It's considered one of the best-known ghost stories in Canada, and a Hamilton historian is looking to get to the bottom of it.
Christopher Laursen, a PhD candidate in history, will head to Wallaceburg, Ont. this September to examine the Baldoon mystery, a string of 1830s events that involved flaming haystacks, rattling dishes, black geese and other paranormal phenomenon.
It's a classic Canadian ghost story in the Chatham-Kent town, a mystery that started with a rivalry between the McDonald and Buchanan families. Many thought it was a curse, or the work of witchcraft.
Laursen isn't looking to solve any of that. Rather, he wants to look at the impact it's had on a local community that still celebrates — and fears — what happened.
Shoot a black goose with a silver bullet
"Narratives have changed over time and it's hard to trace back what really happened," said Laursen, a student at the University of British Columbia. "I want to look at how the narratives have changed.
"It's also about how these events resonate with local people today, and how they've tried to preserve the mystery."
The Baldoon mystery began in 1830 when a group of women were weaving in the barn of John T. McDonald, son of an original Wallaceburg settler. Three beams fell into the circle of workers, who screamed and ran.
Similar events followed. Among them were were strange noises, freak fires, flying stones and bullets and dying livestock, says the Wallaceburg and District Museum website.
A woman who read moonstones said that if McDonald shot a black goose on the farm with a silver bullet, the curse would end. He hit the goose in the wing, and a nearby woman — someone who had wanted to buy McDonald's land —was seen with her arm in a sling.
Many Wallaceburg residents saw spooky events. The story is part of local lore, said Brock Gerrard. He's the manager/curator of the Wallaceburg and District Museum, which has a room dedicated to the Baldoon mystery.
A story told around campfires
"It's not like a boogie man story," Gerrard said. "It's the local campfire story. It's not quite an urban legend, but it's the story everyone's still scared of."
There's a restaurant called the Black Goose, Gerrard said. The town of 10,000 residents also has a gondola festival, and it has included a gondola called the Black Goose.
Laursen will interview local residents and descendants of the Buchanans and McDonalds. He will also look at artifacts and documents related to the case.
Laursen's dissertation looks at strange poltergeist phenomenon after the Second World War. He's most interested in phenomenon that has physical evidence for which there is no easy explanation.
He's working with Paul Cropper, an Australian writer and researcher, on the Baldoon case. They hope to publish articles in the magazine Fortean Times and The Journal for the Society of Psychical Research.