“Spirit, are you there?” asked Count Giuseppe. They were six or seven seated at the round table in the library at Grazzano, the enormous castle next to Piacenza. The room where time seemed to have stopped had been left in darkness, and nothing disturbed the thick silence
They were anxious, tense, and fixated on the crystal glass they had placed at the centre of the board. Suddenly, the glass began to move. Their eyes widened in bewilderment as they saw the glass glide over the letters Y E S, “Yes, I’m here”. The spirit, or spirits, ghosts had every reason to haunt Grazzano, a massive medieval fortress with a most eventful history.
It was linked to the Dukes of Milan, those ferocious Visconti who lived a continually violent existence. Their emblem, which can be seen everywhere at Grazzano, was well suited to them. It featured a viper devouring a child. Grazzano’s past was filled with peasant rebellions, massacres, executions, and assassinations. Women played an essential role in the castle’s vagaries. Thanks to women, Grazzano left the Visconti family three times. Thanks to women, it came to belong to the Visconti family three times more.
At the beginning of this century, Grazzano belonged to Count Giuseppe Visconti. The dukedom would not be bestowed upon him until later, precisely for the good he would do for the Grazzano region. He was an aesthete with exquisite taste, a man so handsome that people said even the virtuous Queen Margarita of whom he was the chamberlain was not impervious to his charm.
He was eccentric, taking after his father. Duke Guido, his father and chairman of the board at La Scala, would, despite his full beard, wear a tutu and perform entrechats with the ballet ensemble. Liberal and devoid of prejudice, Count Giuseppe raised many eyebrows when he married – out of his caste – the daughter of Carlo Erba, a son of the people and genius chemist who made an outrageous fortune in pharmaceuticals. Giuseppe and Carla Visconti would have numerous children, including Luchino Visconti, the illustrious narrator of this tale.
Barely settled at the castle in the 1900s, Count Giuseppe wanted to discover which of his ancestors lived at Grazzano before him, and…who lived there still. Being fond of spiritualism – yet another original trait – he organised a seance with a handful of cousins and friends.
“Spirit, are you there?” – “Yes…” – “Who are you?”. The crystal glass glided over the alphabet with such speed that Count Giuseppe could barely spell out the answer. “Dwarf…confined…”. The glass stopped moving.
Count Giuseppe closed his eyes as the others looked on, stupefied. He concentrated, then ripped off a piece of paper and drew a dwarf. He drew every detail, the small stature, the big cheeks, the upturned nose, the tiny, sunken eyes, and the huge belly.
“I see her,” whispered Count Giuseppe, “that’s what she looked like. She says her name is Aloysa”. Questions abounded, and the glass started to move again. “Confined… here in this castle… search for me… set me free…” – “Why are you confined?” – “An ancestor…ugly, so ugly, a monster…” – “Do you mean you were one of my ancestors, and you were confined so that the world would not know you were a monster?” Count Giuseppe asked. Silence. The glass stopped moving. Aloysa would say nothing more.
And with that, Grazzano had found its most famous occupant. Count Giuseppe commissioned a statue of Aloysa, his immured ancestor, resembling the portrait he had drawn of her while hypnotised. She became a legend, and her presence was evident at every turn. Obviously, she was never seen, but she was heard, and above all, felt.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t feel anything, and I don’t hear anything. My daughter has repeatedly told me that since I am not a medium, it is completely normal that I cannot feel or hear anything,” says the current owner of Grazzano, Countess Violante Visconti, Giuseppe’s granddaughter. “However, my grandfather heard ghosts everywhere. My husband, as a child, would awake for no apparent reason when he lived at Grazzano. His dog would often inexplicably start barking while staring in one direction or another. Everyone heard or felt something here – noises, and doors that would mysteriously open. We had an English Lord who could hear ghosts everywhere. It was said that in the “chamber of spirits” no one can sleep”.
Aloysa, now a celebrity of sorts, has attracted a lot of media attention. A Sunday Express reporter put her statue to question, with the following response: “Aloysa was extraordinarily vivacious, she was a woman who loved and who suffered much.”
Other journalists, including one television reporter, scrutinise her statue in even more sophisticated ways, coming up with the most surprising conclusions. Aloysa’s cult came to be. It was said that provided a necklace, no matter how modest, was put around her neck, she would undertake the protection of all lovers. In short, Aloysa became one of the best known, best documented, and most evident of ghosts.