This Soup Tastes Funny: An Ancient Ghost Story

This week, to celebrate Halloween, we will be posting a few scary stories from our authors. Today’s post comes to us from Katherine Marsh, who is the author of the forthcoming novel, JEPP WHO DEFIED THE STARS.

In 1576, King Frederick of Denmark gave a talented young astronomer and nobleman named Tycho Brahe the island of Hven in the Oresund Strait between Denmark and Sweden. Brahe would build a futuristic observatory called Uraniborg or the “Castle of the Stars” on the island—one with state-of-the-art astronomical equipment, a collection of moving statues or automata, and even running water. But while Uraniborg became a destination for scientists and scholars from across Europe, Hven remained an otherwise primitive place—populated by peasants who resented Brahe and had their own violent legends about the island.

One of these legends was the story of Lady Grimmel who, long ago, ruled the island from her four castles. Fearing any threat to her power, she invited her own two brothers to a feast and murdered them. But her lady-in-waiting, Maid Hvenild, was already pregnant with her brother’s son. When this child, Ranke, grew up, he avenged his father’s death by locking Lady Grimmel in her own dungeon, where she starved to death.

Brahe enjoyed listening to such dark tales during his own feasts. Surrounded by his erudite companions, in a bastion of modern science, they likely seemed a relic of a more brutal age. But four years after he left Hven, Brahe became gravely ill after attending just such a feast in Prague.

For a long time, the story was that he had to urinate but, out of politeness, held it for hours until his bladder ruptured. But in the 1990s, researchers analyzing Brahe’s hair discovered elevated mercury levels, suggesting that, like Lady Grimmel’s brothers, he may have been murdered. One theory is that his assistant, the German mathematician Johannes Kepler, poisoned Brahe in order to steal his observational data, which Tycho had been withholding.

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3 responses to “This Soup Tastes Funny: An Ancient Ghost Story

  1. Yikes! I love it – fantastically gruesome and random. That Johannes Kepler, he was one for shenanigans, wasn’t he?

  2. LOVE a good ghost story. How about this one?

    VERSAILLES TIMESLIP

    Have you ever wanted to time travel? To glimpse the wonders of the future or breathe the air of the past? To hear the swish of silk crinolines or feel the touch of a hand? To know how it feels to be a ghost, just for a while.
    In August 1901 two English women, Annie Moberly, Principle of St. Hugh’s College in Oxford, and her friend, Dr. Eleanor Frances Jourdain did just that.
    During a trip to Paris they decided to visit the Palace of Versailles, the most spectacular Royal Building in Europe. After viewing the Palace they decided to take a stroll in the grounds and to find the small castle on the estate known as the Petit Trianon. The air was still and oppressive when they arrived, as though a thunderstorm was brewing. They quickened their steps down into the gardens and headed towards where they thought the Petit Trianon was situated. They were not sure of the way and turned off down a track which meandered past some deserted farm buildings and an old style plough. Standing on the track were two men dressed in long green coats and tricorn hats. Eleanor asked for directions and they politely gestured that the two women should continue walking straight on. Annie and Eleanor assumed the men’s costumes were meant as an attraction for tourists, and thought nothing of it. They strolled on and passed a small cottage with a woman and a young girl sitting outside. They too were in period costume, with white kerchiefs tied under their bodices.
    The air was grower thicker and the two women felt uneasy, not enjoying their walk as they should. They eventually came to a pavilion and passed a man in a coat wearing a straw hat. They were shocked to see his face, badly scarred by smallpox.

    A young man in a dark coat and buckled shoes suddenly dashed out in front of them shouting, ‘You can’t go through there’. He pointed to the right and said, ‘You’ll find the house over there’. He bowed graciously then ran off. Annie and Eleanor spoke fluent French, but there was something about the young mans speech which they’d found hard to understand. They carried on walking, by now feeling quite panicky and lost.
    They crossed a small bridge which led out onto the edge of a meadow framed by trees. In the background stood a small country house with pretty terraces and shuttered windows. A woman was sitting on the sweeping lawns sketching on a large sheet of paper. She wore a pale summer dress with a long bodice and a very full but unusually short skirt. She had a green fichu wrapped around her shoulders and was wearing a large white hat. Annie and Eleanor were struck by the peacefulness of the scene. A door in the house suddenly flew open and a man dressed as a servant came running out. The two women felt they had stumbled on private property, so turned on their heels and walked away.
    With a jolt, the women suddenly found themselves back amongst a crowd of tourists all dressed in the fashions of 1901.

    On their way back to their hotel Annie and Eleanor compared notes and realized that neither of them had seen the same things. Annie had seen the lady sketching in the meadow, while Eleanor had not, and Eleanor had seen the deserted farm buildings and old plough, while Annie had not. Once home in England they set about trying to find a rational explanation. They gathered together many historical documents, plans and maps of Versailles and an extraordinary picture began to emerge. To confirm their growing conviction the two women traveled one more to Versailles.
    To their amazement, many of the buildings and pathways they had seen on their first visit no longer existed and the scenery was quite different. With the help of historians they managed to verify that many of the things they had seen on that day belonged in the 18th century.
    The woman sketching in the garden bore an uncanny resemblance to Marie Antoinette who was residing at Versailles in 1789 and habitually wore a green silk fichu. The green coats and tri-cornered hats of the men on the path were identified as being the uniform of royal servants at that time. A bridge leading to the meadow had existed back then as had the pavilion where the pockmarked man was seen. Even the old plough was accounted for. Records showed that although the Petit Trianon did not own a plough, one had been kept there and been sold after the French Revolution.
    Had Annie and Eleanor really walked back in time and encountered ghosts from the past in all their solid splendor? Or had Annie and Eleanor been the ghosts, flitting back briefly into a world as real as their own?
    On the day of their experience electrical storms had been recorded over Europe. The air had been charged with electricity. Could this maybe have accounted for the time slip which allowed the two worlds to mingle?
    Annie and Eleanor, two women of great personal integrity, wrote a book called ‘An Adventure,’ which told of their experiences on that day and detailed their painstaking research. Many people since have recounted having a similar brush with the past while strolling the grounds at Versailles. If you decide to visit, make sure you choose a time when storm clouds are gathered and you may enjoy a day with a difference.

  3. beccawearsredwellies

    Brrrr that one is chilling!

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