“They say the past is a foreign country,” said Laurie Glenn Norris.
That foreign country is Rockley, Nova Scotia in 1877.
Rockley is located about five kilometres west of Pugwash, and back in 1877, 18-year-old Mary Harney went missing.
Norris, who is from River Hebert, is writing a novel that mixes fiction with the true story of Harney.
Norris was giving a reading from a short story adapted from the novel, Rockley’s Screaming Ghost: The Mary Harney Mystery, on Wednesday at the Wallace Museum. The short story will soon be published in Where Evil Dwells: The Nova Scotia Anthology of Horror.
“Mary was 18-years-old, she was living with her mother and her stepfather, and the stepfather did not have a good reputation around town,” said Norris. “I thought, ‘what went on in that house,’ and I tried to write what I thought might be going on in the house.”
The people of Rockley in 1877 didn’t like the stepfather, and many people suspected he murdered Mary and then got rid of the body.
“People were sure her stepfather had done something to her, so they got a petition together and they got a detective to come up from Halifax,” said Norris. “He did some searching around and, eventually, the mother and stepfather were arrested for murder.”
Many people testified against the mother and stepfather but nothing stuck, and they were released during the preliminary hearing.
Norris first learned about the Mary Harney story from two books, Lore of North Cumberland and The Harney Ghost Story, but those books did not establish the exact dates of her disappearance. Norris did investigative work to pinpoint the date.
“I was working at the Municipality of Cumberland doing deed searches. One of my jobs was going through old newspapers,” said Norris. “I knew it happened in the late 1800’s, so I started researching in 1890, and then went back and came across the story in 1877, when Mary had disappeared.”
Newspapers of the day speculated about what happened to Mary and reported on the search to find her.
“People around Rockley, around Pugwash, and around the surrounding area looked for her but couldn’t find her.”
Norris has spoken to people who grew up in Rockley and was told of the ghost stories that swirled following Mary’s disappearance.
“There’s people in Rockley who remember hearing the stories as kids,” said Norris. “They said that Mary Harney was down by the river and that they could hear her crying at night, and that the house the Harney’s lived in was deserted and that you could see the lights on at night and that kind of thing.”
Many of those stories, both fact and fiction, are fading but Norris hopes to keep them alive.
“Something happened to Mary and I feel like I’m speaking for her,” said Norris.
“I felt she was a lonely person and I felt empathy for her and I wanted to tell her part of the story,” added Norris. “I didn’t want Mary Harney to be forgotten.”
The Wallace Museum has Tea in the Garden every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m.
July 19 – Tea with Linda Tuttle. Linda will read from her most recent novel, Grist. The novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction. Tuttle lives in River John.
July 26 – Tea with Prudy White. Prudy will read from novel, A Grey Dawn. It opens with events prior to the Halifax Explosion, which occurred Dec. 6, 1917.
Other July activities at Wallace Museum
July 22 to 23 – The Wallace Museum hosts their Loyalist Re-enactors’ Weekend with the 84th Regiment of Foot Second Battlalion. The regiment camp is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. There will be a musket drill, artillery drill, as well as 18th century cooking, sewing, children’s games of the period, and other activities.
July 29 – Annual flea market. This year there will be a petting zoo for children, activities for kids, and a buy and sell for adults.