Just in time for Halloween, Dennis Flynn shares a spooky story from his neck of the woods.
Parade of Phantoms
Marcellian (Marcel) Dawson, was born in Bay Roberts, NL, where his parents ran a farm. His father, John M. Dawson, was known locally as “Farmer Jack.” In the mid-1920s, on a dark road at around midnight, Farmer Jack witnessed a ghostly sight.
“When he was a teenager, he was courting this young woman up in Otterbury, near Clarke’s Beach, and he had the fashion of walking up to visit her and her family. During the daylight he’d take the long scenic route from his home near the bottom of Bay Roberts, across the Klondyke Bridge, over Coley’s Point, across the Long Beach, up through Bareneed and down into Otterbury,” Marcel begins. “After supper with her family and maybe a game of cards or a few stories, he would leave by himself to walk home in the pitch black - no streetlights, no cars and no pedestrians after dark. It was a lonely, rough and treacherous path in places at night in the winter with ice and snow, so he would always go back a shortcut [along what would eventually become the new main road]. He would take Vinegar Hill, go up through North River, past the Roman Catholic cemetery near the Birch Hills, and finally back down to his home in Bay Roberts. This took quite a few miles off the journey.
“This particular clear night, a beautiful full moon was shining on a blanket of white snow. He was delayed leaving, so it was midnight when he stopped atop of the big hill in Otterbury to admire the view. Suddenly, he could see this strange procession of people with lanterns coming, walking two-by-two in a long line following a bizarre carriage way off in the distance.”
From the look of the crowd and how slow they moved, they had been trudging along for a very long time. Jack watched in amazement as they paraded in silence on down through Clarke’s Beach, coming nearer all the while.
Curiosity finally got the better of him and he rushed down the hill and stood close by a tree a little ways off the road. He started to hear the hooves of the horse crunching on the snow, the metal runners of the sleigh scraping over the ice, and the horse’s bells on the tack beating out a rhythmic dirge. Other than that, not a sound. No human voice spoke a single word as the procession inched closer all the time.
Marcel continues, “When they got abreast of him, sure Father almost passed out with the fright. The horse was pulling some type of a hearse upon a sled with a coffin right atop her! All the people behind were dressed in black and moving like bone-weary corpses themselves. He could see them perfectly, but they never saw or acknowledged him and he was too scared to speak to them out of fear they might take him and make him join their group in a forced march forever!
“Now all that area was well-known for stories of the fairies and ghosts in those days. Father figured for sure it was a parade of phantoms, old lost souls doomed to carry one of their own around from graveyard to graveyard with no rest for all eternity. He often said there was no way he was taking a chance on getting caught up with that bunch of spooks, so he hid down in the snow by the tree until the last ones passed and were long gone beyond the old cemetery.”
So who were the souls caught up in this parade of phantoms?
Marcel says with a sly grin, “Well, some folks say what Father saw might have been a body of a man originally from near Port de Grave. They figure he had been killed in an accident up along on the mainland, and his remains were shipped to Whitbourne by train where his people went to get him. They had walked all that way inland and walked back out again the same day. They had finally reached Otterbury when father encountered them near the hill at midnight.”
While that might have been the case, Marcel says his father checked local papers and asked around for years after, but never found any proof of a body being returned home from away and buried in that area around that time.
“Those poor old ghosts may be still be trapped in procession hauling that strange coffin up around Otterbury on clear, full-moon winter nights yet,” says Marcel, adding, “Being brave is all well and good, like Jack always believed, but I tell you mister-man, I won’t be up there at midnight looking for them. They can keep on marching until the cows come home with my blessing.”