Originally published in the Cape Codder, Oct. 25, 2019
Since Cape Cod has quite an extensive history, it’s only natural that the peninsula has more than its share of ghost stories to tell.
Here’s a few of those dark and mysterious tales from the Cape tip, starting with the “Blonde Norseman” of Truro.
Around 1935, “the Blonde Norseman came out of his spirit world to revisit Cape Cod,” according to Jack Johnson in his 1945 book, “Stories of Cape Cod.”
Tales of Vikings visiting the Cape in the very early years of the 11th century are common, though not always believed by historians. However, a woman who once resided in a structure known as the “Fish House” at Corn Hill in Truro was probably among the believers after an unusual experience one late fall night.
Abruptly awoken from a sound sleep, she saw the door “flung wide open.” Johnson noted that she saw a “startling blue light” illuminating the figure of a tall, distinctly blonde man, so powerful of stature … that he filled the door frame. The apparition did not move, its presence was only momentary, for, in the next moment, the lady was staring at the gaping door.”
The next day, she mentioned her experience to the owner of a large fish business, located a short distance up the beach. “Oh, yes,” he said. “That’s the ‘Blonde Norseman.’ My men have talked about him often. It’s an old story to them.”
Commander Donald McMillan, a Provincetown explorer, suggested that the Norseman’s grave might be near the site. According to “Mourt’s Relation,” a Mayflower party of explorers had found the grave of two people — one an Indian child, the other an adult with “fine yellow hair still on it.”
“It might be assumed that this daddy of all Cape Cod ghosts merely returned to this earthly world to go over scenes close to his heart,” Johnson wrote. For it is generally established that spirits that have stalked the Cape are not the vengeful kind, but rather companionable and of a comradely mood for returning to places fragrant in their memories.”
Johnson also told another ghost story from Truro, although the woman who experienced it hardly saw the spirit as “companionable.” In fact, it sent her running out the door, heading back to her home in New York.
The woman rented an old house facing the highway in North Truro, looking to operate a summer tea room. Each night, evidence of a haunting became more and more evident, including slamming doors and creaking footsteps on the stairs.
Then, one foggy morning came the clincher. As a thick fog surrounded the house, she was sitting in the kitchen with a neighbor talking, when a rocking chair in the corner began to rock by itself.
The two women watched for a couple of minutes, finding it hard to believe what they were seeing. Out the door they went, along with the New Yorker’s tea room ambitions.
Heading up the road to Provincetown, and particularly in its rolling dunes, there are more tales of the supernatural. One of those stories was told by none other than Harry Kemp, also known as the “Poet of the Dunes,” and the “Last Bohemian.”
Kemp lived in a 96-square-foot dune shack that was believed to have been built around 1900 by Coast Guardsman Frank Henderson, who began renting it to Kemp in the 1930s. Kemp was reported to have complained about the conditions there so much, Henderson just gave it to him.
Kemp called the shack a “controlled shipwreck,” staying there for over 20 years, and was known for swimming in the ocean year-round. During that time, Kemp claimed to have been “visited at the shack by evil imps and fireballs, and locking the ghost of a philosopher in his shack … after a wrestling match!”
Don Wilding is a lecturer, tour guide, and author of two books: "Henry Beston's Cape Cod: How 'The Outermost House' Inspired a National Seashore," and "A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod." His "Shore Lore" column appears weekly in the Cape Codder.