Should anyone be looking for a real-life figure upon which to base a fictional occult detective, let me suggest the Reverend Richard Dodge (c. 1653-1746).
It seems that little is known about the actual man, but his reputation as an exorcist of malevolent spirits made him legendary. Literally. He’s become part of Cornish folklore.
The earliest reference to Dodge that I’ve found (so far) is in a work written by Thomas Bond and delightfully titled Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, in the Country of Cornwall; with an Account of the Natural and Artificial Curiosities and Picturesque Scenery of the Neighbourhood (1823). There, we read that Dodge was vicar of Talland — and, “by traditional accounts, a very singular man.” Though rumored to know a few things about the black arts, the parson apparently used this knowledge to expel unsavory spooks. Bond says that many of these spirits “were seen, in all sorts of shapes, flying and running before [Dodge], and he pursuing them, with his whip, in a most daring manner.” Before presenting the tombstone inscription of this whip-wielding, Cornish clerical cowboy who fought the Powers of Darkness, Bond says Dodge “was a worthy man, and much respected; but had his eccentricities.”
As I say, if this isn’t fodder for an occult detective character, then I don’t know what!
From folklore to folk music, Reverend Dodge is the subject
of this song by John Langford
The next chronicle of Dodge that I’ve located is “The Spectral Coach,” Thomas Q. Couch’s record of a Talland legend he once heard “by a country fire-side.” At least, that’s what he says in The History of Polperro: A Fishing Town on the South Coast of Cornwall (1871), where it’s reprinted in an appendix. The transcribed tale first appeared in Popular Romances of the West of England: Or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall and, afterward, wound its way into The Haunters & the Haunted: Ghost Stories and Tales of the Supernatural (1921), an interesting mishmash of ghostly fiction and folktales. All I’ll say about this story is that it opens with those in need calling upon the ghost-busting services of Dodge — and ends with Dodge proving to be the right man for the job.
In other words, classic occult detective material.
Sadly, there’s not enough material about the real Dodge to induct him into my new Ghost Hunter Hall of Fame. I’ll continue to search for better qualified candidates, and you certainly should feel free to make recommendations.