Have you ever wondered what happened to Viorrey, the little Manx girl, who had the world’s most mysterious friend?
by Walter McGraw
ONCE UPON a time, on a tiny little island, in a tiny little house, there
lived a tiny little animal named Gef who made wee-wee on a great big psychical investigator and screamed: “Go away, clear to hell! We don’t want you here.”
Not true, you think? Let me warn you that in the 1930′s one R. S. Lambert,
then of the British Broadcasting Company, investigated Gef and said, “It is impossible to deny that there is serious evidence . . . for Gef’s reality . . .” And Lambert was called “crazy” but after lengthy proceedings a British court awarded him 7,000 pounds damages, in effect acknowledging there indeed was good reason to believe in the existence of a talking mongoose on the Isle of Man.
Man, with its 50,000 people spread over 227 square miles, lies northwest of
England. It is said that on one of its few clear days you can see England, Scot. land, Ireland and Wales from the top of Man’s highest peak, Mt. Snaefell. Its principal source of income is inexpensive tourism. For a short time in the summer months the island is inundated with holiday visitors from what Manxmen call “the adjacent island” – England. The rest of the year Man is a fairly lonely place to live, especially if you happen to be on one of the rocky little farms that dot the cotuitryside. To one of these farms at Doarlish Cashen owned by James T. Irving, a 58-year-old former traveling piano salesman, Gef came in
In his own way Irving was as much of an anachronism as Gef. He was
well-educated, always neatly dressed and a farmer whose hands remained clean and uncalloused. Mrs. Irving, four years younger, bore some resemblance to England’s Queen Mary and Viorrey, their 12-year-old daughter, was a quiet serious child given to wandering alone on the moors. It was said that she could sneak up behind a rabbit and kill it with a club while her dog Mona held the
rabbit’s attention by mesmerism. Never off the island nor for that matter even visiting the northern half of the small Isle, she must have been a curious mixture: part wild lonely child of the moor, part developing young lady, old beyond her years and filled with a wonder imparted by her much-traveled, story-telling father.
The farmhouse itself was small, two-storied and cheerless, its solid stone
walls broken only by a few cramped windows. Inside, for insulation, the walls had been lined with dark matchwood paneling which stood off a few inches from the cold stone. This characteristic of the house created a condition which made possible the story of Gef. It seems Gef liked to live in a house where he could not be seen and yet could satisfy his gregarious nature. The space between the stone and the paneling pleased him immensely as did the ceilinged stairway. The wonderful resting place above that ceiling Gef called his “sanctum.”
Gef probably lived in the house for some time before he made himself known
to the Irvings which he did by knocking on the walls and making a variety of animal sounds. Then, once when Irving asked his wife, “What in the name of God can he be?” the animal spoke.
“What in the name of God can he be?” echoed from the walls in a voice
pitched two octaves above a normal woman’s.
From then on the animal quickly learned to speak not only English but to
use the many foreign phases the widely-traveled Jim Irving used -as did Viorrey, following her father’s example. But in the beginning there was no closeness between the strange animal and the Irvings. He liked to throw things and since his sanctum was in Viorrey’s room the thought of injury to the child
bothered Irving – and thus he discovered the little animal’s greatest weakness. He
tried to kill the animal -first with poison and then with a gun. This brought immediate reaction in the form of damage to the house and profane screams so threatening the Irvings moved Viorrey into their room for fear she would be killed. It seemed nothing affected the little beast as much as a threat to his own
It took six months to bring about a truce. By that time the family had begun to like Gef, as he called himself, and he promised to protect, not hurt, Viorrey. Mrs. Irving began to leave bits of food for him in the sanctum. These he ate and shared with Viorrey whom he often followed into the fields where he jealously threw stones at anyone who talked to her. (His aim was said to be very good.) Then too he began to pay his own way by strangling hundreds of rabbits which he left for the Irvings either to eat or sell at seven pence each. “The God damned mice,” as he called them, he frightened away by meowing like a cat. But it was a long time
before any of the family actually saw their boarder.
“You’ll put me in a bottle if you catch me,” he often said. And he gave other reasons for not letting anyone see him, saying he was a freak, a ghost and part of the fifth dimension. But it all boiled down to his fear of being caught and killed. Vv’hen visitors came he often would disappear, returning only after they left. Then, emitting gales of screeching laughter he would tell of his adventures on other parts of the island.
Gef was an incurable gossip and the Manx population became chary of Irving
because mysteriously to them – he knew so many things he should not have known. They began to dislike the little spy even more when he took to stealing, carrying his loot home as presents for the Irvings. When he began stealing sandwiches at the bus depot and cadging rides underneath some of the buses, a bus company mechanic rigged a trap to electrocute him. Irving learned of this and
Gef, for once, was not afraid. He said the trap was attached to Bus No. 82. Irving checked and found Gef was correct.
Around the farm Gef was always active. He threw stones at unwanted visitors, urinated through cracks in the wall, killed more rabbits and learned to amuse those few visitors he liked by peering through a hole in the ceiling and calling a tossed coin – “heads” or “tails” – when none of the Irvings was in the room. Other times he mischievously locked Viorrey in her bedroom with a lock that could not be reached from inside her room. He also would throw heavy furniture, no mean
trick for an animal estimated to weigh only a pound and a half.
AS TIME went on Gef began to show himself to the Irvings – but infrequently. They saw him walking the rafters. Viorrey hid outdoors once and saw him. Mrs. Irving put her finger into a crack in the wall and felt inside his mouth and was bitten for her pains. Gef apologized for drawing blood and killed a rabbit to make up for it. Finally he even let himself be photographed but he was so nervous that Viorrey, not very experienced with a camera, never got a satisfactory portrait.
Those who saw Gef said he had a bushy tail like a squirrel’s, yellow to brownish fur, small ears and a pushed-in face. His most-often described features were his front paws which according to Irving were hand-like with three fingers and a thumb. Gef claimed to be an 83-year-old mongoose and said he had come from India many years before but he fitted the description of a mongoose about as well as he did that of “part of the fifth dimension.” Irving suggested he might be a cross between a native rodent and one of several mongooses that actually had been brought from India to the Isle of Man some years before. If so, he was indeed a freak. No known mammal in the world, according to naturalist Ivan T.
Sanderson, has three fingers and a thumb. Over and above that, however, Sanderson points out that a mongoose could not crossbreed with a rodent.
Of course investigators came from England to look into this story. A reporter from the Manchester Daily Dispatch heard Gef speak. The reporter was with Viorrey at
the time. Capt. M. H. Macdonald, businessman and racing driver, paid three visits to the farm at Doarlish Cashen. He heard Gef speak both inside the house and out, had stones thrown at him and witnessed the coin-calling trick. Once he and Irving walked four miles to Peel for lunch, had some beer, talked about Mrs. Irving’s shoes and picked a wildflower. When they returned to the farm Mrs.
Irving met them outside the door and recounted their doings. Gef had followed them and reported home before their arrival.
Harry Price, director of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, and
Lambert, (whose damage suit was mentioned earlier) went together to Man to
investigate the story but Gef was afraid “the spook-chaser” would trap him and put him in a bottle. Psychiatrist (then psychic investigator) Nandar, Fodor did not meet Gef but talked to many persons who had.
For a while the story of Gef was a world wonder. There was even an offer of $50,000 for a six months’ tour of the United States. Gef turned this down screaming, “They would put me in a bottle!” Finally, when Gef, who never had been seen by any of the investigators, refused to talk or play his tricks when strangers of any kind were on the premises, interest waned. Except for
mentions in a few books touching on poltergeists Gef was forgotten.
In 1946 the little animal came briefly into the news again when Leslie
Graham claimed to have killed him. Graham had bought the Irving farm and said that several times in the 15 months of his tenancy he had seen a large black and white weasel-like animal disturbing his chickens. He had set snares from which the animal always escaped, Finally, hearing a great disturbance in the farmyard one October moming he found the animal snarling in the snare. He then had taken a club and killed the beast. He described the animal as about three feet long, weighing five pounds, one ounce. He skinned it and its pelt was “as thick as cow skin, indicating that the animal was very old.”
THIS SEEMS an inordinately sad ending to one of the most charming tales in
all paranormal literature. One could only take hope from the disparity between Graham’s description of the animal he killed and the Irvings’ description of Gef. On the other hand, could Gef have grown that much bigger in a decade? A final consolation: if death had come to him at 95 as computed from his own claims, his worst fear at least was not realized. He was not put in a bottle.
Did Gef ever really exist? And if so, what was he?
Many writers and a few persons I talked to on the Isle of Man find it easy
to dismiss the entire episode as a hoax, considering Viorrey the principal culprit of course. They accuse her of being a ventriloquist who began playing tricks which were built to unbelievable proportions first by her father and then by newspaper reporters looking for copy where little ordinarily could be found. One early investigator, J. Radcliffe of the Isle of Man Examiner, said he caught Viorrey squeaking once when he was with Irving. Irving, however, insisted the noise came from another part of the room.
Most of the investigators who actually went to Doarlish Cashen saw enough
to convince them that Gef was more than the product of the Irvings’ imaginations. They base this conclusion on the facts that Viorrey could not have been a good enough ventriloquist to have fooled them all; that doors could not have been locked from the outside by any of the family; that much of Irving’s knowledge about other parts of the island could be explained only by granting the existence of Gef; and that the Irvings would not have kept up such a hoax for so many
years for no profit. Also they point to the killed rabbits and the stones thrown against the outside of the house when all the family was inside.
Early on, psychic investigators postulated that Gef was a poltergeist or
even a ghost. Manx people (the few who will talk about Gef at all today) speak of him as “the spook.” But Fodor, both in his book Haunted People, coauthored with Hereward Carrington (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1951), and in conversation argued against both of these explanations.
True, as in classic poltergeist manifestations Gef showed up at about the time Viorrey was going into puberty – but he did not go away until at least 1938. This
does not follow the classic pattern at all. Moreover, Fodor pointed out that a poltergeist never is seen at all and does only harm. Gef threw stones and spit on people during his fits of temper but he also furnished meat in the form of rabbits and did such errands as going downstairs to look at the clock when Irving asked him to. As for the ghost explanation, how often has a ghost been known to eat biscuits and chocolates and then urinate?
Which brings us to the final possibility. As Fodor wrote in 1937, “Is Gef
an animal that talks? All probabilities are against it but all the evidence is for it.”
Fodor, a 20th-Century psychiatrist, believed in “possession.” He postulated
that Irving, a man much reduced in circumstances, dcobsessed” some small animal and molded it to his own personality. The shock of being a lifelong failure split off part of Irving’s personality which contrived the animal in order to fill his time, build his ego-in other words, feed “the mental starvation” from which he suffered in the wilderness of the Isle. Fodor pointed out many similarities between Gef’s personality and Irving’s. Both were dictatorial when crossed and both were overly possessive of Viorrey. Finally, the little animal served to bring
outsiders to Doarlish Cashen and to attract attention to a man who could
not have been satisfied with the intellectual caliber of his farm neighbors.
I think it was in my last conversation with Fodor that the subject of Gef
came up again. While in Haunted People he sounds a bit tentative in his suggestion, over the years he seemed to have become surer of his hypothesis. However, he had lost track of the Irvings by that time and wondered if Gef had gone with them when they sold the farm and left the island. Might Gef still be
As I’ve said, today Gef is not a favorite subject of conversation on the
Isle of Man but those few who do not speak of him as a hoax seem sincere in their belief that Gef indeed did live. All who knew them regarded the Irvings as honest respectable people. Also, some persons have pointed out that Mrs. Irving seldom mentioned Gef but when she did she made clear he was an animal not a “ghost” or “spirit.”
IRONICALLY, not on the Isle of Man but in Encrland some of the answers Fodor
wanted, came to light when I talked to, Viorrey, the last of the Irving household. She is an attractive woman and a knowledgeable conversationalist but she did not answer the question I most wanted answered, What happened to Gef?
Viorrey says she does not know. The last she remembers his being around the
farm was in 1938 or 1939. He seemed to go away for longer and longer periods of time and then he just never showed up again. He had made no statements about leaving; there had been no good-byes; he simply was gone. No, Gef did not leave the island -with the Irvings, at any rate. Viorrey is certain, however, that the beast Graham clubbed to death was not Gef.
In the animal’s gradual leavetaking Fodor might well have found support for
his theory about Irving and Gef. Was it merely coincidence that Gef who always claimed to hate publicity ceased to be around when interest in him fell off and no more interesting people came around to talk to Irving about the phenomenon? Perhaps Fodor would say that Gef no longer served Irving’s purpose.
Fodor also would have been interested in the denouement of the story of
Gef. Today, more than 30 years later, Viorrey hates Gef. In the early days she and Gef were inseparable, playing games and sharing sweets but as she grew
older Gef seemed, closer to her father. Fodor noticed in 1937 and reported at that time that Gef seemed to have outstripped Viorrey in mental growth. He wrote, “The grasp and thirst for knowledge of the Talking Mongoose is simply phenomenal . . . . ”
And what of Viorrey in 1937?
No longer a child of the moors, she had become a young woman who wanted a
social life and friends and more than anything else she wanted to be accepted. By that time Gef had become a burden.
“I was shy … I still am,” she said. “He made me meet people I didn’t want to meet. Then they said I was ‘mental’ or a ventriloquist. Believe me, if I was that good I would jolly well be making money from it now!”
I cannot divulge where Viorrey lives now or the type of work she does but
she is not rich. The only money the Irvings ever made from Gef, besides the sale of rabbits, was five pounds Fodor paid for his week’s room and board and an occasional guinea paid for newspaper pictures. According to Viorrey Gef cost them dearly. They had to sell the farm at a low price because Manxmen called it “haunted.”
“Gef was very detrimental to my life. We were snubbed. The other children used to call me ‘the spook.” I had to leave the Isle of Man and I hope that no one where I work now ever knows the story. Gef has even kept me from getting married. How could I ever tell a man’s family about what happened?”
Was Gef a mongoose?
“I don’t know. I know he was a small animal about nine inches to a foot
long. I know he talked to us from the wainscoting. His voice was very high-pitched. He swore a lot.”
The speech was not parrot-like?
“Oh, no. At first he talked to me more than anyone. We carried on regular
After 30 years you still insist this was not a hoax?
“It was not a hoax and I wish it had never happened. If my mother and I had
had our way we never would have -told anybody about it. But Father was sort of wrapped up in it. It was such a wonderful phenomenon that he just had to tell people about it.”
Fodor regretted that the mystery of the talking mongoose probably never
would be solved. He felt that “the power which he (Gef) displayed must have had a human origin.” He believed that clues obtained from studying that “Power” might have given us leads about many strange and still mysterious aspects of the human personality and possibly explain poltergeist phenomena (though he did not believe Gef was pure poltergeist).
I can make no claim to having brought us any closer to a solution but after
talking to Viorrey, the last principal involved (assuming Gef died or perhaps just faded away) two things fascinated me.
First, is Fodor’s hypothesis correct? If we could talk about it together today, I would be less skeptical.
Second, I spent an entire day with Viorrey, talking of many things. She
knows of the British newspapers’ propensity for paying high prices for “expos6″ stories. Yet, despite her position on the financial ladder she will not even talk to reporters who have tried to trace her down, presumably with offers of money.
Someday I may have to eat these words but I found myself believing this
woman when with every emotional and financial motive for saying otherwise she said very simply, “Yes, there was a little animal who talked and did all those other things. He said he was a mongoose and said we should call him Gef . . do wish he had let us alone.