On Halloween’s ‘night of the dead’, TFN’s Alex Webber delves into the ghoulish mysteries surrounding Książ castle
Of all the sights in Poland, there can be few that rival the first glimpse of Książ.
Positioned on a thick slab of rock, it sits in the dense, damp woodland like a diamond in the rough.
Viewed in the vampire fog of autumn, there is a magic here that awes and inspires in equal measure.
Founded by Bolko the Strict in 1288 to shield the trade route that stretched from Bohemia to Silesia, what ranks as the country’s third biggest castle was procured by the Hochberg family in 1509, and it was under their patronage that the fortress gained its remarkable style.
Expanded and copiously embellished over the years that followed, it became an eccentric experiment of contrasting forms: from whimsical Rococo and bold Baroque to moody Gothic and striking Neoclassic. Regarded as “the pearl of Silesia”, it’s little surprise to learn that nowadays it receives approximately half a million visitors each year.
But if Książ compels during the sunlight hours, it is when evening falls that it goes the extra yard. Hosting night tours for the last six years, it has become a mecca for thrillseekers, ghosthunters and all in between.
“We’re pretty much the only castle of this magnitude in Poland that doesn’t receive public funding so the night tours were a business decision,” says Matt Mykytyszyn of Zamek Książ. “However, from the outset we realized that they were a fabulous way to educate people about the castle’s history whilst also keeping them entertained.”
If anything, it is a point that flirts with understatement. Conducted by a caped, lantern wielding guide, tours begin in the Maximilian Hall, a gilt encrusted chamber that has previously welcomed Churchill, Goethe and President John Quincy Adams. Benefiting from 700-years of history, there are no shortage of ghost stories, and as visitors creep through secret passages and tight, unlit stairwells they are regaled with tales of possessed jesters, pining princes, wicked dukes, headless aristocrats and, even, a black poodle that keeps a look out for the statues stood outside.
As these curious stories are told, ‘ghosts’ drift out of the darkness to lightly brush against the shoulder or cackle in the ear before retreating in the shadows and vanishing from view – immersed in the intensity of this spooky castle, the effect is surprising in the genuine depth of its hair razing terror.
“I’d say there’s four confirmed ghosts residing here,” says Mykytyszyn, “with the most high profile being that of Princess Daisy.”
Regarded as one of the most beautiful women in Europe, the Welsh-born damsel married Hans Heinrich XV in 1891 and moved to Silesia where she became known both for her philanthropy and six-metre pearl necklace. With the castle appropriated by the Nazis, she died in relative poverty in 1943. Buried along with her sole real asset – the necklace – her resting place was later moved to safeguard it from looting Red Army units and its fate has since become one of the castle’s great enduring legends – at night, she is said to roam the grounds trying to reveal where it lies.
Daisy herself was not immune to frights and her son recorded how she was once startled to find a figure enter her room before preceding to noisily clank around with a fire poker. Unable to speak German at the time, she observed the charade in silence and later reported it to her husband. None of the servants claimed responsibility, and the same farce occurred a second and then a third time. On this occasion, she was able to note that the mystery figure was short and humpbacked.
“Of course she knew all of the employees and realized that none of them were hunched,” says Mykytyszyn. “Realizing it must have been a ghost, she pledged to never sleep in the room again.”
But here the plot thickens. Years later, renovation work was conducted in the chamber and a skeleton was found underneath the floorboards – rushing to see what the commotion was all about, Daisy’s son was shocked to learn that the skeleton’s spine was visibly deformed. “This,” he recalled in his diary, “must have been mother’s ghost.”
Who was it? Possibly Janek, speculates Mykytyszyn, a ghost that was caught on camera in 1910 by the castle’s chef, Louis Hardouin. Dressed in renaissance era garb, to some the image might appear to look suspiciously staged, but at the time it captivated the public.
There is, though, more to Książ than light amusement. Confiscated from the Hochberg clan during the years of the Third Reich, it was renamed Gastehaus Waldweise (Forest Meadow Inn) and earmarked to serve as Hitler’s Silesian bolt hole.
A number of top secret works were launched, among them the construction of mysterious subterranean tunnels whose true purpose has never been determined – bomb shelters say some, weapons labs say others. Yet more hypothesize that these labyrinthine tunnels carved underneath were designed to horde artwork, gold and assorted stolen treasures. It is a twist that lends the castle an ominous air that becomes particularly pronounced when day turns to dusk.
“I don’t want to come across as being crazy, but I’ve definitely felt things that aren’t quite normal,” says Mykytyszyn. “Unexplained noises, things moving, these are all occurrences that our staff have reported.”
Soaking in the still silence of a moonlit Książ, it is impossible not to be struck by its sense of intrigue and mysticism.