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Catching the spirits

Published:Saturday | March 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal, Columnist

I have always known that spirits come in bottles and I have had my share of them in my time. More than once upon that time, like 'Drink and Drunk' in Sparrow's calypso Drunk and Disorderly, I would spirit away spirituous liquors with almost spiritual fervour. But ghosts?

Sometimes when one is in high spirits or high in spirits, these things happen, as in the case of Minnie Driver, the British actress. She claimed that during a visit to Mexico in December 2004 she saw a ghost. She recalled, "There was a strange Mexican in a sombrero and a poncho at the end of my bed. I promise you, he was standing at the end of my bed when I woke up very early in the morning. He disappeared before my very eyes! Before I could even say, 'Hola!' and 'Buenos dias,' he buggered off. And it was very frightening and weird."

Ghost of José Cuervo

When asked what she was drinking the night before, Driver answered, "Lots of tequila!" Many who heard the story surmised that it was the ghost of José Cuervo. Ghosts are not as lucky. One went to a bar in Tijuana and ordered a shot of Jose Cuervo Gold only to be told by the bartender, "Sorry señor, but we don't serve spirits here." In a huff, the ghost left for Tombstone, Arizona.

So, what is this about ghosts and not spirits in a bottle? The Associated Press (AP) has reported, "Two glass vials purportedly containing the ghosts of two dead people sold for 2,830 New Zealand dollars (US$1,983) at an auction." What would possess someone to put ghosts in a bottle?

The AP report continued, "The 'ghosts' were put up for sale by Avie Woodbury from the southern city of Christchurch. She said they were captured in her house and stored in glass vials with stoppers and dipped in holy water, which, she said "dulls the spirits' energy". She said they were the spirits of an old man who lived in the house during the 1920s, and a powerful, disruptive little girl who turned up after a session with a spirit-calling Ouija board. It is conjectured that before trying to get the ghosts into vials, she first thought of putting them in boxes. However, she failed in her attempt to get them to lie down flat because she couldn't find an adequate spirit level.

There have been several questions about the entire episode. A few people have surmised that given what some Catholic priests have been up to, 'holy' water might not be so holy after all and that it would not take long for the ghosts to escape and haunt the homes of whoever bought them. Others acknowledged that there are people who would now be tempted to put thousands of ghosts in bottles for a price of almost US$1,000 each, but asked what would possess someone to buy a ghost in a vial?

There were also questions about whether ghosts actually exist and if so, how would you know that there is a ghost in a sealed bottle without opening the bottle to verify the existence of the ghost? A Trinidadian friend said cynically, "I know about people who buy what we call 'cat in bag' but 'ghosts in vials' takes the cake, ice cream and even the pi-ata." It seems that the two ghosts in vials were actually authenticated by a high Scotland Yard official - the chief in spectre.

While a ghost has been defined as an invisible object usually seen at night, when it comes to ghosts, some people are visually challenged 24/7. A doctor's receptionist working the late shift ran into her boss' office in a panic. "Sir, sir," she said breathlessly, "there's a ghost in the corridor. What shall I do with him?" Without looking up from his work, the doctor said, "Tell him I can't see him."

Some people, however, have seen or experienced ghosts. Rock star Sting claimed that while lying in bed in his castle one night in 2003, he was surprised to see a woman and child enter the room. He thought it was one of his children and his wife, Trudie Styler, until he reached over and realised that his wife was still in bed with him. Both Sting and his wife soon agreed that they had seen a pair of ghosts. Legendary guitarist, Andres Segovia, was ending a recital in Berlin when there was a loud cracking noise. Segovia rushed off the platform. Backstage, in great anguish, all he could say was, "My guitar, my guitar." Afterwards he learnt that his friend who had made the guitar had died in Madrid at the same time as the instrument had split in Berlin.

During his tenure as the United States president, Abraham Lincoln held seances in the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt recounted that 75 years after Lincoln's death, she was sitting in her study when one of the maids burst in. The maid was in a state of great excitement. "I looked up from my work," Mrs Roosevelt said, "and asked her what was the trouble. 'He's up there - sitting on the edge of the bed, taking off his shoes!" she exclaimed. "Who's up where, taking off his shoes?" I asked. 'Mr Lincoln!' the maid replied."

Lincoln's ghost

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Ronald Reagan's daughter, Maureen, also claimed to have seen Lincoln's ghost. According to, Reagan's dog reportedly refused to enter the Lincoln bedroom and often stood outside the empty room barking.

Despite all the fear they cause, ghosts also have their uses. A rich contributor to the Clinton campaign was staying at the White House and, in the middle of the night, he met a tall, bearded ghost. The ghost said, "I have been walking these corridors for more than a hundred years." The visitor said, "In that case, can you tell me the way to the toilet?"

Tony Deyal was last seen in New Zealand trying to investigate the 'ghosts in the vials' mystery but soon encountered a dead end.