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Fact Check: 26 Ladies' Home Journal Predictions for 2001 (from 1901)

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In the introduction to his December 1901 Ladies' Home Journal article "What Will Happen in the Next Hundred Years," John Elfreth Watkins, a former civil engineer, says that he conferred with the "the wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning" on the following predictions and simply transcribed what they reported. He doesn't mention who these great thinkers of the early 20th century were, but they had some remarkable hits and noteworthy misses when it came to anticipating life in 2001.

1. On population

There will be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions... Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next.

Watkins' experts actually overestimated population growth during the 20th century. According to U.S. census estimates, the population on July 1, 2001 was just 284,796,887. They also failed to recognize the eventual decline of imperialism sparked by the British Empire. In addition to Nicaragua and Mexico, the predictions imagine a number of South American countries voluntarily joining the U.S. to avoid being colonized by European powers.

2. On stature and life expectancy

The American will be taller by one to two inches... He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present.

The article was right to think increased medicine and sanitation would have a salutatory effect. In fact, they underestimated the height evolution. Although not specific to America, worldwide the average man has grown four inches from 5'6" in 1900 to 5'10" in 2000. As for the life expectancy, not only did the article low-ball our modern life spans —74.4 years for men in 2001— it also under-reported the 1901 life spans which, these days at least, are estimated at 47.6 years.

3. On suburbanization

The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal.

This is a cut and dry case of getting it way wrong. In 1900, just as American urbanization was getting under way, about 30 percent of the total population lived in cities. It's been on the rise ever since, and by 2000, 79 percent of people in the U.S. lived in urban areas.

4. On language evolution

There will be no C, X or Q in every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary [sic]. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.

As you may have noticed, none of the 26 letters they were using back in 1901 have been banished from the alphabet—not even Q. But that doesn't mean the article was totally off base for imagining that language would get more streamlined and intuitive. As annoying as it may be to replace "you" with "U," that is "spelling by sound." (Although, contrary to these predictions, newspapers will probably remain the last bastion of correct spelling and grammar.)

It's hard to pin down specifics for international measures of language speakers, but a 2010 estimate from a Swedish encyclopedia puts English at third in the world, behind Mandarin and Spanish. Russian clocks in at number eight.

5. On temperature control

Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house ... Rising early to build a furnace fire will be a task of the olden times.

Yep.

6. On animals and insects

There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated. The horse will have become practically extinct.

Insect screens will be unnecessary. Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated.

We may only wish that rats, mice, and mosquitoes were extinct, but the experts cited in the article had valid reason to think that expanding human populations would relegate the remaining wild animals to zoos and other enclosures.

7. On convenience eating

Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of to-day. They will purchase the materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking ... The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where they will be washed ... These laboratories will be equipped with electric stoves, and all sorts of electric devices, such as coffee-grinders, egg-beaters, stirrers, shakers, parers, meat-choppers, meat-saws, potato-mashers, lemon-squeezers, dish-washers, dish-dryers and the like.

The premonition about the prevalence and convenience of takeout food is essentially spot-on. Sure, we don't return the dishes to be washed, but that's because we've since adopted the use of disposable utensils. And the list of mechanized kitchen devices maybe over-eager, but many have become totally standard, in restaurants and even home kitchens.

8. On food sanitation

No foods will be exposed. Storekeepers who expose food to air breathed out by patrons or the atmosphere of the busy street will be arrested with those who sell stale or adulterated produce.

Health codes are hardly as strict as the article anticipates—policing against "air breathed out by patrons" seems impossible—but now that they mention it, I should probably start washing produce from the vendors on the street.

9. On the depletion of coal and renewable resources

Coal will not be used for heating or cooking. It will be scarce, but not entirely exhausted ... Man will have found electricity powered by water-power to be much cheaper. Every river or creek with any suitable fall will be equipped with water-motors, turning dynamos, making electricity.

Coal usage was certainly on the decline in the 20th century, hitting a low in 2006. But unfortunately, it has not been reliably replaced with renewable sources like water power. In fact, in 2010, hydroelectric sources made up just 6 percent of the total electricity production in the country. Instead, as coal use waned after the first two decades of the 20th century, it was replaced by oil. Mechanical needs propagated by World War II drove an increase in oil use and by 1950, oil had surpassed coal as the most prevalent energy source in America.

10. On the rise of public transportation

There will be no street cars in our large cities. All hurry traffic will be below or high above ground when brought within city limits ... Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.

So close! Below-ground traffic in the form of subways certainly has taken off in the past century, but as anyone with a street-facing window in New York City—or presumably any large metropolis—can attest to, that doesn't mean large cities ever "free from all noises."

11. On photography (and, unintentionally, the internet)

Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later.

It doesn't always make it to the newspapers first—Twitter, anyone?—but it also doesn't even take an hour.

12. On train travel

Trains will run two miles a minute, normally; express trains one hundred and fifty miles an hour... Cars will, like houses be artificially cooled.

Amtrak, which is not necessarily representative of all train travel but is widely used, reports top operating speeds of 150 mph. So, spot on.

13. On automobiles replacing horses

Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are to-day. Farmers will own automobile hay-wagons, automobile truck-wagons, plows, harrows and hay-rakes ... Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known.

Trying to fact-check the cost of a horse—a widely variable commodity—over a hundred years ago and account for inflation is not an exact science, but here are some numbers to help with the comparison: The average price of a horse in 1895, according to one New York Times article, was around $60; and $60 in 1901 translates to roughly $1166 in 2000. The average price of a new car in 2000 was $20,355. Which, for what it's worth, is about $1029 in 1901. So no, by no matter what metric you use, cars are still not cheaper than a horse was in 1901. But the rest of the prediction is accurate. Regardless of expense, automobiles have fully replaced horse vehicles.

14. On admirable exercise habits

Gymnastics will begin in the nursery, where toys and games will be designed to strengthen the muscles. Exercise will be compulsory in the schools. Every school, college and community will have a gymnasium. All cities will have public gymnasiums. A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.

It's difficult to gauge the progress we've made in fulfilling our forefathers' predictions for fitness. A childhood emphasis on exercise is certainly noticeable in the current culture, but I fear they'd find a number of "weakling[s]" walking (but not for 10 miles at a time) about. Of course, public gymnasiums might help the cause.

15. On the swiftness of sea travel

Fast electric ships, crossing the ocean at more than a mile a minute will go from New York to Liverpool in two days. The bodies of these ships will be built above the waves. They will be supported upon runners somewhat like those of a sleigh. These runners will be very buoyant. On their undersides will be apertures expelling jets of air. In this way, a film of air will be kept between them and the water's surface.

We definitely don't have hovercraft sail boats or ocean liners as expected, and a trans-Atlantic trip will still take you at least a week, but that's because this next prediction turned out a little differently as well.

16. On air travel

There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic.

Unfortunately for the accuracy of this prediction, not only do boats fail to cross the Atlantic in under two days, air-ships have mastered the trip in a matter of hours.

17. On developments in warfare

Giant guns will shoot twenty-five miles or more, and will hurl anywhere within such a radius shells exploding and destroying whole cities ... Fleets of air-ships, hiding themselves with dense, smoky mists, thrown off by themselves as they move, will float over cities, fortifications, camps or fleets. They will surprise foes below by hurling upon them deadly thunderbolts. These aerial war-ships will necessitate bomb-proof forts, protected by great steel plates over their tops as well as their sides.

And this only scratches the surface of modern warfare.

18. On increased viewing capabilities

Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span. American audiences in their theatre will view upon huge curtains before them the coronation of kings in Europe or the progress of battles in the Orient.

In fact, we don't even need to go to the theatre to witness the wonders of television technology anymore.

19. On telephones

Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world ... We will be able to telephone China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.

I'm actually not convinced that international fees aren't so exorbitant as to be prohibitive but technically, this one is true.

20. On hearing the opera anytime you want

Grand opera will be telephoned to private homes, and will sound as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theatre box. Automatic instruments reproducing original airs exactly will bring the best music to the families of the untalented.

This prediction actually seems to conflate several modern technologies. The emphasis seems to be on both consistent access to high quality music—a burgeoning but still flawed experience at the time—and the ability to witness live events, which has become a regular experience in the modern era.

21. On education, and enforced social equality

A university education will be free to every man and woman ... Poor students will be given free board, free clothing and free books if ambitious and actually unable to meet their school and college expenses. Medical inspectors regularly visiting the public schools will furnish poor children free eyeglasses, free dentistry and free medical attention of every kind ... In vacation time, poor children will be taken on trips to various parts of the world. Etiquette and housekeeping will be important studies in the public schools.

While the United Kingdom offers state-funded higher education (or at least it did back in 2001), far from fulfilling this prediction, America seems mired in a crisis surrounding the cost of higher education, and the loans it forces students to take on. The thought of social services picking up the tab for not only medical fees but also educational trips seems overly idealistic but an eased financial burden for students with both need and merit is the motivation behind many scholarships.

But we've definitely nixed housekeeping and etiquette from any curriculum I know.

22. On home deliveries

Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles. They will at first connect with private houses of the wealthy; then with all homes.

Speaking as someone who always misses the delivery guy, I wish!

23. On electrically-grown veggies

Winter will be turned into summer and night into day by the farmer. In cold weather he will place heat-conducting electric wires under the soil of his garden and thus warm his growing plants. He will also grow large gardens under glass.

We don't even need electric wires under the soil because "gardens under glass" —greenhouses—work so well.

24. On other means of eating fruit in February

Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days. The farmers of South America, South Africa, Australia and the South Sea Islands, whose seasons are directly opposite to ours, will thus supply us in winter with fresh summer foods which cannot be grown here.

Add in air-borne refrigerators and this prediction is alarmingly accurate.

25. On the oddities we will grow and eat

Strawberries as large as apples will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence. Raspberries and blackberries will be as large ... One cantaloupe will supply an entire family ... Peas and beans will be as large as beets are today ... Roses will be as large as cabbage heads...There will be black, blue and green roses. It will be possible to grow any flower in any color and to transfer the perfume of a scented flower to another which is odorless.

Sadly, giant fruit has remained the stuff of children's fiction. (That link is not just peaches.)

26. On medical improvements

Few drugs will be swallowed or taken into the stomach unless needed for the direct treatment of that organ itself. Drugs needed by the lungs, for instance, will be applied directly to those organs through the skin and flesh. They will be carried with the electric current applied without pain to the outside skin of the body...Not only will it be possible for a physician to actually see a living, throbbing heart inside the chest, but he will be able to magnify and photograph any part of it.

Sure, electricity didn't turn out to be the panacea that the article predicted. But at least our x-ray and imaging capabilities wouldn't disappoint.

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Weird
Watch Plastic Skeletons Being Made in a 1960s Factory
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The making of human teaching skeletons used to be a grisly affair, involving the manipulation of fresh—or not-so-fresh—corpses. But as this video from British Pathé shows, by the 1960s it was a relatively benign craft involving molded plastic and high temperatures, not meat cleavers and maggots.

The video, accented by groan-worthy puns and jaunty music, goes inside a factory in Surrey that produces plastic skeletons, brains, and other organs for use in hospitals and medical schools. The sterile surroundings marked a shift in skeleton production; as the video notes, teaching skeletons had long come from the Middle East, until countries started clamping down on exporting human remains. Before that, human skeletons in Britain and the United States were often produced with a little help from grave-robbers, known as the Resurrection Men. After being dissected in anatomical classes at medical schools, the stolen corpses were often de-fleshed and transformed into objects for study. The theft of these purloined bodies, by the way, started several of America's first riots. Far better they be made out of plastic.

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History
Assault, Robbery, and Murder: The Dark History of "Bedsheet Ghosts"
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Wearing his finest black outfit, Francis Smith stared nervously at the three judges in London’s main criminal courthouse. A mild-mannered excise tax collector, Smith had no known criminal history and certainly no intention to become the centerpiece of one of 19th century England’s most unusual murder trials. But a week earlier, Smith had made a criminally foolish mistake: He had shot and killed what he believed to be a ghost.

The spectators inside the courthouse sat hushed as the prosecutor and a cross-examiner questioned about half a dozen eyewitnesses. Each person had seen Smith in the village of Hammersmith (now a part of London) the night of the crime, or they had previously seen the ghost that Smith was zealously hunting. One such eyewitness, William Girdler, the village night-watchman and Smith’s ghost-hunting partner, had not only seen the white-sheeted specter lurking across the street—he had chased it.

“When you pursued it,” the cross-examiner asked, “how did it escape?”

“Slipped the sheet or table-cloth off, and then got it over his head,” Girdler responded. “It was just as if his head was in a bag.”

“How long had the neighborhood been alarmed with its appearance?”

“About six weeks or two months.”

“Was the alarm great and general?”

“Yes, very great.”

“Had considerable mischief happened from it?”

“Many people were very much frightened.”

Girdler was telling the truth. The people of Hammersmith had reported seeing a ghost for weeks now, and they were terrified: The specter was verifiably violent. It assaulted men and women, and during its two month campaign of harassment and intimidation, it had successfully evaded capture. Rumors swirled that it could manifest from graves in an instant, and sink back into the mud just as quickly. At the time, the magazine Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum reported that the ghost was “so clever and nimble in its retreats, that they could never be traced.”

When Ann Millwood took the stand, the cross-examiner asked if she was familiar with these reports.

The Hammersmith Ghost.
The Hammersmith ghost

“Yes, I heard great talk of it,” Millwood explained, “that sometimes it appeared in a white sheet, and sometimes in a calf-skin dress, with horns on its head, and glass eyes.” That wasn’t all. The ghost also reportedly took the shape of Napoleon Bonaparte; other accounts said that its eyes radiated like glow-worms and that it breathed fire.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Millwood to describe the ghost’s appearance, especially in front of a public audience. The ghoul she characterized looked nothing like her late brother Thomas, the young man whom Francis Smith had mistakenly murdered.

 
 

In 19th century Britain, seeing a ghost—at least, a person dressed up as one—was not uncommon. Ghost impersonating was something of a fad, with churchyards and cobblestoned alleyways regularly plagued by pranksters, louts, and other sheet-wearing hoaxsters who were up to no good.

Historian Owen Davies tracks the origin of ghost impersonators in his wide-ranging book, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts, tracing the first reports of fake ghosts to the Reformation, when critics of Catholicism accused the Church of impersonating the dead to convert doubters. (According to one account by the reformer Erasmus, a priest once fastened candles to a cast of crabs and released them in a dark graveyard in hopes of imitating the lost, wandering souls of purgatory.)

But for most ghost impersonators, candle-strapped crustaceans were unnecessary; all you needed was a white sheet. Up until the 19th century, the bodies of the poor weren’t buried in coffins but simply wrapped in fabric—sometimes the sheet of the deathbed—which would be knotted at the head and feet. Ghost impersonators adopted the white sheet as their de facto wardrobe as early as 1584, when Reginald Scott, a member of parliament and witchcraft aficionado, wrote that, “one knave in a white sheet hath cozened [that is, deceived] and abused many thousands that way.” It’s from this practice that the trope of a white-sheeted ghost originated.

Seventeenth and 18th century Britain are sprinkled with accounts of phony phantoms. Take Thomas Wilmot, a famed crook and highwayman who once disguised himself as a spirit to steal money. (His appearance—chalked-up skin and a sheet-bound head—sent a table of gamblers scrambling for an exit. Wilmot pocketed the cash they left on the table.) And by the 1760s, so many white-sheeted pranksters were prowling in cemeteries that annoyed citizens were paying bounties to get rid of them. According to the Annual Register, one ghost in southern Westminster “struck such terror into the credulous inhabitants thereabouts, that those who could not be brought to believe it a ghost, entered into a subscription, to give five guineas to the person, who would seize him.”

These pranks had consequences. In 1792, a ghost impersonator in Essex spooked a farm-worker steering a wagon; the horses jumped, the driver tumbled, and his leg was crushed by one of the wagon’s wheels. He died from his injuries. Twelve years later, soldiers in London’s St. James’s Park spotted the specter of a headless woman, an event that authorities took very seriously, if only because it was distracting—and reportedly harming—its security guards. In the 1830s, a ghost impersonator was tried for manslaughter because he literally frightened an 81-year-old woman to death.

It was dangerous for the so-called ghosts, too. In 1844, six men chased a ghost impersonator and beat him so badly that he had to visit the hospital. In 1888, a mob of 50 villagers—all armed with sticks—surrounded a “ghost” and only released him after he agreed to donate money to a local infirmary. (Some ghost-busts startled investigators for other reasons: Davies writes that, in 1834, an investigation of an unoccupied haunted house revealed “nothing more than some boisterous love-makers.”)

Like many other pastimes in 19th century Britain, ghost impersonating was a gendered activity: Women, especially young female servants, were often restricted to mimicking poltergeist activity indoors—rapping on doors, moving furniture, throwing rocks at windows—while the sheet-wearing hijinks were reserved for young men who, far too often, had scuzzy intentions.

Most accounts of ghost impersonating, both modern and historical, gloss over the fact that men often used their ghostly cover to intimidate, harass, sexually assault, and even rape women. In his precise and critical account of ghost impersonators, Spirits of an Industrial Age, the historian Jacob Middleton argues that ghost impersonating was not only the domain of juvenile pranksters, but also that of sexual predators. This was made most painfully clear during the 1830s, the height of hauntings by “Spring-Heeled Jack.”

Spring-Heeled Jack.
Spring-Heeled Jack
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Every day, London’s women had to contend not only with the persistent threat of cads and street harassers, but also with men the press dubbed “Monsters,” menaces who stalked, grabbed, groped, slashed, and stabbed women in the breasts and buttocks. These criminals were piquerists, people who took sexual pleasure in piercing the skin of women, and a spate of attacks in the 1780s put all of London at unease. In the early 1800s, these boors started to take cover by dressing as ghosts. Spring-Heeled Jack, called a “monster in human form,” was among them: Hiding in alleyways after sunset, he would seek lone women, knock on their doors, and attempt to tear away their clothes with hooks. Thanks to London’s sensationalist press, tales of Spring-Heeled Jack would bloat into urban legend.

But even before Spring-Heeled Jack, on a normal evening, the women of Hammersmith were justified in feeling worried about stepping outside after dark. Organized police forces were a relatively new idea in Great Britain, and solitary neighborhoods such as Hammersmith were protected by little more than a roving constable or watchman. Reports of the Hammersmith ghost intensified that anxiety. (The community's men weren’t much help. As the Morning Post reported, “[The ghost] was seen on Monday evening last pursuing a woman, who shrieked dreadfully. Although there were four male passengers in the stage coach, which passed at the time, not one durst venture to the rescue of the distressed female.”) It wasn’t until weeks of attacks that bands of locals, their bellies sloshing with ale supplied by the nearest public house, began taking to the streets to stop the menace.

It was at the intersection of these two sad facts that the tragedy at Hammersmith unfolded: Francis Smith went out on January 3, 1804 to catch a ghost, while Thomas Millwood went out to ensure that his wife, who was walking home alone in the dark, did not meet one.

 
 

Thomas Millwood was told he resembled the Hammersmith ghost. A bricklayer, Millwood wore a white jacket, white trousers, and a white apron, an ensemble that scared a carriage-riding couple one dark Saturday night. When the passerby exclaimed to his wife, “There goes the ghost!” Millwood turned and uncorked a few colorful and unprintable words, asking if the man wanted “a punch in the head.”

After the incident, a family member named Phoebe Fullbrooke implored Millwood to change his wardrobe at night. “Your clothes look white,” she said. “Pray do put on your great coat, that you may not run any danger.” Millwood mumbled something about how he hoped the town’s vigilantes would catch the ghost, but he neglected the advice and continued walking home in his white work clothes.

A few nights later, Francis Smith and William Girdler went ghost hunting.

Compelled by reports of the ghost’s violence, the men carried firearms. Hammersmith’s spirit had choked a man and the village swirled with rumors that it had even attacked a pregnant woman who later died of shock. According to one report, the apparition caused “so much alarm, that every superstitious person in that neighborhood had been filled with the most powerful apprehensions.” But superstitions mattered little. Ghost or not, there was undoubtedly a public menace in Hammersmith, and people wanted it gone. A bounty of 10 pounds would be awarded to anybody who caught it.

A depiction of Francis Smith hunting the Hammersmith ghost in 'The Newgate Calendar.'
A depiction of Francis Smith hunting the Hammersmith ghost in The Newgate Calendar.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

That same night, Thomas Millwood stopped at his father’s house and began chatting with his sister Ann. Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m., she suggested he leave and escort his wife, who was still in town, back home. “You had better go,” Ann said. “It is dangerous for your wife to come home by herself.” Millwood agreed and stepped outside, wearing his white bricklayer’s clothes. He didn’t know that he was walking down the same unlit lane as Francis Smith, shotgun in tow.

When Smith spotted the white figure gliding in his direction, he lifted his fowling piece to his shoulder and yelled, “Damn you, who are you? Stand, else I’ll shoot you.” The air stood silent. He yelled a second time and stared down the barrel. Not hearing any response, Smith fired.

Millwood’s sister heard the gunshot and screamed for Thomas, but, like Smith, she heard no response. She later found her brother lying face up on the dirt lane, his face stained black with gunpowder, his white clothes stained red.

 
 

The Caledonian Mercury reported the sad news later that week: “We have to announce to the public an event, in some of its circumstances so ludicrous, but in its result so dreadful, that we fear if the reader should even laugh with one side of his mouth, he must of necessity cry with the other.”

The moment the smell of spent gunpowder hit his nose, Smith knew he’d made a mistake. Millwood had been killed instantly; the shot entered his lower left jaw and exited through the back of his neck. Smith barged into the White Hart pub in visible distress, possibly in shock, and waited to be arrested. One week later, he stood trial at London’s Old Bailey courthouse. The jury deliberated for 45 minutes before returning with a conviction of manslaughter.

The three judges rejected the sentence.

“The Court have no hesitation whatever with regard to the law,” Justice Rooke exclaimed, “and therefore the verdict must be—‘Guilty of Murder’ or ‘a total acquittal from want to evidence.’” In other words, the jury could not be wishy-washy. Smith was either guilty of murder, or not guilty of murder—the jury needed to decide.

Within minutes, Smith was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to hang the next Monday; his body would be dissected in the name of science.

Reports of Smith’s trial were lurid. As the Newgate Calendar tells it, “When the dreadful word ‘Guilty!’ was pronounced [Smith] sank into a state of stupefaction exceeding despair.” His feelings were likely intensified by the admission of John Graham, a Hammersmith shoemaker who days earlier admitted to starting the Hammersmith ghost hoax. (Graham began impersonating the specter to scare his apprentices, who he complained were filling his children’s heads with nonsense about ghosts. Unfortunately, his prank appears to have inspired violent copycats to engage in what the Caledonian Mercury called “weak, perhaps wicked frolic.”)

In the end, Smith would be lucky. His sentence was sent to His Majesty King George III, who not only delayed the execution but eventually granted Smith a full pardon.

The Hammersmith ghost trial, however, would haunt England’s legal system for almost another two centuries. Smith’s case would remain a philosophical head-scratcher: If somebody commits an act of violence in an effort to stop a crime from occurring—only to realize later that they were mistaken and that no crime was being committed—is that person still justified in using violence? Or are they the criminal? British law would not be make room for this gray area until the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the tragedy in Hammersmith failed to deter England’s many ghost impersonators. Pranksters and creeps alike continued wearing bedsheets in dark cemeteries and alleyways for almost another century. In fact, the ghost of 1803 and 1804 would not be the last specter to haunt the village of Hammersmith. Two decades later, a ghost would return. But this time, villagers whispered rumors that this haunting was real, caused by the angry soul of a white-clad bricklayer named Thomas Millwood.

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