Alleged Hawke's Bay Today ghost a Chinese man?

By LAWRENCE GULLERY

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When the Hawke's Bay Earthquake struck in 1931 it was young boys Treva Lambert's age who were given the task of looking for survivors.

"Straight after the earthquake all of the women and girls were sent away but all of us boys, aged 8, 9 and 10, had to stay behind and help with the clean-up," the 89-year-old said.

"Because we were small, they used us to look in between the rubble to see if there were any people alive. We'd yell out to see if anyone was there or let people know there was someone dead.

"We were used for lots of jobs like that, including messengers, because the town was in a mess. All of the buildings on Heretaunga St and Karamu Rd, I remember, were down."

The municipal building, now the Hawke's Bay Opera House, was used as a morgue to store bodies. "They had to because there were bodies everywhere and nowhere for them to go."

Memories of the earthquake and another morgue on the site where the Hawke's Bay Today office now stands were triggered when Mr Lambert read about a possible haunted building in Saturday's paper.

The story described how a cleaner working in the Hastings newspaper office left the building because she felt "a presence" and Mr Lambert thought he could offer an explanation.

"There was a tombstone maker that had a shop on Karamu Rd and next to him was the undertaker with a morgue. At the back was a stable where the horses were kept, which used to draw a trailer with the coffins on it," he said.

"I remember seeing those horses many times. They were beautiful Clydesdale horses which used to pull the coffins and you'd see them often going down the road on the way to the cemetery."

The era was the late 1920s and the morgue was located next to the then Hawke's Bay Tribune newspaper office. It had since been demolished and the site was now occupied as part of the expanded Hawke's Bay Today building.

Mr Lambert remembered a story his father shared with his mother at the dinner table once.

"There was a Chinese man that came into town who wanted to set up a law firm in Hastings. So he went to the editor of the paper at that time to put something in about it.

"But the editor put something wrong in and the Chinese man got wild and used to go up and down the street telling people not to trust the editor. My father said that the Chinese man had told the editor that when he died, 'I will come back for you'."

Reports of some unusual activity came from the morgue when the Chinese man died and his body was taken there, including claims that staff had seen the corpse get up and move out of the morgue.

Some years later, a few things "went a bit crook" at the paper around the linotype machine, which was used to assemble and set the type for news stories.

"There used to be four jokers operating the linotype machine and the story goes that the Chinese man's ghost had set up the machine with the day's reading before the editor came down to give it to them.

"Other times they would find the type was changed around and they'd joke about it being the ghost."

Mr Lambert said he was not sure when the morgue was moved but at the time it was located on Karamu Rd and served the fledging Hastings town.

"The stories about the Chinese man and his ghost went on for years but gradually people forgot all about it, until the other day when your story was in the paper."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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