Saturday, June 13, 2009

William Terriss

Good-looking actor William Terriss (born William Lewin) was a very popular stage figure of Victorian England. He was noted for his portrayals of heroes, which earned him the nickname of "Breezy Bill". He was popular offstage as well, being noted for his generosity, especially towards fellow actors. One night, he arrived at the theatre dripping wet, as his contemporary, Ellen Terry, recalled. He shrugged off the usual jokes ("Is it raining, Terriss?"). It was only later that everyone learned he had dived into the Thames to rescue a child in danger.

Terriss would, eventually, have enormous cause to regret his generosity towards Richard Archer Price. Terriss had helped Price to find work as a struggling young actor, but Price's alcohol problems and mental illness made him difficult to deal with. Eventually, Terriss had Price fired, though he continued to send Price money (through the Actors' Benevolent Fund) and tried to help him to find work elsewhere.

On December 16, 1897, now desperate and out of money, but impossible to work with, Price caught up with Terriss at the door to the Adelphi Theatre, which Terriss was unlocking. Price stabbed Terriss in the back, and as Terriss turned towards him, stabbed him in the side and again in the back. Actress Jessie Millward, Terriss' leading lady and lover, heard the commotion and opened the door from the inside, when Terriss fell against her. His last words were whispered to Millward: "I will come back." He was buried in London's Brompton Cemetery.

Price was caught instantly, telling the police, "I did it for revenge. He had kept me out of employment for ten years, and I had either to die in the street or kill him." Price was found guilty of murder, he was also found to be insane. He died at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in 1936, frequently writing and acting in his own plays, performed for the amusement of thrill-seekers who enjoyed visiting psychiatric hospitals.

True to his word, Terriss has indeed come back, and stayed. His ghost has been seen at the Adelphi, as well as making frequent appearances at the Covent Garden tube station. (Terriss was murdered ten years before the tube station opened; he used to buy goods from a bakery that stood on that spot, hence his tendency to revisit the area.) In 1955, ticket collector Jack Hayden saw the ghost of Terriss, wearing an opera cloak and gloves, holding a cane, and "with a very, very sad face and sunken cheeks"; the specter was seen walking the platform or climbing the spiral staircase. Once, the ghost entered the former cafeteria through a closed door. He stood, wordless and unmoving, before leaving through the same closed door; the employees were thunderstruck.

In distinct contrast to the kindly nature of Terriss during his lifetime, his ghost is often a frightening one. The spirit made itself known for what may have been the first time in a dressing room at the Adelphi in 1928, when a young actress known only as "June" was trying to sleep before a performance. First, the couch underneath her began to shake. When she investigated, she found nothing. The couch continued to shake, and then she saw a greenish mist. Her arms were clutched tightly by unseen fingers. A sound of two knocks ended the supernatural display.

Later, June found that her dressing room was once used by Jessie Millward. Terriss, during his life, was in the habit of knocking twice on her door with his walking stick as he passed it.

June's arms were bruised for several days.

Several Adelphi employees witnessed Terriss' last appearance at the theatre, in 1950. He tended to appear (as with June's experience) from a green mist, frightening spectators. The last sighting of the ghost in the Covent Garden Station occurred in 1972, but staff members still hear footsteps and whispering in the station.

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