Not a tall tale to drum up business, says Cumerlato
By Gord Bowes, News staff
Something weird is going on at Hamilton’s Custom House, says Daniel Cumerlato.
The ghost that many people believe is haunting the 150-year-old building at 51 Stuart St. seems to be trying to tell her story, he says.
Cumerlato runs a company devoted to telling ghost stories (ghostwalks.com), but he says it’s not a tall tale about the Dark Lady to drum up business in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s already one of his busiest periods.
Over the years, the Dark Lady has been blamed for many accidents and unusual incidents at the building which is now the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, including a scaffolding collapse which injured a previous owner.
Cumerlato says his company is conducting more tours of Custom House this year and that may be part of the reason the ghost appears to be more active. Haunted Hamilton has also begun investigation nights where participants try to communicate with spirits.
“This is the first time we’ve exposed that side of it in detail,” says Cumerlato. “That’s why I think she’s found, for the first time, a way to communicate with us directly.”
The legend of the Dark Lady is that she came from England as a young girl. Her parents sent her to Canada after she was raped by a prominent and influential man. On the trip over, she fell in love with the ship’s captain and the two had a brief affair. But when the ship entered the harbour and the lights of Hamilton became visible, the captain remembered he was married and strangled the girl so he wouldn’t face any problems back home.
Her body was supposedly dumped in a vault in the basement of Custom House.
There are also claims of the bodies of homeless people being buried in an abandoned tunnel leading under the adjacent railroad tracks, says Cumerlato, which accounts for other ghosts that supposedly inhabit the building.
This year, the St. Jean De Brebeuf graduate says, there has been more paranormal activity at Custom House than usual.
Participants in the investigation nights can take part in a Ouija board session at the end of the night, says Cumerlato. During one of these seances in August, the board “started acting weird … something strong came through. Instead of pointing at the letters, as it usually does, it started circling the letters, very powerfully,” says Cumerlato.
The board started spelling out Dark Lady when the “spirit” was asked its name. Eventually it stopped answering questions and did something even more unusual, he says.
“It was something I had never seen in 14 years of dealing with Ouija board communication, it said ‘Goodbye’ without being prompted,” he says.
But then it got even weirder later in the night, says Cumerlato. A teenage girl about 16 or 17 years old was physically ill. Then another girl about the same age also felt ill. He said it’s as if the Dark Lady, who was about their age when she was killed, briefly possessed them.
On Sept. 28, it made another appearance on the board, but there were no physical reactions.
Earlier this month, however, there was another session and the “spirit” noted it was not happy with the tours and retelling of the Dark Lady legend. As well, two more girls became feeling sick.
He says he started another session with fewer people involved and the board spelled out “The Dark Lady hates the poem.’
The poem it refers to is an 1873 piece called ‘Dark Lady’ by Alexander Wingfield. It’s one that Cumerlato would recite during tours.
“The poem is very angry toward her. It describes her as the devil,” he says, adding it was a powerful enough message that he has stopped using the poem.
Cumerlato, 36, says he doesn’t believe people were manipulating the board during the session, but that a spirit can speak through the people using the board.
“I do question things first,” he says, “but I do believe what’s going on.”
“I’ve had a handful of experiences I can’t explain over the years that have made me a believer, but I’m also a healthy skeptic — I’ll question everything that comes to me.”