Mary Gallagher, the Headless Ghost of Griffintown

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As Retold by Bekah Ferguson

The historic Irish community of Griffintown, Montreal, was once located near the Lachine Canal. It was a neighbourhood not unlike any other 19th century industrial slum: filled with stables and taverns, flour mills and smelting works, warehouses, drifters, labourers and families. But on June 27, 1879, the town gained a notoriety that lives on to this very day, even as the buildings have long since dissipated. On that ill-fated day, a pair of sex workers—Mary Gallagher and Suzy Kennedy—brought a newly acquainted client—one Michael Flanagan—back to Suzy’s second-floor flat for some early morning drinking.

On all accounts it appeared to be nothing more than three drunken companions sharing a bottle of whiskey, until a few hours later when tenants below heard a sudden thud. Next came thwacking so forceful that the plastered ceiling above them cracked; dusty bits and chunks of plaster falling down on them. A female voice above said, “I’ve wanted revenge for a long time, and I finally got it,” as a crimson stain appeared, spreading across the ceiling as blood dripped from the cracks.

When the police arrived, a crowd of onlookers were already swarming the front of the apartment building; everyone eager to see what had happened. Inside Suzy’s flat, they found Mary’s body lying prostrate on the floor in a thin cotton gown—both her head and one severed hand in a wash bucket nearby. Suzy’s own clothes were covered in blood but she said it was simply because she’d slipped and fallen in the gore. Her claim was that while she and Flanagan dozed in the front room, an unknown man—some sea captain—had entered the flat and had an argument with Mary, calling her an “old grey-haired rot.” Suzy said he was the murderer and that she’d seen him washing blood from his hands before leaving.

No one believed her. The police found a hatchet belonging to Suzy in the apartment—covered in Mary’s blood and hair. Kennedy was charged and sentenced to hang, while Flanagan was released. Suzy’s death sentence was commuted, however, and she went to Kingston Penitentiary for sixteen years instead. In a remarkable coincidence, on December 5th, the date in which Suzy had been set to hang, Flanagan lost his footing aboard a boat in the Peel Basin, fell through the ice, and drowned.

As legend would have it, the headless ghost of Mary Gallagher soon began appearing on William Street in Griffintown st near the building where she was murdered—seemingly in search of her head. Children were warned to avoid that particular street after dark. In time, the two-storey apartment building was demolished and the area re-zoned. Sightings of Mary grew less and less frequent, until she was only thought to appear once every seven years, on the anniversary of her death.

Sources:

Scholastic Canada

MTL Times

Montreal Gazette

VICE

Anomalien

Image by junko from Pixabay

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La Corriveau of New France, Quebec

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As Retold by Bekah Ferguson

In 1761 Saint-Vallier, New France, fifteen months after the mysterious death of her first husband, Marie-Josephte Corriveau married a second farmer. Two years later he was found dead in the barn with his head smashed in. At first, his death was deemed accidental—multiple kicks from a horse’s hooves—but rumors of murder quickly spread about the town. The local British military authorities soon charged Marie-Josephte’s father, Joseph Corriveau. His daughter was thought to be an accessory only and given 60 lashes; the letter M branded onto her hand with a hot iron.

Joseph, however, admitted that his daughter was the murderer, claiming she’d killed her abusive husband with two blows from the back of a hatchet while he slept. Thus, thereby found guilty by the tribunal, she was put to death in Quebec City by hanging. Her corpse was fastened into an iron cage-gibbet and dangled from a tree branch at the crossroads of Saint-Joseph Street and De l’Entente Boulevard in Lévis. There it rotted on public display for an entire month; feasted upon by flies and maggots, torn asunder by crows.

It wasn’t long before the hauntings began. Travelers soon learned not to take the river road leading past the cage at night, lest her vacant eyes should glow blood red and her shackled, leathery arms should stretch out towards them. Even after the gibbet was taken down, her body buried within the cage, the hauntings continued; her spirit rising from the grave each night to torment travelers.

One such night, a well-known citizen named Dubé was walking alongside the St. Lawrence River when the air turned chill. He stopped short just as a pair of bony fingers closed in around his throat from behind. Tendrils of greasy black hair tickled his cheeks and a ragged voice whispered, “Take me across the river.” Dubé swung around, glimpsing over his shoulder a set of red eyes and yellow teeth within a face of putrefied flesh. He fell to his knees—tearing at the slimy hands that refused to let go. “Leave me!” he screamed, then passed out from fright. The next morning his wife found him and shook him awake on the vacant road. His story spread and a curate was called in to exorcise the spirit.

A century later, the cage was dug up during an expansion project and put in the church cellar. It was stolen and sold to an American who put it in his museum in a glass display case with a placard that read simply: “From Quebec.” In time it was returned to Canada and placed permanently in the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City.

Sources:

Wikipedia

American Folklore

Strange Horizons

Spooky Canada

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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The Red River Ox Cart Ghost of Manitoba

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As Retold by Bekah Ferguson

“Ghost Scene at the Fort: Nightly Vigils of the Sentries Made Hideous by an Apparition” was the title of a newspaper article in the August 29, 1903, issue of the Morning Telegram. In the 19th century, the Red River Trails in Winnipeg, Manitoba, were a trade route of ox cart roads that connected the Red River Colony and Fort Garry in British North America all the way to the Mississippi River in the United States. In those days the area was inhabited by Scottish settlers and the Métis—who at the time, were disparagingly referred to as “half-breeds” due to their French and First Nations heritage.

The land was not shared mutually between the two groups, and thus, regarding the haunting at Fort Garry, the newspaper speculated that “the first owners of the Red River Valley [were] resenting the intrusion of the North-West Mounted Rifles upon the grounds sacred to their dead and making their displeasure severely felt.”

One ominous summer evening, in the wee hours of the night, a lone soldier standing guard outside the Lower Fort Garry saw something dark and looming approaching in the mist. Next came the rhythmic clip-clopping of hooves. An ox cart appeared from the gloom, driven by a Métis man and woman. Though puzzled by the out-dated look of the lot, the soldier shrugged it off and said nothing as the cart slowly lumbered by.

A few minutes later, however, another dark form appeared in the distant mist and what seemed to be the very same ox cart travelled by again. The third time it appeared the soldier began to tremble; palms damp and sweat on his brow. He ordered the cart to halt but no sooner had his authoritative words rung out when the entire apparition vanished like smoke in the wind. Seconds later it reappeared in the distance and disappeared again when he hysterically cried out for it to stop. By now he was in a full-blown panic and threw his rifle to the ground, running away. Back at the fort his fellow soldiers laughed off his story; but the next night, another soldier on duty had the same experience. One by one it happened to them all until there was no left who could mock.

Sources:

Canada Post

Cision

WinnipegREALTORS

Image by Ron Porter from Pixabay, adapted to a nighttime scene by Robbie Ferguson.

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