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Historic Ghosts – Famous Spectres and Popular Ghost Stories from History

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Ghost stories have been used to frighten friends and foes for most of history. Ghost stories were just as popular in ancient times as they are today. In fact, for some ancient cultures, it wasn’t a case of whether you believed or not, ghosts were an accepted part of everyday life. They felt it was important to find ways of helping the souls of the deceased to rest in peace so that they stopped being such a nuisance!

So, as we count down the days to this year’s spooky season, we’ve taken a look at history’s most famous ghosts and most popular ghost stories.

Quiet, Ghost At Work

One of the earliest ghost stories comes from the first century AD. Roman writer Pliny the Younger describes how Athenodorus Cananites, a stoic philosopher, visited a house in Athens said to be so haunted that the owners couldn’t bear to live there anymore.

Cananites set himself up in the house for the night and settled down to do some work. He heard the sounds of chains rattling, slowly creeping closer and closer to his desk. But Cananites would not be distracted and continued with his work.

Soon, the clanking of chains was so loud that when Cananites looked up he saw the ghost of an old frail man with long hair and a beard standing right in front of his desk. The ghostly man had chains clamped around his hands and feet which he shook impatiently at Cananites. But Cananites wasn’t scared. He indicated with his hand to get the ghost to wait while he finished his work.

Having waited patiently for philosopher to finish, the ghost then lead Cananites to a spot in the yard before mysteriously disappearing from sight. Following his instincts, Cananites had the area dug up and found the skeleton of a man bound in chains buried under the yard. Cananites gave the skeleton a proper burial and the Athens house was never haunted again.

By The Look Of You, You’ve Seen The Romans

Some places are still said to be haunted by Roman ghosts today. Treasurer’s House in York is home to not one Roman ghost, but a whole legion of them!

Poor Harry Martindale was installing a central heating boiler in the cellars of the house when he heard the sound of a trumpet being played and suddenly the helmet of a Roman soldier lunged out of the wall at him. The trumpet player was then followed by a horse and around twenty fully armed Roman soldiers, marching in twos looking grubby and exhausted.

When Harry shot up the cellar stairs terrified, he bumped into the curator of the House who simply said to him “By the look of you, you’ve seen the Romans!”.

Off With Her head

The title of Britain’s most lively ghost (excuse the pun - perhaps Britain’s most “haunty” ghost would be better?) goes to one of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn. She is said to haunt not one, but two different places!

But it’s no surprise she is such an active ghost, given that she was executed by her husband after being accused of all sorts of nasty crimes.

It’s said that every year on the anniversary of her execution, Anne Boleyn rides up to Blickling Hall in Norfolk, casually carrying her own chopped-off head in her lap!

It’s A Long Way To Tipperary (Via The Afterlife)

But it’s not all scare and gore when it comes to spooks and spectres. There were many reports of ghosts coming to the aid of soldiers during World War 1.

One particular ghost of a recently deceased soldier even saved the lives of his still-living comrades. For Lieutenant William Speight, a regular gloomy night in the trenches in December 1915 was interrupted by the shocking sight of his good friend who had died at the battle of Ypres.

On one of his visits to the trenches (yep, this spirit visited more than once!) the ghost pointed to a spot on the floor of Speight’s dug-out. Speight and his men dug up the spot that the ghost had pointed to and found it packed with German explosives! Speight and his men had been saved by their spooky companion.

Why not share your historic ghost stories with us? Have you spotted the spirit of a famous person? Or perhaps you know the tale of an ancient ghost? Did you freak out like Harry Martindale or were you cool, calm and collected like Athenodorus Cananites? We want to know!


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