A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

By Carole Gorney

This is the season for ghosts and goblins, when kids don white sheets with eye holes cut out, and Casper movies are rerun on television. It’s all in fun, but what if apparitions are closer to home than we think – like the Lehigh Valley?

Did you know that our area is home to literally dozens and dozens of ghosts?  Today they “live” in our best hotels, restaurants and colleges and universities. They even reside in houses next door. Who these spirits are, and why they are hanging around, involve many fascinating stories that are an integral part of the history of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Let’s begin with Hawk Mountain a – sanctuary for birds of prey north of I-78 in Kempton. It is considered to be one of the most haunted places in America, generating hundreds of stories about phantoms dating back to the early settlers. One of the more gruesome stories involves a tavern owner in the mid-1800s who did away with at least 14 peddlers and deliverymen in order to steal their wares. At his burial, the grave was supposedly struck by lightning, and since then, eerie glowing lights have been seen near the grave. Other manifestations have occurred at the tavern, including unexplained voices, footsteps
and screaming.

This is a good place to tell you that ghostly manifestations may involve seeing the image of an entire deceased person, but most often presences are seen as bright round “orbs” or foggy sightings called ectoplasm. (In ancient cultures a person’s spirit or soul was believed to be visible as breath, and in cold climates one’s breath appears as a white mist.) Encounters can also involve hearing strange noises, seeing objects moving by themselves or appearing or disappearing.

Restaurants, taverns and inns are favorite places for spooks. The Buckeye Tavern in Macungie hosts a little girl who died there long ago, and an old gentleman whose presence has been sensed near the front door. The bar stool of the deceased former owner of the Newberg Inn has been seen to move by itself. There are also instances of paranormal activity in the cellar and on the upper floors at Braveheart, formerly the Hellertown Hotel, where several deaths occurred.

Ghosts may not have college degrees, but they like to hang around local campuses just the same. At Cedar Crest College in Allentown, students in Butz Hall claim they have had strange experiences they blame on a ghost they call “Wanda,” who supposedly committed suicide there. Lehigh University’s Linderman Library is haunted by an unfriendly older man. Muhlenberg College and DeSales University also have their own stories to tell. Then there is Moravian College, founded in Bethlehem in 1742.

Several Moravian College buildings on both downtown campuses boast their own ghostly inhabitants. The Single Brethren’s House, now part of the music department, served as a hospital during the Revolutionary War. Rumor has it that students still see a nurse from that era haunting the practice rooms.  On the main campus, Comenius Hall is home to a young man who died there during World War I. His spirit is believed to be trapped in one of the walls. Over at the Psi Mu Epsilon Sorority House on Main Street, the legendary ghost of a girl named Alicia, allegedly killed in the building, has been spotted by residents.

We are now at the center of paranormal activity in the Lehigh Valley. For the past five years the Moravian Book Shop has been conducting ghost tours of the Historic Haunts of Downtown Bethlehem. The first tour coincided with the publication in 2007 of Bethlehem Ghost, a book on historical hauntings co-authored by book shop manager Dana DeVito and Katherine Ramsland, well known for her research and writings on serial killers and vampires.

The candlelight tours are led by costumed guides and include 11 stops, including the Sun Inn and the Hotel Bethlehem. Shirley Houston, who coordinates the tours, noted that interest in haunting has increased in popularity, in part because of television’s “Ghost Hunters,” which filmed one of its programs at the Sun Inn.

Open for business in 1760, the historic Sun Inn was a meeting place for the Continental Congress in 1777.  With its history as a Revolutionary War hospital and an underground shelter from Indian attacks, it has generated numerous reports of apparitions and unexplained occurrences. Hessian and British soldiers have been spotted in the basement, a non-existent infant has been heard crying, furniture has been moved after closing, and sudden sensations of cold have been felt.

The Hotel Bethlehem has inherited ghosts from its predecessor, the Eagle Hotel, but it also has some of its own.  Most notable is Frank Smith, a local businessman who was either murdered or committed suicide on the third floor.  He has been seen “in person,” but mostly he wanders the floor making noises.   Kelly Ronalds, director of sales and marketing for the Hotel Bethlehem, has her own story. A teapot on a table in her office moves out of place for no reason. She also hears the clanking of silverware in her office, where the original kitchen was located.

Once a year, the Hotel Bethlehem hosts a Ghost Weekend featuring a ghost breakers group consisting of retired police officers who use their investigative skills to locate any spirits lingering about the hotel. So far the group has recorded voices inaudible to the human ear, and found an apparition above the ballroom.

The good news is most of these spooks are friendly and harmless, that is, if they really exist at all.  Christy Houston says it doesn’t really matter whether you believe in them.  What is important is to share the stories. They are a fun way to be scared – a thrill, like riding a roller coaster. She added that there is a comfort in believing that the people you know may still be around, and that when you die you will come back for a visit. “In a way, I want the ghosts to exist.”

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