Footsteps on the floorboards of the upper room when no one was there. An inexplicable chill that moved around the room on the hottest of summer days. Objects mysteriously moved by an unseen hand. And visitors who sensed a ghostly feminine presence in an upstairs room.
These manifestations had long led people to believe the ghost of a young woman haunted the second floor of the Meaford Museum. But clues to her identity were as evanescent as her presence.
When a gentleman claimed to have spoken to the ghost for hours, Curator Pam Woolner was too shocked to press him for details that might have contained hints about her identity.
She seemed to have a special affinity for an antique rope bed, an old cradle, and a child’s doll. But none of the items were connected; indeed, they came from different families and different eras.
But the items suggested the ghost was perhaps the spirit of a young mother who had died in childbirth – a common enough occurrence in the 1800s. The bed and cradle had come from two old Meaford families, the Sings and the Whitelaws, so perhaps there was a clue hiding in the families’ histories.
Pam searched through the Whitelaw history, and was unable to find a female who had died in her late teens or early 20s. Clues in the Sing family history proved similarly absent. “I got stumped,” says Pam.
Then a volunteer at the museum said she’d had an impression that the woman wasn’t a member of the family; her name was Louise, and she was a governess for the Sing family who’d actually died of an illness in the old roll bed.
Pam returned to the records for the 1880s and found a tantalizing clue. One year’s census showed a young woman named Louisa, of the right age, living with the Sings as a servant – though her position wasn’t specified. The next year, she was no longer listed. And around the same time, a child of two in the family had died of an illness.
Pam admits the evidence is sketchy. “There’s any number of reasons she disappeared. She could have married. She could have moved. Unfortunately, we can’t find any more information on her. I have no way of tracing it or proving it.”
She also points out that it would have been unusual for a servant to have used such a nice, large bed. “On the other hand, if she had been quite close to the family, they may have felt that nursing her in that bed would have been more humane than in the small cot she would have had,” she says.
Pam never felt afraid of the ghost, but she’d been irritated by the way she moved objects and by her other games. She’d begun giving the spirit a piece of her mind. “I started to talk to her. I was hoping that she’d stop some of her antics, and it seemed to work.”
Things seemed to quiet down. During the 2003 renovation, the significant artifacts were put in storage, and currently none are on display. “The bed had been up for 20 to 30 years, and they had stuffed the mattress with straw,” says Pam. “Unfortunately, that made great nesting grounds, and we had things living in it, so we decided to take it down. And the cradle hasn’t been that relevant to exhibits lately.”
Accessibility requirements meant the upstairs room could no longer be used for exhibit space or even office space, so fewer people climbed the narrow stairway. And with the museum’s renovation, the floor was firmed up, making noises from above barely noticeable in the rooms below.
Has the ghost departed?
“I’d originally thought maybe she had moved out,” says Pam. “But we’ve had some people who claim to be sensitive who’ve been upstairs in the last year or so who have felt her presence. The lady who gave us her name said that she’s not as active now because she’s quite happy with her new home and how it looks. So she doesn’t feel the need to do things.”
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