This article has been taken from our archives. It originally appeared in the April 1977 issue of The Bermudian
It’s certainly a bit annoying being evicted from your home having already paid next month’s rent, especially if it’s so pleasant a seat as “Winton”, on the North Shore in Devonshire. But when you’re forced out by nothing less than a ghost, even the staunchest heart might well cry the tears of Niobe. Yet more than one family in recent years has fled from the straying spirit of Kitty Love Dill. One young lady, who no longer lives in Bermuda, suffered a serious nervous breakdown after encounters with the ghost, but with that exception, few have suffered the tragedies that afflicted the house in the past.
Mrs. “Mac” Musson, and the rest of her family left “Winton” relatively unscathed after staying there just eleven months, from December 1964 to the following November. “We just couldn’t get any sleep at night,” explains Mrs. Musson. “Even after the first week I began to notice something, thought I didn’t believe in ghosts when I first moved in. There were sudden temperature drops in the house–even in the dining room–which couldn’t be explained away as drafts.” And then she heard reports of people seeing eerie lights drifting up and down the stairs, and the story of the woman who glided through the dining room. She began to be a bit concerned when her fourteen-year-old son was awakened one night by someone tapping on his shoulder. There was no one there. Then, looking around the room, he made out the misty shadow of a woman standing at the doorway, and as he watched, it faded softly into the darkness.
Mrs. Musson’s daughter woke up one night to find the face of a woman staring down from the rafters of her room. Quickly she turned on the bedroom light, and the face disappeared. In the hallway of the house the whole family heard tapping on the walls, and the rustling of taffeta along the wooden floors on many occasions. After a particularly restless night, when even the dog cried havoc, Mrs. Musson found the overlapping doors of the hallway closet deliberately reversed, so that only one half could close. No logical explanation was evident.
Objects would go missing too. At first Mrs. Musson thought her own carelessness was responsible, but she became convinced that something more mysterious was going on when a diamond watch reappeared in a pin box. What is more, the ghost has been known to answer the telephone. On one occasion Mrs. Musson was expecting a call from Sister Jean de Chantal of Mount St. Agnes. The phone rang but when Mrs. Musson’s daughter answered in there was no reply. Shortly afterwards it rang again: a startled Sister Jean was on the phone with an astonishing tale to tell. She said that when she had dialed a couple of minutes before, an unfamiliar voice answered. “Is this Winton?” asked sister Jean. She was told clearly that it was. Yet she was told that neither Mrs. Musson nor her daughter were at home. Puzzled, Sister Jean hung up and tried again. This time Mrs. Musson’s daughter answered… yet there was absolutely no one who could have answered the phone earlier.
At last the strange occurrences became so disturbing that the Mussons decided to leave. The furniture was moved out and Mrs. Musson returned to clean the empty house. Each move she made across the room, she declares, was deliberately followed by footsteps behind her. It was not an echo, she says, and yet there was no one there.
Through many generations of bewildered “Winton” residents, the legend has been passed that the ghost is that of Kitty Love Dill. The wife of Captain Thomas Dill, Kitty lived in the house over two hundred years ago. There are many strange tales told of this remarkable woman and at least half a dozen involve her seeing a wraith–the image of a person immediately after his death. One night she awakened to see her son, a sea captain like his father, standing clearly before her. Water was dripping from his hair, and he vanished soon afterwards. It later transpired that his ship, and all aboard her, had been lost.
It was some years before this that one of Kitty’s daughters has married another man of the sea. At a time when her husband was away, the young lady gave birth to a baby boy. Many friends gathered around her to wish her joy. But when Kitty went into the next room to fetch something she saw the ghostly figure of her son-in-law standing in the gloom before her. Like the son who had appeared at her bedside, his hair was dripping water, and Kitty knew that she had seen him for the last time. Startled, she hurried back and told the rest of the company; true to their worst fears, the young man’s vessel was never seen again.
While the experience of a wraith, as ghost stories go, is a fairy common experience, few are related so closely to a particular house. But another similar tale is told of an Old Somerset house. A more unlikely place to attract a ghost story than “Felicity Hall” would surely be hard to find. But that is because the people who have lived there over the past half-century have been such happy people as James Thurber and Hervey Allen, whose hospitality would surely banish the gloom from the dungeons of the Tower of London. But in fact the earlier history of the house is as tragic as “Winton’s”.
The three-hundred-year-old house was given by a Dr. Dalzell to his daughter Rachel as part of a dowry at the beginning of the 19th century. Rachel’s son Tom went off to sea as a young man. One night Rachel heard Tom calling loudly to hear, and woke to find him, deathly pale and dripping sea water through her nightgown. “He is drowned,” she cried–and he was. His ship had gone down that very night. Legend has it that a nightgown left in that bedroom would unaccountable become soaked with water to the point of dripping, but unlike “Winton”, whose strange occurrences have continued to the present day, this has not been noted in “Felicity Hall” since the turn of the century.
A story involving the poor treatment of an enslaved person, relates to the old house “Bel-Air”, on Cobbs Hill near the Inverurie Hotel. In 1958 the Helen Hayes Repertory Theatre visited Bermuda and, taking residence at “Bel-Air”, they conducted regular workshops and theatre training. At times there were as many as twenty of the group staying at this grand home, the property of Miss Lydia Moncure Robinson. From the moment they arrived they encountered an aura of hostility, and before long were encouraged by the atmosphere to hold a Ouija board session. This turned out to be ore than just a diversion, when repeatedly the Ouija board appeared to be working. Finally, they decided to take notes, and in this way every letter spelled out on the round polished dining room table was faithfully recorded. Though the words and letters were very much jumbled, they managed to make out occasional sentences. This enabled the Americans, who had no knowledge of Bermuda’s history, to establish that they had made contact with a female from the 18th century. When they asked her why the house had such an atmosphere of unease, she revealed through the board that an enslaved man had been horrendously tortured and consequently had cursed the house and all who lived in it. One of the strongest proofs that the Ouija board contact offered was this: the man had taken what she called “de shinnies” (an early term for jewellery), and as a result his right hand was thrust into a lime kiln. She even revealed the location of the kiln at the southeast corner of the property. The drama group, along with the estate agent for the property, went to the southeast corner and found nothing but a flat lawn. When they dug a few feet, however, they came across the remains of a lime kiln.
During the rest of their stay of several months, the occupants were never gain able to bring back the female they had contacted. But there followed several unaccountable events, such as all the lights going out for a short time, even though there were two master switches in the basement, and no other house in the area suffered this temporary blackout.
Yet another old Bermuda house, which is said to be haunted by one who was a captive within its walls, is “Spithead,” on the shores of Granaway Deep in Warwick. Indeed the grounds of “Spithead” have the distinction of being walked by the specters of two people. The house was originally the home of the famed privateer, Hezekiah Frith, and used as a store for his booty. In 1800, however, Hezekiah returned with a trophy of a more valuable kind–a beautiful young French girl, whom he had carried off from the ship L’August. Stowed secretly away in the carriage house (now a separate dwelling called “Spithead Lodge”) the kidnapped beauty pined away and dies. Since then, it is said, she wanders lonely and confused around the house.
In 1956 “Spithead Lodge” was occupied by the distinguished playwright Noel Coward, who boasted that he had encountered the girl on numerous occasions, and in fact maintained a charming relationship with her. Another dramatist, Eugene O’Neil, lived at “Spithead” in the late 1920’s, and Mrs. O’Neil, with unshakable confidence, claimed that she had seen the spectre of the solitary French lass. Legend has it furthermore, that old Hezekiah himself can be seen pacing the waterfront impatiently on a blustery evening, waiting for the weather to change so that he can put to sea once more.
A secret better kept is the story of the ghost at “Verdmont”, the Bermuda National Trust’s exhibition home on Collector’s Hill in Smith’s Parish. Though the principal characters are described in the handbook given to the thousands of visitors each year, their haunting habits are not.
“I never tell anyone about the ghost,” says Mrs. Lilian Fox, curator of the house. Nevertheless, many leave feeling somewhat uneasy and school children frequently run down from the attic with a fear they can’t explain. It was a couple of years ago that Mrs. Fox went up to the attic, and standing not more than three feet from her was the ghostly figure of a tall, thin man, with thin grey hair. It was the ghost of Mr. Spencer Joell, the last resident of “Verdmont”, who Mrs. Fox had personally known before his death about six years before. The figure remained for only a few short seconds, and Mrs. Fox went quickly downstairs, a very shaken woman. Another person who works at the museum tells of hearing long strides in the attic, and the sound of a coil of rope being thrown on the bare floor. Climbing the stairs to see who was there, she found no one.
Perhaps the most alarming, is a photograph sent to Mrs. Fox by a visitor from Madison, New Jersey. She knew nothing of the ghost, but there was something unusual in the photograph she had taken in the attic. The figure of a man can be vaguely made out, sitting at the table. His arms and shoulders merge with the shape of the doll house in a glass case behind him, but his head is clearly visible above the case. And yet the photographer maintains that she saw absolutely no one there when she took the picture. Mrs. Fox swears that the figure bears a distinct likeness to Mr. Spence Joell.
Spencer Joell’s ghost is not the only one the haunt the ground of “Verdmont”, however, and Miss Lillian Joell, the former owner of the property and Spencer Joell’s sister, often claimed to hear strange unexplainable noises around the house. And workmen, preparing the house to be shown as a museum, warned Mrs. Fox that she had seen Mr. Stafford Joell, Spencer Joell’s father, drive into the garden in a horse and cart! It is a common belief that it is this spirits of those whose deaths were either violent or unhappy that are the most likely to return. Mrs. Fox explains that Spencer Joell spend his last days very miserably at Prospect nursing home, torn reluctantly away from his beloved “Verdmont”.
It has burned down now, but few can forget Admiralty House, which for three hundred years overlooked Clarence Cove in Spanish Point. From 1962 until 1974, it was the residence of “Bubbles” Burnard, quartermaster of the Bermuda Regiment for many years. He told how on several occasions he and his wife would hear noises at night. On getting out of bed they would see the ghostly shadow of an old mariner, drifting through the main hall in the uniform of an admiral of days gone by. The Burnards weren’t the only people to have seen the old salt, for the groundsman at the time, Mr. George Tucker, had seen him too, and many visitors to the house confirmed his story. Originally a private home, the building became the permanent residence of the appointed Admiral from this station in 1816, eventually passing into the hands of the Bermuda Regiment. In 1974 the rotting structure was burned down by the fire department. Where the old Admiral has gone one can only guess, but Clarence Cove abounds in caves and underground passages, which may well harbour the phantom seaman.
While buildings steeped in time no doubt attract ghost stories more readily than their more modern counterparts, Mr. Colin Selley and his family will never forget the summer they spent in a house near Grape Bay in Paget during the last war. It had only been built in 1931, but so violent and persistent were the many bangs and crashes that they soon moved out. Indeed, the entire Grape Bay area is supposed by many to be completely haunted. Pirates once chose the area as a burial ground for their treasures, it is said, as well as a burial ground for their crew who would be murdered to preserve the secret hiding place.
There must, therefore, be thousands of restless souls who still wander around Bermuda in search of appeasement to this very day.
Indeed, Bermuda and all who inhabit her have the rather dubious honour of being cursed with the famous Captain John Morgan, a staunch royalist, who was infuriated by Bermuda’s behavior in supplying gunpowder to the American’s during the War of Revolution. After the renowned Gunpowder Plot, he swore that Bermuda would be perpetually haunted by his revengeful spirit! Hopefully our hospitality to all and sundry since those difficult days has earned us pardon.