A little while ago, I met up with Carl Sooley of Heart’s Delight. I was interviewing Sooley about Bonfire Night memories, as part of the Heritage Foundation of N.L.’s Festival on Fire. You can listen to that interview, and other Bonfire Night memories, online at www.festivalonfire.ca.
After we chatted about Sooley’s memories of Bonfire Night for a while, the conversation drifted into the realm of the supernatural, and the old tradition of late-night storytelling.
“When I was young, some of the people used to come to the house, some of Dad’s and Mom’s friends,” Sooley remembers. “You’d be sitting around, and every once in a while, they get on to ghost stories and that, about people who were fairy-led and everything like this, you know, and how they were never the same afterwards.
“I can remember them telling lots and lots of stories,” Sooley says. “I can’t remember very many of them now, because this was when I was very young.”
One ghost story Sooley remembers well, however, is one that happened to his father, when his father was a boy growing up in Heart’s Delight. Sooley’s father, Chris Sooley, was born in 1921.
“Him and a friend of his were robbing an apple tree one night,” the son recounts, “and they had their pockets all stuffed with apples, the insides of the coats and everything. They were out behind my grandfather’s house right on the bank sharing up the apples.”
Whilst the boys were dividing up their stolen loot, they saw a very strange thing.
“They saw this gentleman,” says Sooley. “He was an older gentleman, what they thought was an older gentleman, coming from his house down the lane by where they were, walked down the bank so far, went out to the wharf and he jumped over the wharf, jumped into the ocean. He was wearing his long underwear.”
Needless to say, the boys were more than a little shocked at this turn of events.
“They got very frightened and were wondering what they should do,” says Sooley. “They ran into the house to tell my grandfather about it.”
“Poor Uncle Ern,” said the boys. “We just saw him come out in his long underwear, out of his house, and walk down the bank and jump over the wharf.”
Sooley’s grandfather did not seem concerned or surprised about what the boys had seen.
“Yes, my son,” the man said. “I was just up there a little while ago, and he just passed away, just minutes before that.”
“Whatever it was, they saw his token, you know,” Sooley says.
The word “token” is one of those great old Newfoundland words. Generally, a token is used to mean a death omen, sign or apparition, either of someone’s impending or recent passing.
An actual human figure, such as the one in the Heart’s Delight story, is fairly common, but a token may take many forms.
Strange noises, the sudden stoppage or movement of a clock, moving lights, voices calling from a distance, three knocks on a door, a bird flying through a window, and many other signs, could indicate an impending death.
While the forms tokens take in local folklore are incredibly varied, Sooley’s father’s tale of a token in long underwear is the only one I have come across.
“Right to his dying day, he swore that was a true story,” says Sooley.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at