Tales of the Leirubakki Ghost
There are many stories recorded of the famous and notorious Leirubakki Ghost, which made appearances at Leirubakki and elsewhere in Landsveit in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some are actually convinced that it is still haunting the area.
This ghost first appeared when the Danish warship Gothenborg sunk off the south coast of Iceland, at Hafnarskeið, on 5 November 1718. There were approximately 170 people on board, most of whom were rescued. The survivors were sheltered on farms throughout south Iceland and in Faxaflói (in the west). Some of them were thought to have had relations with women on the farms and annals say that “some repaid the hospitality with untoward pregnancies.”
Life, however, was no bed of roses for all of them that winter, since many of the farmers were poor and ill-prepared to feed and shelter guests over the winter. Particular mention is made of the ship’s cook starving to death on the farm where he ended up, after which he was buried in the Villingaholt churchyard in Flói.
No further mention is made of him until the second half of the 18th century, when two men, Þorvaldur “Muzzle” Gunnlaugsson and Markús Þorvaldsson from Galtalækur in Landsveit, woke him from his grave. They were quite startled when the cook came up from the ground, and he did not speak a word of Icelandic. Markús was scared and ran from the churchyard, and the ghost haunted him for the rest of his life and his descendants later. The ghost was first called the Gothenburg Ghost and then later the Leirubakki Ghost, after Markús’s descendants moved to Leirubakki.
The Leirubakki Ghost appeared often, in many places, and played various tricks on people, though he was not dangerous. He often scared travelers passing by the farmhouse and the sheep sheds at Leirubakki, and followed as an apparition if the folk at Leirubakki went to other farms. He also had fun frightening horses and once was thought to have torn down the roof of the barn at the farm Lækjarbotn in Landsveit.
Stories of the Leirubakki Ghost are published in Icelandic Legends and Folktales, edited by Dr. Guðni Jónsson.
The first volume of Icelandic Folktales and Legends, edited by Dr. Guðni Jónsson, contains this story, collected from Magnea Sigurðardóttir from Leirubakki and her son Anton, who was her only child when this apparition appeared, around 1930:
“In Leirubakki in Landsveit part of the homefield to the southwest of the farm is called Elf-Field, between the lamb-sheds and the lane. That part of the field is mostly flat, but just under the homefield wall there is a little hill, sloping smoothly on all sides. Up on the hill, where it is highest, there is a little conical knoll, named Elf-Knoll. On top of it are three small depressions or holes, the largest of which is on the side of the farm. From these holes there are something like paths leading in three directions from the knoll. When one stomps one’s foot on the hill, it resounds, as if it were hollow inside. As the names Elf-Field and Elf-Knoll suggest, it is an old belief that the hill is an elf-home, and children are often warned about rollicking around too much by the Elf-Knoll, especially after it grows dim in the evening.
Several years ago a bunch of children were playing one time by the Elf-Knoll in the evening. They were goofing around and making a lot of noise, racing and chasing each other. One of the boys made a sport of jumping up on the Elf-Knoll and stamping his feet on it. Another of the boys in the group had second-sight. He saw the knoll open up, and out came a group of people. They were all wearing light-colored clothing, with white collars around their necks, and walked as if in procession east through the homefield toward the lamb-sheds. The boy pointed out the people to the other children, and they all saw the procession as it moved slowly and ceremoniously east between the buildings. They were frightened at this sight, forgot about their games and ran all together home to the farmhouse. From the farmhouse door they watched the strange procession for a while, until the group turned southward at the homefield wall. After this no one needed to warn them not to play games around the Elf-Knoll.”