In the 1860’s expert stone masons built a beautiful testament to the prosperity of Hamilton. At the height of port traffic, this building looked right over the shoreline before it reseeded into the current day harbour.
Now the Custom House stands watch from Stuart Street, housing many different energies over the years.
- a custom house to tax goods coming into the city
- a school
- Hamilton’s first YWCA
- Naples Macaroni Factory
- and now the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre
Unique uses for strange ghosts.
The Dark Lady
A poem written by Alexander Wingfield in 1873 is believed an account of the oldest known ghost in Canada. Wrote while working as a landing-waiter inside the Custom House.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK (full version, 1873)
The ghosts – long ago – used to dress in pure white,
Now they’re got on a different track, –
For the Hamilton Ghost seems to take a delight
To stroll ‘round the city in black
Pat Duffy, who saw her in Corktown last night,
Has been heard to-day telling his friend
That she stood seven feet and nine inches in height,
And wore a large Grecian Bend.
A “Peeler” who met her, turned blue with affright,
And in terror he clung to a post;
His hair (once a carroty red) has turned white,
Since the moment he looked on the ghost.
Her appearance was frightful to gaze on, he said, –
It filled him with horror complete;
For she looked unlike anything, living or dead,
That ever he’d seen on his beat.
This Made Her Angry
Her breath seemed as hot as a furnace; besides, –
It smelt strongly of sulphur and gin,
Two horns (a yard long) stuck straight out of her head,
And her hoofs made great clatter and din.
Her air was majestic, and terribly grand,
As she passed, muffled up in her veil;
A bottle of “ruin” she held in each hand,
And she uttered a low, plaintive wail;
There is rest for the weary, but no rest for me;
I cannot find rest if I try,
Three months and three days I have been on the spree;
(Mr. Mueller, ‘How’s that for high?’)
“I have mixed in the world, both with ‘spirits’ and men, –
Once more with the spirits I’ll go.”
She stopped, took a sniff of the “ruin”, and then
She popped into the cellar below.
He could hear her again, crying out from her den –
“To-night you will see me no more;
But I’ll meet with you Saturday evening at ten,
By the fountain that stands in the Gore.”
Some historians disagree with ghost hunters. They say the poem is not about a ghost, it’s about fighting the demon of alcoholism. What nobody can deny is the focus this has created. If she didn’t exist then, she (or something) exists now.
Running into the “Dark Lady”
James & the Shadow —
A former tour guide with the Ghost Walks, James Pettitt was preparing for his tour. Sitting on the floor in a corner of the back room (behind the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre gift shop) he noticed a shadow on the wall.
Thinking, ‘did I hear anyone come in’ as the shape rose up. Shocked as a woman’s shadow formed inside a stream of light. He leaned and saw the room was empty.
Frozen, pushed against the wall, the shadow grew bigger before fading away just as James heard footsteps. The coordinator walked in, “It’s time to start the tour”.
Dark Lady judges kids —
In 1997, two separate days created an interesting historic experience all starting with a local politician. He came to the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre for a speech and told a story to an older volunteer named Israel.
“In the 70’s, I was just a kid at the Murray Street School around the corner. Once day I played hooky. I walked to Stuart Street and was going by the old Custom House, then Naples Macaroni.
“I saw her on the second floor, a woman with dark hair was looking down at me. She looked so angry. I was already nervous about skipping. Felt like she was judging me.
“But the strangest part… she was transparent. I could see right through her. Then, and I know it sounds crazy, she disappeared! Didn’t walk away. She was just gone.”
The politician did his speech and left. Israel never forgot the story.
Ladies See the Same Women —
A couple months later 2 older women visited the museum.
They started talking with Israel, the conversation turning to ghosts, and one women started,
“Funny you mention the ghosts. We had an experience when we were kids in the 50’s. We went to the school around the corner and one day we skipped a class. Walked around the corner and down Stuart Street passed the old Custom House. My friend saw her first, a woman looking down from…”
Israel cut her off: “The second floor?”
Israel: “She was angry?”
Israel: “And you could see right through her just before she disappeared?”
Woman, now with a shocked look: “Yes”
Two different days, two separate experiences, same woman and same year in 1997. Hard to believe it’s a coincidence.
**Some images from inside the Custom House