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A Terrible Beast in a Hidden Room

Situated just west of Forfar, Scotland, Glamis Castle is referred to by Shakespeare in Macbeth ; Macbeth of its title having killed Duncan...

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Situated just west of Forfar, Scotland, Glamis Castle is referred to by Shakespeare in Macbeth; Macbeth of its title having killed Duncan there in 1040. And it is also at the castle where assassins murdered King Malcolm II in 1034. In addition, Glamis Castle was the childhood home of both Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother, and the birthplace of Princess Margaret. And then there is the castle’s very own monster. Jon Downes, director of the Center for Fortean Zoology, notes that “…the castle is, of course, the site of yet another, well known and semi-legendary beast known as the Monster of Glamis. It’s said that the creature was supposed to have been the hideously deformed heir to the Bowes-Lyon family and who was, according to popular rumour, born in about 1800, and died as recently as 1921.” Jon digs further into the puzzle:

“Legend has it that the monster was supposed to look like an enormous flabby egg, having no neck and only minute arms and legs but possessed incredible strength and had an air of evil about it. Certainly, there is a family secret concerning the monster, which is only told to the male heir of the Bowes-Lyon family when they attain majority. But according to the author Peter Underwood, who has looked into this case, the present Lord Strathmore knows nothing about the monster, presumably because the creature has long been dead, but he always felt that there was a corpse or coffin bricked up behind the walls.” There is another other matter worth noting too that may be of deep significance: according to James Wentworth Day, an author who extensively researched and wrote about the legend, the creature of the castle was “hairy as a doormat.”

According to folklore and oral tradition, the existence of the creature was allegedly known to only four men at any given time, namely the Earl of Strathmore, his direct heir, the family’s lawyer, and the broker of the estate. At the age of twenty-one each succeeding heir was told the terrible secret and shown the rightful – and horrendously deformed – Earl, and succeeding family lawyers and brokers were also informed of the family’s shocking secret. As no Countess of Strathmore was ever told the story, however, one Lady Strathmore, having indirectly heard of such rumors, quietly approached the then broker, a certain Mr. Ralston, who flatly refused to reveal the secret and who would only say by way of a reply, “It is fortunate you do not know the truth for if you did you would never be happy.”

Was the strange creature of the castle a terribly deformed soul with some bizarre genetic affliction, a captured wild man or something else? While the jury, inevitably, remains steadfastly out, it’s an intriguing reality that in 1912, in his book, Scottish Ghost Stories, Elliott O’Donnell published the contents of a letter that he had received from a Mrs. Bond who had spent time at Glamis Castle and who underwent an undeniably weird encounter. In her letter to O’Donnell, rather notably, she describes a somewhat supernatural encounter with a beast possessed of distinct ape-like qualities. Mrs. Bond wrote to O’Donnell the following words:

“It is a good many years since I stayed at Glamis. I was, in fact, but little more than a child, and had only just gone through my first season in town. But though young, I was neither nervous nor imaginative; I was inclined to be what is termed stolid, that is to say, extremely matter-of-fact and practical. Indeed, when my friends exclaimed, ‘You don’t mean to say you are going to stay at Glamis! Don’t you know it’s haunted?’ I burst out laughing. ‘Haunted!’ I said, ‘How ridiculous! There are no such things as ghosts. One might as well believe in fairies.’

“Of course I did not go to Glamis alone – my mother and sister were with me; but whereas they slept in the more modern part of the castle, I was, at my own request, apportioned a room in the Square Tower. I cannot say that my choice had anything to do with the secret chamber. That, and the alleged mystery, had been dinned into my ears so often that I had grown thoroughly sick of the whole thing. No, I wanted to sleep in the Square Tower for quite a different reason, a reason of my own. I kept an aviary; the tower was old; and I naturally hoped its walls would be covered with ivy and teeming with birds’ nests, some of which I might be able to reach – and, I am ashamed to say, plunder – from my window. Alas, for my expectations!

“Although the Square Tower was so ancient that in some places it was actually crumbling away – not the sign of a leaf, not the vestige of a bird’s nest could I see anywhere; the walls were abominably, brutally bare. However, it was not long before my disappointment gave way to delight; for the air that blew in through the open window was so sweet, so richly scented with heather and honeysuckle, and the view of the broad, sweeping, thickly wooded grounds so indescribably charming, that, despite my inartistic and unpoetical nature, I was entranced–entranced as I had never been before, and never have been since. ‘Ghosts!’ I said to myself. “Ghosts! How absurd! How preposterously absurd! Such an adorable spot as this can only harbour sunshine and flowers.”

‘I well remember, too – for, as I have already said, I was not poetical – how much I enjoyed my first dinner at Glamis. The long journey and keen mountain air had made me hungry, and I thought I had never tasted such delicious food – such ideal salmon (from the Esk) and such heavenly fruit. But I must tell you that, although I ate heartily, as a healthy girl should, by the time I went to bed I had thoroughly digested my meal, and was, in fact, quite ready to partake of a few oatmeal biscuits I found in my dressing-case, and remembered having bought at Perth. It was about eleven o’clock when my maid left me, and I sat for some minutes wrapped in my dressing gown, before the open window. The night was very still, and, save for an occasional rustle of the wind in the distant tree-tops, the hooting of an owl, the melancholy cry of a peewit and the hoarse barking of a dog, the silence was undisturbed. The interior of my room was, in nearly every particular, modern. The furniture was not old; there were no grim carvings; no grotesquely-fashioned tapestries on the walls; no dark cupboards; no gloomy corners;–all was cosy and cheerful, and when I got into bed no thought of bogle or mystery entered my mind.

“In a few minutes I was asleep, and for some time there was nothing but a blank–a blank in which all identity was annihilated. Then suddenly I found myself in an oddly-shaped room with a lofty ceiling, and a window situated at so great a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of phosphorescent light made their way through the narrow panes, and served to render distinct the more prominent objects around; but my eyes struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the wall, one of which inspired me with terror such as I had never felt before. The walls were covered with heavy draperies that were sufficient in themselves to preclude the possibility of any save the loudest of sounds penetrating without.

“The furniture, if such one could call it, puzzled me. It seemed more fitted for the cell of a prison or lunatic asylum, or even for a kennel, than for an ordinary dwelling-room. I could see no chair, only a coarse deal table, a straw mattress, and a kind of trough. An air of irredeemable gloom and horror hung over and pervaded everything. As I stood there, I felt I was waiting for something – something that was concealed in the corner of the room I dreaded. I tried to reason with myself, to assure myself that there was nothing there that could hurt me, nothing that could even terrify me, but my efforts were in vain – my fears grew.

“Had I had some definite knowledge as to the cause of my alarm I should not have suffered so much, but it was my ignorance of what was there, of what I feared, that made my terror so poignant. Each second saw the agony of my suspense increase. I dared not move. I hardly dare breathe, and I dreaded lest the violent pulsation of my heart should attract the attention of the Unknown Presence and precipitate its coming out. Yet despite the perturbation of my mind, I caught myself analysing my feelings. It was not danger I abhorred so much, as its absolute effect – fright. I shuddered at the bare thought of what result the most trivial incident – the creaking of a board, ticking of a beetle, or hooting of an owl–might have on the intolerable agitation of my soul.

“In this unnerved and pitiable condition I felt that the period was bound to come, sooner or later, when I should have to abandon life and reason together in the most desperate of struggles with – fear. At length, something moved. An icy chill ran through my frame, and the horror of my anticipations immediately reached its culminating point. The Presence was about to reveal itself. The gentle rubbing of a soft body on the floor, the crack of a bony joint, breathing, another crack, and then – was it my own excited imagination – or the disturbing influence of the atmosphere – or the uncertain twilight of the chamber that produced before me, in the stygian darkness of the recess, the vacillating and indistinct outline of something luminous, and horrid? I would gladly have risked futurity to have looked elsewhere–I could not. My eyes were fixed–I was compelled to gaze steadily in front of me.

“Slowly, very slowly, the thing, whatever it was, took shape. Legs – crooked, misshapen, human legs. A body – tawny and hunched. Arms – long and spidery, with crooked, knotted fingers. A head – large and bestial, and covered with a tangled mass of grey hair that hung around its protruding forehead and pointed ears in ghastly mockery of curls. A face – and herein was the realisation of all my direst expectations – a face – white and staring, pig-like in formation malevolent in expression; a hellish combination of all things foul and animal, and yet withal not without a touch of pathos.

“As I stared at it aghast, it reared itself on its haunches after the manner of an ape, and leered piteously at me. Then, shuffling forward, it rolled over, and lay sprawled out like some ungainly turtle – and wallowed, as for warmth, in the cold grey beams of early dawn. At this juncture the handle of the chamber door turned, someone entered, there was a loud cry – and I awoke – awoke to find the whole tower, walls and rafters, ringing with the most appalling screams I have ever heard – screams of something or of someone – for there was in them a strong element of what was human as well as animal – in the greatest distress. Wondering what it meant, and more than ever terrified, I sat up in bed and listened – listened whilst a conviction – the result of intuition, suggestion, or what you will, but a conviction all the same – forced me to associate the sounds with the thing in my dream. And I associate them still.”

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