Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chamberlain's Charge

george washington
George Washington from Freedom Heroes

It was the second day of fighting at Gettysburg, and the situation was looking grim for Colonel Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine troops at the Little Round Top. Out of ammunition and picked apart by the 15th Alabama regiment, it looked like the end of line for the Yankees.

Chamberlain was determined to go down fighting, and he had his troops fix their bayonets and prepare for one last charge. Just before he led his battle weary men down the hill, a figure appeared through the smoke. He was a tall man on horseback dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform.

George Washington raised his sword and along with Col. Chamberlain led the charge into the Confederate ranks. The rebs scattered, and the Little Round Top and perhaps the day was saved. It's said that you can yet sometimes spot a man in a tri-cornered hat on a glowing white steed galloping along the battlefield. He disappears as you approach him, but from a distance he looks very much like the Father of Our Country.

This tale gathered steam right after the battle, and allegedly prompted Secretary of War Edward Stanton to launch an official investigation into its' validity, although we couldn't find any mention of his probe anywhere except on other spook sites. Chamberlain was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his action, so the War Department certainly thought he had something to do with it, Washington or not.

When Joshua Chamberlain was an old man, an interviewer asked him, “Is there any truth to the story that your men saw the figure of George Washington leading them at Gettysburg?” He gazed thoughtfully out of the window of his home across the Maine fields, and there was a long pause.

Then he nodded. “Yes, that report was circulated through our lines, and I have no doubt that it had a tremendous psychological effect in inspiring the men. Doubtless it was a superstition, but who among us can say that such a thing was impossible? We know not what mystic power may be possessed by those who are now bivouacking with the dead. I only know the effect, but I dare not explain or deny the cause. I do believe that we were enveloped by the powers of the other world that day and who shall say that Washington was not among the number of those who aided the country that he founded?”

This tale was told in Nancy Robert's book Civil War Ghost Stories and Legends.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fort Mifflin and Its' Spook Troop

fort mifflin
Image from Fort Mifflin

"The Fort That Saved America" got it's first taste of action in 1777 after Washington's defeat at Brandywine. He had to put distance between his Army and the redcoats and at the same time delay the British supply fleet at the mouth of the Delaware River. He sent 400 soldiers to Fort Mifflin, an unfinished British fortification, to hold off 2,000 redcoats and 200 ships.

They did both. Halting General Howe's troops for a month allowed Washington to get to Valley Forge and kept the fleet at sea. It's said that the cost in blood was over 275 men killed in the fort during that month.

The fort was later used as a prison for both Union and Confederate prisoners during the Civil War, and eventually closed in the 1960s. It's operated as a tourist attraction today. And there are plenty of spirits left in the old fort, enough to attract a crowd (or form one).

The most famous spook may be the Screaming Woman in the Officer Quarters.

She was thought to be Elizabeth Pratt by most paranormal story-tellers, based on a psychic's impressions. Pratt was, according to the lore, an officer's wife who had become estranged from her daughter when she ran off with an enlisted man. The daughter died of typhoid fever before they could reconcile, and the distraught mother hung herself.

But Tony Selletti in "Fort Mifflin: A Paranormal History" found that Elizabeth Pratt never lived in the area of the Officer's Quarters, but was housed with the officer's families on the grounds now occupied by the artillery shed, another area of ghostly activity. Elizabeth Bunker is now thought to be the woman; more on that as it comes out. (Thanks to Trish & Save Fort Mifflin for updating H&H; see their complete comments below.)

Whoever is yelling is doing a good job; her screams have been loud enough that the police have been called out on occasion to investigate.

The Man With No Face is thought to be Billy Howe, a prisoner that was hung for murder. He's spotted in the Casements, the prison cells of the fort, where he's usually seen wearing a hat and patching his clothes. His face is a black void. Often other soldiers and voices are also reported from the dungeon. One regular in the hoosegow is a soldier that is seen warming himself over a fire.

Jacob Sauer, the Blacksmith, is another popular spook. He's often seen in the smitty's shop, and the back doors he liked to keep open while working are still difficult to keep shut today. The Uniformed Guide, dressed in either a Civil War or Revolutionary war outfit (the versions differ) has taken tourists through the Powder Magazine. Except there wasn't any guide on duty, at least of the flesh and blood variety.

There's also the Lamplighter, allegedly the ghost of Joseph Adkins. Other ghosts include Edward, a poltergeist that likes to pull drawers open, and the Captain, who's been seen on the grounds apparently inspecting the troops. Once you're stationed at Fort Mifflin, you never get relieved.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tales From Ghost Town Trail

Eliza Furnace
The Eliza Furnace from American Trails

The famous Ghost Town Trail stretches 20 miles from Dilltown in Indiana County to Nanty Glo in Cambria County. It's top attraction is the Eliza Furnace that produced gobs of iron and a few bucks from 1846-49 for owners David Ritter and George Rodgers. Its' Vintondale location is on the National Register of Historic Sites.

And old historical spook David Ritter still roams the oven area. He hung himself in the furnace because:
a) his wife ran off with George Rodgers,
b) he was distraught over impending financial ruin,
c) his son fell into the furnace and died, or
d) all of the above.

Whether one reason stood out or they combined to push him over the edge, Rodgers decided to end it all. Sightings of his spook around the oven have been reported many times by tourists and hikers. Some say that you can even see him hanging in the furnace if your timing's right.

If you're really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Lady In White who haunts the Trail around nearby Bracken. She's a jilted ghost girl forlornly looking for her lost sweetie.

These tales and many others are spun in Ghost Stories From the Ghost Trail by C.L. Shore.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bolton Mansion

Bolton Mansion
Image from Friends of Bolton Mansion

The 500 acre Pemberton estate dates back to 1683 (they called it Bolton in memory of their English home in Bouton, Lancashire. We guess with the accent it came out as Bolton.) The Mansion was built in 1687 in what is now Levittown, Bucks County.

The home itself is sort of a hodge-podge of design. It was added to and modernized at least four times up to the 1860s. It lasted as a working estate until 1938 when it was given to the University of Penn. It quickly changed hands, going to U.S. Steel as a guest house ten years later and then to suburban innovator William Levitt in 1952.

He in turn gave it to Bristol Township, which used it as a municipal building until 1966. It sat vacant for decades, and now it's a National Historic Landmark being renovated by the Bucks County Conservancy. And it does have its' ghosts.

One spirit that roams the grounds is a lady in a long dress and cloak. She's seen at night and is surrounded by a soft aura. Another woman also walks the grounds, crying to herself as she searches the area. A little girl has been spotted on the second floor of the Mansion running from window to window and peering out each one. Patty Wilson in Haunted PA thinks the pair may be a separated mother and child looking for each other. One reader wrote and said that he and his friend saw the shadow of a woman in red go by; sounds a lot like one of the girls to us.

But the most famous ghosties are those of the rebel soldier and his girl. It was said that the owner of the estate disowned his son for enlisting to fight for the South during the Civil War. When the war ended, the son returned home.

But his father refused to forgive him. Distraught, the young man hung himself from the second floor stairwell. His body was found by his childhood sweetheart Mary, a house servant, who shot herself after making the gruesome discovery.

But this tragic tale seems to have a happy ending. A visiting psychic investigator sensed some activity on the stairs and shot a series of photographs. When the pictures developed, the images shown were of a soldier dressed in a Confederate uniform posing with a lady in a Civil War era dress at the top of the steps. It seems as if the star crossed pair that couldn't lay claim to home and happiness in life managed to do so in death.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mad Anthony Wayne's Bones

wayne's grave - radnor
General Mad Anthony Wayne's Radnor Grave
Image from American Revolution Organization

The colorful career of Revolutionary and Indian War General “Mad” Anthony Wayne came to end at Fort Presque Isle on December 15, 1796 at the age of 51. He was buried underneath the Erie Blockhouse per his request at the foot of the flagpole.

There his body lay for the next dozen years, until his daughter Margaretta asked her brother Isaac to bring their father's remains home to the family cemetery in Radnor. He jumped into a buggy and headed to Erie. When they opened the coffin, they found Wayne's body had barely decomposed.

They couldn't take the body home in Wayne's sulky, a light, two-wheeled wagon (although another version said the locals protested the move and held out for two burial sites), so Dr. Wallace and four assistants boiled the meat from the bones of the good general in a big black kettle, much like traditional cannibal chefs.

Isaac headed east with his dad's bones, neatly packed in a trunk, for burial at St. David's Cemetery in Chester County. The flesh, clothes, water and instruments used to filet Wayne were reburied at Presque Isle.

It's said that Isaac, on the steep and bumpy ride home along what is now Route 322, lost a few bones along the way. Every New Years Day on his birthday, Mad Anthony Wayne arises from his Erie grave and travels the road to St. David's in search of his missing bones.

What's left of Wayne's Presque Isle grave is now on display at the Presque Isle Blockhouse museum, including his coffin lid, some bits of clothing, and Dr. Wallace's tools. The rest either rotted away (burying the water was probably not a stroke of genius) or was destroyed in a 1853 blaze at the blockhouse and a subsequent leveling of the old parade grounds. The kettle is on exhibition at the Erie County History Center.

So if you're driving along 322 on New Year's Day and see a Revolutionary War figure riding along the road on his charger, pull over and say hi to Mad Anthony while he proceeds on his annual quest to make his skeleton whole after all these years.