Jane of George Street

It wasn’t just her figure that rendered her unusual. Her clothes, while regal and well-kept, were incredibly out of date.

Words by Liana Paraschaki and Illustration by Allison McKay

I was walking down George Street just the other day, hoping to get some cigars, when I suddenly noticed just ahead of me, a woman of stately figure. It wasn’t just her figure that rendered her unusual. Her clothes, while regal and well-kept, were incredibly out of date. She was dressed in a skirt of dark blue velvet, with a coat of high collar and full at the shoulders. Unlike any other lady all around us, she wore a small hat, and patent leather shoes, while her hands were hidden away in white lace gloves. Her complexion was strikingly white, so much so that even her pale blonde hair seemed stark against her forehead. She was so peculiar, so startlingly out of place, that I quickened my step and followed her down the street. I soon walked past her and turned swiftly around, so I could take one look at her face. What I saw froze me in place. Her face, was the face of the dead. Unable to move, I stood rooted in place, and she quickly took the lead.

She kept on walking, walking past the confectioner’s and the hatter’s without a second glance. One or two people walking past her shivered noticeably, but no one else seemed to look at her. In fact, it was as if they couldn’t see her at all! An elderly gentleman even walked straight into her – or, rather, through her. I was now realising she was a ghost, a ghost that only I could see. So, we kept on walking down George Street, the phantom leading the way.

At last, she came to a stop outside the chemist’s and, with a slight incline of the head, as if inviting me to follow, she stepped inside. I followed her. She stood in front of the counter, and then suddenly disappeared. I asked the chemist if he could tell me anything about the lady that had just walked into his shop, but he simply laughed.

“This is not the first of April! Have you lost your wits? Now, tell me, what is it that you want?”

I bought something I had no need of – and frankly, cannot even remember what – before leaving. That night, I dreamed I was walking down George Street again. Only this time, the phantom turned around to look at me and say, “I’m Jane! My name is Jane! Only Jane!” I awoke with her screams still ringing in my ears, hours before the sun were to rise on the horizon.

A few days passed before I found myself walking down George Street again. The rain was pouring, and everything was wet and muddy. Everyone carried big umbrellas and walked with a quick step, careful not to slip or step onto muddy puddles. Amidst the mud and the rain, stood she, clean and perfect as ever, clad in blue velvet, as if untouched by the rain. I, once again, found myself quickening my pace, eager to take one more look at her face. This time, the presence of death across her features sent me flying across the pavement, reeling in shock. Still trembling and hastening to get myself of the muddy street, I let her walk past me.

Jane made for the chemist’s once again. She walked past a horse, who cried out in fear. Across the street, a policeman’s eyes locked into Jane’s own. His eyes bulged in fear, his face whitened, and his hands clutched at his chest. I knew now I wasn’t alone in seeing her, nor was I delusional. But, I was enchanted. I had to know about Jane and who she was. So, I began enquiring around Edinburgh, asking about Jane and her story. I was informed that about eighteen years ago, when Jane’s dresses were still the height of fashion, the chemist’s had been a dressmaker’s, owned by a woman named Miss Bosworth.

Naturally, I hunted up Miss Bosworth, to ask her about Jane.

“What can you tell me about a woman named Jane?”

“Oh dear, that is awfully vague! I have, indeed, known many Janes.”

“But not many with pale blonde hair, and white eyelashes, I would assume.”

Miss Bosworth paled noticeably. “How do you know of this Jane?”

“Because… because I have seen her ghost!”

What I saw in Miss Bosworth’s face resembled pity more so than horror. “I was hoping she would have found rest by now,” she whispered, and I knew, in that instant, that she did believe me – and that she, herself, was also acquainted with Jane.

“In 1892, a Miss Jane Vernelt ran a costumier’s business in George Street, in the very building, in fact, that is now occupied by a chemist. The business was for sale, and I replied to the advertisement. Myself and Miss Vernelt came to a deal quickly, and within a month I was running my own business from the shop. One day, Miss Vernelt returned, crying and screaming. You see, she had regretted selling her business, and wanted to buy it back. I, however, had no intention of selling my shop back to her. She was hysterical and I … I am not proud of this, but I had my assistants turn her out. For six weeks, she returned every day. And every day was the same: she would scream, and she would cry, and she would plead, and she would threaten, and I would always have her turned out. I found out then that she was unwell. Unhinged, they called her. Her doctors were the ones who advised her to sell her business and place herself in the hands of her family, so she could be taken care of. And so she did. But the change was too grand, and it made things worse, and she was convinced she needed to return to George Street. In fact, the hauntings started before she was even dead! I knew she was under restraint, but still I would see her body roaming the streets, trying to make her way to George Street. For several weeks after her death, she haunted George Street. But then, suddenly, her apparitions stopped. And this is the first I hear of it ever since.”

I have since visited George Street often, almost daily, hoping to catch another glimpse of Jane. She has, however, remained unseen. I can only hope she is finally at rest.

Illustration by Ally McKay.