The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day Seven: Charlotte Brontë

December 19 – Death of Emily Bronte, Haworth, England (1848, recurring)

One of the giants of English literature is Emily Bronte, despite the fact that she died at the age of thirty, having published only one novel.

Emily was a shy child who grew into an introverted woman. People found her standoffish, but that masked a personality that was painfully ill at ease with strangers. Emily was homeschooled all her life; at 17, she tried formal schooling but had a nervous breakdown. She was happiest when she was out on the moors, the wild, lonely places that played such a large part in her novel.

She published Wuthering Heights in 1847, and likely would have gone on to write more classics of Western literature. But in addition to being fabulous writers, the Brontes had something else in common: they were prone to tuberculosis. Emily’s brother Branwell died in September 1848, and she caught a chill at his funeral. A few weeks later she was suffering with a fever. She developed the dry, wracking cough of consumption. Her downward spiral was hastened by her refusal to take any medication or undergo any treatment.

Emily died at 2 pm on December 19, 1848, on the sofa in the sitting-room of Haworth Rectory. She still haunts her former home. Beginning on December 19, and through Christmas, she can be seen wandering the grounds of the rectory. She vanishes if approached, just as shy in death as she was in life.

She makes appearances in town as well. Weavers Restaurant in Haworth is packed on December 19 with patrons hoping to catch a glimpse of the Gray Lady. This ghost only appears on the anniversary of Emily’s death. She’s described as a slender young woman wearing a bonnet, shawl, and long skirt. She wanders through the restaurant, disappearing into one of the walls at the end of her annual visit.

Every so often, Emily’s ghost wanders farther afield; maybe in death, she’s getting more adventurous. In May 2000, an employee of the British Library took a cab across London to an exhibition. He carried with him the original manuscript of Wuthering Heights. When he got to the venue, the cabbie asked him where his lady companion had gone.

The librarian was flummoxed. He was alone in the cab’s back seat. But the driver insisted he’d seen a pale young woman dressed in black sitting next to the librarian.

After all, he’d been carrying her manuscript.

(Excerpted from my book, Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories.) Which, by the way, has a companion calendar. You can order one for yourself, or for your dog, or for your best friend, or for anyone else, really. Just pop on up to the top of the page and hit that Contact Me button, and let me know you want one.)

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