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The ghostbusters heading to a museum near you

18 August 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Spooky goings on in Lincolnshire, where a group of ghost hunters calling themselves the ‘Cambridgeshire Supernatural Investigators’ last week descended on the Heckington Railway Station Museum to delve into the realm of the paranormal. As the Sleaford Standard reports, ‘around a dozen ghost hunters came armed with high-tech detection equipment’ – which, according to Andy Garlick, chairman of the Heckington Village Trust, apparently consisted of ‘little boxes’ somehow capable of detecting anything ‘of supernatural or magnetic nature’. Nifty.

Museums have, for whatever reason, long been a favourite destination for ghost hunters. A quick browse on the Paranormal Database – a veritable Encyclopaedia Britannica of supernatural hokum – lists more than 80 institutions in the UK and Ireland said to be haunted by the ghosts of imaginations past.

Highlights include: Pickford’s House Museum in Derby, where a ‘long dead gardener’ is said to have been seen mowing the lawn; the Sir Max Aitken Museum at Cowes, reportedly still a haunt of 19th-century French king Louis Philippe, who stayed there a few times after he was deposed in the 1848 revolution; and the West Highland Museum in Fort William, where deceased curator Edith MacGregor can still be heard typing away on the top floor. Other spiritual nasties listed include poltergeists at the British Museum, Charles Dickens returning to his Bloomsbury home in 1971 and – best of all – a ‘phantom hound’ that stalks the the North East Aircraft Museum in Sunderland.

Further afield, things get even more far fetched. Smithsonian Institute founder Thomas Smithson is said to haunt the institution to this day. Marie Antoinette is rumoured to have been seen sketching in the garden of the Château de Versailles in 1901. And Claude Monet – or at least, a man with a beard – was photographed admiring a photo of himself at the Cleveland Museum of Art as recently as, gulp, last year.

Sadly for the intrepid exorcists at Heckington, it wasn’t to be a Ghostbusters-style showdown. Despite their failure to access the spirit world, the investigators did notice that one of the doorways in the museum was noticeably cold – which, as the Standard’s report helpfully underlines, is ‘often taken as a supernatural sign’.

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