According to the very reliable source of Wikipedia, a ghost town is considered to be “a deserted town with few or no remaining inhabitants”. While Matjiesfontein has, fortunately, not been abandoned, nor has it endured a tragic economic or natural disaster prompting its residents to leave, I do believe this is a somewhat appropriate nickname for this little Karoo town.
Let me explain why: The Lord Milner Hotel, while it stands today in all its glory, wasn’t always a place of beauty. During the Anglo-Boer War, the space was transformed into a war hospital, becoming a station for injured soldiers and frantic medics (even the turret was used as an army look-out point). Thankfully, the conflict in corridors has since evolved from armed officers, to bickering families and gushing newly weds, it has transformed into a warm and welcoming space for any visitors. Correction: all visitors.
What I mean is, whether you’re traveling down the N1, or passing through walls, Matjiesfontein will welcome you. And this is where the other meaning of ‘ghost town’ comes in: the Lord Milner is allegedly haunted.
In fact, at the back of the hotel is Lord Milner's House, otherwise known as The Yellow Room. You can take a tour of the space and hear about all the stories that have contributed to Matjiesfontein’s reputation of being the "most haunted town in the country". Now, how one measures that, I don’t know, but whether you count the paranormal sightings, noting the traffic of transparent visitors, or the number of goosebumps you get when a chilly feeling brushes past in the Karoo sun — it doesn’t seem to make a difference to me and my escalating heart-rate.
I don't deal well with paranormal stories. I also don't love it when the tales continue, out of the Yellow Room, throughout dinner. At the time, it became clear that my feelings exacerbated, as I had to make my way, from the buzzing bar, to a room at the end of a creaky corridor — at night. You can imagine my disappointment when none of my colleagues wanted to lodge together — who wouldn’t want to share a luxury room with a hysterically praying person?
From scraping doors along my back, to securing bathroom shutters with a hair tie, and surrounding myself with 6 pillows in the bed, it’s safe to say that I ✨soiled myself✨ that evening. As I lay there, contorted and dead-still in my bed, suffocating under all the covers, I suddenly woke up in a panicked sweat. My body was completely numb. As I remained pinned under the duvet, wondering if I was experiencing sleep paralysis, or if the ghosts had just sat on me, I finally regained feeling and some courage to grab my phone and check the time. You can imagine how sane this looked since I had an eye-mask on (to keep my vision safe) while grasping in the dark towards my phone. Much to my absolute horror, it was only 1am. Eventually, my desperate and divinely promises lullabied me to sleep. The resuscitation repeated, though, every hour on the hour. It was a very cute countdown for me and my remaining ounces of sanity. Finally, by 5am, I switched on all the lights, and decided to get ready. The team also agreed to meet for breakfast earlier, and so my insanity was joined by actual human company. We sat together, ate a delicious breakfast and had some groggy laughs — a much better way to leave this stunning spot.
Since Matjiesfontein was the final destination of our Karoo trip, and me being somewhat photo obsessed, I asked the crew to take a picture together. However, we agreed to keep a space open for our missing member, Justin Fox, with the intention to draw him in the image.
To set the scene, we waddled into the morning sun, looking for an appropriate place to pose, settling with the Lord Milner as our backdrop. The photographer put his camera on a self timer, and I set up my phone and clicked record. Both devices were balancing on the bonnet of a parked car.
Now I need to mention these key facts:
1️⃣. it wasn’t warm that morning,
2️⃣. the car had been off all night,
3️⃣. my phone was perfectly still.
If you click play on the video below, you'll see that the recording is a little peculiar. The screen is waving. My phone has never done this before, and hasn't done it again.
Not to be dRaMAtiC, but that's a little spooky, right?