Storytelling in the creepiest of creepy wine vaults that ever you did spy…
The current stone gothic revival Anglican Cathedral is just over 150 years old, but the layers upon layers of bodies resting beneath the old cemetery date back to 1699, when the site was first founded. No longer in use as a cemetery, the land is a grassy expanse, now virtually free of tombstones and popular with dog walkers, but there are many, many ghost stories attached to the place. It is here, that the Haunted Hike gathers to begin its tour.
St. John’s is a city that has been on the go for over 400 years. That’s a whole lot of life, death, love, murder, passion, intrigue, treachery and… did I mention death? That’s a whole lot of history, spilling out into the twists and turns of the narrow streets. No wonder it’s a hotbed of hauntings.
It’s Halloween. So, full disclosure time: Yes, I believe in ghosts.
Now, I’m not saying I believe in the sorts of ghosts that skitter, crab-like down stairs or make walls bleed (although I’m not saying I don’t…). But more, I believe it’s possible that remnants of what we once were might sometimes linger and drift in and out of reality.
Like recordings… or photographs, perhaps.
So I’ll begin this post with a ghost photo (who doesn’t love ghost photos?!) taken at The Newman Wine Vaults Provincial Historic Site in St. John’s earlier this year. Note the spectre in a white shirt (right, foreground). The interesting thing about this photo is that it was taken on a digital camera and the photographer cried out in surprise when she saw it played back on her viewfinder. In real time. Which means, there was no opportunity for doctoring and there were several witnesses because it all went down in the middle of a wedding reception. It even made the local news.
Photo of a ghost, captured at the Newman Wine Vaults (Karen Hanlon)
The Newman Wine Vaults, believed to have been built in the early 1800s, has a coloured history of hauntings and has been featured once or twice on Creepy Canada (the height of reality ghost TV, don’t you know). Today, it’s a Provincial Historic Site and operates as a museum and special occasion venue. Which was why I was down there last Wednesday evening with a collection of other brave souls to take in a night of Victorian ghost stories, orated by St. John’s resident ghost expert (yes, we have one), Dale Jarvis.
Storyteller Dale Jarvis
The evening was one of four that week, occurring during the St. John’s Storytelling Festival. Dale is a protector (and performer) of local myth, folklore and history, and the creator of the renowned St. John’s Haunted Hike, which will not only chill your blood but is one of the absolute best ways to explore the nooks and crannies of historic downtown St. John’s.
Hmmm. No ghost in my photo.
As people gathered within the cozy but, yes, definitely creepy, wine vaults, which were once used by an English mercantile firm to age port wine, I noticed the back seats were the last to fill, but the front seats were quickly snapped up. Usually no one likes to sit in the absolute first row at an event, but tonight it was as if everyone wanted to huddle tight together, near the stage lanterns. It wasn’t worth risking the fate a periphery straggler might meet – to be snatched up by something unspeakable lurking in the shadows.
Many of us clutched stemmed glasses, generously filled with thick, dark, sweet Newman Port – a welcome comfort from the cold, stormy night we had appropriately just come in from. And we settled down for just over an hour, as Dale spun tales of terror from around the globe, including, of course, St. John’s.
The Newman Wine Vaults
Our storyteller began by welcoming us with a recitation of the famous Victorian poem by Mary Howitt: "'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly…"
And over the course of the evening as we listened to tales of deadly curses, mangled corpses, walking stone statues, unmarked graves… I kept trying to catch a glimpse of the spectral pirate/merchant captured in the ghost photo above. I don’t think I saw him, but I did notice a lot of shudders and nervous laughter ripple throughout the group. And there was at least one fellow (real or imagined?!) in a pirate outfit.
Dressing up was encouraged
And wait, was that a floating orb I just spotted out the corner of my eye?
Within this creepiest of creepy wine vaults that ever I did spy…
Victoria Street is considered to be the most haunted street in all of NL. Ironically, it is also one of the most sought-after streets to buy a house in the downtown.
Willicotts Lane is renowned for its ghost stories. Tucked away off Gower Street and Victoria Street, it was a notorious slum in the 1800s...
...but today it is a quaint laneway – albeit still retaining an air of mystery , thanks partly to the imposing shadow of the also haunted, Masonic Temple, next door (off camera).