Elliott O’Donnell (27 February 1872 – 8 May 1965) was an English author known primarily for his books about ghostsSpirit of a dead person returned to visit the living, the common conception of a ghost. . He claimed to have seen one himself at the age of five, an elementalType of primitive spiritual entity from the pagan past, perhaps the manifestation of a race memory, usually associated with a single place. figure covered with spots, and to have been strangled by a mysterious phantom in Dublin.[1]

Early life and education

O’Donnell was born in Clifton, Bristol, the youngest son of Reverend Henry O’Donnell (1827–1873), an Irish clergyman. Educated at Clifton College in Bristol, and then at Queen’s Service Academy in Dublin, Ireland,[2] he claimed descent from the ancient Irish chieftain Niall of the Nine Hostages.[3]

See caption
Elliott O’Donnell in 1930.
Wikimedia Commons


After travelling to the United States, where he worked on a cattle ranch, O’Donnell returned to England and took to the stage.[2] His first book was a psychic thriller titled For Satan’s Sake (1904), and from then he worked full-time as a writer. He wrote several popular novels, including an occult fantasy, The Sorcery Club (1912),[3] but specialised in what were claimed to be true stories of ghosts and hauntings. These were immensely popular, but his flamboyant style and amazing stories suggest that he combined fact with fiction. O’Donnell wrote for numerous magazines, including Hutchinson Story Magazine, The Novel Magazine, The IdlerIllustrated monthly magazine published in London from 1892 until 1911., Weekly Tale-Teller, Hutchinson’s Mystery-Story Magazine, Pearson’s Magazine and Lilliput.[4]

Ghost hunter

Despite the author P. G. Wodehouse’s description of O’Donnell as “the Sherlock Holmes of the ghost world”, it is widely believed that he fabricated many of the paranormal events he claimed to have witnessed, or at the very least dramatically embellished them.[5] In O’Donnell’s own words:

I lay no claim to being what is termed a scientific psychical researcher. I am not a member of any August society that conducts its investigations of the other world, or worlds, with the test tube and weighing apparatus; neither do I pretend to be a medium or clairvoyant – I have never undertaken to “raise” ghosts at will for the sensation-seeker or the tourist.[5]

O’Donnell did though, for a time, employ actors to stage hauntings for public entertainment.[5] Although he never worked officially with the Society for Psychical ResearchRegistered charity founded in 1882 to conduct scientific investigations into psychic and paranormal phenomena., he once spent a night at St Nicholas Church, Brockley Combe with Everard Feilding, an investigator from the society.[6]

Personal life

O’Donnell married Ada Caroline Bullivant in 1905.[2] He died at the age of 93 in a nursing home in Cleveland, Somerset on 8 May 1965.[7]


Novels and short stories

  • For Satan’s Sake (1904)
  • The Unknown Depths (1905)
  • The Sorcery Club (1912)
  • Confessions of a Ghost Hunter (1928)
  • The Devil in the Pulpit (1932)
  • The Dead Riders (1952)
  • The Unlucky TheatreGhost story about a haunted theatre by the English writer Elliott O'Donnell, first published in 1959. (1959), alternative title The Hoodoo Theatre [8]


  • Some Haunted Houses (1908)
  • Haunted Houses of London (1909)
  • Reminiscences of Mrs E. M. Ward (1910)
  • Byways of Ghostland (1911)
  • The Meaning of Dreams (1911)
  • Scottish Ghost Stories (1912)
  • Werewolves (1912)[9]
  • Animal Ghosts (1913)
  • Ghostly Phenomena (1913)
  • Haunted Highways and Byways (1914)
  • The Irish Abroad (1915)
  • Twenty Years’ Experience as a Ghost Hunter (1916)
  • The Haunted Man (1917)
  • Spiritualism Explained (1917)
  • Fortunes (1918)
  • Haunted Places in England (1919)
  • Menace of Spiritualism (1920)
  • More Haunted Houses of London (1920)
  • Ghosts, Helpful and Harmful (1924)
  • The Banshee (1907)
  • Strange Sea Mysteries (1926)
  • Strange Disappearances (1927)
  • Great Thames Mysteries (1929)
  • Famous Curses (1929)
  • Fatal Kisses (1929)
  • The Boys’ Book of Sea Mysteries (1930), Dodd, Mead & Company
  • Rooms of Mystery (1931), London: Philip Allan & Co. Ltd.
  • Ghosts of London (1932)
  • Family Ghosts (1934)
  • Strange Cults & Secret Societies of Modern London (1934)
  • Spookerisms: Twenty-five Weird Happenings (1936)
  • Haunted Churches (1939)
  • Ghosts with a Purpose (1952)
  • Dangerous Ghosts (1954)
  • Phantoms of the Night (1956)
  • Haunted Waters, and Trees of Ghostly Dread (1958)
  • Haunted Britain (1956)