In the mid-1970s I went to London for five glorious days. One of the highlights of that trip was my visit to the Tower of London. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour led by a highly knowledgeable guide, and laughed at the tale of how well potatoes grew in the grassy moat during World War II -- “Probably due to the excellent fertilizer,” said our guide after having just told us about how bodies were disposed of, from the 13th to the 18th century, when there was still water in the moat.
“Now, do wander a bit, and don’t forget to view the Museum of Armour in the White Tower,” he told us before ending the tour. The White Tower is the oldest structure in the Tower of London. Built near the end of the 11th century, at the time of William the Conqueror, the White Tower is a squarish structure with turret-like structures at each corner, which I remembered as being round but are actually square.
I wasn’t that interested in the museum of armor, but I dutifully took a stroll up one staircase, through a floor, up the same staircase to the next floor, and so on. Helmets, visors, pikes, staffs, maces, swords, and more. Way more than I cared to linger over, so I headed for the other staircase.
In order to keep tourists from pushing each other down the stairs (accidentally, of course), there’s a system in place that designates one corner turret as the UP staircase and one as the DOWN. The stairs are a blunt triangle in shape, with landings at each floor and at the outer edge, where a wide slit in the thick wall allows people to see out and lets some daylight in.
I went down one flight, to the outside edge of the tower, down another flight to the landing where the door opened out from that floor. It was January, and there weren’t many other tourists around, so I was quite alone. I had taken three or four steps down from that landing when I heard light footsteps running down the stairs from the floor above me. I pressed myself against the outer wall of the stairway, since I didn’t want to be perched on the narrow inner edge of the stairs with someone rushing past me.
I looked back up to my left and saw a woman in a dark green, long, full-skirted dress with a touch of white at the neckline. Her dark brown hair was pulled back with a ribbon of some sort. I could see the wall in back of her . . . right through her. She was laughing.
She ran past me, stopped on the landing a few steps below, placed her hands on the base of the wide window opening, and looked out and down. She laughed again, and ran on down the circular stairs.
I wondered what she’d been looking at, so I went to the same opening, placed my hands where hers had been, and looked down into the courtyard. A young man stood there, still looking up, with the happiest grin on his face. He wore a russet colored full-sleeved top, a slouchy hat, a heavy belt that held a long knife.
As I watched in absolute wonder, he turned his gaze down toward the bottom of the White Tower turret, then disappeared as two nuns, present-day tourists, walked right through him. The nuns kept going, but the young man was gone.
Why am I telling you this story? Because I had lunch on Sunday with a family whose son is writing a school report on the Tower of London. His mother knew that I’d had this experience at the Tower, and asked if I would come to lunch with them and tell her son my story.
He said he’d read on the internet about ghosts in the White Tower, so I went online to see what the cyber world had to say. No ghosts like mine, I’m afraid. All the ghosts mentioned online are either scary or pathetic, homicidal or headless, maniacal or horribly depressed.
I’d like to set the story straight. The people I saw were fresh and happy, vibrant and joy-filled. And at least 300-years dead. I don’t know what they were doing hanging around there, but I am delighted … honored even … to have glimpsed a tiny moment in their lives.
BEEattitude for Day #552:
Blessed are those who laugh wonderfully every day, for they shall last.
The teeny details:
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