The fairies of Conception Bay

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Burton K. Janes

In 1940, there lived at Cupids a deaf-mute boy. One day, he and his family went blueberry picking. During their adventure, this lad, whose name is lost to history, became separated from the rest of his family. Somebody, hearing what was later described as "throaty squawks," went in search of the missing berrypicker. The boy, when found, was "out of his mind and very distraught." At home, after he had calmed down, he was asked to draw on paper what had happened. He drew a picture of a short man, resembling a dwarf, with a long beard and a red pointed hat.

More than 50 years ago, at Clarke's Beach, Mildred Parsons' mother and a couple of friends left on a bakeapple picking excursion in a marsh. When it was time to go home, the two friends took the lead. Suddenly, the older woman said, "We're going the wrong way." Looking down to the end of the marsh, she spied what she later called "a herd of red horses." Her friends then knew the woman was being led by fairies. "It wasn't until they got out over the hill that she knew where she was because the fairies chased her all the way out. If her two friends weren't there she would have gone in the woods."

Fairy and ghost stories have been around since the dawn of time.

As a child, I lived in the White Bay community of Hampden. To make our own entertainment on long, drawn-out summer evenings, we friends and siblings sat on our fence railing and tried to outdo each other by telling fairy and ghost stories.

By the time darkness fell, I would be scared spitless, almost too frightened to run across the garden and duck inside the house.

Of course, we'd vow and declare to never again engage in such scary storytelling ... until the next night and the next and the next. It seemed we couldn't satiate our longing to hear more stories.

I often wonder about the appeal of such stories.

Why do we enjoy telling and listening to them, especially those scarier-the-better ones? In a scientific age, when many of us boast about the logical, skeptical and intellectual bent to our minds, why do we thrive on stories designed to scare the livin' daylights out of us?

Arthur B. Reeve, in his essay, "Short, Scary Ghost Stories," sets down his own list of considerations.

A love of ghost stories may be no different than a penchant for detective stories. I personally am held captive by the mysterious. For example, who can improve on stories as diverse as G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, or the writings of Agatha Christie, the "queen of crime fiction?"

Reeve asks, could it be that we are all "full of superstition," to a lesser or greater degree? "Only we don't let it loose," he says. To divulge such personal proclivities would make us certifiable.

Perhaps, Reeve continues, "man is incurably religious." In other words, "if all religions were blotted out, man would create a new religion."

Further, we tend to "stand in awe of that which we cannot explain," he notes.

The bottom line is that many of us continue to be enamoured with stories about "things that go bump in the night."

I've had my own encounters with the unexplained in the past. All of them have left me deeply unsettled and raised questions, "What did it mean? Was it real?"

I'm an agnostic regarding fairy and ghost stories. At the same time, I'm open to a deeper explanation, despite the way my mind strives to find natural explanations for supernatural events. There is a tension between the subjective and objective. I welcome light on this dark topic.

Ready for another story?

This one took place in Carbonear. A woman went in over the hills to look for her missing cow. Led astray, she was gone 14 days and 14 nights. Meanwhile, an older woman in the town had a dream, in which she was shown the exact location of the missing woman. The townspeople got Patty Hogan to take his horse and carriage to the spot. Sure enough, there was the missing woman. "She said she was taken astray by the fairies."

There are countless numbers of fairy and ghost stories set in Conception Bay, indeed, throughout the province. Read all about them in "Sonny's Dream: Newfoundland Folklore and Popular Culture," written by the late Peter Narvaez (1942-2011), a musician, folklorist, popular culture studies scholar, ethnomusicologist and archivist. His book of 15 essays is published by Memorial University.

Freelance journalist Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at burtonj@nfld.net

Organizations: The Compass

Geographic location: Conception Bay, White Bay, Hampden Carbonear Bay Roberts

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  • Brenda Morrissey.
    February 09, 2013 - 20:38

    I loved this article. I grew uo with stories of fairies, people who saw them , and people who were terrified of them. Thank you.