Thursday 6 June 2013

A ghostly knocking at the door

Recently, I had the opportunity to share ghost stories with a visiting group of Grade 7 and 8 students from St Michaels Elementary School, Stephenville Crossing. One of the students had done a heritage fair project on a ghostly legend from St. John’s, the story of the Foran’s Hotel. She asked me if I was familiar with the story, and I said that I was.

It is an interesting tale, and the story of the ghostly knockings of the Foran's Hotel is one of the oldest, and continuously repeated, ghost stories in St. John's.

I use the word legend to describe the story, because while it is often presented as a true story, its origins are a little vague, and there is some historical debate over the exact location of the hotel itself. In 1883 an elaborate four storey hotel named the Atlantic Hotel was established by John Foran on Water Street across from King's Beach. The building was at the time one of the grandest in the community, and it remained that way until the Great Fire of 1892 destroyed most of St. John's and gutted the hotel.

Oral tradition on the other hand firmly places the building known as "Foran's Hotel" at the intersection of Water Street and Queen Street, a good six blocks to the west. Folklorist and writer R.J. Kinsella wrote in 1919 that the Foran's Hotel was "situated where the General Post Office now is", which would place it at the second location.

One night after all the hotel guests were asleep, a violent knocking noise was heard coming from a vacant room at the top of the building. So persistent was the noise that soon everyone in the building was woken, but an investigation of the room revealed nothing to account for the clamour. The noise was not repeated that night, but the next night at the exact same time, the hotel was wracked with the same violent knocking. Nothing was found, and the third night, the knocking was renewed, causing great turmoil amidst the guests and lodgers.

With the reputation of the hotel close to ruin, the guests were persuaded to stay, and a party was organized to stand watch, with a double guard placed at the room door. That night, mysteriously, the knocking ceased, and was not heard again. The room was closed to the public, memory of the incident faded, and life and business returned to normal.

Several months after the disturbance, and unknown stranger arrived in St. John’s, and made his way to the Foran’s Hotel, where he demanded lodging for the evening. At that point the establishment was full, with every room occupied except one. Rather than send the mysterious gentleman to a rival hotel, the staff gave the man the room which had been the centre of the psychic disturbance months before. The stranger retired to the room, and later that night, the entire hotel was aroused by the old knocking, this time in a long and insistent outburst of wrath.

Guests and staff rushed to the bedchamber, and upon breaking in found the new lodger, lying on the bed, fully clothed, and cold in death. As the corpse was removed for burial the next day, a distinct rapping noise could be heard throughout the apartment, which persisted until the very instant the body was removed from the premises. The man was never identified, and his body was buried quietly.

The room was boarded up, and never used again, but the legend survived. Stories were in circulation in the late 1990s that the Canada Post building was haunted. In 1998, it was reported that strange, unexplained knocking noises were heard by postal workers on one of the upper stories.

Ghostly knockings are a theme repeated many times in Newfoundland stories of supernatural belief. Often, knocks at a door are seen as a token, a foreshadowing of someone’s death. One example of this was said to have happened in Buchans in 1949. A miner by the name of John Mullowney perished when an accident occurred underground in the Oriental mine.

Topside, back at the family home, no one yet knew of the disaster that had transpired beneath them. Suddenly, there were three knocks on the door of the family's house. Someone answered the door, but there was no one standing on the step.

Shortly after that, a worker from the mine came to the door, and asked for Mrs. Mullowney. He informed her that her husband had been killed in the mine.

If you have a story of strange knocking noises, let me know by email at

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