The Fourth Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

"Schaatse Ryders" from Salomon van Rusting's "Het schouw-toneel des doods", 1707

"The way was tortuous to a degree, and from going round in a series of semi-circles, as one goes in skating with the Dutch roll, I got rather confused with regard to the points of the compass." - Bram Stoker, "Dracula's Guest And Other Weird Stories" 

It's the ghost wonderful time of the year! Hallowe'en has once again fallen upon us and all of you loyal Skate Guard readers know that means. It's time for a yearly Skate Guard tradition... The Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular! Dim the lights enjoy this creepy collection of darker stories that have peppered skating's history through the years!


Last year at Hallowe'en, we started things off with a look back at the figure skating slasher scene from the 1983 cult classic "Curtains" and this year, we'll get again begin with a look at a horror flick any skating fan might want to watch with the lights on. Directed by Pete Walker, the 1976 film "Schizo" depicted the fictional story of figure skater Samantha Gray who, when planning to marry prominent young manufacturer Alan Falconer, was stalked by a crazed fan from her past... with murderous results. Panned by critics for its weak plot and - how shall we say? - uncanny similarities to Alfred Hitchcock's film "Psycho", Alex DiVicenzo was a little more generous in a 2012 review on HNN. "Schizo," he wrote, "is not nearly as suspenseful as Hitchcock’s work - although it’s not devoid of tension either - but the real selling point is its visceral nature. Reminiscent of the Italian Giallo films of the same era, the death scenes are equally nasty and stylish (and there’s even an eyeball spear). While Schizo may not be Walker’s best work, it’s worth watching, particularly in glorious high definition." The spookier part? Lynne Frederick, the actress who played  figure skater Samantha Gray, died in 1994 under tragic and somewhat mysterious circumstances, in her later years behaving antagonistically towards the family of her second husband Peter Sellers. A case of life imitating art? Perhaps.


With any great tragedy come the inevitable ghost stories. One can't be surprised that after the 1961 Sabena Crash, folklore started to surface at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs about the ghost of the club's iconic coach Edi Scholdan. In Patricia Shelley Bushman's brilliant book "Indelible Tracings", two such stories were recounted. Christy Krall said, "People always thought Edi's ghost was in the rink. They believed his spirit had come back. Many people had this experience, particularly the janitors. They saw this little white hat, which was a very distinctive part of him. World Champion Doreen Denny recalled another Broadmoor ghost sighting in the mid-sixties: "There were two people sitting next to each other, a man and a lady. He was sitting on the outside of an aisle seat and she was sitting next to him on the inside. He was wearing a cap and she had a purse on her lap. It was a smoky state and that's all I could see - there were no faces showing. I thought, who in the heck is sitting there... and when I turned around they were gone. They were there one minute ad then they weren't. There was no time to get up and walk out." Urban legend purports that late at night, employees at the Broadmoor Hotel have seen a woman dressed in clothing from the twenties wandering around the hotel. Are the ghostly figures in any way connected? That's up to you to decide.


Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd find a story that connected skating to the brilliant actor Vincent Price, who I've got to be honest in saying I just admired so much. People always tend to remember Price for his distinctive voice and pioneering roles in developing the horror film genre but if you haven't sat down and watched many of his dramatic and at times comedic roles from a great deal of his earlier films, you're missing out. Trust me on this one. However, this tale isn't about one of his earlier roles but a quite obscure television role he took on much later in his career. In April and May of 1979, CBS presented a four episode series called "The Time Express". A description of the program on the website The Sound Of Vincent Price describes the show as being akin to "a modern ghost train, filled with 100 dead souls reincarnated to operate the service after their own train, The New Guinea Flyer, crashed into a river in 1886. Like eccentric millionaire John Beresford Tipton on The Millionaire (CBS, 1955-1960) who chose people at random to receive a million tax-free dollars, there was also a mysterious benefactor on board The Time Express. This unseen Head of the Line would choose people who have the greatest need to relive a particular moment from their past. The passengers, once back in the past, see that people will change, as well as themselves, making them all better people. Based at the Los Angeles Union Station, the Time Express departed from gate Y Track 13. On board, host and hostess Jason and Margaret Winters supervised each passenger's trip as they moved through the misty corridors of time."

The role of host Jason Winters was of course played by Price and Margaret Winters was portrayed by Price's real life spouse Coral Browne. Victoria Price, Vincent and Coral's daughter, offered some further background on the short-lived series in her biography of her father: "Produced by Hawaii Five-O veteran Leonard B. Kaufman, each program featured a number of stories about passengers on the Winters' train. The plots demonstrated how individual lives can be altered with circumstances, and events changed at the moment of decision. On their train journey, passengers were 'given a chance to relive their lives in those alternate styles' - a gimmick that would later be resuscitated for shows like Quantum Leap and Early Edition. Reviews for the series were shaky from the start, though Vincent and Coral were treated well by the press. One critic wrote, 'Let's say five nice words about Time Express: Vincent Price and Coral Browne. The real-life married couple promise wit, sophistication, and a certain droll, Darling-we're-only-in-it-for-the fun leavening for the time travel anthology.' The series was not picked up for the following fall." Where's the figure skating connection? Don't worry, I'm on it. The show's second episode was called "THE COPY-WRITER/THE FIGURE SKATER", "The Figure Skater" being the second of two tales brought to life on the episode. The story is set on Valentine's Day in 1977 in Montreal and the aforementioned website also gives a pretty detailed plot synopsis: "During the 1977 Winter Games, Jill Martin falls in love with French ice-skater, Paul Venard - much to the annoyance of his coach, Vanessa. After winning the her event, Jill and Paul decide to compete together, but Vanessa puts the skates on their relationship when she tells Jill she caught him stealing. Returning to her midnight engagement in 1977, Jill discovers that Vanessa lied because she was in love with Paul. The next day, on their way to the airport, Paul is run over before he has time to give Jill an engagement ring. In the hospital, Vanessa informs Jill of Paul's death. Back on the Time Express, an upset Maggie pleads to the Head of the Line to fix Jill's and Sam's predicaments. And he does. Jill learns that Paul is not dead, but paralysed and decides to stay with him; meanwhile Michelle and Sam finally meet without mishap." Sounds like General Hospital meets Twice In A Lifetime meets The Twilight Zone, doesn't it? The role of Vanessa was played by former Catwoman Lee Meriwether, where Jill Martin was portrayed by Berlin lead vocalist Terri Nunn. Actor, screenwriter and poet Francois-Marie Bénard changed a letter in his last name to play the role of skater Paul Venard. When I have interviewed skaters for the blog, one question that I gravitate to asking quite often is "if you could do it all over again, would change anything?" Time and time again, most say no. As fascinating as it is for all of us to think about the what if's of the journeys we take, we are all on a path that brings us where we are meant to be. Fortunately for me, I eventually reclaimed my love of figure skating and am on the path of writing and sharing this unique story with all of you reading right now. I too wouldn't change a thing. Sorry, Vincent, but I'll pass on tickets to The Time Express. This former figure skater is quite content the way things are.


Nova Scotia's rich history is chock full of well-told tales of poltergeists, forerunners and devils playing cards. However, the tale of The Headless Skater Of Isle Madame, an island off the coast of Cape Breton Island that was named after the second wife of France's King Louis XIV, was long a closely guarded secret to 'outsiders'. An oral history from the late Rosella Clory Sampson of Grand Anse published in David Lloyd Samson's 1992 book "Island Of Ghosts" revealed the chilling tale of a headless, skating ghost that was encountered by many locals including Sampson's own grandfather, an avid skater. Sampson recalled, "One evening, he and his brother, who was also an outstanding skater, decided to visit with friends. The night was clear, and the harbour ice was safe enough to cross on skates. Both men departed, and eventually separated. When he returned, Grandfather noticed someone skating ahead of him in the distance... As he drew closer, he was shocked to discover that the skater had the figure of a 'ghost' - headless, and wearing a long gown. It vanished into an opening on the ice... Great-grandfather told him that once upon a time there had been two skaters from Arichat - the best on Isle Madame - but one tragic day both of them fell into the water through the ice, and were drowned." I was in touch with Susan from the Isle Madame Historical Society and she explained that Glasgow Point, an area referenced in Samson's story, is on Isle Madame near Lennox Passage, where there was an old lighthouse. Perhaps the headless ghost Rosella Clory Sampson's grandfather saw wasn't drowned skaters, but instead a drowned shipwreck victim. Whoever this spectre might be, the legend goes that whenever someone saw The Headless Skater Of Isle Madame out on the ice, it was a premonition of a long, harsh winter.


January 1940 photo of skating at the pond in Liberty Park, courtesy the Spokesman-Review Archives

On the afternoon Monday, September 18, 1933, a park employee in Spokane, Washington named James Thornburg made a grisly discovery when he went to clear reeds out of the park's skating pond. In the slough by the pond was the body of a badly decomposed man who appeared to have been bludgeoned to death. The September 19, 1933 issue of the "Spokane Daily Chronicle" tells us that the man's "skull was cracked on the left side, giving indications that the man had met with foul play. Police Detectives Arthur Aikman and Henry Tesdahl, who investigated said the man had been dead for more than a year, in the opinion of Coroner T.C. Barnhart, who investigated. Water covers the swamp during the spring and winter season and the body had apparently been under water for some time. It was found in a ditch, which had been dug some time ago when efforts were made to drain the swamp. The third upper molar was crowned with gold and two of the lower teeth were missing, giving police their only hope of identification. Only shreds of clothing could be found. Loggers boots were on the feet. A straight stem pipe and a comb were found nearby." What makes this story even more horrific is that if the coroner was correct in his estimation, skaters could very well have been carving out figure eights and leaping Salchows over a dead body for an entire winter without ever knowing it.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":