“It’s haunted, Rochdale, y’know!” Who’s afraid of the big bad rabbit?
words Daniel Lamb, illustration Evelyn Taylor
Picture the scene. I am standing in the shadow of St. Mary-in-the-Baum at the bottom of Toad Lane in Rochdale. It is fast approaching the witching hour. The moon is hovering in the sky like a silver grin. I am cold. I am alone. I am waiting for a rabbit.
“Mark my words, it’s haunted, Rochdale, y’know.
An old man once said this to me while I was wandering through Rochdale one grey afternoon. His eerie proclamation came after he had just told me, apropos of nothing, about a Victorian woman he’d seen floating along the corridors of the Town Hall. Some might have laughed. Others would have dismissed the old man as crazy and got on with their lives. But I was more open-minded to his claims. After all, I knew about The Baum Rabbit.
It’s quiet out here in the churchyard and in the quiet I am remembering the tales I have heard about The Baum Rabbit since it was first brought to my attention some years ago. It would be easy to dismiss them as nothing more than silly stories, easy to call the whole thing an urban legend, easy were I not standing directly within its haunting grounds. Right now, while my imagination transforms shadows into spectres, I remember the stories. And I begin to wonder.
A ghost rabbit with fur as white as snow and eyes as red as blood that haunts the grounds of St Mary’s Church – the earliest account of the ghostly apparition seems to be the one included in Rochdale Past and Present: a History and Guide published in 1876. There, it is suggested to have been spotted nightly and said to be invulnerable to pellets or air guns.
‘The Baum Rabbit was seen at certain times and was held up as frightener of children. ‘The Baum Rabbit will get you,’ they used to say,’ Mrs. Mary Issacs, a retired schoolteacher, writes of the rabbit in her memoirs. ‘This, together with the litter of rusting cans, dog and cat dirt, paper, old rags and so on, and a peculiar feeling of isolation, gave the area a very sinister atmosphere, even in summer.’
“I’ve seen it, lad,” the old man told me, nodding hard, his eyes wide, when I asked what he knew about The Baum Rabbit. “Years ago, this was. Believe me. Rochdale is haunted.”
And so the legend persists.
But when was the last time it was seen? I had heard tell that it follows a cycle, appearing every 125 years, and before I left my house to go hunting I couldn’t help but wonder whether that cycle had come around again.
So I stand in the grounds of St. Mary’s Church and I’m starting to feel a little silly. I’m thinking about calling it a night. I start to leave the churchyard, but before I can reach the cobbles at the bottom of Toad Lane, I find myself glancing back.
I stare at the patch of grass for a moment. Was that? Just a trick of the light, I think, and then disappear off into the night.