Monday 11 November 2019

Things That Go Bump In The Basement, Livingstone Street, St. John’s

Things That Go Bump In The Basement
Livingstone Street, St. John’s

By Dale Jarvis

Winter nights seem made for the sharing of spooky tales.  Wind swirling ‘round the gables of old houses and the tappings of skeletal branches against attic windows would certainly set the stage for many a ghost story.

In his book, Streets of St. John’s, author Jack White quotes newspaper columnist, J.M Byrnes. Byrnes reminisced of a particular poplar tree from his youth on Livingstone Street in the 1880s, “its stark branches now in the sleep of winter and ghostly with bandages of falling snow, sprawling over the gables of the adjoining houses and stirring restlessly with the ever increasing wind which tapped and swirled against the attic windows.”

Livingstone Street is more that just atmospheric, however. Indeed, it seems to have attracted a fair share of local legends.

It was not that long ago that there was a woman living on Livingstone Street with her young son. The boy, like many young children, was possessed of an imaginary friend.  In this particular case, it was an imaginary dog.  The boy would often go down into the basement to play with his invisible friend, and the mother thought nothing of it.

The basement was only roughly finished, and not the most comfortable of spaces. So the woman hired a contractor to come in, tear up the old broken concrete floor and pour a new one, in order to finish the basement and make it more liveable.  When the workman pulled up the floor, there, underneath the old concrete, he found the skeleton of a dog.

Or so the local legend goes, anyway. Like many ghost stories, it is one that I have come across through second-hand sources, so it difficult to judge its accuracy.  What is interesting, however, is that it is a story which does not seem out of place on Livingstone Street.  Haunted basements, in fact, seem to be a recurring theme in the neighbourhood.

Around 1972, a family with several children was living in a house on that street. By and by, several family members started to experience strange things.  One of the eldest boys saw a strange face looking in at him through a window.  The mother started to hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs in the middle of the night.  But it was the two youngest children that witnessed the most terrifying event, down in the basement of the property.

“Caroline” was only a young girl at the time, about six years old. Over 30 years later, she still has a vivid memory of what she saw in that basement.

“Me and my brother were down in the basement playing,” remembers Caroline. “He wanted me to sit on top of an old oil barrel that was in our basement. I was afraid to sit on the barrel because I was afraid I would fall off.  I reluctantly agreed to go up there only after he went first.”

Caroline’s brother started to climb up the barrel when the girl looked across the room.

“There in the middle of the basement was the most terrifying sight of my entire life,” she says, thinking back on the events of that day. “There was this giant head and face staring at me.  It had black hair; the face was very ugly. The lips were the scariest part, and were snarled up and sneering at me.”

“It was horrifying,” she remembers.

The image was in the middle of the basement, with an evil smirk on its face, about three feet high. Both Caroline and her brother saw the apparition.

“I ran out of the basement screaming, my brother ran after me,” Caroline describes. “I ran upstairs and told my older brother, he went downstairs to check out what I had seen”

When the family went downstairs, the head had disappeared. The basement light, which had been on when the children had fled, was now turned off.

“I guess the darkness hates the light,” says Caroline

Originally printed in Haunted Waters, published by Flanker Press. 
Map: Insurance plan of the city of St. John's, Newfoundland

Saturday 2 November 2019

The Ghost Dory of Cape St. Mary’s - Was it a Mirage or Phantom?

The Ghost Dory of Cape St. Mary’s

In 1999, John Lou Ennis of Placentia released a book about the changes that have taken place in Placentia Bay over the centuries. Ennis, the son of John Louis Ennis and Leah Best of Merasheen, included in his book one example of a ghostly encounter which he explained as being caused by a mirage.

Ennis’ father was a fisherman out of Merasheen, and would often fish off the coast of Cape St. Mary’s. One night while anchored near Cape St. Mary’s, the man saw what he believed to be an optical illusion.

“Looking out through the thick fog, he suddenly spotted a dory coming towards his boat, rowed by two men,” writes the witness’ son. “He had no idea who the men were although he could dimly see their faces.”

The first thought of the fisherman was that the men in the dory must have gotten separated from their schooner, or that they were in need of something. He called to another man on watch, who could also see the dory approaching them.

Together, Ennis Sr. and the man on watch ran to assist the small vessel. The two rushed forward to catch hold of the thrown rope as the dory came closer to them. As they did so, the dory vanished before their astonished eyes.

“Mirages are a fairly common sight at sea and I’m sure sailors still get a shock when one occurs,” writes Ennis.

While visually startling, the concept of a mirage has been well understood for many years. This natural phenomenon may explain some ghostly sightings from Newfoundland and Labrador. The 1915 edition of The New Practical Reference Library defines a mirage as “the appearance of an object in the sky, due to the reflection of rays of light by a layer of atmosphere of different density from that in which the object is situated.”

One type of mirage presents the appearance of ships and icebergs, sometimes inverted and suspended in the clouds. This particular type of mirage is frequently observed at sea in the northern latitudes. It occurs when the lower air is very much colder and therefore denser than the air immediately above it, causing distant objects to appear in the low sky.

This type of mirage is known as a “superior mirage” and is most common in the Arctic and Antarctic. One phenomenon commonly associated with superior mirages is a repeat sunset. In this, the sun appears to set, reappear, and then set again some time later. This was witnessed in 1915 on a Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton encountered many mirages, and in January of 1915 he wrote, “From the mast-head the mirage is continually giving us false alarms. Everything wears an aspect of unreality. Icebergs hang upside down in the sky; the land appears as layers of silvery or golden cloud.”

The ghost dory of Cape St. Mary’s may have been a mirage of an event occurring at some distance. Or could it have been a phantom boat doomed to row for all eternity? Optical illusion or true haunting? You will have to decide for yourself.

- by Dale Jarvis, originally printed in "Wonderful Strange" published by Flanker Press. Photo credit: Three men in dory, circa 1930s. George W. Bailey fonds, Item B 22-3, The Rooms. Inscription: To Geo. W Bailey from [Eben] A Ayers for The Associated Press