Duppy tales

Updated: Nov 2, 2018

By Ian Swaby

With Halloween upon us, we’re reminded of the duppies which wander the island after dark (as some Caymanians say). An infamous part of West Indian folklore, duppies are ghosts or spirits, often malevolent, that haunt people by night. In Cayman, locals have spoken of many a duppy, while the years have slowly rusted and crumbled the chain through which these tales were told.

Yet the eeriness of the stories never fades. So, pull up a chair and enjoy this anthology of Cayman’s spookiest tales.

Duppy Turn

One corner of Grand Cayman was believed to be a unique hotspot of supernatural activity.

It was said that pirates hid their treasure along Duppy Turn in North Side, then killed residents and buried them, making them the guardians of the treasure.

While evidence for this story has never been found, one thing is certain: countless Caymanians claim they have encountered the spirits of the buried locals. From before the days of electric lights, North Siders say they recall faceless forms fading away into the darkness or hovering above the ground.

One of the most famous stories involves a young Caymanian who was walking past the bend at night and saw what he thought was a human form rising and sitting down repeatedly. He was so terrified that he ran and found his friend to walk the turn with him.

It turned out that the shape was nothing more than a Silver Thatch Palm blowing in the breeze.

With the advent of street lights, duppies have now vanished from Duppy Turn. The location carries the designation of a National Historic Site.

The May Cow

No duppy was more greatly feared than the May Cow.

Among the most malevolent of duppies, the May Cow is said to have haunted the farmlands of Cayman Brac. Its other names included the Rolling Calf, the Roaring Calf, and the Old Willie Go.

In the book “Duppies Is” by Robert Sevier Fuller, Ernest Panton relates the story of a Cayman Brac man who hears a noise in his yard one night and opens the door to find “one of the most awful duppies he had ever seen in his life – a pure black, hair-covered monster with red stripes.”

Many recall tales of the May Cow, with the monster usually described as carrying a long, clanking chain around its neck. Whether the duppy was real, a ploy to keep children inside at night, or a means to stop thieves from stealing farmers’ spring crops, it holds an indelible stamp on the memories of Brackers.

But sleep easily, for, according to the aforementioned book, the May Cow eventually fell into a hole too deep to allow for an escape. Soon, only its bones remained.

The Curse of Pedro Castle

Caymanians today look upon Pedro Castle in Savannah with honour, but this plantation home which served as Cayman’s “Birthplace of Democracy” was not always recognised for its importance. In fact, it was once rumored that the home was cursed, dooming the efforts of anyone who tried to claim it as their own.

The building caught fire for the first time in the 1800s, when lightning struck the front steps, killing the daughter of the original family, Mary Jane Eden. The Edens then abandoned the house. In 1959, Pedro Castle was purchased by the Hurlstone family, but it was abandoned again before 1920.

The house was then purchased by Thomas Hubbell, who renovated the house as the famous inn and restaurant bearing a sign which said “Captain Morgan slept here.” It was destroyed by fire – twice – and then abandoned.

However, since taking its rightful place as one of Cayman’s premier attractions (2004 damage from Hurricane Ivan aside) Pedro Castle has seen continued good fortune.

Nonetheless, staff members claim to have encountered Mary Jane’s ghost, or to have heard voices from times past echoing within the walls.