Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Mad Gasser of Mullingar?

In the autumn of 1917, a ghostly voyeur was disturbing the sleep of the good people of Mullingar. The Freeman’s Weekly Journal of 8 September 1917 reported:
Our Mullingar correspondent states that the inhabitants of that town are considerably exercised in their minds by stories of a spectral figure which roams the streets after dark. Opinion differs as to who or what he is. Some hold that he is an escaped German from an internment camp; others classify him as a wandering lunatic; and a superstitious section does not hesitate to allude to him as “The Ghost.”
The stranger, who is tall and thin, and dressed in grey, is never seen until darkness has fallen upon the town. Then his pale countenance is seen gazing into ground floor windows, and his gaunt form is to be dimly discerned hovering in the gloomiest corners. A number of unimaginative policemen are now engaged in trying to “lay” this “ghost,” which has annoyed the town for about ten days.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph also carried the story:
A ghost is prowling about the precincts of Mullingar, and the inhabitants thereof have got the shivers. Some think it is a lunatic, and others believe it to be an escaped German prisoner. If it be the latter, and an officer, you have Mr Churchill’s word that you need not salute him.
However, when the Freeman’s Weekly Journal returned to the story a few weeks later, it was because things had taken a sinister turn.
The Mullingar apparition has reappeared, and is no longer content with peering into cottage windows, but has forcibly entered houses, and in one case came to grips with the occupier.
About midnight recently a man named Miller, who resides in a cottage on the road at the corner of Mullingar Fair Green, was awakened by the noise of somebody moving about, and on going to the next room he was confronted by a powerful man, who had an open knife extended in his hand in a threatening attitude. Mr Miller sprang upon him and succeeded in gripping the arm of the man and deflecting the knife. A fierce struggle followed, and the two rolled over in grips on the floor.
Meantime, Mrs Miller rushed out to the door in her night attire and called loudly for help. On hearing her voice the assailant let go of Mr Miller, who, whilst on the floor, was conscious of his opponent using something in either a handkerchief or cotton wool which he believes to have been chloroform, and which, at all events, had a pungent odour and a somewhat stifling effect.
He describes the visitor as clad only in a soldier’s khaki trousers, stockings, and shirt, and the reason he had divested himself of the other portions of his clothing seems fully explained by the discovery subsequently made of his means of effecting an entry. This was through a small window protected by two iron bars, and which would only admit the body of a man with great difficulty. The bars were found to have been torn away, and Mrs Miller, it appears, as the intruder rushed past her in flying from the house, saw him catch up from the ground outside the door a cap, coat, and pair of boots.
On the same night, something later, it appears, the house of a Mrs Rooney, an old woman who resides with her daughter about forty yards from Miller’s – which is at an angle of the Fair Green and not far from the military barracks – was also entered, but on the alarm being raised the intruder made good his escape.
There was a lot going on in Ireland at this time, so it’s highly likely that these events had quite a mundane explanation that never got reported. However, the events in Mullingar do remind me of later events in Mattoon, Illinois [1], but on a very much smaller scale. 
If you can add anything to this story, please get in touch.
Notes:
  1. See Loren Coleman's Mysterious America
Sources:
  • Dundee Evening Telegraph, 11 September 1917
  • Weekly Freeman’s Journal, 8 & 29 September 1917

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