Hamilton’s oldest known ghost resides at the city’s original Custom House. The building was once used for government business, and since opening in 1860, the building has changed hands over and over.
Today it houses the national museum dedicated to the blue-collared workers of Canada –
The Workers Arts & Heritage Centre.
Throughout all those businesses, organizations and energies, one entity has remained within those walls for over 150 years, interacting with each generation… that is, The Dark Lady.
Any goods or people coming into the city of Hamilton in the 1800's had to check in to this building to pay their taxes. Today checkpoints are for countries, not cities... not the case back before the automobile.
The Hamilton Customs Department would remain in this building for 27 years, before moving to bigger offices in the Post Office building that once stood at King and John Streets in Downtown Hamilton.
Many businesses would occupy this space with their activities and people over the next century. It's in this expansive history that the energy originates, giving this building its legendary ghostly energy.
Here are the different faces of The Custom House over the years:
Today you can visit to museum during the day, but definitely come back on the night of Ghost Walk to met it's energetic inhabitants.
The Dark Lady is first mentioned within a poem written around 1873. The author, a man named Alexander Wingfield, was a landing waiter at the building when it was a Custom House.
His career made a creative turn, and he would become famous for his poetry and songs -
publishing “Poems and Songs” in 1873. This book included “The Dark Lady” ...
They ghosts long ago used
To dress in pure white
Now they’ve got a different track-
For the Hamilton ghost seems to take a delight
To stroll round the city in black
Pat Duffy, who saw her in Corktown last night
Has been here today telling his friend
That she stood seven feet and nine inches in height
And wore a large Grecian bend.
A “Peeler” who saw her
Turned blue with affright
And in terror he clung to a post
His hair (once a carroty red) Has turn white
Since the moment he locked on the ghost
Her breath seemed as hot as a furnace; besides
It smelt strongly of sulphur and gin
Two horns (a yard long)
Stuck straight out of her head
And her hoofs made great clatter and din
Her air was majestic and terribly grand
And she passed muffled up
In a veil
A bottle of “ruin” she held in each hand
And she uttered a low plaintive wail
“I have mixed in the world with ‘spirits’ and men –
once more with the spirits I’ll go”
She stopped, took a sniff of the “ruin” and then
She popped into a cellar below.
He could hear her again, crying out from her den –
“Tonight you will see me no more”
“But I’ll meet you Saturday evening at ten
By the fountain that stands in the Gore”
Slightly edited for space
There are a few legends associated with this strong entity. The one that resonates most with the psychics and mediums who’ve walked through the building is that of a young English girl sent away from her home by injustice.
She was raped by an influential man who could make things disappear. When her parents found out, they sent her away. They wanted their daughter to be safe, unaware of what would befall, and unaware of what the future held, they put her on the first boat to Canada.
While traveling over, she would meet the sea captain. Captains of vessels were heroes of the time. They risked life to populate a new world. Young ladies were easily obsessed, and this one would quickly fall in love. To her he was a husband and father for her unborn child. The captain thought the young girl was ok.
They began an affair that would last the entire trip, and when the lights of Hamilton appeared in the distance, the captain would remember his wife and children.
The young girl didn’t stop. She pushed him for time and returned gestures of love. This annoyed him, the captain was tired of the obsession he once found cute. Knowing that she would never leave him alone, the captain invited the young girl onto the deck of the ship.
They danced under the bright moonlight. She stopped and looked up lovingly into the captain’s eyes. The young girl wouldn’t notice his hands until feeling them wrap around her neck. Squeezing tighter until everything went dark, the captain guiding her to the floor.
The captain was a man who could make things disappear, and together with a couple of his men, snuck the young girl’s body into the new Hamilton Custom House. Down into the basement, they would hide it within the wall of the vault room.
That’s where she stayed, and that’s where she remains to this day. In the only home she’d ever know in the new world and after the young girl’s death.
This goes back a couple of years, to a tour I was personally leading through the building.
We were on the second floor in the "murder hallway" (you'll have to come on a tour to hear more) telling the stories. I was almost to the point where I talk about the little boy that has been heard running about by staff, when I felt a light tug on my cape.
I turned to my coordinator on the tour (who was standing beside me) to ask if everything was ok, and got a blank stare.
"Why did you tug on my cape?" I asked. She didn't.
I then realized that it couldn't be her because it felt like it came from lower to the ground, at the height of a child. The group confirmed the cape was never touched.
The Ghost Walks have been running at The Custom House for many years. And over this time we’ve had many experiences with the Dark Lady. There is one that remains to this very day excluded from the Ghost Walk script. The reasons have a bit to do with our respect for the unique relationship between the Dark Lady and Ghost Guide James.
James has always felt uneasy inside the Custom House, and he believed like many others that the Dark Lady didn’t like him. On countless occasions, he would feel rooms get heavy, like something negative filled the space around him, but he could see nothing. Soon the feeling would stop, he would leave the room to start a Ghost Walk, or just to get away from the fear.
On one night, James decided to stay.
Inside the gift shop on the 1st floor, James was sitting in the corner preparing for the Walk. The heavy feeling entered the room and his first instinct was to run. Instead he told himself to stay, staying glued to the ground, curious what would happen next. The heaviness reached a peak, his breath caught in his throat.
A dim light shining on the wall shifted as a shadow broke through and blocked the light. A dark outline projected in front of him and James could clearly see this was a woman. As quickly as the woman appeared, she was gone.
The heavy air lifted and the dim light brightened. It was time to start the Walk.
This story from James is just one of many experiences that prove the woman spirit we know as the Dark Lady exists at The Custom House.
The following happened to a volunteer at the Ghost Walk of The Custom House on Halloween night in 2005. She was in the main gallery after the last tour had ventured into the haunted building. Sitting in the main chair at the front, she was cleaning spilled wax off of a table.
Carefully scraping the wax, the young woman was focused on making the table perfect, when she heard footsteps at the main door. The light in the entrance had caught her peripherals. Nobody was there as the footsteps continue around the back of the room, up to the front, and walked directly in front of her. They would stop at the middle aisle.
At this time the young woman had two choices. She could scream and run out of the room with her eyes closed… or could face this experience that was about to occur. She knew that something was about to happen, and her curiosity was stronger than her fear.
She looked up to the middle aisle, and in the second row to her right, a woman with dark hair was sitting in the previously empty chair. The woman with dark hair looked angry, her hands tight across her chest with interlocked fingers and that dark hair pulled tight into a bun. As fast as the dark woman appeared, she was gone.
Everyone, including this writer, believes this was an experience with the Dark Lady herself. We know this active ghost gets blamed for a lot of occurrences at the Custom House, some of which are hers to claim, others might be misunderstood. This, however, remains as visual proof the Dark Lady is real, and is still the only time this volunteer has seen something she couldn’t explain.
Article Written by Daniel Cumerlato
The Ghost Walks & Ghost Hunt Nights of The Custom House
At The Worker's Arts & Heritage Centre
This indoor tour takes you from the attic to the basement and everything in-between. Throughout all of the different lives of this historic building, one thing remains ... it's notoriously haunted!
There are at least 25 lost spirits confined its walls - the most famous being Hamilton's oldest ghost ~ The Dark Lady. She's as much in residence today as she ever has been.
Have any personal ghost experiences at this location? We'd love to hear them at email@example.com
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