Forgotten Ghost Stories of 19th Century Quebec
The following is an article which was published in the July 9th, 1891 issue of the Los Angeles Times entitled ‘The Mysterious: One Man’s Experience Touching the Unseen and Awful’. The article details three true tales of the unexplained set in 19th Century Quebec which have proved impossible to incorporate into other pieces. The column was written by one Mr. Alfred Balch, who, judging from his writing style, may be the same Alfred Balch who contributed articles on wild camping and backcountry survival to the April-September 1889 issue of the sport, travel, and recreation magazine Outing.
Before we begin, I’d like to tell you a little about the fascinating gentleman who provided me with this article, to whom I’m very much indebted. Incidentally, this shout-out will give you a little insight into what happens behind the scenes in the ‘Mysteries of Canada’ studio.
Over the past six years, I’ve researched and written about a lot of different mysteries which fall under the umbrella of Fortean- the study of unexplained phenomena. Although such work, by its very nature, does not typically yield concrete answers or definite proofs, one undeniable fact with which it has furnished me, and impressed upon me time and time again, is that the Fortean community is populated with some of the nicest and most generous people you could ever meet. One of those people is Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra, an American researcher whom my readers may have noticed consistently appears in my books’ Acknowledgements sections. Gary has generously provided me with reams of rare and invaluable material from old newspapers and magazines without which, in all honesty, none of my books could have been written. Whenever I’ve asked Gary how I can repay him for his generosity, he’s asked me to create an online presence for and promote the business of his friend Ted Doades, a very old-fashioned character who I think I’ve finally figured out.
Mr. Doades sells old, very rare, out-of-print magazines, all of them on the subject of either lost treasure or the Old West. The price at which he sells his magazines, considering their rarity, is so ridiculously low that it almost beggars belief. I’ve acquired several of Mr. Doades magazines, and their quality, especially considering their age, is impeccable. To the best of my knowledge, the only way to get in touch with Mr. Doades, acquire a catalogue of the magazines he has for sale, or purchase his magazines is through snail mail. I found out the hard way, after literally years of trial and error, that he will only respond to you if you include $2 US dollar in your letter to him, as a postage and stationery fee. You can find Mr. Doades’ mailing address, along with instructions on how to order from him, on the one-page website DoadesMagazines.com. So if you or someone you know would enjoy acquiring old treasure or Western magazines, please help me help Gary by supporting the business of Ted Doades.
Thank you so much for reading, and enjoy the article.
One Man’s Experience Touching the Unseen and Awful
A Mysterious Coin and a Ghostly Cigarette Smoker
I am not a superstitious. I do not believe in Theosophy. I have never received any evidence of the truth of Spiritualism. I never saw a ghost. I have no fear of ill luck. Yet I have had in my life a few experiences I cannot explain, and one of these happened to me only the other day. Being a smoker of cigarettes which I make myself, I buy little books of cigarette paper. These have covers of cardboard, and each contains about 100 sheets of what is called rice paper. On a Saturday morning I purchased one of these books, and used it that day and the next. I have a little square table alongside of my chair in the sitting room which is meant to hold books I may be reading and other little things which I use. On Sunday night I made and smoked a cigarette just before going to bed. The table at that time was covered with a white cloth on which was the ‘Life of Savonarola’ by Clarke, a match safe, a saucer for ashes, my tobacco pouch, my cigarette holder and this book of cigarette paper. There were when I went to bed about seventy sheets of paper in the book.
On Monday morning after breakfast I went into the front room to get a cigarette. When I picked up the book it was empty, and I was forced to hunt up another. Everything else was on the table as I had left it the night before. But alongside of the book lying on the white cloth was a round copper coin, worn badly on one side, but showing raised characters on the other. My wife is a collector of coins in a very small way, having thirty or forty of those that have struck her fancy, and when I looked at this coin I had found I supposed it belonged to her. I did not know what it was, nor had I ever seen a coin like it before. I carried it back to the dining room to ask her where she got it, when she startled me slightly by speaking as though she was obliged to me for having procured it for her. I, of course, knew I had never seen it before, and I found out that it was as strange to her.
She called the servant in, for we both supposed it must belong to her, but she after examining it declared she had never seen it. She also proved that she had not been in the sitting room since the afternoon of the day before. My wife and I then went into the front room and removed everything from the table trying to find the cigarette paper, but without success. There are four facts which we established: First, that the cigarette paper had disappeared between 10 o’clock on Sunday night and 7 o’clock on Monday morning; second, that the coin had made its appearance in the interval; third, that we had never seen the coin before and did not know what it was; and fourth, that no person so far as we knew had been in that sitting room during that time. The folding doors between the sitting room and the bedroom were wide open during the night, and it would be impossible for any one to move about that room without being heard.
I took the coin to a numismatist, who told me it was an Egyptian five para piece. Its value is about one cent. I have the coin still, and I am no nearer knowing how I got it now than I was the morning I found it resting on the white tablecloth alongside of the empty covers of the cigarette book.
The Ghost of a Mud Puddle
Now for a story of one of the greatest scares I ever got. Between the villages of Tadousac and L’Ouse a L’Eau [probably Tadoussac and L’Anse a L’Eau], at the mouth of the Saguenay river, in Canada, there is a hill at the base of which is a ravine, and over this is a bridge.
It happened one night when I was in my fifteenth year that I was detained in Tadousac until 13 o’clock, and the people I was with talked of the ghost of a Canadian habitant who had committed suicide in the ravine, which was supposed to haunt the scene of the self slaughter. About ten minutes past midnight I left the house and started to walk home in the moonlight. When I reached the bridge I looked down into the ravine, and my heart seemed to stand still. There, outlined against the bushes in the shadow of the bridge, was a tall, white, misty sort of figure, dressed apparently in long and flowing robes and having one arm raised. It seemed to me the fingers beckoned to me.
I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself, but it was no use, the figure was there! Then I picked up some stones and threw them down. They went through it, yet still it beckoned to me to come! I took to my heels and made the quickest time I ever made to the top of the hill.
Being somewhat blown by my fright and my run I stopped, and thinking for a moment, went back. There was the figure, still beckoning with that horrid hand. It seemed to me I could see eyes that glared at me. I threw more stones, but they had no effect whatever, and I made up my mind I would go down and see what that thing was, no matter what happened. I can give you no idea in words of how real it looked to me from whatever point I gazed, and how my blood seemed to be cold when I watched that infernal hand beckon to me.
At the end of the bridge there was a fence which I climbed and began to work my way down the bank. The thing was there still, and I cannot say with truth that I went very fast. I threw stones at it, which had no effect whatever, and I was all ready if it moved toward me- as I really half believed it would if I stoned it long enough- to get up that bank in short order. At last I was close to it and I put out my hand very cautiously, for it was still plainly before me, to touch it. I only touched the bushes!
For a moment or two I was confused, my mind had become convinced there was something there. Then I searched for the cause of the appearance, as that had not vanished, and speedily found it. Under the bridge there was a little pool of water, which, acting as a mirror, reflected the moonlight upon the bushes, and the shape the light assumed made my ghost. The explanation was so simple, that, coming as it did after my great fright and struggle with myself before I could make up my mind to examine it, it made me very angry. Had I been able to connect it with any persons I should have wished to hurt them in some way, but as it was I could only go home deriding myself for my absurd credulity.
Ghostly Footsteps but No Voice and No Visible Form
When I was a student at McGill university, in Montreal, two years after seeing this ghost of a mud puddle, there was an old house up on the mountain which had the name of being haunted. Charlie Ferry, Jack Mills and I went up there one night to see what would happen. The place was a tumble down, drear sort of a structure, but we managed to start a fire in one of the rooms and to make ourselves fairly comfortable. We had a lunch with us and two or three champagne bottles filled with strong coffee, which we believed would help us to keep awake. We went up stairs and down, finding the doors open everywhere.
It must have been after 11 o’clock when I heard one of the boys speak of the cold. The month was October, and, although the night was cool, no one accustomed to a Canadian winter would have called it even chilly. Not only that, but we had a big fire in the open fireplace, so large a one in fact that we had been forced to move away from it. We all felt this cold, however, in the most distinct way, and it seemed to me afterward, although this probably was my imagination, that the flame became dim. The cold did not arouse in us any idea of the supernatural, for we all concluded it was the chill of the night.
While we were talking we heard the sound of footsteps in the hall. There were no carpets and the noise was distinct, coming through the open door. We had reflecting lanterns with us, and we crowded to the doorway to see who it was that had come to join us. I distinctly remember thinking it was some one of the college boys who had made up his mind to share our watch. But when we looked out into the hall, with the light of the lanterns turned on its bare boards, there was no one there. It is beyond a question that no woman was in sight. Yet as we looked we heard a woman’s steps coming toward us and we heard the swish of her dress as it dragged.
It needed but a glance at the startled faces of Charlie and Jack to tell me they heard what I heard. As the thing, whatever it was, came toward us, we drew back while it turned and went up the stairs. We remained where we were, listening. The footsteps mounted the stairs, and then we heard them overhead, moving through all the rooms, now fainter, now louder. At last they came back and moved down the stairs, and with them came, it seemed to me, the same feeling of cold. They passed into the room where we were and moved back into the room in the rear. They sounded exactly like the movements of a person who is looking for something. At one time I thought I heard something like sighs, but as the others did not hear this I think I must have been mistaken.
The footsteps and the swish of the dress came toward us and went away. Up and down the hall they went for, I should think, half an hour, and then, as suddenly as they began, they ceased. With them went the cold, nor did we feel this again that night. We saw nothing, but we all three heard the steps and the dress as plainly as I now hear a passing train on the elevated road. We never found out the cause of the sounds- in fact, we were not anxious to go back to the house- and we never heard any story which would account for them. They remain one of the unexplained things which have happened to me.
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