The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/The Fatality of Certain Places to Certain Persons




Once upon a time there was a king in Sweden, and his son sailed on the seas. On a certain day he took ship, with manymen on board, and red gold in heaps. And when he went away his stepmother bid him beware of Cape Wrath (Poraft), and Poldhu (the black pool), and Poltarrach gawn (the pool of the dun steer).

It fell out that as he sailed he came to the place called Phorsten Stivanaigh (port of Siveno or Sweno), and did not know what land it was that he had made. And the men of the isles armed themselves, and blackened their faces with soot from the pots, and went out in boats. They told him this creek was called Poltarrach gawn. Then cried the king's son, "God forbid that I should bide in these waters, and the Lord have mercy on my soul if this be Poltarrach gawn." He weighed anchor and made to stand out again to sea, but the men of Assqut (west coast of Sutherland), and the isles (summer islands off Ullapool) were too many for him. They came on board his ship and cried to Siveno that he should yield himself. The Swedes and their prince being stout men fought on deck and below. When the king's son was wounded they put him below, and went on fighting till a man of Glendhu (the black glen), looking through a hole in the deck, saw the king's son, and shot him. Then the Swedes lost heart. They yielded up the gold and all that was in the ship, and only asked to get away with the vessel and their lives. The islesmen began to work with the gold, and to take it out in their plaids; one man holding the plaid on the ship's side and another making it fast in the boat. But the gold was so heavy that the plaid tore, and only a few pieces slid into the boat and the rest of the treasure still lies in Glendhu. A year later the man who had shot the king's son said: "I go a fishing, and in the port of Siveno."

"While he fished he saw a small boat coming over the water towards him, and in the boat was a man with gold sewed all over his clothes, and a sword. The little boat came alongside, and then the man, who had the face of Siveno the king's son, shot the fisherman of Glendhu. He cried, "I gave it before, and I get it now," and he died.

The harbor is called the port of Siveno, or Sweno, to this day.


Sir James Stewart, the favorite of the Scottish king, was murdered in 1596, at Cotstark, in the parish of Symington, Lanarkshire. He had defied the Douglas clan, but Douglas of Torthorwald, overtook and slew him in that glen. Says Archbishop Spotteswoode in his history (III. 40): "Captain Stewart had asked the name of the piece of ground on which they were, and, on learning the name of it, commanded his company to ride more quickly as having gotten a response to beware of "such a place." Query? What did an Archbishop mean by a "response"?


King Henry IV., having a holy purpose to go to Jerusalem, was dissuaded by a prophecy that he must die in Jerusalem. Palling mortally sick at Westminster he learnt that the room where he lay was named "the Jerusalem Chamber." "In that Jerusalem shall Harry die," said the king, and kept his word, passing away in that same room and bed in Westminster.


The oracle of Buto in Egypt warned Cambyses that he should die in Eckbatana, so he determined never to go there. One day in the chase the king was wounded. He asked the name of the place in which they laid him down to have his wound dressed. He was told that it was Bckbatanaj and soon afterwards expired


Twardvoski, the Faust, or Michael Scott, or D. D. McKay, of Lithuanian legends, sold his soul to the devil, but the fiend could only lay claim to it if they met in Rome. At a hamlet of his native country which chanced to be called Rome, the devil accosted him, and claimed his own, but Twardvoski by some subterfuge baffled him.[1]


The seigneur de Givry, lover of Mile, de Guise, was killed at that siege. "On lui avait prédit depuis peu qu'il mourrait devant l'an, et celd ponvait entendre devant l'année ou devant la ville de Laon. Le chevalier de Cheverney, son beau-pere, dit qu'il fut tue devant Laon."[2]


Captain Campbell, of Lochawe, while at home in the Highlands, had a vivid dream, in which a long-ago murdered ancestor of his own appeared to him. Believing that the apparition might forbode his death, he asked of his spectral visitor if he was soon to die. "No," replied the ghost, "not soon, but at Ticonderoga." Captain Campbell awoke repeating to himself this strange name, which to his memory and to his knowledge conveyed no idea whatever. He thought of it only as a place in dreamland.

Some years later, and during the war of American independence, his regiment was engaged in an action under the walls of Fort Edward. Captain Campbell was wounded and carried to the rear. After the battle a brother officer mentioned to him that the real, the Indian name, of the place was a curious one, "Ticonderoga."

Captain Campbell died two days later of his wound.


What is the origin of this idea? Is it the shadow side of the once prevalent idea that certain spots were holy, and advantageous as fraught with supernatural gifts? Jerusalem was so to the Jews. Pilgrims used to go to Canope, in Egypt, pray and sleep on the spot, believing that in dreams they would obtain the blessing or the guidance they desired. The oracle had to be consulted at Delphi. Christ treated this notion with contempt. Is the fatality of places twin with the sanctity of places? Does the notion arise in the belief that Fate or Destiny, Ananké, is always sitting waiting to catch us. Grim as the stories are they contain a grim jest: for sometimes as a Laon a life is lost in pursuing, and sometimes, as in the tale of the "devil at Rome," the human being turns the pun to his advantage, and foils the Fiend. Is the notion of fatality in spots an enlargement of the notion "the hour is come; and the man," adding, "and the place!"

  1. Ostrovsby's Notes.
  2. Tallemant des Reaux, I. 125.