Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The ghost in the white hat

Crows in a treeI sat in a train recently, gazing idly out of the window waiting for departure. I noticed someone walking along a path near the station. There was nothing surprising about this and I paid the person little attention. I did note, however, that the person must be short as all I could see was their white hat protruding over a line of bushes in front. But then something extraordinary happened - the white-hatted individual vanished! One second plainly visible, the next completely gone!

I wondered if the person had gone behind a particularly tall bush but there were none nearby. Perhaps they had ducked down out of sight, for some bizarre reason. Either way, I did not see the white hat again.

Then, suddenly, the slight puzzle became a much bigger mystery. I realised that the place where I'd seen the white hat, which I knew well, was not where the path went at all. The path goes in front of the bushes, not behind. And behind the bushes is a tall fence, with no gap between. There is certainly no room for anyone to stroll along as I had observed the white hatted person do. For a minute or two I was completely baffled. A ghost actually seemed one of the more likely explanations!

Then another figure appeared in the same position. I could barely make out this individual, seeing only their lightest bits. Then I realised what was going on. I was seeing a dim reflection in the window I was looking out of. Due to the overcast lighting conditions, I could only see the lightest parts of people behind me on the station platform. I could see nothing else reflected in the window at all, which is why the idea of a reflection had not occurred to me before. I looked out at the platform but could see no one in a white hat though it is entirely possible that they had walked away in the time that had elapsed since I saw the ghost.

I usually recognize reflections easily. But, in this case, it was not at all obvious. I knew there was a path nearby so it did not occur to me there was anything odd about seeing someone walking along it. If they hadn't vanished I wouldn't have paid the incident any attention. It is an example of a nice coincidence giving rise to an apparent ghost sighting. Someone having seen the figure vanish who never worked out it was a reflection might still think it a ghost!

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