Example: [de Vos, 1996]
She got up and went over to the window to see who could be arriving at that time of night. The moonlight was very bright, and she saw a hearse drive up to the door. It hadn't a coffin in it; instead it was crowded with people. The coachman sat high up on the box: as he came opposite the window he drew up and turned his head. His face terrified her, and he said in a distinct voice, "There's room for one more."
She drew the curtain, ran back to bed, and covered her head with the bedclothes. In the morning she was not quite sure whether it had been a dream, or whether she had really got out of bed and seen the hearse, but she was glad to go up to town and leave the old house behind her.
She was shopping in a big store which had an elevator in
It was the face of the coachman of the hearse. "No, thank you," said the girl. "I'll walk down." She turned away, the elevator doors clanged, there was a terrible rush and screaming and shouting, and then a great clatter and thud. The elevator had fallen and every soul in it was killed.
Origins: The "coachman's warning" legend has been kicking around since 1906, when it was told in Pall Mall Magazine as the
More modern tellings present the narrowly-avoided fatal accident as the falling of an elevator car and the person so warned (and thus saved) as a woman. A well-known version of the yarn surfaces in Bennett Cerf's 1944 Famous Ghost Stories.
No matter the mode whereby others perish or the sex of the person spared, the eerie coachman remains a constant element of the tale. Sometimes the forewarned recognizes the vehicle the midnight coachman shows up in as a hearse, but sometimes sees only an unremarkable coach and is left puzzled by why the driver's appearance and invitation are so unsettling.
Barbara "the coachman always wrings twice" Mikkelson
Sightings: The plot of the 1945 film Dead of Night was based on this legend, as was an episode of the television anthology series The Twilight Zone ("Twenty-Two," original air date 10 February 1961).
Last updated: 28 October 2009
Benson, E.F. "The Bus-Conductor." Pall Mall Magazine. July-December 1906 (pp. 721-726). Briggs, Katherine & Ruth Tongue. Folktales of England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965. (pp. 67-68). Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good to Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 229-231). Cerf, Bennett. Famous Ghost Stories. New York: Modern Library, 1944. de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (pp. 317-318).
Also told in:
Schwartz, Alvin. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. New York: HarperCollins, 1981. ISBN 0-397-31927-4 (pp. 47-48).