Volume 95, Issue 33

Wednesday, October 31, 2001
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Going on a Ghost Hunt

Your guide to spooks and ghouls in the London region

The Hunter and the Haunted

Your guide to spooks and ghouls in the London region

The Ghost of The Grand

Chris Lackner/Gazette
HE'S A DEAD GUY WHO LOVES THESPIANS. The ghost of Ambrose Small is still said to haunt London's Grand Theatre.
Beyond its history of live performance, London's Grand Theatre is known for a famous spirit – that of its original builder, Ambrose Small.

Small was a wealthy businessman who owned many theatres across Ontario around the turn of the century, said Chris Doty, a local historian and filmmaker, noting The Grand was always believed to be Small's favourite.

Small was last seen in Dec. of 1919, Doty explained. Despite a lengthy investigation, no clues about his fate were ever discovered.

Since Small's disappearance, directors, actors and stage crews have told stories of various unexplainable occurrences within the theatre, including sightings of Small himself.

Small's ghostly apparition has often appeared within the balcony to the left of the main stage, which used to be Small's private box, said Rob Welland, the public relations manager for The Grand Theatre.

Welland said he has total faith that Small still acts as the theatre's guardian. "Everyone feels it is a very benevolent spirit," he said.

Bravo television once brought in a "ghost-hunting" crew to the theatre, including three ghost hunters and one psychic, Welland explained. The crew had numerous difficulties with malfunctioning equipment during the time of their shoot, he added.

In a strange coincidence, only one of the nine photos The Gazette took within The Grand Theatre turned out during development, despite the fact that every other picture on the same roll of film was perfectly exposed. Perhaps old Ambrose never wanted to see this very feature come to fruition.

Doty said seances conducted at the theatre in the mid-70s purportedly revealed that information explaining Small's disappearance could be found in the theatre's west wall. Coincidentally, during renovations in 1977, it was the only wall of the theatre left untouched.

"It's something about life after death," Doty said. "What is a theatre without a ghost? Ambrose must be really happy this talk is still going on. Years after his death, his name is still bringing in the crowds."

The Story of Marion "Peg-Leg" Brown

London's old Middlesex County Courthouse is probably crawling with the spirits of those who were executed in the past, but no ghost is more famous than "Peg Leg" Brown

A tramp named Marion Brown (1870-1899) came to London, Ontario and allegedly shot and killed local Const. Mike Toohey in 1898. "Peg-Leg," as he was called (because of his one wooden leg), was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging during a highly publicized trial at the London Courthouse.

On May 17, 1899, a covered gallows were erected in the courthouse courtyard. Before his execution, Brown remained calm and maintained his vows of innocence, promising that "grass will never grow on my grave."

During the night, people say you can still hear Marion Brown's wooden leg tapping on the floors of the courthouse's upper levels. Also, according to myth, Peg-Leg's shadow appears at dawn on the west wall of the jail yard on the anniversary of his death.

Dave Van Dyck/Gazette
IN THE SHADOW OF PEG-LEG BROWN? No, it's actually one of The Gazette's gonzo journalists, searching for ghosts.

A Ghostly Rider - The Spirit of Eldon House

When a story involves a soldier, a dance, tragic romance and death – you can bet your ass a ghost has got to be involved.

Eldon House, built in 1834 and located at 481 Ridout St. N., is the home of one of London's most legendary ghost stories.

Eldon House historical interpreter Sarah Cowling said the famous ghost story involves Sarah Harris, one of the Harris family daughters, who originally built and owned the home.

In 1844, Sarah's boyfriend, Lieut. Wenman Wyniatt – a solider stationed at London's garrison – was supposed to attend a party at the house, Cowling explained.

He was allegedly seen at the door of the dining room at 6 p.m. – in the midst of the evening's festivities – she explained, noting he was dressed in his riding clothes, but refused to answer Sarah or her father's attempts at a greeting. Without uttering a word, he is said to have turned away and was not seen for the rest of the evening.

The next morning, Wyniatt's servant came to the house questioning the whereabouts of the Lieutenant, Cowling said. His horse was found wandering along the Thames River and a search party later discovered his drowned body in the river's waters. His pocket watch was frozen at the time of 6 p.m..

People who currently go on tours of Eldon House sometimes say they feel a cold presence in the living room or feel something brush past them upon the stairs, she said. "People come to the old house. Their imagination gets the best of them."

Dave Van Dyck/Gazette
SCOBY-DOO WOULD HAVE A FIELD DAY. Eldon House, London's oldest standing home, has its own resident spirit.

The Black Donnellys

Just north of London – down Highway 4 past Arva and Elginfield – lies the small town of Lucan and the sinister shadow of a bloody massacre.

According to J. Robert Salts' book, You Are Never Alone, it all began with the murder of Patrick Farrel, who had a history of disagreement with the senior member of the Donnelly family, James Donnelly.

An arrest warrant was issued for Donnelly and after nearly a year as a fugitive, he turned himself in.

Dave Van Dyck/Gazette
STANDING THE TEST OF TIME. Years after the family's infamous slaughter, the Donnelly family barn lingers on.

Donnelly was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, but his wife petitioned for clemency and the sentence was eventually reduced.

This gave the Donnelly family a reputation that did not soon fade.

When a rash of fires, animal mutilations, thefts and beatings occurred in the area, the Donnellys were automatically suspected.

An association called the Biddulph Peace Society was formed in order to catch those who committed the alleged crimes. They attempted to charge members of the Donnelly family with arson, but there was no clear evidence linking the crimes to the family.

The society formulated a plan to tie the members of the family to trees and use force to extract confessions from them.

They arrived at the Donnelly home on the evening of Feb. 3, 1880. Armed with clubs, they stormed the residence.

The men then proceeded to viciously slaughter all those in the house, with the exception of family friend, 13-year-old Johnny O'Connor.

The vigilantes then burned the Donnelly house to the ground.

The foundation of the old Donnelly house is still marked by stones and the original Donnelly barn still stands. Many tales and sightings of the restless Donnelly spirits have been reported by various witnesses over the last 120 years.

–Chris Lackner, Colin Butler and Grant Donaldson

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Copyright The Gazette 2001