THE CONCEALED PAPERS
Being an active member of the Society for Psychical Research, Doyle became something of a ghost hunter, investigating claims and complaints of hauntings, much as the cast members of today's paranormal reality TV shows do.
Shortly after the end of World War I, Doyle received a letter from a widow of a distinguished soldier who was renting a house at Alton, Hampshire. The house was so haunted by a noisy ghost, she complained in her letter, that it was frightening her children and had scared away several of the servants.
Doyle went to investigate. Upon arrival, he learned that the widow had experimented with automatic writing in hopes of contacting the disruptive spirit. Through this method she had learned his name, and after doing some research verified that a man by that name had lived in the house about sixty years previous. Moreover, she learned through her automatic writing sessions that this ghost was quite anxious about some important papers that he said were hidden in the rafters of the house's box room - a small room used for storage.
Doyle volunteered to explore the dank and dusty room in search of the hidden papers. "It was a terrible place," Doyle said, "thick with dust and piled with all kinds of lumber, and for about an hour or more, in my shirt and trousers, I crawled about under the rafters looking for these papers."
In "a shocking state of dust and perspiration," Doyle came away from the room empty-handed, unable to find any such papers. He and the widow then conducted their own little séance in which Doyle told the ghost that the papers, if they had ever been in the box room, were no longer there. He then scolded the ghost for its noisy and impolite behavior and "to think no more of his worldly affairs, but to attune his mind to the higher life."
Doyle admitted that this investigation was lacking in direct evidence and open to criticism, yet the widow later said that the ghostly activity had ceased and that "the atmosphere of her house had changed to one of deep peace."
THE CHARMOUTH GHOST
Another ghost hunting expedition took Doyle and two companions - one of them, Mr. Podmore, a diehard opponent of spiritualism - to a haunted house in Charmouth. The old house was being rented by an elderly woman, her grown son, and a married daughter. The family was plagued by poltergeist activity, mostly in the form of unexplained noises, that was so severe they could barely tolerate living there.
The men began their investigation by checking the house for any sign of fraud and took other precautions that would prevent any trickery as they waited for the paranormal activity to manifest. On the first night, nothing at all occurred. On the second night, however, "a fearsome noise broke out," as Doyle described it. "It was like someone whacking a table with a heavy stick. The door of the sitting room was open and the noise reverberated down the passage." The men raced to find the cause of the noise, but none could be found, nor could any sign of hoaxing.
Doyle writes an interesting coda to this story. About a year after the investigation, the house burned down and an old skeleton of a child of about ten was found buried in the garden. Doyle wondered if this child, cut down too early in its life, was the cause of the haunting.
Doyle wrote that he did not submit a report about this investigation to the Society, but that the skeptic Podmore did - a report that irked Doyle. In his report, Podmore blamed the "unexplained" noises as a hoax perpetrated by the young man who lived in the house. This was nonsense, according to Doyle, because the young man "was actually sitting with us in the parlour when the trouble began. Therefore, the explanation given by Podmore was absolutely impossible."
Doyle then derided all such skeptics who have their minds made up, despite the facts. "I think that if we desire truth we should not only be critical of all psychic assertions, but equally so of all so-called exposures in this subject," he wrote. "I am sorry to say that in some cases the exposure means downright fraud upon the part of the critic."