Monday, February 04, 2008

Black February

I'm so tempted to start this with "it was a dark and stormy night". As I sit in front of my computer, cold drink at my side, I can hear the rain hammering through the snow in our yard and bouncing on the bare spots of pavement in the driveway. The air is becoming thick with fog. Having recently discovered that today is the grisly anniversary of the murder of the "Black Donnellys", the weather seems especially eerie...

Every Monday, I teach at a school in Biddulph Township, then make my way to another school in St. Marys, a gorgeous little town that reminds me a lot of Stratford. With an hour to waste between science clubs, I found myself wandering through the streets, poking in and out of the little shops unique to the hilly little town. Eventually, I discovered a camera shop, and spent several minutes chatting with the lady behind the counter in the way that small town people do. It's funny that even after living away from Capreol all of these years, I still get recognized for the small town girl that I am.

When the phone rang, I turned to the bookshelf nearby and noticed a red book titled "Revenge of the Black Donnellys". Since this is a particularly fascinating part of local history, I picked it up immediately. The story told of a curse laid upon those who murdered members of the infamous family 128 years ago tonight.

Reality interrupted, and I went on with the rest of my day, teaching class, a quick trip to the grocery store, then home for dinner and a relaxing evening of online TV watching and laundry.

Then I remembered the date.

Interested, I visited several of the websites sharing information about the massacre that happened over a century ago, and become incensed with the idea of traveling up highway 4 again, to where a church stands on the Roman Line, and up the road to where it all happened. I knew exactly where to find the place where the most violent murders in Canadian history occurred because I drive past it every week.

My imagination ran wild...

Impatiently wiping the rain off the windshield, I drove through the night with a grumbling Jeremy in the passenger seat. As annoyed as he was about being forced back out into the damp winter night, even he couldn't resist the adventure we were taking.

"Imagine! All of that craziness happened exactly tonight!" I grinned at him, already feeling the shivers of fear and anticipation warring in my belly.

"Uh huh. Thrilling." He growled at me, fumbling with the camera in his lap. "I really don't get why you just HAD to do this tonight. The weather's horrible. AND we're not going to see anything."

As the church loomed out of the darkness, I whispered, "St. Patrick's. It's theirs."

"You are SUCH a nerd."

Sticking my tongue out at my skeptical fiance, I made the right turn onto the road. Not feeling so much excited as nervous - I really wasn't sure what to expect.

We parked the car and wandered up to the church and graveyard, me trying to take pictures through the rain, but not really getting anything worth keeping. Remembering that other people found ghostly shapes in their pictures of this place, I kept them all to look at later.

After about 10 minutes, Jeremy had had enough, and my shoes were soaked right through.

"Okay, let's drive up the road to where they used to live. We've come this far, and I bet it'll be worth it just to see this place!" The adventure was getting to me again.

As we headed up the dark road, the rain stopped, leaving a slight mist that hung in the air ("along with their ghosts", I thought to myself), making driving more difficult. Gripping the wheel with both hands, I hummed along with the radio, thinking that hip hop music didn't exactly fit the mood, but a little too freaked out to turn it off completely. It reminded me of being alone in the house as a child, depending on the TV for company.

Having never been to the place we were going, I drove slowly, keeping an eye out for buildings and houses as we rumbled down the road. I thought again of what I'd read earlier that evening:

The little kitchen exploded into chaos, and death surrounded the Donnellys on every side. Carroll had let out some kind of signal, and the door burst open with a gang of men who entered with murder on their blood-thirsty minds. Armed with clubs, sticks, and other farm implements, they surrounded the startled family, and began beating them to death. They cared not for the sex or the age of their victims, but only that their name was 'DONNELLY', and on that night, February 4th, 1880, the Donnellys had to die.

Suddenly the rain came back, slamming onto the windows and roof of the car so loud that the radio was drowned out. Glancing at Jeremy, I slowed down to a crawl and looked out the window into the darkness.

"I guess we can't get out of the car, huh."

"HELL no!"

Feeling relieved, and a little silly, I slowed down even more, and prepared to turn around, no longer interested in seeing what lay behind the rain when a sharp green light appeared within the layer of clouds.

"Um. What the HELL is that?!"

The rain kept pouring, stopping Jeremy from being able to get a decent picture, so he rolled down the window to try and capture what we were seeing. As he rolled down the window another car came flying up the road, the driver's face frozen in a mask of panic.

"You know what? We can just watch the movie."

As we turned around, I swear I heard the sound of screaming.

Slamming the car into gear, I pushed down on the gas as much as I dared, praying that we'd be able to get away. Finally back on Highway 4, I breathed a sigh of relief. We'd seen a couple of figures moving through the graveyard; probably living people, but we didn't stick around to find out.

I couldn't wait for home and daylight.

The rain stopped again as we traveled away from the darkened landmark, replaced by a thick fog that felt like it was trying to smother everything underneath it. We passed a car on fire on the way home, then another that had rolled into a ditch. Nobody was was around - not even the drivers. I was surprised to make it home without incident.

Not sure I'll ever look at those pictures...


Think this sounds way out? Well, it was fun to write, hopefully you enjoyed reading it.

Check out some of the Black Donnelly websites for some gory but fascinating Canadian history and let your own imaginations run wild. (And yes, they have pictures)


  • At 11:11 AM, Blogger Suldog said…

    Well, of course I enjoyed reading it.

    (Funny thing: Down here, February is officially "Black History Month" - an attempt to get folks interested in the far-too-sketchy history of the 10%-or-so of our citizens who are black. I thought that's what you were going on about, at first!)

  • At 6:39 PM, Blogger Melinda said…

    oh weird coincidence!

    That would definitely make for an interesting blog post - of a very different kind of course...

    glad you liked it :)

  • At 1:04 AM, Anonymous Sabrina said…

    Oh my goodness Melinda, I was totally enraptured by your words. You are an excellent writer, your choice of words and flowing sentences had sucha calming effect on me. I cannot wait to start reading more of your blog entries!

    I too am now very curious to visit the site, maybe this weekend when I take a drive down to London =D


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