“It doesn’t frighten me in this room.” Bongo stands in front of the full blown photograph of Boris Death, the horror movie star, on the wall. The room gives me the willies, but it’s private. Bongo bends over to peer into the glass case which holds The Hand of Glory and stares at it.
“It stinks!” He starts coughing as if he is going to vomit.
I remind him that it is a three hundred year old hand.
(page 34 – Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow.)
When Bongo is overcome by the smell of the hand, the fictional character is actually reliving something which happened to me, which subsequently ends up in the book.
About six years ago, we decided to have a trip to Whitby, home of Saint Hilda’s Abbey and part inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you have never visited Whitby, it is an enchanting fishing village with a maze of alleyways and an atmosphere of ‘something is about to happen.’ Go at Hallowe’en weekend and you will think you have been transported onto a Gothic film set. I will say no more on that point, as I believe, everyone should discover this event for themselves.
We decided to visit The Whitby Museum. It is a most interesting place with wonderful curiosities to inspire any writer. These include: a hangman’s locket; clogs worn by a school truant and spurs used in cock fights.
As we approached a large glass case, I became overpowered by the sweetest odour I have ever smelled. It was a mixture of overwhelming sweetness mixed with the smell of musty furniture. I thought I was going to be sick. We peered into the glass case and saw a mummified, shrivelled hand.
The Whitby Museum states:
“The mummified severed human hand in Whitby Museum was discovered in the early twentieth century hidden on the wall of a thatched cottage in Castleton by a stonemason and local historian, Joseph Ford. He immediately identified it from popular stories of such objects as a “Hand of Glory”. It was given to Whitby Museum in 1935 and is the only alleged Hand known to survive.
There is interesting folklore behind the Hand of Glory. Apparently, a Hand of Glory is supposed to be cut off a felon who is still hanging from the gallows and then the hand is pickled. Somehow, this is supposed to give the hand magical properties. Thieves would use the hands to help them do their jobs in that, if they entered a house with the hand, all the occupants would go into a deep sleep resembling a coma and be unable to awake until the burglars leave. There are different versions of this story and can be found on The Whitby Museum website.
There were three other people with me in the museum and the smell came at varying degrees to us all – I was the only one who felt overpowered by it. The only other time I have smelled a similar smell was in a holiday farmhouse we rented in France in the master bedroom. The sickly sweet odour seemed to emerge from a locked cupboard in the bedroom. We were supposed to stay there three weeks. We left after a week of strange and unexplained happenings. I will say no more – for now.