The volunteers at the Drakenstein Heemkring sometimes get rather odd queries, and by far the oddest was one in which two people wanted to look at our photographic collection in order to identify ghosts. More specifically, have a look at clothing in order to date the individual ghosts. We were extremely sceptical, but it soon became quite clear that the two young women knew their ghosts well enough to describe items of clothing in great detail. What was more, they did not only have one or two “visitors”, but possibly as many as twenty. Where was their farm-stall? we wanted to know, and they described one on the Wellington-Klapmuts road behind Paarl Mountain. The farm-stall it would seem, had been built on what may have been a 19th century graveyard.
One of the Drakenstein Heemkring‘s committee members has quite a number of stories about haunted houses in Paarl, but I thought I would document some ghost stories I picked up in some of the old Paarl Posts we have at the Heemkring.
The first was documented in the Paarl Post of 16 May, 1939 and told by Hugo Vercueil, who grew up on a farm in Agter-Paarl and a owned Klein Schuur in Paarl. In the article he told the reporter that growing up, the workers on his father’s farm always said that they would invariably hear a blood curling scream just before sunset a day or two before someone died. This Agter-Paarl farm was clearly haunted.
- Mr Vercuiel’s brother heard someone knock on the front door, but on opening the door, would see nobody, yet distinctly hear footsteps enter the house and walk in the direction of his sisters’ bedroom.
- A man was once observed entering the farm’s wine cellar at 3am one morning, but disappeared when followed, only to exit the cellar to alight a hearse. Three days later a Mr Lahey died in a fatal accident on the farm.
- Mr Vercuiel’s father and a friend Andries Walters from Malmesbury once slept out in the open on a haystack near the main house (a hundred or so head of cattle had gone missing and they wanted to guard the haystack from herd, should they find their way back home). Later that night they woke up to a very bright white figure hovering near the haystack, it want them to follow it into the wagon house. Which they did, only to find what looked like a coffin on one of the farm’s wagons. Two days later Mr Vercuiel’s grandfather died.
- Mr Vercuiel’s father told another story from his youth. One evening after supper, while sitting on the verandah, they saw a figure carrying a lantern, it then appeared to alight an invisible horse cart and ride off with the lantern attached to the wagon. The observers could clearly hear the sound of a wagon wheels moving over gravel, the clip-clop of horse hooves and the crack of a whip. A few days later a much loved child of one of the labourers died tragically.
The Gourlay’s ghost
In the Paarl Post of 3 September 1933, Geo J Porte wrote an article with the title, “Are there haunted houses in Paarl?” For his story he interviewed Mr AT Gourlay, a signaller at Huguenot Railway Station.
In 1925 the Gourlay moved into a semi-detached house in Paarl. The house in Southern Paarl – that is, south of Market Street. The house was typical of the time, with a front door flanked by two windows. On entering the house, the main bedroom with a bay window was to the left, a second bedroom to the right, with the passage ending into a dining room with the kitchen and pantry leading off it. The house would have been difficult to place where it not for the additional snippet of information: the semi had a narrow lane running up alongside it (which of course made me wonder if it could not have been Patriot Street).
The mischief started within days of moving in. The ghost first appeared as a figure in the Gourlay’s bedroom window, then the next night it woke Mr Gourlay by flinging open the window’s shutter. These disturbances happened three nights in a row, usually between 11pm and 12.30am.
The fourth night, Mr Gourlay heard what sounded like a heavy weight falling on the floor of the passage outside their bedroom door, followed by the sound of something being dragged down the passage. He woke his wife, lit a candle and went to investigate, only to find the house empty. Yet on returning to the bedroom, he could distinctly hear whispering in the bedroom opposite theirs. He called his wife, and she too heard the whispering, but could not make out individual words. The following night they woke to what had by now become fairly predictable activity, but now with the additional sound of a loud thumping on a table.
A day later, while sitting at her dining room table doing some sewing, Mrs Gourlay became aware of a presence in the room, and saw a fair haired man emerge from the kitchen, walk past her, and then disappear down the passage into the room in which she and her husband had heard the intense whispering. The ghost never reappeared again.
After speaking to neighbours, they found out that a tall fair haired man had once owned the house.
If you have any good Paarl ghost stories to share, be sure to send a copy for our archive.