There's been a Scandal, Here are the Facts: St. Anne's Retreat Legends


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There's been a Scandal, Here are the Facts: St. Anne's Retreat Legends


Folklore student fieldwork project containing several verisons of the St. Anne's Retreat legend.
There's been a Scandal, Here are the Facts:
St. Anne's Retreat Legends
Russell Jones
English/History 5700
Professor Gabbert
Utah State University
Spring 2010
, .
RJ 1 • There's Been a Scandal, Here Are The Facts
"Why do history books divide time up according to wars instead of the periods of peace?
Because it's interesting, and because, on some level, people like seeing big things fall apart."
Michael Garibaldi, Babylon 5
I first heard of the nunnery in fifth or sixth grade myself. I didn't even know the name of
it until I began this project. It was always just "the nunnery up in Logan Canyon." I'd been
told it several times and the story was ,~lways pretty close to the same. Some nuns had gotten
pregnant up there and drowned their babies in a pool to cover it up. On a certain night -
whether it was a full moon, or a night without a moon, that part always changed - you could go
up there and you'd see the pool filled with water and dead babies floating in it. I never gave it
much thought, honestly. People rarely do when it comes to local legends. • The nunnery, St. Ann's retreat, has been a part oflocallegend for a long time. One of
the sources I interviewed stated that people had been going up there on legend trips since before
he'd been patrolling the area as a police officer. His estimate was forty years. Recently, razor
wire was set up around the place and security guards were hired to keep trespassers out. This
didn't stop trespassers, though; at least, not until a security guard caught a group of students and
tied them up and threw them in the empty pool to scare them. This case was well documented
and became quite a scandal. It brought the nunnery back into the public mind, which seemed to
have forgotten about it.
Thinking on this event was part of the reason why I chose St. Ann's retreat for my
project. The other part of the reason was that I thought it was a common legend that everybody
knew and that it would be simple. Naturally, I expected some variation from one story to the
• next, but I never expected just how much variation I would get, or that it would be so hard to find
, ,

RJ 2
people who knew of it. Of the fifty different people I asked in my initial excursion, only five
actually knew the legend. Oh, everybody knew the haunted nunnery existed, because of the
recent scandal, but nobody would admit to knowing exactly why people would go up their in the
first place. This was quite frustrating at first, but as I continued my quest to find people who
knew the legend, a common element showed itself in people's hesitation: they didn't have the
You'll notice this immediately in the story I collected from Greg Nielsen, who was the
most willing person I collected from. He prefaces his story with an explanation of how he
knows about the place: his grandfather helped build it. He then gave a disclaimer that the story
is as he "understood it," not necessarily according to the Facts. Facts were so important to him
that he even stopped by my home later to correct a mistake; his wife had informed him that the
uranium tycoon built the place first and the Catholic church acquired it later.
This disclaimer was another common element. People would stress that what they were
telling me was a story. As I did my collecting, I noticed that I had to emphasize this as well in
order to get them to tell it. If I opened up my interview by asking what people know about St.
Ann's retreat, they clammed up instantly and no amount of prodding could convince them to talk.
If, however, I asked them to tell me what others had told them about it, I had a much greater
chance of getting them to speak. This happened with Jeff in the most dramatic way. When I
first told myoid friend I was collecting performances of the legend, he insisted that he'd be a bad
source because he didn't know that much about it. I had to keep asking for several days and
eventually got him to open up by asking him to tell me specifically what he'd been told by others.
Even after I'd completed the interview and moved on, he would continue to remind me

RJ 3
afterward that what he said probably wasn't the Facts. When I confronted him about this and
said that the real facts, what little I had, suggested that the story never actually happened,
however, he quickly became defensive and looked for ways to justify it. From his own mouth,
"well, you can't really know for sure that it didn't happen. I mean, the Catholic church is always
trying to cover up things like this." Interesting, that someone so unwilling to talk without the
Facts would have such a strong reaction against the suggestion that Facts seemed to say the event
never happened at all.
This point about the Catholic church covering things up came back again when I
interviewed my mother. "But I guess I always kind of believed that because when we went to
Rome with our family that was the story there too, that a lot of the nuns, that they found babies
cemented into the walls of the underground tunnels throughout the city of Rome." I think this
may be one of the keys to explaining why there would be a legend surrounding an abandoned
Catholic retreat. While all the stories have some pretty wild variation - some say the ghost is of
the babies, some say its of the nun who drowned a baby, etc. - but aside from an obsession with
facts, they all have one element in common: scandal.
It is well known that members of the Catholic clergy cover up scandals because they have
been caught in it. Stories of Catholic priests involved in illicit sexual acts have been hanging
around them for centuries because it's such a taboo. People love scandal and will look for it
wherever they can. The fact that there have been stories of this confirmed in the public mind
through news media have probably served to increase these stories. That the date of the event
involving the security guard and the kids, October 15, 1997 (Herald Journal), seems to coincide
with the trial, sentencing and death of one of the priests involved in the sex scandal lends a bit of

RJ 4
credence to this conclusion. According to BBC news, Brendan Smyth pled guilty 96 counts of
child molestation in 1997 and died one month into serving his sentence (BBC Online). A search
of website dedicated to holding priests involved in sex scandals accountable for their actions also
yielded a considerable number of priests exposed or tried in 1997
(http://www.bishop-accountability.orglirishpriestsinus/).Itis important to note that
these are internet sources and therefor may not be entirely reliable. Although there are plenty of
articles about Brendan Smyth easily available, time constraints made it impossible for me to go
through and verify every priest tied to a scandal in 1997 for this assignment, but the correlation is
strong enough that it's probably worth a followup study to confirm it at a later time.
The interest in a scandal also comes up in the version I collected from Josh Mecham. He
said, "I know that it was a place for nuns to go up that were pregnant and would kill their
babies." One of the only ones I collected that didn't need to be coaxed into talking by reminding
him that I was only looking for how it was told, Josh specifically says he "knows" how things
happened. His story is also the most gruesome in its implications, suggesting that not only did a
baby drowning happen there, but that St. Ann's retreat existed specifically for that purpose. You
see scandalous details emphasized in other stories as well. In Jeffs, the nuns drown a baby born
from a woman who was not a member ofthe clergy and in Danielle's the Mother Superior
drowns the baby for the nun to cover up the truth. In Tawny's version, the first thing she makes
known is that nuns aren't allowed to have babies. Like Josh, she also said that St. Ann's Retreat
was a place where nuns were supposed to drown the babies, but the way she said it was off-hand,
as if she didn't see the implications ofthat, but the fact that nuns weren't supposed to have
babies was very important. This was also emphasized in the story told by Nathan. "You know

RJ 5
the nuns can't have sex, or aren't supposed to. To cover it up, they would drown the babies in a
This is very interesting to me in light of earlier studies I did on "The Hook" and
information I've picked out from other urban legends. I made a special point in my report about
how the people being punished in the urban legend were people who broke the taboo of
pre-marital sex. In the story ofthe kidney heist, it's a man out looking to pick up women in a
bar who gets his organs stolen. There are even urban legends about children swearing on live
broadcasts of kid shows, such as "Bozo, the Clown," or that Mr. Rogers was secretly a child
molester, which was the reason why children were never seen on his show. (Brunvand)
Scandal seems to be a very important element to urban legends and the more fervently the taboo
is preached, the more emphasis is placed on the breaking of it in the telling of the story .
At first, I thought that the correlation to stories in the news was the cause of the obsession
with Facts in the tellings and that may very well have something to do with it, but the more I've
gone over the tellings, the more I think that the scandal is at fault. It is more a interesting and
juicy story to tell if Facts seem to back it up. Facts mean that it Actually Happened, that it
wasn't just a story somebody Made Up to scare us all. It's important that the story be true,
because the possibility of a scandal isn't as interesting as one that actually happened. It would
be particularly interesting to see if the way Catholics tell the story is different from how the LDS
sample I collected from tell it. I would bet that if they would be willing to tell it at all, there
would be a lot less emphasis placed on the taboos broken. They might be more inclined to tell
the version of the story in which it was just one nun who got pregnant to minimize the scandal.
As interesting as all this speculation is, it's nothing but speculation, because I did not find any

RJ 6
Catholics to ask. Still, this would be another interesting area to follow up on.
When I first started this project, I expected a simple essay. I thought I'd make some
points about the gender roles like Tatar did in OjfWith Their Heads, and say a few things about
the common elements of urban legends brought up by Brunvand and possibly make a few
statements about a legend in an LDS area laying blame on the Catholic church. I believed it
would just be another small project for me to demonstrate a large amount of information I'd been
spoon-fed in class, but as I collected the stories and examined them in detail, new things came to
the surface that were of far greater interest. The importance on Facts, the emphasis on scandal
and the correlation of the documented legend trip that went bad to the arrest and trial of several
Catholic priests caught in sex scandals; I hadn't predicted any of this. It's given me a lot of
interesting areas for myself and others to look into in future research projects on the subject, as
well as given me a new perspective to examine urban legends from. And, above all, this
experience has hammered home the importance of keeping an open mind and not going into a
collection project with to many specific ideas in mind .
' ..

Allen, Paul (October 14,2000). Thrillseekers Steer Clear of Canyon. Harold Journal.
Retrieved from:
Anonymous (2004). Bishop Accountability. Retrieved from: priests in usl
BBC Online - No Author Given (2010, March 15). Profile of Brendan Smyth. BBe News
Online. Retrieved from: news/northern ireland/8567868.stm
Brunvand, Jan Harold (1981). The Vanishing Hitchhiker. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and
Reily, Jerome (2008, April 6). Abbey For Sale, With Pervert Priest's Grave Included.
Independent National News. Retrieved from:

. ..- ..
Logan, Utah
April, 2010
Jeff is an old friend of mine. We've known each other since before grade school and he
was raised her in Logan all his life. He is an active LDS church goer, returned missionary and
currently a student at USU majoring in exercise science.
I recorded this in my basement for a project. It was difficult to get him to agree to the
recording because he "didn't have all the facts." I had to coax him into telling it by infonning
him that I wasn't interested in the facts, just the telling of the story.
Me: Where did you first hear the legend of the nunnery?
Jeff: I heard it when I was actually in fifth grade, was the first time.
Me: Okay. Who told it to you.
Jeff: A friend of mine in my class.
Me: Okay, now go ahead and tell me what the legend is as you heard it.
Jeff: The way I heard it is that there used to be a nunnery up in Logan Canyon and a
pregnant woman for some reason, I guess she was running away from an abusive husband went
up to the nunnery for shelter. The nuns took her in; she was fine for a while, but the nuns started
doing really odd stuff, started to kind of act creepy. Then she had her child, but she was afraid
of what the nuns were doing, so she hid the child and went to go find a way to get away. Find a
place to live, or something like that. Then she came back and everywhere in the nunnery there
was blood and stuff and her baby was missing and the nuns were missing away. The woman
ended up going crazy grieving for her child and I guess ended up killing herself. They say that
around the nunnery now around Logan River, they say you can hear her screaming for her baby.
That's how I heard it.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010
. ,.

Greg Nielsen
Logan, Ut
April, 2010
Greg Nielsen is one of the stake leaders for the LDS student ward I go to. He works at
Thikol as an engineer. He regularly goes to Florida to supervise rocket assembly and considers
himself an active outdoorsman.
This sample was recorded at an LDS activity. Greg volunteered to be interviewed
because he said he had a family member who'd worked on building the nunnery and had heard I
was having trouble finding people who knew the story.
Greg: My grandpa did a lot of the rock work up there for the Catholic church in the
1930s. As I understood it, one of the nuns went crazy up there and killed herself up there and
then the church sold it to a guy that had a uranium mine, had a lot of money. He put a
swimming pool in and some billies (?) up there, but as far as I know, because the girl killed
herself there, that's what drove the catholic church to sell it. They didn't put the pool in there, it
was this uranium tycoon that installed the pool and used it like a summer camp.
Me: What have you heard said about the haunting? What is the manifestation?
Greg: The haunting is that you go up there at night time and on certain nights you can
hear her screaming. (Unclear due to background noise) She still haunted the place because she
went crazy. The ghost has always been up there in the mountains above the lodgings. Some
people say it's the wind, but everybody else say it's not the wind that makes that noise, it's
actually the screaming. She screams up there.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010
t . -

Josh Meacham
Logan, Utah
April, 2010
Josh Meacham is an undeclared major at USU. He is 22 years old and recently just
returned from an LDS mission. He lived in California until he was 14, at which point he moved
here to Logan, where he's lived ever since.
This was recorded at a large gathering in Elk Ridge park. It was an LDS activity for our
Me: What do you know about St. Ann's retreat?
Josh: What?
Me: St. Ann's retreat. That's the nunnery.
Josh: Oh. I know that it was a place for nuns to go up that were pregnant and would kill
their babies. I've had some friends actually go up there, I did not attend with them, but I have
heard that on the full moon in the middle room or cabin, I guess there's some sort oflittle pool, it
fills up with blood on a full moon and there's chains hanging on the wall and there's blood seen
around there and it's kind of crazy.
Me: And this is what you were told by your friends?
Josh: Yes, that have gone up there.
Me: Any other times you've heard it told or just that?
Josh: I've heard of kids going up there and some getting possessed and getting attacked
by spirits, I guess you could say. Just rumors, basically. I haven't heard them first-hand from
Me: That's awesome, thank you very much.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010
- .

Joe Yonk
Mendon, Utah
April, 2010
Joe Yonk is a retired police officer currently serving as a stake leader for the LDS
University student wards. He was involved in a lot of operations involving trespassers to St.
Ann's retreat. He currently lives in Mendon and has been in Utah for most of his life.
This was recorded at an LDS social gathering. He was hesitant to say much at first
because he claimed not to know the details of the legend, despite having been involved in a lot of
cases surrounding it.
Me: What do you know about St. Ann's retreat?
Joe: Well, I know that it's supposed to be haunted up there. I don't remember all the
background on it, but I've been up there on several incidences involving young people going up
there at night, trying to stay there. Most ofthem get in trouble doing one thing or another.
Me: Do you have any knowledge of the story that people tell about why it's haunted.
Joe: I don't.
Me: Have you heard anything, any stories about what people are supposed to see?
Joe: I know it's supposed to be people that used to live there. I can't remember ifit was
the way that they die, or, I don't know. Their spirits or their ghosts are supposed to still be
around there. That's about all I remember.
Me: About how often did people go up there when you were on duty?
Joe: In the spring and summer, every weekend.
Me: Every weekend?
Joe: Every weekend, there was somebody up there.
Me: You're serious?
Joe: Yeah, they had to finally put up No Trespassing signs up there. They've been going
up there for, oh, I was a cop for thirty years and they went the whole time I was there and they
were going up there before I was even a cop, so they've been going up there for forty years.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010
.. . •

Danielle Grunig
Smithfield, Utah
April, 2010
Danielle Grunig is 21 years old and an active member of the LDS church. She was
raised in Utah her whole life and is currently a student at USU majoring in English.
This was recorded at an LDS social event. She voluneered to be interviewed for this
project because she heard I was having trouble finding people to tell the story.
Me: You've been here in Logan, or here in Utah, this area?
Danielle: I've lived her my whole life, in Smithfield, which is right next to Logan, so ...
Me: Alright, tell me what others have told you about St. Ann's retreat.
Danielle: The nunnery is up Logan Canyon, I've seen it. Basically, the story is that a nun
had a baby and the Mother Superior there drowned it in a pool because nuns aren't allowed to
have babies, or something to that effect. That's all I know. It's technically (?) haunted by the
Me: By the baby?
Danielle: Yeah.
Me: Okay, what are the conditions under which you can see the baby?
Danielle: I don't know because I've never had the desire to go up there. I just know the
story because my parents told it to me.
Me: Have any of them ever actually told you how it is that the ghost is supposed to
Danielle: My brother told me that they can hear a baby crying from the pool area
Me: So, you saw it (the nunnery) what was the situation you saw it? Were you just
driving by?
Danielle: Yes. We were just driving by and I'd heard of the nunnery, but I'd never seen
it. I asked my parents about it and they drove slowly by it so I could see it through the trees.
Me: What kind of an impression did you get from looking at it?
Danielle: It looks like a haunted house, definitely.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010

Dawn Jones
Logan, Utah
May, 2010
Dawn Jones is a homemaker. She also works part time at K-mart and as a substitute
teacher. She graduated from Logan High in 1976 and has lived in Utah her whole life.
This perfonnance was recorded in my home. It was hesitantly given because she didn't
feel she had much to say about it. She told it with a bit of sarcasm and she was teasing me as
she told it. That's our relationship, though, so it may be nothing.
Me: So, I've been collecting these stories of the nunnery. I want to get just see what do
you know about it? Have you been told this story before?
Dawn: Oh, yes, around the campfire, years and years.
Me: Okay. How has it been told to you?
Dawn: It was told to me that there was a nunnery up there and one of the nuns had a baby.
She didn't want anybody to find out about it. It would be a secret. She'd been raped by one of
the fathers there, or priests or whatever. So, when the baby was born, she and the other nuns
that were there helping her smothered the baby. Somehow there was a tunnel or a basement
there, I don't know. It was buried inside the cement somewhere. Now when you go up there
it's haunted. The nun did such a terrible deed that she's not allowed to go to heaven, so she
haunts the nunnery. She's a spirit that wanders around there at night.
Me: Alright. And, of course, everybody's heard about people going up to the nunnery at
Dawn: Oh, yes.
Me: Have you heard any stories about what people say is supposed to be up there?
Dawn: Oh, they say the black cloak floating around in the air, things like that. She
moans and wanders around. It's worth a thrill, but when I was a kid, all the kids going up there
for a thrill.
Me: So you say the nun was raped by a priest up there?
Dawn: That was the story, yeah.
Me (with malicious twinkle in my eye): So he was both a father and the father.
Dawn: *laughs* Yes, yes, I guess. Don't make fun of that. But I guess I always kind of
believed that because when we went to Rome with our family that was the story there too, that a
lot of the nuns, that they found babies cemented into the walls of the underground tunnels
throughout the city of Rome. So it sounds pretty believable to me.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010

Tawny Jones
Logan, Utah
May, 2010
Tawny is my sister and she is a senior student at Sky View High School, age 18. She
enjoys dancing and singing and is member of the LDS church. She currently works at a local
This performance was collected at my home, in the kitchen, in front of my mother and a
friend of hers from Sweeden. She was very nervous as she gave the performance.
Me: So, sitting here in the comfort of my own home, I am asking you to tell me the story
of St. Ann's retreat as you have heard it.
Tawny: Well, I heard that the nuns weren't allowed to have kids or something, so the
nunnery retreat was a place where they had nuns and there was a pool that they would drown the
babies in. That's the story that mostly everyone hears and so that's what I've heard that they do.
Me: And you of course know that people go up there, or that they used to before they
surrounded it in razor wire and crazy security guards. Have you heard stories from people
who've gone up there, or say they've gone up there.
Tawny: Yes .
Me: What do they say goes on up there?
Tawny: Well, the person that I talked to who said went up there trashed the place.
Me: Okay.
Tawny: They just said it was really scary. That it felt weird.
Me: What were they expecting to happen.
Tawny: I don't know. I think they thought it was haunted.
Me: So what were they supposed to see? What sort of ghost was supposed to appear?
Tawny: Babies.
Me: Babies?
Tawny: The ones that were drowned, but they're in their older years.
Me: Really?
Tawny: Yeah.
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010
---------------------------- ------- .. __ . __ •....
.. ,

Nathan "Nate" Jones
Logan, Utah
May, 2010
Nathan is a member of the LDS church who recently returned from his mission to North
Dakota. He has lived in Utah his whole life and currently works at a Camp Chef warehouse
unloading trucks.
Nathan insisted on being interviewed when he heard that I was doing this project It was
collected in my basement and he was particularly enthusiastic.
Me: St Ann's retreat; what's the story?
Nate: Well, what I've heard is that's where the nuns and the priests would go to take it
easy_ Somehow, the nuns got pregnant and you know the nuns can't have sex, or aren't
supposed to. To cover it up they would drown the babies and then they would throw their babies
in the well. I've been there. There's a pool and there is a well, but it's all blocked off. That's
what I know of the nunnery_
Me: So you went up there, did you see any ghosts or anything, or was this after the razor
Nate: No, the razor wire was still up .
Me: Did you actually get into the nunnery?
Nate: Oh, yeah.
Me: So you didn't see any crazy security guards or anything.
Nate: No, but we did hear weird stuff.
Me: Such as?
Nate: Such as doors moving, not like voices or anything, but we did hear growling. Who
knows, maybe it was a large cat, I don't know. But maybe it was a ghost
Me: Maybe. So you didn't hear any crying babies or anything.
Nate: No, they wouldn't cry, they were being drowned.
Me: Oh, that is a good point
Russell Jones
North Logan, Ut
Utah State University
Spring 2010


Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives, FOLK COLL 8


Reproduction for publication, exhibition, web display or commercial use is only permissible with the consent of the USU Libraries Special Collections and Archives, phone (435) 797-2663.


Utah State University undergraduate student fieldwork collection, 1979-2011 FOLK COLL 8 USU
St. Anne's Retreat





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