Lancaster County has its share of local legends and ghost stories, from the Walking Statue of Lancaster Cemetery to the werewolves of the Hans Graf Cemetery.
We’ve been told of an eternal hunter, cursed to roam the woods of the Cornwall area with his hounds.
The Fulton Theatre has a full suite of ghostly tales, from a mystery spectator to a whistling ghost and a screaming downstage diva.
In 2018, LNP Studios videographer Tyler Huber decided to delve a little deeper on these stories, creating the Legends of Lancaster mini-documentary series, an in-depth exploration of the lore of Lancaster County. The series touches on intriguing history, colorful myths and various tall tales that have been passed down through generations.
Chickies Rock Ghost Mania of 1969
In August 1969, hundreds of people claimed to have witnessed a misty grayish apparition in the well-known woods outside of Columbia. The mania began when a group of teens said they saw a ghost when they were hanging out at Chickies Rock, describing it as a formless, misty, gray apparition floating through the trees in a wooded area behind two large boulders. They told friends, and the story spread. Hundreds of people started going to Chickies Rock each night hoping to glimpse the specter. Police from Columbia, East Donegal and West Hempfield had to untangle massive traffic jams and control crowds. Night after night, people would say they saw the apparition. On Aug. 26, troopers were called in, and half of the 200 people fled in terror when someone shouted they’d seen the ghost.
On Aug. 28, Dr. Jonathon W. Price, curator of paleontology at the North Museum of Franklin & Marshall College, arrived with Lancaster New Era reporter Bill Geist to find answers.
“Hogwash, all these spooks and ghosts can be explained away scientifically. Somebody is either playing a prank on you, or it’s a natural occurrence, or you’re just imagining things,” said Price. ”We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Price and the reporter followed teens into woods, where a seance was conducted in English and Latin. A girl screamed, saying she saw a dark shadow, and the rest concurred — though Price and Geist said the shadows were caused by the full moon. The expedition ended after three hours with no apparition.
Later, some members of the original group of teens who said they’d seen the apparition said they’d made it up after drinking some wine. The crowds left, while some people questioned what they saw, some were truly convinced they’d seen something.
The Haldeman Mansion
Native Americans — the Susquehannock — first lived on the land that now is home to the Haldeman Mansion in Bainbridge, along the Susquehanna River, was originally home to native American settlements. The Haldeman family bought the property in the mid to late 1700s and lived here through the early 1800s; the mansion was built in the 1730s and underwent many additions. Samuel Haldeman, a world-renowned naturalist to whom Charles Darwin referred in his research, was born on the property.
“It holds a lot of history,” Christina Mark, preserving secretary of the Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society, said when the Legends video was recorded. “It’s just got a little mystery and intrigue to it.”
“Apparitions, ghosts — people say they can feel them, some hear them say things, some people have seen the spirits. I myself saw one here that was back in the early 1980s,” Mark said. “I was coming through the house and actually walking out to the front porch. There was a wedding here, and I was putting food out on the tables. And as I came into this room, I could … it was like I felt something, and I looked over at the window. There was a woman standing there, and she was looking out the window. She didn’t react to me whatsoever; she just looked out the window, dressed in a normal dress you’d see in the 1800s. … then all of a sudden she was gone.
“One year, my husband and I were here for a family member’s birthday party. It was a teenager, and we had a mini haunted house for the kids, and we heard a door slam upstairs. We had made some areas off-limits. My husband thought, ‘OK, some kids went in the far room.’ The one staircase was closed off and no one could use it. When he went into the room, it was totally empty. When he came back downstairs, it happened again. He saw someone go past the stairwell, so he went back upstairs, opened up the door, and nobody was there — no one he could see.”
The Fulton Theatre
“I think every theater has its ghost stories,” StephJo Wise, then director of community engagement, at the Fulton Theatre, said when the Legends video was recorded.
And the Fulton has several.
The Whistler “has appeared, and we’ve heard him whistling to several people for decades now here at the Fulton,” said Wise, who is now the Fulton’s director of education. The whistling apparition is described as wearing a three-pieces, white suit with a straw boater hat and brown shoes and brown belt; he’s been described in detail repeatedly by those who claim to have seen him.
“Some people say he whistles when someone is messing up their line or their lyrics, or perhaps he’s a bit of a trickster and likes to play jokes on people,” Wise said. “No one’s ever really been too afraid of him; they feel like he is a positive presence to have around. But he’s appeared over and over for decades now.”
There’s also the tale of a ghostly spectator, a man who appeared in the audience one night of a closed rehearsal, explaining he was there to see his granddaughter. “He said [to the spotlight operator], ‘Oh, well, I’m here to see my granddaughter perform. I’ve never gotten to hear her sing before on stage,’ “ Wise said. “After the show, the spotlight operator … went down to the woman who the man said he was the grandfather of and said, ‘I just got to meet your grandfather — he was so proud of you, so excited to come hear you sing and perform.’ She said, ‘But both of my grandfathers are dead; they passed away a long time ago, but my one grandfather was very sad, he told me he had never gotten to hear me sing.’”
Last is the story of the downstage diva, believed to be the ghost of Broadway star Marie Cahill, who died Aug. 23, 1933, in New York City and who repeatedly performed at the Fulton in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“She tends to appear to women, female actresses on our stage, she always appears downstage right,” Mark said. “There used to be a spiral staircase from downstage right that would go down to the dressing rooms, and she always insisted on having a dressing room down at the bottom of downstage right, at the bottom of that staircase. Some women have even said she has screamed in their ears while they’re trying to sing or say their lines. So we think she has some major jealousy issues with fellow divas.”
The Eternal Hunter and the Legend of the Hounds
In the 18th and 19th century, iron furnaces cluttered the ridge between Lancaster and Lebanon Counties. While many no longer exist, a haunting tale endures — that the rugged hills are home to the spirit of an ironmaster who’s eternally cursed to hunt with his pack of hounds.
This legend was first documented by Philadelphia poet George Henry Boker in his story “The Legend of the Hounds.” Boker tells the story of a ruel ironmaster from Colebrook Furnace dubbed “The Squire” — a heavy drinker who treated his workers and hounds poorly.
When a group of friends from Philadelphia visited to hunt, the Squire bragged about his hounds — but they failed to live up to his expectations. He shouted, “I’ll show these town-bred gentlemen / If my dogs can hunt so well / On earth, another hunt in hell!” The squire then drove his hounds to the furnace and made his workers throw them into the fire.
The squire later regretted what he did, according to the tale, and his dogs haunted his thoughts as the life drained out of him. Local legend says his spirit now spends eternity hunting.
Mondale Road bridge
Lancaster County has more covered bridges than any other Pennsylvania county, and one is claimed to be haunted.
Because legend just calls it the “Mondale Road Bridge,” it’s unclear which bridge is the source. There are two bridges off Mondale Road in Lancaster: the Hunsickers Mill Covered Bridge and the Pinetown Covered Bridge. Both were built in the mid-1800s and rebuilt after Hurricane Agnes.
Legend says an Amish girl was playing on the bridge and fell into the water, where she drowned. While there are no records of the death, the story circulated. A popular dare involves parking on the bridge at night and turning off the lights, where a little girl will appear and crawl into the car, spooking people until they leave. Small handprints are reportedly seen the next day on the vehicle.
[Editor’s note: The LNP Studio video team tried this on both bridges; no specters appeared; no handprints appeared. We recommend NOT trying this yourself, as it’s unsafe to park on a dark bridge with your headlights off.]
Historic Rock Ford was built around 1794 in Lancaster’s Central Park.
Edward Hand, an Irish-born soldier in the Continental Army and local politician, as well as a slaveholder, lived on the property with his family. Four members of the Hand family died in house, and quickly became rumored to be haunted.
“Where those stories or those legends seem to have begun was with John Hand’s death here in 1807,” Sam Slaymaker, executive director of Rock Ford, said when the Legends video was recorded. “John Hand was the eldest Hand son; he died here as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. It was believed that actually it was intentional, unfortunately it was a suicide. …
“There’s two possible rooms where it happened, and one is the Gold Parlor [or the family parlor]. The other, which is the more likely location, is on the second floor, which we believe was an upstairs sitting room at the time that maybe doubled as a guest bedroom. For years, there was a big stain on the floor in the floorboards, and the story was that that was John Hand’s blood and they were never able to clear it up.”
The room was known as the unrestored room for that reason, but whether the stain is blood has never been confirmed.
“When something terrible like that happens in a house, then and now, it can often leave a stigma on a place,” Slaymaker said, “and after John’s death here, no one really wanted to live here.”
Staff and volunteers experience strangeness after the home was restored and opened as a museum in the 1960s, Slaymaker said. They sometimes smell something like candles having been snuffed out first thing in the morning, hear footsteps on the stairs.
“In the 1970s, a couple had a son living in an apartment on top, where caretakers would live,” Slaymaker said. “The son was told he shouldn’t be playing in the museum rooms, but kids being kids, he did. He one day came back to his mom shaken up and he told her that he was in the boys’ bedroom on the second floor — the Hand boys’ bedroom — and there was another boy there. He said he could tell it was his room and he didn’t want him there.”
Hans Graf Cemetery
Just north of Marietta in Rowenna, along Old River Road, lies a cemetery that’s two centuries old and rumored to be a hotbed for paranormal activity. The cemetery is the resting place of the descendants of Hans Graf, a Swiss immigrant who was one of the first settlers of Lancaster.
Thirty 30 markers, many unreadable or crumbled, are surrounded by a small wall with no gate.
In one legend surrounding the cemetery, a handful of descendants were accused of being werewolves and shot down under a full moon on the spot — but while it’s hard to find dates on some of the stones, none appear to repeat.
Another legend says Hans was killed by a werewolf — or was one — and he placed a curse on the grounds and haunts them in canine form. But Graf is buried in Leola and died in 1746, 50 years before the first grave in the Rowenna plot.
Another legend says if you circle the cemetery seven times under a full moon, you won’t live to see morning. People report barking, a white canine among graves.
The Walking Statue
In the northeast part of Lancaster city sits Lancaster Cemetery, where one grave stands out: the tombstone of Augusta Harriet Bitner, who died at 21 years old in 1906. Her memorial features a white, life-sized statue of her likeness.
“She’s called the Walking Statue, so people say they see her walking in Lancaster Cemetery,” Cynthia Douts Roth, an Augusta Bitner historian, said when the Legends video was recorded. “They’ve also said that her eyes spark green, that she weeps for the child that is not buried with her. So the story is that Augusta trips on her wedding gown; she fell, she broke her neck, and that’s been the story for forever. “
The facts are that Bitner was born Aug. 24, 1884, in Lancaster, growing up on Marietta Avenue and graduating from Linden Hall in Lititz in 1902. On May 3, 1905, she married Stanley Hart Tevis and moved to Philadelphia, where they had a daughter, Sylvia. A week after their first anniversary, Augusta got typhoid and died “a horrible death,” Roth said.
“She got married, gave birth and died in 13 months,” Roth said.
The white Italian marble monument was special order from Leland and Co. in New York, with ivy circling one pillar, and bearing the inscription, “The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” Augusta’s favorite hymn. It also includes the cryptic question, “Could love have kept her?”
“I’m not sure her parents approved of Stanley,” Roth said. “The baby came seven months after they were married, so I assume they had higher expectations also for her. I just will say that Stanley wasn’t a bad guy. She was a Bitner longer than she was a Tevis.”
The White Hermit of Mount Joy
“Strong possibility that it’s true; it just sounds a little too unusual to be made up,” Sam Allen, owner of Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy, says of the tale of a White Hermit who haunts the caves 40 feet under street level, naturally formed in a seam of limestone.
The “hermit” — a schoolteacher — came from Scotland in the 1700s. When he was young, legend says, his mother died and father remarried, having a baby with the stepmother. The boy didn’t get along with his stepmother, and one time when the father was away in the middle of winter, the boy apparently pushed his stepmother and sibling out the door. He left them out too long in the cold, where they died. To escape, he left for America, settling in Lancaster with a teaching job. But one day, he ran into someone he knew from his hometown. He ran away, headed west, and decided to move into and hide in the caverns under Mount Joy.
The catacombs at Bube’s, once used as refrigeration, are about all that’s left of the cave system. Some believe the White Hermit’s main cave was under Bube’s, but the caves extended for miles with many entrances. The hermit went unnoticed for years, legend says, and by the time townspeople were aware of him, he had a long, white, unkempt beard that gave him the name “White Hermit. “
He was last seen around 1765. Legend says he died in and haunts the caves.