by Tom Knapp
It was a warm and sunny spring evening in Manheim Township, and Keith Greenawalt’s thoughts turned to ghosts.
Greenawalt, a reference librarian at Manheim Township Public Library, on May 5 shared stories of haunted Lancaster County.
And he encouraged credulous members of his audience to seek out similar tales.
“I am not a ghost hunter. I don’t go out in the woods at night and look for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena, aka spirit voices),” Greenawalt says. “I enjoy the legends, the lore behind the stories.”
Here’s a sampling of the sites Greenawalt featured...
Fulton Opera House
From Marie Cahill, a small-time actress who reportedly walks the aisles in a white gown, to the sound of applause from an empty theater, the Fulton has an astonishing number of ghosts tied to its history.
Most notorious, Greenawalt says, are the restless ghosts of the Conestoga Indians slaughtered on the site in 1763.
“There has always been a sort of collective sense of guilt here ... for the massacre of these defenseless Indians who were under our protection,” he says.
“People don’t see apparitions,” he adds. “It’s a feeling of dread. People don’t like going to the basement.”
St. James Episcopal Church
Local industrialist Robert Coleman didn’t like his daughters’ taste in men. Sarah Coleman committed suicide after she was forbidden to marry William Muhlenberg; Anne Coleman died — possibly of hysteria, possibly a laudanum overdose — after her engagement was broken to future president James Buchanan.
One of those star-crossed couples — witnesses haven’t agreed which — has been seen strolling on Orange Street.
Other Lancaster ghosts
The Red Rose City has plenty of historic spirits, including Declaration of Independence signatory George Ross at Old City Hall, Civil War General John Reynolds at his King Street birthplace, and John Hand, son of Revolutionary War General Edward Hand, at Rock Ford Plantation, where John committed suicide.
A stain believed to be John Hand’s final splash of blood has never disappeared from the floor in an upstairs room, and in the days before the house became a museum, it was hard to keep tenants because “it was creepy and unsettling,” Greenawalt says.
The well-known tale of Augusta Bitner’s walking statue at Lancaster Cemetery is largely apocryphal, Greenawalt says. She neither died on her wedding day nor broke her neck on the stairs.
“Sometimes,” he says, “the story is better than the actual truth.”
The borough has headless pigs that loiter near the butcher’s shop where they met their demise and a small black dog “that just shows up periodically,” Greenawalt says.
Also, a woman in white and a woman in black are sometimes seen walking through town.
“There are a lot of ghost stories out there,” says Greenawalt. Some of the highlights include a witch’s curse, a headless horseman, a ghostly railroad worker, a tall and slender figure wrapped in bandages, and a lover’s leap involving an Indian maiden, a brave and a colonist.
The ghost of Conrad Beissel, founder of the Ephrata Cloister, is said to have appeared to members of his congregation.
Cloister member Christoph Bohler asked Beissel for help after his third wife complained she was haunted by the ghosts of his previous wives.
The General Sutter Inn is said to be haunted by John Sutter, whose namesake mill sparked the California Gold Rush in 1849.
A ghostly nude man is said to march around his property line. Another mysterious figure, this one wearing a cloak, darts along Ferdinand Street.
Members of the Bube family are said to linger in various rooms at Bube’s Brewery, Greenawalt says.
There’s also a “naked man” who apparently ended his days living rough in a local cave after fleeing murder charges in Scotland.