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The Abduction of Davy Mercer

The Abduction of Davy Mercer

· 15 min. read

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive, or MUNFLA, was created in 1968 for the purpose of recording folk stories of and around Newfoundland and Labrador. It was a similar project, at a similar time, to The Mercury Series that we covered earlier in this series. However, while The Mercury Series came to a conclusion, MUNFLA has not, and to this day still collects folk stories from around the province.

One of the most famous stories is that of David, or Davy, Mercer of Bell Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bell Island is famous for its iron ore mines. In fact, prior to World War II, Bell Island exported more iron ore to Germany than it did to Canada. During the war, Germany was cut off from their iron ore and attacked the shipping centre twice to disrupt the flow of iron ore to Canada.

Plaque from German attack on Bell Island

Because of the profitability of the mines, Bell Island has brought in a mixture of people over the years, all with different backgrounds and traditions. It has also seen its fair share of tragedies. By mixing these two together, Bell Island has ultimately received the moniker of being the most haunted island in North America.

The island's most common story is that of the Bell Island Hag, a woman-like creature that lives in the bogs of the island. It is said that the hag will seek out men walking alone in the marsh, and approach them as a young woman, only to transform into a four-legged beast that reeks of sulfur. The beast will then chase the man down and eat them. Some believe the hag is the spirit of a girl killed during the Nazi attack on the islands, but others believe it to be the spirit of the man trapped in the marshy bog.

However, tonight's story isn't about the Bell Island Hag. Instead, it's of a creature that lives in the trees, that jingles and giggles and causes trouble, albeit just for fun. Along with the hag, Bell Island is said to be infested with fairies.

The Haunted Woods of Bell Island

MUNFLA has many records of fairy encounters in their archives, dating back centuries, and going until the modern day. In fact, MUNFLA has become the go-to source for those looking for information regarding the fairy problem in Newfoundland. Most of these stories are harmless stories of fairies having fun. Some stories involve them tying horses' manes into knots, hypnotizing people into walking in circles, or even teleporting people out of bed and into the woods. However, other stories are more serious, like swapping out children for changelings. But some are especially unique and belong in their own category, which is where Davy Mercer's story takes place.

Like any good story, there are many variations of it. Here is one of them, but there are different versions as well.

One day in the 1920s, Poppy and his friends were playing near the woods. Their parents told them not to go into the woods because of the fairies, but they didn't listen. After they had ventured deep into the woods, they heard an unusual giggling coming from the trees. They turned and fled the woods... only to realize one of the boys, Davy Mercer, had been left behind.

Afraid to go back into the woods, the children ran to the Mercer household and told Davy's parents what happened. The Mercers then got some friends together and went into the woods to find their son. They found nothing. They tried the next day, then the next, then the next. Nothing. Davy was gone.

One week later, Davy came home.

But this Davy was different. He was filthy and deformed. As they cleaned their son up, they pulled sticks and rocks from his clothes. Then, according to the MUNFLA files, they discovered his once smooth skin had turned lumpy. Whatever had happened to Davy, he was now mentally and physically disturbed and never would recover.

As he grew older, he became even more strange. He was a short man with pale skin. He walked around with a cane, a long coat, and a top hat. He would try to sell things out of his briefcase but never opened it to show people what was inside. Another testimony said "His speech was not a stutter or a stammer but a mixture of the two, and he had a perpetual grin which was horrifying. He was a very awkward and even frightening individual."

The Abduction of David Mercer

I reached out to MUNFLA about this story and was given three unique testimonies on the case. Two of them are from Kerry Donovan, who wrote on January 10, 1967, after hearing the story from their boarding mistress. This story deviates a bit from the original story:

"A young fellow Davee Mercer by name is reported as having been taken by the fairies. He was missing from his home one day and was found the next day in the woods, unconscious and quite disfigured. He had deergs (?) in his nose, his body was slouched and bruised, and ever afterward, although he was very intelligent and quite normal, forming his speech was impaired, his intelligence seemed to have diminished, and he became hunchback. He was afterwards renowned for his beautiful penmanship, the like of which no-one had ever seen. He became a recluse and as he walked along the streets children would whisper about him, 'There goes Davee Mercer, he was took by the fairies.'

"Davee Mercer died about five years ago, at the age of about fifty."

Kerry Donovan's First Handwritten Account on David Mercer

Kerry was put in an additional testimony about Davy Mercer a month later, dated February 2, 1967:

"Davee Mercer was extremely skilled with his hands and had an almost fanatical love of flowers. He would love Mrs. Dwyer's lilacs and would come to the house when they first bloomed. He went door to door asking for odd jobs, like framing pictures. Mrs. Dwyer had five paintings framed and signed by Davee Mercer. He was deeply religious and constructed a beautiful model of a church and had every detail both interior and exterior included in it. This wooden structure he had on his galepost (?). Davee Mercer was very affectionate and generous and hated to be given charity. I have not been able to talk to anybody who saw Davee after his death but it is rumoured that he went back to normal shape after his death."

Kerry Donovan's Second Handwritten Account on David Mercer

A few years later, on September 25, 1970, Eilen Leonard gave similar testimony, after hearing it from her student, Pat:

"About 40 years ago Davey Mercer (aged about 70) went into the woods on Middleton Ave, Bell Island, to go berry picking. At this time the people believed that if you went into the woods you had to bring some bread with you to feed the fairies so they wouldn't bother you. Well, Davy forgot the bread. One night some time later some friends of his asked him where he was going and he told them about the time he went into the woods without the bread and the fairies took him. He told them the fairies said he had to come back in the woods every night at 12 o'clock. Well this night his friends held him and wouldn't let him go. The next night he went and never came back for three days and three nights. After he returned he could only say a few words and appeared to have gone silly. People then believe that the fairies had really taken him and up to the time he died a few years back they always said that this was the reason for the changed appearance after he came back out of the woods.

"(Pat believe that he became ill from being too long in the woods, not because the fairies took him.)"

Eilen Leonard's Testimony on David Mercer

Mysteries of Canada adds a bit more to the story, also referencing the MUNFLA files as their source:

“I still persisted to question my father as a non-believer of fairies. He next told me about a man who I personally had known. He was a Mr. Davy Mercer who lived on Bell Island. He was a short thin man. He walked with a limp, his face was very white and wrinkled, his speech was not a stutter or a stammer but a mixture of the two, and he had a perpetual grin which was horrifying. He was a very awkward and even frightening individual. To see this person would quickly lead one to believe that he had experienced a great shock of some sort. That look of terror was painted on his face. Dad explained what happened to turn a perfectly normal man into such a horrible specimen.”

They also state, in one story Davy was “found curled up by a tree in a fit of terror. He was crying and mumbling, his clothes were torn and he seemed to be in pain… Many of the people who were present when he was found believe it to be the work of the fairies.”

It should also be mentioned that while Davy's story is unique, it's not isolated. Mysteries of Canada also writes about Stuart Taylor who "was said to have been taken by the fairies when he was a boy, only to be returned to civilization a changed man" and "would go into the woods every night to commune with his fairy friends."

Additionally, MUNFLA also provided me with an account of "Nan Mercer's Nextdoor Neighbour's Son". He was apparently "slow" and vanished into the woods for two days, only to be found sitting behind a large rock, with his clothes inside out. He also was apparently taken from fairies.

However, MUNFLA says that the story of "Nan Mercer's Nextdoor Neighbour's Son" is different, as it occurred on Upper Island Cove, directly opposite Conception Bay from Bell Island. In my opinion, it could be the same story, but just a variation of it, as the story does seem to have some variations.

We will never know what happened to David Mercer that day in 1920, what he saw, where we went, or who he became, but we do know that he existed, and that he died on February 23, 1962, and is buried in St. Boniface Anglican Cemetery on Bell Island.

David Mercer's Headstone

2024 Update

This article got the attention of the Mercer family and Davy's niece reached out to me. She told me that while most of my story was true, there were a few corrections. She wasn't sure about the sticks and twig being stuck inside Davy, but when he emerged from the woods, his legs were much shorter and he was missing an eyeball.

She confirmed that he always wore a black coat and a top hat, but also said he was highly skilled and very detailed. He once wrote The Lord's Prayer on a dime!

According to his niece, Davy passed away from a heart attack in 1962, which matches the grave in the above photo. However, she was only seven at the time and isn't sure about the legend of him "transforming" after he died.

His niece also provided this picture of Davy, which is used in a collage of other Mercer family members in a private Facebook group. You can see the real Davy Mercer on the left, in the top hat.

Davy Mercer and the Mercer Family

What do you think happened to Davy Mercer? It's a very interesting story, and could be taken a few different ways, so I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Don't forget to pin it!

The Abduction of Davy Mercer
The Abduction of Davy Mercer

Categories: Canada, Dark Tourism, Newfoundland and Labrador, Paranormal

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