More True Ghost Stories of Old St. John's
1. The Duke of Duckworth
The Duke of Duckworth is an English-style pub and eatery located at 325 Duckworth street. The entrance to the pub is located on McMurdo's Lane, a narrow alleyway that joins Duckworth and Water Streets. This delightful little pub, known for its beer and Newfoundland-style pub grub, is home to a resident ghost known simply and affectionately as the Duke.
Nobody knows who this spirit actually is, or who he was in life, but he has become quite a popular fixture around the pub. A friendly soul, he has been seen by many, most often looking out through the window next to the entrance to the pub, giving a wave to passersby. Staff members, past and present, as well as many patrons of the pub, have seen the Duke and/or experienced some of his antics. There is even a picture of the Duke, painted by a local artist, hanging by the bar, which shows the ghost as he looks when he appears in the window.
2. The Anglican Cathedral
The Anglican Cathedral Of St. John the Baptist is the Oldest Anglican Cathedral in Canada. Located at 16 Church Hill in the Historic Downtown area of the Old City, the Cathedral has a long and storied past.
It is not known exactly what year the first Anglican church was built in St. John's but it is known that it was some time before 1699. It was in that year that the Anglican Parish in St. John's was founded. In the petition made to the Bishop of London, by the Anglican residence of St. john's, to establish a Parish there, they also requested assistance to rebuild their church. The building had been destroyed during one of the many battles between the French and the English for control of North America. Over the years there were at least six wooden churches built on the site, all of which were destroyed. Those not razed to the ground by war or fire fell victim to Newfoundland's harsh weather.
The first stone church was begun in 1843, but little beyond the laying of the cornerstone was accomplished. Then in 1847 the project was taken over by the second Bishop of Newfoundland, Edward Field, under who's leadership construction of the present cathedral was started. The nave, which served as the entire church for 35 years, was completed in 1850. The transepts, chancel, and sanctuary were begun in 1880, and the Cathedral was completed in 1885.
The new cathedral, though not completely destroyed, was severally damaged during the Great Fire of 1892, that had decimated much of the city. In fact, the damage to the cathedral was so extensive that it took ten years to repair.
The grounds to the south of the building, between the cathedral and Duckworth street, contain the Anglican cemetery. Though most of the headstones and grave markers are long gone, those of some of Newfoundland's more famous citizens, such as Sir James Pearl, and the Hon. William Carson, M.D., remain. There are some 6000 people believed to be buried there, many without ever having benefit of a grave marker, and for whom no records exist.
It is, perhaps, little wonder that a place with so much history would be the focus of so many tales of the supernatural. One of the most famous ghost stories associated with the cathedral concerns one of the workman, a young stone worker, that had been killed when he fell from the scaffolding during the construction of the nave.
Apparently the worker was unable to leave with the job unfinished, as a number of his co-workers reported having seen him around the job site after his death. Even more startling is that fact that it appears he may have shown up later for a group photo.
After the nave was completed in 1850 a number of the workmen involved, dressed in their finest clothes, gathered on Duckworth Street, in front of the cathedral, for a group photo. They were unaware at the time that they were not alone. When the picture was processed it contained the image of the deceased man, still in his work clothes, posing along side his coworkers.
Another famous tale concerns the Cathedral's cemetery and one man's apparent unwillingness to be buried there. As the legend goes, the body of a foreigner, perhaps a merchant sailor from one of the many ships that made St. John's a regular port of call, was discovered in a downtown lane some time in the late 1800s. Unable to determine the man's identity or where he had come from it was decided that he would have to be buried in a local cemetery. The Anglican cemetery was chosen as the site.
Once all preparation and due ceremony were complete the man, secured in his casket, was lowered into the freshly dug grave. The grave diggers than began to fill the hole back in. Part way through the process they heard a knocking noise coming from the pit. They quickly shoveled out the the grave and removed the casket. A doctor was called on to examine the body. He determined that the man was indeed dead. The casket was once again lowered into the ground. No sooner had the men began filling in the grave then the knocking was heard again.
The casket was once again exhumed, and the body once again examined by the doctor, and once again pronounced dead. The casket was lowered back into the grave and the process of burying it was once more begun. Again the knocking started. The doctor, who had remained at the grave site, refused to allow the men to bring the body up anymore and insisted that the burial continue. Eventually the knocking stopped.
To this day strange knocking noises are still heard from time to time coming from the Anglican cemetery.
There have been many more reports over the years of supernatural occurrences and ghostly apparitions in, and on the grounds of, the old cathedral. Everything from whispered voices in an empty nave, to ghostly figures floating soundlessly over the cemetery grounds.
3. The Old Masonic Temple
The Masonic temple at 6 Cathedral Street was not the Masons' first meeting hall in St. John's. The first was a wooden structure built on Long's Hill in 1885. In 1892 this building became yet another victim of the Great Fire. The cornerstone for the new building, a massive stone structure in the Victorian style, incorporating many of the features and symbols of the Masonic order, including the "all seeing eye" in the triangular pediment over the main entrance, that keeps a watchful eye on the city below, was laid in 1897, and contains a time capsule from that year. The Masons met in this building for 111 years, until 2008, when it was sold to a local theater group, the Spirit of Newfoundland.
It is perhaps due to the secretive nature of the Masonic order that there were few reports of ghosts and supernatural activity at the Hall prior to it being sold to the theater group in 2008. There is one fairly well known story, however, about an incident that occurred at a wedding that was held at the temple in 1999.
The Masons, not in the habit of allowing weddings to take place in their meeting hall had made an exception on this one occasion out of respect for, and in honor of, the groom's grandfather, who had been a longtime, high ranking member of the order, and who had sadly passed away before seeing his grandson married.
The wedding took place in one of the lodge rooms on the upper floor of the building. At the start of the ceremony the presiding Judge entered the room with a lit candle and began to make his way toward the bride and groom. About mid way across the floor the candle mysteriously went out. The Judge went back to the door and started over. When the judge reached the mid point for the second time the candle again went out. At this point the judge decided to just carry on to where the bride and groom waited and light the candle when he got there. The rest of the wedding went according to plan.
Following the ceremony one of the guests pointed out to others at the wedding two pictures of the groom's grandfather that hung on opposite walls of the room. The interesting part of this was that the spot where the candle had twice gone out was located directly between these two pictures.
Ex-Caretaker Tells of One of the Strange Experiences He Had at the Masonic Temple
Another famous incident occurred shortly after the Spirit of Newfoundland took over the building. The theater group had rented out one of the rooms on the upper floor to a local company to use as storage. On this particular day delivery drivers were going into the building with boxes of legal files to be stored. As one of the delivery drivers went up the stairs with a box he met a man on the landing. When he asked the man for directions to the room where the box had to go the guy just looked just looked at him for a moment or two then vanished. The driver laid down the box he was carrying and ran from the building. He refused to go back inside.
Many other people have reported seeing the man as well, and in each instance he would vanish right before their eyes. Others have reported hearing music coming from the pipe organ upstairs when there was nobody there to play it, or hearing voices from an empty room. Many other strange occurrences that could not be readily explained have been reported by numerous people.
© 2017 Stephen Barnes