Strolling with ghosts among the streets
A Dunedin tour leader raises the ghosts of the city's back alleys. Mike Crean tags along and, as is the custom, is rewarded by a nerves-settling dram of Scotch at the end.
Prominent Dunedin lawyer James Patrick Ward climbed to his office one morning and died in an ambulance soon afterwards.
Police investigating his death in 1962 found Ward had opened a parcel that had come in the mail. A bomb in the parcel had exploded and blown his arm off.
An ambulance was summoned. Heavily bleeding and deeply shocked, Ward was taken away. But it was too late.
Andrew Smith says people report ghostly goings-on at the Moray Place building where the lawyer had his office.
Smith operates Dunedin's Hair Raiser Ghost Tours. In long coat and short top-hat, he looks like something between a rock star and a 1950s Wild West undertaker, as he leads the curious and the superstitious around the haunts of the inner city by night.
As Smith pauses below Ward's office, his dramatic voice sinks to a stage whisper. Look up, gentle tourist, and you might see an object falling from Ward's window. Could it be a human hand?
Police investigations showed Ward was a decent fellow. No motive for his murder was found. The case was never solved. The dead man has not been able to rest in peace.
Perhaps that explains reports from people experiencing a horrible smell around the building, an awful weight pressing on the chest, constant calls to the building's security firm about strange happenings.
Smith began New Zealand's first guided ghost walks in Dunedin in 1999. He grew up in the city and loved hearing stories of the old days.
The recurring theme was ghosts, he says. He studied the local history and wanted to share it. This he does, down spooky alleys, every night, with more than a dash of flair.
He adds a touch of humour to the grisly scenarios. Like naming the alley beside the city council chambers the Corridor of Death. The alley once divided the city's first hospital from an early undertaker's premises. A nurse died in the hospital and, pure, innocent creature that she was, her ghost still emits a sweet perfume. Or could it be that cleaners have just completed their evening disinfecting of public toilets further up the lane?
Then there was the jilted bride who threw herself off the cliff at Otago First Church. Soon people were reporting glimpses of a "silkie" - the ghost of an abandoned bride in white-silk gown.
Church officials tut-tutted at first but, when curious ghost seekers began to visit and to buy from the stock of souvenirs, they were not unhappy.
What about the ghost of wealthy Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie? Two city librarians swore they saw him in 1958, disappearing up the stairs - a common symbol of the in-between world that ghosts inhabit.
Smith says early Dunedin fathers wrote to Carnegie requesting funding for the new library they wanted to build on Moray Place. They knew of Carnegie's generous donations to libraries the world over. Surely the old Scot would favour a request from the new Edinburgh.
But Carnegie sent only a measly amount. In disgust, the city fathers omitted his name from the front of the new building, calling it simply Public Library. The old fellow abhorred their lack of gratitude, as his ghost might explain, if you could manage to engage it in conversation.
Smith's stories are delightfully told. An hour in his company passes as fleetingly as a mysterious spirit.
And speaking of spirit, there's a spot of Scotch at the end of the tour to steady the nerves.
Hair Raiser Ghost Walk, central Dunedin; 6pm, April- September; 8pm, October-March; $30. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Southland Times