Headless ghosts have a firm role in the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Years ago, while I was doing folklore fieldwork in Hebron, Labrador, I was told a story by an Inuit man about a “man without a face” said to haunt that now-abandoned community.
And for more than a decade and a half, I have been telling the story of a famous Newfoundland headless ghost on Queen’s Road, as part of the St. John’s Haunted Hike.
In 1999, the Fogo Island Literacy Association published a small book called “TaIes of Fogo Island,” compiled and edited by Della Coish.
The publication was designed as an easy-to-read book about local life and culture, for use with adult learners in literacy programs.
The book contains short stories about losses and rescues at sea, historical tales, tragedies, remedies and cures, and a few ghost stories, including two Fogo Island stories about headless ghosts.
Man in black
The first headless phantom was spotted by a man named Lynch, of Island Harbour. Lynch was on his way from Payne’s Harbour to Butt’s Point when he met a man, dressed in a black suit of clothes, on the road. When Lynch spoke to the stranger, he got no reply.
“This made him curious,” writes Coish, “so he tried to get a better look. Mr. Lynch almost jumped out of his skin when he realized that the figure in front of him did not have hands and did not have a head.”
Before Lynch could shout out for help, the man in black vanished. He ran to his house and told his family. Once he convinced them of what he had seen, the family decided to call in the priest.
“As it happened, the priest was in Island Harbour that evening and arrived at the Lynch home in minutes,” says Coish. “He asked Mr. Lynch to tell his story and describe where it had happened. Then, the priest convinced a few people to go with him to the place where Mr. Lynch had seen the figure.”
Upon reaching the spot of the haunting, the priest offered up a few prayers, and then all returned home. According to local folklore, the priest refused to ever speak of the event again.
The story of Lynch’s vanishing headless spirit is mirrored by another tale from a neighbouring community.
On a different occasion, a woman from Fogo was walking home when she became aware of a man walking in front of her. Thinking it was her brother, Val, she called out to him.
“The man stopped for a moment, but then began to walk faster,” says Coish. “The lady picked up her pace to catch him, but the man also sped up. She soon became annoyed and shouted, ‘Don’t run away from me Val, I knows who you is! Stop right now and wait fer me!’”
“Val” refused to stop, even though she called out several times. She hurried to catch up, and as she did, she noticed that the figure she had believed to be her brother was missing his head.
She caught up with the headless figure and, bravely, reached out to touch him. As soon as she did, the apparition vanished. Now properly frightened, she ran the rest of the way home.
“The following day, the family received the sad news that a close relative had been killed at war,” says Coish. “From that day onward, the lady was certain she had seen the spirit of the dead soldier. She believed the spirit was trying to tell her that something terrible had happened to him.”
If you know anything about either of these two Fogo Island ghosts, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write in care of The Telegram.
Dale Jarvis is a storyteller and author.