The strange saga of Gef the talking mongoose began in Autumn 1931 in an isolated farmstead on the Isle of Man called Doarlish Cashen (Cashen's Gap). The farm was home to 60-yr-old Jim Irving, his wife Margaret, and their 12-yr old daughter Voirrey.
Jim had been a commercial traveller before taking up farming in his retirement. The farm was not a success. Productivity was dropping, and the family struggled to make ends meet. They had no electricity, no phone and no radio. Their nearest neighbours lived over a mile away.
The Thing in the Walls
One dull September evening, the family heard inexplicable "blowing, spitting and growling" sounds coming from behind the wooden paneling lining the farmhouse walls. Jim thought a rat was to blame, and tried in vain to drive it from its lair.
The strange noises persisted over the following days. Jim set traps and laid down poison, but all to no avail. In desperation, he even tried to flush the intruder out by growling like a dog. To his surprise, it growled right back at him!
The elusive creature proved to be a talented mimic. It ingratiated itself with Jim by dutifully repeating his imitations of various animals and birds. Soon, he had only to name an animal and it would promptly respond with the appropriate imitation. At other times it made a gurgling sound like a baby attempting to form its first words. Then it began to talk...
Gef Introduces Himself
By way of experiment, Voirrey asked the creature to repeat some nursery rhymes. It obliged in a clear, if very squeaky, voice. Soon it was speaking freely. It introduced itself as Gef (pronounced 'Jeff') and claimed to be "an extra clever mongoose" born in Delhi, India in 1852. (A neighbouring farmer had actually imported Mongeese to the island 20 years earlier, hoping to curb the local rabbit population.)
Gef was soon holding regular conversations with both Voirrey and her father. (He seemed rather less friendly towards Voirrey's mother, Margaret.) He began nesting in a boxed partition in Voirrey's room, which the family dubbed "Gef's sanctum".
Although Jim and Margaret both caught brief glimpses of Gef, only Voirrey was allowed to look at him directly. She described him as being the size of a small rat, with yellowish fur and a long bushy tail.
Gef soon became one of the family. During the day he would roam the island, riding on the back axles of buses and cars. In the evening he would return home to share the news and gossip he had picked up on his travels. Sometimes he would also read out items from the local newspapers.
"It announces its presence by calling either myself or my wife by our Christian names," Jim Irving wrote. "It's hearing powers are phenomenal. It is no use whispering. It detects the whisper 15-20 feet away, tells you that you are whispering, and repeats exactly what one has said."
Gef would often bring rabbits home for Margaret to cook. In return, he was given tidbits such as biscuits, sweets and chocolate. He was also fond of bacon and sausages. The food would be left out for him on the crossbeams near the ceiling, and he would sneak out and snatch it when no-one was looking.
Sing-along with Gef
Gef enjoyed singing as much as talking. His favourite tune was Carolina Moon, which he would croon along to the gramophone. (Sometimes, he would bounce a rubber ball up and down in time to the music instead.) He also sang the Manx national anthem, several hymns and some fragments of a Spanish folksong.
On one occasion he rather offended Voirrey's mother by singing a lewd parody of Home on the Range he had picked up from some bus drivers. "You know Gef, you are no animal!" scolded Margaret. "Of course I am not," retorted Gef. "I am the Holy Ghost!"
Like many a poltergeist (or adolescent girl) Gef had a rather short fuse. For example, he once suddenly flew into a rage when he thought Jim was taking too long opening the morning post. "Read it out, you fat-headed gnome!" he squeaked furiously.
He also seemed to enjoy deliberately provoking Voirrey's parents. One night, he made a nuisance of himself by sighing and groaning for 30 minutes without pause, before confessing, "I did it for devilment!"
On another occasion, Margaret found herself being pelted with stones as she walked home. "Is that you, Gef?" she called out. "Yes, Maggie the witch woman, the Zulu Woman, the Honolulu woman!" taunted the impertinent mongoose.
The Manx papers ran a series of gently mocking articles about the 'Dalby Spook' (as they dubbed Gef) which led to Voirrey being teased mercilessly at school. Gef's fame spread to the mainland after Jim Irving persuaded the psychic researcher (and inveterate self-publicist) Harry Price to take an interest in the case.
But even as Gef's notoriety grew, his visits to the Irvings became fewer and farther between. By the time Price showed up to investigate in person, the marvellous mongoose was conspicuous only by his absence (see Investigating Gef).
In 1936, Price published the results of his investigation in a book co-authored with journalist Richard Lambert entitled The Haunting of Cashen's Gap: A Modern "Miracle" Investigated. Although Price did not explicitly accuse the Irvings of perpetrating a hoax, neither did he validate their claims.
Farewell to Gef
Soon after Price's book was published, the Irvings left Cashen's Gap for the mainland. Gef did not follow them there, nor did he introduce himself to the new owner, a Mr Graham.
Intriguingly, in 1947 Graham trapped and killed a strange looking animal that seemed to be neither ferret, stoat nor weasel. "It answers to all descriptions," the puzzled farmer told the local press. Eventually, Graham too left Cashen's Gap, and the farmhouse was demolished.
In 1970, a reporter from FATE magazine managed to track Voirrey down for an interview. She proved reluctant to discuss her former life with Gef. "Yes, there was a little animal who talked and did all those other things," she admitted. "He said he was a mongoose and we should call him Gef... But I do wish he had let us alone."
Highly intelligent or a poltergeist?
Gef demonstrated a high degree of intelligence. He spoke Russian, Spanish, Arabic and could understand the sign language used by deaf people. He was also clairvoyant and often told the family of events that were happening several miles away. When asked if he was a real animal or a spirit, Gef replied, “I am an earth-bound spirit”.
Many began to believe that Gef was more than a highly intelligent creature and thought that instead. he was a physical manifestation of a poltergeist (which are typically associated with teenagers present – the Irving’s had a thirteen year old daughter living at home at the time).
Gef comments recorded by the Irving family:
"I'll split the atom! I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!"
"I am not evil. I could be if I wanted. You don't know what damage or harm I could do if I were roused. I could kill you all, but I won't."
After being asked where he would go when he died: "To Hell, to the Land of Mist."
Gef on life with the Irvings: "If you are kind to me, I will bring you good luck. If you are not kind, I shall kill all your poultry. I can get them wherever you put them!"
"For years, I understood all that people said, but I could not speak until you taught me."
Upon noticing that Jim was reading the Bible: "Look at the pious old atheist reading the Bible; he will swear in a minute!"
"You'll put me in a bottle if you catch me."
After being asked to chase away some weasels: "I don't want a combat and a turmoil with them!"