Monday 24 September 2012

The Great Story City Bank Robbery, or, How To Get Free Money in Iowa

As I write this, I’m enroute back to Newfoundland, after a fabulous week at the STORY! Festival in the fortuitously named Story City, Iowa. I’ll post more on that later, but in the meantime, there is one story I have to tell first. 

I started off the festival telling stories in local schools, and finished up early one afternoon, with some free time on my hands. My host and local guide was the fabulous Deb Mortvedt (above left), who drove me around to the schools and then walked me around Story City’s downtown. She took me to a few of the local antique shops, and made sure I found the secret stash of free Tootsie Roll Pops in one.

As we were walking up the street towards the theatre, we passed the Great Western Bank. The door was propped wide open, and looking in, we could see that there was a table set with something that looked suspiciously like snacks.

We paused, peering in. Our conversation went something like this:

Deb: Do you want to go into the bank?
Dale: Why, is there something happening?
Deb: I don’t know. Maybe they will give you some money.
Dale: Do the banks in Iowa just give money to strangers when they walk in? 
Deb: You never know, they might!

So we walked in to the bank, which was for the most part devoid of customers. I entered behind Deb. A table was set up close to the tellers, and on it sat two cakes.

“Do you want cake?” asked one of the bank ladies, and before I could answer, added, “Chocolate or Vanilla? It is customer appreciation day today, but you missed the pork butt sandwiches.”

I cursed my timing.

“Vanilla!” said I, making the best of the lack of pork products. A plastic plate and fork were fetched and handed over to me, and then I was steered towards the cake table.

“You have to help yourself,” said Bank Lady. “It’s like an Iowa wedding reception!”

The gathered ladies laughed, and Bank Lady added, to more laughter, “All you need now is a dollar dance.”

I looked beseechingly over towards Deb for help with translation, but Deb was busy stuffing herself full of free lemonade, and was of absolutely no help to the foreigner.

“I’m Canadian,” I confessed. “I have no idea what a dollar dance is.”

I was then given a short ethnographic description of an Iowa dollar dance, where the bride dances with men at the reception, the men giving her a dollar bill to dance, as a way of raising money for the new married couple.

“Ah,” I said, shaking my head sadly. “That would never work in Canada. We don’t have dollar bills, only dollar coins. The bride would get too weighed down with loose change to dance.”

Bank Lady perked up at this, and sang out to a Junior Bank Lady behind the counter.

“Canadian money! Do we still have that Canadian money?”

Junior Bank Lady immediately vanished in the recesses of the Great Western Bank’s vaults to check. She returned with a bag of coins, dumped out the contents, and handed it to me.

“Here you go,” she said. “We can’t do anything with this stuff.” 

So I finished my free cake and free lemonade, said my thank-you’s, and, still clutching my free Tootsie Roll Pop, made my way out into the bright Iowa sunshine, richer by the grand sum $2.73 (Canadian).

“See, I told you they might give you money,” said Deb. “And there are four more banks in town.”

“We should hit them all.”

Saturday 15 September 2012

Final night for Ghosts of Signal Hill - Sat Sept 15th, 8pm

Well, it has been a fabulous run! A total of 33 shows, 3 storytellers, 90-ish rounds of black powder ammunition fired off, great crowds, media hits, a newspaper article, a guest appearance at the MUN Arts Alumni night, and not a single finger cut off with a bayonet. Not bad at all!

Thanks to all who helped out from Parks, including the lovely Lilly and Jacqueline, who were our live powder girls for most of the summer. And thanks to all of you who came and shivered and laughed and went home slightly more spooked than when you arrived.

If you haven't seen the show, tonight is your last chance for 2012. Tickets are limited, and we start at 8pm from the Signal Hill Visitor Centre. Tonight is a special night, as well, in that it is the 250th anniversary, to the day, of the Battle of Signal Hill, which figures so prominently in the show. Bring on the fog!

Thursday 13 September 2012

The Horse vs The Phantoms - a ghost story from Holyrood

A little while ago, I was asked for some ghost stories from Holyrood. I dug through my files, and came up with this gem.

Towards the end of the 1800s, one enterprising man by the name of William established a wagon business to haul goods and people to and from Holyrood along Salmonier Line. William invested in a particularly fine horse, strong and healthy, which he had imported from Canada for the purpose of hauling the wagon and its freight.

One night, on his way back into the North Arm section of Holyrood, the wagon driver and his beast of burden underwent a terrifying ordeal. The path that William had chosen took the wagon through the middle of an old graveyard. As the wagon clattered along the road, a strange noise was heard. It sounded as if the wagon was going over a wooden bridge, the wheels making the distinctive noise of rolling over wooden planks. The horse stopped dead in its tracks.

Will got down off the driver's seat to investigate. As he jumped down from the cart, Will's leather boots crunched against the gravel of the path. At this sound, he knew that there was no wooden bridge underneath them.

The wind blew through the graveyard, whistling around the tombstones. Much to his horror, the wind was joined by another sound. The clamour of voices, all jumbled together like the unintelligible din of a crowd, began to emanate from the graves on all sides. This noise grew louder, and closer, and then was combined with the sound of people climbing onto the wagon. The wagon rattled and creaked and then grew silent, as if the invisible throng was waiting for their ride to begin.

White-faced, Will decided that they had already dallied too long in the boneyard. He slapped the horse on its hindquarters, and urged it to move along and out of the vicinity of the strange noises. The horse obliged, and started forward. The creature leaned into its yoke, straining against an invisible weight. The wagon creaked to life once more, and started to move.

The horse pulled, hard. Will walked alongside as the horse strained harder and harder. Every so often, the driver looked back in fear at the empty wagon. The beast soldiered on, but it acted as if the weight of the wagon was immense. It would move forward along the dark road only about two wagon lengths before it would stop, drained of energy. Its owner urged it forward again, and the horse would drag itself forward another short distance before grinding to a halt once more.

The horse travelled very slowly under the heavy, ghostly load. Suddenly, the wagon lurched forward with a tremendous jerking motion, as if its intangible passengers had leapt off all at once.

The horse plodded on a little further, but then gradually slowed, dead tired, and unable to pull any more. Taking pity on the horse, and not wishing to remain out of doors any longer than was necessary, William unhitched the horse. He left the wagon behind, and started off, leading the horse by the bridle.
By the time the weary coachman got home, it was very late. The horse looked in poor shape, and by the time it was placed into its own barn, it was two o'clock in the morning. Too tired to do much more, Will went into the family house, woke his father, and asked the father to go feed the exhausted animal.

Will's father went out to feed the horse, but soon came back wearing a puzzled expression. He asked Will what had happened to the horse, as the beast refused to eat the oats which had been offered. Dragging himself from the warmth and comfort of his bed, Will went back outside to check on the horse.

The horse refused to eat, and simply stood there in its stall, breathing heavily, overcome with the events of the night. William waited by the side of the horse, stroking its mane and talking to it in a soothing voice. Several hours later, at around 5 o'clock, the horse sank down to its knees, gave a great heaving breath, and died.

Sunday 9 September 2012

St John's Public Library's Ghost Story Writing Contest 2012

We are back again for another year of scary tales and ghoulish fun!

The contest is sponsored by the St John's Public Libraries for young authors aged 7 and up. Deadline for entries is Friday October 19. All entries must be accompanied by an entry form found on our blog or ask for more information at any of the St John's Public Libraries!

This year's celebrity judge is Susan MacDonald author of Edge of Time.