Did the ghost of George Brown appear on Friday the 13th? If so, it would be news to him.
An evening seance performance was held at George Brown House in downtown Toronto earlier this month, on Sept. 13, which is either the scariest day of the year or the unluckiest – it’s never been clear to me. Brown was a Father of Confederation and founder of the Toronto Globe (a predecessor of this newspaper). He died in 1880, the victim of what seance-leader Jaymes White described as an “accidental assassination.”
The presentation, which entailed a house tour and spirit-summoning, is part of a continuing production called The Beverley Street Séance. It’s a recreation of a typical Victorian-era ruse of questionable conjuring and paranormal shenanigans, led by the Canadian mentalist and peculiar fellow White.
As for Brown, a disgruntled former employee in the newspaper’s engineering department shot him in his Globe office. The assailant was, in his own words, “in liquor,” at the time. A bullet to Brown’s thigh was initially not thought to be life-threatening, but the wound festered, resulting in a mortal infection. He died in the house that bears his name today.
In the session I attended at the Victorian three-storey house, a group of 18 people enthusiastically took part in the experience. They were all adults, as the presentation is deemed too frightening for children. One of the group reported goose bumps. A middle-aged man felt queasy. “I’m smelling a sickly, sweet smell,” a woman declared. A big guy in a Steely Dan T-shirt seemed skeptical about the whole darn thing.
Although we investigated Brown’s office, and while White told us the man’s ghost "has a habit of showing up as he pleases,” the dimly lit walk-through of the house and spooky table-sitting were more concerned with a family, we were told, who lived in the house after Brown’s death. According to the gruesome yarn told by White, a wife and her three children died of arsenic poisoning while the husband was away on business.
“Did you see that!” A woman in our group swore that a doll’s head moved. “I saw it, too,” another woman chimed in. We were in a dining room. What was a doll doing in there, anyway? White told the group the creepy doll was a “cursed” item that he had specially brought in for the experience. The two women gave each other high-fives. The nauseous guy in the corner said he was feeling better.
After the experience, White, who claims no psychic powers or paranormal gifts, sat down for an interview. “People don’t want to believe that this is all there is,” he said, when asked why people believe in ghosts. “If you believe there’s nothing else, it can be a bleak world.”
White is a jittery type. The top buttons of his shirt allow a gaudy upper-chest tattoo to assert itself. Balding with nuclear-blue eyes, he talks quickly about his gifts of persuasion and his observational acumen. “I was always a shy kid,” he explained. “I never connected with other people, so I watched them and sharpened my skills.”
Asked if he was the “weird” kid in school, White became enthused. “One-hundred per cent,” he admitted. “Were you weird, too?” I shook my head. “No, not all.” Perhaps hoping for a kindred, ahem, spirit, he seemed disappointed with my response.
“What was that?” White suddenly asked, referring to a sound from the corridor outside the dining room. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a door opening and closing slightly. “I guess it’s nothing,” he said, turning his attention back to me.
Talking about the night’s seance, which involved unexplained bell-ringing and noises from the stairs, White described the paying attendees as “into it.” He’s there as a guide, but encourages people to hunt their own ghosts and create their own experiences. “It brings us all together for a short time,” he said. “It’s a unique, shared experience they’ll hopefully remember.”
Indeed, after the two-hour presentation, a group photo was taken. Some people even snapped selfies with White.
Were there ghosts present at Brown’s old haunt? Brown himself declined comment. A journalist doesn’t wish to ruin a good story.
The Beverley Street Séance by Jaymes White runs to Nov. 30.