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For a CBC Sudbury interview with Mark Leslie, click here: http://www.cbc.ca/morningnorth/past-episodes/2013/10/01/spooky-sudbury/
Haunted 2650 Level of Levack Mine
It is a well-known fact that shift work and general over-tiredness can often lead to a change in perception, a blurring of the lines between reality and the dream world. In his 1996 book, Sleep Thieves, Stanley Coren described the effects of sleep-deprivation on our physical and mental health.
One such side-effect has to do with hallucinations. Coren documented what happened when Peter Tripp, a New York City DJ, decided to go without sleep for two hundred hours for a charity fund-raising event. Early into the experience, Tripp experienced distortions in his visual perceptions: he was inter-preting spots on the table as bugs, seeing spiders crawling around his booth, and even spinning webs on his shoes.3 Later on, Tripp was so susceptible to delusions that he became convinced that the doctor monitoring his health was actually an undertaker there to bury him alive. Tripp could no longer properly distinguish between reality and his nightmares.
Tripp’s experiences are perhaps a bit extreme, but Coren also includes multiple references to the effect of shift-work on internal circadian clocks. He illustrates how workers on rotating shifts tend to sleep two less hours per day, spend most of their time sleeping in the lightest stages of sleep, and thus typically suffer from sleep deprivation and build up a significant amount of sleep debt.
Combine Coren’s findings regarding the effect of twelve-hour shift-work with being alone in a dark, damp, cold place and you can just imagine how it would wreak havoc on a person’s imagination.
That’s exactly the type of thing that Sudbury area historian Hans Brasch, author of multiple books about mining in the Sudbury area, including Levack Mine: 100 Years (1912 to 2012), might tell you when sharing a particular ghost story.
“The mine used to be closed on the weekend. The mine was entirely empty on weekends back then except for emergencies,” Hans Brasch said over a coffee at the Tim Hortons in Dowling. “The only people around would be a single hoistman, one oper¬ating shaft boss (OSB), and one fireguard.”
Brasch explained that the fireguard would have to climb down the ladder, travel throughout the mine, and occasionally punch a clock to certify that he had visited particular locations. At the end of each trip the fireguard would get into the cage and be hoisted back up to the surface.
On one lonely night in the mid 1970s the operating shaft boss received a phone call from the 2650 level. It was the fireguard, entirely panic-stricken.
“Get me out of here!” the fireguard screamed.
“I need to get out of here! Now!” he pleaded. The OSB could hear the terror in the man’s voice and paused to ask if he was injured or if there had been some sort of accident.
“No,” was the response. “I’m not hurt. Get me up! Now!”
The cage, which travelled at fifteen hundred feet per minute, took almost fifteen minutes to bring the fireguard up. The hoistman needed to do a trial trip first, which would add about five or six minutes to the overall journey. The whole time he was waiting, the operating shaft boss was worried for the safety and well-being of the fireguard. He also wondered if, by the time the cage arrived, the fireguard would be “over” the incident in ques¬tion. But despite the length of time it took to get up, the fireguard arrived still terrified. He was visibly shaken and the panic in his voice hadn’t subsided.
“There’s someone down there!” the fireguard said.
“You’re the only one down there.”
“No, there is someone! Some thing is down there! A ghost! I saw a ghost down there!” the fireguard insisted.
“There’s no such thing,” the OSB replied. “Settle down. You’re fine.”
“I’m not fine! I was down there in the dark with a ghost.”
There was nothing that the operating shaft boss nor the hoistman could do to alleviate the fireguard’s angst over what he had seen. He went on to swear on a stack of Bibles that he had seen a ghost on 2650 level.
Hans Brasch explained that he had been fireguard multiple times but he himself had never seen a ghost. However, despite not believing in ghosts, he enjoys sharing a ghost story or two of his own and understands just how much fear belief in ghosts can strike in men’s hearts.
He relayed a tale passed down from his grandfather about a dare several millwrights made with one another one night while drinking. The dare involved taking a stake and driving it into the soil of a recently filled nearby grave which was a short walk through the woods. Finally stealing up his courage, the one mill¬wright went off alone into the woods to perform his dare. He never returned, and the men assumed that he had chickened out and gone home. The next morning, they found him, dead and lying on top of the grave right beside where he had driven the stake into the ground. When the scene was investigated, they determined that the man had driven the stake into the ground, just like he had been dared, but hadn’t noticed that he had driven the stake right through his own apron, thus rooting himself to the spot.
When he tried to leave, he felt himself being pulled and held there, and the shock of believing that it was a ghost holding him there is what killed him. Brasch’s grandfather’s tale is a wonderful classic tale of graves, stakes, and aprons, and one told many times over the years and from different locales, but is certainly an enjoyable one to hear, because it draws upon a universal truth — the ultimate power of fear.
Hans then told another story from his grandfather, regarding a stable boy sleeping in the hay who swore he had woken up in the middle of the night to see a ghost milking the cows. Terrified, the stable boy refused to stay in the stables. Hans’s grandfather calmed him down and decided to stay with him the following night to investigate the situation and put his fears at ease. Surely the boy had been the victim of an over-active imagination. Sure enough, under the light of the moon, a white spectre appeared in the barn and proceeded to walk over to the cows with a bucket and begin the task of milking. Hans’s grandfather snuck up behind the ghost and tossed a bucket of water onto the figure. He then pulled the white soaked sheet off of the figure’s head. It wasn’t a ghost after all, but a neighbour, sneaking in the middle of the night to steal milk.
Hans talked about his admiration for a fun ghost story, explaining that he felt most really good ghost stories begin with a kernel of truth, but that they are often peppered with a fierce imagination, often one that is fueled by fear; and not just the fear of the person who experienced the incident, but also fear in the listener’s heart.
When asked about whether or not that particular fireguard might have actually seen something paranormal on 2650 Level at Levack Mine, Brasch went on to explain what he thought might have happened.
“I think he really did see something.” Brasch said. “And he is convinced that what he saw was a ghost. But here is what I believe he really saw.”
Brasch explained that sometimes a cat, racoon, or other nocturnal animal would climb into the timbers on the trucks and get hauled down into the depths of the mine. Once transported underground, the animals would wander around, panicked and confused.
He also said that sometimes bats would find themselves down in the deep dark shafts. “Bats can be good,” Brasch says, explaining he had a friend who suggested he leave a bat in his own attic one time, because they eat all the insects.
“But in a mine, a bat hanging down from the ceiling could sometimes spook people.”
When the fireguard was walking around and shining his light to inspect the mine, Brasch believes that what he most likely saw, when he claimed to have seen a ghost, is the reflected light in the eyes of a small animal peeking out from the dark.
Two eerie looking eyes staring back at the fireguard.
At least that is what Hans Brasch believes. He smiles and jokes and says that you never really know.
The fireguard was not so easily convinced. He continued to swear that 2650 Level was haunted and that he had been down there alone with a ghost that evening and he swore that he would never go back down.
He never did go back underground again.
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