Intrepid reporter Jonathan Adams spent the night in the Newman Wine Vaults to document the site’s paranormal activity. Here’s what he discovered.
On the evening of Thursday, October 19, 2006, I am sent to the Newman Wine Vaults with naught but a sleeping bag, pillow, camera, alarm clock, the clothes on my back, and a plush chicken lent me as a last refuge in my hour of utmost terror. The doors are shut tight behind me and I am determined to encounter the unknown, the paranormal, the supernatural, or at the very least the inscrutable, before dawn. I have never believed in ghosts before, but I am more than willing to be converted.
Somewhere around three o’clock in the morning, I awake suddenly in the pitch-black darkness, unsure of what I have been woken by. A noise perhaps? No, something else. Something, I venture to say, much worse. A stench. A disgusting stench too, like a dead person’s fart – yet there is also something not altogether unfamiliar about it. It is bitter and abrasive, like curdled milk. Whence could this evil smell emanate? I turn in my sleeping bag as something wet and sticky brushes my cheek. I quickly realize the smell can be none other than – my own saliva! I seem to have been drooling in the night. Odd; I thought I had knocked this habit three or more years ago.
Then it dawns on me: perhaps this isn’t my drool at all! Hastily I grab my flashlight and scour the room. Did something just move in the corner? Yes, I think so! I chase it through the narrow passage, but it eludes me somehow, and I soon find I have run a circle and arrived back at the foot of my sleeping bag.
I am forced to admit to myself that the Vaults are empty, and my own drool really does smell this terrible. Perhaps that is the real horror.
Or perhaps not. The historic Newman Wine Vaults at the north end of Water Street have been the subject of all kinds of paranormal speculation for years now amongst otherwise rational, educated, and presumably sane people, and many of them claim to have confronted more than the disappointment of their own putrid bodiliness within the Vaults’ damp and echoey chambers.
Kelli-ann Blackwood is a local writer who worked at the Vaults between 2003 and 2004 as an Assistant Curator, Interpreter, and Event Planner. She remains at heart a skeptic, but witnessed enough troubling phenomena during her employ that she began making a record of them.
She reads me the first item from her notebook, taken on September 12, 2004, which happened to be Open Doors Day. A few curious souls wandered in to ask the inevitable question of whether the rumours of a spectral presence within the Vaults were true. Later that day, another employee was checking something within the Vaults when she heard her name called. She wandered back into the warehouse to ask who had called her, but received only a puzzled look from Kelli-ann in response. The two of them were the only ones working at the time, and there didn’t appear to be anyone else present either. She went back to whatever she had been doing in the Vaults and again heard a voice call her name. Kelli-ann once again denied that it had been her, and together they both searched the Vaults, but found no one.
This piqued Blackwood’s interest, partly because it was just two days earlier that she herself had been passing through the Vaults when she was overtaken by a sudden feeling of cold and became emotionally distraught for no clear reason that she could fathom. The feeling remained with her the rest of the day.
There was no shortage of other things to record in her notebook as the weeks went on. At various times, Blackwood or other employees of the Vaults heard distant, unattributable footsteps in the crushed stone, felt what seemed like ghost hands pinching or brushing against their arms, and heard the heavy wooden padlocked door within the Vaults slammed shut of its own momentum.
I would have been happy to have witnessed even one of these during my solitary vigil in the Vaults. Alas, despite lighting candles, chanting invocations, and declaring myself to be alone, naïve, and vulnerable, the supposed phantom of the Wine Vaults continued to ignore me. On the other hand, so far as my personal education is concerned, I am now able to declare that being stood up by dead people is an even lonelier feeling than being stood up by the living.
I asked Kelli-ann whether she had any idea why a ghost so apparently desperate for attention should refuse my most generous offer to make it a star in print. “Well,” she considered, “One thing is–not to sound sexist, but … maybe it’s a sexist ghost. The only people who have ever heard or felt anything related to the ghost have been women. My husband, for example, worked in the Vaults in 2002 and never saw a thing. Maybe the ghost is only interested in women … Or maybe women are just more neurotic than men!”
As she speaks, I am suddenly consumed by the irrepressible desire to buy a dress and some panty hose, maybe a nice pair of earrings, and return to the Vaults immediately, tonight, in drag! I have never before realized just how far I am willing to go to solicit the attentions of a chauvinistic dead person. Perhaps that is the real horror.
(Special thanks to Lara Maynard.)
Early warning: Next Saturday (Nov. 4), as part of the third annual St. John’s Storytelling Festival, Dale Jarvis will host a late-night, candle-lit session of murder ballads and ghost stories at The Newman Wine Vaults with traditional balladeers Gerard and Tobias Pearson. 11:30pm, $10.