Phantom woodsman heard but not seen

Dale
Dale Jarvis
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Several years back, I had a chat with Mr. Ivan Young, of Barachois Brook, who shared a strange story of a phantom woodsman who has never been seen by mortal eyes. Mortal ears, however, is another matter. Many visitors to the woods have stopped and listened as his ghostly axe bites deep into another tree somewhere just beyond the next stand of timber.

Young remembers hearing the ghost chopper himself when he worked in the logging camps around 1948 and 1949. He was working for Fred Butt, cutting wood to make barrels used for pressing herring. The camp was near Little River and at that point was a sizeable operation, with choppers, teamsters, mill workers and people hauling the barrels out to the station. This meant around 50-55 men working long days, plus one ghost who would chop all night long.

Newfoundland unexplained - Several years back, I had a chat with Mr. Ivan Young, of Barachois Brook, who shared a strange story of a phantom woodsman who has never been seen by mortal eyes. Mortal ears, however, is another matter. Many visitors to the woods have stopped and listened as his ghostly axe bites deep into another tree somewhere just beyond the next stand of timber.

Young remembers hearing the ghost chopper himself when he worked in the logging camps around 1948 and 1949. He was working for Fred Butt, cutting wood to make barrels used for pressing herring. The camp was near Little River and at that point was a sizeable operation, with choppers, teamsters, mill workers and people hauling the barrels out to the station. This meant around 50-55 men working long days, plus one ghost who would chop all night long.

The ghost would start chopping around 7 o'clock. According to reports, he was a quite spirited spectre and would work all night. As soon as it got daylight, it would quit. Amazingly, it would only chop about two or three times, a sound which would be followed by the noise of a huge tree falling in the forest. If someone tried to walk out towards the apparition it would move on, circling round and round and round, always a couple steps ahead of its pursuer.

While Young was working at the camp, the owners bought a diesel engine which didn't always work the way it should have. A repairman was sent in from St. John's and he too heard the strange chopping. When the ghost started with his axe, the repairman asked what it was, and was told it was the ghost chopper. The skeptical townie refused to believe it was true, so Ivan Young and a fellow named George Alexander put on a lantern and took him out on snowshoes.

The trio followed the noise of the axe, and as they went around the sound of the trees falling it was always just ahead of them. From the noise of the fall, it seemed like the trees being cut were huge. But where a living man would take at least a half hour to cut through one of the trees, the phantom woodsman did the job in no more than five or six hearty chops.

Of course, the repairman was convinced that it was someone playing a joke on him. In the morning, after the engine was up and running, he put on his snowshoes and followed the previous night's snowshoe tracks through the woods.

Not one tree was cut. And sure enough the next night the chopping resumed. Engine repaired, he departed for St. John's a little more open-minded than when he arrived.

In time the demand for herring lessened and the cooperage closed. This forced the closure of the lumber camp, but not before at least one lucky man had an unnaturally cold form crawl into bed alongside him early one morning. Even after the camp closed the ghost chopper kept going strong, working away through many winters.

In 1979 Nora Healey Keegan wrote her book "Footprints in the Sand." In the book she devoted a chapter to what she referred to as "The Phantom Woodchopper." According to her, this was a mysterious phantasm who worked the woods of Steel Mountain, which lies several miles to the north-east of St. George's. Her brother and father had gone out one crisp, frosty evening after rabbits and had heard the distant sound of steel on wood.

After a moment's terror the two men decided to track the noise to its source.

Like others before them, they hiked along after the chopping, sometimes near, sometimes distant, without ever catching a glimpse of the elusive figure.

Dale Jarvis, Storyteller and author and be contacted at www.hauntedhike.com or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DaleJarvis

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Barachois Brook, St. John's Little River St. George's

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  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    This is a common phenomenon. It's heard all the time on cold, frosty nights. The deadwood which lays flat on the forest floor soaks up water during above freezing periods (summers). When it freezes during below freezing periods (winters), it expands, as water does (about 10% by volume), splits the frozen half-rotten deadwood, which then makes that cracking sound. This is why it happens on cold nights and no tree seems to have fallen to the ground - because it's already on the ground covered in snow (busily soaking up water for a few years). In addition, cold dry air is denser than warm moist air, and sound travels further exacerbating the effect.

  • Janet
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Spooky! Love this one!

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    This is a common phenomenon. It's heard all the time on cold, frosty nights. The deadwood which lays flat on the forest floor soaks up water during above freezing periods (summers). When it freezes during below freezing periods (winters), it expands, as water does (about 10% by volume), splits the frozen half-rotten deadwood, which then makes that cracking sound. This is why it happens on cold nights and no tree seems to have fallen to the ground - because it's already on the ground covered in snow (busily soaking up water for a few years). In addition, cold dry air is denser than warm moist air, and sound travels further exacerbating the effect.

  • Janet
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    Spooky! Love this one!