Barbados is an island paradise in the West Indies lying north of Trinidad. It's best known for its rum, fine island cuisine, fresh flying fish, idyllic vistas, a laid back lifestyle and nighttime party life. It is frequented by beachcombers, Europeans and carefree lovers.
This idyllic island also has a dark side - a side of bone-chilling, grisly horror: caskets that move by themselves, mysterious malignant forces, unworldly visitors, garrulous ghosts and a creepy cave creature that reputedly drove a man mad.
So let us push past tourist hotspots like Andromeda Gardens and the Jolly Roger pirate-party ship where the rum flows almost as freely as the Atlantic Ocean, and turn instead to the underbelly of the island's myths and folklore that are sometimes as fetid and ripe as a fourteen-day old corpse.
The Restless Coffins of Christ's Church
Photo 1: The Chase family tomb.
Photo 2: The vault.
Between the years of 1812 and 1820 one of the most puzzling mysteries in the world occurred in an innocuous tomb. The tomb, owned by a family called Chase, is located at the Christ's Church cemetery in Barbados.
On July 6, 1812, the family had the tomb opened to bury Docas Chase. Other family members had already been buried there over the years. When the workmen broke the seal and entered the tomb, they discovered that the two lead-encased coffins already there had been violently smashed against the walls. Since both caskets were so heavy, some great force had to be used to move the coffins in such an exceedingly violent manner.
Yet, the tomb had been sealed and no forcible entry was evident.
Dorcas Chase was buried. The workmen, with considerable effort, returned the other two caskets to their original positions.
As the years progressed, two more burials took place. Each time the tomb was opened the caskets inside were found to have been violently tossed about as if some invisible force had up heaved them.
Finally, a Mr. Samuel Brewster was laid to rest within the tomb. Almost one thousand curiosity seekers attended. When the seals were broken all the caskets inside were standing on end. This news also spread around the world. It made great reading for the Sunday supplements from New York to London, from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg.
By the time that Thomasina Clarke - a Chase family member - was ready to be interned in the tomb, the Governor of Barbados interceded. He attended the burial and personally supervised the sealing of the vault on July 17, 1819.
Now the entire island rose up with indignation and fear. The religious authorities condemned the burials and claimed that any further internments in that tome would be sacrilegious. During the year of 1820 - with little fanfare - the coffins were removed and buried in another location.
A team of researchers from the London Science Museum and the Society of Psychical Research visited the Chase tomb and investigated it thoroughly. They came away stumped. The mystery of the restless coffins was left unresolved.
The Chase vault still exists (see photos above). And yes, it remains empty.
The Ghost of Combermere Abbey
As mentioned, the restless coffins mystery had finally gotten the attention of the Governor of Barbados, Lord Viscount Combermere during 1819. After Combermere's death, the late Governor became something of a sensational mystery himself.
In an unlikely accident, a horse-drawn carriage ran over the Governor and killed him. As his funeral took place, a woman named Sybell Corbet snapped the photo (included in this article) of Combermere's study in the Abbey. When the photograph was later processed a chilling image appeared in it. There, sitting in the chair for all to see was the ghostly image of the late Governor himself!
For a time paranormal events were noted occurring within the study, and then nothing.
The Lord Combermere Ghost Photo
Look closely. Sitting in a chair placed to the left in the photo the figure of a man can be discerned. Many believe it is photographic evidence of Lord Combermere's ghost. To this day the photo remains controversial.
The Hut of the Moaning Madman
Cornelius Barnesmythe sailed the Caribbean for more than thirty years on frigates and merchant vessels. For a brief time he signed aboard a whaling vessel but found the cold weather and rougher seas didn't suit him.
The last voyage he ever made was in 1879. His ship had just passed the tiny island of St. Kitts when he spied something in the moonlight on the shore.
What he saw eventually drove him mad for Cornelius Barnesmythe had spotted a mermaid.
If that had been all there was to it the poor man no doubt would have kept his faculties, but as he later admitted in during jabbering testimony at a Maritime hearing held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, when he saw the mermaid - the most beautiful creature he had ever cast his eyes upon - he instantly became mesmerized and felt compelled to jump overboard to reach her. And that he did.
The captain and crew of his ship didn't notice him missing for several hours as he was off-watch and no one monitored his activities. When they did discover they had a man overboard they turned the ship about and sailed back in the direction they had come from desperately searching for their shipmate.
Dawn broke and the sun rose. All morning and into the afternoon they sailed in circles around the route they had taken. Although aware that the currents could have taken Barnesmythe far outside the shipping lane they doggedly pressed ahead.
By dusk they had all but given up hope when a seaman cried out. His sharp eyes had spotted movement along a thin strip of sand between the rocks along the southern shore of St. Kitts.
A skiff was launched and Barnesmythe was rescued. His manner was frenzied, erratic, like a man possessed. He related a strange tale of finding a mermaid on the island who had called him to her. He swore she had stolen his soul. He begged to be returned to the island. He could not bear to be departed from her.
The captain ordered the crew to detain Barnesmythe until they could reach port. When they made landfall the miserable sailor was dragged away sobbing and wailing.
The hearing found him guilty of abandoning his ship and endangering the crew. It also determined that he had lost his ability to reason and therefore his seaman's certificate was voided. The court decided against jailing him as they considered him mentally unstable and not responsible for his actions.
Somehow, Barnesmythe made his way from Port of Spain to Bridgetown. From there the records show that he built a one room hut of coral and cement perched on top of a giant rock where the land met the sea. He lived there until the end keeping a twenty-four hour vigil: watching the ocean; watching the horizon, waiting for his elusive the mermaid to return to him.
For many years the locals who passed that way at night heard ululating moans drifting from the hut - the sailor bewailing the lost mermaid who never returned.
The Groaning Ghosts of the Ruined Morgue
The hospital lies in ruins now, brick and mortar slowly being reclaimed by the earth it came from. Yet a wall still stands here and over there rusty medical instruments forgotten like shattered bones in the graveyard of the lost.
Built before the dawn of the Twentieth Century, the remains of the morgue now stands next to a twisted, rotting tree. Of the tree little more than a stump remains as a marker for the halls of death that ran beside it: corridors for cadavers wheeled into the chilled rooms waiting patiently for burial.
For many years the locals have claimed the old morgue has been haunted. Sometimes at sunset if the trade winds aren't blowing moans can be heard from the vicinity of the grounds. Strange mists have been spotted - ethereal fogs in the moonlight.
Skeptics claim that the moans originate from an ocean venting blow hole, yet none has ever been found. Others insist that the ghostly mists are caused by marsh gas.
The area around the old morgue has no swamps or marshes. One would be hard-pressed to find either anywhere on the island. But facts have never stopped debunkers from dismissing the unknown.
The Creature in Harrison's Cave
Harrison's Cave is one of Barbados's biggest tourist attractions. Ask any of the guides that work there about the creature that inhabits its lower levels and they will dismiss the story as sheer nonsense.
But it was no laughing matter to Johnny Beldfourd, an island worker contracted to do some masonry work deep inside the cavern. During the early 1950s the government hired his company to shore up a section of the caverns not open to the public.
As he was working one morning he heard a scuffling noise. Looking up he saw a dark figure crouching against one of the cavern walls. He swung his work light about and pinned the figure in its beam.
What he saw eventually drove him mad. In his more lucid moments before being institutionalized at a mental health facility in Trinidad, he described seeing a horrid creature "the likes of which no God-fearing man should ever see."
The creature - some sort of troglodyte - stood about four feet tall. Beldfourd was uncertain about the height because for the thirty seconds he encountered the creature it remained in a crouched position.
It carried the carcass of a small animal - perhaps a cave bat - and its slit of a mouth and yellowed fangs were smeared with blood.
According to Beldfourd both the creature and he seemed as equally shocked by the unexpected encounter.
Beldfourd also claimed the thing stank and that it made deep guttural noises. The only other characteristics he could recall were the creature's eyes - which were shaped like huge saucers - and it's hairless body which had "the color of curdled cream."
The cavern was searched thoroughly by the authorities, but nothing was found. Island experts tried to place the animal that Beldfourd insisted he saw that morning. Nothing came close in the animal world, let alone anything indigenous to the island.
As most incidents of this nature -especially one without any corroborative witnesses - the whole thing was written off as a hoax, or the ravings of a lunatic.
The latter must have been the consensus of the authorities because within a few weeks the hapless Beldfourd was ordered by court to a mental hospital in Trinidad. He was sent and remained there until he died.
Of the creature nothing has ever been heard of again.
UFOs Invade Barbados
What article about mysterious occurrences would be complete without a good UFO story? Well, Barbados has one and it's a whopper.
During 1984 the Barbados Defence Force was placed on full alert after their airport radar painted numerous images of speeding objects maneuvering off their coast. After the incident the United States Air Force was called in to assist.
"The Defence force placed on Red Alert in full battle dress with loaded weapons (including the Cadet Corps). Coast Guard units were deployed to protect the harbor and Police officers were placed on guard at beaches that might be subject to a sea landing. The Trident was deployed to check for sea traffic but did not find any.
"The then Prime Minister Tom Adams called the US Charge D'affaires to find out if the radar contacts were US aircraft which they weren't. There was a Soviet naval exercise taking place but that was over on the other side of the Caribbean Sea near the Yucatan. The BDF's Cessna aircraft was deployed to see if it could visually identify the objects but reported finding nothing. Two further aircraft with civilian pilots were on standby if needed. Around 4.00am the objects were moving away from Barbados in the general direction of Martinique. The Defence Force stood down around 7.00 am." [Get full report here.]
So if you ever get down to Barbados, take a peek behind the tourist attractions and take a walk on the dark side.