Hauntings are defined as: “a fantastic object or ghost which haunts, causing terror; a soul from another world; a scare caused by meeting or the apparition of supernatural causes; terror due to inexplicable causes”.
When speaking of hauntings, everyone has a far-fetched or mysterious story to tell. They are true experiences or events witnessed by friends, family or by the person themselves, transmitted orally, often without the possibility of proving or disproving, mainly because they are individual experiences. They are revelations, warnings, apparition of someone who has died.
It can be said that hauntings are a fascinating and complicated subject. Who at any point in their lives hasn’t stopped to listen to, or sometimes even tell, a scary ghost story? They are cases of wandering souls that inhabit old mansions; they are people who appear to be living, walking, talking and suddenly disappear in front of cemeteries; the sound of broken dishes which, upon investigation, are not broken at all; the anguished crying of a child when nobody is there; chairs that move as if someone is sitting in them; the sound of footsteps throughout the house; chains being dragged (said to be slaves tortured during the time of slavery); libraries where reading lights turn themselves on; souls at unrest who have hidden valuables, coming back to reveal where their booty (buried treasure) is, and many other cases.
Many of these stories have become part of Brazilian folklore. Some are from rural areas, others are more urban. Some are even directly linked to a specific location, a specific house. There are haunted streets or homes. Other ghosts are characterised by certain situations. Recife has a rich repertoire of ghost stories. Many have been immortalised in books like Assombrações do Recife velho (Hauntings of Old Recife), by the writer and sociologist Gilberto Freyre, or like the stories of Cruz do Patrão.
Cruz do Patrão is considered the most haunted place in Recife. It concerns a stone column that was erected in the 17th century, between the Forte do Brum (Brum Fort) and Buraco, which guided ships to dock. Here were buried the captured slaves who died on the voyage from Africa to Brazil. Maria Graham, the English chronicler, declared in her reports to having seen body parts around this column. The ghost stories at Cruz do Patrão are well-known: there have been many spine-chilling reports.
One of the scariest stories is of the “Cotton Woman” which, despite having happened in Rio de Janeiro, hit the headlines and became known in most of Brazil, having also been reported in the Diario de Pernambuco in August 1978. It was about the ghost of a woman who appeared with cotton in her mouth, nose and ears, generally in the bathrooms of schools, terrorising the children, in the 1970s. It is said that the cotton woman had been run over and one of her children had died in a school bathroom he’d spent the day locked in as a punishment.
These mysterious stories of hauntings and ghosts aren’t just a thing of the past. They’ve always existed and probably will continue to exist. Here is a relatively recent story, which can be called “The Party”.
In a specific area of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, there were six employees. One of them, who was very dear to the other colleagues, had died in April. In December of the same year, the other colleagues of the sector decided to have an end-of-year party, as was the custom, in the same restaurant that they had gone while their colleague was alive. They sat at the table, which had six seats, only this time, one of the seats was unoccupied. They ate, they drank, the toasted their absent colleague and even had few extra in the name of their departed friend.
Finally, they asked for the bill, which had already been divided by the number of people at the table, which was the usual way they split the bill. Three of them paid by cheque and two of them paid by credit card. Those who paid by credit card noticed they had paid slightly more than those who had paid by cheque and demanded an explanation from the waiter who told them: “The bill was divided for the six people who were at the table, and as we only received three cheques and two credit cards, the remaining (sixth) part was split between the two credit cards”.
At the time they all thought the same thing: that their deceased colleague had been with them the whole time, joining in on the party at the table with them, or at least in the eyes of the person who brought them the bill. One of the colleagues jokingly said: “Jeez, man! We don’t mind paying for you, but please let us know beforehand!”
Recife, 14 December 2005.
(Updated on 9 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
FREYRE, Gilberto. Assombrações do Recife velho: algumas notas históricas e outras tantas folclóricas em torno do sobrenatural no passado recifense. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1970.
HOUAISS, Antônio (Dir.). Pequeno dicionário enciclopédico Koogan Larousse. Rio de Janeiro: Larousse do Brasil, 1979.
RECIFE assombrado. Disponível em: <www.o recifeassombrado.com.br>. Acesso em: 5 dez. 2005.
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Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Hauntings. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.