Animal Planet’s “Monster Week” has drawn to a close, but AiPT! Science has one more weird story for you, from a slightly more skeptical viewpoint. Click the “MW2018” tag down below for everything from this week!
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some are hulking, hairy hominids. Some are scaly, reptilian lake-dwellers.
Some are six-inch long, well-spoken weasels.
But is it fair to call the “Dalby spook” a monster? What the hell was Gef the Talking Mongoose?
Whatever it was, it essentially haunted the Irving family of Dalby, a small town in Britain’s Isle of Mann, for eight long years in the 1930s. Maybe that’s not a great characterization, either, because while the unknowable character did menace the Irvings at first, the being that initially called itself “Jack” before settling on “Gef” (pronounced with a soft “G”) eventually became like one of the family, as the patriarch James would call him “my lad.”
Gef started his known life much like a poltergeist, focusing not on father James, but on daughter Voirrey. The phenomenon began in a similar way, too, with bangings and thrown stones in the house, and the gurglings and baby talk that often precede full-blown speech in reported cases of spirit voices. Voirrey was not only the center of the happenings, but a target, with her parents finally moving her into their own room for protection, only for Gef to threaten, “I’ll follow her, wherever you move her.”
Time heals all wounds, though, as Gef became more amiable, telling the Irvings gossip from around town and killing rabbits for them to sell at market. The family would only catch fleeting glimpses of him from time to time — Gef was apparently about half a foot long with yellowish fur and a bushy tail — but they had also felt him as he flitted behind the walls, or even one time, gnawed on the finger of James’ wife, Margaret. Gef would come to eat food the Irvings left out for him, and nibble the butter in the kitchen.
Gef had originally called himself “a ghost in the body of a weasel,” before deciding “mongoose” was a better fit. He claimed to have come from India, where he lived with yogis, but could speak no Hindi (when pressed, the words he produced sounded superficially like the language, but were determined by experts to be nonsense). At times Gef seemed himself to not know what he was, switching from “Earthbound spirit” to just “an extra clever mongoose,” and in one bizarre tirade exclaiming, “I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!”
Gef’s voice was often said to be “an octave above” the normal human range, resembling the screech of a weasel. He didn’t like speaking in front of skeptics, though he did establish a rapport with some investigators over the years. Others failed to hear what the Irvings heard in what seemed to be natural noises, which were then “interpreted” by James.
Despite being tight-lipped around doubters, and never wanting to be seen by anyone (sometimes claiming a person would be “turned into stone” if they ever got a good look at him), Gef was more than happy to provide hair samples and footprints, and even pose for the occasional photograph (after Voirrey had been gifted a nice, new camera to fulfill the task).
The photos of Gef show nothing instructive, though, none of them looking very similar to each other, and the hair and footprints are obvious fakes — the prints were clearly made by smooth objects (not an animal’s foot), and the fur was determined to be from a dog (we can’t say for sure if it was the family dog, as sadly samples from it were never collected).
So what went on in this quiet community for almost a decade? The obvious answer is a hoax, though as noted above, some things that might have proved such were frustratingly never tested. Gef could sometimes be heard banging in one part of the house while speaking in another, an easy feat for a spirit, perhaps, but maybe too for someone on the second floor of a building with enough space behind the walls to carry sound. Investigators from the famed Society for Psychical Research speculated as much, but despite numerous visits to Doarlish Cashen, never actually ran the experiment.
It might have been even easier for a ventriloquist — which several of her classmates claimed Voirrey to be, throwing her voice in the schoolhouse, and even far away into a field. Voirrey was said to be clever and mechanically-inclined (she surely loved that camera), but was isolated in Dalby. She was 13 years old when the Gef phenomena began, though her parents were in their mid-late 50s. Voirrey had two much older siblings, who had long since moved away from home.
Some speculate that Voirrey and Margaret concocted Gef as a means of scaring James into selling the estate, so they could move someplace more modern. If so, it clearly backfired, as the property value dropped dramatically, and James grew to be infatuated with the scamp. Gef became less playful as Voirrey got older, and she’d tell others that often she wished he’d just go away. But would that have hurt her father too much, at that point? Even Gef moaned once, “Oh, let me go, Jimmy, let me go.”
Voirrey seems the obvious culprit, and she refused to talk about the whole affair later in life, except for one interview in 1970. In it, she insisted Gef was not a hoax, and that she wished it had never happened. Voirrey claimed the specter of the Gef story had even kept her from getting married, and asked if she were such a great ventriloquist, why wouldn’t she have made money doing it, instead of living in relative squalor?
Some of the more perplexing occurrences seem to cast doubt on Voirrey’s role, too. Though Gef was mostly inactive when Voirrey wasn’t around, he was once or twice heard in the house when Voirrey could clearly be seen outside, 100 yards away. Gef would bring home trinkets from places Voirrey had never been known to go, and once described a far-away mansion with startling accuracy, after going and returning in an amount of time thought to be too short for a person to pull off.
Is that to be expected, though, when the ardent James Irving kept copious logs of all of Gef’s activities? Would it be so surprising if he had embellished or misrepresented a couple things, here and there? Does it matter if Gef was actually real? If nothing else, it’s a cute story about a family and their elevated animal/spiritual/inter-dimensional friend, a strange tale of adversarial companionship that ends with Gef slowly fading away after James’ death.
It’s enough to make you wonder — both how something like Gef could have existed, and what kind of psychology could bring a person (or persons) to perpetrate a painstaking hoax like this for so long. Maybe that’s enough.
To learn more about Gef, most of what’s written here and so many other strange things and quotes can be found in Christopher Josiffe’s comprehensive 2017 book on the happenings, called Gef! The Strange Tale of an Extra-Special Talking Mongoose.