One of the most famous cases in the annals of noisy hauntings is the one that visited the Reverend Samuel Wesley and his family at Epworth Rectory in 1716. Among the 19 children of the Reverend Wesley who witnessed the phenomena were John and Charles, the founders of Methodism and the authors of some of Christendom's best-loved hymns.
It was on the first of December that the children and the servants began to complain of eerie groans and mysterious knockings in their rooms. They also insisted that they could hear the sound of footsteps ascending and descending the stairs at all hours of the night.
Reverend Wesley heard no noises for about a week and severely lectured the child or servant who brought him any wild tale about a ghost walking about in the rectory. If there were any noises in the rectory, he told his family one night at dinner, they were undoubtedly caused by the young men who came around in the evenings. The reverend had four grown daughters who had begun to entertain beaus and suitors, and their father's
The girls were so angry with their father that they fought down their fright and vowed to ignore the noises until they became so loud that their no-nonsense parent could not help acknowledging them. They didn't have long to wait. The very next night, nine loud knocks thudded on the walls of Reverend and Mrs. Wesley's bedchamber. The clergyman thought some mischief-maker had managed to get into the rectory unnoticed and was trying to frighten them. He would buy a dog big enough to gobble up any intruder.
True to his word, the clergyman obtained a huge mastiff and brought it into the rectory. That night, however, as the knocks began to sound, Reverend Wesley was startled to see his canine bodyguard whimper and cower behind the frightened children.
Two nights later, the sounds in the house seemed so violent that Wesley and his wife were forced out of bed to investigate. As they walked through the rectory, the noises seemed to play about them. Mysterious crashing sounds echoed in the darkness. Metallic clinks seemed to fall in front of them. Somehow managing to maintain their courage, the Wesleys searched every chamber but found nothing.
After he called a family meeting to pool their knowledge about the invisible guest, Reverend Wesley learned from one of the older girl's observations that the disturbances usually began at about ten o'clock in the evening and were always prefaced by a "signal" noise, a peculiar kind of winding sound. The noises followed a pattern that seldom varied. They would begin in the kitchen, then suddenly fly up to visit a bed, knocking first at the foot, then the head. These seemed to be the ghost's warming-up exercises. After it had followed these preliminaries, it might indulge any spectral whim which appealed to it on that particular night.
"Why do you disturb innocent children?" Wesley roared in righteous indignation one night as the knockings in the nursery became especially violent. "If you have something to say, come to me in my study!"
As if in answer to Wesley's challenge, a knock sounded on the door of his study with such force that the cleric thought the boards must surely have been shattered.
Wesley decided to secure reinforcements in the fight against the "deaf and dumb devil" which had invaded his rectory. He sent for Mr. Hoole, the Vicar of Hoxley, and told him the whole story. The Vicar said that he would lead devotions that night and see if the thing would dare to manifest itself in his presence.
The "thing" was not the least bit awed by the Vicar of Hoxley. In fact, it put on such a good show that night that the clergyman fled in terror, leaving Wesley to combat the demon as best he could.
The children had overcome their initial fear of the invisible being and had come to accept its antics as a welcome relief from the boredom of village life. "Old Jeffery," as they had begun to call their strange guest, had almost achieved the status of a pet, and it was soon observed that it was quite sensitive. If any visitor slighted Old Jeffery by claiming that the rappings were due to natural causes, such as rats, birds, or wind, the haunting phenomena were quickly intensified so that the doubter stood instantly corrected.
The disturbances maintained their scheduled arrival time of about ten o'clock in the evening until the day that Mrs. Wesley remembered the ancient remedy for ridding a house of evil spirits. They would get a large trumpet and blow it mightily throughout every room in the house. The sounds of a loud horn were said to be unpleasing to evil spirits.
The ear-splitting experiment in exorcism was not only a complete failure, but now the spirit began to manifest itself in the daylight as well. The children seemed almost to welcome the fact that Old Jeffery would be available during their playtime hours as well as being an amusing nighttime nuisance. Several witnesses reported seeing a bed levitate itself to a considerable height while a number of the Wesley children squealed gaily from the floating mattress. The only thing that bothered the children was the creepy sound, like that of a trailing robe, Old Jeffery had begun to make. One of the girls declared that she had seen the ghost of a man in a long, white robe that dragged on the floor. Other children claimed to have seen an animal similar in appearance to a badger, scurrying out from under their beds. The servants swore that they had seen the head of a rodent-like creature peering out at them from a crack near the kitchen fireplace.
Then, just as the Wesleys were getting accustomed to their weird visitor, the disturbances ended as abruptly as they had begun. Old Jeffery never returned to plague Epworth Rectory with its phenomena, but the memory of its occupancy has remained to bewilder scholars of more than two centuries.