Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alexander Campbell's Handprint

alexander campbell
Alexander Campbell from Wikipedia

Carbon County in the 1870s was no place for the meek. The flint hearted Protestant mine owners and the burly Irish Catholic miners were squared off over unionizing the coal fields. Both had blood on their hands. The Molly Maguires did their own violent deeds while the owners used the Pinkertons and the local law to terrorize the miners.

In 1877, four Molly Maguires were tried and convicted of murder in a trial in front of a kangaroo court. One of those condemned to die was Alexander Campbell, a hotel owner. As he headed to the gallows, he slapped his hand against the cell wall of the Carbon County jail and proclaimed his innocence, saying his handprint would stay on the wall forever to remind everyone of the injustice being carried out that day. It has.

Sheriffs have torn down the wall, painted over and scrubbed off the handprint. It keeps coming back. The jail is now a museum, and the cell is closed off. But if you peek through the iron door of Cell 17, you'll see the handprint. Campbell swore it would last as long as there was a jail, and he's been right so far.

The town was called Mauch Chunk then. It's Jim Thorpe now. The handprint is a famous phenomena, well represented on the web and written up by Matt Lake in Weird Pennsylvania and Patty Wilson in Haunted Pennsylvania among others.

Both branches of the Pennsylvania legislature passed resolutions condemning the trials of Alexander Campbell and the other accused Molly Maguires as being unconstitutional a couple of years ago. It was just a little late to be of any help to Campbell and the others who were executed on the infamous "Day of the Rope". His handprint still bears mute witness to that.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Wickersham House

EPA Clip Art

The Wickersham House, on Fifth Street in Monongahela, Washington County, dates back to 1834. The Holets bought it in 1986, and it didn't take them long to find out that they weren't the only ones living there.

It's haunted by an old school marm, Harriet Moore. John & Joan Holet met her when they were renovating the house. While working downstairs, doors in the basement kept opening, and as they followed them, the path led to a Waverly School banner. Harriet, one of the home's former owners, had taught at the now closed school. It was her way of introducing herself and welcoming the new family.

Joan was in the kitchen one day and heard pleasant voices chatting. Then the oven door began to open and close. She said “Harriet, quit it!”, and the commotion died down. After all, one would expect a school marm to be polite, even when cooking for her afterlife visitors.

Harriet has company from the netherlands. Other spirits have been sighted in the house, too. There was a woman in a black cape seen roaming the home. We're still not sure who she was.

John spotted another lady, dressed in a Victorian outfit, who was so lifelike that he wondered who she was. As he turned to speak to her, she drifted up the steps towards the attic and disappeared. When the Holets followed her into the attic, they found an old trunk with women's shoes and a photograph. The girl's picture in the trunk was a dead ringer of the spirit John had seen.

(This tale was taken from the Valley Independent “Ghost Walk Draws Crowd For Tales Of The Unexplained,” October 23, 2001)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Duffy's Cut

duffy's cut
Culvert at Duffy's Cut from Duffy's Cut Project

Sure and begorra, what would St. Paddy's Day be without a spook or two from the Old Sod? Today's tale takes us to Malvern in Chester County and the unfortunate souls of Duffy's Cut.

In 1832, 57 Irish immigrant gandy dancers and laborers from Donegal, working in the Land of Opportunity for only six weeks, succumbed to cholera - or worse - while laboring on Duffy's Cut. The epidemic claimed 900 lives in the Delaware Valley before it subsided and caused widespread panic in the area.

The Irish, being thought of as job-thieving immigrants, and Catholic to boot, were left to their own devices by the citizens, receiving what little aid the Sisters of Charity from Philadelphia and the village blacksmith could provide to them. There was no cure at the time - either you fought it off or you died.

The death rate for the dreaded disease at that time was somewhere around 65%. It was 100% for the Irishmen. Some suspect that the workers that survived were murdered by area vigilantes, and others thrown in their graves while in a coma, not yet dead, to keep the feared disease from spreading.

They were buried in a mass grave along with some of the nuns who died trying to save them by the smitty. The prejudice of the times was so great that the sisters that survived couldn't even hire a coach back home. They had to walk back to Philadelphia. The relatives of the dead men in Ireland were never notified of their deaths by the railroad.

For many years, the area was shunned by the locals who were frightened off by the alleged glowing apparitions of the dead Irish workers. One old timer said their ghosts were " and blue fire." Spooks were reported dancing in the nearby woods. The owners of homes recently built around the area have said that spirits peer into their windows.

The supposed plot of their mass grave was fenced off by a group of old railroaders who knew of the legend, and they maintained it as best they could. But researchers looking over old files now believe that the graveyard was in a different location. Even worse, they think that ever since the 1880s a train line has rumbled over their final resting place.

An Immaculata University professor, Dr. William Watson, who's doing research on Duffy's Cut believes he and a friend saw three of the fiery Irish spirits on the campus lawn. It was on Ember night, when the ghosts of the dead are supposed to roam the earth according to Irish lore. In another sighting, the restless Irishmen caused a bit of havoc in the college library during an exhibit of Duffy's Cut relics.

The professor says that the spirits aren't trying to scare anyone, but reaching out for help to get their bones properly buried after almost two centuries in an unmarked mass grave. As you may imagine, he's trying, through an ongoing effort called The Duffy's Cut Project, looking for the truth and closure.

The story's told in The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut by William Watson, J. Francis Watson, John Ahtes and Earl Schandelmeier.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Johnny Coyle and the Accomac Inn

accomac inn
The Accomac Inn from York County Dining

The Accomac Inn (Wrightsville, York County) started out as Anderson's Ferry in 1742, and a hotel was added in 1771. It later became Keesey's Ferry, then Coyle's Ferry, and by 1875 was the Accomac Inn. It was destroyed by fire in 1935 and rebuilt.

But the ghosts are from its' days as Coyle's Ferry. Johnny Coyle was the son of the ferry owner, and fell hard for a girl working there named Emily Myers. Emily had no time for Johnny. One day as she was milking the cows in the barn, Johnny started to press his advances on her again. She spurned him again, and the frustrated Johnny couldn't take it any more. He shot her.

It was one of the big trials of the day. Johnny pleaded not guilty because of a weak mind (and in truth he wasn't the brightest bulb in Wrightsville.) Bad plea - he was sentenced to be hung by his irate neighbors. He appealed and got a retrial in another county, in front of a neutral jury. It ended with the same results. He was hung this time, in Gettysburg, and his mom took his body home.

His stone marker is just off the current parking lot of the Inn, fifty feet from the front door. Johnny's spirit still allegedly roams the Accomac. His spook has been reported by many folk, and Johnny loves to play poltergeist games like breaking dishes, slamming doors, and hiding objects inside the Inn.

It's said Emily also haunts the Accomac Inn. Her presence is especially felt late at night when you can hear soft music and a woman's voice in the building.

One employee reported seeing a young spectral couple together in the upstairs storage room. We're not sure who they are. We'd like to think that perhaps Emily finally gave in to the persistent Johnny's charms in the afterlife and they're together at last. Then again, she might still be holding a small grudge against him, so...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Baker Mansion

baker mansion
The Baker mansion from Blair County Historical Society

Built in 1849 by iron mogul Elias Baker, the 28-room, Greek Revival Baker Mansion is now a museum and the offices of the Blair County Historical Society. The ghosts of both Elias and his daughter Anna, among others, have reportedly been spotted in the house by startled staffers and visitors.

It's said that Anna was forbidden to marry her socially inferior fiancé (he was a steelworker) by the domineering and apparently snobby Elias. She never did wed and died an old maid in 1914. A wedding dress was eventually put on exhibit in the museum (not hers, but one belonging to another prominent Altoona deb, Elizabeth Bell).

On nights with a full moon the dress quakes violently in its' second floor glass case, sometimes threatening to shatter the display. It's supposed to be Anna shaking the exhibit, still enraged at the sight of a wedding gown like the one she never got to wear. To add insult to injury, the dress is shown in her old bedroom. Even ghosts get Freudian, we suppose.

Anna's brother Sylvester, who like her never left the mansion, is also supposed to be roaming the halls of Baker Mansion. Elias himself is alleged to haunt the Mansion's dining room. A woman in black has reportedly been seen roving the third floor. There have been other stories of ghostly figures seen reflected in mirrors and orbs floating about the old stone house.

There's even a tale of screams coming from the basement ice room where the body of David, one of Baker's sons who had been killed in a steamboat accident in 1852, was stored until the frozen ground thawed enough for a proper burial.

Geez, you'd think at least one of the Bakers would rest in peace. Then again, what fun would the building tour be without them?