The Wem ghost: a tall tale develops

Over a decade ago (in the days before blogs) I wrote a short web page debunking the Wem ‘ghost’ photograph, which had been taken the previous year and had begun to appear on web sites.

This photograph is a very striking picture, apparently of a young girl standing at the top of the stairs leading into a burning building. However, it does not take much close investigation to see that the picture is not of a young girl, and therefore likely not a ghost.

The ‘head’ is in front of the railings, and there is no body apparent, but if there is one, it must be way back behind the railings and inside the doorway at the top of the steps. So the ‘ghost’, if it is one, is shaped something like the front end of a giraffe.

From time to time I amuse myself by googling to see how the ‘Wem ghost’ meme is spreading on the Web. It took a few years before it really began to spread beyond the personal home page that started it and a handful of specialist ‘ghost’ sites. But now the story is all over the place,although I notice that many of the sites simply rip off the text of others, just as they rip off the copyright photograph that started it. There are not many sites where the photograph is given any critical analysis at all.

What is interesting is that the legend is starting to grow whenever the story is retold.  The fire that destroyed the old timber houses of the town in 1677, was, according to legend, caused by a young girl’s carelessness with a candle. The bloggers have now created new details to enhance the photograph: now she supposedly died in the 1677 fire or haunted the Town hall before it burned (although she had no connection with the building, which was built two and a half centuries after her life). The modern technology of the blog is being used to spread tall tales of a most old-fashioned kind.