Whether you’re interested in lore or law, there are plenty of eerie enactments and creepy cases that deal with the supernatural. As the spooky season is now upon us, here are five fascinating facts about phantoms, felons and all things fantastical.
1. “I have heard (but not believ’d) the spirits of the dead”
In 1991, the New York Supreme Court ruled that a house in Nyack, New York was legally haunted.
The case (Stambovsky v Ackley) involved a property that was built in the late 19th Century. George and Helen Ackley purchased the property in the early 1960s. Between that time and Mrs Ackley agreeing to sell it to Jeffrey Stambovsky in 1989 (Mr Ackley having died in 1978), numerous members of the Ackley family reported that it was haunted. In fact, between 1977 and 1989, at least three stories documenting the Ackley’s ghostly encounters with various poltergeists in the building were reported by both local and national press.
Mr Stambovsky did not read any of these stories and neither Mrs Ackley nor her agent told him about the ghostly goings on. Mr Stambovsky made a down payment of $32,500 on the house having agreed to buy it for $600,000. When he learned of its haunting history, he took Mrs Ackley to Court demanding rescission of the contract and his money back. The Supreme Court also ruled that having reported their existence to both a national publication and local newspapers, Mrs Ackley could not now deny their existence and therefore, as a matter of law, the property was haunted.
However, things are slightly different in the UK…
2. “O villain, villain”
In 2004, the House of Lords (the predecessor to the Supreme Court) ruled that James and Alison Taylor-Rose did not need to pay compensation to Alan and Susan Sykes after they failed to tell them that a rather brutal murder had taken place in the house that they had bought from them.
The Taylor-Roses (who themselves only learned of the murder and dismemberment of 13-year-old Nilanthie Perera by her adopted father, Samson Perera, after they had purchased the property) answered ‘no’ to a standard enquiry asking “Is there any information which you think the buyer may have a right to know?”. The Sykes’ found out about the murder after watching a documentary about it and tried to claim compensation after selling the property for £19,000 under the market value (because they did reveal the gruesome truth to their buyer). The court ruled though that the Sykes’ did not have a ‘right’ to know about the murder and that, therefore, the Taylor-Roses had not lied in their answer.
3. “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes”
The Witchcraft Act was passed in 1542 making witchcraft a crime punishable by death. Although it was appealed in 1547, a new law re-establishing it was passed in 1562.
Between 1560 and 1700, it is recorded that 513 people were put on trial in South-East England, accused of being witches. 112 of them were then executed. Across England as a whole, it is thought that at least 500 people were executed for witchcraft. The last known execution of a witch took place in 1685 in Devon and the last trial of a witch took place in 1717 in Leicester.
All laws against witchcraft were repealed in 1736 but anybody claiming to be able to use magical powers could still be fined or imprisoned. This was itself repealed in 1951 although it was replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act which lasted right up until 2008. Fortune-telling, astrology and spiritualism also became criminal offences under the Vagrancy Act in 1824.
4. “On the bat’s back do I fly”
All bat species have been protected under UK law since 1981 and are currently protected by Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994.
It is an offence to deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat, to deliberately disturb in a way that would significantly affect their local distribution or abundance or affect their ability to survive, breed or rear young, to damage or destroy a bat roost or to possess, control, transport, sell, exchange or offer for sale or exchange any living or dead bat or any part of a bat.
5. “We have strict statutes and most biting laws”
There are some weird and wonderful Halloween-related laws across the globe, such as:
• In Walnut, California, it is illegal to wear a mask or disguise on a public street, even on Halloween.
• In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, it is illegal to trick-or-treat on a Sunday.
• In Newport News, Virginia, it is illegal to trick-or treat if you are over the age of 12 and after 8pm.
• In Vendargues, France, clown costumes were banned for anybody over the age of 12 for the month of November in 2014.
• In Jordan, celebrating Halloween in public became illegal in 2014.
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