There was a period of time during the mid-1930s when newspapers in Britain and elsewhere became transfixed on the strangest of strange stories. According to the reports, a family on the Isle of Man were being visited by a “talking mongoose” or “man-weasel” that went by the name Gef, the Dalby Spook. What the hell was going on here?
It started with scratching and vocal noises
In 1931, so the story goes, the Irving family started experiencing strange phenomena in their farmhouse, Doarlish Cashen, which was located near the village of Dalby. The Irving family – James and Margaret, as well as their daughter Voirrey – had started hearing strange noises that sounded like scratching, rustling, and “vocal noises” that emanated from the walls. Clearly they were dealing with some sort of rodent, so the family put down traps in an effort to catch the unwanted visitor. However, nothing seemed to work, and the strange occurrences continued.
Then the family tried to scare it away, but the more they interacted with it, the more the mysterious thing interacted with them. The visitor continued to scratch and claw about, but its noises become more disturbing, taking on barking sounds as well as something that sounded like a baby crying. Then it started mimicking them – producing sounds that were similar to a small child trying to talk.
Before long, the entity was communicating in full sentences and chatting with Voirrey. It claimed to be a talking mongoose called Gef (pronounced Jeff) who had once been an Indian born in New Delhi in 1852 and, so he claimed, “had been shot at by Indians”.
Gef did not limit himself to talking to the family. Once he was comfortable he would sing and dance and, the Irvings claimed, he was capable of speaking multiple languages (or at least bits of languages) including Russian, Manx, Hebrew, Welsh, Hindustani, Flemish, Italian, and Arabic.
What did Gef look like? Well, Voirrey was the only one to properly see the talking critter, apparently, and she described him as being the size of a small rat, with a large bushy tail and yellowish fur. Voirrey is alleged to have even tried to photograph him, but Gef, it seems, was too shy and believed the camera was a trap.
Soon, Gef was a member of the Irving family and, now he was established in the farmhouse, he started exploring more widely. Local residents and neighbors were dismayed to learn that the peculiar mongoose had visited their homes or accompanied them on walks and would then relay personal information about them to the Irvings.
How did Gef achieve this without being noticed? Well (of course) he could change shape and even go invisible. He was, after all, and by his own admission, “an extra clever mongoose” – though he also referred to himself as a spirit, and a “ghost in the form of a weasel!” I guess one can afford to be inconsistent when one is preternaturally gifted.
The story of Gef spread quickly and spread far. Journalists and paranormal investigators all wanted to witness the strange happenings at the isolated farmhouse. One individual who was lucky enough to receive a personal invite was the famous psychic investigator Harry Price, who visited the Isle of Man in 1935 with R.S. Lambert, the then editor of BBC magazine The Listener.
Price is a controversial figure today. At the time, he was a leading British personality who was popular for his investigations into fraudulent mediums and other hoaxes. However, Price did believe in some supernatural elements and has since been accused of faking some of his own evidence. Still, on this occasion the debunker traveled to the Irvings' home to examine Gef.
What did he and Lambert find? Nothing.
They found nothing because Gef had mysteriously and conveniently disappeared as they arrived and remained “invisible” until they left. This, the mongoose-man-ghost thing explained, was because Lambert did not believe in him. Unfortunately, it did not seem to occur to the shapeshifting spook that this problem could have been easily rectified with a few words, maybe a song or dance.
Prior to Price’s visit, James Irving sent what he claimed to be a sample of the mongoose’s hair that Gef had allegedly picked himself. However, Price did not think the hairs matched any mongoose, weasel, or small animal he knew of. When he eventually visited the house, he compared the hairs to those on the Irvings' family dog, which he believed were an identical match.
Price also examined tooth and paw prints that were apparently left behind by Gef, but he noticed disparities between the sizes of the front paws when compared to the back ones, the latter being significantly smaller than the former. According to the Irvings, Gef had human-like hands, but when the samples were sent to the Zoological Society for analysis, they claimed that no animal existed that had paws that large when compared to its overall body size.
Hoax, spook-weasel, or poltergeist?
This one is easy to explain without recourse to the supernatural. Gef’s existence was never independently verified and, when popular interest disappeared in the late 1930s, so too did the alleged spirit. Gef was never heard from again, nor have there ever been any other reports of his posthumous activities.
What we do know is that Voirrey had a special talent. She was known to be an effective ventriloquist, though she later claimed that her skills were far below those of Gef. Even at the time, locals dismissed the Irvings' stories as elaborate hoaxes. Apparently representatives of the Isle of Man Examiner even caught Voirrey making odd noises, which her father tried to explain as coming from somewhere else.
At best, it seems Gef was a family joke gone too far. At worst, it was a deliberate hoax. The story is now quite well-known and holds a special place in the history of British folklore. But there are still those out there who think it is the evidence of poltergeist activity.