Nfld. & Labrador

Ghost ships, dead pirates and phantoms: MUN student tracks ghastly tales with interactive map

Karin Murray-Bergquist's map of ghost ship stories might be the perfect way to burn a few hours during the pandemic.

Stories range from simple explanations for unexplained lights to elaborate tales of phantom murder

An interactive map compiled by a graduate student in Memorial University's folklore department is a collection of ghost ship stories from around Newfoundland. (MapHub)

Three men digging for treasure near Petty Harbour spotted the light of a pirate ship on the horizon.

But it was no regular pirate ship. It was a ghost ship.

Two of the men sprinted from their trench as they saw a dory unload from the ship and begin rowing toward them.

The two later returned to find the third man dead, and the hole filled in. They later disappeared from their homes, never to be seen again.

That's just one of the tales Karin Murray-Bergquist has collected and entered on an interactive map of ghost stories across the island of Newfoundland.

The stories range in complexity — some are mysterious lights at sea, while others are apparitions visiting people on shore when their loved ones drowned.

"There's one in Placentia Bay, I believe, it's just a full-on schooner seen with sails ablaze. That's a full-on ghost ship. Other ones are more ambiguous," said Murray-Bergquist, a graduate student in Memorial University's folklore department.


I'm hoping to solve a few mysteries.- Karin Murray-Bergquist

One features a boat full of oarsmen, all of them naked and on fire.

Another says a pirate dory visits an island in the Strait of Belle Isle every year on June 25. In the late 18th century, a pair of men tried to find what was buried on the island and both were killed — one by a "phantom slap."

Murray-Bergquist said she got the idea to map out all the stories she could find from the survey cards in the folklore department's archive after seeing a similar interactive map of the Icelandic sagas.

"The idea came mainly because I thought it would be a useful tool for me. And I thought well, if I find it useful, chances are someone else will find it useful as well," she said.

Plans to follow up on some stories

The university has been largely closed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador, but once it reopens, Murray-Bergquist has some work to do.

"There's sort of a growing to-do list. When all this is over I have a nice, long research list to start ticking away at," she said.

Check out the interactive map below:

What started as a helpful list for research has become a non-stop source of entertainment and curiosity. Murray-Bergquist said she might take it to the next step and do some fieldwork, follow up on some of the stories and see if she can get to the bottom of them.

"I'm hoping to solve a few mysteries anyway," she said. "This is definitely a work in progress, this map, and it might end up being more than I expected it to be at the start."

As for her favourite ghost ship tale, she said it's hard to decide but she's partial to the more elaborate stories, like one about mysterious lights along Cape Roger on the south coast.

"They were explained as two ghostly pirate ships fighting, and these were pirates that had used Cape Roger as a base and one had been sunk by a rival ship on the way back from Spain with plenty of fresh plunder. It's an odd story, but it's sort of so well developed from this very simple phenomenon of flashing lights."

The map can be viewed on the MapHub website.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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