O’Donnell, Elliott (1872–1965)
Author of popular books on occult subjects. Born February
27, 1872, in England, he claimed descent from Irish chieftains
of ancient times, including Niall of the Nine Hostages (the
King Arthur of Irish folklore) and Red Hugh, who fought the
English in the sixteenth century. O’Donnell was educated at
Clifton College, Bristol, England, and Queen’s Service Academy,
Dublin, Ireland. He had a psychic experience at the age of
five, in a house where he saw a nude elemental figure covered
with spots. As a young man, he claimed he was half strangled
by a mysterious phantom in Dublin.
In later life he became a ghost hunter, but first he traveled
in America, working on a range in Oregon and becoming a policeman
during the Chicago Railway Strike of 1894. Returning
to England, he worked as a schoolmaster and trained for the
theater. He served in the British army in World War I, and later
acted on stage and in movies.
His first book, written in his spare time, was a psychic thriller
titled For Satan’s Sake (1904). From this point onward, he became
a writer. He wrote several popular novels but specialized
in what were claimed as true stories of ghosts and hauntings.
These were immensely popular, but his flamboyant style and
amazing stories suggest that he embroidered fact with a romantic
flair for fiction.
As he became known as an authority on the supernatural, he
was called upon as a ghost hunter. He also lectured and broadcast
(radio and television) on the paranormal in Britain and the
United States. In addition to his more than 50 books, he wrote
scores of articles and stories for national newspapers and magazines.
He claimed ‘‘I have investigated, sometimes alone, and
sometimes with other people and the press, many cases of reputed
hauntings. I believe in ghosts but am not a spiritualist.’’
The O’Donnells were reputed to have a banshee—the wailing
ghost that heralds a death, and O’Donnell wrote the first
book devoted entirely to the subject. It is not known whether
his own passing evoked this phantom, but he lived to the age
of ninety-three years. He died on May 8, 1965. His entry in the
British publication Who’s Who, listed his hobbies as ‘‘investigating
queer cases, inventing queer games, and frightening crooks
with the Law.’’ His books include The Banshee (1926), Ghosts
with a Purpose (1952), Spiritualism Explained (1917), Strange Cults
& Secret Societies of Modern London (1934), Werewolves (1912), For
Satan’s Sake (1904), Unknown Depths (1905), Some Haunted Houses
(1908), Haunted Houses of London (1909), Reminiscences of Mrs.
E. M. Ward (1910), The Meaning of Dreams (1911), Byways of
Ghostland (1911), Scottish Ghost Stories (1912), The Sorcery Club
(1912), Animal Ghosts (1913), Ghostly Phenomena (1913), Haunted
Highways and Byways (1914), The Irish Abroad (1915), Twenty
Years’ Experience as a Ghost Hunter (1916), The Haunted Man
(1917), Fortunes (1918), Haunted Places in England (1919), Menace
of Spiritualism (1920), More Haunted Houses of London (1920),
Ghosts, Helpful and Harmful (1926), Strange Disappearances
(1927), Strange Sea Mysteries (1927), Confessions of a Ghost Hunter
(1928), Fatal Kisses (1929), Famous Curses (1929), Great Thames
Mysteries (1929), Rooms of Mystery (1931), Ghosts of London
(1932), The Devil in the Pulpit (1932), Family Ghosts (1934),
Spookerisms; Twenty-five Weird Happenings (1936) Haunted
Churches (1939), Dead Riders (1953), Phantoms of the Night
(1956), Haunted Waters, and Trees of Ghostly Dread (1958).

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