In this episode, Mimi takes us to Angus, Scotland, to Glamis Castle and Janine goes back to her roots and tells of the ghostly past of Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
This episode contains Disney acid trips, human windchimes, creepy castles, and wailing ghosts.
Thanks to Fox and Branch for our intro/outro music! Foxandbranch.com
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The spray from the Atlantic causes your face to itch as you ascend the rocky cliff surrounding the French fort that resembles a medieval castle, its walls now bathed in the mottled pink and red of the rising sun. The way has been blocked at every instance and climbing is the only option. Your arms ache. Below you, the warship you arrived on is nothing more than a dark shape on the water. You take a deep breath and try not to look down. Your orders are simple. Col. Amherst has directed you to take the fort back into British command and, as a soldier under his order, you have no choice but to oblige. You can hear the disembodied screams of the wounded coming from the fort above. This is your destination. Your fellow men at arms are climbing beside you, dodging gunfire from French troops and fighting to hold their footing on the jagged face of the cliff. You have never seen war, have never watched the life drain from another’s eyes, but you are headstrong and willing to do as you are told. As a soldier in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you know that the honor of dying for the crown will be far more glorious than falling to your death upon the jagged rocks below. So, you climb. This date will forever live in infamy whether you survive this conflict or not. Despite the uneven surface and the weight of all you carry, you finally reach the summit and feel your stomach drop as a bullet strikes you in the chest. You fall to your knees and watch for a moment as your comrades fight their way forward and then, everything fades to black.
“At dawn on September 15, 1762, Royal Navy warships anchored behind the steep hill, with masts out of view of the French. British troops then scaled the cliff side onto the hill itself. The surprise was total, and the engagement was brief but fatal. The commander of the French detachment, Guillaume de Bellecombe, was seriously wounded. On the British side, a bullet shattered the legs of one of Amherst’s officers, MacDonell. The French withdrew to the fort. The British began painstakingly bringing artillery pieces up the cliff and constructed small batteries which they proceeded to use to bombard the fort, until the French capitulated. At the close of the battle, Signal Hill was in the hands of the British. Strengthened by this advantageous situation, three days later they obtained the capitulation of the French garrison of St. John’s, which consisted of just over 1,500 French regulars.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Signal_Hill
My father is a security guard and, for several years, he was charged with protecting one of the most historic locations in Newfoundland. He’d worked his way up from night shifts patrolling the docks, risking his life boarding foreign ships in the dark (you could always miss a step on the gangway and plummet into the Atlantic and be crushed between the boat and the pier) and dodging particularly nasty rats, to securing the local airport (there’s only one.) When the position at Signal Hill became available, my father jumped at the chance for a change. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his position, it was just that the tourist site was easy enough to look after at night and there weren’t a lot of people who went up to the tower after dark. Sure, it was a popular place for teens to make out, but he could handle that. He was assigned the night shift, meaning it was just him wandering the areas surrounding Cabot Tower and the gift shop (only in operation during daylight hours.)
His first few shifts there went well enough. It took him a little while to get a feel for the inspection/patrol schedule and to figure out the keys he’d been given, but overall it seemed simple. He was to make sure all entryways and exits were secure and ensure the buildings were empty of tourists at the close of the business day. It wasn’t until after roughly a month of patrols that things started to get weird.
He’d see lights on in the tower at night. Random lights, not like a bulb controlled by a switch. The lights seemed to dance in the windows, first toward the top of the tower and then toward the bottom. It was almost as if someone inside were wandering about with a candle or a lantern, securing the fort for the night or conducting their own patrol. He’d go to check it out, that was his job after all, but he’d find nothing and have no explanation for the lights he’d seen. In addition to this activity, the gift shop/visitors center began to creep him out. He’d lay down a set of keys, go to the restroom, and return to find the keys on the opposite side of the desk from where he’d put them. There are mannequins dressed in soldier’s garb set in scenes behind glass in the visitor’s center and he swore that those figures would move when he wasn’t looking or that their eyes would follow him as he passed. The uniforms displayed on the mannequins had been worn by members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (1812/1817) and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band (1795) so I suppose it’s no surprise that the spirits of those who wore the uniforms previously might make an appearance during my father’s nightly rounds.
In addition to securing the tower and the visitor’s center, he also had to walk the path from the center to the tower several times each night. There are no lights on the road and the way is very dark. The Atlantic Ocean is to your right and a swath of sprawling, boggy land lies to your left. If anything had happened to him during these walks, he would have been stuck until the sun came up and someone came to relieve him. Scary stuff.
One night, he was walking along the road toward the tower and noticed movement near a pond to his left. It’s called Dead Man’s Pond because apparently, it’s fed by the ocean and divers have never been able to reach the bottom. It’s also earned this title because people have drowned in the pond and the pond was used to dispose of the bodies of those hanged on Gibbett Hill, the location of a rather active gallows way back when. In 1869, two little girls were skating on the pond and fell through the ice. A local man named Frederick Carter Jr. attempted to save the girls, but he too lost his life. My father witnessed two small figures seemingly floating along the surface of the pond. It was dark, but it seemed as if these two figures had an internal light source. They moved about, oblivious to my father’s presence, then faded away into the darkness.
Many have reported ghostly apparitions on and around Signal Hill. A friend of mine returned from relieving himself with a look of sheer horror on his face. My friends and I would often go to Signal Hill after dark, share a flask, and try to scare one another. This friend, in particular, was a prankster and had scared me numerous times. He was, in essence, the boy who cried wolf in this particular instance. Nobody believed him. He said he was taking a piss by the edge of the wall close to the ledge overlooking Dead Man’s Pond and had seen bodies swinging by their necks on the gallows on Gibbett Hill. We scoffed at him. There WAS no gallows on Gibbet Hill. It was long gone.
Worst. Windchime. EVER.
“Dissection and gibbeting were punishments that had long been established in England and her colonies for crimes of traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates, and sheep stealers. The intention was that the body of Peter Downing (Downing was convicted in early April, 1834, for the brutal murders of a school teacher (Mr. Bray), his infant son and a servant girl. For his crimes Downing was sentenced to be hanged, dissected and gibbetted) would be left as a grim reminder and would stay on the gibbet for a year or more until it rotted away or was eaten by birds. Gibbeting was formally legalised in Britain by the Murder Act of 1752.
Gibbeting was not generally accepted by the people in Newfoundland. Many were offended by the sight and odor of a decaying body, others believed that the decaying bodies spread disease, others felt that being hung by the neck till dead was enough, even a criminal should meet his Creator in his full body.
In Harbour Grace, Dr. Sterling heeded the content of the note from the angry citizens. The decayed body of Peter Downing was buried immediately at the Court House, and no attempts were made to have the incident investigated or the body gibbeted again.
In Newfoundland “gibbetting” is well documented. In St John’s, Gibbet Hill, a small peak close to Signal Hill, takes its name from the practice. The location was very intentional. Anyone looking towards Signal Hill would see the ‘gibbeted bodies.” A reminder to heed the laws of the colony!
For those of you who may not know what gibbeting entails…
“A gibbet is any instrument of public execution (including guillotine, executioner’s block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold), but gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. Occasionally the gibbet was also used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation. The term gibbet may also be used to refer to the practice of placing a criminal on display within a gibbet. This practice is also called “hanging in chains.”” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbeting
To this day, I don’t know if my friend was telling the truth. He always insisted that he’d seen the bodies swaying in the wind and his face was the palest I’d ever seen it. After he told us what he’d seen, he’d promptly thrown up, but that could have just as easily been due to the liquor he’d been consuming.
More Ghostly Tales
Visitors to St. John’s have reported hearing a woman wailing in or around Cabot Tower. There is an old story that tells of a woman who was struggling to keep warm by the fire. She was cradling her baby close to her. The fire had no means of venting, so she’d sometimes have to open the window to let the smoke out. Then the room would become cold and she’d have to close the window again. She did this several times but fell asleep at some point. When she awoke, coughing from the smoke, the realized that her baby had died from smoke inhalation. It is said that her ghost returned to the place of that terrible accident and cries out for her lost baby.
Hikers have claimed to see ghostly apparitions hoisting flags at the top of Cabot Tower. From around 1811-1958, flags were flown at the top of the structure to mark the approach of certain merchant vessels. The flags would alert those on the harbor front that particular vessels were coming in to dock and would allow time to find space to offload cargo.
“Red, white and blue designs represented the firms and trading companies of the day, including Baine Johnston & Co., Ayre & Sons, Bowring Bros & Co., and R. Templeton.
In addition, figures have been seen tossing remains into Dead Man’s Pond. A friend of my fathers claimed that, on one of his walkabouts late in the evening, he came upon two men who were dressed in period clothing, throwing remains into the pond from a pile to their left. Obviously distressed by what he was seeing, he called out to the two men and told them to stop what they were doing. The two men did stop, looked at him, then faded away. When my father’s friend went to the spot they were standing, he could see no evidence of their being there even though it had rained the night before and the spot was quite soggy.
There is no end to the ghost stories told in and around St. John’s. There are even historical tours that highlight this part of Newfoundland history. If you’re ever in Newfoundland, go on the Haunted Hike walking tour. It’s AMAZING. The tour guide will take you to all the creepy/haunted spots in St. John’s for just $10 a person. I believe the tour is around 2 hours long, so that’s a great bargain. It also runs rain or shine!
St. John’s is a city steeped in history, both good and bad, and I’m proud to call it my first home. I hope you all take a moment to learn a little more about it and maybe even visit someday. It’s well worth the trip.
Mimi’s on vacay this week, but Janine’s got some creepy stuff to share. First, explore the (now demolished) Grace General Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, where ghostly apparitions roam the nurse’s residence, searching for release. Then, enjoy a tale of double walkers, more familiarly known as doppelgangers, and the strange case of Emilee Sagee. This episode contains nostalgia, gardening and astral projection, a creepy little boy in a hospital gown, and footprints leading to nowhere.
Yes, this is your humble fellow Haunt Head as a wee babe.
I remember when Bell Island was a hub of activity. In the summer months, my family and I would take day trips over on the car ferry and spend the day there, topping off our trip with a tour of the ore mines. It was truly the highlight of our trip, next to a stop at the gift shop. Our last trip there was sometime in the summer of 1998 and sadly, by that time, the island tourism had appeared to slow. Although a few stragglers wandered in and out that year, it seemed as if the foot traffic had hit a low, but the stories of the Wabana Iron Ore Mines, of strange noises, lights, and apparitions, persisted.
Life on the Island
Bell Island is located on the Northern part of the Avalon Peninsula, a small block of land sticking out of the ocean that is roughly 9 km long and 3 km wide. Year round, the island can be accessed via a car ferry on The Tickle, the section of the Atlantic that lies between the island and Portugal Cove. Farming is a primary means of income for many and is second only to fishing, though not many can make a living from the sea any longer. The topsoil on the island is unusually rich and makes for a good yield. Throughout the 19th century, the seal hunt drew large crowds of men from both Bell Island and Conception Bay.
In 1578, a merchant from Bristol, England, reported that there were very rich iron ore deposits on the island and, by 1678, soil samples were sent by Sir John Guy’s colony in Cupids to England for analysis.
By 1890, the deposits began to draw attention from outside mining interests including New Glasgow Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (later called Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Co.). The NSSC began developing the site in 1892 at the urging of the Butler’s from Topsail. Thomas Cantley, Secretary of the NSSC, called the site Wabana. It is believed that Wabana is an Abenaki Indian word meaning “the place where daylight first appears.” Mining officially began in the Summer of 1895. The deposits at the Wabana mines fed giant steel mills in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and ore was also shipped as far as the United States and Germany.
For the most part, mining operations ran steadily, at times at an expanding pace, but WW1 (Germany being one of Bell Island’s largest purchasers of ore) and the Great Depression greatly affected the demand for ore and its price. Although many believed that modernization would help the mines, it was actually more of a hindrance. Many lost their jobs because new machinery could get the ore out of the ground and to the surface far faster than men with picks and shovels and mining carts. Though the mine experienced an upswing between 1936-59, one mine was shut down. By April of 1966, the final shaft, #3 mine, was shut down permanently. At the time of closure, Wabana was Canada’s longest operating mine project. Almost 80 million tons of ore was pulled from the earth and shipped to other parts of Canada, Germany, the United States, Belgium, and Holland.
Since the mine’s closure, many have left the island. In 2011, the total population was 2,346. Tourism is the primary industry at present, but those who live on Bell Island also farm and fish (to the best of their ability since the government crackdown.) #2 mine has been reopened for tours and many come to the island in the summer months to see what live below the ground was actually like.
To date, no outside company has made a bid to reopen the mines.
If you think about it, working in a mine was likely very dangerous. Heavy machinery could crush you, the ceiling could cave in, low lighting conditions might cause to to catch a pick to the head… None of the above sounds particularly pleasant or pretty, which is likely why many have experienced paranormal phenomena in #2 mine.
Visitors to the mine have reported:
Shadow figures- A visitor to the mine in 2016 reported seeing the shadow of a man standing in a lower portion of the tunnel that she was in with her tour group. She said the figure just stood and watched for a time, then vanished.
Noises- Strange noises are likely common in a mine shaft, particularly one as old as #2. Clanging and banging is often heard along with voices and a strange hissing sound.
Lights- Lights are often seen down in the mine shafts at night. At night, #2 shaft is not lit nor are any of the others (as they are not in use and sealed.) Some visitors have reported that the lights seen appear to be those similar to the older lights worn on mining helmets.
Visitors have also reported being touched on the shoulder or back and feeling cold spots throughout the mine.
Have you ever visited the Wabana mine and gone down into shaft #2? Did you have a strange experience? Please drop us a line via email or leave a *comment below.
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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*UPDATE: Thanks to Melissa McCall for sending photos of her Wabana Mine experience! Without Melissa telling me what she was seeing, we found out we were both seeing the same thing! What do you see?
Melissa wrote: My family and I took a tour in the Bell Island Mines back in 2015, the tour guide brought us to one area of the mine where two cardboard cutouts of miners were placed. She told us how women in the mines were known to be bad luck and weren’t allowed in the mines. I was in the very back of the group and, as we left this area, I stayed behind to take a picture. I said “girls aren’t allowed in this area” and laughed. When I looked through my photos that evening, the photo that I took has an image of a man looking in my direction behind that cardboard cutout. Thought I would share and get your thoughts on this.
I was born there, at the Grace Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland. There’s a photo of me, a port wine stain on my right cheek, swathed in a fluffy baby blanket with satin trim and a glazed look in my eyes in one of the many, featureless maternity wards the Grace had to offer. There’s more to my story, not much more that I want to divulge here, but the hospital and the residence building on the property have a story all its own. Old buildings often do.
The Grace was Newfoundland’s first maternity hospital, opened in September of 1923 by the Salvation Army. It was built specifically to cater to unwed mothers and had only 22 beds, but quickly expanded to 100 beds and had added a children’s ward by 1929. It was also chosen as the location for the second nursing school in the province. Mary Southcott (1862-1943), having created the first nursing school between 1903 and 1914, was charged with starting one at the Grace hospital. She had been in the employ of the St. John’s General Hospital, but had resigned from her position as Superintendent of Nursing after conflicts arose regarding her methods. She set up her own hospital and promoted midwifery in the province, also serving on the Newfoundland Midwifery Board. She was also the President of the Child Welfare Association and an advocate for women’s suffrage.
Several extensions were added to the Grace in later years, expanding again in 1954 to 200 beds and the government updated the existing nursing hospital 10 years later. A nursing residence was also added. The expansion of The Health Sciences Center in St. John’s prompted the closure of the Grace in 2000. It was believed that the building was outdated and that it would cost far more to bring the structure up to current standards than it would to outfit the HSC.
Transportation and Works
November 17, 2006
Government Plans to Demolish Former Grace Hospital Building
The Honourable John Hickey, Minister of Transportation and Works, announced today that government will issue a tender next week for the demolition of the remaining hospital building at the former Grace Hospital site LeMarchant Road, St. John’s. If that building, constructed in the 1960s, is demolished, only the nurses’ residence would remain on the site.
The decision to issue a tender for the building’s demolition was made following an unsuccessful call for Expressions of Interest to sell the facility issued in July. Government has determined that none of the responses are acceptable. However, Minister Hickey says a window of opportunity remains for those respondents.
“We’ve advised the respondents that we are open to offers until we award a contract for the demolition of the remainder of the former Grace Hospital,” said Minister Hickey. “We expect this would give the respondents four to six weeks to revise their submissions.”
In 2005, Transportation and Works contracted for the environmental remediation and demolition of a portion of the structures on site. As a result, the houses at 205 Pleasant Street and 203 Pleasant Street, the smoke stack, the 1920s section and the majority of the 1950s section of the former Grace Hospital were demolished.
At present, the only structure remaining of the old hospital is the nursing residence. The hospital itself, smoke stack (which was a rather iconic part of the landscape in St. John’s),the residences at 203 and 205 Pleasant St., the expansions added in the 1920’s, and out buildings had all been demolished by 2008.
There’s something about abandoned spaces. It’s as if, at any moment, something terrifying could slither its way around a corner or through a dark opening. These are the things we think about as we sit perched in front of our computers, scrolling through (what has recently been dubbed) our ruin porn.
The Grace had added a children’s ward and was accepting regular patients (not just unwed mothers) by the time it closed its doors. My grandfather, having fallen from a garage roof onto a pocket full of nails, spent a chunk of time here after surgery and rehabilitation. I remember clearly visiting the cafeteria with its pink walls and twisty chairs and weaving my way down the long hall from my grandfather’s room to the vending area. I also recall Mr. Coffee and Mr. Canoe, two men who are very likely dead by now, who shared a room with my grandfather and offered me Werther’s Original’s that had probably been kicking around in the drawer they materialized out of long before either man had resided in those beds. They meant well.
It wasn’t long after the Grace was slated to be torn down that curious individuals began investigating what remained. Although much of the equipment had been moved to the HSC, light fixtures, old desks, and random medical paraphernalia were abandoned within. Many of the remaining articles were removed and taken off property by those looking to make a quick buck while other items remain, a ghostly reminder of the building’s past.
The old nursing residence seems to be a hub of activity. Individuals who live close to the building or have sight lines to the property report ghostly apparitions, strange lights, and strange noises in the night. One such individual, a nursing student on break from his classes at university, had gone home to visit his parents during a break. His bedroom has a clear view to the old Grace Hospital parking lot. The student reported waking to a strange howling sound sometime around 4 A.M. He made his way to the window and instantly noticed someone walking around in the lot. He might have mistaken this someone for a living person if not for the fact that the person appeared to have no legs. They simply stopped at the hips, the remaining anatomy “fading” away into nothing. The figure would stop every few minutes, look to the sky, and let out a mournful wail. After about fifteen minutes, the figure slowly made its way toward the building and disappeared out of sight.
A member of the demolition crew had a similar experience. While inside the residence, he kept catching glimpses of someone peeking around the door frames in his periphery. After a few minutes of this, the man walked to the doorway where he had last seen what appeared to be a little boy. He peeked into the room, but saw nothing there. The room was empty of furniture and he saw no child inside. He went back to work. Shortly thereafter, the crewman again saw the boy. This time, as the boy disappeared through a doorway, he noticed that the boy appeared to be floating. The crewman was unable to make out distinguishing features, but he noticed the boy appeared to be wearing a hospital gown.
As a nurse was leaving the hospital in the winter time, heading across the residence lot to her car, she noticed a woman walking toward the back of the building. It appeared as if she wasn’t wearing any winter clothing and it was very cold. The nurse watched as the woman disappeared around the corner. She didn’t look like any nurse on staff that she knew and she wondered if a patient wasn’t out wandering. The nurse followed the woman around the corner, but the woman had disappeared. When she looked down, there were footprints in the snow, leading toward, and stopping in front of, a solid brick wall.
Are there spirits trapped on the grounds of the old Grace General Hospital? Will they ever find peace? Perhaps the energy surrounding the property has created a sort of portal to the other side, allowing the spirits of those lost while the hospital was still in operation to roam endlessly and without release. What do you think about the eyewitness accounts? Let us know in the comments.
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“Come to the dark side…we have bacon.”
This week, Janine brings you the tales of the *Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa, and a classic piece of Hag folklore from Newfoundland, Canada. This episode features a severely contaminated crime scene, a snarling demon from hell, and bacon (potentially) used for a dark purpose.
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*This episode contains graphic descriptions of violence. Listeners, be advised.
I learned of The Hag in grade school, sometime around 1994. It was close to Halloween and my teacher had added a little bit of folklore into her lesson plan. It was a story I hadn’t heard before and I was instantly intrigued.
Most people call it what it is: sleep paralysis. That feeling of being unable to move in the moments just before your fall into REM sleep. If you have issues falling into or out of REM sleep, and your experience involves hallucinations or you’re unable to move or speak as you begin the waking process, you might be experiencing sleep paralysis. Where I come from, it means you’ve been “Hagged.”
The Hag is a demon called down upon an unsuspecting individual by another person. There are many reasons why The Hag might be summoned, but the tale my teacher wove involved a vengeful wife. As the story goes, the woman made a pact with the devil and offered her husband’s soul in exchange. He had many women interested in him, but one woman in particular had set her sights on him and the two were often seen in each other’s company. This angered the man’s wife, so she called The Hag down upon him.
One night, the man awoke from a deep slumber to a pressure on his chest. His eyes slowly came to focus on a dark form perched there, its eyes glowing and its teeth glinting in the moonlight. Although the man tried to scream, no sound could he make. Although he tried to move and push the figure away, he could not make his arms or legs react. The growling form pried his mouth open with long, sharp talons and placed its mouth upon his, draining the life from his body. The Hag swallowed his soul and forever imprisoned it in hell. The man’s wife lived a long and happy life without the burden of her cheating husband.
There is no definitive cause for sleep paralysis, though some doctors suggest that getting more sleep, as sleep deprivation is often reported by sufferers, could be a cure-all. Perhaps getting better and longer sleep will help, but the stories in cultural folklore still persist.
As long as there are unexplained phenomena in this world, there will be folklore tales to craft a response. Although this response may sound illogical, the folklore tale of The Hag was rooted deeply in the lives of early settlers on the island. These tales were handed down from generation to generation and allowed sufferers to give a real face to something they could not explain.
Side Note: I’m pretty sure my teacher was disciplined for sharing such a story with a grade school class, even if it was just for laughs.
Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? Do you have a Hag story to share? Please comment below. Sweet dreams.