Moment in Oddity - Birmingham's Balloon Parade
The year was 1966 and Birmingham Alabama's Downtown Action Committee decided they wanted to have an animated balloon parade to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade had these huge balloon figures and they wanted to do the same thing. They really hoped they could outdo Macy's efforts. They had plans for several blow-up balloons, many of which would be very unique, including monkeys, dogs and serpents. It was a grand plan. There was just one teeny, tiny little problem. You've seen the Macy's Parade on TV. Those balloons fly pretty high up in the air and many stand several stories high. I remember that there have been years that the balloon wranglers on the ground have had to keep the balloons held closer to the ground because of wind. But they have never had to keep the balloons low because of power lines or traffic signals. Unfortunately for Birmingham, their overhanging power lines and traffic signals were not conducive to floating balloons, so they had to mount the balloons on platforms and wheel them along the route. The first parade was themed as Fairyland and included Peter Pan, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and of course, a vampire and Frankenstein's Monster...well, okay, I know that sounds weird, especially for Christmas, but here at HGB that sounds mighty fine to me! Hosting a balloon parade with all the balloons wheeled down the street, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Jim Thorpe Born
In the month of May, on the 22nd, in 1887, Jim Thorpe was born. Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation and his Native American name was Wa-Tho-Huk, which meant Bright Path. And he did have a bright path in front of him when it came to sports. Thorpe grew up in Oklahoma and attended school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he became All-American twice for the football team. He was a versatile athlete and competed in the US Olympic Track Finals to compete in the 1912 Olympics hosted in Stockholm, Sweden in the pentathlon and decathlon, which were being introduced for the first time. He went to the Olympics and made a record in the decathlon that would last for two decades. Thorpe won eight of the 15 individual events comprising the pentathlon and decathlon and took home the gold in both. And then things started to go downhill. He lost his gold medals because of the amateur rule in place at the time for Olympics. Thorpe had received meager pay playing professional baseball before the Olympics. He would marry three times, two of them ending in divorce. He had eight children, one child dying in childhood. He retired from sports at 41, just as the Great Depression hit, and he could not find work. He fell into alcoholism and died in poverty at the age of 65 from heart failure. Thorpe was a victim of racism. The New York Times even ran a headline that read, "Indian Thorpe in Olympiad; Redskin from Carlisle Will Strive for Place on American Team." In 1983, Thorpe's medal placement was reinstated, but not the original gold medals because they had been stolen. His children were presented with commemorative ones. He is listed as a gold medalist by the IOC, but his 1912 reults are not restored to the official Olympic record.
St. John's in Newfoundland and Labrador (Dedicated to Robyn and Chris White)
St. John's is one of the oldest cities in North America and is found in
Newfoundland and Labrador on the coast of Canada. Based on my personal experience, these oldest
cities have a plethora of ghost stories. And St. John's is said to be the most haunted city in Canada. There are numerous historic locations here with a haunted reputation and we are going to look at several of them. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of St. John's!
Newfoundland and Labrador are a province of Canada. Newfoundland is an island and Labrador is a part of mainland Canada, found to the East of Quebec and above Nova Scotia. There are 10 provinces in Canada and this is the newest, having only joined in 1949. It was initially named Newfoundland having been coined New Found Launde by King Henry VII after John Cabot discovered it in 1497. The name Labrador is thought to have been coined by a Portuguese explorer named João Fernandes. He was a landowner, which in Portuguese is "llavrador" and people started calling the coast he explored in Greenland "the labrador's land." Labrador was once part of Greenland. The name was officially changed in 2001 to Newfoundland and Labrador. The people here are from indigenous, French, Irish and English backgrounds. *Fun fact: On the coast of Labrador, the Maritime Archaic Indians left behind a burial mound that dates back 7,500 years and this is said to be the oldest known funeral mound in North America. The capital city of the province is St. John's and it is found in Newfoundland on the southeastern end. As I said before, this is a really old city.
From the beginning, St. John's was a prominent harbor known for its fishing in the North Atlantic. The Spanish, Portuguese, Basques, French and English all came with the British rising in power in the area. The first permanent settlers set down roots in the early 1600s with a family named Oxford building a plantation. The oldest commercial street known as Water Street was established shortly thereafter. Along this path were bars, storehouses, warehouses and shops that drew traders, fishers, captains, naval officers and even pirates. St. John's was a major commercial center and for this it became a prime location for attack. Many of these attacks started as early as the mid 1500s. The last attacks came in 1762 when the British recaptured St. John's from the French. Municipal government would be set up in 1888 and the population would rise to 30,000. Electric street lights came along with electric street cars. St. John's would be incorporated in 1921 and today is the financial and commercial center for Newfoundland and Labrador and, of course, the capital of the province.
So many historic cities have stories of big fires. They were so common because most everything was built from wood early on and most cities did not have great resources for fighting fires. St. John's had several big fires and then a great fire. The Great Fire of 1892 broke out on July 8th and was the worst disaster to ever hit the city of St. John's. On that fateful day, a strong wind was blowing out of the northwest and the city was extremely dry as there had been little rain for days. Work on the water main made the water pressure insufficient. It was the perfect conditions for a fire and one was about to start. At the top of Carter's Field, on Freshwater Road, stood Timothy Brine's stable. A pipe was dropped there, and although a pipe is a small thing, the stable lit up. It was around 4:45 in the afternoon. The relatively small fire did not initially cause alarm, but since the conditions were ripe, the fire quickly spread.
Once the residents realized that they would not be able to contain the fire, they decided to use their energy to move their valuables to stone buildings, which they thought would be protective. Obviously, that was not the case. One of these locations was the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. A description of what happened to the cathedral reads, "With one fearful rush the demonic fire seized upon the doomed cathedral, and sooner than tongue could tell the immense edifice, a gem of Gothic architecture, the masterpiece of Sir Gilbert Scott and the pride of every Newfoundlander, was a seething mass of flame. With a crash, heard even above the din of the elements the roof fell in, and the result of the labors and offerings of thousands for many years vanished in a cloud of smoke and dust." The fire ravaged the business district along Water Street and Duckworth Street.
The cries of terror from women and children and the frantic attempts to quench the flames did not end until the next morning. As the smoke cleared, the residents were able to see the destruction. Few walls stood and those that did were tottering. Chimneys stood as the last remnants of homes. There was 13 million in losses with very little covered by insurance. Money from Britain, the United States and the rest of Canada poured in and St. John's rebuilt. Most of the old buildings here date back to this time and have a Second Empire styling. That's why so many have mansard roofs with bonnet-topped dormers.
St. John's is the city of legends. Many of the buildings in this city have ghost stories attached to them and I am going to share many of them with you. So put on your walking shoes and let's go see haunted St. John's!
290 Duckworth Street
As I mentioned, the businesses along Duckworth Street were devastated by the fire. Our first stop is at 290 Duckworth Street at the corner of Cathedral Street. The building is large, standing four stories tall with the back of the building curving up a hill. This was originally a doctor's office that was much like a hospital because surgeries were conducted here. Later, it would run as a funeral parlor and then the Victoria Station Inn. More recently it went through a series of restaurants: Chez Briann, The Vinyl Room and the Reluctant Chef, which is now closed. Last I saw, the property is listed as a rental for office space. Paranormal experiences include some really creepy apparitions. One is a woman who seems to be sporting her autopsy scars and another is a young woman whom is paralyzed with coins over here eyes.
Duke of Duckworth
The Duke of Duckworth is said to be the best pub in town. The pub has been in business for 25 years and is located at 325 Duckworth Street. I've heard they have the best fish and chips in town. They also have a spirit here that has been affectionately named the Duke. I'm not sure why they call him The Duke because no one knows his story or who he is. The ghost seems to be friendly and is usually seen as an apparition looking out the window and waving. A local artist painting a picture of this and it can be seen hanging in the pub. Staff members claim that he has other antics like moving glasses and hiding things. So you can go for a pint and maybe even have a specter to share it with.
Anglican Cathedral Graveyard on Church Hill
The Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is the oldest Anglican cathedral in all of Canada and found at 16 Church Hill. The Anglican Parish was originally established in 1699. The first stone church was built in 1843 and was heavily damaged during the Great Fire of 1892. It took 10 years to repair the damage. Disembodied voices are heard within the cathedral. The ghost of a young stone worker who had helped with repairing the cathedral is said to haunt the church. He fell to his death from scaffolding. It is said that he was unable to leave his work unfinished. Many of his co-workers saw his ghost around the job site. Even more shocking, in 1850, a picture was taken of all the workmen after they repaired the nave. They were wearing their Sunday finest and stood in front of the cathedral. The deceased man showed up in the picture, wearing his work clothes.
South of the church is the Anglican Cathedral Graveyard. There are tales of apparitions seen floating around the cemetery. There is a legend here about a man who refused to be buried. This man was believed to be a merchant who had sailed into St. John's. His body was found in a downtown lane in the late 1800s. He was brought to the Anglican cemetery for burial. His casket was lowered into the grave,but about halfway through, the gravediggers heard a knocking coming from the coffin. They quickly shoveled out the dirt and called the doctor. He came and declared that the man was indeed dead, so they started to bury him again. The knocking was heard again. They repeated the process of unburying the man and having a doctor check him again. He was pronounced dead once again and the reburial began with the doctor standing by. The knocking happened again, but the doctor refused to let the men unbury him and the knocking eventually stopped. Strange knocking sounds are heard in the cemetery to this day.
The Captain of Queen's Road
This legend dates back to 1740. There was a captain of a ship who made regular rounds between England and Newfoundland and he had taken up with a woman who lived along Queen's Road in a home later owned by a man named Samuel Pettyham. The captain did not know that he was not the only suitor of this woman. She had a jealous lover and one night he ambushed the captain and killed him. And then he beheaded the captain with a sword. The Captain's ghost is now said to be seen along the area where he was killed and he appears headless. The first person to report the tale was Samuel Pettyham all those centuries ago.
The Majestic Theater
The Majestic Theater is inside a building nicknamed the "flat iron building" on 390 Duckworth Street. Theaters already have a pretty haunted reputation, but imagine one built over an area that had been used for hangings. That is what we have going on here. The building was constructed in 1918 and was refurbished and reopened in 2017 and then promptly caught fire. I'm not sure it is even open right now because all the ticket buying websites have no events for the location and the theater itself has no website. When it was open, workers and patrons claimed to hear the disembodied cries of men, probably those who were hanged. Their moans have also been heard. And there is poltergeist-like activity.
Christian's Pub is located at 23 George St and is the oldest pub on George Street. I'm not sure what getting screeched in is, but apparently Newfoundlanders know and this is what this pub is known for. If you are not a native of Newfoundland, the Screech In ceremony makes you an honorary Newfoundlander. Most ceremonies include wearing a Sou'Wester (which is a collapsible oilskin rain hat), answering the question "Is ye an honorary Newfoundlander?" with the proper answer "'Deed I is me ol' cock, and long may your big jib draw" and then you get to kiss...a cod or the ass end of a puffin. Christian's Pub has a picture of Anthony Bourdain going through the process. They have one ghost here and they have named her Maggie. She can be a rather rowdy spirit and has occasionally damaged some of the bar equipment.
The Masonic Temple
The three-story Masonic Temple can be found on Cathedral Street. The Masons had a group in Newfoundland beginning in 1746 when the Grand Lodge of Boston issued them a Freemasonfy warrant, but they had no place of their own. They would meet at various places around the city. Their first official home would be a wooden structure on Long's Hill that was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892. The Temple was built in 1894, which is why it is of Victorian design. It was constructed from large red bricks imported from Accrington and features multiple pediments, pilasters and free standing columns. The cornerstone was laid on August 23, 1894 in a Masonic ceremony led by Sir William Whiteway, a former Newfoundland prime minister who served for 17 years and he built the Newfoundland Railway. The building was consecrated by the Masonic order in 1896. Sir John Chalker Crosbie donated a large amount of money in 1916 and those funds were used to buy a large and beautiful pipe organ that decorates the main room. There are also paintings in the main room of Whiteway and an engineer named Alexander MacKay. He developed the telegraphic and electrical systems in Newfoundland. The Masons used the building until 2007 and then they sold the structure. The Spirit of Newfoundland owns the building now and hosts dinner shows and other artistic endeavours. The Temple was added to the Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in April 1995.
There are several ghost stories told here. One involves a caretaker who claims he was looking for his phone when he backed into someone. Or what he thought was someone. He turned and found no one. Another story was experienced after the Spirit of Newfoundland theater group took over the building. A delivery driver was bringing boxes of legal files into the building. He went to the top of the landing of some stairs and found a man whom he asked for directions as to where to put the boxes. The man gazed at him for a minute and then disappeared. That delivery driver ran out of the building. The man seen by the delivery drivers has been seen by others and he always disappears. The pipe organ in the main room occasionally has music emanating from it when no one is playing it. Disembodied voices are also heard.
Another experience happened during a wedding held in the building in 1999. A man who was a high ranking member of the Masons had passed away a little bit before the wedding. The wedding was his grandson's and at the start of the ceremony, the presiding judge came into the room where the wedding was taking place with a lit candle. He got halfway to the bride and groom when the candle went out. He returned to the doorway, lit the candle and started forward again. The candle went out at the halfway point again. He decided to just carry on and the wedding continued. One of the guests pointed out that two pictures of the groom's grandfather hung on opposite sides of the wall of the room. This was the same spot where the candles went out.
Newman Wine Vaults
The Newman Wine Vaults were built in the early 19th century and consisted of two brick-and-stone wine cellars. The name comes from the owner, an English firm named Newman and Company. Their specialty was port wine. Today, the wine vault is a museum. There is unexplained stuff going on here with the two main spectres belonging to an African slave and a child. These spirits pinch people and occasionally get more aggressive and shove people. There is photographic evidence too. During a wedding photoshoot in the vault, a mysterious figure appears.
The Grace Hospital Nursing Residence
The Grace Hospital Nursing Residence was built in 1923 and opened in September as the first maternity hospital in Newfoundland and was opened by the Salvation Army. It had 100 beds and soon served as the second nursing school in Newfoundland. The hospital was expanded over the years and grew to 200 beds. It was opened until the year 2000 and was left abandoned. Much of it has been demolished, save for the Nursing Residence. And it is this building that is said to be very haunted.
People who live near the property claim to see strange lights and apparitions. Strange noises come from the building as well. When the buildings were being demolished, a member of the demolition crew claimed that he saw someone peeking around door frames at him while he worked. He would just see this thing out of the corner of his eye, but one glimpse had him convinced that it was a little boy, so he decided to go find the child because he was not supposed to be here. He didn't see him anywhere, so he went back to work, but again saw the child. Then the child seemed to float and disappeared through a doorway. The child had been wearing a hospital gown. He didn't see him again.
A nursing student had gone home on break from his classes at university and his home was near the old Grace Hospital parking lot. He awoke at 4 am to a terrifying sound and when he looked out his window, he saw something terrifying. A figure was walking in the parking lot, but it had no legs. There was nothing below the torso. The noise he heard was a mournful call that the creature or thing would make every few minutes. It would walk around and then stop, lift its head to the sky and wail. The figure stopped after about 15miutes and walked towards the building where it disappeared.
On a winter day, a nurse was leaving her shift at the hospital when she saw a woman walking toward the back of the hospital. She was worried about the woman because she was not wearing a coat. She also wondered if she was a patient because she didn't recognize her as a member of the nursing staff. She followed her around a corner, but could not see her anywhere. She followed the footprints in the snow and found they they stopped right in front of a solid brick wall. The woman was nowhere and she clearly had not walked anywhere else, unless she had flown.
The LPSU Hall
At the corner of Duckworth Street and Prescott Street is a mural of a young man named Fred Gamberg. It is a memorial to him. On July 10, 1995, he was just 24 years old when he slipped
from a cliff in Flatrock, Newfoundland and drowned in the North Atlantic. He was a fixture at LPSU Hall, working as a maintenance man and putting together music shows. He is said to haunt the building that can be seen behind the mural, LPSU Hall, a three storied timber-framed building. It is said that this is one of the most haunted buildings on one of St. John's most haunted streets. The building sits at 3 Victoria Street. This originally was home to the First Congregational Church of Newfoundland, which was built there in 1789. A fire destroyed it in 1817. Another church was built in its place, this time an ecumenical one. This one was also burned up in a fire, the Great Fire of 1892. The land was bought by the Sons of Temperance and they built their Temperance Hall there in 1893. They promoted abstinence from alcohol.
They didn't stay long and sold to the Longshoremen's Protective Union in 1912 and that is why this is called LPSU Hall. They renovated the building mostly on the inside. The exterior looks much the same as it did in the early 1900s. In 1976, the Resource Foundation for the Arts bought the hall and transformed it into the Resource Center for the Arts. It has twice been renovated since, once in 1984 and most recently in 2008. It is used as a theater and arts center.
There are several ghost stories here and why not since it is a theater. Strange sounds are a main part of the haunting. There are disembodied footsteps and then sounds with no reasonable explanation like things clattering to the ground, but nothing being on the floor when people search out a cause. And then there are the dark shadow figures that appear and disappear throughout the hall. I mentioned Fred. Reports of a young male ghost being spotted in the main theater sitting in seats started in 1995, right after Fred's death. A young woman was sitting next to him and she noticed that he was really enjoying the show. When the show was over, she turned to him to ask what he thought and when the lights came up, he completely disappeared before her eyes. She couldn't believe the seat was empty next to her. When she described the man later, people said that it sounded like Fred. And many people have seen him since then as well.
The New Courthouse
This location has the legend of Catherine Snow connected to it. She was accused of murdering her husband and was hanged from the window of the old courthouse on July 21, 1834. She was the last woman hanged in Newfoundland. Perhaps she haunts the location because she was actually innocent.
Catherine Mandeville was born in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland around 1793 and she eventually married John Snow and they had seven children. The marriage was not a happy one and the couple fought often with some fights getting violent. When John disappeared in August of 1833, people immediately started whispering that Catherine had done something to John. Dried blood was found at
John Snow's Salmon Cove wharf. Forget that we don't even know if this is human blood. The police arrested two men right away. One was Tobias Manderville who was Catherine's cousin and was reputedly carrying on an affair with her and the other was Arthur Spring, a household servant. Catherine ran for the woods when she heard about the arrests, but eventually turned herself in.
Spring confessed and said that the three of them had shot John and threw his body in the Atlantic Ocean. Catherine denied having anything to do with the crime and even though there was no evidence she had anything to do with it, she was convicted by a three man jury and condemned to hang. Manderville and Spring were hanged a few days later, but Catherine was pregnant, so they waited until she birthed and nursed the baby for a while before hanging her before a large crowd. Before dying she said, "I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child".
Several days after the execution, Catherine's ghost started showing up in the courthouse and outside where she had been hanged. The cemetery where she is buried also has had sightings. Local newspapers even reported the sightings. The old courthouse burned down in 1846,but this didn't stop Catherine. She was seen during the reconstruction and when the new building opened in 1847, her ghost was there again. The Great Fire of 1892 destroyed the courthouse yet again. It was rebuilt again in 1902 and Catherine's ghost was there again. Her spirit is seen throughout the building and people claim that phantom footsteps belong to her. The elevator goes up and down on its own as well.
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church was built in 1893 where the old catholic cemetery had been and there is no record that bodies were moved, including that of Catherine Snow. So perhaps that is why her spirit walks the grounds of the church here too. In 2012, nearly 200 years after she was tried and hanged, the case was reopened by the Newfoundland Historical Society, and Catherine was given a new trial. Two Supreme Court Justices, Carl Thompson and Seamus O'Regan sat in on the case and the defense lawyer was Rosellen Sullivan. Four hundred sixty people sat in the audience and served as jury. Catherine was exonerated, but that hasn't diminshed the activity.
The Four Sisters
There are four stone houses along Temperance Street at addresses 31 to 37 that were built by Samuel Garrett. They are formally called the Samuel Garrett houses, but everybody refers to them as the Four Sisters. Garrett built the homes over ten years, starting in 1893, to give to his four daughters as wedding gifts. Only two daughters would live in the houses. His daughter Mary died at 24 years old. His daughter Eliza never married and stayed at his home with him. Daughter Laurretta moved into number 35 with her new husband in 1901, and daughter Emily moved into number 37. Two of Garrett's grandchildren eventually would move into 31 and 33 when they were old enough. The houses were designated Registered Heritage Structures in 1988
There is a female ghost here. A family rented one of the homes and encountered this spirit. It began with their young daughter screaming and crying at night. She would tell her parents that she was visited by a woman who frightened her. Over time, the cries and screams stopped because the girl got used to the nightly visits and even started laughing and talking with the woman. People who pass by the homes claim to see a woman watching them from the window and sometimes even waving and then she disappears.
Others who have lived in the homes claim that a female ghost appears and then slides across the floor, passing through a wall. She will then sometimes appear in the house next door to where she has passed through. The reason for this is thought to be that this is a residual haunting and since the houses were once connected by doors, she is just walking through the doors rather than a wall. People claim to hear strange noises and to see ghostly lights coming from a tunnel that runs underneath the homes. The tunnel is thought to have once carried water from a lake that is 1.5 km away. When the buildings were abandoned, squatters claimed to have had several haunted experiences and made videos of the experiences to put up on YouTube.
There are hundreds of years of history here in St. John's. The buildings are beautiful architecture and each with its own special history. I've shared just a bit of that history with you here. Do these locations have ghosts walking around and continuing on in the afterlife? Are these buildings in St. John's haunted? That is for you to decide!
One of the more well-known ghost tours here is the St. John's Haunted Hike: http://hauntedhike.com