|Haunted House in Conception Bay.. Photo Scott Martin|
E Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News has a mind-conjured white dog that haunts the days and nights of little Bunny Quoyle. A manifestation of her grief and despair, the imagined embodiment of her fear and unfamiliarity is very real in the thoughts of Quoyle's headstrong eldest daughter. Just as Bunny is haunted by this fictional wild creature, who seems to be vying with the Hag for control of Bunny's fear, so too were many Newfoundlanders haunted by the stories that seemed to surround this island of dark myths and legends. Every place has a separate, disparate history chock full of both factual and imagined events and stories. The island of Newfoundland is no exception and these are a few of its own stories...
One day my Grandfather was chopping wood near his home. When he finished, he carried the wood to a nearby shed. Load after load he carried until the shed was full. Then he walked towards his house. To his amazement he found the chopped wood still lying on the ground. He ran back to the shed only to find it still full. Then he heard laughter coming from the woods near his house. Thinking it was a few of his friends playing tricks on him, he ran over to share laughter with them. Imagine his surprise when he saw instead a group of little people, dancing in a circle and singing the most beautiful song he had ever heard. He sat down and listened enchanted by their sweet voices. When they finished, they motioned for him to follow and unthinking, he did as they wished. They were leading him to the edge of a cliff. An old woman was strolling through the woods. She saw what was happening and came to his rescue. The old woman put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Listen to me, concentrate on my voice only. Do not look at them. Just take my hand and follow me." My Grandfather in a state of confusion did as he was told and returned home safely. He often wonders what would have happened if that old woman had decided to stay home that night, and he was left to the fairies...
-----told by Glenn Sheppard, Spaniard's Bay-----
THE THREE SUNS
In the mid-nineteenth century, there was a time of great cold and bitter frost. One morning a terrible wind was blowing, bringing with it flurries and a miserable day for all. At 11:15 AM , while folk were still huddled in their houses, hiding from the weather, the sky suddenly cleared. Visible to all were three separate suns shining down from the heavens. The highly religious population took to the churches, fearing this marked the end of the world. Within minutes, the clouds came again and the three suns were no longer visible. The disappearance of the suns brought a deathly cold, water froze instantly and the people in the streets had to run for shelter once again, for fear of freezing to death with chill. Days later, the cold lifted and one sun hung in the sky; its counterparts were gone but that horrible, unnatural sight haunted those that witnessed it for many years... fearing the day when the three suns come again.
-----adapted from the journal of David King-----
Two cousins, Charlie and David Blackwood, went on a bird hunting trip in Bonavista Bay in 1971 but were unprepared for what they experienced. A heavy fog rolled in a few short hours after they left land in their boat and they became disoriented by the lack of visibility. After half an hour of trying to find land again, they came upon a small island and proceeded to steer for the shore. Before they could reach it, however, the two cousins beheld a sight that quickly changed their minds. There, on top of a cliff that ran the length of the small island, stood two strange creatures unlike anything the men had ever seen before. A little over four feet tall, the creatures were covered in gray fur and possessed no visible eyes, nose or neck, with very short arms and legs and two big monkey-like ears. The silent creatures stood atop the cliff facing the mens' direction for a few seconds then effortlessly descended the cliff and disappeared beneath the sea. The two cousins floated off the shore for the rest of the night, too afraid to go aground or even sleep. The things were never seen by the men again but the two cousins cannot forget the strange creatures of Bonavista Bay.
-----told to Otto Kelland by Charlie Blackwood, St. John's-----
another account of a similar creature took place just before the turn of the century. A fisherman fishing off Grand Bank caught one of the creatures. He hooked a strange gray-furred man-like creature with webbed hands and big monkey-like ears. As soon as the thing opened its mouth, the fisherman cut his line and it sank beneath the waves once more. The fisherman, terrified by what he saw, never fished again.DEVIL'S HAND
The small town of Fortune Harbour, Notre dame Bay, was once the scene of a very bizarre card game. A man named Kincheler loved his game dearly and he often bragged how nothing could sway him from a game of cards. One night Kincheler walked three miles to play a game, boasting to his fellows there that he would have a game of cards with the devil himself. After the game was over and Kincheler left to walk home, he met up with a stranger who struck up a conversation with Kincheler. The mysterious man said he, too, loved cards and challenged Kincheler to a game, and of course, the eager man agreed. The two played for hours and as the mysterious stranger began to become visibly angry, Kincheler noticed a twitching tail coming from under the coat of the now fuming stranger. Kincheler laid his winning card and with that the stranger slammed his last card down upon the rock on which they were playing. Kincheler won his card game but the hand print of that mysterious man is still seen on that rock today. The devil hates to lose...THE PIRATE TREASURE OF TORBAY
Like many Newfoundland communities today, the small place near Torbay known as Tapper's Cove once had a different name. Originally called Treasure Cove, the stream found there was allegedly built by pirates. The stream had a wooden bottom which hid the gold that the pirates had stolen form other pirates who plundered it from a Spanish galleon in the 17th century The pirates who had originally stolen the gold were attacked and driven into the hills of Torbay by the second lot, who then built the stream to hid the gold. To protect their treasure, the pirates kidnapped a young boy and his Newfoundland dog from Torbay and killed them, believing their ghosts would guard their hidden treasure. To this day, people steer clear of Tapper's Cove after dark, afraid of meeting the ghosts of the headless boy and his spectral Newfoundland dog who restlessly guard their charges.
-----told by Captain Jack Dodd, Torbay-----
The being known as Springheel Jack baffled the inhabitants of St. John's for two months in 1929. Always showing up on Merrymeeting Road, the strange fellow was the object of much speculation and mystery for the people of the area. The slim man, if he was that, was over 6 feet tall, dressed in knee-high boots and a black helmet or hat. His features were gaunt and pale green and a black cape hung from his shoulders. The being , who was later nicknamed "Springheel Jack" by those that saw him, never said a word but instead only laughed from the rooftops above those that saw him. Many St. John's people, mainly women and children, feared this Springheel Jack although with each report, the being never actually committed any acts toward his victims. Rather the story of what Jack might be terrorized the populace. Believed to be an escaped, homicidal mental patient, people feared that they may be the one that Springheel Jack caught and showed his apparent madness to. Springheel Jack was never caught; each time simply laughing at anyone who saw him, jumping effortlessly from the rooftop on which he perched, and bounding hysterically away in 15 foot leaps, his insane laughter echoing through the streets and in the minds of those that witnessed the being named Springheel Jack...
another account exists of a "Spring-heeled Jack" which terrorized England from 1837 to 1904. Unlike the latter Spingheel Jack, this version was thought to be some sort of demon who actually attacked those that saw him. He haunted the rooftops and leapt down to assault his victims with his icy-cold, claw-like hands, only to bound impossibly away, laughing wildly as he disappeared into the darkness. This Jack had a hideous face, glowing eyes and vomited blue and white flame and wasapparently unharmed by bullets, simply laughing at them . The being known as Spring-heeled Jack eluded capture as well, always escaping intothe darkness from whence he came.
The British gunboat, the Mallard, found the Resolven floating on the open sea near Catalina, Newfoundland in 1884. The Resolven had left Harbour Grace, Newfoundland bound for labrador with a cargo of salt and four Newfoundland passengers only a few days earlier, on August 27, 1884. When the crew of the Mallard signaled the other boat, they received no response and so proceeded to board her. What the British sailors found there was a complete mystery. The Resolven held no passengers. Clothing and other personal items were found undisturbed on the ship and there was absolutely no sign of trouble. The galley held a set table ready for a meal and a fire still burned in the stove. The surrounding water was searched but no sign of the crew or passengers was ever to be found.
THE KNOCKING OF FORAN'S HOTEL
During one cold dark winter night, the guests of Foran's Hotel in downtown St. John's were awakened to a incessant knocking coming from an upstairs room. Upon entering the room, the loud knocking suddenly ceased and although two men searched the room, they could find no explanation for the noise. The noise resumed each night and would continue until someone entered the room. Word of the strange knocking spread quickly through the community and people believed the old hotel to be haunted. This occurred until six months after the initial event when a stranger came one night and was given the haunted room. Not knowing of the strange knocking, the stranger entered the room and all was quiet until midnight when the noise began again, louder and more horrifying than before. The knocking filled the building until the door to the room was finally opened, only to reveal the stranger lying dead on the floor, a look of total terror covering his face. The knocking occurred for the last time while the body was being removed from the room. The old Foran's Hotel has been torn down since then, being replaced by the General Post Office on Water Street but people are still wary of being alone there after dark, afraid the knocking may once more be heard...THE CRY
William Welsh lived in 18th century St. John's, Newfoundland with his wife and three sons. Like many Newfoundlanders at the time, the Welsh family had strong ties to the old land. Welsh's ancestors came from Ireland and had a strong belief in Irish traditions and folklore, as did William's wife and sons, although the businessman himself did not. One night, Mrs. Welsh was sitting in bed when she became frozen in fear of what she heard. It was a unearthly wail that came slowly closer to the window until it sounded like it was right outside. Then the wail became a wild shriek, dying away in a horrifying sobbing. William Welsh never heard a thing and dismissed it as her imagination, until his son cut an artery the next day and came close to dying. The unnatural cry was never mentioned again until many years later, at William Welsh's 60th birthday party which boasted some of the most important citizens of St. John's. Suddenly the door burst open and Welsh's eldest son stood there, a look of horror on his face. He asked his father if he was okay, saying he heard the cry once again, leaving the other guests standing around in wonder. William Welsh laughed it off as silly superstition, telling the guests the story of his Irish tradition and continued with his party. William Welsh suddenly died at breakfast the next day, finally believing in the mournful cry of the Banshee...THE DEVIL'S STAIRWAY
On the Southern Shore, near Cape Broyle Head, there is a sheer cliff that was once the scene of a bizarre scene. A quick-tempered sea captain stranded his boat in there many years ago. In his fit of rage, he cursed the crew and screamed to the devil to take the vessel, cargo, and all hands aboard. Without warning, an unseen force slammed the ship into the top of the cliff and many people believe the devil fulfilled the old captain's desire. For years, timber from the ship was seen atop that same cliff and the devil himself left his footprints on the sheer stone there, etched in the hard cliff wall. Never tempt the devil...NEWFOUNDLAND GIANT
During the late 18th century, residents living in Old Perlican were tormented by a group of Beothuk Indians that constantly raided the community while the men were gone to the fishing grounds. The Indians would never harm anyone, only coming to steal the inhabitants' possessions. On one raid, the fishermen returned early and chased the Beothuks into the wilderness until nightfall. When all was quiet the fishermen attacked and killed seven of the group, including an immense Beothuk Indian who stood in excess of over 7 feet tall. The giant took three shots to bring down and then only fell to the ground to bleed to death. The fishermen, proud of themselves, decided to bring the giant Indian back to Old Perlican to put on display. They tied rope to his body and dragged it back behind their boat, only to be forced to cut it free during a great storm at sea. The body floated ashore at Lance Cove Head only to return to sea during a later windstorm. The inhabitants of Old Perlican still wonder if the Beothuk giant's spirit may one day return to have his revenge on the community...or if others like him are watching them.
-----told by Jame's B. Howley in The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland-----
Being a culture that is surrounded by, and arguably dependent upon, the sea, Newfoundland abounds with stories of monsters of the deep. On August 11th, 1888, one of these monsters attacked the schooner Augusta off the southeast coast of the island. Six dories were sent out from the schooner and one of them was chased back to the Augusta by a huge, monstrous creature that emerged from the water and chased the dory to the schooner, only to the submerge again. The monster undulated through the water at great speeds, not unlike an eel or snake, and was close to 100 feet long. Its head, which raised above the water for 15 to 20 feet, was huge and lizard-like with immense eyes. Its body was brown with stripes, about 20 feet thick with a huge fin. The creature reappeared later as the dories went out to get their trawls and chased another of the six dories. It attempted to wrap itself into coils around the boat but lost its speed, only to later catch up and smash at the dory with its deadly tail. The schooner captain shot at the beast as it sank into the sea. The Augustareturned to St. John's where the story appeared in local papers. Some believe that the creature was a giant squid, similar to ones seen in various places around the world but the experienced fishermen of Newfoundland know it was a sea serpent, and is still out there, hidden deep in the waters, waiting...
-----told to St. John's newspapers by Thomas Grant, owner of the Augusta-----
in July of 1874, a giant squid attacked the 150-ton schooner, the Peril, south of Newfoundland. The monster attacked the schooner after the captain fired at it. It wrapped its huge tentacles around themasts, pulled its immense body aboard, then slipped over the side,\capsizing the schooner with its strength. The story was told throughout varius American newspapers in 1874, warning the world to watch the seas.
Chance Cove, on the southern shore of Newfoundland, is infamous in Newfoundland history as a place where many ships were wrecked and hundreds of lives were lost. In 1869, the Anglo Saxon, suffered the same fate, with all souls aboard losing their lives. Within 5 years of the disaster, stories spread of unearthly screams and terrifying apparitions experienced in the town. A sudden exodus occurred one night, on the anniversary of the disaster, and Chance Cove became a ghost town. The ghostly cries and spectral noises erupted in the silence of the night and as the men ran to the beach to see if another boat had suffered the fate of the Anglo Saxon, the noises stopped, only to resume with terrifying intensity when the beach was once again quiet. All inhabitants inexplicably left, leaving homes and farms suddenly deserted. Twenty-five years later, a group of fishermen used the town for shelter one night, taking refuge in the vacant homes. They, too, left quickly, but not before burning the frightening community to the ground.
If these stories aren't enough, here are a few more short ones to think about, just to appease your curiousity:
* Many years ago, a number of makeshift coffins containing the bodies of men, women, and children were found in the mud under some homes in Mockbeggar, Bonavista Bay. The coffins were of a wood not from Newfoundland and the bodies were dressed in clothing unfamiliar to the inhabitants of the community. On stormy nights, singing in foreign voices can be heard in the area...
*A creature tried to climb aboard a dory in St. John's Narrows during 1912. It resembled a beautiful woman, had blue streaks of a hair-like substance on its head, and was 15 feet long with its fish-like tail. 150 years earlier, a similar creature was seen in St. John's Harbour and was believed to be a mermaid...
*Bay Bulls Road in St. John's, 1910, became the scene of a terrifying event. T group in fishermen took refuge from a storm in a vacant house in the area when a flaming, aggressive phantom appeared in front of the house, passed through the walls and disappeared out through the other side, leaving the house shaking in its wake...
*His history of piracy haunted the thoughts of a dying man at Indian Harbour, Labrador. As he lay in his death bed, clouds surrounded the house and a square-rigged ship appeared in the sky. The room was filled with the sounds of waves and breakers and the house shook as the old man's spirit left his body to board the phantom ship, doomed to sail the seven seas for all eternity...
*Mysterious flames broke out in a home in Flatrock, Baie Verte, during 1954. The flames first appeared in November and burned a dictionary in a wood box but not the wood. The flames appeared to burn various objects throughout the house various times, including a box of holy literature and a doll. Each time nothing else near the objects were unharmed and the flames disappeared as soon as they were touched. The flames were never explained, but have been attributed to the work of a poltergeist...
*Blood poured from the sky over the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in February, 1890. The shower of blood rained from a dark sky onto the ships out on the calm, eerie sea. The frightening rain covered the decks and masts, later drying to the color of a dusty, pale red and was never explained...
*Fifty years earlier, on Good Friday, March 25th, 1892, the skies over St. John's turned a fiery red and a crimson rainbow appeared in the eastern sky at sunset. The sky remained shades of red for two days and the weather stayed just above freezing, leading many to believe it was the end of the world...
Newfoundland is wrought with tales of terror and mystery. Told over campfires and to young children by elders to warn them of the dangers of the unknown, these Newfoundland legends and myths will undoubtedly continue to amaze and terrify anyone to whom they are told. Just as in Bunny Quoyle's own imagination and terror of her wild white dog, these horrifying stories never cease to leave a cold, gnawing feeling of fear in even the strongest and bravest of hearts, especially those of us that live here...
Compiled by Dana D. Carter
- Amazing Newfoundland Stories by Jack Fitzgerald
- Ghosts, Heroes, and Oddities by Jack Fitzgerald
- Strange but True Newfoundland Stories by Jack Fitzgerald
- Strange and Curious: Unusual Newfoundland Stories by Otto Kelland