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Happy Halloween: Deconstructing An Old Folktale

Happy Halloween: Deconstructing An Old Folktale

Posted: 31 Oct 2010 4:37PM GMT
Classification: Query
Surnames: Fitzgerald Larkin Colburn Citro Coffey Owens
The old Irish community in West Castleton had a great old tale about a boat being rowed across West Castleton Bay on Lake Bomoseen by phantom oarsmen whenever there was full moon. Here is the basic story:
One night some of the West Castleton lads set out across the lake to the eastern shore for an evening of great "craic"* in some tavern on the far side. The next morning the boat was found but no sign of the passengers was ever uncovered. Though the lost were never found, they did return from time to time by light of a full moon in a preternatural reenactment of their last night.
At first glance this tale would seem to stem from an actual 1857 incident when three young Welshmen were drowned on Lake Bomoseen after visiting "a low groggery" on the west side of the lake run by a name Colburn.
But the ghost story has such an elaborate plot line and differnt scenarios it would seem to be either based on a separate incident or made up out of whole cloth altogether.
In the 1857 drowning, the bodies were recovered and buried in the West Street Cemetery in Fair Haven. In the folktale the men were making the quite long journey to the eastern shore, where early lake establishments were in place. (Michael Coffey's was one of the early venues.) These served not only the needs of West Castleton but of the large number of employees of the Pencil Mill, located not far from the Crystal Beach area.
One intersting theory the old West Castleton community had was that the men were "shanghaid" and taken to Montreal and forced to work on ships. From our 21st century perspective this night seem implausible to say the least. But the road on the east of the lake (current Route 30) was in those days the main turnpike from Troy to Montreal.
Of course Im sure it occurred to some that young men oppressed by the poverty, contant danger, and isolation of quarry life in West Castleton might have set out without parental permission for a better life....anywhere.
This story appears in one of Joe Citro's books on ghostly Vermont stories. He got the tale from me. I learned it from Mary Fitzgerald Larkin whose father grew up on the remote western end of Glen Lake, actually in the town of Benson but the closest settlement was West Castleton.
* craic(an old Irish word denoting fun, chat, music, goodtimes.)

Re: Happy Halloween: Deconstructing An Old Folktale

Posted: 1 Nov 2010 2:34PM GMT
Classification: Query
Thanks for the Halloween story, Peter. Nothing more fun than local folktales on a cool autumn night!

Re: Happy Halloween: Deconstructing An Old Folktale

Posted: 17 Nov 2010 1:56PM GMT
Classification: Query
Great story..will have to share with my husband and brother in laws as their mother's family (Hughes) grew up in West Castleton.

Thank you

Deconstructing An Old Folktale (Update)

Posted: 4 Jan 2013 3:18AM GMT
Classification: Query
This drowning of September 1856 seems to fit the scenario of the folk tale better than the September 1857 drowning mentioned in the posting.

Middlebury Register
September 24 1856
DROWNED. Four men in the employ of the West Castleton Slate Company attempted to cross Castleton Pond in a boat and when within a hundred yards of the shore they sought to reach, the boat capsized and two of the number, an Englishman and an Irishman were drowned.

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