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The Ghostly Bear-Monster of London

Elliott O’Donnell, who died in 1965, was an author of numerous books on the domains of the supernatural and the paranormal. He was also someone who had a huge collection of ghostly tales told to him by both eyewitnesses and his readers. One such account concerned something extremely strange. It was nothing less than a spectral animal, one with distinct bear-like qualities, and which seen roaming around London, England’s Tower of London. In O’Donnell’s very own words:

Edmund Lenthal Swifte, appointed in 1814 Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, refers in an article in Notes and Queries, 1860, to various unaccountable phenomena happening in the Tower during his residence there. He says that one night in the Jewel Office, one of the sentries was alarmed by a figure like a huge bear issuing from underneath the Jewel Room door. He thrust at it with his bayonet, which, going right through it, stuck in the doorway, whereupon he dropped in a fit, and was carried senseless to the guard-room. When on the morrow Mr. Swifte saw the soldier in the guard-room, his fellow-sentinel was also there, and the latter testified to having seen his comrade, before the alarm, quiet and active, and in full possession of his faculties. He was now, so Mr. Swifte added, changed almost beyond recognition, and died the following day.”

Elliott O’Donnell

That was far from being the end of the story, however, as O’Donnell noted: “Mr. George Offer, in referring to this incident, alludes to queer noises having been heard at the time the figure appeared. Presuming that the sentinel was not the victim of an hallucination, the question arises as to the kind of spirit that he saw. The bear, judging by cases that have been told me, is by no means an uncommon occult phenomenon. The difficulty is how to classify it, since, upon no question appertaining to the psychic, can one dogmatize. To quote from a clever poem that appeared in the January number of the Occult Review, to pretend one knows anything definite about the immaterial world is all ‘swank.'”

O’Donnell then made a statement that is as valid now as it was when O’Donnell’s work was at its height, decades ago: “At the most we – Parsons, Priests, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Psychical Research Professors – at the most can only speculate. Nothing – nothing whatsoever, beyond the bare fact that there are phenomena, unaccountable by physical laws, has as yet been discovered. All the time and energy and space that have been devoted by scientists to the investigation of spiritualism and to making tests in automatic writing are, in my opinion – and, I believe, I speak for the man in the street—hopelessly – futile.” We would all be wise to take note of O’Donnell’s words, which, today, are still highly relevant to the domain of ghost-hunting.

Early painting of the Tower of London

O’Donnell made it abundantly clear that he was highly skeptical of certain tales that might have had a bearing on the controversial issue of life after death: “No one, who has ever really experienced spontaneous ghostly manifestations, could for one moment believe in the genuineness of the phenomena produced at séances. They have never deceived me, and I am of the opinion spirits cannot be convoked to order, either through a so-called medium falling into a so-called trance, through table-turning, automatic writing, or anything else. If a spirit comes, it will come either voluntarily, or in obedience to some Unknown Power—and certainly neither to satisfy the curiosity of a crowd of sensation-loving men and women, nor to be analyzed by some cold, calculating, presumptuous Professor of Physics whose proper sphere is the laboratory.”

And, finally, we have O’Donnell speculating on what the Tower of London’s “bear” really was: “But to proceed. The phenomenon of the big bear, provided again it was really objective, may have been the phantasm of some prehistoric creature whose bones lie interred beneath the Tower; for we know the Valley of the Thames was infested with giant reptiles and quadrupeds of all kinds (I incline to this theory); or it may have been a Vice-Elemental, or – the phantasm of a human being who lived a purely animal life, and whose spirit would naturally take the form most closely resembling it.”

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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