The Dire Mother is the ghost of Margaret Shelburne who was a shy woman who could never stand up for herself - partly because she rose to only a mere 3 feet in height ever since childhood. She was constantly stared at for her ridiculously small size and her own mother would sometimes dress her like a doll, but Margaret didn’t care as long as she found some perverse form of acceptance. A carnival barker named Jimbo placed her on display in his freak show. Margaret found this life terrible, and one night while sweeping the donkeys' pin she was raped by another carnival freak, the Tall Man. Her son, Harold “The Great Child,” was born as a result of this rape, and eventually weighed over 300 pounds (136 kg). Ever since infancy Margaret kept spoiling Harold and it never stopped as he grew. Because of that he remained in diapers all his life and was mentally handicapped like a small toddler, and never outgrew the spoon feeding stage of life. While the circus workers teased and tormented them relentlessly, the two became very close and protective of each other. One night some circus workers decided to play a cruel joke on Harold by kidnapping his mother. Angered and enraged, he set out to look for his mother, destroying the circus, but when he found her she had died of suffocation in the sack she was kept in. Filled with anger, Harold violently chopped all the workers to death with an axe, and kept their remains and placed them on display for paying customers to see. Later, when Jimbo found out what Harold had done, he ordered an angry mob to rip and tear Harold apart. Their ghosts are always together and The Great Child still holds the axe he used to kill the circus workers with.
Both of the ghosts played a role in the movie "Thirteen Ghosts". In the film they are not shown as aggressive spirits, only somewhat threatening with Harold making baby babblings, but never chasing the protagonists unlike most of the ghosts, and at the climax the Dire Mother does not participate in throwing the evil, murderous uncle Cyrus to his death. However, in the original script their deaths were different. It's explained in the director's commentary on the DVD that their original deaths were that Harold suffocated on his own vomit and as a result fell onto his mother, thus suffocating her as well. It wasn't until later that this idea was disregarded as the directors felt it was too weak a character background. It is this story line though that explains why Harold has vomit all over his bib, and why his mother is feeding him in their cell.