SOMEONE shot his gun at a ghost near Lake Weeroona as paranoia gripped the streets of Bendigo 123 years ago this weekend.
The undead fiend escaped unharmed as ghost hunters scoured the town and police took up nightly vigils lest the Bayne Street Ghost struck again.
They vowed they would not give up their nightly vigils until the foul spirit was arrested.
The city held its breath.
This really did happen
This is a true story. A "ghost" really did terrify Bendigo over four strange weeks in 1898.
Obviously, everyone knew it was a living person - or persons - but it was such a pest that people took action.
So what were they up in arms about?
Witnesses described the Bayne Street Ghost as a pallid spectre.
It targeted women and children, the Bendigo Advertiser reported, though it is entirely possible that men were not brave enough to admit to any scares.
"For the past fortnight stories have been widely circulated of a 'ghostly' form, which flits down at night time upon lonely females in the neighbourhood of the hospital, and having startled them into hysterics glides silently away," according to a story appearing on the morning of 27 August, 1898.
"Several young ladies while passing in the locality of Bayne Street, which runs along the side of the hospital, have been frightened by the 'ghost', which as they say first of all appears as a human form dressed in white and of an ordinary stature."
The witnesses said that all of a sudden the ghost would increase in height "to a considerable extent", the Advertiser reported.
"It assumes a peculiar style of gait, so that some aver that it walks on stilts while others are of an opinion that it possesses sprint heels."
It was most commonly seen around Bayne Street but someone glimpsed it near the gasworks on Lucan Street. Another spied it close to Lake Weeroona.
"Lately its wanderings have become of rare occurrence, it having doubtless become aware of the vigilant watch which has been kept for it," the Advertiser reported.
"The last occasion on which it was seen was yesterday morning, when it frightened some newsboys about 2 o'clock."
The Advertiser closed its first article out on an ominous note.
"Numbers of young men are keeping a continual lookout for the 'apparition', so that the practical joker, or maniac or whatever he may be may reckon on having a bad time when apprehended."
Woman fights Bayne Street Ghost
Reactions to the ghost varied depending on who it haunted.
One child was fine after she ran home and summoned the courage to march back to the spot the ghost had appeared.
Others took days to recover from the shock. One local resident, a Mrs Johnson, was still jittery days later.
She knew it was not a real ghost but that did not help her at all. Perhaps it dredged up some past trauma.
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People started arming themselves with iron rods.
Holdsworth Road resident Sarah Skilbeck recounted threatening to bludgeon the ghost with a rock when it came at her.
It pushed her over and in the scuffle knocked her in the face.
One group of young men got their hands on a gun and decided to open fire after hearing screams.
They missed the ghost, who fled over backyard fences, leaving a six yard long piece of muslin cloth at the scene.
Only a "maniac" could have failed to be intimidated by the gunshot, the Advertiser declared.
The ghost must have been a maniac, then. Another scream pierced the air later that very same night.
Suspect caught at Lake Weeroona
Amid the impasse, residents grew more wary.
John Kilsby was standing in front of his house at about 7.30pm on 30 August when he saw a strange figure dressed in women's clothes stepping awkwardly along Bayne street.
He was suspicious and decided to follow it.
The figure gradually wended its way to Lake Weeroona.
Kilsby was now one of four people tracking it.
"It was not long before it was spread about that the 'ghost' had been captured, and before the prisoner and his escort arrived at the lockup scores of people were following at their heels", one newspaper reported.
A crowd swelled outside the police station.
The arrested man, 21 year old Eugene Johnson, later told a court that he had dressed as a woman to lure the ghost out.
The magistrates presiding over the case told him he could avoid a conviction by making a donation to charity.
Sadly, the justice system was more concerned that Johnson had chosen to dress as a woman than with his one-man vigilante operation.
In those close minded times people could assume a man in a dress was a maniac and not be ridiculed for their idiocy.
Not everyone in Bendigo disapproved of Johnson's crossdressing plan.
"I think he was quite justified in dressing in female attire on Tuesday night," one letter writer told a Bendigo newspaper.
"And all the more credit is due to him as he went ... on his own ... not like some of the hunters who hang around the hospital in bunches, making an unearthly row that would put terror into the strongest heart."
Ghost vanishes, Bendigo breathes easy
It is unclear what happened to the ghost.
Reports of its haunts around Bayne Street appear to have subsided by 9 September, based on an analysis of coverage of the period's local newspapers.
A final story noted a scrape in Marong, where a man opened fire on a wraith that had been rustling through a garden hedge.
The man had shot dead a calf. Its red blood must have stood out against the whiteness of its skin in the moonlight.
The ghost seemed to have vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived.
Who could say whose identity it was? It became a local byword for any mystery too hard to solve.
Maybe it didn't matter who was behind the reign of terror. No-one's afraid of ghosts - when they are not being haunted.
This story is the latest in the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series WHAT HAPPENED?