For the past 14 years, I've been leading tours of downtown St. John's. One of the favourite spots is Willicott's Lane and Masonic Terrace, the two laneways which intersect just behind the old Masonic Temple on Cathedral Street.
Masonic Terrace is one of the most delightful hidden treasures of old St. John's.
Author Jack White in his "Streets of St. Johns" books has argued that the lanes are amongst the oldest remaining in the city. On more than a few occasions, people have said to me, "I've lived in St. John's all my life, and I never knew those lanes existed."
In spite of being hidden away, or possibly because of it, that location has attracted a few strange tales over the years.
A while back, "Margaret" shared with me a ghostly tale which she had learned from her father. The story started on Masonic Terrace, and dates to the 1940s.
At that time, her family lived in a house on Gower Street, in the block of Victorian row houses on the south side of the street, between Bulley Street and Church Hill. Her mother and father had friends who lived just off Gower Street in one of the houses on Masonic Terrace.
In the summertime, young Margaret's mother and father would walk over from Gower Street to visit their friends at Masonic Terrace. Their daughter went with them a few times, but the family friends owned a huge black dog which the girl did not like, so more often than not the couple walked to Masonic Terrace on their own.
After their visits, the couple would then walk the short distance back home. Even though the distance was not great, the girl's father always felt uncomfortable. For some reason, he always felt that someone was walking along with them. At times, he said, one would feel someone swish on by, like they were walking on ahead, but there was nobody there.
One night in particular, as they were making the return journey home, the man felt as if someone's hand had been placed on his shoulder. He suggested to his wife that they pick up their pace, saying "let's walk a little bit faster."
They walked across Church Hill and drew close to their house. As they did, the man could feel the pressure on his shoulder increase. By nature, he was not a man to be fooled with, and was far too practical to believe in anything like ghosts or spirits. In spite of this, he was certain that something was there, and whatever it was, he was determined not to let it into his house.
He turned the key in the lock, opened the door, and then almost pushed his wife inside.
"Go ahead now," he said to her.
He hurried in after her and swiftly made to shut the door. As he did so, he turned white with fear. There was no one visible on the street, but something pushed back on the door.
An invisible weight pressed against the door, as if someone was intent on gaining entry.
Putting his shoulder to the door, the man forced it shut, and locked it from the inside. Still oblivious to what was happening, his wife turned and asked, "What was that all about?"
At the time her husband did not tell her, not wanting to scare her. Some time later, he told his family what had happened. Years afterwards, as skeptical a person as he was, he remained convinced that something had walked them home and had tried to get inside.
Next time you walk down one of those old lanes, you, too, might want to pick up your pace, and pass quickly by.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at email@example.com.