Elliott O’Donnell, Ghost Hunter

Elliott O'Donnell, 1930

The life and experiences of famed Irish ghost hunter and author Elliott O’Donnell.

O’Donnell’s The Ghost Table was the cover story in the February 1928 Weird Tales

Elliott O’Donnell was an Irish author and ghost hunter. Born on February 27, 1872, O’Donnell tried a number of professions before becoming a writer. O’Donnell, as a young man, spent some time in the United States, traveling from coast to coast, picking up any work he could find. He worked as a police officer in Chicago in 1894, during the Chicago Railway Strike, and worked on a farm in Oregon, among other jobs. After returning to Great Britain, he tried his hand at teaching, and at acting on the stage.

In 1904, O’Donnell’s first book was published. This was a work of fiction titled For Satan’s Sake. This was the turning point in his career. From that time forth, O’Donnell was an author, publishing book after book of ghost stories written as fact. Some of his stories were printed more than once, in different books, and show inconsistencies. A few of his stories were written in one book as told to him by a friend, but in another book, they were written as if they had happened to O’Donnell himself.

The O’Donnell Banshee

O’Donnell claimed that his own family had a banshee. He wrote that when he himself was only a few weeks old, his father, Henry O’Donnell, was out of the country when his mother and the servants were awakened one night by an unearthly screaming and howling outside the house. Mrs. O’Donnell asked the servants what the source of the noise was, and an elderly woman answered that it was the banshee, come to tell them that one of the O’Donnells was dead that night. The screaming voice outside occasionally changed into spoken words, but nobody could make them out; the same elderly woman explained that no one but an O’Donnell could understand them.

Some time later, word came that the Reverend Henry O’Donnell had been murdered by thieves in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). Elliott O’Donnell stated that, years later, a corpse-like head was seen by his sister just before their mother died.

As an adult deeply interested in the supernatural, O’Donnell was always willing to check the source of a story. He lectured frequently, and his audiences often supplied stories of their own. O’Donnell held many a late-night vigil in haunted areas, usually with a group but sometimes alone, to discover the veracity of accounts he had received. One of his frequent guests on these vigils was actor C. Aubrey Smith.

O’Donnell lectured in Britain and the United States, doing a series of radio shows for CBS. His books were immensely popular, and he had more than fifty titles published, in addition to writing many articles and stories.

A Spooky Experience

Author Bernhardt J. Hurwood, in his book titled Ghosts, Ghouls & Other Horrors, stated that O’Donnell had a terrifying experience when fishing off the coast of Ireland. O’Donnell had been dropped off at the fishing spot by a boatman, who had agreed to return later for him. As O’Donnell sat at the fishing hole, an eerie feeling came over him, and the water began to swirl. A light appeared in the water, and as O’Donnell watched, transfixed, the light became the image of a dear friend who had drowned at sea. Everything in the face was identical to that of his friend, except that the eyes held a grim look. After some time, the image faded, and the water became still again.

When the boatman picked him up later, O’Donnell, still shaken, asked him if there was anything unusual about the spot where he had been fishing. The boatman replied that at that spot, at around that time of year, those of the Irish who were destined to die unnatural deaths, would see the spirits of the drowned.

Elliott O’Donnell died on May 8, 1965, at the age of 93.