News | 30 October 2020

Spookiest things in the City Archives

Halloween hits the capital this Saturday in the most hair-raising weekend of the year.

Two ghostly figures standing in the Town Hall in 1990.

Ghostly figures in the Town Hall.

To celebrate, we’ve opened Pandora’s Box to reveal some of the weirdest and creepiest things in the Wellington City Archives.

From blood poisoning to séances our team of mad archivists have compiled a list that will chill you to the bone – read on if you dare!

Ad for improved 'Sanitary Coffin'

This pamphlet for a new and improved “Sanitary Coffin” patented by John Joseph Daily is not for the faint of heart. Describing the coffin as a “public safeguard against contagion”, Daily spares no detail explaining how it works to hold and absorb gases, odours and moisture. The documented is dated back to 1898 and is complete with illustrations. 

Aged paper with illustration of coffin.

A complaint from the Wellington Association of Spiritualists

Spiritualism is a religious movement that focuses on the belief that the living and the dead can communicate, and in the early 1900s it became very popular in Wellington! In 1900, the Wellington Association of Spiritualists built the New Century Hall at the northern end of Kent Terrace and in that building they would regularly perform séances to communicate with the departed. In 1903, the Council received a letter (not through a Ouija board sadly) complaining that people had been gathering on the Council land beside the property to annoy their guests and had even smashed a window.

Request for bone dust

The archivists discovered a letter dating back to 4 March 1903 from the Council’s Head Gardener requesting a dusting of bone to help the plants grow around Newtown Park. It’s difficult to make out, but it looks “half a ton” was enough to suit the purpose. The type of bone is not clear…

This terrifying photo from a Summer City parade

We don’t know who chose this particular Joker mask for the Hollywood Mickey Parade in the 1980s, but we hope they’re ok.

Photograph of a man wearing a creepy Joker mask and purple suit

A report of blood poisoning

Our archivists discovered some gruesome letters about a passenger named Carrie Newtown who travelled from Vancouver to New Zealand aboard the 'Niagara' in 1922 and suffered a terrible case of blood poisoning after eating a meat pie somewhere between Honolulu and Suva. The detailed letters between Newtown and the manager of the ship describe the horrible illness and natural cures they tried to help ease her suffering, like flour, vinegar and salt baths. You might want to think twice before biting into that steak and cheese next time.

Petitions against ‘social evil’

There are several letters to and from Wellington and Christchurch residents and Town Clerks regarding the ‘suppression of social evil’. All the documents date back to 1881 and include common themes around “houses”, “operations”, “girls” and “contagious diseases”. We’ll let you piece the rest together yourselves.

Photos of the grave and coffin of George Barclay

Who was George Barclay? Deep in the archives, the team found this beautiful photograph of a coffin scattered with flowers being lowered into a grave. We don’t know why these photographs were archived, but a quick search through our online cemetery records revealed Barclay was a surveyor who died at the age of 59 in 1946. Can you help us find out more about our mystery man?

Black and white photograph of a coffin being lowered into a grave surrounded by flowers.

 

Ghostly figures in the Town Hall

If you’re into ghost stories, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Wellington Town Hall is one of the most haunted places in the capital. Sudden drops in temperature, unexplained noises, footsteps and creaking door handles have spooked some security staff right out of the job! Strangely, the Archives have a whole bunch of photos of the building from 1990 that have transparent, ghostly figures in them. Artistic choice by a contractor or paranormal activity – you be the judge.

Want to continue your ghost hunt? Head to the City Archives website! They’re currently digitising their enormous collection and around 75% of it is now searchable online at https://archivesonline.wcc.govt.nz/

Happy Halloween!