Screaming Skulls

A very odd poltergeist is the Screaming Skull, a spirit found only in England.  Screaming skull myths are not, as one might assume, about skulls that themselves scream.  Instead, the legends revolve around the idea of removing a skull from its resting place in a home, and the terrible calamities that will befall the houses if they are disturbed.

8e7508010c77b562597950595766ae2fOne of the most famous screaming skulls is the manor house at Bettiscombe in Dorset. The skull in question belonged to a black slave brought to the manor by John Frederick Pinney in the late 1700s.  When the servant died, Pinney refused to pay to have him shipped back to his homeland for burial, as the servant had requested, and instead had him interred in the local cemetery.  Wailing and screaming ensued after the burial, until at last the neighboring townsfolk forced Pinney to have the grave exhumed.  He did, and brought the body into the manor, where it remained.  The disturbances stopped.  Eventually all of the body was removed until at last only the skull remained.  The skull carried with it a warning that terrible things would happen should it ever be removed from the house, and the horrible screaming would resume.

Another infamous screaming skull is found in Derbyshire and is named Dickie.  Despite the name, the skull belonged to a woman who was murdered in the Tunstead Farms.  Her dying wish was to remain in the house forever, and it seems her spirit does!  Her skull was, like the Bettiscombe skull, the only part that remained after several years, and like the other skull, the spirit’s wrath is more implied than implicit.  Some believe that the skull is actually that of a farmer named Dixon who was murdered, but the skull appears to be that of a woman.  It remains to this day in the house.  Any attempts to remove it resulted in terrible wailing and screaming in the house.  Again, the skull didn’t scream, but moving it caused the titular howling.

In Wardly Hall is another skull, this one of a seventeenth century priest named Father Ambrose Barlow, who was hung for not converting his faith.  Unlike the other skulls, this one was hidden behind a panel in the hall so as to not reveal the resting place of the Catholic priest.  When a serving girl found the skull many years later, she threw it out into the moat outside the hall, and a terrible storm came up almost from nowhere to lash the place that convinced the owner to have the moat drained so he could find the skull and return it.  The skull, in fact, seems to have special properties, as it can’t be destroyed – any attempt and the skull just returns the next day outside the hall, even if smashed to bits.

A screaming skull was the topic of a terrible 1958 movie by the same name, which is only really famous because it was spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Like many of the 1950s monster flicks, it was extremely low budget with terrible acting.  The story, however, was fairly accurate – the skull of a man’s late wife (which he killed) begins terrorizing his new wife.  It’s actually trying to warn her about the evil man, but mostly it just screams and rolls around on the ground like a bowling ball.  The movie was set in America, which is also very wrong, considering the legend is very much tied specifically to England.

In all cases, returning the skull to its original place in the home seems to do the trick.  There’s no known way of removing the spirit, and even attempting a proper burial with the rest of the body doesn’t help.  However, so long as the skull is left in peace, it seems to cause no harm.

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