The Eleventh Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

 Vintage Hallowe'en illustration

It's October 31st and all of you spooky 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 eerie collection of darker stories that have peppered skating's history through the years.

Miss any of the other Hallowe'en Spooktaculars? You can find them all here.


In 1865, British lawyer and author Edmund Mitchell put ink to paper, penning the widely-read story of The Phantom Of The Lake: "It was based on a family legend that several generations back the youthful owner of Eastwood Hall had gone out to skate the very night before his marriage. It had been a severe winter, and the ice was perfectly safe, so that his friends did not seek to prevent his going, though no one felt inclined to accompany him. But on the lake that afternoon a portion of the ice had been broken to allow swimming room for the swans. No eye saw the accident; no one was at hand to render help. But next morning the body was found, and the young maiden who that day should have become a bride, lost her reason when she beheld her lover's lifeless form. Hence grew the legend that never an Armitage dies a sudden or violent death but some member of the family sees the phantom skater on the ice, and hears his last bubbling cry across the waters."

Eastwood Hall in Nottinghamshire is now an events and convention center but its spooky history still lingers on. It plays host to an annual Ghost Hunt and the building is said to be plagued by flickering light bulbs, heavy footsteps and disembodied voices. Some visitors have recalled having the sensation of being pushed... which begs the question - did the ill-fated skater later later dubbed The Phantom of The Lake accidentally drown on the night before his marriage... or was he pushed?


Julia V. Sullivan, one of Chicago's first licensed female chauffeurs

Julia Veronica Sullivan drew considerable attention in the spring of 1912, when she broke down gender barriers and became one of Chicago's first licensed female chauffeurs. She was no stranger to the spotlight. In 1910, she'd won the National Archery Association's women's title... and before that, she had passed Canadian tests in figure skating.

In early November of 1912, Julia unexplainedly left her job with a taxi company. On November 26 of that year, the police were summoned to her apartment after neighbours heard a gunshot. Julia was found dead in her bed with a revolver beside her. She was only forty-two years old.

The coroner ruled Julia's death to be a suicide, but the police weren't buying it. They took her landlady, Mrs. Loeb, into custody. Mrs. Loeb had been the only other person in her apartment around the time of her death, but she could not explain what had happened. Apparently, the two women had been drinking vodka and then Julia went to her room drunk. There was considerable speculation that Mrs. Loeb had something to do with it. There was also speculation that because she had left her job weeks prior, she may have been behind on her rent and the landlady (after a few drinks) might have become particularly enraged by this. Then there was her manner of death - being shot in the heart - which wasn't common in suicide cases. 

On December 11, 1912, a jury ruled that Julia had committed suicide "while temporarily deranged" but 
many whispered that Mrs. Loeb knew more than she was telling the police. Had a pioneering chauffeur and talented figure skater taken her own life or had someone gotten away with murder?


Long, long before Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly became household names, skating played a central point in a courtroom drama that CNN would have had a field day with.

On November 15, 1865, an oil field worker from Pittsburgh who went by the name John H. Sargent and a widow from Pecatonica, Illinois named Mrs. Achsah E. Follett checked into separate rooms at the Bushnell House inn in Beloit, Wisconsin. Early the next morning, they were married by Reverend S.H. Stocking, with the reverend's wife and daughter and a Mrs. Purcell of Beloit serving as witnesses. 

About an hour after the wedding, John H. Sargent applied to the Beloit agent of the Travelers Insurance Company of Hartford for three month's insurance against death by accident: a policy with a three thousand dollar payout - which would be nearly sixty thousand dollars today. The policy was written and delivered to him, and his new bride was the beneficiary. He then left with his wife immediately, saying he was in a great rush to catch a train. Mr. Sargent purportedly went back to work on the Pennsylvania oil fields and Mrs. Sargent returned home to Pecatonia alone. Almost a month later, Mrs. Sargent announced to her friends that her husband was coming to town.

In their 1878 book "Remarkable Strategies And Conspiracies", John Benjamin Lewis and Charles Carroll Bombaugh explained what happened next: "The people of the village of Pecatonica were notified by Henry J. Allen and his brother-in-law Samuel A. Corwin of that place, and Emanuel Hill of Rockford, that John H. Sargent, who had been skating, in company with Corwin, on the Pecatonica River during the afternoon of that day, had fallen through an air-hole and disappeared under the ice. Thorough search for the body was immediately instituted and continued during the next two days by a large number of citizens, but no trace of it was discovered... The people, generally, expressed their belief in the occurrence as alleged, though there were a few persons who held a different opinion. The officers of the [insurance] company, not being fully satisfied, directed further investigation, which resulted in their determination to withhold immediate payment of the claim, although there was nothing but vague suspicion to justify delay. The suspicion was founded mainly upon the bad character which the parties, especially Allen, bore in their own neighborhood; and the singular circumstance that Sargent, who had been married only four weeks (every day of which had been spent away from his bride) did not, on his return to the town where she was living, first visit her before skating with his friends upon the Pecatonica River. It was decided to resist at law, if need be, what appeared to be an attempt to defraud the company."

A three month search for the ill-fated skater failed to produce a body and aside from his three skating companions, no one in Pecatonia seemed to have any proof of the existence of Mr. Sargent. Meanwhile in Beloit, it was discovered that Sargent had pawned a silver watch for the premium on his policy and that the initials he had given in the register of the Bushnell House inn the night before his wedding read 'H.J.' and not 'J.H.' Serious doubts, both private and public, began to settle in as to whether or not this "Mr. Sargent" was a flim flam man. Things didn't look good.

Impatient for her three thousand dollar payday, Mrs. Sargent sued. The insurance company arrived with its shaky evidence in tow. Gilbert Love, recounting the events of the trial in the October 19, 1933 issue of "The Pittsburgh Press" noted that "The widow was not a good witness. She could remember nothing about her deceased husband's past. She didn't know where he was born, who his father and mother were, or whether he had ever been married before. He was an oil field worker from Pennsylvania and she had simply married him. That was her story and she stuck to it. Then the insurance company exploded its first bombshell. It brought in the pastor from Beloit and the witnesses to the marriage. They identified witness Henry J. Allen as the man who had married the widow under the name of James H. Sargent."

The widow, realizing she was in hot water, pulled out a photograph of her dead husband. The markings on the back indicated it had been taken by a photographer in Batavia, Illinois, so the insurance attorney stalled and brought in the photographer, Lorin M. Whitney. When probed about who was in the picture, he said, "This photograph is of my make. I have the negative from which this picture is made. I took the negative, and know the person who sat for it. The name of the person who sat for this this negative is James Clure. He lives in Batavia, Illinois; is a tailor by trade, and is still living. I have seen him nearly every day and I last saw him about an hour ago." As everyone in the courtroom tried to pick their jaws up off the floor, Clure strolled up to the stand. He confirmed to the judge that it was indeed him in the picture and said, "I was never known or called by the name of John H. Sargent. I was never married to the plaintiff. I was never drowned in the Pecatonia River!" With that damning testimony, the widow's star witnesses vanished from the courtroom and left town. She was left high and dry... but her problems were just beginning.

Once "Mr. Sargent" was located in Iowa, the conniving couple were indicted by the grand jury of Rock County and spent some time in a Jainsville jail. There were some complications though. Prior to his arrest, "Mr. Sargent" had been injured badly when cutting a falling tree... and "Mrs. Sargent" had given birth to their baby. Lewis and Bombaugh recollected, "After remaining in jail some time, and thereby punished to some extent, though not so much as their crimes deserved, they were released on nominal bail, which was, of course, forfeited, and they escaped further punishment. This was the result of humane consideration for the widow, who was Allen's dupe, and for her children, and for Allen himself, whose confinement really endangered his worthless life."


In the winter of 1888, nine year old Harvey Seasongood headed out with friends after school to an old wooden bridge near the frozen Hickory Creek, a tributary of the St. Joseph River in Berrien County, Michigan. 

What happened that day still resonated deeply with Harvey, a retired farm supply company operator, in the sixties. A 1963 article in the "Lansing State Journal" recalled his chilling story: "Suddenly from more than a mile downstream came a loud sound of scraping blades. Shouts and laughter died out among the lads. Time seemed to stand still as the echo of scraping blades hung on the creek banks. Children scrambled up the banks and through knee-deep snow with their skates on, leaving shoes and boots behind. Not the last to leave was little Harvey. The big boys jumped a barbed wire fence at the top of the bank. The little ones crawled under. But in-between Harvey tried to dive through and his clothes got caught on the barbs. Thrashing about only tangled him hopelessly. That's why Harvey was around when the Phantom skated by. The Phantom's scraping blades grew louder after each silent glide and sounded like he was rushing on with express train speed. Gasping, Harvey twisted around in his sheepskin jacket. Green sparks and blue flames flashed from enormous blades as the Phantom skater came around a bend. He was at least 18 feet tall, Harvey says, wearing black tights and a black skull cap, and he cast no shadow, despite the full moon. As the huge black figure approached the old timber bridge, the Phantom went into a crouch and picked up speed. Then with an eerie laugh that froze little Harvey's tears, the Phantom leaped high and hurdled the bridge. As he came down on the other side, Harvey saw in the moonlight that one blade was bonded to a cloven hoof. Alighting with a roar of sparks that melted snow in a half-acre circle, the Phantom sped on down Hickory Creek. The Phantom hadn't noticed little Harvey caught in the fence. And the only person to ever report seeing the Phantom doesn't remember how long he was caught in the fence or how he got home - but he remembers seeing a glow from green sparks and blue flame receding upstream."

Harvey Seasongood passed away in 1964 but his chilling story of the Phantom Skater of Hickory Creek became an urban legend in the area.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":