The Parker Road Phantom makes a brief appearance in Steve Vernon's Maritime Monsters. Illustration by Jeff Solway.
Beginning of April, 1969, the little town of Berwick, Nova Scotia, was plagued by a series of sightings of a weird entity. It was variously described as 18 feet tall and a 'tall, very dark form', that ran around the area with an estimated speed of 'about twenty miles per hour'.
Ever since having read about the sightings of a mysterious giant creature said to have roamed the environs of Berwick in John Keel's 'Strange Creatures From Time And Space', this became one of those puzzling accounts that I periodically returned to, trying to get some answers. Even today, the Phantom of Parker Road is remembered locally, now in the form of "a man about 7 feet tall. He wore a trenchcoat with a wide brimmed hat. No one ever saw his face long enough to describe him. They only saw him at night and the hat was always pulled down to hide his face. Sometimes he would ring the doorbells, knock on doors to get their attention. As soon as they saw him, he seemed to dissappear into thin air. People were scared because they couldn't catch him, but he never hurt anyone."
Pocketbook edition of John keel's Strange Creatures From Time And Space. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.
Over the years, the giant morphed into a monster that, according to for instance Neil Arnold's 'Monster! The A-Z Of Zooform Phenomena', "terrorized parts of Canada... leaping over buildings, and bounding down county roads". Since its initial appearance, the account is also found online, in for example Albert Rosales' Humanoid database.
But what, or better said, who was the phantom? According to Nova News Now, "it all began on a foggy night in early 1969, when five boys - Billy, Ronny, David and Tom Gates and friend Dicky Taylor - developed their plan to scare their grandparents. They never imagined the havoc their prank would cause."
The true Parker Road Phantom: Tom and Billy Gates
Today this solution to that brief mystery is also embedded in local lore. Long after their story came out, Halifax writer Steve Vernon, author of a number of interesting titles on local ghostlore, cryptozoological events and general Forteana, maintainted there was more to it, alleging that phantom sightings went back to the 1800's: "Maybe these boys inadvertedly stepped over the boundaries between a prank and something else."
Maybe so and perhaps the vicinity around Berwick harbours a tradition of as yet uncharted anomalous events, but in this particular case I don't think that the Phantom of Parker Road belongs to such a hypothetical tradition. In 1892 the good people of Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia were terrified about a seven feet high strange animal, said to resemble a gorilla, and perhaps Vernon alludes to this account.
Warren Ledger, Warren, Pennsylvania, 22 January 1892.
Moreover, there are numerous accounts going back to the 19th century of boys involved in pranks creating giant ghosts and enormous scary monsters, using broomsticks, walking stilts, clothing lines, phosphorous materials and other elaborate contraptions. One of these incidents for instance involved the scare of the Black Ghost of New Rochelle. The first two weeks of November, 1902, part of this town in the state of New York, was plagued by the appearance of an eight feet tall figure clothed in 'a white shroud' that, when approached "belched forth fire and roared like a lion". The outcome was that a boy was involved, using "a pair of stilts, five feet high, and sheet and a black mask".
The Black Ghost of New Rochelle, as recounted in the Buffalo Express of Buffalo, New York, in its 17 November, 1902 edition.
The unmasking of the Parker Road Phantom and long before it the Black Ghost of New Rochelle with its Spring-heeled Jacklike fire belching do not imply that there are no puzzling sightings of giant creatures briefly invading our sphere of reality, but the Parker Road Monster is not one of them. It did earn its niche of fame with a Facebook page, where the children of the original pranksters even posted some messages.
We also learn that the Phantom of Parker Road was unmasked as early as April, 1969, when the boys involved decided to turn themselves in to the police (the photo of Tom and Billy Gates in this blog entry is from a contemporary newspaper). It was taken all in good nature and no charges were pressed. While references to the Parker Road Phantom appear occasionally over the years in print and online, the outcome that emerged the same month and entered local lore is never mentioned in the Fortean literature, except in Steve Vernon's book and as witnessed in Jeff Solway's captivating illustration.
It is fascinating to see how a prank of some local boys that was unveiled the same month in the local press, ultimately transformed into a giant creature from the goblin universe. As such it even made it into print in one of John Keel's books, its status as a true unknown insufficiently checked. From there it took off in other Fortean areas. It demonstrates that it is always useful to revisit those Fortean cold cases from time to time to build upon our knowledge of the anomalies surrounding us.