Thursday 18 April 2013

Ghostly Drummer of Turk's Gut

I tracked down this week’s story, one of Conception Bay’s most intriguing local legends, with the assistance of Bride Power of the Turk’s Gut Heritage Committee, which has been working hard to preserve the oral history and folklore of the community.

You will not find the community of Turk’s Gut on any modern map, so you will just to believe me when I tell you that it exists. If you do manage to find it, drive down the old road towards the water and pull over when you get to the very the last house. It is the only house there, a bright red one, so I am sure you will not miss it.

Beside the house there are a few trees, and under their branches, hidden amongst the tall grass, there is long, flat stone. Stop there, and listen. For that flat stone marks the grave of the drummer of Turk’s Gut. And though he has been dead and buried for longer than anyone alive can remember, there are those who say his drumming has never ceased.

Exactly where the Drummer came from is something of a mystery. Some believe that the Drummer was a prisoner of war, while others hold that he arrived as a stowaway on a sailing ship. All that is known for certain is that one day in the early part of the 1800s, the Drummer simply appeared. He was dripping wet, as if the ocean had tried to swallow him down, found him inedible, and had spat him out onto dry land.

None of the good people of Turk’s Gut knew where the man had come from, nor did they know his true name. The man himself could offer little assistance, for he seemed to know just as little about his own identity as they did. It was clear that the man was suffering from some sort of amnesia. There was no doctor to provide assistance, and it was thought by the local people that he had suffered some sort of memory loss, perhaps due to a war injury.

While the stranger could not remember his name, or where he was born, or how he had arrived in Turk’s Gut, he did retain one impressive skill. He remembered how to play the drum. When one was placed in his hands, he played it with a skill that astonished all who heard him. Because he seemed to have no name of his own, the stranger was nicknamed “The Drummer” by the local residents.

The Drummer was taken in and shown great courtesy by a local family, the Simms. Over time, the Drummer was accepted as one of the community, and the sound of his drum became a part of the rhythm of local life. After living in Turk’s Gut for many years, the Drummer passed away. The Simms family buried the man on their property, and laid a long, flat stone over his grave to mark his final resting spot.

Eternal rest, however, seemed to elude the Drummer. After his death, ghostly hands could be heard beating on an invisible drum. Before long, stories began to spread along the coast that when people in the Drummer’s adopted home passed away, the Drummer could be heard for miles around.

The noise of the Drummer was heard only during the night, when all was quiet. It was as if he wanted no competition, so that there could be no mistaking his playing for what it was. It was also rumoured that on the eve of a local person's death the Drummer could be heard playing the drums under the windowsill of the person who was fated to die.

The long, flat rock that marked the Drummer’s grave was said to be located about seventy-five feet from where the Heritage House run by the committee now stands. So if you can find it, do pause for a moment beside that long, flat stone and listen, preferably in the evening, when all is quiet. Listen very carefully. If you hear the sound of a rhythm being tapped out on an invisible drum, it could be the Drummer, playing the music he loved so much in life. Or it could be a warning, a sign that someone you love, or even yourself, will be the next soul to join the Drummer beyond Death’s shadowy veil.

Interestingly, the nearby town of Brigus also claims a phantom drummer. The Brigus variant of the tale claimed that an English drummer had once made a promise to an old settler that the musician would drum the old man to his grave, and that he would also drum at the funerals of all his direct descendants.

Photo credit:  Splitting table on end of wharf, Turk's Gut.
Courtesy The Rooms Provincial Archives, VA 130-24.1
Photo by Charles C. Cousens,
July 1973, Charles C. Cousens fonds.

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