Man who initially photographed mysterious burial site surprised by attention
Many readers of The Telegram have chimed in with their thoughts on who could be buried inside this mysterious grave in Harbour Grace. — Photo courtesy of Paul McCarthy
An old Harbour Grace grave with no name that bears a pair of skull and crossbone symbols is attracting plenty of visitors following the publication of multiple stories speculating on its history.
Paul McCarthy and Knights of Columbus Dalton Council No. 1448 member Reg O’Neill both told The Telegram that quite a number of people have visited the old Roman Catholic cemetery on Bennett’s Lane over the past week.
“The people who live next door to the cemetery, they’ve said there’s been quite a bit of interest over the last week or so since The Telegram ran the story,” said McCarthy.
The local Knights of Columbus recently spearheaded a cemetery cleanup, as the site was overrun with vegetation following years of neglect.
“It’s in a lane off the main road, so not a lot of people go up and down there,” said O’Neill.
McCarthy was asked to drop by and help out. He also took pictures, some of which were published in The Compass newspaper alongside a submitted story he wrote.
After The Telegram published a photo of the skull and crossbones grave and asked for reader input on its origins — the tombstone also features lambs, crosses and an angel — a wealth of feedback poured in.
Some suggested the grave was the burial site of a Freemason or had a connection to the Knights Templar. Historian Jack Fitzgerald wrote it could be the eternal resting place of 19th-century Newfoundland pirate John Keating.
Others suggested the lamb symbol indicates the grave of a young child.
There have also been suggestions that the skull and crossbones shows the person buried there died of a contagious disease and the symbol was used to dissuade people from digging up the corpse.
“It seems like there’s a lot of different opinions on who’s buried there,” said O’Neill, who added there are no known experts in the area with respect to the cemetery.
Prior to the cleanup, McCarthy believes there was little awareness in the community of the cemetery’s existence.
“Even those in the centre of town, it was all grown over,” he said. “So after we cleaned it up and that sort of thing, it looked a lot better, and one of the guys on the Knights of Columbus just suggested that I write into The Compass and let the public know that it was cleaned up, just to encourage a bit of interest in it. I just included the headstone with the crossbones on it because it seemed a little bit unusual.”
It appears he accomplished that job.
“It’s quite interesting, I must say,” said McCarthy. “I had no idea when I first sent it into The Compass that it would take off like that.”
O’Neill is similarly surprised by the attention the cemetery has been getting.
“I didn’t expect when we went down to cut the grass and cut a few trees that it would get a lot of interest,” said O’Neill, who has been saving newspaper clippings related to the skull and crossbones grave for a scrapbook.
The cemetery’s history is known to stretch back to the early 1800s.
“There’s no evidence of lettering there whatsoever,” said McCarthy with respect to the skull and crossbones grave.
“There’s lots of stories going around about who could be buried there. Anywhere from a cholera outbreak there years ago ... (and the symbol) was more or less a warning for people to stay away. And of course, the pirate stories, and that sort of thing.”
O’Neill said the local Knights of Columbus may look at ways to prevent the roots of trees from doing damage in the cemetery. He’s pleased to see the cemetery get so much new-found attention.
“It looks 100 per cent better than it did. The first day we went in down there, it looked like you were walking into the woods. I’d say we cut about three truckloads of wood out of it the first day.”