Thursday, 1 September 2016

Jack the Lantern in Shoe Cove Bight - A Will o' the Wisp for #FolkloreThursday



By Dale Jarvis
The sighting of mysterious lights is part of a great and honoured tradition here in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are stories too numerous to count of an eerie light that will appear in times of danger or which is followed by a tragic incident. They also often appear specifically to lead foolish or unsuspecting travellers astray, into bog holes, or over cliffs.

These strange lights are not always evil or dangerous, neither do they always lure travellers into treacherous areas nor to their doom. In one documented case, one such light actually led the Reverend Canon Noel and his good wife to safety during a blizzard outside Harbour Grace. Sometimes these mysterious apparitions appear for no reason at all, content to merely flit, gambol and cavort in the dark shadows of the Newfoundland night.

There are those in Newfoundland and elsewhere who will tell you that these strange lights are a type of fairy or possibly even a spirit. In the United Kingdom the phenomenon is known as a Hinky-Punk, a Hobby-Lanter, or a Joan-in-the-Wad. Another English name is the Jill-Burnt-Tail, who is deliciously said to be a more flirtatious, female version of the light. In Newfoundland it is known as a corpse candle, a Will o' the Wisp, or a Jacky Lantern. Around La Scie the otherworldly glow is recognized as no one less than Jack the Lantern.

Not far from La Scie is the community of Shoe Cove. It is about ten km southwest of Cape St. John, the western headland of Notre Dame Bay. The Cove itself is a steep-sided, open bight about two km wide. Today the Cove is a much different place than it was before Confederation. Before the days of Joey Smallwood and the pains of resettlement, there were many smaller settlements including Stage Cove, The Bight, The Brook, Caplin Cove and Beaver Cove. Since Confederation most these sites have been abandoned. One of these abandoned sites, The Bight, was said to be a favourite stomping ground of Jack the Lantern.

Growing up in Shoe Cove Bight in the years before Confederation, the young men of the settlement heard the old fellows talk about Jack the Lantern. Skeptics to a man, the youngsters never put much faith in any of the stories. One of the older men who kept the legends alive lived down by the shoreline, and he claimed that he had met Jack the Lantern first hand.

Years earlier, this gentleman had seen a light coming in from the water. Thinking it was a boat coming in to land on the beach, he went down to meet it. He watched the light come in, but when it came close its forward movement slowed. In fact, the light did not land on the beach at all. Instead it chose to move parallel to the shore, just the same as if it were a man with a lantern in his hand, walking on the water.

Time and again they heard the tales. But the young men considered the stories told around hot stoves and in the camaraderie of the fishing sheds nothing but old foolishness, and they paid their elders no heed. If they thought of Jack the Lantern at all, they must have figured they just were as likely to meet the Man in the Moon himself, with his own lantern, dog and bush of thorn.

One night around September, a group of three or four of the boys were over in La Scie. The terrain between La Scie and Shoe Cove Bight made overland travel all but impossible, so the boys were used to taking a punt and rowing home.

The boys set off in the punt. When they looked up along the shoreline, they all saw a light upon the water. Just after they came out into the water a little further, the light started to come down closer to them. When it got down closer alongside of them it shone dimly in the night, like the low glimmer of a dull flashlight.

The light came close to the bow of the rowboat. And there it stayed, matching the speed of the vessel. One of the fellows, more brave or more foolish than the rest, tried to reach it with the paddle. No matter how hard the lad tried, he could not get handy to the glow. The light remained tantalizingly out of reach, silently hovering only about five or eight feet away, bobbing out of striking distance of the paddle.

When the boys reached the Bight, they turned in towards shore and the more familiar lights of home. At that time there was no wharf, and the locals of the Bight were accustomed to tie their craft off on the collar, a place near shore where boats were moored for safety.

The light was persistent in its attention, or perhaps it was curious as to what would take a punt full of young men all the way from La Scie to Shoe Cove Bight so late in the evening. For whatever reason, the light followed the punt to where the boats of the settlement were on the collar. As they turned in towards land the light thought better of its bold advance and turned out.

Where the light had been small and dim all the time it had followed the punt, it now started to change and swell. As it moved off into the distance it got both bigger and brighter. When it reached a spot approximately half a mile off shore, it had grown significantly in size and luminescence.

Looking back, the boys were witnesses to an unbelievable sight. The tiny flame-light glow had metamorphosed into a burning mass of light. As the watched, the light changed into something that looked all the world like a ship all lit up, or like a schooner sailing past with its lights lit, and lights all up along the masts and rigging.

They tied up the boat and made their way to their respective homes, minds awhirl with the events of the evening. Much later, the boys spoke of what had happened and of their meeting with Jack the Lantern. And if they themselves were not believed at the time, that perhaps was their reward for their being so disbelieving at the start.

A version of this story was originally published in Downhomer, April 2002, Vol. 14(11), pp. 70-71. Photo of Shoe Cove Bight courtesy of KevinGMartin.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Blood luck - a strange superstition from Harbour Deep, Newfoundland. #folklore

I came across this paragraph about folk belief and superstitions from the community of Harbour Deep, located on the east coast of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula:

The settlers had many superstitions and were obsessed by a belief in the presence of ghosts. It was common to hear of a man, who, while rowing across the harbor, had seen a phantom French ship, with many soldiers aboard, also crossing. Others had seen an Indian ghost following them from one settlement to another. Their superstitions were legion and I shall mention only one. During the seal hunt if a successful hunter saw anybody throwing blood out of his boat into the boat of another, a fight was sure to follow because the hunter believed that his luck was being stolen. 
- J. Morgan, "Recollections of Harbour Deep." September 1957, page 5. Atlantic Guardian Vol 14, no 9

Has anyone come across the idea of someone using blood to break someone's luck? If you have, I'd love to hear about it! You can email me at info@hauntedhike.com.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!



Thursday, 18 August 2016

Pirate Gold! The Man in the Mountain & Corner Brook's Treasure Island. #FolkloreThursday


By Dale Jarvis

I've been in the Humber Valley this week, talking about local stories and history. So it seems fitting that this week's contribution to #FolkloreThursday be about one of the region's most enduring and well known legends: that of the Old Man in the Mountain, a strange face which can be seen in the cliffs outside of the town. The Old Man himself is located just east of the city and is best seen when traveling east to Steady Brook. About two minutes outside of Corner Brook is a rocky cliff known as Breakfast Head. If you slow down and look up, the Old Man in the Mountain can be seen on the rockface overlooking Shellbird Island in the Humber River.

It is often said that the face is hard to locate, but patience and a bit of imagination is all it takes to find it. In the photo above (from A Place To Call Home) you can see the face in the lower left quadrant of the image. The image in rock resembles the face of a fisherman, or pirate, or Beothuk, depending on who you talk to. The face leers out over the Humber, looking down on Shellbird Island from his lofty, rocky perch. Legend has it that the old man was carved into the mountain to serve as a marker for an undiscovered treasure.

Shellbird Island is situated in the Humber River Valley, the main arterial route between the granite hills surrounding Corner Brook and the only transportation link for east to west land traffic in the area.  Captain Cook explored this river valley in 1767, and found Corner Brook to be an excellent base of operations for his work in charting the coastline. Cook was marine surveyor of Newfoundland from 1763 to 1767. Cook's maps were the first to use accurate triangulation. Much of his work was so accurate that many of his charts could still be used today. He went on to explore much of the Pacific and was killed in Hawaii in 1779. If only he had stayed in Newfoundland!

Although Cook was probably familiar with Shellbird Island, there is no indication that the legendary treasure is his. Indeed the legend states that the treasure was buried by the Spanish or by pirates, and that it was one of them who carved the mysterious face.

The theory that the treasure has Spanish origins may have some basis in reality, as the Spanish were frequent visitors to the west coast of Newfoundland long before Captain Cook started his chart making work there in the eighteenth century. The Spanish fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially that originating from Basque ports, peaked between 1570 and 1580.

In 1578 Anthony Parkhurst, an English explorer and merchant, reported 100 Spanish fisherman working in Newfoundland. Tensions between England and Spain however contributed to a decline in the industry, with Spanish ships becoming targets of pirates and privateers. As English and French ships came to the Island more often, the Spanish abandoned the Avalon Peninsula in favour of the south and west coasts.

Spain's involvement in the Newfoundland fishery was fated not to last. Harassment of Spanish vessels by pirates and the English meant that by 1597 Spain relied on the French Basques for supplies of Newfoundland cod.

The busy fish trade, and the even richer fur trade between New France and Europe, proved to be an excellent hunting ground for pirates. And Newfoundland's long unprotected coastline, with hundreds of hidden bays, made the island a perfect spot for pirate hideouts.

The west coast, well away from the more densely settled east coast, was ideal hideout territory. Several years before Cook arrived, the west coast was the base of operations for one of piracy's most legendary and bloodthirsty couples, that of Eric and Maria Cobham. In 1740 the pair arrived near St. George's, within easy striking distance of the St. Lawrence River trade routes. The Cobhams were mainly interested in furs, which brought a high price on the black market.

Legend maintains Maria was part of her husband's expedition to Newfoundland and lived here from 1740 to 1760. It is claimed that she was the first European woman to have lived on the west coast of the island. She was also a ruthless pirate. Maria and her husband made a point of sinking every ship they captured, and killing everyone on board to be certain there would be no witnesses. Shipowners assumed their ships had been lost at sea with all hands due to natural disasters.

While the Cobhams may be more myth than history, their buccaneering enterprise is linked to an established history of piracy on the west coast. But is the Shellbird Island treasure theirs? Other researchers have argued that the treasure is related to the most famous pirate in Newfoundland history, Peter Easton.

In 1989, authors Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy published a book entitled "Buried Treasures of Newfoundland and Labrador", now sadly out of print. In the book, they devoted a short chapter to the Shellbird Island treasure.

Peter Easton, well known on the east coast of the island for his pirate fort at Harbour Grace, was also active on the west coast. Like the Cobhams, Easton was well aware of the riches to be gained by plundering the merchant ships engaged in the fur trade of New France. Easton intercepted several merchant ships from Quebec City and Montreal, and made quite an impressive haul before being sighted by a French warship.

Easton and his crew realized they were outgunned by the French ship, so they quickly set sail back to Newfoundland. Easton made his way to the mouth of the Humber River to hide from the French. According to legend he decided to bury his treasure, just in case.

The gold was divided into three chests, and Easton entrusted a mate to take the gold and another sailor in a small boat to Shellbird Island to bury it. In one version of the story, the Old Man in the Mountain was already there, and Easton decided to use it as a marker to remember where the gold was buried.

The mate and sailor buried the gold on the island. As the sailor started to fill in the last of the three pits, the mate drew his flintlock pistol and fired! The sailor slumped dead over the chest, and he was quickly buried by the mate in order to provide a ghostly guardian for the gold.

Tragedy struck the mate on the way back to Easton's ship. At a section of the Humber called the Devil's Dancing Pool, the boat was swamped. The mate drowned, taking the exact location of the gold with him. Easton, it was said, later returned to Shellbird Island. He left empty-handed, the gold still buried deep beneath the earth, the spirit of the dead sailor left to protect it.

Over the years, rumours have circulated that portions of the treasure have been found. In the late nineteenth century it was said that one of the three chests was uncovered, and that the gold doubloons inside were shared in secret. Then, around 1934, word spread that a second chest had be uncovered. Once more the finders shared their gold in secret, leaving one last chest just waiting to be found. Such is the stuff of legends.

There are many who feel the entire story is just that, a legend. These skeptics argue that the image on the cliff is the result of the natural erosion of the cliff, with the "face" just a random collection of rocks and hollows. Certainly, there are many naturally occurring rock formations all across the island, and indeed, all over the world, that are said to look like people, animals or other objects. There is even another "Old Man in the Mountain" in Hawaii, and another one in New Hampshire.

But what about the legend of the buried gold? If you discount century-old rumours, no gold has ever been found on Shellbird Island. David Cordingly, a naval historian and world renowned expert on historical pirates, has argued that the whole idea of buried pirate gold is a nineteenth century invention. Cordingly writes, "although buried treasure has been a favourite theme in the pirate stories of fiction, there are very few documented examples of real pirates burying their loot."

The idea of buried treasure was made widely popular by the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island" in 1883, and it has also been a firm part of Newfoundland folklore for generations. Perhaps it has remained such a fixture in our legends and storytelling traditions because of the slim chance that the gold might be real after all. And as long as the Old Man in the Mountain looks down over Newfoundland's own Treasure Island, there is still a chance that one of us will strike it rich.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!


Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Noose-ence of Smithville Crescent, St. John’s. #FolkloreThursday


By Dale Jarvis. Originally printed in Wonderful Strange

On November 2, 1898 businessman Lawrence O'Brien Furlong acquired Smithville, a large estate, restaurant and banqueting centre on the outskirts of St. John's, from retired Sergeant John Smith of the British Military, the original owner since 1871. The house, with its verandah running the length of the building, became much frequented for weddings, tennis parties and suchlike in the warmer months, and by skaters and ski enthusiasts in winter.

The 1928 Newfoundland Directory ran an advertisement which described Smithville in glowing terms. “This renowned and ever-popular Hostel, situated almost within the City Limits, and surrounded by smiling farms, cooling forests, and enchanting waters, is daily serving delightful dinners and teas. Dances and Pic-Nic Parties a specialty.”

City directories from 1913 to 1937 make note of the fact that the estate was also home to Smithville Bakery, and many of the Furlongs were noted bakers. One of these was Mr. Patrick Furlong, the son of Lawrence Furlong. Patrick Furlong and the large horse and buggy which he used to deliver goods were a familiar site in the neighbourhood.

The Furlong family ran the establishment into the 1950s. Around 1963, the Smithville estate was torn down to make room for St. Pius X school, Gonzaga school, and a new parish church. While Smithville itself may have vanished, the name has survived to the present day by renaming the upper part of Long Pond Road to Smithville Crescent.

Another aspect of the property which has survived is a few old ghost stories, one of which was related to me by Nancy Squires, the great-granddaughter of Patrick Furlong himself. The ghost in question has been given the nickname "The Noose-ence" by the family, for reasons which will soon be made apparent.

One summer evening, Patrick was heading for home after concluding some business on Water Street. It had been a long day and he was looking forward getting home in time for tea. Putting the affairs of the day behind him, he and his horse, Nell, and the buggy started off.

Nearing the fork in the road of Strawberry Marsh Road and Smithville Crescent (then Long Pond Road), he saw that a large crowd had gathered around a rather gruesome sight. A man had hanged himself from an old tree in the meadow located between the two roads. A constable on the scene asked Patrick if they could put the corpse in his buggy and transport it to the city morgue.

The man apologized sincerely and said no, as he did not want to carry a dead body in the buggy he used for his bread business. The constable said he understood, and said they would wait for someone else to come along.

Nothing more was thought of the incident until one cold evening in January. Once more Patrick was heading home to Smithville, and approached the same area where the man had hanged himself months before. Suddenly, the sleigh settled as if a heavy weight had just been loaded aboard, and at the same time Patrick felt colder than he had ever felt in his entire life.

Patrick then thought back to the death of the previous summer. Scared beyond belief, he turned and peered back at the sleigh. It was empty. At the same time, he could sense that he was in the company of a bad presence.

Nell slowly dragged the now heavy sleigh all the way to the lane leading to Smithville. When they reached the laneway, the ghostly weight lifted swiftly. Patrick took Nell’s reins in hand and led her down the entrance to the barn and put her inside. Inside their home his wife Annie was waiting for him and opened the door only to be greeted by her husband, his face as white as bleached flour.

Patrick Furlong was sick with fright and had cold chills for nearly a month. Nell was so spooked that she was never used for work again, and lived out the remainder of her life in the meadow at Smithville.
Photo: Furlong Family, Sept 6 1930, courtesy Nancy Squires.



Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Getting to the bottom of some bottomless pond legends for #FolkloreThursday



Nestled between Breakheart Hill and Bennett's Point is the village of Champney's West in Trinity Bay. Across the Tickle from Champney's West is Fox Island, which is connect by an isthmus to the mainland. Within the isthmus is a deep freshwater pond, surrounded on either side by stony beaches.

The pond itself is famous for being bottomless, one of several reportedly bottomless ponds in Newfoundland. The best known of these is probably Deadman's Pond in St. John's, one of the tales we tell as part of the Ghosts of Signal Hill program.

Legend holds that the bodies of executed criminals were displayed on a gibbet at Gibbet's Hill. After a time the bodies were cut down and loaded into barrels. Upon being weighed down with rocks they were then rolled into Deadman's Pond. Deadman's Pond was believed to be bottomless, thus quickening their descent into hell.

A direct portal to Hell in St. John's East? Gothic stuff indeed, and as firm a fixture of St. John's folklore as the miles of tunnels everyone knows are just waiting to be found underneath Water Street. Firm enough in fact to steel the determination of a film crew from Space: The Imagination Station, Canada's national science fiction and fantasy cable station. They arrived in St. John's several summers ago as part of a cross-Canada odyssey to explore the unexplained.

After having invested in a boat rental and trolling Deadman's Pond, the adventuresome Torontonians demonstrated on national television what every Townie could have told them ahead of time, should they have felt so inclined. Deadman's pond has a bottom. It isn't even that far from the surface.

While I personally have not plumbed the depths of the Fox Island pond, something tells me that it probably has a bottom as well. Well of course it has a bottom, and we all know it. Most of us accept that we live on a spherical planet, and the idea of a pit that truly goes on forever is fantastic. We live in an era where satellite technology allows us to map the ocean's deepest abyss, and unless NASA is holding something back, no direct entrance ways to Hell have been discovered.

But legends like those of Fox Island Pond and Deadman's Pond continue to circulate, be retold, and find their way into tourist literature. Why do we continue to tell these tales, and why does the idea of a bottomless lake continue to hold such a grip on our collective imagination?

Part of it must be the fact that Newfoundlanders love a good yarn, even those (or perhaps especially those) known to be less than one hundred percent accurate. But maybe it goes deeper than that, if you will pardon the pun.

Legends and tales of bottomless pits, lakes, and ponds are almost universal. Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park near Kingston, Ontario has a bottomless lake. So does Budapest and the town of Agias Nikolaos in Crete. There is even a Bottomless Lakes State Park near Roswell, New Mexico.

These lakes and ponds offer us tantalizing doorways to another realm. Sometimes this other realm is stated as in the legend of Deadman's Pond, and sometimes it is left unsaid. But peering into the reflective surface of a still body of water and wondering what lies beneath provides us with a link to the unexplained. Perhaps this is why they fascinate us. It is not so much that we think they actually are bottomless, but that part of us wishes that they might be.



Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!


Photo credit:  Deadman's Pond by John W.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Bodies, Barrels, and Boxes - Gruesome Tales from Newfoundland


By Dale Jarvis

Around 1835, one of the English clerks at the Newman and Company’s plantation in St. Lawrence on the Burin Peninsula suffered a rather untimely demise. Embalming of any sort was an impossibility in that far flung fishing station, so the unfortunate man’s body was preserved inside a puncheon of rum until the body, by that point well pickled, could be taken back to Europe for burial. While unusual perhaps by today’s standards, this practise was apparently not uncommon.

The most famous of these pickled corpses was Admiral Horatio Nelson, who himself had a Newfoundland connection. In May of 1782, Nelson, in command of the HMS Abbemarie, spent several days in St. John’s. Nelson was not impressed with St. John’s, and in a letter home to England described it as a most disagreeable place. During his stay he spent most of his time courting the bottle at the historic Ship Inn, close to what is now the Crow’s Nest on Water Street.

Thankfully, the Admiral turned down a post in Provincial Tourism, and left St. John’s. In true heroic fashion he was killed at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and was shipped back to England in a barrel of brandy. According to naval legend, when the barrel was finally opened it was found to be drained of its liquor. Apparently sailors unaware of the true contents had tapped it for some illicit tippling.

These tales have a gruesome similarity to another story from the community of St. Lawrence, which apparently had a strange association with disturbing objects inside casks. The event in question shocked the community when the preserved corpse of an African baby was found sealed up inside a puncheon of molasses which had been imported from the West Indies.

The delight of finding a body sealed up inside a container of one sort or another is reflected in a popular ghost story from downtown St. John's. Sometime around the 1870's, a married couple by the name of Packerson moved into St. John’s from a settlement in Conception Bay, and rented the house for two pounds four shillings a month. Mrs. Packerson always felt that she was being followed through the house and this made her feel very uneasy.

The months slipped by and Mr. Packerson was offered a berth on a sailing vessel. It was barely a week after his departure when his wife had the horrifying experience of coming face to face with the house’s paranormal inhabitant. On that day, Mrs. Packerson had three times attempted to light the gas burner in the kitchen, and three times someone beside her blew out the flame. In a state of frenzy she turned to run from the kitchen but she was unable to move one inch.

Directly in front of her, in what she was using a closet, she saw the figure of a woman standing in the doorway, illuminated with a dazzling brightness from the crown of her head to the very soles of her feet. Mrs. Packerson stared at the amazing spectacle for a few moments before realizing that she was actually gazing upon the figure of a ghost. When she realized what she was witnessing, she instinctively put her hands to cover her eyes and fell into a state of unconsciousness.

When she revived, she ran to her neighbours, who informed her that a former owner had killed his wife, placed her body in a box, walled it up inside the closet, and had fled the country before the murder was uncovered. By the time the Packersons entered the story, they had been able to rent the house so cheaply only because the place was known to be haunted by the unhappy spectre of the murdered bride.



Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!




Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Headless Ghosts of St. John's, The Featherbed, and Red Bay. #FolkloreThursday


The ghostly horseman spotted by Icabod Crane in Washington Irving’s classic tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” may be the world’s most famous headless ghost, but the mythical Sleepy Hollow is not the only location to boast such a creature. Tales of headless horsemen and other headless phantoms can be found all over the world, from North Carolina to the community of Croydon in the United Kingdom.

We can all be proud of the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador ranks right up there with other haunted locations around the globe when it comes to headless ghosts.

Travelling along Labrador's northeast coast in 1995, I was told stories of a strange man without a face who haunted the now abandoned community of Hebron, Labrador. I once collected a story from a man in Heart’s Content who saw two headless monks. And Newfoundland author Robert Parsons once shared a story with me of a headless ghost from a spot called the Spring Well, in Lawn on the Burin Peninsula. That phantom was rumoured to return to the Spring Well each year, forever searching for its missing head.

The oldest recorded St. John’s haunting that I know of dates to around 1745, and true to form, a headless ghost takes centre stage.

According to local legend, Samuel Pettyham was a St. Johnsman who rented a small house at the end of a lane off Queen's Road.

Pettyham had been visiting a friend in the west end of town. As it was late, his host offered to drive Pettyham home in his carriage. As the horse drew near to the laneway, it stopped suddenly, and refused to move an inch further forward. Pettyham offered to walk the rest of the way.

About twenty yards along, a spectral figure stepped out into the moonlight. Pettyham took one look, and turned and fled in absolute horror. The figure he had seen was that of a very tall man, missing his head.

Pettyham raced back up along Queen's Road, burst into a boarding house, swearing he would never spend another night in his house.

As if one headless ghost is not enough, Signal Hill boasts two. One legend concerns the ghost of Tommy Connor’s Gate, a story which has been circulating Signal Hill for at least sixty years.

Tommy Connor’s Gate was located right across from where the Battery Hotel now stands. The property had at one point been farmland owned by the Barnes and the McGrath families. The original farm house had been torn down in the long forgotten past, but the gate had remained for many years.

The gate was a big wide one which would open up to allow a cart to pass through, with concrete posts on either side. While there was nothing special about the gate itself, the ghost that appeared alongside it was another matter. People would see the ghost of a man standing by the gate, missing his head, but holding his hat in his hand. As a result, everyone was scared to pass it.

While the gate was named after a local man, no one was certain who the ghost was exactly. It was believed it was the spirit of a man named either Fitzgerald or Fitzpatrick, who died (or was possibly killed) on the spot. In life, he had been known to stand by the gate or to sit on a little chair alongside it, looking after his property.

Much more frightening was a different spirit, believed to haunt another location on the historic hill. That ghost was said to be the spirit of a huge African pirate, missing his head.

Pirates, it seems, were forever losing their heads in Newfoundland and Labrador’s days of yore. Indeed, headless buccaneers seem to be rather common figures on our foggy shores. Many a community claims to have a pirate ghost, minus his noggin, guarding yet-to-be-discovered chests of gold.

Lower Island Cove is one example. Its headless pirate was said to haunt a spot known to locals as The Featherbed on the north of Flambro Head. In the days before electricity, The Featherbed was said to be a rather foreboding place, often wreathed in mist and fog.

Local author Gerald Morris wrote about the Flambro Head ghost in an online article called “Lower Island Cove Tidbits.”

“What proved the undoing of many a traveller was the common sighting of a headless spectre that came out of the mist,” writes Morris. “He was said to be dressed in pirate’s garb complete with sword in hand, everything except his head which was cleanly removed as if by a rival's blade!”

Newfoundland's long, unprotected shoreline with thousands of bays and inlets made it a perfect hiding spot for pirates in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. While it was far from the gold-rich shipping lanes of the Caribbean, the fishing communities of the island were easy pickings for battle-hardened pirates. As well, its position at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River made it a good base of operations to raid ships sailing to the colonies of New France and Nova Scotia.

Such a rich history of piracy gave rise to countless local legends of pirate gold and ghostly guardians. One of my favourite of these tales is from Red Bay, Labrador.

In 2003, the town constructed a new walking trail up over Tracey Hill. If you climb the 689 steps to the top of Tracey Hill and look around, you will be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the town and the coastline. If you are lucky, you might spot a ghost, and if you are truly blessed, you might find a buried treasure.

The local folklore of Red Bay tells of the infamous pirate, Captain William Kidd, who was said to have hidden a treasure at the bottom of a small body of water known as the “Pond on the Hill” close to the summit of Tracey Hill.

In the story, the pirate cut off the head of one of his crew, and tossed the body on top of the loot. The spectre of the unfortunate headless man was believed to appear at midnight, acting as the treasure’s ghostly guardian.

As part of the walking trail up Tracey Hill, the town erected a series of interpretive panels. The panel closest to the Pond on the Hill reads:

“Some adventurous locals from Carrol’s Cove (a small resettled fishing village west of Red Bay) in earnest attempted to drain the Pond on the Hill, therein unlocking the mystery of the buried treasure. During nightfall, nature unleashed its fury in an unforgettable display of thunder and lightning. These men were gravely superstitious and were convinced that the headless man was returning!”

The men of Carrol’s Cove quickly abandoned the search, and never returned. The event was such that no other attempts have been made to procure Captain Kidd’s treasure.


Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Photo: the path to Tracey Hill, Red Bay, Labrador, by Dale Jarvis.










Thursday, 30 June 2016

Grandfather King - a strange ghostly Bigfoot story from Newfoundland. #folklorethursday


By Dale Jarvis
Originally printed in The Golden Leg

Grandfather King was a farmer. But back in the 1930s, in the height of the Great Depression, things were not very good for farmers. So, to help out his family and keep food on the table, Grandfather King turned to a much more lucrative business. He started to sell bootleg rum.

No matter how bad times got, it seemed people always had money for a bottle of rum. Perhaps it was because of the fact that times were so bad that people always wanted it. So Grandfather King helped them out, and made a few pennies doing so.

Now, it was hard to keep something like that perfectly quiet, and before too long the police started to hear rumours of strange goings-on down at the King family farm. Every so often they would stop by to visit Grandfather King, to see if they could catch him in the act.

But Grandfather King was too smart for the police. He never kept his rum anywhere they might find it. Instead, he started to carefully bury the bottles of rum up in the back garden, in different places, under the cover of darkness. No matter how hard they searched, the police could never find a thing.

One night, when it was nice and dark, Grandfather King went up to the back garden as usual to get a bottle of rum. He took his shovel, paced off the right number of steps from the fencepost, and started to dig. He had just reached the first bottle of rum when he saw a very bright light coming towards him.

Grandfather King's first thought was that the police had finally cottoned on to his tricks. The light came closer, so bright that he could not look at it directly. Grandfather King was not frightened, but he did not know what to do. The light was so bright it almost blinded him.

As the light came closer to where Grandfather King was standing, it started to dim. When it got dull enough that he could look at it, the man saw that it was not the police with a lantern, but something much more unusual.

The light was coming from the very bright eyes of what could only be described as a monster. In size it was taller than the tallest man, over nine feet in height. It was jet black and covered all over with hair an inch to an inch and half long, and its eyes were like two big saucers. It had no clothing whatsoever.

The Devil himself would not frighten Grandfather King, but Grandfather King had never seen anything like the monster with the two glowing eyes. He started digging again to see what would happen. The two great eyes grew brighter and brighter, and the monster drew closer and closer.

Grandfather King stopped digging. The eyes grew dim once more and the monster backed away, further into the shadows. In haste, he started shovelling dirt back into the hole, and as he filled in the hole the monster disappeared.

Grandfather King took up his shovel, put it over his shoulder, and hurried home. The next day he thought about what he was going to do. That precious rum was still buried up in the back garden, but he was not about to go dig it up during the day when people would be able to see. So he waited until nightfall. When it was dark, he took his shovel and ventured up into the back garden once more.

He found the fencepost, measured off the right number of paces, and started to dig. Just like the night before, as soon as he started to dig, the bright light returned. As he dug, the hairy monster with the two great eyes drew closer and closer. When he stopped digging, the eyes grew dim and the monster moved further away. He dug a bit more, and the eyes grew so bright he was almost blinded again. Eventually, Grandfather King had to fill in the hole and go back to bed.

Grandfather King became convinced that the monster was guarding something buried in the back garden. He was certain the monster was afraid he was going to find it, and this is why it appeared each night, warning him away.

Being a cautious man, Grandfather King decided to leave well enough alone. He had no desire to enrage a monster nine feet high, covered with black fur and with eyes that shone like headlights. So from that point on he gave up the bootleg rum business, and put his energies into more legal activities.

There are those who say the monster was guarding a great treasure. The treasure had been hidden by pirates, and they had left the monster behind to act as its protector until such a time that they could return. But the pirates never came back.

It is said that the buccaneers' treasure, along with a few bottles of well-aged rum, still lie safely hidden, buried deep somewhere up in the back garden of Grandfather King. If you don't mind nine foot monsters lurking in the darkness, covered in fur and with eyes as big as saucers, you are welcome to go and try and find it for yourself.

Note from the author: A version of this story can be found in Michael Taft's article “Sasquatch-Like Creatures in Newfoundland: A Study in the Problems of Belief, Perception, and Reportage” page 83-96 in “Manlike Monsters On Trial” (University of British Columbia Press, 1980). Taft gives the location of the story as “Battle Point” but notes that he changed the original name of the community. The description of the monster used here is based on two different accounts of Sasquatch-like creatures reported in Newfoundland, one from the late nineteenth century, and the other from the 1930s.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!




Monday, 27 June 2016

On Folklore - A public talk with Marissa Largo and Dale Jarvis

                               
St. John's based author, storyteller and folklorist Dale Jarvis joins visiting scholar and writer Marissa Largo for a public talk in conjunction with MIRROR/MOTHER (fragments) exhibition

Wednesday June 29 7-9pm
Eastern Edge Gallery
Free. All welcome.


Folklore Reimagined: The Supernatural in Marigold Santos' Art and the Limits of Modernity. 

Marissa Largo is an educator, artist, and PhD candidate in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She holds a Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship for her PhD project, Unsettling Imaginaries: The Decolonial Diaspora Aesthetic of Four Contemporary Filipino/a Visual Artists in Canada (in which Marigold Santos is one of the four artists). Marissa is co-editor of the forthcoming book, Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos/as and Canadian Imaginaries (Northwestern Universty Press, 2017). She resides in Toronto with her partner, Sean and their two children, Carlo and Lorena.

Finding Folklore: Documenting the Mysterious in Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador may very well be blessed with more fairies, devils, old hags, phantoms, Jacky Lanterns, sea monsters, and other fabulous and frightening creatures than any other spot in Canada. Luckily, it is one of the only places in Canada to have a provincial folklorist. Dale Jarvis will discuss the work of the province's intangible cultural heritage program, and his own love of strange tales, in this talk on the weirdness that lurks at the edge of our perception, and those curious creatures that go bump in the night.

Dale Jarvis works as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, helping communities to safeguard traditional culture, the first full-time provincially funded folklorist position in Canada. Dale has been working for the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1996, and holds a BSc in Anthropology/Archaeology from Trent University, and a MA in Folklore from Memorial University. He regularly teaches workshops on oral history, cultural documentation, folklore project management, and public folklore programming. By night, he is the proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour and raconteur of local tales. As a storyteller, he performs ghost stories, stories of the little people, tales of phantom ships and superstitions, and legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond.

All media inquiries please contact:

Penelope Smart, Director
Eastern Edge Gallery
709-739-1882
gallery@easternedge.ca
easternedge.ca

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Horse Who Saw A Ghost - Black Duck Brook. #FolkloreThursday


With a history of European settlement that stretches back to the Basques in the 1500s, the Port of Port Peninsula has heard many a strange tale over the centuries. It has also produced a number of tale tellers, one of the best known being Emile Benoit.

Emile Joseph Benoit was born in 1913 at L'Anse-a-Canards (Black Duck Brook) on the Port au Port Peninsula, son of Medee and Adeline Benoit. He began playing the fiddle when he was nine, teaching himself to play on a home-made violin. By the time he was seventeen he was a well known local entertainer, and he went on to achieve national and international recognition. He was also a respected storyteller, both of personal reminiscences and the older traditional tales.

When he was a young man, Emile had a run-in with a ghost which was visible to horses alone. One weeknight in March he hitched up his one-horse sleigh and went to visit his brother Ben. Ben lived at Three Rock Cove, a fishing community on the northwest shore of the Port au Port Peninsula. Three Rock Cove was originally named Trois Cailloux, or "Three Boulders", by migratory French fishermen who used it as an outpost.

Emile stayed there for a spell and had supper. After he had dined with his brother he decided that he would go visit his sister, Yvonne, who lived about a mile away. He told his brother that he would be back at 9 o'clock and set out.

The wind was blowing from the north east as Emile made his way down the pathway. When he got close to his destination, he had to open a gate and go across a field. About two hundred yards further along was the sister's house, at the top of a rounded hill. He tied the horse up behind the house and gave it a feed of hay.

When he went into his sister's house he found her there chatting with some young women around his own age. Engaged in the pleasant company of the young women, he didn't notice the passing of time until he realized that it was already nigh on 9 o'clock.

It was a clear, moonlit night as he started back towards his brother Ben's house. By the time he hitched up the horse and turned the sleigh around., the wind had all but died away. He cut a plug of tobacco and started to make himself a cigarette as the horse plodded along. Then the horse stopped.

It was a good horse, and one of which he was proud. Tall and well built, its mother was a racer, and the horse had some of her character. When he bought it, he had paid out two-hundred and fifty dollars for the horse, a sizeable sum in those days.

Busily engaged in the work of hunting for a match for the cigarette, the driver simply told the horse to keep moving. Sure enough, the horse started to move, but not in the direction Emile had intended, for the horse began to back up along the path, retracing its steps.

He told the horse to go on again, but the horse continued to back up.

Puzzled, Emile started to look around to see what was frightening the horse but could not see a thing. He looked along the line of the fence, and could see nothing in either direction. It came to his mind that if he looked between the horse's ears he would see exactly what the horse was staring at. Therefore he got up on the board at the front of the sleigh and looked up over the ears of the horse, but could still see nothing.

With an oath, he reclaimed his seat, took a good hold on the reins, and delivered a blow to the horse with the whip. The horse reared up, turning the sleigh around like a top, and was off like a flash of lightning, back towards the house they had just left.

Completely startled by the horse's actions, he lost the reins. By the time he had taken them back into his hands, the horse was back at the gate they had pass through shortly before. Emile got out of the sleigh, took the horse by the halter, and started to lead him by hand

At this the horse pounded its hooves into the ground, stamping and whinnying, making it clear it would not set foot on the path. When it became obvious that the horse had no intention of returning home that night, Emile gave in and led the beast back to his sister's house.

Somewhat surprised to see him back so soon, his sister asked him what had happened. He related the story, telling her that the horse would not go back along the path. Emile then asked his brother-in-law Fintan if he would go back with him. Fintan refused to go and then told him a strange tale.

Apparently the mailman had also tried to move his horse along the same path the same night with the mail. And, at the same point, his horse had refused to move and had turned around the same way. The mailman was stuck, and had to find shelter for the night with one of the local families.

When Emile tracked down the mailman and asked him if he would go out and try again, the mailman refused. So two cows were taken out of the barn and turned out into the field for the night, and space was made for Emile's horse.

Eager to get home, Emile left around four or five in the morning the next day. The weather was the same as it had been the night before, with not a drop of wind and with a layer of frost on the ground. The horse once more plodded along, and Emile watched his ears, to see if the horse would act up when it reached the same spot.

When they reached the spot the two horses had refused to pass, the ears did not give so much as a twitch. The horse passed by as if nothing had happened, and maintained it usual pace all the way home. The frost on the path showed that nothing had gone before them.

ears later, in the style of a natural storyteller, Emile related the strange occurrence to the folklorist Gerald Thomas. In turn, Thomas included the tale in his book "The Two Traditions", which deals with the French language traditions of the Port au Port Peninsula.

Emile never uncovered the reason for the horses' fright. He was certain, however, that whatever the two horses had seen, it must not have been a pretty sight, nor anything pleasant, to have frightened them that much. In Emile's own words, "it wasn't God for sure he seen. No..."

According to the late Ferryland native Ray Curran, horses on the other side of the province had similar experiences. Mr. Curran told me that along the Southern Shore, there are a number of large rocks alongside roadways said to be possessed by the devil. There was one in Renews and another in Tors Cove. Horses would run away once they approached these sites and many people were injured as a result of these boltings.


Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike is online at www.hauntedhike.com and you can like us on Facebook! Or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Photo: Emile Benoit, from The Telegram.