Tommyknockers – Legend Or Reality?

Stephen King may have made tommyknockers a household word, but for miners, they are no laughing matter. These ghostly beings are thought to warn miners of impending danger. According to the latest episode of “Ghost Mine” which aired on Jan. 23, tommyknockers are exactly what frightened Duck Secord away from the Sumpter Mine.

According to Daryl Burkhard, biologist and children’s author, the legend of tommyknockers began in Cornwall. The Cornish miners called these dwarf-like beings “knockers” who lived and worked deep in the mines, sending echoing knocks from unoccupied tunnels. Exactly who or what these knockers were, depended on who you asked.

Some believed they were the spirits of Jews who were forced by the Romans to work in the mines, others believed they were the spirits of miners killed in the mines, while still others thought they were the spirits of lost souls who had not been good enough to make it to heaven, yet not bad enough to be doomed to life in hell.

The Cornish thought of tommyknockers as helpful spirits who warned of danger and sometimes alerted them to a vein of gold. However, tommyknockers were known to turn mean and vindictive if they were treated with disrespect or ignored.

In the 1800’s Cornish miners came to America, bringing their belief in tommyknockers with them.

Legends of America shares a description of tommyknockers as about two feet tall and greenish in color dressed in mining gear, while the Astral World says they have long beards, over-sized heads covered with wrinkled skin, and arms that reach to the ground.

Exactly what a tommyknocker looks like if difficult to tell, as tommyknockers are often heard, but seldom seen, or so the legend goes.

For some miners, like Duck Secord from “Ghost Mines”, the warning of tommyknockers is not something to be taken lightly. Combining their presence with a woman in the mines– and a redheaded one to boot – was more than Duck was willing accept, causing him to walk away from the mine.


Tommy Knockers

A California Ghost Story

retold by

S. E. Schlosser

Tommy Knockers are the spirits of departed miners that help miners find ore. They also knock on the walls of the mines right before a cave-in. When you hear a Tommy Knocker knocking, it’s best to depart the area right quick. They have saved the life of many a miner who has been in a danger. Some folks say that the very first man to hear the sound is jinxed, but that is not always the case.

It’s important to stay on the good side of the Tommy Knockers. Many miners leave a bit of their lunch for the spirits, and to please them, they fashion the little clay figures of their spirits. The Tommy Knockers can be spiteful creatures if they don’t like you.

One unlucky miner named Eddie became a target of the Tommy Knockers. They drove him crazy, pelting him with stones, stealing his tools, blowing out his lantern. He couldn’t figure out why the Tommy Knockers had singled him out until one day he heard a voice calling to him from the dark opening of a nearby shaft. “Eddie, I want my five dollars!” the Tommy Knocker said.

Eddie was so startled he dropped his tools all over the ground. The voice sounded just like that of his old friend Joe who had died in a cave-in a few months back. Eddie had borrowed five dollars from Joe and had never returned it. Eddie went into the shaft, and sure enough there was Joe Trelawney’s ghost, shrunk to the size of a two-foot dwarf with a big ugly head, large ears and a crooked nose. He wore a peaked hat, a leather jacket, and water-soaked leather boots.

The Tommy Knocker was not pleased to see Eddie. “Give me back my five dollars, Eddie!” the ghost of his old friend demanded.

“I don’t have any money on me, Joe,” Eddie said, patting his pockets for emphasis.

“I’ve heard that before,” said the Tommy Knocker dryly. “I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now!” The Tommy Knocker disappeared into thin air, leaving an uneasy Eddie to wonder what the ghost would do next. He soon found out! All day long, Eddie was plagued by the Tommy Knocker. His ladder was shaken so hard that he almost fell. The loud tapping noise of an invisible drill nearly drove him mad. He just missed being buried by a rock fall. And through it all, Joe’s voice would taunt him: “Give me back my five dollars, Eddie!”

“All right, Joe, all right!” Eddie finally yelled into the mouth of the tunnel where his friend had appeared. “I’ll get your bloody five dollars!” Abandoning his work for the day, Eddie made the long climb to the surface and took five silver dollars from the moneybox he kept under a loose board in his bedroom. The he climbed back down into the mine and stuck the five dollars into a crack in the wall next to the place Joe’s spirit had appeared to him.

“There’s your five dollars, Joe!” Eddie shouted, his voice echoing oddly in the dark tunnel.

“It’s about bloody time,” Joe said, appearing next to him and peering critically into the crack where the money lay.

“Are you going to leave me alone now?” Eddie asked.

The Tommy Knocker grinned impishly at Eddie. “Maybe,” he said. He scooped up the five silver dollars and disappeared into the dark.


About Andrew

Co-founder & lead investigator of Paranormal Encounters. I've experienced the paranormal all my life, having encountered ghosts, angels and demons. I live in a haunted house and when not exploring and researching the unknown, I enjoy single malt Scotch whisky & potato chips (though not necessarily at the same time).