Murder, Ghosts and Halloween

Halloween Blog Post

Murder, Ghosts and Halloween

Posted on October 29 by John Goddard in Mystery, Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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I wasn’t expecting ghosts. I took the train to Stratford from Toronto to launch my book, The Man with the Black Valise, and everything was lining up nicely. The next day would be the 125th anniversary of the murder of Jessie Keith, a girl who lived north of Stratford in Listowel. Her killer had stood trial at the Perth County Court House, then been hanged at Stratford Jail, both a few blocks from where I was to speak. The event was to be the first full meeting of the Stratford and District Historical Society, and the organizer was Nancy Musselman, a tour guide whose commentary had inspired me to write the book in the first place.

 

The evening began with a “ghost walk.” With Halloween days away, a prowl through downtown nineteenth-century buildings seemed appropriate. Dozens of people turned out, including some from as far away as Hamilton and London.

 

Afterward, participants returned for “more spirits,” as the program put it, at the historic Queens Inn. For a moment, I wondered if the audience might be expecting another ghost story. I hold a special fondness for young Jessie and an abiding sadness for her family at the terrible way she died. I recounted the events of October 19, 1894: thirteen-year-old Jessie walking home along the railway tracks; a stranger striking her on the head with a rock, and; the girl frantically fighting off the attack until the final knife assault that ended her life within thirty seconds.

 

John Goddard, Jayne Trachsel, Alanna Poel

When I finished my speech, I went to the back of the room to sign books and Fred Gonder took this photograph that, to me, perfectly captured the spirit of the evening. The room dates nearly to the time of Jessie’s murder, the upstairs is said to be haunted, and the first two women in line were dressed as ghosts. They were Jayne Trachsel, the historical society’s vice-president (centre) and society member Alanna Poel, both draped in pale silks and tulle shawls, their faces painted white. I wasn’t expecting ghosts but I felt reassured by their solemnity and sense of calm self-possession.

 

 

John Goddard

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
John Goddard photo

John Goddard

John Goddard is an author, magazine writer, and former Toronto Star reporter. His books include Inside the Museums: Toronto’s Heritage Sites and Their Most Prized Objects and Rock and Roll Toronto, with pop critic Richard Crouse. John lives in Toronto.