A Manchester ghost story: Discover how dark the city REALLY is this Halloween

By Jess Owen 

A Manchester ghost story…


It was a moonlit night and Mrs Blackburn had been having nightmares for weeks. The kind that turn your skin.

The same coffin was being shut upon on her live body. Her family were going away for a few days except her youngest son John.

She asked 13 year-old John if she could sleep in the same room as him that night. Quickly giving way to the god of slumber, John was in the throes of a deep sleep, until he felt three taps on his back.

Noncommittally he murmured, ‘mum leave me alone’. It happened again, and again. The young boy turned around. Stood a foot away, was not his mother but a man staring back at him with vacant eyes.

He wore old workhouse clothes and looked at John for 30 seconds. A very long 30 seconds that would haunt him but also change his life forever…


This paranormal experience marked John Blackburn’s first sighting of a ghost.

He now runs one of Manchester’s most successful paranormal events companies, Paranormal Mysteria Events and claims to have had seen over nine ghosts and been involved in more than 2,000 investigations.

To whet the appetite of the staunchest to the most green ghost hunter, Paranormal Mysteria Events is hosting a Halloween event like no other.

Thrill-seekers will pay to interact with what has been labelled in supernatural circles as the ‘most haunted painting in the world.’ Entitled, ‘The Anguished Man’, the painting was featured on television show ‘Weird or What,’ and is said to have been painted in the blood of a disturbed artist who later committed suicide.

So, John and his ghost-busting team are going to perform a live experiment with the painting in several haunted settings. The last time this took place, 22 people at Chillingham Castle witnessed what can only be described as a scene out of the shining.

The group claim to have brought forth a statuesque 6ft 5 ethereal figure which moved around the circle. A bench became the mouthpiece of this unknown entity.

It moved in answer to John’s questions, one tap for yes, two for no.

John asked, ‘are you pure evil?’ The reply was deafening in its finality.

A single tap.

Whether you believe in phantoms, El Diablo, vampires, witches or ghouls, the celebration of Halloween has evolved beyond the recognition of its former self.

It is not a question of whether there is a life after death or whether ghosts and phantoms occupy a space in our reality. No, the real question is how far we are willing to go to have a genuinely, but most importantly authentic scary Halloween?

Jean Baudrillard once mused: “There is nothing funny about Halloween. This sarcastic festival reflects, rather, an infernal demand for revenge by children on the adult world.”

And rightly so. 

Although Baudrillard probably wasn’t referring to our modern understanding of Halloween it does seems as though people have moved away from the mainstream commercialism of Halloween, of trick or treating and pranks? They want real-life horror.

John, who has been ‘kicked, punched, pushed and poked,’ by a plethora of phantom friends or foes, said: “Halloween has become our Christmas. It is the busiest time for us and it is getting busier every year.”

When asked what he thought was driving people to seek thrills in this unorthodox way, he added: “Everyone wants to see a ghost. Many people watch the television programme ‘Most Haunted,’ but we provide the real deal.

“There are thrill-seekers all over Manchester but it is also the unexplained element of this unknown science that fascinates people.”

It appears a variety of people are proactively taking up, what John calls ‘an extreme sport.’

He said: “50% of people who attend our events are experienced; the other 50% are terrified. People are thrill-seeking on a whole new level. They don’t want to watch it in an armchair, they want to be involved?”

Historically Halloween can be traced back about 2,000 years to a Gaelic festival called Samhain, meaning summer’s end. Ancient records are sparse and fragmentary, so the exact nature of Samhain is not fully understood, but it was an annual communal meeting at the end of the harvest year, a time to gather resources for the winter months.

Is it said that there were supernatural and religious elements to the pagan festival, though nothing that would be considered sinister by modern standards. It seems as though we have come a long way from Samhain.

Mancunians are also showing their experimental side by indulging in alternative Halloween happenings such Murder Mysteries –  less macabre than bringing forth a poltergeist but with its own potential for thrills.

Hazel Gardner and Emma Bates, both 30, started Manchester Murder Mysteries, as they noticed a gap in niche events for an alternative community in Manchester who were keen to take up something different.

Their special Halloween murder mystery, From Hell They Came, is proving incredibly popular with Mancunians.

Emma said of the three day event: “Ticket are flying out the door. Manchester is a community of extraverts. People aren’t afraid to walk down the street in a banana outfit for instance.”

The company arrange a number of unique murder mystery extravaganza’s such HAG do’s (a hen and stag hybrid apparently – a bit like Frankenstein’s monster I imagine), and bespoke murder mysteries tailored to the personalities of people attending.

Emma said: “There is a major eerie element to murder mystery but also an abundance of humour required to keep everyone invested in their character.

The popularity of this incredibly niche event just goes to show that Halloween is at the next stage of its evolutionary journey. It is now about pushing the limits of the status quo.

Instead of carving a pumpkin, or as many do these days, going to your favourite club dressed as a slutty vampire, Mancunian’s seem to be reaching, for lack of a better word, for something edgier, something more thrilling. 

Some people pay for the thrill of being abducted, some pay for the thrill of surviving a zombie attack.

Are we getting cocky in our old age?  Or are we just bored?

Manchester Murder Mysteries present ‘From Hell They Came: A Halloween Murder Mystery’ at Odder Bar, Oxford Road Manchester. For more information visit:

For more information on Paranormal Mysteria Event:

Picture courtesy of Vijay Gunda, with thanks.

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