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Authors: Helen Creighton

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Bluenose Ghosts

BOOK: Bluenose Ghosts
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Bluenose GHOSTS

Helen Creighton

Helen Creighton


Copyright © Helen Creighton 1994, 2009
E-book © 2010
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from the publisher, or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, permission from Access Copyright, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Nimbus Publishing Limited
PO Box 9166
Halifax, NS B3K 5M8
(902) 455-4286

Interior design: Aaron Harpell, Hammerhead Design

Facsimile of the 1976 edition
Printed and bound in Canada

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
      Creighton, Helen, 1899–
      Bluenose ghosts / Helen Creighton ; introduction by Clary Croft.

First published:Toronto: Ryerson, 1957.
ISBN 978-1-55109-717-6
E-book ISBN: 978-1-55109-806-7

1. Ghosts—Nova Scotia. 2. Legends—Nova Scotia. I. Title.
GR113.5.N69C743 2009    398.2509716    C2008-907174-3

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) and the Canada Council, and of the Province of Nova Scotia through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage for our publishing activities.

















What is it
about the tales in
Bluenose Ghosts
that continue to make the book so popular?

Helen Creighton didn't set out to collect tales of the supernatural. They initially came her way as sub-topics offered while she was collecting traditional songs in the Maritimes. But people became very comfortable with Helen and began sharing their most intimate experiences of ghosts, witches, buried treasures, and forerunners.

Not everyone can get people to open up and talk about things others might find odd or even evil. It's a rare gift. Helen offered a sympathetic ear and, eventually, grew to have a strong belief in the supernatural herself, as she wrote in her autobiography,
Life in Folklore
: “Having had a number of strange things happen in my own life, I suppose I am in tune with the subject.” Those who shared their stories with her felt comfortable in knowing they wouldn't be derided. One man from whom Helen collected told her, “You have a way about you. You could charm the devil!”

Charming, no doubt—but she wasn't so certain the book was a good idea when she completed it. What she had assembled was a most remarkable collection of tales. Many of the people who had shared them thought they were true. But how would the public receive these stories?

Bluenose Ghosts
hit the bookstores in time for the 1957 Christmas market and was an instant hit. Readers began to send Helen more tales, and she soon became known as “The Ghost Lady.”

Numerous editions and projects developed as a result of the book's success. In 1959, CBC Radio began an eight-part series dramatized from some of the book's most bizarre tales. In 1966, CBC Television shot a film,
Lady of the Legends
, that followed Helen as she collected songs and stories from Maritimers, and the movie used several examples from
Bluenose Ghosts
. The book has been the subject of countless school book reports and continues to be a summer camp favourite that still scares the wits out of young people. This year, the Alderney Gate Library in Dartmouth will hold its twentieth Annual Ghost Story Writing Contest for young writers, inspired by the tales in
Bluenose Ghosts

Scholars have had high praise for the work as well. American folklorist Horace Beck said it was “perhaps one of the most worthwhile studies of the occult and its effects upon a people that has been done in some time.” In 1982, Helen's friend and eminent folklore scholar Herbert Halpert wrote to her that “
is one of the most scholarly books we have on the subject in North America because it's human...It isn't type and motif numbers and annotations that make a book truly scholarly, but the approach.”

And that, I believe, is the strength of
Bluenose Ghosts
—Helen's approach. The stories found in these pages were not invented, nor did she write them in the literary sense. What she did was transcribe them from actual oral narratives. I have listened to all of the original recordings Helen made of these tales and, truly, the words you read were those the narrators spoke. Helen's strength in assembling these tales was her innate ability to tie them together with empathetic introductions.

Unlike today's horror genre, these tales are not thickened with gory plots of murder and blood and guts for their own sake. Rather, these stories are told as truth—real or imagined. And that makes them all the more terrifying. Tales told as truth are far scarier than invented plots.

Besides, they aren't all dark. Helen certainly had a light side when it came to sharing some of these stories. Many Dartmouth citizens remember childhood visits to Helen's family home, Evergreen, on a dark Halloween night. After knocking on the door of the large Victorian mansion, they would be welcomed into the vestibule by Helen, dressed as a witch. There, Canada's “Ghost Lady” would sit and regale the trick-or-treaters with tales from her book.

Helen Creighton died in 1989, but her legacy lives on. We may not be able to hear Helen tell these stories in person any longer, but the voices of those who shared their tales of the supernatural are captured forever in
Bluenose Ghosts

Clary Croft

Author of
Helen Creighton: Canada's First Lady of Folklore

October 2008


The telling
of ghost stories was not a part of my early experience in life. These tales came as a new and unsought adventure when I began my search for folk songs in Nova Scotia in 1928. Once I entered the home of my first singer, Mr. Enos Hartlan, there was no escaping them. The high point of land on which he lived, overlooking the eastern approach to Halifax Harbour, proved a fitting place for an introduction to this subject, for there were spruce trees around most of the property and several small houses built near a larger abandoned and unpainted dwelling.

“You see that house?” old Enos said proudly. “That's our Ghost House. No one don't live there no more.” Then he explained that the house had been built of wood washed ashore from wrecks, and that where there has been sudden death there is likely to be a return of the spirit. Standing as we were in an exposed spot, with the surf pounding on the rocks below and the fog drifting in from the sea and wrapping itself around the trees and dwellings, it would seem that anyone with imagination could see anything. But what of sounds like heavy knockings where no human stood to knock, and bedclothes ripped off the sleeper night after night as though the ghost objected to his occupying a bed?

Many were the stories centred around this Ghost House, some of which will be told later in greater detail.

We would sit of an evening beside the old deal table in the kitchen until Mr. Hartlan's voice would fail him and he would say, “I can't sing no more tonight.” But even though his singing voice grew husky he could still talk, and he told story after story of “apparitions” seen by himself or told about by his uncle. Then when I visited his brother Richard I was told more stories, and gradually I realized that I was not immune to supernatural manifestations myself. Through the tutelage of the Hartlan men I understood for the first time the meaning of a strange event in my own life that had occurred not too long before.

This had happened just prior to the death of my eldest brother's wife. It had been a long illness, one that was very hard on both the patient and her family. We turned to anything that would distract the children, and one evening three of us sat in the drawing-room playing cards. Suddenly we were interrupted by a loud knocking. We all heard it and stopped playing. I made the obvious remark, “There's someone at the door.”

“There can't be,” Kathleen said. “There isn't any door on this side of the house.” That was quite true, for the house was built on a hill, and that side, although on the first floor, was high above ground. Nevertheless to satisfy me Barbara went to the nearest door.

“There's no one there,” she said in a tone which inferred this was no more than she had expected. We were mystified but I forgot about it until the Hartlans took on my education. Then I realized that what we had heard were the three death knocks. These are heard in certain houses or by certain people and they come as a warning of approaching death. Whether my sister-in-law died on the day following the knocks or a few days later, none of us could recall. Kathleen remembers the incident, but Barbara was too young. Certainly at the time, we all heard it—three slow deliberate knocks that insisted upon our attention.

I have heard the knocks only once since then, and in a different house. I was sitting at my desk one morning shortly before twelve o'clock when I was startled by three distinct knocks. In my house there are many noises caused partly by the steam-heating system, and partly by people in other apartments. But there was something about these knocks that disturbed me greatly. I rose at once and called to Susan in the next apartment. There was no reply. I then opened another door, one leading to the hall. She was passing through, so I asked if she had knocked. She looked surprised and said “no.” So I said, “I just heard three knocks,” but I did not say three death knocks nor even admit that to myself.

Earlier that morning I had been with a friend who was ill but her condition was not considered serious. Now I was alarmed. Surely nothing had happened to her. I jumped in my car and has–tened to her house and, on the way, wondered why I was driving and not walking this short distance. After writing for an hour or more I needed exercise, but I was possessed by a feeling of urgency, and time seemed important. She was all right of course, so I returned home but found it impossible to settle down. I seemed to be waiting for something to happen. It came when the telephone rang. The husband of a very dear friend had died suddenly in his car. Checking up, the time coincided with the warning and, when his wife was asked whom she would like to have with her, she had asked for me. Knowing she would want me, and all three of us being very close, I suppose he had been trying to get through to me.

BOOK: Bluenose Ghosts
7.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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