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The Strange Death of Violet Goglin

The Strange Death of Violet Goglin

Last Christmas, the Season 4 premiere of the Canadian TV series Letterkenny aired on CraveTV. This hilarious sitcom revolves around the small fictional town of Letterkenny, situated in the heart of rural Ontario. Each episode details the exploits of the members of the town’s four main sub-cultures: the hicks, the hockey players, the skids, and the Christians. From the standoffish, tough-guy attitudes of the farm kids to the almost-incomprehensible vernacular of the junior hockey boys, Letterkenny is filled with side-splitting inside jokes which will resonate anyone familiar with small-town Canadian culture.

According to an article by CTV News, the fictional town around which the show revolves is loosely based on Listowel, Ontario, the hometown of Letterkenny’s creator and co-star Jared Keeso. Although the article does not mention it, it is likely that the name of the fictional town derives from the actual Letterkenny, Ontario, a ghost town in the quiet backwoods east of Algonquin Provincial Park.

Algonquin Provincial Park

Palmer Rapids

The real Letterkenny is lonely and secluded place. The nearest settlement of any significant size is Petawawa, Ontario- a town of 17,000 situated about an hours’ drive north, near the confluence of the Petawawa and Ottawa Rivers.

Petawawa, Ontario.

If you drive about 20 minutes southeast of Letterkenny, you’ll come to the tiny settlement of Palmer Rapids, Ontario. This sleepy farming and logging community lies on the shores of the mighty Madawaska River, a tributary of the Ottawa River.

In the fictional town of Letterkenny, there are a few hyper-zealous members of the Christian community whose strange sectarian schemes sometimes shape the plot of an episode. In Palmer Rapids, however, there is a much darker, nearly-forgotten real-life parallel to these fictional sub-plots which once shook the little community to its core.

The Madawaska River near Palmer Rapids, Ontario.

The Incident

At around 4:00 in the morning on August 29, 1948, 23-year-old Viola Goglin woke up with a start. Whether she was roused by the sound of the door closing or the silence that suddenly beset her father’s farmhouse, she could not tell. Whatever the case, some mysterious force compelled her to get out of bed, slip out the front door, and wander into the darkness towards the river, where she knew, through some supernatural hunch, she would find her little sister.

Background

Viola’s family lived on a farm in the woods not too far from Palmer Rapids. In addition to farm work, their lives revolved around an alternative style of worship that their father had invented.

Viola’s father, 55-year-old Henry Goglin, was a prosperous farmer and a born-again Christian. Every Sunday, he used to take his eleven children to the Evangelical church in Palmer Rapids. In 1943, however, he suddenly decided to leave the church and keep his family at home on Sundays.

For five years, the Goglin family worshipped in their own way, adhering to a family religion based on Henry’s interpretation of the Bible. Every Sunday, they held worship services in their home, during which they repeated the words “Praise the Lord!” over and over. Sometimes during these services, Viola and her younger sister, Violet, received what their father called a “blessing”. During these incidents, the Goglin girls, seemingly possessed by some otherworldly force, feverishly “praised” for hours on end. Henry Goglin believed that his girls’ actions were directed by the Holy Spirit, similar to Christ’s apostles at the first Pentecost.

Eighteen-year-old Violet Goglin.

Violet’s ‘Blessing’

On the night of Thursday, August 26, 18-year-old Violet Goglin received another “blessing”. She entered a trance-like state and began praising over and over, encouraged all the while by her delighted father and siblings. She maintained this performance all throughout the Sabbath, hardly stopping to eat or sleep. For three days, the farmhouse resounded to her incessant cries of “Praise the Lord!”

On Sunday, August 29, at around 4:00 A.M., Violet suddenly left the farmhouse and headed for the Madawaska River. Her sister, Viola, followed close behind, prompted by some strange urge.

Viola reached the riverbank shortly after her sister. Through the gloom of the early morning, she saw Violet wading into the river, barefoot and in her nightgown. Over and over, the younger Goglin cried, “Faith is the Victory!”- quoting a passage from the Gospel of John.

The Madawaska River.

The Drowning of Violet Goglin

Viola watched her younger sister from the shore as she walked further and deeper into the river, repeating the same scriptural incantation as she went. Viola knew full well that her younger sister was unable to swim. Convinced that Violet’s actions derived from the divine, however, she made no move to intervene, content to leave her sister’s fate in God’s hands. Soon, she found herself urging her sister onward, supplementing her cries of “Faith is the Victory!” with her own shouts of “Praise the Lord!”

When Violet was neck-deep in the water and showed no sign of slowing, Viola felt a twinge of panic. Beset by that protective sisterly instinct so common in elder siblings, she made a step towards an old rowboat which was tethered to a tree nearby. Some otherworldly force held her back, however, and Viola maintained her position at the river’s edge. Submitting to what she believed was God’s will, Viola watched as Violet’s head disappeared beneath the dark water.

There was no frantic thrashing, nor did any muffled cries issue from beneath the water’s surface. The only sounds that Viola could hear were the gentle gurgling of the Madawaska and the chirping of the morning birds. Viola stood by the water’s edge for some time, but her little sister did not resurface.

Aftermath

Viola then made her way from the riverbank to Palmer Rapids, where she informed two loggers of what had transpired. The men then drove the young woman back to her father’s farmhouse before informing local authorities of the situation.

At the farmhouse, Viola related the events surrounding Violet’s disappearance to her father. Instead of exhibiting fear, sorrow, rage, or any other emotion which might naturally be expected from a parent presented with such terrible news, Henry Goglin was overjoyed. He was certain that his daughter had been called into the water by the Holy Spirit, and was elated that she had received such a blessing.

Shortly after Viola relayed the tragic news of Viola’s disappearance to her family, Henry Goglin and his 28-year-old son, Bart, found Violet’s lifeless body floating on the Madawaska. They fished her corpse from the river and buried it on a lonely hillside near the family home.

The Trial

Due to the strange nature of Violet Goglin’s death, the Ottawa Attorney-General’s Department summoned a jury to determine whether or not foul play was involved. In the dilapidated town hall of Palmer Rapids, a panel of farmers and loggers listened with mouths agape as four members of the Goglin family related the last days of Violet’s life, and the details surrounding her drowning.

Henry Goglin’s Testamony

Philip the Evangelist and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

First, Henry Goglin took the stand. With a contented smile, he described the family service he held on the night of Violet’s passing, and told the jury of Violet’s “blessing”. Furthermore, being familiar with Holy Scripture, he drew a parallel between Violet Goglin’s fate and that of Philip the Evangelist, an early disciple of Christ. According to the Acts of the Apostles (the fifth book of the New Testament) Philip met a courtly Ethiopian eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. After converting the Ethiopian to Christianity, Philip waded into a roadside pond with him and baptized him before being borne away by the Holy Spirit. Henry Goglin believed that his daughter had met a similar fate.

Viola Goglin’s Testamony

After Henry Goglin’s testimony, a perfectly-composed Viola Goglin said a few words to the men of Palmer Rapids. Modestly clad in a long, old-fashioned cotton dress that fell down to her cotton-hosed ankles, she described her sister’s last moments. “God told me to go with her,” she said, pressing a well-thumbed Bible close to her chest. “I stood on the bank and kept praising while Violet walked into the river. She kept walking in and praising and repeating, ‘Fair is the Victory’ until she disappeared.”

After Viola’s speech, more members of the Goglin family testified at the trial. Ultimately, the bewildered jury decided that Violet Goglin had drowned to death in the Madawaksa River, and that no one was responsible for her death. It was clear to everyone in the hall that the girl’s family had no doubts in their mind that a supernatural force had impelled her to wade into the water.

Commentary

The story of Violet Goglin’s strange death is an obscure one. To the best of this author’s knowledge, it was covered in a handful of newspaper and magazine articles in the late 1940’s, and was thereafter forgotten.

One commentary on the incident, published in the July 1949 issue of the Canadian magazine Signs of the Times, remarked that God, in the Old Testament, strictly forbade fanaticism such as that exhibited by the Goglin family. The article quoted from Leviticus 18:21, a verse from the Hebrew Torah in which God commanded the Israelites to abstain from child sacrifice, a practice adopted by their Canaanite neighbours: “Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God.” The article went on to explain that “human sacrifices have always been abhorrent to God. There is no instance in all God’s dealings with the human race when He required a human offering.”

The commentary ends with the chilling suggestion that, if a supernatural entity did indeed compel Violet Goglin to drown herself in the Madawaska River, it was not the Holy Spirit as the Goglin family believed, but more likely an agent of Satan.

Sources

  • “The Editorial” of the July 1949 issue of the magazine FATE, by Robert N. Webster (a.k.a. Raymond A. Palmer). Article courtesy of Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra.
  • “Fanaticism”, Signs of the Times, July 1949
  • “Driven By Holy Spirit Into River: Coroner’s Inquest Hears Strange Tale”; The Lethbridge Herald; Thursday, September 16, 1939
  • “Called by ‘Holy Spirit,’ Girl Wades To Her Death”; Winnipeg Free Press; Tuesday, September 7, 1948

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I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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