People pass by the 'Deliverance,' a full-size model of the ship the castaways built to take them on to Virginia, in Bermuda.
People pass by the "Deliverance," a full-size model of the ship the castaways built to take them on to Virginia, in Bermuda. (Globe correspondent photo / Betty Lowry)
 BERMUDA : If you go: Bermuda

Hold the rum: Bermuda's spirits are illusory, fleeting

Email|Print| Text size + By Betty Lowry
Globe Correspondent / October 23, 2005

ST. GEORGE'S, Bermuda -- They didn't name it the Isle of Devils for nothing.

No surprise then that Admiral Sir George Somers set the crew and passengers of his shipwrecked Sea Venture to work building an escape vessel as quickly as possible. Even in 1609, a mid-Atlantic island totally without human inhabitants would have been suspicious; this one appeared on the maps as ''demonios."

''The screams in the night were cahow birds," says taxi-guide Vince Cann. ''And the shapes in the bushes were wild hogs. But it took a few days before they found that out."

Today, Bermuda is better known as a hangout for honeymooners than poltergeists, and the hook-shaped archipelago is scarcely two hours by air from the East Coast of the United States. After nearly 400 years of human habitation, the devils have been reduced to ancient history and the ghosts to costumed children on Halloween.

Or have they?

''Everyone thinks the Unfinished Cathedral is haunted," Cann says as we tour St. George's, ''but it was left this way because they ran out of money.

St. George's, founded by the shipwreck survivors in 1612 and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, seems a promising ghost venue. Sure enough, the Old Rectory, built by a reformed pirate in 1699, is said to have a ghost who plays a gentle, if invisible, harpsichord. Now a bed-and-breakfast and Bermuda National Trust property, the cottage is open to visitors Wednesday afternoons November-March.

A full-size replica of the Deliverance, the small ship built by the Bermuda castaways, greets cruise ship passengers coming ashore today. I ask Cann about Bermuda's most famous mystery, the Bermuda Triangle.

''Bermuda has more wrecked ships around it than any other island in the world," he says, calling the coral reef and sudden squalls a navigator's nightmare. ''Diving close to shore is a big tourist attraction, but the water in the Bermuda Triangle is too deep. What goes down there stays down."

The Bermuda Triangle, an area in the Atlantic between Puerto Rico, Miami, and Bermuda where ships and aircraft are said to have mysteriously disappeared, haunts Bermuda's tourist industry. Articles and books published in the 1960s and '70s cemented a notion that no amount of scientific explanation (methane gas bubbles, magnetic field variation, the Gulf Stream, weather, human error) has been able to totally dislodge.

Most Bermudians who claim to share their antique cottages with ghosts simply accept them, Cann says. Of houses built a century or more ago, ''nearly all have ghost stories." He suggests reading the locally published paperback ''Bermuda's Favourite Haunts" (1991) by Bermudians John Cox, Mac Musson, and Joan Skinner.

The book admittedly contains only tales of what the authors call ''cheerful ghosts" as revealed in interviews with householders who have encountered them. Many ghosts seem to be little more than transparent houseguests who create cold drafts.

Perhaps the most famous tale of otherworldly events was told by a man who never visited Bermuda. William Shakespeare turned spookiness into literature when he wrote ''The Tempest" in 1610. While other islands around the world have claimed to be host to the winds he called the ''still-vex'd bermoothes," the same men who underwrote the original ill-fated voyage to Virginia were also investors in the bard's theater company. The only vestige of the tale here is the statue of Ariel standing off the beach at Ariel Sands resort.

Noel Coward said he got the idea for his 1945 play ''Blithe Spirit" after meeting the ghost of a pretty French stowaway in Bermuda. ''The Deep," written and filmed here in 1976 by resident Peter Benchley, was inspired by a Bermuda shipwreck. Cann says the man-eating moray eel that starred in the movie is safely at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute in the capital, Hamilton.

Camden, the official residence of the premier (Bermuda is a self-governing British territory), has its own ghost. The shadow of an early premier's battered wife walks the paths on moonless nights.

I'm still not satisfied. Are there no spectral pirates still searching for their lost treasure?

Cann laughs. When we stop at the Dockyard, built by convicts who spent their nights locked up on prison ships, he says I'll find the Spirit of Bermuda is a boat in the Maritime Museum.

Next thing you know, he'll say a Bermuda Dark 'n Stormy is only Gosling's Black Seal rum and ginger beer. Chilled.

Contact Betty Lowry at

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