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By BOB McCARTHY
Two nights from now, it will be Devil’s night and the following evening it will be Hallowe’en.
What is the probable origin of Hallowe’en? In the British Isles of ancient times and especially for those who followed Celtic beliefs, there were only two seasons. Winter ran from November 1 to April 30 and summer ran from May 1 to October 31.
May 1 was known as Beltane, a time for rebirth, the bright twin. November 1, the dark twin, was known as Samhain (summers end) or later as All Hallows Day. At sundown on the eves before each of these days, it was a time for feasting and rituals. Sundown on October 31, the beginning of the new year, saw a feast for the dead, including torches and, in later years, candles in gourds to guide the dead back to the land of the living for one night of the year. There would be bobbing for apples, tricks or treats and dressing in costume, often cross-dressing so that for one day each person could see how the other half lives. Where now, most of these activities are enjoyed by children, the Celtic New Year’s festival would mostly involve adults. All Hallow’s Eve was eventually shortened to what we now call Hallowe’en.
This is an appropriate time for ghost stories with a Lambton connection.
Let’s listen in as a group of older gentlemen sit smoking their pipes, huddled around a wood stove in a general store in the afternoon on October 31 during the 1980’s.
“You know, I can remember a few years back when I was a youngster living in Moore. You remember that in those days we just had outhouses. They was much more prevalent than the inside facilities many folks have nowadays.
“It was just turning dark when a bunch of us boys was out trying to move an outhouse. We was surprised by a loud voice ordering us to put it back. It was the farmer who owned the property. Since he had a scowl on his face and a pitchfork in his hand, we did what he asked and then skedaddled out of there. But as I said it was getting dark and the farmer did not see that as we placed it back down, we put it a few feet farther back than its original position, leaving the hole in the ground right in front of the door.
“We heard with joy the next day that as the farmer came out to use the facilities and reached out to open the door, he disappeared down the hole. His next stop must have been into the creek, clothes and all. We was lucky the farmer didn’t know who we was. I only know that he was the butt of many a joke and off-colour comments for the next several days.”
“That’s nothing” came another voice. “Let me tell you about the ghost of Gustin’s Grove.
“At one time, there was a settlement in Bosanquet along the lake known as Gustin’s Grove. At various times from as early as 1917 to as late as 1979, the big band sound was very popular in dance pavilions in places such as Kenwick-by-the-Lake in Brights Grove, the Lakeview Casino in Grand Bend, and for a period of time in a pavilion built at Gustin’s Grove. Back in the fifties, the owner became reborn as a Christian and decided that he should no longer operate the dance hall and the refreshment stands included with it. He decided to sell all of his business assets.
“At some later date, he apparently told someone that he had had a revelation and that he would be speaking with the Lord that evening. As some people watched, he entered Lake Huron just as the sun set, walked straight out into the water and was never seen again. To this day, his spirit is said to haunt the area of his old homestead and possibly other nearby properties. Perhaps he has some unfinished business yet to be completed here on earth.”
“I can top that” added another of the old men. “A lady friend of mine once told me that she rented her cottage along Lake Huron about thirty years ago to a young couple who later reported to her that late one night they had seen a male apparition wearing a cape enter the bedroom they were sleeping in. The ghostly figure, remained for a few seconds, and then disappeared. How do you explain that?”
Then, another man piped up “Those are just stories. Let me tell you the truth about the ‘34/44 Room’, a place up in Grand Bend where beer sold for 34 cents and liquor for 44 cents. It was started up by the Menards, Hank and Monetta, who bought a cottage in Grand Bend about 1950.
“They converted the lower floor was converted to their little pub. Operated by Hank, it was only licensed for 15 people but still offered local entertainment. Upstairs, his wife operated a sophisticated dining area known as Monetta Menard’s. Here, she would sit in a rocking chair and greet her customers as they entered. In one part of the house, the Menards also had a small licensed room known as the “Rose Room”. With a seating capacity of only two, the “Rose Room”, which operated until 1980, was at that time Ontario’s smallest licensed room.
“Following the death of Monetta in 1968, her husband Hank remarried and his new wife Doris and her son moved into the Menard home. From then until about 1980 when Hank Menard sold the business, strange things began to happen around the building.
“The red rocking chair, from which Monetta used to greet her guests, would at times begin to rock by itself. As well, Doris’s son was awakened many nights by a white-haired lady who was pinching him. The drawers in a dresser in the boy’s room would at times open and close by themselves. Doris Menard even claimed that she was pushed down a flight of stairs one day when she was alone in the house.”
It was quiet for a few moments except for the sound of the old men puffing on their pipes. Then, the last man spoke. “I grew up down in Sombra where they told a story about a schoolmaster who was charged in 1829 with ‘pretending to exercise witchcraft’, a charge which still appeared in our statutes at least until the mid 1960's?
“Seems that Kent County’s most famous spirit visited the Baldoon settlement about 1829. It was on this same day of the year, All Hallows Eve, that the Baldoon ghost made its first appearance. Several houses were apparently invaded, with objects moving about in the houses, items disappearing and reappearing, strange behaviour by animals and even small fires starting spontaneously.
“There are accounts and records of the subsequent court case held in Sandwich Township. These accounts state that a Mr. Robert E. Barker, a teacher from Sombra Township, came to the Baldoon home of a Mr. John MacDonald with the purpose of putting a stop to all this mischief and mayhem. The Sombra schoolteacher said that he could combat witches by nailing a horseshoe up over a door with a sealed letter behind it. This was tried and over the next few days, the letter was found in different parts of the yard.
“Each time, Barker would add more words, reseal the letter and hang it over the door once again. Eventually, the locals began to believe that Barker was responsible for the unnatural happenings.
“At one point, John MacDonald walked with Barker. He said that Barker claimed that a few weeks previous, he had met two people who claimed to be spirits. Barker told him that these two spirits had informed him that they were from the ‘old country’, were distant relatives of the MacDonalds, and had a message for John MacDonald about an estate that he was entitled to back in Scotland. Mr. Barker stated publicly that any witchcraft being practiced was by two women in the settlement.
“The jury found Mr. Barker guilty of ‘pretending to exercise witchcraft’ and he was sentenced to one year in jail and to stand in the pillory on the last day of each quarter and to give surety for his good behaviour. The presiding officer doubted the wisdom of the jury and recommended clemency.
“Now, by the looks on your faces, it seems that you may not believe me. But this was all recorded in a Detroit paper of the day. What I do not know is whether or not Robert E. Barker, the schoolmaster from Sombra, served time or was released.
The first man spoke again. “That may be for the best. Stories such as these, stories about spirits, should end with no earthly resolutions.”
HISTORICAL NOTES from the author:
Each of the above is based on stories told to me in years past by Lambton residents. Happy Hallowe’en.