The Phantom Chicken of Highgate
I love history and folklore, in part because they are full of things that fiction writers could never get away with. Here’s an example, taken from J. A. Cuddon’s masterly introduction to The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories. I was previously aware of Bacon’s experiment in early refrigeration techniques and its fatal outcome for him, but I must admit I had never considered the poor chicken.
“My personal favourite non-human ghost is ‘The Phantom Chicken of Highgate’, the victim of an experiment in the theory of refrigeration conducted by Sir Francis Bacon in the winter of 1626. During a blizzard Sir Francis went out to the duckpond on top of Highgate Hill and stuffed frozen snow into the carcass of a freshly plucked chicken. The enterprise was too much for Bacon, then in his sixtieth year. He caught a cold, developed bronchitis, and died. The spectre of the luckless fowl, featherless, squawking, and agitating the stubs of its wings, has ever since sporadically haunted Pond Square. Observers remark that it disappears through a brick wall.”
It’s not often that a ghost story makes me laugh out loud, but this one did. I thought it was worth sharing.