Malá Strana has two ghosts who suffered painful deaths that involved iron nails
A pair of otherwise unrelated ghosts a few streets apart in Prague’s historical Malá Strana area have something in common: iron nails someplace on their heads. Both tales involve gruesome murders.
The first tale is the sort of true crime story that one might find in the pages of a horror comic book. Long ago, big age differences were not uncommon in a marriage. An elderly locksmith had a shop on the lower floor of his house on Tomášská Street, just off of Malá Strana’s main square, Malostranské náměstí, leading to Wallenstein Palace. The exact address is not known.
A young woman found herself betrothed to him against her will.
Her father wanted to be rid of her, and thought he could eventually get money out of the arranged marriage to a successful craftsman.
She resigned herself to her fate, like many women during that era, and took care of the home and even some of the business, as she was good with numbers. To all observers she was the perfect wife. But in her heart, she was unhappy.
The old locksmith soon took on an apprentice, with an eye to one day retiring and turning the business over to someone else. The young apprentice and young wife found themselves spending a lot of time together.
Rumors began to fly, but the old locksmith refused to listen. He trusted both his wife and the apprentice.
But perhaps he should have paid more attention. The apprentice had been picking the wife’s locks from virtually the moment he arrived. And his youthful passion turned out to be the key to her heart, which had long been left cold by the elderly husband.
One winter, a bad flu epidemic had broken out and a lot of people passed away. Nobody thought it odd that the elderly locksmith joined the ranks of the departed.
There was a funeral, a rather modest affair due to the epidemic, but both the widow and the apprentice did their fair share of crying and consoling each other.
Few people seemed surprised when the young widow and the apprentice married, as the business was still booming and the two had long been working together and living in the same house.
At night, though, passersby began to see a ghostly figure wandering through the workshop. He moved the tools around and wandered aimlessly, fussing with a hammer in particular. People noted his resemblance to the old locksmith.
Years passed, and since the apparition did no harm people stopped thinking about it. The new locksmith and his wife seemed unaware of it, as nobody dared mention it. No good comes of speaking about such things. Mentioning something by name might draw its unwanted attention.
At the time, people didn’t own graves permanently. Every few years, the family needed to pay another rental fee or the coffin would be moved to a mass grave in a less desirable location.
The now happily remarried widow did not renew the payments for the grave. After just seven years, the coffin was dug up. Due to very wet weather, the wood had rotted and the coffin cracked open.
There was the skeleton of the old locksmith with a large iron nail sticking out of his skull. He had been murdered. In the haste during the epidemic, his corpse was not properly examined and his long hair covered the nail.
The evidence was clear, and the apprentice and his wife were tried for the crime. They eventually confessed and were sentenced to death. Their passing did not ease the conscience of the locksmith’s ghost. His skeleton with a nail in its skull still wanders confused along Tomášská Street. Nobody knows the key to setting his soul to rest, so he remains locked into his hopeless haunting.
The next tale takes place right on the other side of Malostranské náměstí on Karmelitská Street, a location that is no stranger to ghosts.
A city official by the name of Mr Kuliček led several morality campaigns, as there is nothing like getting the mob in a self-righteous frenzy. He earned several medals for civic duty and contributions to the education of delinquents.
When he died, he left his widow a large apartment in one of the lavish buildings along busy Karmelitská Street, somewhere near the Church of Our Lady Victorious, home of the wax Infant of Prague and featured on the Ace of Swords card in The Tarot of Prague.
The widow, Mrs Kuličková, found that her husband did not leave as large an estate as she expected, and she was soon short of cash. She saw an easy way to return to the lavish life she had grown accustomed to. The large apartment was turned into a brothel, and the women her husband had gotten off the streets were pressed back into their former profession, serving an exclusive clientele.
This was long before modern medicine had cured what were called social diseases. A rather well-to-do guest, a member of a minor noble family, wanted to avoid any illness and asked for a new girl who had not yet been with anyone.
The madame, as that is what Mrs Kuličková now was, took the money and coached one of her regular girls on how to pretend to be shy and inexperienced.
The rich nobleman was satisfied, at least until a few weeks later when dread symptoms of a horrid social disease became undeniable.
He went back to the brothel apartment and overpowered the madame. In his rage, he tied her hands behind her back and nailed her tongue to a door to punish her for her lies. He put a sign on the front door of the apartment saying it was closed for quarantine. Nobody made any audible answer to any knocking.
The madame died a slow death inside. The rich man who killed her was never caught, but a social disease in those days was its own death sentence.
Mrs Kuličková’s ghost returns to Karmelitská Street, sticking out her nailed tongue at rich people, and trying to taunt them. Her words are incomprehensible, though, due to the nail.
It is said she can be freed if an innocent girl gives herself to a rich and dissolute nobleman somewhere in the immediate area, but noblemen of any kind are few in these democratic days.
Tomášská Street, actually named for classical composer Václav Tomášek, is located half a block from the St Thomas Church, which has the mummies of two obscure saints and the tomb of Elizabeth Jane Weston, the daughter of alchemist Edward Kelley. The connected monastery, now a hotel, had a brewery established in 1358. In the 19th and 20th century, a pub there was a meeting place for the so-called Mahábhárata Society, a group of famous artists and writers.
The town wall, which no longer exists, ran by the church. The street was called Písecká from the 14th to 16th century because it was near the wall’s Písecká Brána (Sand Gate). Some of the oldest houses in Malá Strana are along this street.
One of the more notable sights on the street is the elaborate sculpture of St Hubert and a deer above the doors of House at the Golden Deer. It was made by sculptor Ferdinand Maxmilián Brokoff, who lived in the building at one time. He made several of the sculptures on Charles Bridge and in Prague’s churches.
Another house sign along the street is At the Golden Pretzel.
One side of the street has a covered arcade, a style of architecture popular in North Bohemia but rare in Prague.
Locksmithing was a high-paying job in medieval society, and one that relied on masters and apprentices to pass the knowledge along. While many private homes in medieval times could not afford locks and used latches from the inside, castles and government buildings were big customers. Locksmiths also worked on guns, as the firing mechanism, still called a lock, was of similar design.
As society became more affluent, the need for locks became more widespread and the profession flourished.
While the date of the tale of the locksmith with a nail in his skull is not specified, cemeteries were banned in urban areas after the 1780s due to an imperial decree by Joseph II in an effort to stop disease.
Bodies from Malá Strana began to be buried in what is now Smíchov, which was outside the city walls.
It is still the custom that if a family loses interest in a grave, it is dug up and the space is sold to a new customer.
Karmelitská Street gets its name from the Carmelite order that was at the Church of Our Lady Victorious. The Infant of Prague, a wax doll that is dressed up and allegedly has miraculous powers, has been housed there since the late 1600s.
The street has had the same name since after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Before that it was called K Újezdu, meaning To Újezd, which is a small part of Malá Strana.
It is home to legends of several ghosts including Headless Laura, who was an unfaithful actress, an evil Invisible Nun who snatches children, and Grammar Gajst, a nun who attacks people using bad grammar and imported words like “gajst” for ghost.
Several buildings also have Masonic symbols above the doors and in the triangular pediments. Families with well-known Masonic ties owned the palaces along the street.
Founded in 1257, Malá Strana was an independent city with its own administration until 1784, when it joined the other districts in the center.
Prague has long been a capital city and a crossroads between east and west. References to prostitution run throughout its history, and several ghost tales are related to it as well including Lucretia and the priest on Celetná Street.