Features,  Folklore Files

The Folklore Files: The Baldoon Mystery

A story of Poltergeist Activity, Curses and Psychics.
By N. J. McKay

I first heard about the Baldoon Mystery while researching for an future podcast idea. I love the paranormal, anything that is unexplained, unknown or mysterious. These creepy tales have inspired me since I was in high school, they’ve even helped spur me in my writing, creating tales involving psychics and mediums, ghosts and shapeshifters, to witches and curses. Little did I know that this story contains them all.


It all starts in a new Scottish settlement called Baldoon in the year 1830, located outside Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada, with John McDonald acquiring a piece of land. It seemed this particular land was either highly valued, or wanted for other reasons by other people around the community. There is no information on who these other people are, or why they wanted the land. All we do know is that these “people” were led by an old women. This old woman approached McDonald several times, trying to purchase the land off him.

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John refused all the requests, and our mystery begins.

The first reports would later be described as poltergeist activity. It starts when a few young women of the McDonald family were working and talking in the barn. A pole, or beam (depending on narration), fell from the ceiling to the floor. Everyone was startled, but they all could reasonably explain the event away, chalking it up to natural causes. They ignored the beam and continued with their work. Later, while the young women were still in the barn, a second pole/beam crashed down. That one, the women could not explain. Not long after, a third beam crashed down to the floor, almost hitting them. At this point, needless to say, the women were all frightened and ran out of the barn.

 

 

From then on, more odd activity began to happen around the farmhouse, continuing with a poltergeist theme haunting. Family members heard strangers marching through their kitchen in the middle of the night. Unseen persons threw bullets and stones at the exterior of the house, breaking the windows daily until every window in the house was broken and boarded up. Some witnesses recalled the stones were damp and smooth as if taken from the river that ran in front of the house. At times the roof leaked when it wasn’t raining. Supposedly an earthquake moved the foundation of the house – but none of their neighbours felt a thing. Pots and pans crashed to the floor by themselves. Most disturbing was small fires would mysteriously ignite all over the house, including on top of the roof. Sometimes multiple fires would start in different places at the same time.

 

There is a story of a man visiting the family during this ‘crisis’ when he was hit in the chest by a stone. He picked it up and threw it into the river, only to have the same stone mysteriously dropped at his feet in the kitchen a few minutes later.

 

This all sounds very much like a poltergeist. For those who don’t know what a poltergeist is, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as: a noisy usually mischievous ghost held to be responsible for unexplained noises (such as rapping) (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poltergeist).

 

On Wikipedia it goes into more detail, claiming a poltergeist (or “Noisy Spirit”) is responsible for physical disturbances such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. They are capable of physically harming people by pinching, biting or hitting. They are considered troublesome and typically haunt a particular person instead of a location. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poltergeist.

 

Many of the events so far seem to fit into those definitions, with the objects moving and sounds of footsteps in the kitchen, and I don’t blame others from seeing that connection, however there is more to the tale.

 

So, news of these strange occurrences spread, like all gossip does and people started to visit the farm to witness the activities for themselves. Even the Toronto Globe (a newspaper known today as the Globe and Mail) reported on the events in the newspaper as they happened. By all accounts that I could find, it seems this was big news and many papers started reporting on this case. With all the media, and I’m sure madness that comes from having a bunch of strangers trespass on your land, you can’t fully blame the McDonalds for trying to capitalize on their situation, and even make some money off these visitors. 

 

This is, until things grew more dangerous.

 

One visiting witness, H. Durlard, recalled visiting the farm with his father when hew was a young boy in 1830. He claims to have seen a pot rise in the air and chase a dog outside. The pot would hit the dog which would yell and howl. He also saw a butcher knife pass through a crowd of 50 men and strike the wall, impeding the full length of the ten inch blade. Eventually the McDonalds had enough of the poltergeist activity and brought in a Methodist preacher – Rev. McDorman – who tried to exorcise the spirits. However, the exorcism failed and the poltergeist became more violent. Healthy livestock started to die suddenly without cause in the middle of the night. Even reports of an ox died in the field while still connected to the plough. 

 

Things were not looking good.

 

Robert Baker, a Michigan Schoolmaster interested in witchcraft also tried to exorcise the spirit by nailing a horseshoe above the front door and invoking the Holy Trinity. The attempts were in vein, but – and I mean, given the time how could you not see this coming – but local authorities prosecuted him for attempting to preform witchcraft. Eventually, on May 6, 1830 Bake received a pardon from the Lieutenant-Governor. 

 

With the exorcisms failing, the hauntings continued and became even more violent. The cradle, where the baby was, in started to rock on its own, so hard that it took two men to stop the cradle long enough to rescue the screaming baby. Guns went off while nobody was holding them. And fires still broke out, but now with more frequency and we’re much harder to put out. It go so bad that eventually the entire farm house burned down with the family barely escaping. 

 

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The local community of Baldoon and most likely nearby settlements and towns help the McDonalds replenish their losses and the family stayed at John’s brother-in-law’s, but the activity continued to follow them and soon they feared the fires would continue as well. For a period of time the family moved from place to place like nomads until they set up a tented home on their property. However, winter was on the way and a tent would not hold up against the elements, and the family was forced back into the remains of the cursed log cabin. John continued his efforts to remove the poltergeist by seeking help from Protestant Missionaries, Native Medicine Men, and Catholic priests. Nothing worked.

 

I’m sure by now everyone can agree that John and his family were desperate to make everything stop and go back to the way things used to be. The story continues with news spreading to John about a young woman who was gifted at reading stones. For two days John and the family traveled to see this woman and explained their situation and circumstance to her. She surprises everyone by asking about any strange birds around their flocks. They replied yes, as they have seen a goose with a black head that lingered amongst their own flock from time time. The woman, a teenager girl by some accounts, told them to make a bullet out of silver & shoot the bird.

 

That’s right. We’ve got silver bullets!

 

The woman explains that by wounding the bird, they would in turn wound their enemy. So that’s exactly what the family did. Upon returning to their home, John created a bullet out of sterling silver and went to the river bank one morning to search for the suspicious, black headed goose. He found the bird and aimed his gun and shot it. The bullet broke the wing.

 

Leaving the goose, McDonald walked to the house of the old women – the one from the beginning of the story who tried to purchase the land off him – and found her sitting on her front porch, in her rocking chair, with a broken arm. With the bird shot, the old woman wounded, no spiritual manifestations were ever heard at the farm again.

 

***

 

Now, if you’re like me, you noticed how neat and tidy the ending is. Typically past stories I’ve researched regarding hauntings or poltergeists don’t typically end in this manner. Part of the reason why, is that the majority of the story we know today was written by Neil McDonald, one of the children of the McDonald family who was 5 years old at the time. 

 

The book “The Baldoon Mystery: Weird and Startling”, is an account of what happened to members of Neil’s family during this unusual time, along with eye-witnesses accounts. However, do take note that Neil wrote this as an adult and many of the “eye-witnesses” were mostly dead. Some believe the story is fabricated or exaggerated into a more narrative tale, thus the tidy ending with the killing of a black headed goose.

 

But we can not completely throw the story aside. There are article clippings from old newspapers that do report on odd paranormal activity happening in Baldoon. However, most of the articles don not give a name and there is never any mention of the girl reading stones, or a black headed goose.

 

 

Another book, “History of the Ojibwe Indians” printed in 1861 by Peter Jones, an Ojibwe Native (converted to Christianity and educated), has a similar story within its pages. Like the articles, no names are given, but some of the unusual and paranormal events that happened on the farm lined up to Neil’s story. The difference is that Peter tells the tale from the perspective of the Ojibwe, who were certain the disturbances were caused by forest fairies. Jones does claim to have vested the house himself, but saw nothing unusual. The characters in his tale seemed to have been split up into other characters in Neil’s version.

 

However, nobody can deny how the story stuck and is continued to be told to this day, becoming one of Ontario’s oldest animist popular ghost story.

 


nat-profilepicABOUT N.J MCKAY

I grew up in a small village called Beachville in southern Ontario. No, we were not near a beach. I graduated from Fanshawe College in 2005 from with Graphic Design diploma. Art of all forms have held a great interest to me.
It was a friend of mine who pulled me into an online writing forum with a Star Wars theme. I’ve always liked writing but was very timid and lacked confidence that I could do anything with it. That rpg site helped me open up, discover my joy in writing and creating new characters and worlds. I took the lessons I’ve learned from that site and entered my first NaNoWriMo in 2011.


From there I built a blog, wrote more novels and learned to edit and trust others to help edit my stories. I still have a lot to learn but I am enjoying the process and can’t wait to put more characters in my head onto paper.

 

You can find me at my blog or on Twitter.

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