“What is that?” you ask him.
You're told it is just someone passing by on the walking trail behind his house. And then, another breeze blows through. It is literally just the wind.
The one thing you don’t want to hear or experience, however: Knock. Knock. Knock.
Sollows has researched much of Yarmouth County’s history over the years. He’s taken people on walking tours of the town on his Spirits by the Sea tours during the annual Seafest festival, where he shares stories of spirits: both those that come in a bottle poured into a glass and the other kind – the kind that leave people skeptical or fascinated, or maybe a combination of both.
When Sollows is asked to share his favourite Yarmouth ghost stories, three immediately spring to mind.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
The first takes you back in time to the late 1800s to Yarmouth’s Richan’s Tavern, also known as Vengeance House, which was located in the south part of Main Street and where a haunting was said to have occurred. The name ‘vengeance’ wasn’t associated with evil; rather, it was the name of a vessel on which Captain John Richan, the owner of Vengeance House, had sailed.
He had a daughter named Lydia.
She had a friend named Maria.
Sollows says that according to a report carried in the Yarmouth Times in 1903, whenever Maria stayed over, the girls would hear a knocking or tapping sound, often coming from within the walls. It was investigated and there was no explanation for this. But a pious neighbour believed it was pure trickery on the part of the girls. Looking to prove himself right, he decided to ask the “spirit” some questions. Sollows relays the exchange.
He asked this presence, “How many years will I live?” And it was silent.
He asked this presence, “How many months will I live?” And it was silent.
He asked the presence, “How many weeks will I live?” And it was still silent.
So he asked, ‘How many days will I live?’ and there were three loud knocks heard.
“Three days later, he dropped dead,” says Sollows.
The knocking continued, for a while.
“Maria had a brother-in-law who had been missing at sea and the assumption was that he had been murdered by pirates. And so, they asked the presence, ‘Has this man been lost to pirates?’ and the knock replied ‘yes’,” says Sollows.
“Sometime after that, Maria was visiting a home in the community owned by Sam Marshall. A snake slithered into the room and began to coil itself around her leg. She screamed, the snake left, and after that the knocking was heard no more.”
HE WASN’T THERE
Then there’s the photo from Frost Park – the one taken by a resident named Theresa Babin and reported in the Yarmouth Vanguard in the early 2000s when it occurred. She told the newspaper she had not seen anything out of ordinary when she snapped the photo in the park. But, when she later reviewed the photo, a man in period dress could be seen in the shrubbery. She swore the man was not there when she took the picture.
“When I look at that image, I certainly see someone in dress from another time,” Sollows says, noting Frost Park was set aside as the town burying ground when the original land grants were given out.
“It was used for a burial ground up until 1860. In that time, in 1860, some of the town fathers decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to be burying our dead in the middle of town,” he says.
A decision was made to find another location – hence the design and opening of Yarmouth Mountain Cemetery.
Not everyone believed the photo was of a ghost. Then again, Sollows says, there was a local resident decades earlier who not only claimed to have seen a ghost in the park but to have spoken to it as well.
Asked why ghost tales hold so much interest, Sollows offers his theory.
“I think people are always interested in stuff that they can’t explain, or there’s this sense of wanting a connection with those who have gone before us,” he says.
One of Sollows’ other favourite ghostly tales deals with a phantom ship. The 200-tonne brig Yarmouth was built in 1811. As the story goes, Captain Randall McDonald sailed it to Antigua with a cargo of salt, fish and lumber. A letter was sent back to Yarmouth saying the crew had arrived safely. But, that was the last that was ever heard of the captain, his wife Rebecca, who was on the ship, and the crew of nine men, Sollows recounts.
One year later, the ship was seen entering Yarmouth harbour, although she didn’t sail to the wharf. As legend has it, some men rowed out to the brig. As they got closer, they could hear Captain McDonald shouting in a hoarse voice, “Keep off! Keep off!”
“Then, all of a sudden, the ship vanished into nothingness,” Sollows says.
Exactly a year later, he says, the ship was seen entering Yarmouth harbour again, dressed as it was the previous year. The following year, it came back again. That time, two men reportedly got within six or seven feet of her before she disappeared.
What’s interesting, Sollows says, is the record of Yarmouth Shipping did not report the loss of this ship, which, supposedly, kept making its way back to its homeport.
“The Yarmouth kept faithfully its rendezvous with Yarmouth harbour for 60 years, we are told,” says Sollows.
Each year, her vision appeared fainter and fainter until 1872, after which the ship was never seen again.