Read my reviews of Sherlock Holmes movies or the handful of references to that detective in my Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries, and it won’t be surprising that I take an interest in Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.
I knew that Doyle had done some ghost hunting in real life, and I thought it might be interesting to try to nail down the when and where of those investigations. As such, I sketched a tentative timeline. I’ll tinker with it in the coming months, re-posting this when significant changes are made. Feel very free to let me know of good evidence that will correct any mistakes here.
Follow the hyperlinks to learn more.
c. 1893 – Doyle joined the Society for Psychical Research.
c. 1894 – As part of a SPR team, Doyle investigated a haunted house at Charmouth, Dorset. The team heard a sudden thwack, but otherwise the findings were disappointing. In The New Revelation (1918), Doyle reports that the skeleton of a child was later unearthed in the house’s garden.
c. 1919 – Doyle visited a woman in Alton, Hampshire, who claimed to be haunted by a spirit. The woman, a psychic, said she’d gleaned that the spirit had left behind some important papers, but Doyle’s search for them proved fruitless, as he reports in The Edge of the Unknown (1930).
1920 – Doyle became involved with the Cottingley Fairies photos, writing an article for The Strand and a book titled The Coming of the Fairies (1922). This is not a ghost hunt, of course, but it provides more evidence of Doyle’s interest in exploring the paranormal.
1924 – On May 28, while investigating a haunted house near Piccadilly Circus, Doyle and others contacted a spirit that claimed to be none other than Vladimir Lenin. His report was published in The Daily Express.
1930 – Doyle resigned from the Society for Psychical Research, feeling its goal had shifted from investigating the paranormal—and especially spiritualism—to debunking it. Many other members followed his lead.
Doyle’s The Edge of the Unknown was published. It includes a chapter titled “Some Curious Personal Experiences,” which recounts the Charmouth (c. 1894) and Alton (c. 1919) investigations—and another ghost hunt in a neighborhood church. I’m not yet sure of the date of this additional ghost hunt.