A talking mongoose in the 1930s received extensive press coverage, attracted ghost-busters, psychic investigators and numerous reporters, and provoked a sensational court action for libel.
In September 1931 Gef (pronounced Jeff), the talking Mongoose, arrived at the isolated farmhouse of Cashen’s Gap on the Isle of Man.
James Irving, the owner of the farm, heard tapping in the attic, then barking and growling. Then a loud crack shook the room. He searched the attic but failed to find the source of the noises which continued all night.
Irving made bird and animal sounds and after each sound he called the name. Something replicated each noise and repeated the corresponding word in a high-pitched voice.
Over several days It learned to speak fluently, called itself Gef, and fired question after question. No matter how quietly Irving and wife, Margary, spoke, Gef seemed able to hear them. Gef said:
“I am a ghost in the form of a weasel and I shall haunt you with weird noises and clanking chains.”
Irving set rat poison without success.
The famous ghost-buster Harry Price (1881-1948) first corresponded with Irving in 1932: “…he described the animal as being of a yellowish tinge, like a ferret. ‘The tail is long and bushy and tinged with brown. In size, it is about the length of a three parts grown rat in the body, without the tail.'” (Price 1974, page 85)
The Irving farm was situated 750 feet up the windswept slopes of Dalby Mountain, four miles from the town of Peel, and faced the sea toward Ireland. It consisted of treeless, undulating hills, covered in short turf. Reaching the farm required an hour’s climb up a slippery track.
James Irving, born about 1875, was a piano salesman before World War I and bought the farm in 1915. Initially prosperous, the farm by 1930 supplied grazing for only 30 sheep, a few goats, and some poultry.
The Irvings’ daughter, Voirrey, born 1918, was introverted, had dropping eyelids that half-hid her eyes, and often roamed the hills with her sheepdog, Mona.
In October Gef became international news. The Daily Mail reported about the “man-weasel“, and the Daily Sketch published a photo of “Talking Weasel Farm”.
In 1932 the Manchester Daily Sketch sent a reporter who wrote: “The mysterious man-weasel has spoken to me today. I have heard a voice which I should never have imagined could issue from a human throat. The people who claim it was the voice of the strange weasel seem sane, honest and responsible folk and not likely to indulge in a difficult, long-drawn-out and unprofitable practical joke.”
The reporter wondered whether the solution lay in, “the duel personality of the 13-year-old girl, Voirrey Irving?” He observed Voirrey in a mirror while listening to the “piercing and uncanny voice“. Her fingers partly-covered her mouth and he did not see her lips move.
Some visiting relatives who also heard Gef speak suggested the culprit was Voirrey. Gef declared, “I’ll kill their turkeys.” And later their ducklings and turkeys disappeared.
Voirrey and Mrs Irving suggested Gef hid in the 3-inch space between the original interior wall and new paneling that overlaid it. They claimed they had a number of times seen part of a bushy tail. Voirrey further claimed she saw a yellow, hedgehog-like face, with flat snout. Mrs Irving claimed she stroked Gef’s fur through a crack in the wall and got bitten by an inch-wide mouth with “tiny and sharp” teeth followed by the words, “Go and put ointment on it.”
Gef said he was born in Delhi, India, in 1852:
“I am a little clever, extra clever mongoose. I am the eighth wonder of the world.”
But he didn’t explain how he got to England.
Gef could laugh, sing songs and hymns, repeat nursery rhymes, and spoke a smattering in several languages, such as Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Welsh. Mona the sheepdog never showed any reaction to Gef’s voice.
Sometimes Gef shouted “Got a rabbit” and outside the Irvings would find a dead rabbit, apparently strangled.
Starting in 1934 Gef supposedly ranged over the Island, eavesdropped and spied on neighbors, and brought back gossip.
A stream of visitors began the climb up Dalby Mountain to Cashen’s Gap but none ever saw Gef. A Captain Macdonald, a racing motorist, heard loud thumps on the stairs and “Hello everybody” and shone a flashlight. A voice shouted “You damn sleech” [sly man] and a china tray and bottle hurtled down the stairs.
New York psychiatrist and research officer for Psychical Investigation, Dr Nandor Fodor, made several visits to Cashen’s Gap, even staying a week at the farmhouse but neither heard nor saw Gef.
Fodor wrote, “Is there a ghost at Doarlish Cashen? Or is it a poltergeist, or stranger still, a survival of the familiars, the talking animal companions of witches in dark medieval days?”
Gef became known as The Dalby Spook. James Irving kept diaries about it from 1932 to 1935 which, according to Price, rivals the Arabian Nights in fantastic improbabilities.
In March 1935 Harry Price received some fur which (according to the Irvings) Gef had removed from himself. Price had it analysed by an authority in fur and hair who concluded it came from a dog and had been cut off rather than pulled out since no hair had a root-bulb. A later investigation compared Mona’s fur with the alleged mongoose hairs and found them identical.
Harry Price visited Cashen’s Gap in August, bringing with him Richard S Lambert editor of The Listener magazine. Again Gef refused to show or talk. But foot-impressions on plasticine were sent away for analysis. The foot-impressions could not be identified.
Lambert subsequently mentioned the talking mongoose on social occasions, notably to Sir Cecil Levita, former chairman of the London Council, and his wife Lady Levita. Lambert and Lady Levita were both Governors of the British Film Institute. Sir Cecil informed the BBC about Lambert’s belief in a talking mongoose, and suggested Lambert is “cracked” (mad) and unfit as Film Institute governor.
Action for libel followed, the case came to court in November 1936. By then Harry Price and R S Lambert had authored The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap and every jury member received a copy.
The case made headlines from London to America. One headline read: “B.B.C. Official alleges Madness slander; Gef the Talking Mongoose“.
Reporters climbed the slippery track to Cashen’s Gap but Gef refused to show himself to any of them. Mr Irving, however, assured everyone that Gef was well and still contacted the family daily.
Sir Cecil Levita lost and was ordered to pay ₤7,500 and Lambert autographed the jury’s copies of The Haunting. Mongooses became popular as pets in England and their price in pet shops increased accordingly.
Believers in the paranormal wondered whether Gef could be a poltergeist. Real-life mongooses, however, did live on the Isle of Man – a local farmer released some in 1912 to try to reduce the rabbit population.
The American Weekly asked: “Is Voirrey in a falsetto voice all there is to Gef?”
And that is indeed the plausible conclusion – that Voirrey in collaboration with one or both parents practiced a long-term hoax for the attention it produced. If only one parent was involved then probably the mother because:
A curious feature of the talking mongoose case is that the creature is seldom seen by Mr. Irving. Very rarely, something dashes along a beam, or he glimpses the tip of a tail rounding a corner, and that is about all. On the other hand, his wife and daughter have often seen him face to face, and Voirrey has even attempted to photograph him.
Furthermore Mrs Irving and Voirrey, but not James Irving, claimed to have stroked Gef, fed him bacon, sausages, bananas and chocolate, and gotten him to dance to gramophone music.
No one, however, caught the Irvings out. Price called it his most curious experience and Dr Nandor Fodor said the tale was incredible but not trumped up.
In 1937 the Irvings sold Cashen’s Gap and left. The new owner never heard from Gef. Voirrey was still alive at the turn of the century but never confirmed the suspicion that she was Gef.
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