A short while ago, I was in Bay Roberts having a chat with local historian and author Mike Flynn. We were talking about the Bay Roberts of yesteryear, and Flynn was a wealth of knowledge, sharing some great bits of local folklore, including legends about ghosts and buried treasure.
As we talked about supernatural stories and folk belief, conversation turned to the topic of the devil. I knew a story about a Devil’s Rock in the community of Renews, but Flynn told me of another rock, located near Beaver Pond in Brigus.
“There’s a flat rock by the side of the road,” he said, “and there is a footprint in it, and it’s called the Devil’s Footprint.”
“Were there stories about people meeting the devil?” I asked him.
“As a matter of fact, now that you’ve jogged my memory, my mother was telling me one time they were at a dance in Spaniard’s Bay,” he said. “There was a girl at the dance who apparently wasn’t all that attractive to males.”
“I’d dance with the devil himself, tonight, if he was here,” the girl had said.
“A few minutes later, this guy came along and asked her for a dance,” said Flynn. “And when they were out dancing, waltzing, she looked down and he had hooves rather than feet.”
“These are scary stories, you know, for a kid!” Flynn added.
Scary, but fabulous. For a folklorist and storyteller, when I hear a story like that, it is like a prospector striking gold. It is a fabulous example of what a folklorist might call a contemporary legend, or what some people might call an urban legend, though they are not always told in an urban context. And while they might be contemporary in their telling, the stories sometimes go back a long, long way.
The devil at the dance story is one of these stories. I have heard and read various versions over the years, some set in Newfoundland, and many others from other places. Some of those stories go back centuries.
One of my storytelling friends is Gail de Vos, who teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta. She is also a great storyteller, whose specialty is telling contemporary legends.
In her book, “Tales, Rumours and Gossip,” de Vos includes a European version of the legend that dates back to 1875. In her version, a servant woman went dancing at a ballroom on one of the last Sundays before Lent.
“Around midnight, she saw a handsomely dressed stranger with black hair and eyes that glistened like onyx, coming towards her to ask her for a dance,” writes de Vos. “She took his arm with pleasure as they began to dance with perfect grace, but faster and faster.”
One of the musicians noticed that the dashing stranger, like the one in Spaniard’s Bay, had cloven hooves. He changed the tune from a waltz into a hymn. The dancer whirled the girl across the ballroom, and right through a window.
“The girl was found lying on the green grass in the garden covered with broken glass,” writes de Vos. “The devil had disappeared.”
He is a tricky character, Old Nick. So if you are out for the evening in Spaniard’s Bay, or enjoying a walk through the picturesque streets of historic Brigus, and you happen to meet a handsomely dressed stranger, just remember this tip from the stories of old.
Check out his feet before you agree to a dance.