Screenshot: A sketch of Gef (YouTube)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.  

This week’s entry: Gef

What it’s about: Just your typical talking mongoose ghost. The Irving family owned a farm on the Isle of Man, where, in 1931, they claimed that, after hearing persistent scratching noises behind the walls, a talking mongoose named Gef appeared and introduced itself. Gef was a persistent visitor, and became a tabloid sensation. The Irvings’ farm attracted a rash of visitors, including ghost hunters and skeptics alike.

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Biggest controversy: While James and Margaret Irving and their daughter Voirrey (13 at the time of Gef’s first appearance) went to their graves insisting Gef was real (Voirrey lived until 2005), he almost certainly wasn’t. For starters, even their initial story doesn’t completely add up. Voirrey gave a physical description, saying Gef had yellowish fur, a bushy tail, and was the size of a small rat (indicating, among other things, Voirrey had probably never seen a mongoose). But the Irvings also claimed Gef told them, “I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you’d faint, you’d be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt!” Not even one of those long list of side-effects happened to Voirrey, so it’s not clear how she got a physical description.

Hair samples the family provided also turned out to be from their sheepdog, and it was widely claimed that Voirrey herself used ventriloquism to make Gef speak to visitors.

Strangest fact: Gef made it into the law books. In 1935, Richard Lambert, editor of The Listener, brought a paranormal investigator to the Isle of Man to explore the supposed haunting. The two published The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap the following year, which purported to cast an objective eye onto the mystery. But in 1937, Lambert ended up suing British politician Sir Cecil Levita for slander, after Levita publicly suggested Lambert was “off his head,” and therefore unfit to be part of the British Film Institute. The court awarded Lambert £7,600 in damages (just under $650,000 in 2019 dollars).

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Photo: A real mongoose, probably not named Gef. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Thing we were happiest to learn: The talking ghost mongoose who lived in the walls became part of the family. According to the Irvings, Gef would scare off mice, warn them of approaching guests or unfamiliar dogs, turn off the stove if the human family members forgot to, and wake people when they overslept. In exchange, they left him food, in a saucer suspended from the ceiling. The family also claimed Gef accompanied them to the market, but always managed to stay just out of sight.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Gef was murdered! James Irving died in 1945, and Margaret had to sell the farm at a loss—being haunted drove the price down. It was bought by actor Leslie Graham, and the following year, he publicly proclaimed that he had shot and killed Gef, even producing a body. The body was larger than the animal’s given description, and Voirrey insisted it wasn’t Gef. While this is never stated explicitly, it seems likely that Graham simply wanted to end the notoriety surrounding his new home.

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Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: One visitor to the Irvings was parapsychologist Nandor Fodor, who stayed with the family for a week, but neither saw nor heard Gef. He was the research officer for the International Institute For Psychical [sic] Research, which was formed in 1934 to study the paranormal. It operated for 13 years, even after the organization’s first president and vice-president resigned after only a few months, “as the lack of scientific method… of the institute became clear.”

Further down the Wormhole: When he first introduced himself to the Irvings, Gef claimed to have been born in 1852 (79 years earlier) in New Delhi, India, with no explanation as to why he was now on the Isle of Man. While Delhi and New Delhi are often used interchangeably, New Delhi is in fact the capital district of the larger city of Dehli. It was named the capital in 1931 by the British colonial governor, and kept that status after independence. Delhi is the second-wealthiest city in India, with a per-capita income of 230,000 rupees. The rupee is India’s legal tender, but Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Nepal have their own currencies going by the same name. There were once rupees in Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, and several colonial-era territories across Africa. In fact, there are dozens of historical currencies no longer in use. We’ll count our defunct money next week.