Deer Lake is home to a spooky story involving the old spillway bridge, located just after the power house in Deer Lake.
Several years ago, there was a tale floating around Deer Lake that said if you went driving in the night in that direction, you would sometimes see a hitchhiker.
This hitchhiker always took the form of a woman in a white dress, hitching for a ride to Corner Brook. If you decided to pick her up, and pulled over to the side of the road, the woman would never be there. The puzzled driver would carry on and would not see the woman again.
If, poor soul, you did not stop to pick the woman up, an even more puzzling thing was said to happen. Those who carried on down the road without her would often turn their head to look into the mirror to see the woman. Terrifyingly, the woman would be seen suddenly sitting in the passenger side seat.
It was local knowledge at the time the strange hitchhiker was the ghost of a girl who had been trying to thumb a ride out of Deer Lake, and who had been killed on the highway. It was said that if you showed compassion on the girl and stopped to pick her up, she went away. If you did not, she vented her frustration by scaring the tar out of you.
This story was sent to me by a woman in British Columbia, who grew up in Deer Lake and who heard the tale as a teenager. While I do not know for certain, she probably heard it from a friend, and that friend probably had a friend whose second cousin had actually met the spirit.
And now that it has been written down here, someone somewhere will claim with great conviction that it was true, because they read it in The Telegram.
You can not, of course, believe everything you read — or hear, for that matter. Those of you who are skeptics (or, perhaps, Memorial University folklore students) will recognize this as an intriguing Newfoundland version of the classic “Vanishing Hitchhiker” story.
It is referred to most popularly as an urban legend, though many folklorists prefer the term contemporary legend.
The core of the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend involves the driver of a car turning to bid an unusual hitchhiker goodbye and discovering that the passenger has disappeared. In many versions of the tale, the driver later learns his mysterious passenger had died years before. Sometimes the ghost leaves a book or scarf in the car, which grieving loved ones later identify as belonging to their lost loved one.
The community of Burnt Islands, located to the east of Port aux Basques, has its own twist on the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend.
One night, a local joker decided to scare people driving near Burnt Islands Park. He hid himself back out of sight, off the road, and pulled on a mask. When a car approached, the masked man darted out onto the road, running across it and terrifying the poor driver.
The prankster did this a couple times, scaring a different carload each time. However, on his last fateful attempt to play this trick, he miscalculated his nearness to the car, and the automobile struck him down.
After his death, the man returned to the spot of the accident, appearing in spirit form and still wearing a mask. It is said that if you drive past the location, you can see the ghost of a man with a mask.
Good Samaritans beware, however, for the legend says that if you stop, the ghost will get you.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.