Friday, February 8, 2013

Prince Edward Island: Cemetery Dare

As I have mentioned in other posts it is fascinating how ghost folktales spread from one part of the world to the next. 
Each region that tells these stories insert their own regional flare—to make sure the listener or reader knows the story happened locally. A story is always more compelling if it happened in one’s own backyard. 

In the past I have shared two versions of the traditional folktale about a person who is dared to go to a graveyard at night and leave proof they were actually there. The following story is from Canada and it is one of my favorite versions of this traditional tale. This version leaves the ending to the reader’s imagination—in a way this makes it scarier.

A farmer by the name of Kemp was new to the area having left Scotland to start a new life. He like many other highlanders settled on an island called St. Johns west of Canada in the 1700’s. * He was able to clear his land and plant crops quickly. 

One evening after he finished building his new home he decided to seek company. He found himself at the local general store. He approached a wood-burning stove that several of his neighbors were gathered around. 

Two of the men were hotly debating whether the old French Cemetery was haunted. ** One of them loudly stated that the spirits there were not exactly peaceful. Another man joined the debate reminding the two men that many witnesses including him had seen a strange light floating above a graveyard. 

Kemp breaking into the conversation announced to the group in general that he did not believe in any silly superstitions about ghosts.

At his statement several men shifted uncomfortably—for many of the locals believed something evil was in this cemetery. The group fell silent and then one of the original debaters stated, “If there is only dried bones in that cemetery—then you shouldn’t be afraid to spend the night there.” 

Finding the man’s dare humorous Kemp immediately accepted it. Another member of the group grabbed a pitchfork leaning against the wall and handed it to Kemp. “Here, take this fork and plant it somewhere so we know you actually entered the graveyard.”

As the Scotsman left, the owner of the store called out, "If you do it I will give you several months’ supply of tobacco." The group heard Kemp walking down the road in the dark whistling a tune. 

The next morning Kemp’s wife entered the store frantic—had anyone seen her husband. A small group of men upon hearing her pleas rushed out.

When they entered the cemetery they called out Kemps name but they heard no reply. Uneasy, they started to search the area. 

Within moments a member of the group shouted and pointed toward the pitchfork’s handle standing upright with no apparent support. As the group closed in on the fork they spotted Kemp’s body lying frozen on the ground. 

Kemp’s features seemed to reflect some unseen horror. The terrified men bent down to pick up his body but it resisted. One of them discovered the cause. The pitchfork’s tines were holding Kemp’s coat firmly to the ground.

Frightened, the men left the cemetery quickly. Once back at the store the members of the group pondered—who or what had plunged that pitchfork into the ground after the Scotsman had collapsed. ***

* Prince Edward’s Island at one time was called—St. John’s Island.

** In the 1500’s the island was a French colony. In 1873 it became a part of Canada.

*** This ending is different than other folktales because it leaves what happened to the imagination of the reader. 

Unlike other similar tales it does not have the victim who takes the dare die by their own hand in the cemetery--in other words trapping themselves with a knife or in this case a pitchfork as they plunge it into the ground. Then thinking something evil or ghostly has got them they die of fright.

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