Headless Torso found at Old Waterloo Street Wooden Bridge in 1876 by Carole Huband, SDHS

A Misty View of the “Wooden Waterloo Street Bridge” now the William Hutt Bridge. This photo was taken from the old Post Office. The Easson Mill can be seen across the river on the north shore while the Orr Mill can be seen in the foreground on the south shore. Stratford-Perth Archives

This is the one of the earliest known of Stratford’s ghost stories… and it all began with the rather grisly discovery of a headless torso floating in the water, caught on the logs of what is now the William Hutt bridge.

Disclaimer – Historical Facts as accurate as research has allowed. Spiritual facts as accurate as folklore concedes.

The Headless Ghost story traces its origins back to 1876. The bridge is now named after actor William Hutt (see Waterloo Street). He lived in the house at the north end of the bridge which has been known by many names. Originally it was just the wooden bridge, then the long bridge, the Mary Street Bridge (Waterloo Street was once Mary Street) and the Waterloo Street Bridge.

The origin of one of Stratford's first ghost stories began here in 1876 when it was just "the wooden bridge." It was an incident which made people's minds receptive to tales of endless hauntings. A rather grisly discovery had been made of headless torso floating in the in the water caught on the logs of the original bridge.

After many terrifying theories were put forward, it was discovered that a medical student had dug up the body from a local graveyard and removed its head for greater study. When he became alarmed at the enormity of his deed, he tried to sink the body in the river. After a few days it became loose and was caught on the pilings of the bridge.

The corpse turned out to be that of a prisoner, Henry Derry, who had died in the county jail. The headless body was later buried in Avondale Cemetery. Thereafter, the torso of Henry was said to haunt the riverbank in search of his head asking helpless townsfolks if they had seen a spare head. Fortunately, no recent sightings have been reported. Source: Stratford & District Historical Society FB. Researched and submitted by Carole Huband.

Fun Note: This interesting article was from a book called "The Myteries of Ontario" (page 208) by John Robert Columbo found by Joan Derry March 23, 2008 Geneology.com.

Derry's Head

The body of a middle-aged labourer named HENRY DERRY was found in a pine coffin which was floating on the Avon River not far from the park behind the Board of Education building, on November 1876.The body was headless. After the inquest, a medical student confessed to removing the body from the Catholic cemetery and the head from the body to further his studies in anatomy. Thereafter, the Avon River was said to be haunted by the headless ghost of HENRY DERRY. A skull was found in the vicinity in 1980, and according to forensic scientists, it was probably DERRY's. (289, 354)

Joan Derry did a brief search for a HENRY DERRY in Ontario and found a death record on Ancestry.com that said HENRY DERRY died on 29 April 1876 in Perth. He was estimated to be born about 1839 in Ireland. The actual death record can be viewed which stated that HENRY died in gaol of pleurisy, that he was a cooper and was 37 years old.