A Ghostly Visit, or a Computer-Savvy Prankster? You Decide

Why you should care

This haunted machine tells a convoluted story.

OZY's Ghost Stories explore our fascination with the spirit realm. What was that bump in the night? OZY's Ghost Stories series investigates our fascination with the spirit realm.

The green light of the computer cursor pulsated in the darkness of the cottage, its rhythmic glow lending an otherworldly atmosphere to the roommates’ usually cozy abode. Walking up the path to their shared home, Ken Webster, Nicola Baguely and Debbie Oakes saw the light through the window and after a quick double take, they realized it emanated from their BBC microprocessor and not some monstrous creature. Ken rushed to turn off the machine — the IT department at the school where he taught let him borrow it on weekends, and he didn’t want to risk damaging it.

In the year 1984, personal computers were rare, expensive commodities and the clunky beige BBC with its minuscule black screen was worth its weight in gold. But as Ken rushed to power off, he noticed words glowing green on the computer screen. Words that neither he, Nic nor Debbie had written:

“Ken, Debbie, Nic,/ True are the nightmares of a person that fears./ Safe are the bodies of the silent world./ Turn pretty flower turn towards the sun/ For you shall grow and sow/ But the flower reaches too high and withers in the burning light … ” This strange poem was the first of what would become known in the paranormal community as the Dodleston Messages.

Modern communications technologies have always been haunted.

Erik Davis, author

As detailed in Ken’s book The Vertical Plane, the first signs of paranormal activity in the cottage began early. Ken writes that he noticed a peculiar set of spindly six-toed footprints that seemed to walk directly up the wall and through the ceiling. Chalking them up to grime in an old house, he painted over them … only to have them reappear the following day. Shortly afterward, Debbie, Ken and Nic began routinely discovering cans, bottles and various other small household goods stacked in precarious towers, sometimes reaching over 4 feet high. The trio figured that it must be a housewarming prank courtesy of their local friends and though they were unsettled, they quickly put the strange trash configurations out of their minds.

Two months after the strange poem appeared, Ken, Nic and Debbie returned from a drive to find a mysterious computer file saved as “REATE.” Within, they found a message: “WOT STRANGE WORDES THOU SPEAKE, ALTHOUGH, I MUSTE CONFESS THAT I HATH ALSO BEENE ILL-SCHOOLED. SOMETYMES METHINKS ALTERACIONS ARE SOMEWOT BARFUL, FOR THEY BREAKE MANYE A SLEEPES IN MYNE BED … I HATH SEENE MANYE ALTERACIONS (LASTLY CHARGE HOUSE AND THY HOME), ’TIS A FITTING PLACE, WITH LYTES WHICHE DEVYLL MAKETH.” 

Frightened and confused, Ken brought this message to his colleague Peter Trinder, a teacher of medieval literature, who, according to The Vertical Plane, was convinced that it was written in “Olde English.” The group interpreted the mention of “devil lights” to mean the computer, as described by someone with no concept of communication technology.

As the year continued, the messages kept appearing on the computer. The sender revealed his name to be Lukas and said he lived in the same cottage as the roommates but in the year 1521 (which is several hundred years too late to be speaking what’s thought of as Old English, but that’s not the weirdest part of the story). Lukas initially believed that Ken, Nic and Debbie were demons or ghosts, citing paranormal activity that occurred in his home similar to what the roommates were experiencing in 1984-85. In short, each party thought the other was a ghost.

The Society for Psychical Research, a paranormal investigation agency in the United Kingdom, came to investigate Ken’s claims three times but found no evidence of spirit activity within the home.

Today, the Dodleston Messages continue to baffle paranormal investigators. Were they the result of a time slip, the work of a cunning poltergeist or simply one of the first examples of a computer hoax? According to Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, the Dodleston Messages continued an age-old trend.

“Modern communications technologies have always been haunted,” he says. “The spiritualists of the 19th century believed they had discovered an occult ‘telegraph’ that allowed them to talk to loved ones in the hereafter. So it shouldn’t be surprising that home computers were perceived as portals to other realms — especially early on when the emerging forms of communication and self-reflection were still novel and disruptive.” 

The story got weirder. According to The Vertical Plane, Nic, Ken and Debbie told Lukas they were from 1984 — confusing the “ghost,” who said he had assumed they were from the year 2109, like others who had visited. He spoke of (and, through the computer, allowed the trio to speak also) members of the 2109 collective, supposedly from the distant future, who had visited to set up a time link within the cottage. Lukas continued his messages until March 21, 1985, when he claimed that the other citizens of Dodleston had accused him of witchcraft for his communications with the roommates. He planned to flee after receiving threats that the villagers planned to kill him and burn his house.

“It is good to know that all will change and there are true men to follow like Ken and Peter; though 400 years is a long time and there is much to happen to mankind.” Lukas wrote, “It is sad that men must learn righteousness from their ugly ways.” The roommates never heard from him or 2109 ever again.

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