By Dale Jarvis
Fogo Island, off Newfoundland’s northeast coast, has always had a strong storytelling tradition. Stories were often told in the winter, in the fishing sheds where gear and nets were mended, and where punts were repaired and built. At times, storytelling took on an almost competitive quality, with one man telling a tale and the next man trying to outdo him.
One ghost story from Fogo Island concerns a spot named Banks (or possibly Banks’s) Meadow. Fogo native Barry Penton informs me that Banks was a Fogo name in the 1800s. According to the Anglican Church Diocesan Records, William Banks, a bachelor of Fogo, married spinster Jane Waterman at St. Andrew’s Church in Fogo on the 14th of April, 1844.
“The last record I have is of a John Banks in 1883, who was a planter in Back Cove,” says Penton.
Near Back Cove, there is also a Banks Cove. And given the family was in that area, it is likely the meadow was named after a member of the Banks clan.
“It’s the field down below Brimstone Head,” says Penton. “Locals refer to it as Second Field.”
The Banks Meadow story was recounted to broadcaster Hiram Silk by a woman named Julia Wells. According to Wells, one evening in the early part of the 20th century, a girl and her aunt were going to a meeting. Flashlight in hand, they followed the path up through Banks Meadow.
When they got partway across the meadow, they saw a man. He wore a little short coat like men wore at that time. As it was a cold night, he had the collar turned up.
“There’s a man there,” said the girl, pointing him out to the aunt.
“Yes,” she said.
When they drew near him, the girl spoke to the man.
“Good night, sir,” she called out, but he did not answer. The girl made to step one way, and he stepped back. The women passed by, and the girl looked behind them. The man was still there, standing still. She looked back again, and he was still there.
When the girl looked back a third time, the man had vanished from the middle of the meadow.
“Aunt Liz, that man is gone!” she cried.
“Oh no!” said the aunt.
“Oh yes he is, he’s gone,” said the girl. At that point, the two women made their way through the meadow, as fast as they could.
At that time, many people in the cove claimed to have seen the man in the meadow. It was said that he was more like a shadow than a man - even those who got close to him could not recognize his features.
One night in winter the same girl was heading home, alone. The snow lay crisp and undinted. As the girl came up to the meadow, there was not a footprint to be seen in the snow.
She could see the lights in the houses of the cove and could hear dogs barking, but for some strange reason, she couldn’t find the path to get home. No matter which way she turned, she couldn’t seem to find the path across the meadow. She turned around and went back to the place she had started from. Then she set out a second time, with the same result. When she got to the meadow, there was not a footprint anywhere, and no matter what she tried, she couldn’t find the path.
The girl went back down to her cousin’s house instead.
“You’ve got to go home with me tonight,” she told the cousin. “I can’t get home!”
The cousin walked her back up to the meadow, and when they got there, they found that the snow was all trampled to pieces, just to one side of the path.
When the girl looked, she saw a set of man’s footprints alongside her own.
“It don’t look like I’m the only one out tonight,” said the girl. “There’s someone gone astray there.”
The cousin got the girl home safely, and she put the incident out of her mind. A week later, however, she was visiting the home of the only woman in the cove to have a radio. A group had gathered to listen to the radio and were telling stories.
The group started talking about a man who got lost coming up across the meadow the week before. He had crossed it many times, but nothing strange had ever happened before.
The girl asked when he had gotten lost, and discovered he had tried to cross it just before she had.
“He wasn’t the only one,” she told the crowd, and then shared her strange tale.
“There was something there,” she said. “I couldn’t get home.”
The girl’s father told her that there had been a grave there on the meadow at one point, but that nothing remained to mark it.
The communities of Fogo Island have a strong link to their past, and the future of the island seems tied to its traditions, its culture and its stories. While the location of that grave in the field might be forgotten by most, the spirits of the past have a way of lingering on, and making their presence known. If you are one of the many who now venture to Fogo Island to experience its charms, take a moment to look back over your shoulder. You never know who you might see standing in the middle of that meadow.
This story was excerpted from the book Haunted Ground: Ghost Stories from the Rock by Dale Jarvis, published by Flanker Press. This book and two of his other ghostly collections, Haunted Waters and Haunted Shores, are available through Flanker Press and online at ShopDownhome.com.