The Case of the Disappearing Woman… and other Scary Halloween Tales: Part III

The ghostly grave of John Brown the Martyr on a lonely Scottish moor.

The ghostly grave of John Brown the Martyr on a lonely Scottish moor.

I mentioned the Scottish Presbyterian Martyr, John Brown, in a recent post I wrote about the Scottish presence on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. My connection to Brown goes back to my Great, Great, Great Grand Father, James Mekemson, who had married Mary Brown Laughhead Findlay. John Brown was her Great Grandfather.

The story of John Brown’s murder verges on legend. He was, as the saying goes, a Covenanter’s Covenanter, a very devout man. The Scottish Covenanters received their name from signing a Covenant that only Christ could be King, which eliminated the King of England from being God’s representative on earth. The King was not happy. So he set out to eliminate Covenanters.

Reverend Alexander Peden, one of the top leaders of the Covenanter Movement, described Brown as “a clear shining light, the greatest Christian I ever conversed with.” High praise indeed; the type you reserve for a man who is killed for your cause.

They say that Brown would have been a great preacher, except he stuttered. Leading Covenanters visited his home and secret church services were held there. Important meetings took place. Alexander Peden stayed at his house the night before Brown earned his martyrdom and warned of dark times. Peden was something of a prophet when it came to predicting dire events. This time he was right.

Brown was out gathering peat with his nephew the next morning when soldiers led by John Graham of Claverhouse appeared out of the mist and captured him. The date was May 2, 1685. Claverhouse, or Bloody Clavers as the early Presbyterians identified him, was the King’s go-to man when it came to doing away with Covenanters. He was not noted for his compassion.

He took Brown back to his home and demanded that he swear an oath to the King in front of his wife and children. Brown started praying instead. The legend states that Claverhouse ordered his soldiers to kill Brown but they refused. So he took out his own pistol and shot him in the head in front of his family. The story then goes on to describe how Brown’s wife, Isabel Weir, went about the yard collecting pieces of her husband’s brain. (I don’t mean to treat this lightly, but somehow I can’t help thinking about a TV episode of Bones.)

An early sketch of John Brown the Martyr of Priesthill Scotland being shot down by Bloody Clavers.

An early sketch of John Brown the Martyr of Priesthill Scotland being shot down by Bloody Clavers.

Three years ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Scotland where I went on a search for ancestors. In looking for John Brown’s grave, we had stayed at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast known as the Old Church B&B in the village of Muirkirk. The owners had provided us with directions on how to find the site. It wasn’t obvious. Old and older roads led to a farmhouse where we were to park our car and then hike down a barely visible trail a mile or so to the grave.

The Old Church B&B in Muirkirk Scotland where we stayed when searching for John Brown's grave.

The Old Church B&B in Muirkirk Scotland where we stayed when searching for John Brown’s grave.

Finally the old farmhouse came into sight. A woman was standing on a porch enclosed by a three-foot high rock wall. She was wearing clothes that my great-grandmother times five might have found fashionable. Since we would be walking through her property in search of John Brown’s grave, I got out to talk with her.

But she did something strange. She disappeared. Now this was strange in two ways. Obviously she didn’t want to talk with us. She turned her back and walked rapidly toward the door.  Okay, I could live with that even though we had found most Scots to be friendly and helpful. Possibly she was shy.

What bothered me more was she sank. It was like she was traveling down an escalator or open elevator. Her head disappeared beneath the stonewall before she reached the door. I did not see her go inside.

“Maybe there are steps down to an underground cellar,” I thought to myself. Or maybe she merely bent over to work on a flower garden. Curiosity got the better of me. I walked over. There was no woman; there were no flowers; there were no stairs. As far as I could see the floor of the porch was solid stone.

I asked Peggy, “Did you see that woman disappear?”

“She went inside,” my logical wife explained.

“Ah,” I said and put the matter out of my mind as we wandered out the indistinct trail across the vacant moors to John Brown’s lonely grave. But the thought, unlike the woman, wouldn’t conveniently disappear; it kept nibbling away at me. Later I asked Peggy if she had seen the woman sink into the porch.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Did you actually see her go in the house?”


So there you have it. Had we actually seen a ghost? Was this some ancient ancestor? I will wrap up my Halloween tales at this point but how about you? Do you have any ghostly tales you would like to share on this scary 2016.

Peggy stands near where John Brown was shot on the likely remains of his house. Mist covers the distance as it would have on the day he was captured.

Peggy stands on the site where Isabel Weir may have once gone about her ghastly chore of gathering up John Brown’s brains. Mist covers the distance as it would have on the day he was captured.

NEXT POST: I will be back to bicycling across the province of Ontario, Canada.

36 thoughts on “The Case of the Disappearing Woman… and other Scary Halloween Tales: Part III

  1. Maybe the brains would have gone into a soup – times were hard then!
    I keep an open mind about ghosts, or spirits, as I prefer to call them. I read an interesting article a while ago which made the case that there is no afterlife except for the memories left behind. During a lifetime each man/woman touches the lives of many others and memories are their legacy or their spirit and they only really pass on several years after their own death when all of the memories are extinguished. An interesting theory don’t you think?

    • My mother cooked up a batch of cow brains for us once, Andrew. Have you ever had any. I don’t remember what they tasted like. Tongue, I remember.
      And the more intense the memory, the harder it is to let go. I wonder if that is the basis of the idea that the ghosts of people who have died terrible deaths hang around to haunt us longer? –Curt

  2. You do seem to attract ghostly appearances … I’m going to say that’s because you have a nice open mind! I’ve got a long line of Scottish Presbyterian ancestors myself and have traipsed around their land a bit, but I must say I’ve never encountered anything quite so otherworldly. (Well, maybe the land itself, now that I think about it.)

    • Or an overly active imagination? 🙂 Then again, when you playpen as a child is a graveyard… And yes, the moors seem like they would be attractive to all sorts of other-worldly creatures. And have you been in Scottish graveyards, Lex, with their large, storybook tombstones? –Curt

  3. First of all, I like the looks of the old church/B&B. Looks like a great place to stay.

    Great story too. You asked, so here’s mine.

    When I was a boy we lived next to the old “homeplace” house that had been in my family a long time. You may have seen pictures of it on my blog. We now operate it as a “farm stay” through AirBnB. The place was deteriorating back then so in her old age her children moved my grandmother to a mobile home set up next to the house. When I went to visit her I would take a short cut across the yard and over the porch of the “Old House.”

    One night as I was walking to her place I noticed a white dress hanging on the upstairs balcony of the Old House. I stopped and stared at it a while, wondering why someone had hung it there. The balcony was kind of shaky, the door to it was kept locked, and we weren’t allowed to go out on it.

    When I got to my Grandma’s place I asked her about it. There isn’t any white dress hanging on the balcony, she said. But there is–I’ve just been looking at it, I insisted. To cut to the chase, when I went home that night I looked again and it wasn’t there. To this day I’m positively sure I saw it. But now I’m not so sure it was just a white dress hanging there.

    Not as creepy as your story, but it gave me the willies at the time and has stayed with me for 50 years now.

    • Thanks for sharing, Bill. Something that lives in your memory for 50 years was obviously quite significant to you. I suspect you checked every time you walked by there afterwards. Any stories or family history that might have suggested the presence of a “ghost?” –Curt

      • Oh yeah. Our community has a ghost. Her name is Sukey Short. Whenever something weird happens, it gets blamed on Sukey. I just assumed it must have been her, but my father said it might have been his grandmother.

      • Right, Bill. It is always important to have someone to blame things on. 🙂 When our kids moved away, Peggy and I were faced with having to blame each other when something was misplaced! Better there be a convenient poltergeist! –Curt

  4. Ummmmm… I’ve had a dream where a dead friend came to visit me in a dream, then stepped into a river that became her grave. Weirdly, it was a wonderful, comforting dream, and I don’t doubt the visit at all.

    In daily life, I suppose the best one was during our evacuation for Hurricane Rita. You remember that one — the lines and lines of traffic, the gridlock, the elderly dying in buses. It had taken us five hours to get to Liberty — generally, a 45 minute drive. I was beginning to worry about fuel, because there was no way to get out of the line of cars, and already there were reports on radio about gas stations running out.

    Well, in Liberty, just as we got abreast a Shell Station, a three-car-length space in the traffic opened up, and I saw that i could get through it to an open gas pump. We pulled in, filled the tank, went to the bathroom, got coffee, and hit the road again, for what would be another 9-1/2 hours to Nacogdoches (usually, only three hours).

    Only later — years later, as a matter of fact — did I discovered that my great-great-grandfather had mustered out of the Army after the Civil War in Liberty, Texas. Is anyone going to convince me he didn’t show up to take care of part of his family? Nope.

    • Good stories Linda. My father showing up in my dream state to comfort me after his death, and after his ghost turned on water faucets and lights?, was also comforting, a closure if you will. As for your great, great, great grandfather… Why not? 🙂 –Curt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s