St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada is a little island off the coast of Nova Scotia, about 8 hours by ferry from North Sydney followed by a thirteen hour car ride to the main city. The island has a “small town feel” and is filled to the brim with history and folklore. It’s also my hometown.
I grew up there, played outside until the street lamps came on and it was time to head in for the night, ate at the local restaurants, left friends and family behind to come to WI for college. I graduated, bought a house not far from campus, and got married, but a piece of my heart will always be there. It’s a hometown like many others and, like so many other small towns, it has history.
The first time I went on a ghost tour, it was in downtown St. John’s. It was called The Haunted Hike and it was led by a charismatic folklorist named Dale Jarvis. He dressed from head to toe in Colonial attire from tricorn hat to white stockings. Jarvis would lead the group down cobblestone streets, laid in the 1700’s, and through the winding alleyways of the old city while sharing everything he knew about every creepy nook and cranny. His delivery was superb and the intermingling of the history of the island and tales of ghosts and ghouls seamless. In one summer, I attended the hike 9 times. It just never got old for me.
My favorite ghost story was that of The Headless Ghost of Queen’s Road.
In the 1740’s, St. John’s was lit by lantern. Lamplighters flitted from post to post, bathing the streets of the old city in a yellow glow. The smoke from these lanterns created fog-like conditions and made seeing a few yards in front of you difficult.
On one such lantern lit evening, Samuel Pettyham was heading home by carriage. The horse abruptly stopped in a lane way and would not, despite coaxing by the driver, advance any further. Pettyham elected to walk the rest of the way home because he was not that far away. When he neared his residence, he saw someone walking with a lantern. The young man followed the individual for a time because the light was actually helping him find his way in the low lying murk. At one point, the figure stopped and turned to face Pettyham. It was at that point that the young man cried out in horror and ran as fast as he could back home. What Pettyham saw was a specter, it’s head and neck hewn off.
As the legend goes, the specter was that of a ship’s Captain who was in love with a beautiful woman who once lived in Pettyham’s house. Another man vying for her affections attacked the Captain one night and decapitated him. No one was ever charged with the murder and it is said that the Captain’s ghost still wanders Queen’s Road, seeking justice for the loss of his humanity and his head.
Relaying a ghost story or folklore tale is second nature to breathing in Newfoundland. They are used for everything from communicating personal values and to warning children away from potentially dangerous people/places. The interesting thing about these stories is that they are all rooted in some sort of real life occurrence or mutually understood action or situation. These stories draw you in and make you feel a part of the cultural landscape. I think that’s pretty nifty.
I have included some photos of St. John’s for your viewing pleasure. One photo, that of the Anglican Cathedral where the Haunted Hike leaves from during tour season, is of the Cathedral after the Great Fire of 1892.
What’s your favorite ghost story? Do you enjoy going on haunted walks/history tours?
Let us know in the comments!
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