s Anatomy, Soviet writer Anatoly Kuznetsov, impresario Malcolm McLaren and the actor Sir Ralph Richardson.
By the 1960s the cemetery had fallen into disrepair – gravestones toppled and much of it became overgrown. This perhaps became the perfect background to allow ghosts to rise up. However, there were reports that the cemetery also attracted “hauntings” by individuals who were very much alive. It is alleged that it became the preferred place for witches to meet and perform their rituals. Others say that devil worshipers would meet amongst the gravestones. There was even a report of a vampire on the loose at one time.
The Highgate Vampire really got things going. Apparently he was not the sort of bloodsucker we are used to seeing in the movies. Instead he was described as being a man about seven feet tall and wearing a long black coat and top hat. He sounds to have come straight out of a Victorian horror story. But there was another more frightening feature about him – he was said to have piercing hypnotic eyes.
Another apparition with glowing red eyes is said to have scared a motorist who had broken down near the cemetery gates. There was also the case of a businessman who was terrified when a “phantom” jumped over the cemetery fence and landed next to him. This one also had glowing eyes but also pointed ears and a red nose. This is an interesting description as it closely resembles a legendary creature from the previous century – Spring-Heeled Jack who many people have sworn to have witnessed.
Today there are two reported ghosts who are sighted now and again. One is of an old woman who is seen running madly around the gravestones. The legend goes that she is frantically searching for her children whom she had murdered in the past. The other sighting is a little more docile as it concerns a solitary male staring into space. It is said that as witnesses have approached him he just fades away.