The Hermitage Ruins UNTIL DEATH DO US PART: The Tragic Local Tale of Lover’s Lane and the Wandering Ghost of Coachman William Black

Dealing with a personal loss can be a terrible burden to bear. The realization of not being able to see or hold the person who you so desperately want to embrace can bring profound pain. Same with the suffocating denial of what has happened, combined with the heartbreak of realizing you will never see that person again.

When you grieve fully and embrace the process with your entire being, you learn to find peace and acceptance. But what if you didn’t have an opportunity to heal? What if before you could come to terms with what has happened, your life flashes before your eyes and the next thing you know, you’re in the “beyond”— watching the world and your loved ones pass by as if you didn’t exist.

The denial of something that was true to you in life can be a painful reminder that plays back in perpetuity, even in the afterlife. After having something you desperately wanted ripped apart in mere seconds, it’s no wonder a spirit would return from the grave to haunt those who did them wrong. And when the torment of that era ends, it spawns a new generation of ghost stories.

This is the tale of William Black, the coachman who met his untimely death by suicide. It takes place in Ancaster at the Hermitage ruins almost two centuries ago in the middle of the deep, dark, haunted woods.

The History Behind the Local Legend

What, or more specifically who, could cause a man like William Black to want to end his life in such a tragic manner? It’s a story that shares similarities with poor Jane Riley’s fatal jump 100 years ago this September at Albion Falls, and her abandonment by her handsome suitor, Joseph Rousseau. Jane plummeted to her death by jumping off the cliff atop Mount Albion Falls over a century ago. Almost one hundred years earlier, coachman William Black ended his own life because of a young woman he loved but could not have.

Let’s go back to the beginning, where this haunting local legend began.

In 1833, a man named Colonel Otto Ives (1804-1835) became the third landowner of the original Hermitage mansion, after he purchased it from Rev. George Sheed. Sheed built the home and lived there from 1827 until his death in 1832. Before that, the 162-acre property was owned by Henry Chrysler who was given the deed by the Crown in 1793.

Ives was an Englishman who fought with the Greeks during their war of independence, and this is when he met Magdalene Diamanti, the daughter of an Aegean Island governor. They wed on March 26, 1824 in Corfu, Greece and had two children, Edward Otto (1824) and William Henry (1832).

In the spring of 1833, Ives, his wife Magdalene, their two sons and Magdalene’s widowed sister moved to Upper Canada, settling in the woods on the property known as the Hermitage.

Magdalene was already pregnant with Ives’ third son, Alfred, and gave birth on April 25, 1833. But before the poor infant could even reach two months old he passed away just as he was being baptized. Otto and Magdalene didn’t wait long to conceive again and on June 25, 1834 a fourth son arrived by the name of Frederick Ives. The death of Col. Otto Ives came just one month after Frederick’s first birthday and on July 3, 1835, Ives passed away at the age of 34. He is buried in St. John’s Anglican Cemetery on Wilson Street East in Ancaster.

Two Lovers That Could Never Be

A legendary haunting such as this demands an equally endearing love story. And this is where the romantic tragedy begins. True love never dies, and just as you can envision a young Jane Riley standing at the edge of the falls high above the rocks, you can envision a heartbroken William Black standing on the edge feeling nothing but pain and sorrow. Not fully realizing that the moment he would end his life’s suffering he too would plunge into a fate as abysmal as Jane’s — a spirit trapped in unending time, eternally suffering the loss of love.

During a casual conversation one day with Otto Ives, a local woman named Mary Rosebury recommended a fine, gentleman by the name of William Black to Ives. Trusting her, Ives hired Black immediately as his coachman. The new position suited them both well at first. Black was skilled in reading and writing, so Ives decided to hire William to be an English tutor for Magdalene’s Greek-speaking, widowed sister.

Spending much time together, they grew affectionately. Meeting under the fruit trees that lined the orchards on the property, the two would form an everlasting love. Black wanted to ask the colonel’s permission for his love’s hand in marriage, and he desperately sought the approval of Ives. The Hermitage had now become his home where he helped the widowed sister of Magdalene find happiness again.

Black chose the perfect moonlit night to enter the candlelit mansion, knock on Ives’ study door, and graciously ask for his permission to marry Magdalene’s sister. Immediately disgusted by the thought of such an idea, Ives berated the coachman, who was nothing more than a lowly servant in his eyes. He pointed his finger towards the door and urged him to get out and never come back. Tears formed in William’s eyes as hopes of love and admiration turned into deep pools of drowning sorrow.

In the shadow of night, the coachman made his way to the dark stable with nothing but the thought of ending his pain. The thought of never being able to see his dearly beloved again was too much to bear. He grabbed a rope hanging from a hook and tossed it over the wooden beam high above the manure cart parked underneath.

Stepping up onto the wheel, and then up onto the edge of the cart, Black wrapped the rope around his neck several times forming a make-shift noose.

There he stood, trembling on the edge of eternity. His feet shaking in his black boots as he teetered and shook on the frame of the manure cart. Black stepped off the wagon, ending both his life and his suffering forever.

Or so he had thought.

The next morning, the colonel expected his carriage to be out front waiting to take him into town. But there was no carriage on the front laneway and no coachman. Pressed for time and upset at the events of the previous evening, Ives, already late for his meeting, stormed across the property and burst through the stable doors raging mad.

“Where is my carriage?” he shouted, but was met with only the dangling body of William Black.

Horrified by the sight, he severed the noose, causing the corpse to collapse into the dirty manure pile like a rag-doll. He hitched up his horses and rode down the lane to the secluded intersection of Sulphur Springs Road and Lover’s Lane.

He dug a hole big enough to fit the body and threw the coachman in head first. He proceeded to fill the hole, covered it with rocks, leaves and branches and then made his way back home to the Hermitage. When asked where the coachman was by his sister-in-law, he simply said that William had fled in the night.

Spirits of the Woods

It wasn’t too long after that Ives himself passed away. They say a tragedy such as this can trap a spirit in time. Black haunts the Hermitage Ruins under the veil of night — but maybe he’s not the only one?

Could Ives have suffered the untimely feelings of regret just days or moments before his death? And if so, could this have trapped his ghost in the decaying ruins too? Unfinished business or a quick death are both sure reasons ghosts can be caught in their own personal purgatory.

And if that isn’t bone-chilling enough, there are many reports of two semi-transparent souls, a male and a female walking arm-in-arm through the woods, totally unaware of anyone else around them.

Perhaps no matter how fast or how tragic Black’s death was, it seems that the two lovers found each other again and formed a bond that endures even in the afterlife.

Stay spooky, everyone!

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