This year, Tourism Elliston is busy planning its Roots, Rants and Roars fall festival. Keeping with Elliston’s reputation as being the root cellar capital of the world, the town is planning to start off the first evening, Thursday, Sept. 30, with a Haunted Cellars event.
“We are going to be decorating five or six cellars and would like to have some scary stories to go along with it,” says Marilyn Coles-Hayley, one of the event’s organizers.
The people of Elliston are no strangers to eerie tales. One of the most famous local legends is that of Kitty Casey.
Kitty Casey was the wife of Paddy Casey. They lived near Casey Gulch, around Sandy Cove.
She took her own life Sept. 26, 1862, as her husband stood trial for stealing fish from the Brothers John and Big Tom Porter.
Historian Nimshi Crewe wrote about the case in a letter dated Sept. 28, 1964.
“I have often heard of this tragedy,” writes Crewe. “Casey, who was a tanner by trade, was either an Irishman or a native of Harbour Grace. I think he came to Bird Island Cove as a shareman with my great- grandfather, Richard Cole. He came to be a planter on his own account, his stage being in what is still known as Casey’s Gulch. He lived nearby, on the point. His sister lived with him, and a child who married one Tom Sullivan, who lived for years as a fisherman there and, later, moved to St. John’s.”
Some of the details of the theft of fish Crewe learned from a Mr. Lloyd Hicks of Elliston, who was then 84 years of age.
“Lloyd has told me of an episode of Paddy going into the stage of the brothers, John and Big Tom Porter, after night and stealing fish,” writes Crewe. “They suspected some theft and, lying in wait, caught Paddy in the act; he tried to escape by jumping over the stage-head and swimming, but they caught him and took him up to William Minty, the constable, who kept him in his kitchen all night and took him to the magistrate in Bonavista the next morning.”
According to local stories, Kitty was so overcome and distraught by her husband’s criminal deeds that she decided to commit suicide in a most dramatic fashion.
The woman stabbed herself five times in the throat, but did not die immediately. She lingered for a time afterwards.
“I have heard it said, when a boy, that raisins she attempted to eat came out through the cuts in her throat,” writes Crewe. “She was buried in a droke in Sandy Cove, and I have seen her grave once.”
According to a document sent to me by Coles-Hayley, “The Day Book,” St. John’s, Sept. 26, 1862, has a long letter from Bonavista, including this paragraph about the session there of the Supreme Court:
“Nearly the whole of today has been spent in the case of The Queen vs. Patrick Casey, the prisoner being found guilty. During the course of this trial, a messenger came from Bird Island Cove (where the prisoner resided) to say that his wife had just cut her throat and was in a dying state. She has since been visited by a Doctor, who says she cut herself in five places, and that there is no hope for her recovery.
“She is now dead. The prisoner, Patrick Casey, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment.”
Because she had taken her own life, she was not buried in the local cemetery. She was instead buried outside of the church, in the droke in Sandy Cove near Tilley Farm Road. The unmarked grave was covered with rocks.
There are those who believe that Kitty still roams Sandy Cove looking for peace and forgiveness for this act. People have seen a strange figure coming out of the cold night fog, a mournful figure with a haunted, lost look on her face. Some have even claimed to have seen the gashes Kitty made to her long, white throat.
Most people will not walk down by the beach on foggy cool nights, especially during late September when the sightings of Kitty are said to become more intense.
If you make it out to Elliston for the Haunted Cellars event at the end of September, keep your eyes open for the ghost of Kitty Casey.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.