When we think of ghosts or want to draw a ghost we normally think and draw what is known as the bed sheet ghost, but why do we picture ghosts as billowy, 250-thread count specters?
Well, White linen burial shrouds have been used to wrap and bind the dead for hundreds of years—Jesus himself was buried in the tomb in white cloth. While many cultures relied on burial shrouds to care for the dead when they lay them to rest, the image of the bedsheet ghost gained popularity specifically across the in 17th century Britain.
Majority of Britons at that particular time couldn’t afford a fancy, luxurious wooden coffin for their deceased, so they kept with tradition and used white linen or wool sheets as a burial shroud. The image became closely tied to ghosts, a bond that hasn’t really been broken since.
During the 17th people took it upon themselves to take average of this symbolism of the dead and it gave criminals a disguise. It became a norm for local robbers to take their mums bed sheets, slip it over their head and become the bedsheet ghost they would then enter into people’s homes, scare them and take their valuables. This then triggered off numerous ghostly sightings as people thought a ghost had just robbed them. Crimimal acts as ghosts didn’t stop there, it also gave males the perfect disguise to dress up to stalk, harass and sexually abuse women and play on the many vulnerable.
By the 18th century, the criminal bedsheet ghost Phenomenon hadn’t stopped, which resulted in a well documented case coming to the surface – The Hammersmith Ghost.
In 1803, a number of people in the Hammersmith area of London claimed they had seen and, in some cases, even been attacked by a spectre which they believed to be the ghost of someone who had committed suicide. What they allegedly saw was an apparition dressed in white robes. One woman, in particular, said that she saw something rise up from the tombstones, she tried to run but the ghost overtook her, held her in its arms, she fainted and was discovered later by neighbours who took her home and put her to bed. At that time it was the case that anyone who committed suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground as it was believed that their souls would not rest.
On the 3rd January 1804 Francis Smith, aged 29 years, an excise officer, armed with a gun saw a figure in white. He demanded the identity of the figure and when the figure did not respond but moved towards him, Smith shot the apparition. It was established afterwards that the apparition who died from this shot was a 23-year-old James or Thomas Milwood. Thomas was dressed in all white. However, Thomas wasn’t the Hammersmith Ghost, a Hammersmith shoemaker named John Graham admitted that he had started the whole story of the Hammersmith ghost as a hoax to scare people.
Beginning in the mid-19th Century, the United States and United Kingdom experienced a rise in the practice of Spiritualism, largely associated with beliefs in mediums and communication during the afterlife. During this particular period alot of fakery and frauds come forward to con people into thinking they was talking to the dead, French medium and photographer Edouard Buguet spent a year in jail for fraud in 1874, when it was discovered his renowned ghost photos actually captured shrouded dummies. Decades later, Scottish medium Helen Duncan released photos of herself with a “ghost” that ended up being a doll beneath a white sheet.
As the years past, in 1939 we seen the creation of casper, a well loved and not so scary movie based on a bedsheet ghost and then with Halloween traditions becoming increasing popular within the US and UK, the costume is a sort of short-hand for Halloween traditions and there we are – The bed sheet Ghost as we know it, formed from a victorian trend to a criminal prank to a costume and figure of what most of us draw and think of when we think of a ghost.