In “Macbeth”, it is highly unlikely that Shakespeare put in the stage directions:
The ghost of Banquo enters stage right. He is naked from head to toe, except for a card that hangs from his neck that reads “I Am Banquo”, because without clothes ... Well, let’s face it ... He could be just about anybody.
But if Shakespeare had decided to show the ghost of Banquo in the nude, he would be in good company. Stories of naked ghosts have been around for ages.
You might laugh at the thought of a naked ghost, but it’s not as far fetched as you may think. There is a real debate about why ghosts wear clothing at all. Those of us who believe in ghosts accept that they exist because we have faith that some part of us, our soul, continues to live on after death. What does a soul look like? No one really knows, but people often think of a soul as something that is made out of light or some kind of energy. It may or may not have a human shape -- and it certainly isn’t wearing clothes. Ghosts, on the other hand, are almost always described as wearing clothing. But if a soul is the essence or energy of a person, then it has no need for clothes. And if a ghost is the soul of a person, then why the hell do ghosts wear clothes?!
Ghosts have been described as wearing all sorts of clothing that helps identify the time period they lived in, and who they might have been. Ghosts have been seen in Gettysburg wearing the blue and grey uniforms of the men who fought in those battles. Ghosts have been seen wearing nun’s habits, the style of which helps date them. There have been ghosts of nurses wearing old fashioned uniforms; ghosts of men, women and children wearing clothing from different time periods; and Native American ghosts wearing the clothing of the tribe they once belonged to.
We know that ghosts seem to wear clothing, but has anyone ever actually seen a naked ghost? The answer is, yes. Although there are far more cases of clothed ghosts than nude ghosts, naked ghosts do exist.
In the early 1900’s, mathematician and author Alice Mabel Gray lived a secluded life just outside the town of Chesterton, Indiana. She lived in primitive conditions among the sand dunes, which earned her the nickname, “Diana of the Dunes”. Her unconventional lifestyle fascinated the public, and her passion for preserving the dunes was critical in helping to establish the area as a nature preserve. Alice was a free spirit in life, and she was known to enjoyed swimming naked in Lake Michigan by the light of the moon. She lived on the dunes until her death in 1925, and her ashes were scattered in the area where she had lived. There have been reports that her ghostly naked figure is seen bathing in the lake at night at what is now Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
New Orleans has more than its share of ghosts. It is, perhaps, one of the most haunted areas of the United States, and it too has a naked ghost story known as the ‘Haunting of the Octoroon Mistress’.
In the 1800s, people of mixed race were discriminated against, and those who were ⅛ African American and ⅞ White were labeled “Octoroon”. Julie was a beautiful woman with black hair and dark eyes. She met a rich, handsome Frenchman and fell in love with him. To the Frenchman, Julie was just his mistress, a secret lover. But Julie wanted to marry the Frenchman in spite of her mixed race background and the difference in their social status.
After months of Julie begging the Frenchman to marry her, he came up with a test that he said would prove that she really loved him. He had invited some friends over to his house, and he would be playing cards with them in the downstairs parlor. He told Julie to strip off all of her clothing and to wait for him on the rooftop until he was done with the game. It was a bizarre request, and the Frenchman thought that Julie would never take him seriously, but she did. Julie undressed in her room, then climbed naked onto the rooftop to wait for her lover to return. It was December, and the night was cold and damp. The Frenchman finished his card game, then went to bed and waited for Julie to come to him as she always had. He didn’t think that she had taken him seriously, but when he realized that she was nowhere to be found he ran to the roof to look for her. There he found her naked, frozen body huddled in a corner waiting for him.
The octoroon mistress is said to haunt the house to this day. Some say that on cold, damp December evenings you can see her naked figure pacing back and forth on the rooftop, trying to keep warm, and waiting for her lover to return.
In all the years that I’ve been conducting paranormal investigations, I’ve only come across one case that involved a naked ghost. The investigation was at a home in Stamford, Connecticut where some pretty strange things had been happening, and I captured some really interesting EVP. You can read about it in the Case File called, “Totally Unexplainable: What One Family Found in Their Home”. A few months after the investigation, the homeowner called me to tell me about something that her husband saw that night -- the ghost of a naked woman.
She told me, “Before we start, I have to tell you that my husband has never been a big believer in the paranormal. Even after we’ve had some pretty crazy things happen in our house, he always shrugs it off and tries to explain it away. But this was the thing that made him a believer.
“My husband was in the living room. It was about nine o’clock at night and I was already upstairs cozy in bed. He came up to our bedroom with a strange look on his face and said, ‘How did you get in bed so fast?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘You didn’t just walk up the stairs naked?’ And I said, ‘No, I didn’t.’ But I could tell by the look on his face that he already knew what he had seen. He looked at me and said, ‘I think I just saw a ghost!’
I asked him to tell me what had happened. He said that he was in the living room and the lights were on, so it wasn’t dark or anything. He saw this dark haired, shapely, naked, woman walking up the stairs that lead from the living room to the upstairs part of the house where our bedroom is, and he thought it was me. He said that he saw the her out of the corner of his eye, and that she was totally naked. He was so sure of what he saw that he really thought it was me. Or at least, he was hoping it was me! As soon as he saw her, he came upstairs. So, he must have seen that she was walking kind of slowly for him to question how I got in bed and under the covers so quickly. But that was it. My husband saw the ghost of a naked woman, and now he’s a believer!”
Most naked ghosts that are reported are adults, but it seems that even children sometimes get naked in the afterlife. In Armona, California, the naked ghost of a young girl around nine years of age has been spotted near the walnut groves and fruit orchards in the area. The story goes that at some point in the late 1800s, a group of young girls were swimming naked in a waterhole outside of town. A group of boys showed up and teased the girls, and all but one of the girls took off running. The girls who ran away hid in the nearby walnut groves, but the girl who stayed hid under the water and ended up drowning. Since then, sightings of a ghost girl around nine years old have been reported on numerous occasions. The thing is, she only appears to girls around her own age, and she is always reported as being naked. The ghost has been given the name “Walnut Girl” because she is always seen near walnut orchards, or in places that store walnuts. It is almost as if she is trying to make up for her mistake of not running to hide with the other girls in the walnut grove.
In North Carolina there is the famous naked ghost of the Craven Street bridge. One hot, summer evening, sometime in the early 1900s, a group of boys went swimming in the French Broad river. Children often swam naked in those days, so the boys stripped down and dove into the river. But they didn’t realize that there had been bad storms upriver a few days earlier, and the usually calm waters of the French Broad were now filled with swift, dangerous undercurrents.
The sun had started going down, and the boys were having too much fun to notice that they were floating down the river faster than usual. When they finally noticed that it was past sunset and it was beginning to get dark, they had drifted down close to the pilings of the Craven Street bridge. By now, the water was flowing in dangerous rapids around the bridge’s pilings, and the boys decided that they needed to get away quickly. But there was one problem. One of the boys was missing. They searched frantically for their friend, and one of the boys swam to shore and ran for help. All night long boats combed the river by lantern light, but to no avail. The search continued through the following weeks, but the boy’s body was never found.
Soon after the boy’s drowning, some who traveled across the Craven Street bridge at dusk began reporting something strange. They said that they saw a naked boy running across the bridge, but when they called to him he kept running as if he was unaware that they were there. Those who ran after the boy and were able to catch up with him were stopped dead in their tracks as the nude boy vanished before their eyes. The naked ghost of Craven Street bridge is seen to this day, and drivers who cross the bridge in the early hours of hot summer days are sometimes surprised to see a naked young boy running alongside their car, vanishing before he finishes crossing the bridge.
The United States isn’t the only place where clothing-free ghosts have been spotted. England also has its fair share of naked spirits. A few years ago, a couple checked into Room 7 of the nine-hundred-year-old Weston Manor Hotel in Oxfordshire. But in the middle of the night they felt a cold presence in the room, and an overwhelming sense of dread. The couple fled the room and spent the rest of the night in the hotel lobby. The hotel attendants weren’t at all surprised. Room 7 is haunted by the nude ghost of a nun. Legend has it that the nun, whose name was Maude, was burned at the stake after being caught in bed with a monk. Her nude figure has been seen in Room 7, standing near the four poster bed.
Another famous British specter is that of a young woman seen wearing nothing but a white wedding veil. This free spirited, clothing optional spirit has been seen at the Bramshill House. The ghost was witnessed in 1944 by the exiled King Michael and Queen Anne of Romania after they took residence there.
Moving on to Scotland, we find reports of another ghostly woman known as the Green Lady who has been seen at Muchalls Castle. Parts of the castle were constructed in the 13th century, and there was a tunnel that ran underneath it that was used by smugglers. This underground area also had a cave that was used to hide wine and spirits in order to avoid paying excise taxes. The tunnel ran from the castle to the sea, and it was here that the Green Lady died. She had gone down the tunnel for a secret rendezvous with her lover. She traveled by boat and waited for him by the sea, but she accidentally fell into the water and drowned. Another version of the story has both lovers drowning in the tunnel as the tide came in. After the girls death, the figure of a beautiful naked woman has been seen combing her hair in front of a mirror in one of the rooms that had once been a bedroom. Why is she naked? No one really knows. Perhaps the ghost is reliving the hours before her death as she was getting ready to meet her lover.
There are lots of reports of the ghosts of naked women, but what about naked men? Bath Abbey in Scotland is home to one such naked bloke. The abbey and the surrounding streets are haunted by the ghost of a naked Roman soldier. How do we know he’s a Roman soldier if he’s naked? Some assumed that he’s a soldier since the Roman baths are just behind the building. Or maybe he was seen wearing a helmet - and just a helmet -- which would have identified him as a soldier. Either way, the figure has been seen on numerous occasions. Once a police officer gave chase after the ghostly streaker, but the figure faded away as the officer approached him.
In order to understand the ghost of the naked running man a little better, it helps to know a little about the Roman baths. It was a hoppin’ place! It was a public bathing house, a place where people of all walks of life could soak in the healing properties of the mineral-rich springs. But it was also a temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, goddess of justice and healing. Lead and pewter ‘curse tablets’ have been found at the baths, and many are inscribed with pleas to Minerva to curse those who had stolen from people as they were bathing. One reads:
“Solinus to the goddess Sulis Minerva. I give to your divinity and majesty my bathing tunic and cloak. Do not allow sleep or health to him who has done me wrong, whether man or woman or whether slave or free unless he reveals himself and brings those goods to your temple.”
So, maybe the ghost isn’t that of a naked soldier. Maybe it’s the ghost of a thief. What do you do when you’re caught stealing and you’re naked? You can’t put the stolen goods in your pockets, can you? No. The only thing left to do is run. So, perhaps the ghost of the naked man is seen running from the baths because he had stolen something and he was being chased by guards.
Back in the US, one well known historic site that is haunted by a naked ghost is the famous island prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco, California. The former prison is now part of the National Park service, and park rangers and visitors have reported a wide range of paranormal activity in the island prison. These include the sound of whispering coming from cells, the sound of cell doors shutting, mysterious figures seen walking down hallways, cold spots, and the sound of musical instruments and sewing machines.
One section of the prison known as ‘the hole’ contains six small cells that were used for solitary confinement. The rooms had no windows, so they were completely dark. Prisoners were thrown into these cells either totally naked, or were provided scant clothing - socks, shorts, and coveralls. Prisoners in the hole were also given limited food and water, and they were often beaten. Some died of starvation, others died of exposure, and some took their own lives after spending time in solitary confinement. One of the cells in the hole, Cell D-14, is said to be the most haunted cell in the prison. It is reported that an apparition of a naked male inmate has been seen cowering in the corner of the cell and crying.
Another ghost has been seen either entirely nude, or wearing next to nothing at the Glen Acres Golf and Country Club in Seattle, Washington. Between the years 1956 and 1976, there were a sizable number of police investigations of a naked man seen running around the golf course. On at least one occasion, the police gave chase but the naked man vanished without a trace just as they had corned him.
In the 1950s, many people reported seeing the apparition of a Native American man performing a twisting dance on the grounds of the golf course. The man was described as being totally naked, except for a colorful ceremonial headdress.
What’s more terrifying than one naked male ghost? Eleven naked male ghosts! West of the village of Shap in Cumbria England is an ancient burial mound called Skellaw Wark or “Skull Hill”. In the early part of the nineteenth century, three sisters were walking home past Skull Hill when a group of eleven naked men materialize before them. The girls said that the men appeared one by one until the full group was assembled, and that they walked in single file. They were described as being totally nude and glowing with a strange yellow light, and they were waving their fists in the air as if in anger. At the time, many thought this story was just nonsense. But a few years later in 1827, eleven male skeletons were discovered near the area, and all were wearing golden bands on their wrists. It is thought that they were killed either in battle, or sacrificed as part of an ancient religious ritual.
So, if ghosts are the souls of people, their spirit energy, then why do they most often show themselves as wearing something as mundane as man-made clothing?
If I told you that the ghost of Humphrey Bogart was in my family room last night, you’d think I was crazy. But he was. He really was! I really did see him. And I’ll tell you what else -- I also saw the ghost of Katharine Hepburn. You see, I was watching the 1951 film “The African Queen” and I swear that Bogart and Hepburn were right there on the TV in my family room. They walked, they talked, and they even wore clothes! It’s just a movie? Well, yes it is. So, I guess it wasn’t the actual actors I was seeing on the screen; it was just their images. But if you think about it, I was seeing the image of two people who died many years ago, and they looked as real as could be. Thus, the first theory of why ghosts wear clothes.
Many people believe that ghosts are simply the imprint of energy on a particular location; that they are simply images of people and events from the past, and that they play over and over again like a movie. This particular type of ghost is often seen in the same spot, doing the same thing, and they sometimes appear during a certain time of the day, or even on a particular date. Some ghosts are seen doing mundane things, such as washing dishes or walking across a room, oblivious of the people who are observing them. I recently heard from someone who said that gunshots are heard in the basement of their home where a murder was committed over a hundred years ago. The shots are heard at the exact same time every night, and it is assumed that the time coincides with the time of the murder.
But not all ghosts fall into this category. Some spirits seem to interact with people, and they move objects with purpose. Their voices appear on digital recorders as EVP, and they touch people as if to let them know that they are around.
One theory is that ghosts are made up of electromagnetic energy. This is why many ghost hunters often use EMF meters (Electromagnetic Field Meters) to detect the presence of spirits. I use them myself, and they do seem to react to spirit energy. I once did an investigation where my EMF meter was placed on a bed, and I communicated with a ghost by asking questions and watching the meter. When I said, “Can you come closer?” the numbers on the meter began to rise. When I asked it to step away, they went back to zero. I continued to ask questions such as, “If you are a woman, please step closer” and the meter responded. So, there is definitely something to the theory that ghosts are either made up of electromagnetic energy, or they are able to manipulate EMF.
If ghosts are able to manipulate EMF, even if they are doing so unconsciously, then they may be imprinting images on our minds. This sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually based on fact. EMF affects people’s brains, and it can even be dangerous. High EMF readings caused by faulty electrical wiring in homes and from other sources of electricity have been proven to cause nightmares, hallucinations and feelings of fear and paranoia. If a ghost is an electromagnetic being, then they may be imprinting the way they see themselves onto the minds of the people who witness them.
If I ask you to close your eyes and picture yourself washing the dishes in your kitchen, you’re probably not picturing yourself in the buff. We tend to think of ourselves as being clothed. Even hardcore nudists think of themselves as wearing clothes if they are asked to picture themselves at work or walking down the street. This is why ghosts appear to be wearing clothing. We are not actually ‘seeing’ ghost; our minds are sensing the imprint of the image that the ghost has of themselves.
This is also the case with spirit visitations from loved ones. Many, many people report that their deceased relatives look much younger than they remembered them looking in life. The majority of these spirits show themselves as healthy, vibrant, and young. Some think that spirits picture themselves as looking they way they did during the happiest times of their lives, and that as a result, we see them looking younger than we remember. Then again, grandma may know that you might not recognize her as a 20 year old hottie, so she appears the way you knew her in life. Either way, the image is being imprinted on our minds.
If this is the case, then why are some ghosts naked? It seems to have something to do with the circumstances under which a person died, or it is an emotional imprint that happens to involve being naked. In the stories I shared, the boy and girl who drown were naked. The woman waiting for her lover was naked when she froze to death. The eleven naked men seem to have been killed as part of a ritual where they were nude. Maybe this was the last way these spirits remembered themselves as looking. I highly doubt that you’ll see the ghost of your dead grandpa chopping wood in the yard in the buff. At least, I hope you don’t! But if that’s how grandpa liked to chop wood, well, more power to him!
I’ll leave you with this story. Several years ago I was at beach that happened to be clothing optional (although I don’t think there was a single person who chose the option to wear a bathing suit) and I noticed a group of people near the shore rushing over to help someone who was obviously in trouble. Soon, park rangers were on the scene trying to revive a man who had had a heart attack, but they were too late. The man died on the beach, naked as the day he was born, and surrounded by a bunch of thoroughly naked spectators. That beach is no longer clothing optional, but if the theories are correct and that man’s energy imprint is still on that spot, then beachgoers might be more than a little surprised to see the ghostly image of a man strolling along the beach with not a care in the world, wearing nothing but a smile.