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Spooky stories

Folklore graduate student tells tales of N.L. paranormal

Campus and Community

By Meaghan Whelan

Katie Crane has a healthy appreciation for legends, traditions and the stories people tell.

As a second-year student in the public folklore master of arts program in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, she is interested in working with communities and organizations to help safeguard intangible cultural history.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, that cultural history often involves elements of the paranormal. Ms. Crane recounts some of the province’s spooky stories in the lead up to Halloween below.

Glovertown red eyes

In the community of Glovertown in Northeastern Newfoundland, construction on a pulp mill began in 1921. Midway through construction, funding fell through.

Abandoned mill in Glovertown.
The concrete mill is 35 meters tall, 400 meters long and still in relatively good condition.
Photo: Scott Osmond/HiddenNewfoundland

The cost to tear it down was considered prohibitive and the mill was left abandoned on the outskirts of town. Soon after came stories about a worker who was killed during construction and reports of a creature with glowing red eyes haunting the site.

Townspeople began to warn their children to stay away from the site and many still fear the ominous presence of red eyes.

Ms. Crane says stories about bogeymen, like the creature with red eyes, are often used by adults to frighten children away from dangerous situations.

“Parents clearly wouldn’t want their children or teenagers hanging around a derelict, abandoned building with no supervision,” she said. “Stories about creatures like “Red Eyes” can be found worldwide and are meant to enforce behavioural or societal norms.”

Southern shore fairy tale

Many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can recall warnings about the precautions one must take before venturing into the woods alone, lest the fairies take you away.

A piece of bread in your pockets or an item of clothing inside out were said to protect you from the mischievous, or sometimes malevolent, fairies.

A stream bathed in sunlight in a forest.
An iron nail or a piece of bread in your pocket is said to keep the fairies away.
Photo: SmellyPumpy/Pixabay

Years ago, an old woman with a penchant for berry picking alone was widely recognized for her signature red boots. Members of her family repeatedly warned her of the dangers of fairies, yet she refused to take heed to their concern. One day, she went out berry picking but didn’t return home as scheduled.

Her family, and the entire community, combed fields and woods but couldn’t find a trace of her. After weeks of fruitless searching they finally gave up without finding any clues to her disappearance.

Ten years later, another woman was out berry picking alone. In a field in the area that had been searched the decade before, there was a little hill. On top of the hill was a circle of stones. Inside the circle was a pair of red boots.

Ms. Crane says that particular story may be familiar to people who have visited Escape Quest, an escape room in St. John’s. Elements of the story, considered a family legend, inspired their Taken by the Faeries room.

“Newfoundland and Labrador has put a lot of work into safeguarding its intangible cultural history and also using that history to benefit the community,” she explained. “Tourism is a growing industry and folklore is something we already have that can be used to create tourism experiences. It’s not something we have to invent, buy, bring in or build.”

Georgestown zombies

On Halloween night, as the sun sets and little ghouls and goblins trick or treat on the streets of the Georgestown neighbourhood in St. John’s, many anxiously await the appearance of zombies. They first appeared almost a decade ago: a big black car pulled to a stop on Maxse Street and a zombie horde emerged.

One carried a boom box and soon the street was filled by a dancing flash mob. Now a yearly tradition, Neighbourhood Dance Works is behind the festivities.

This type of new tradition is of interest to folklorists like Ms. Crane. In addition to the Georgestown flash mob, she cites the Pumpkin Walk in Bannerman Park as another example of a modern tradition. After Halloween, people bring their old pumpkins to the park and residents are invited to walk around the park to see all the different carvings.

Carved turnips at the annual Pumpkin Walk
At the 2018 Pumpkin Walk, some people had carved turnips – the older version of the jack o’lantern. Ms. Crane says that’s something folklore can do: bring past traditions back into consciousness.
Photo: Katie Crane

The modern Pumpkin Walk reminded Ms. Crane of Torch Night, a practice from the Trinity Bay area she read about in Memorial’s folklore and language archive that involved residents parading though the community with torches.

“I don’t know how widespread Torch Night was, but reading about it recently made me think of the Pumpkin Walk, because they are all lit up and the community comes together for essentially a group walk,” Ms. Crane said. “This is how traditions get started. People try something new or modify old traditions into something slightly different that meets their needs.”

You can follow Ms. Crane on Twitter for more of her folklore musings.

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