Scratching Fanny was becoming more popular by the day. The crowds congregating in the street outside the supposedly haunted house became so great, and those wishing to enter it so difficult to accommodate, that Richard Parsons took to charging people a fee to remain in the vicinity of his ghost. Horace Walpole, having visited the house on the 30th of January 1762, wrote to George Montagu a couple of days later:
'I went to hear it, for it is not an apparition, but an audition. We set out from the opera, changed our clothes at Northumberland House, the Duke of York, Lady Northumberland, Lady Mary Coke, Lord Hertford, and I, all in one hackney-coach, and drove to the spot. It rained torrents; yet the lane was full of mob, and the house so full we could not get in. At last they discovered it was the Duke of York, and the company squeezed themselves into one another's pockets to make room for us. The house, which is borrowed, and to which the ghost has adjourned, is wretchedly small and miserable. When we opened the chamber, in which were fifty people, with no light, but one tallow candle at the end, we tumbled over the bed of the child to whom the ghost comes, and whom they are murdering by inches in such insufferable heat and stench. At the top of the room are ropes to dry clothes. I asked if we were to have rope-dancing between the acts. We heard nothing. They told us (as they would at a puppet-show) that it would not come that night till seven in the morning, that is, when there are only 'prentices and old women. We stayed, however, till half an hour after one. The Methodists have promised them contributions. Provisions are sent in like forage, and all the taverns and ale-houses in the neighbourhood make fortunes.'
A committee was formed, upon the approbation of the lord mayor, to investigate the case of Scratching Fanny, and on the 1st of February 1762 the Rev. Dr Aldrich of St John's, Clerkenwell, assembled a group at his house in order to put Elizabeth Parsons to the test. The report of the committee, which included John Moore and none other than Dr Samuel Johnson (pictured above), was published in the Gentleman's Magazine. In addition to this, an account was published in a pamphlet entitled The Mystery Revealed, written by Oliver Goldsmith.
According to Rev. Aldrich, at about ten o'clock at night, the gentlemen who had congregated at his house met in the room in which Elizabeth had been put to bed by several ladies earlier in the evening. The men sat in the room for an hour but heard and saw nothing of any ghost. They then interrogated the girl's father, who denied any knowledge of any fraud being committed by his daughter.
The spirit had previously publicly promised, 'by an affirmative knock' that it would go to the vault under the church of St. John, where Fanny's body was located, and knock upon her coffin. The spirit was asked to fulfil its promise, but it failed to do so.
The ghost was asked to manifest itself in some way, by knocks or scratches, or by an impression on a hand or some other body part of one of the men present. The ghost remained silent and demonstrated no sign of its presence.
Elizabeth was then questioned, but the men could not persuade her to confess that the ghost was a fraud; she asked to be allowed to go home with her father and was permitted to do so.
'It is... the opinion of the whole assembly,' Johnson wrote, 'that the child has some art of making or counterfeiting a particular noise, and that there is no agency of any higher cause.'
It was decided that Elizabeth Parsons should undergo further tests, so she was made to sleep in a hammock, strung up about a yard and a half above the ground, with her hands and feet tied and with a maid constantly present, to prevent her banging on the bed. While she slept in this manner, which went on for two or three nights, the ghost made not a sound. Elizabeth was told that if Scratching Fanny didn't make an appearance the next night she, her father and her mother would be sent to Newgate Prison. Surely enough, Fanny made a comeback; the banging and scratching returned. It had been discovered, however, that little Elizabeth had hidden a board within her bed and that this piece of wood had been the tool used to make the noises heard during that particular evening. The following day, the coffee houses were buzzing with reports of the Parsons' fraud.
To be continued...