Pond Square, Highgate, N6
The haunting of Pond Square dates back to the early 17th century when, in a bid to prove a new way of preserving meat, Sir Francis Bacon stuffed a chicken with snow. As a result of his experiment he developed bronchitis and died a short while later. But it is not his ghost that haunts Pond Square, it is the chicken’s.
The story starts in March, 1626. Sir Francis, who had been barred from all public office in 1621, following his trial on charges of bribery and corruption, had spent the past five years in philosophical and scientific study, including the principles of refrigeration. He was being driven through Pond Square in his coach on that bitterly cold day. It was snowing and the pond was frozen. He noticed that the coach wheel tracks revealed that the grass under the snow was still green and fresh and this gave him an idea. He called upon the coachman to stop by the pond and ordered him to purchase a chicken from one of the neighbouring cottages.
Stepping down from his coach, wrapped in his cloak against the biting wind, he ordered the coachman to kill the bird and partially pluck it. When this was done he stuffed snow into the still-warm carcass, place it into a bag and packed more snow tightly around it – the world’s first frozen chicken.
However the extremely cold weather was too much for the 65 year-old man and he was seized with a sudden chill which developed into acute bronchitis and he died at Highgate on 9th April, 1626, at the home of his friend, Lord Arundel.
Not long after Sir Francis’ experiment that had cost him his own life, the shivering chicken started to make its appearances. It was usually to be seen on cold wintry nights, half-bald and squawking, flapping round in circles until it disappeared through a brick wall. It has been seen up till modern times and on occasions has been seen perched on the lower boughs of a nearby tree.
During the Second World War, ARP wardens saw the bird on many occasions and one man actually tried to catch it. However he gave up the attempt when he collided with the brick wall which the bird had melted into.
An airman home on leave during December, 1943, was passing through Pond Square one night when he heard the sound of horses’ hooves and carriage wheels followed by a terrible screeching. He could see no sign of the horses or carriage but in the middle of the Square he saw the half-bald figure of the phantom chicken, running round in circles and apparently shivering with the cold. With that the bird disappeared.
In January, 1969, a motorist, whose car was broken down near the Square, saw the figure of the bird screeching round in circles and was wondering what hooligan would denude a bird and then let it loose on the road, when it vanished in front of his eyes.
A courting couple were disturbed by the bird in 1970 whilst they were embracing in a doorway in the Square. Doubtless they chose another spot to do their courting after that.
We hear many stories of haunted houses, castles and pubs, but very rarely do we heard of haunted German U-boats. The classic case of a submarine which was the centre of psychic phenomena was the U-65, one of a class of 24 U-boats especially designed to operate from the ports of occupied Belgium during the First World War. Her active service complement was 3 officers and 31 ratings. The U-boat’s keel was laid at the naval dockyard at Wilhelmshaven in June, 1916, and from the first ill luck was to dog her.
Her first victim was to die within a few days of the beginning of her construction, when a heavy metal girder, being lowered into position in the hull, slipped from the crane tackle and crashed down onto the partially-built boat, killing one of the German workmen instantly. A second workman was to die in hospital a few days later as a result of injuries sustained in the same accident. Three men died in the engine room after becoming overcome by poisonous fumes. A total of five men had already been killed before the boat had even put to sea.
On her sea trials further disaster struck the U-65 when a seaman, sent forward to inspect hatches, was swept overboard and lost. The sea trials went without further incident until the captain gave the order for the U-65’s first dive. Instead of levelling out at 30 feet, as the captain had ordered, the boat sank to the bottom of the sea following a fracture in one of the forward ballast tanks. Flood water reached the giant batteries and by the time that the U-65 had finally emerged from the depths again, inexplicably freeing herself from the sea bed after being trapped there for 12 hours, the whole crew were suffering from the effects of toxic fumes created by the flooding of the batteries. Two men died in hospital shortly after being got ashore. Even before the U-65 was commissioned, eight men had been killed as a result of incidents on board her.
Finally in early February, 1917, the U-65 was commissioned into the Imperial German Navy and placed under the command of Oberleutnant Karl Honig, an officer with great experience in the German U-boat service. It was not long before he was to experience at first hand the ill luck that surrounded his new command. Whilst torpedoes were being loaded prior to the U-65 going out on her first patrol, a warhead exploded, killing the Second Officer and eight seamen. Nine other seamen were seriously wounded. Whilst the U-boat was being towed back into dry-dock for repairs, a seaman, in complete hysteria, swore that he had seen the ghost of the Second Officer standing on the prow, his arms folded. Another seaman, a man called Petersen, claimed to have seen the same ghostly officer. The day before the U-65 was to set out on her first patrol, Petersen deserted.
At last, after a total of 17 men had been killed on the U-65, she was sent out on her first active service patrol. During the course of the patrol several seamen reported having seen the ghost of the Second Officer and on one occasion the Duty Officer was found sobbing hysterically on the bridge after having seen the same figure standing on the prow. Three seamen, who had joined the boat at Zeebrugge, were to see the figure before they had had time to be warned that the boat was haunted.
In February, 1918, after a patrol in the Dover Straits, and after several further sightings of the ghostly officer, including one occasion when he spoke with one of the seamen in the forward torpedo room, the U-65 docked at Bruges. The crew were only too thankful to have reached dry land again, even though the docks were under attack from British aircraft at the time. Oberleutnant Honig, who had decided to chance the raid and make his way to the Officers’ Club, was just leaving the boat when he was decapitated by shrapnel as he walked down the gang-plank. His headless body was carried back on board the U-65. That night nine men, including an officer, were to see the ghost of the Second Officer standing beside the canvas shroud of the captain’s corpse. At this the crew, to a man, requested a transfer from the U-65 and the boat was placed into reserve at Bruges. A German Naval Padre, Pastor Franz Weber, conducted a service of exorcism.
By June, 1918, U-boat losses were becoming a strain on the German Naval Command and the U-65 was ordered to be prepared for patrol duties. On 30th June, she set out on what was to be her last patrol. Early in the morning of the 10th July, the U.S.submarine L-2 was patrolling nine miles off the coast of Cape Clear, in Ireland, at periscope depth. The American captain was studying the scene around him when he sighted a German U-boat moving slowly on the surface. It was the U-65.
The American moved his submarine into the attack position and was about to give the order to fire two torpedoes when there was a shattering explosion that ripped the U-65 from stem to stern. The captain was later to report that immediately before the explosion he was amazed to see the solitary figure of a German naval officer standing on the prow of the U-boat.