Mrs Gay Brock recalled her paranormal experiences in the medieval town of Coggeshall, Essex. After allegedly being visited by the spirit of her deceased mother, Mrs Brock claimed that a dream directed her to an unusual burial site.
Of all English towns perhaps Coggeshall in Essex with its magnificent timbered and pargetted medieval houses is the most English of all, and understandably draws many thousands of visitors every year. By its very antiquity it should be, and by repute is, the home of many traditional ghosts and legends, yet the strangest of the supernatural reports comes not from the ancient buildings whose stories, like their timbers, are warped and twisted by time, but from a small, semi-detached cottage on the outskirts which was occupied by a vivacious young American and her English husband. How Gay Agnes from a small mining town in Ohio should meet Mick Brock, a farm worker from East Anglia is a tale almost as strange as Gay's supernatural experiences.
Gay was the youngest of three children and very deeply attached to her mother, partly because she was the "baby" and partly because of an indefinable and strange bond that seemed to link them in character and spirit. Then in 1969 when Gay was seventeen her happy and relatively uneventful life was shattered by the sudden death of her mother: her vivacity collapsed into intense misery and for most of each morning she would lie wakeful in bed, numb with wretchedness and with all desire to live dead inside her. Her father, her elder sister, and two other boys her mother had adopted were left to manage as well as they could.
About a month after the funeral, Gay was lying in her bed at about 11 o'clock in the morning, trying to keep her mind blank because of the anguish that filled it, when she was aware almost without registering it consciously, of a white hand feeling round the slightly-open door. A second later her mother was sitting on the bed. Gay did not see her come in, nor any connection with the hand: one moment there was nothing, the next the bed springs were sinking and creaking as if with the weight of a normal human being. Then the familiar and characteristic smell she had always associated with her mother filled her nostrils.
Gay says that she was not afraid: it was the past month that had been the unreality, and this was a lifelong normality. Her mother was alive, dressed in her favorite red and black dress, comforting her for a grief that was for the instant pointless. Gay sat up and embraced her mother instinctively: her arms encircled what seemed a living, solid figure. The flesh was soft and warm, and not the cold, inhuman wax Gay had touched in the funeral parlor.
Her mother gently moved back, and speaking sadly, used the name she only used in times of intense emotion: "Gay Agnes, shouldn't you be out there looking after them?" Then, as strangely as it had come, the weight lifted from the bed and the figure was just not there anymore. The whole episode, Gay says, lasted about sixty seconds. She got up and set about the house with an urgency she had not felt before in her life, and hurried to the basement to put laundry in the machine. Sometime later she returned to take it out, glancing casually around the room waiting for the cycle to end, she saw, to utter amazement, the red and black dress in which the apparition had appeared an hour earlier. Reluctant lest this be an insubstantial shadow, she went slowly towards it, hesitantly put out a hand-but the dress was material enough, as she picked it up there came again a rich evocative odor as if it had just been taken off. Deeply moved she telephoned her father at work, who said that it was impossible - the dress, like all his wife's belongings, had been packed away in trunks in the loft weeks before to avoid the sad memories they recalled.
Almost seven years later, married and coping with a husband, her two adopted brothers, and an unfamiliar life in rural England, Gay had a dream that was so intense and so sharp-edged in clarity that she was instantly awake. A minute later she was pouring out in detail to a sleepy husband how she had been kneeling beside a grave of a kind fairly common in England but rare in Ohio. It consisted of a rectangle of marble kerbstone filled with marble chipping, and a headstone whose letters she could not distinguish. In the dream, she was picking up handfuls of the gravel and letting them trickle through her fingers into little heaps. It seemed so trivial that it was difficult to see why it had made such an impression, yet for the next two months, those few moments in the cemetery kept re-enacting themselves spontaneously in her mind as if something was trying constantly to remind her of the details.
One afternoon in mid-August 1976 she left the path she normally used to cross the churchyard of St Peter and took a shortcut at the rear of the building: suddenly she was brought to a physical and mental halt by the sight of the grave she had seen first in her vivid dream and had recalled so often in her household chores. It was ill-kept and overgrown, and the lettering on the headstone was decipherable only with difficulty. But when she knelt, as she had in her dream, and rubbed away the lichen, she was staggered to read:
In sweet memory of
Wife of Henry Coggeshall of New York
Died in London, England
Jan 16 1927
'Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd'
If the dream of the unknown grave had been persistent, it was nothing compared with its impact now that she had found it. The name Nell Osbourne went round and round in her brain, especially at night when she lay sleepless, and she felt that she was being asked to do something on behalf of someone else. The insistent demand became so intense that after a few days Gay was forced to see a doctor, but the inevitable tranquilizers did nothing to still that compelling request.
Then suddenly Gay knew: she withdrew the few pounds she had in savings, bought a pot and a heather plant which the assistant told her would remain always green, and hurried to the churchyard. She weeded the little grave, tidied the chippings, and placed the little shrub in the centre. Everything now seemed alright: the urgent voice was silent. But often Gay wondered how Mrs Coggeshall of New York came to be buried in Coggeshall, England: and whether her shadow, far from home, neglected and forgotten, had reached out to another exile for help.