Deer Island is located at the mouth of Passamaquoddy Bay, in the Bay of Fundy off the coast of New Brunswick. The island is popular for scuba diving tourism, having both abundant marine life and the famous Old Sow, the largest and, of course, dangerous, whirlpool in the western hemisphere. You can get there by ferry from either Letete or Campobello Island on the Canadian side or from Eastport, Maine. Deer Island is sometimes confused with the smaller, but better known, Oak Island, which sits to the south in Mahone Bay, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Read any Preston and Child? Their novel Riptide is strongly based on the many unsuccessful hunts for the infamous pirate treasure said to be hidden in Oak Island’s Water Pit. Alas, no pirates on Deer Island – most of the few hundred inhabitants are aquafarming and fishing families living in small, rural communities.
John Hopper was a Deer Island farmer, the traditional kind, who lived – depressed at all times – during the mid 1800s. One of John’s favourite conversation topics was he eagerness for death, often used as a segue into his ruminations on how he wanted to be planted and forgotten once his day came. Mopey John made two prior suicide attempts before finally getting it right and managing to drown himself in his own pond. After discovering his body bobbing in the shallow pool, getting in the way of his thirsty cows, his neighbours decided a proper burial was in order. A burial far from any graveyard, of course, him having ended his own life and graveyards in those days, especially tiny village ones on remote islands, not being welcoming to successful suicides. Despite making it quite clear that he wanted no memorial, John’s neighbours buried him on his farm property, near his drowning pond, and with a headstone that read simply “John Hopper/5 May 1850”.
And so the gravestone was placed, and thus began John Hopper’s postmortem activities. Shortly after the burial, a passer by noticed the stone laying face down in the grass. While disappointing, a fallen headstone was no cause for concern; Maritime weather tends to lead to damp, uneven ground. Regular maintenance in graveyards can include resetting the stones that fell each winter. John Hopper’s was lifted back in place and no one thought any more of the incident. For three days. On the third morning, the gravestone was once again found lying out of place. After several rounds of this mischief, the locals arrived at the logical conclusion. The problem was not damp soil or bored youngsters. No, clearly disgusted that his wishes for an unmarked grave went ignored, John seemingly was giving his all to removing the memorial. Hopper’s Headstone simply wouldn’t stay in place. Something – or someone – inevitably toppled it each time it was set upright. Repeatedly, the stone would be moved back up only to be toppled again in three days time. Like any good farmer, John Hopper completed his work on a proper schedule.
After years of gravestone restlessness, some bright soul hit on the idea of cementing the stone to its base. A permanent solution? Hardly. Three days later, the solidly affixed stone was found dropped to the ground again, only this time it was split in two, unable to be restored to its upright position.