In The Devil’s Dictionary, author Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce made an interesting observation about ghosts, one that has been an arguing point for many critics against the idea of life after death:
“There is one insuperable obstacle to a belief in ghosts. A ghost never comes naked: he appears either in a winding-sheet or “in his habit as he lived.” To believe in him, then, is to believe that not only have the dead the power to make themselves visible after there is nothing left of them, but that the same power inheres in textile fabrics.”
Now, I won’t say that Bierce is lacking a point. It seems absurd that a dead person could appear after death and have their clothes magically return with them. But at the same time, he’s wrong. Wherever you look for stories of the supernatural, you can never rule out any possibility. That includes nude spooks. Believe it or not, there actually are stories involving ghosts who, for one reason or another, decided that phantom clothing was too constricting.
Let’s start off with a well-known historic site with one ghost story that isn’t mentioned very often. The famous island prison of Alcatraz may have had hundreds of souls pass through its iron bars, but one seems to have stayed behind without his uniform. In D Block, six small cells were known as “The Hole” and used as solitary confinement. There were no windows or lights; prisoners were thrown inside naked and beaten. Some died of starvation and exposure. Cell 14D is said to be the most haunted cell and it’s rumored that a prisoner was strangled to death there in the 1940s at the hands of a ghost with “red glowing eyes.” In this same cell, there have been reports of an apparition of a naked male inmate cowering in the corner and crying.
Further up the coast in rainy Seattle you can find Glen Acres Golf and Country Club. Established in 1924, the golf course was the scene of a curious haunting in the mid-1900s. A nude Native American, wearing a ceremonial headdress, was witnessed dancing on the grounds many times. Local police were called at least once to catch the ghost, but any time someone approached the figure, it would simply fade away.1
Another unclothed phantom has made Chesterton, Indiana, famous. Alice Mabel Gray, a mathematician and writer, found peace and seclusion in a remote cabin just outside of town. She was discovered by her habit of skinny dipping by the moonlight on Lake Michigan, which earned her the nickname “Diana of the Dunes.” There she lived quietly until her death on February 8, 1925. Her ashes were scattered among the hills she lived, and local legend says she still returns to the shore, bathing in the nude at what is now Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on certain nights.2 Another sadder story comes from New Orleans where a 1/8 black (or “octoroon”) mistress named Julie was said to live in the 1800s. According to legend, her lover told her he would only marry her if she proved her love by spending a night naked on the roof. She accepted the challenge and was discovered the following morning, frozen to death. Some people believe her nude figure still sits on the roof of 734 Royal Street on cold December nights.3
Even children sometimes get naked in the afterlife. Armona, California, has a young girl ghost estimated to be around nine years of age who is believed to have drowned in a nearby irrigation canal. She became known as the “Walnut Girl” since she has been witnessed most frequently around walnut groves or fruit orchards. Apparently, other girls around her age can see her. On the other side of the country, the Craven Street Bridge in Asheville, North Carolina, is also believed to be haunted by the ghost of a young boy of the same age. Said to have drowned in the French Broad River far below, he has appeared under foggy conditions running around in his birthday suit on the bridge.
Not even the United Kingdom is safe from stripping specters. Room 7 at Weston Manor in Oxfordshire is said to be haunted by the nude ghost of a nun named Maude who was burned at the stake for falling in love with a monk and being caught in bed with him. Another naked apparition—wearing only a white wedding veil—was witnessed in 1944 by King Michael I and Queen Anne of Romania
while they were staying at Bramshill House. In Scotland, yet another naked dead girl has been seen combing her hair in front of a mirror at Muchalls Castle. But there are men, as well. Bath Abbey and the surrounding streets are the stomping grounds of a naked Roman soldier (I assume he wears a helmet for identification); it makes sense, since the Roman Baths are just behind the building. West of the tiny village of Shap in Cumbria, a horrified group of young girls witnessed eleven naked male apparitions, glowing yellow and marching in single file, near a site called Skellaw Warle (or “Skull Hill”) on Pow Lane. Interestingly enough, eleven skeletons wearing gold bracelets were unearthed on the hill in 1827.4
But it’s not just the ghosts that get naked. Take, for example, the strange case in Mississippi of an amateur photographer who apparently liked showing off his orbs. In an effort to cut down on vandalism at an unnamed church cemetery (possibly New Palestine Cemetery, next to New Palestine Baptist Church), authorities set up game cameras to capture images of would-be vandals. What they ended up capturing wasn’t quite what they expected; the camera snapped a photograph of a naked man setting up a camera on a tripod. On December 10, 2010, police finally tracked down the man responsible who was identified as Robert Hurst.
When questioned, Hurst admitted he was in the cemetery trying to capture photographs of spirit orbs. For the past year, the 47 year old had been taking orb pictures as a hobby and believed they looked like faces when on exposed skin. He first took his shirt off, and then decided to strip the rest of the way. “I didn’t mean to expose myself to anybody,” he told the Picayune Item, “and it was stupid.” After his arrest for indecent exposure, Hurst decided it was time to hang up the towel on his amateur spirit photography.
1“Here are some of the West’s Happiest Haunting Grounds.” Kingman Daily Miner [Kingman, AZ]. 31 Oct 1999. A11.
2Thomas, Phyllis. Off the Beaten Path Indiana. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2007. 110. Print.
3Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2007. 136-7. Print.
4Sullivan, Jeremiah. Cumberland & Westmorland, ancient and modern. London: Whittaker, 1857. 157-8. Print.
5Pittari, Jeremy. “Man in Cemetery IDed.” Picayune Item. 11 December 2010. Web.