Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cornwall Iron Furnace

As the legend goes, the night was cold, most of the men in the hunting party would have rather been back inside continuing to drink near a warm fireplace. Unfortunately for them, their host had other ideas. Peter Grubb Jr. was a boastful man, he was a man who loved to hunt, and drink. The night’s claim was that he had the greatest hunting hounds in the area. After drinking well beyond a reasonable level, he took his guest out into the chilly night to show the impressiveness of his hunting hounds.

After a long round of hunting, the dogs did not bring home the game. It was the first time they had ever failed to not prove to their master their worthiness in his eyes. In a fit of his infamous short temper, Grubb ordered the entire pack thrown into the furnace fires. The hunting party, servants, and the dog’s handler all pleaded with him not to do it. After threatening the men with physical violence or, their jobs, the dogs were thrown into the fire; including Flora, the pack leader, and the one dog that seemed to have a bond with their her master (the rumors say one night, she saved his life when he collapsed drunk in the snow).

In the days following the terrible deed, not surprisingly, Grubb’s social circle shrank quickly. He lost the few people whom he could consider “friends”. They say he went mad, muttering to himself and, being chased by a ghostly pack by Flora. Ironically, he died out in the snow after being chased by the invisible hounds, just as he would have a night years before if Flora would not have saved his life.

Years of this account range in the 1790s to 1800. The stories of the ghostly pack began immediately after the event and, it is said that the ghostly pack can be heard chasing after their prey on their last, deadly hunt. Howling into the wind, traveling through the area around the furnace. Every October, the reenactment occurs again and, again and, again.

The furnace was in use eleven months out of the year, with the final month being used to prepare the furnace for the coming season. Inside a working furnace: charcoal, limestone and iron ore were layered in the 30 foot tall furnace. The iron would break apart and drip to the bottom. At the top of the furnace there is a hole, where the stones and ores are cast down into the fire. I would hardly say the hole is big enough to fit a struggling dog.

While a noted drunk, which became quite severe after his wife, Mary’s, death, there is no proof that Peter Grubb Jr. was as much of a villain as the tale suggest. As for the part in the story that says he died in the snow, Grubb did die in the winter. In January of 1786, by committing suicide at the age of forty-six. He is buried at Hopewell Forge.

There is some confusion as to whether the hounds inhabit Cornwall or Colebrook furnace. Both were owned by the Grubb family, which was common with iron furnaces in Pennsylvania; one family would own and, operate several furnaces. While Cornwall furnace does still exist, preserved in pristine beauty; Colebrook furnace, which was built in 1791 along the Conewago Creek in Lancaster County, does not. It was dismantled in 1858. Ghosts do reside at Cornwall; residual footprints from workers years past calling out work orders and responses. There is no angry ironmaster and, as far as the people who live near the furnace say, there are no hounds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Outer Banks Witch

Summers in my childhood were often spent in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In my mid-teenage years, my family moved there permanently, viewing the small, local towns as being more conducive to raising a healthy, well-minded youth than the larger towns or cities. It was not until I moved there as a teenager, and established budding friendships, that I learned of the Cora tree. There is quite a legend tied to this lone tree in the Brigand’s Bay area of Frisco, North Carolina.

As a child, our summer house was within a five minute walk of the tree, yet I never knew the tale of it. When we moved to Frisco for good, it was in a different area of the Bay community, farther from the tree; which, according to local legend, was to be the execution site of a “witch” named Cora. Reportedly, the “witch” lived in the area with a baby, some legends state that it was her child, others are not specific on the details. Both were considered strange by the local population, for they were not of resident bloodlines. Quite a few members of the population of the Outer Banks island chain ended up there after shipwrecks, so new people were not unusual; but there were certain living expectations by the people who lived there. Of those expectations, which were fitting for the time, young, unmarried women did not live alone, separated from the village.

As was typical of certain time periods in history, in this case the early 1700s, when odd things began to happen in the villages, for example someone getting sick, blame fell on the outcast. At the time of the odd occurrences in Frisco, a ship captain was stranded on the island because his ship had floundered. Oddly enough, or perhaps not so strange when considering the story here, the ship’s captain was from Salem, Massachusetts. Though there was no evidence that Cora had anything to do with the strange happenings on the island, the locals and the captain suspected her. Matters came to a climax when the body of a young man was found washed on the beach and small, assumed female footprints were found leading away from the body into the woods. Subsequently, the captain went to Cora’s hunt and had her and the baby brought out and tied to the tree. An argument that ensued between the Salem captain and another captain who believed that the case should be handled inland, at a proper court; and during the disagreement, lightning stuck the tree. When the smoke cleared, both Cora and the baby were gone. In place of the two, was Cora’s name engraved in the tree. To look at it to this day, it does not look like a knife had carved the letters; they look grown into the tree, as if the letters were part of the tree.

There are a few problematic pieces with the story, namely that witches were not burned at the stake, or at trees. Secondly, in written documentation of the legend, the captain’s name was Eli Blood. There is a Blood family line in the Salem area, but there was no record of an Eli. The other captain’s name was Tom Smith, and with no known origin, a search of the name did not return any results. Except for the name in the tree, there is no evidence that such a tale could even exist. But then, in 2013, I went on a paranormal investigation in the area of the tree. The standard questions were asked: how, what, why, did this really happen? After review, there was only one voice on the digital recorder, a female whispering the name “Thomas.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Ghost Ship of the Northumberland Strait

The Ghost Ship of the Northumberland Strait
1786 - The lighthouse keeper at Sea Cow Head Island witnesses a three-masted schooner, in full sail, headed straight for the rocky cliffs during a gale. At the last moment, the ship turned away and was lost to the storm.
Abt 1900 - a group of sailors witnessed a burning ship in the Charlottetown Harbour, with the crew of the ship frantically running around the deck trying to put the fire out. In an attempt at a rescue effort, the men set sail in a small rowboat. Before they reached the vessel, it had vanished.
1963 - a ship was sighted at Brea Harbor, people could be seen scrambling around on the deck, as if reading a life boat. The sight lasted for hours and then the ship gradually disappeared.
January 1988 - a burning ship was spotted from a ferry off of Borden. The ships radar equipment did not pick up the ship; however, there were witnesses to it having been there.
Mid- January 2008 - at approximately 10 pm., a 17-year-old visitor to the Tatamagouche Bay area witnessed a brightly white and red colored three-masted schooner. The entrance to the bay was blocked by ice, making it impossible for a ship to be in the area. He went back inside the house and when he checked on the ship around 11p.m. it had vanished.
Undated account: The flaming ship was witnessed in Canoe Cove. Reportedly, the fire department was called for a rescue attempt. Further undated accounts include: sightings off of Borden, with the ship either sailing out of sight or sinking in a gulf of flames. If the ship is close to the shore line, witnesses can hear screams coming from the deck.

The time period for the length of these sightings is approximately ten minutes. There are many more accounts, though some are repetitions of the above stories.

The locals have come up with several theories as to why their famous phantom ship still sails the waves, repeating over and over again the final horrible scene of its sailors deaths. Most of these local tales speak of piracy and pacts with the devil, both of which doomed the men to their fate. The golden age of piracy occurred during the late 1600s into the early 1700s, nearly eighty years before what is considered the first sighting of the phantom ship. This does not necessarily hold much bearing for it not to have been a pirate ship since it is not known when the ship sank; though there is other evidence to push out the theory that the ship was cursed as a means of retribution for the sins of the crew. Pirates traveled the seas in search of treasure and unhappy, restless fishermen to join their crews.

The area around the Northumberland Strait did not offer much in the way of either of those aspects. The likes of these types of men could be found on the other side of Nova Scotia. Liverpool, for example, was practically built for privateers. Then there is the consideration of the first account, it is one of the only accounts that tells of the ship not being engulfed in flames. Leading to the speculation that the sighting in 1786 was an account of the last moments of the physical ship before some tragic accident caused it to be lost to the sea. The true origins and history of this particular ghost ship may never be known, there are quite a few contenders for the basis of the sightings. That is, if indeed it is paranormal.

The top choice for the ship is the Chameau or Le Chameau, it translates to The Camel. It was a French flute built out of wood and with the type of sails that are seen on the flaming ship. It was carrying passengers, coins, and cargo from France and was lost on August 27th, 1725. She was blown into rocks during a storm; a few more miles and the ship would have reached its destination. Everyone onboard was lost in the wreck, the total number reaching between 200 and 316 people. About 180 bodies washed ashore and were buried in a mass grave. The bow of the ship was found on the shore west of Cape Breton Point.

With such a large number of accounts, complete with details and dates, it is quite believable that people are witnessing some phenomenon on the waters of the Northumberland Strait. Though the answers may not all be paranormal. Two possible scientific explanations come into play when it comes to eyewitness accounts of fiery phantom ships. For example, a crescent moon setting over the waters of the Northumberland Strait can create an illusion of a flaming ship. The brightness of the moon creates the bright light, while the ripples in the waves create an appearance of flames.

The second explanation is the weather phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s fire. Webster’s Dictionary defines this occurrence as “A flaming phenomenon sometimes seen in stormy weather at prominent points on an airplane or ship and on land that is of the nature of a brush discharge of electricity —called also Saint Elmo's light”. The fire is said to be either bright blue or violet; and it moves like fire. Sometimes, a hissing or buzzing electrical noise accompanies the light. St. Elmo is a name variation of St. Erasmus, the patron saint of Mediterranean sailors. Some sailors have considered it a sign that their Saint is guarding over them; certainly hope and good fortune are sea-faring necessities, especially during the early years of naval navigation.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Girty's Notch, Pennsylvania


The ghosts of thieves abide in the notch of the mountain side. Whispering tales of sheer delight to the criminals of the night. Pennsylvania has a lavish history, as rich as one could expect from one of the earliest settlements in the New World. With the history, comes an abundance of legends, even the tiny mountainous area of Northern Dauphin County has their own folklore. Many of the locals in the area of the Dauphin and Perry County lines know the story of Simon Girty, a villain in the local history books. Not as popular as Benedict Arnold or Aaron Burr, yet he was held to be just as unfaithful to his country. Although sometimes, the history books are not always fair in their portrayals.

Girty is said to have been born in the area of Halifax in 1744, a tiny town that was not officially settled until 1784. Even now, it's population is less than 1,000 people. From 1756 to 1757, the area was used by the Pennsylvania colonial militia as a stronghold called Fort Halifax during the French and Indian War. The fort was one of several located along the Susquehanna River at the time. It later became a part of Fort Hunter in Harrisburg. Previous to European settlement, the town was inhabited by the native Susquehannocks. When Simon was ten-years-old, his father was murdered in a fight at a tavern near Fort Hunter.

In my first book, Ghosts and Haunts of Pennsylvania, I mentioned an EVP that I caught on the property of Fort Hunter where one can hear a man proclaiming that he had just killed someone. It would be quite an interesting tale if that voice belonged to the man who killed Simon's father. After his father's death, his mother remarried, a standard of the time in order to provide for the family. His stepfather moved them to Fort Granville, near Lewistown, roughly 50 miles away from Halifax. His stepfather was later killed by Native Americans and, the rest of the family was taken captive. The family was split between various tribes; young Simon was adopted by a tribe of Senecas and raised as a member of the tribe.

During the French and Indian War, he served as a translator and scout. It is said by his descendants that he knew eleven Native dialects and was a bodyguard for the Seneca Chief Guyasata. Also during the war, he befriended Colonel William Crawford; he even sought to marry Crawford's daughter, but she refused him. When the American Revolution occurred, he was an officer in the militia at Fort Pitt, until he eventually rejoined the natives and became a British loyalist, attacking colonial settlements. This betrayal of the colonists is one of the two most pressing reasons that historians remember him as a villain. Yet, when one reviews the facts that he was raised by a tribe and they did become his family. For many, the decision between family and country can be a difficult one. Then, in the other specific instance that placed a black mark next to his name, the choice he made may not have been a purposeful betrayal but a choice of survival. Never forget that it is the winners in history that retell the stories that are remembered.

This second event that created the villain known as “Dirty” Girty, involved the death of his friend Colonel Crawford. The colonel had been captured by Native Americans during a confused retreat along the Sandusky River. He was subsequently tortured for two hours and, burned at the stake. His death was in retaliation for the Gnadenhutten massacre, or Moravian massacre, that occurred on March 8th, 1782. The massacre occurred during the American Revolution, when a militia from Pennsylvania attacked Christian Lenape Natives, also known as the Delaware tribe, at the Moravian missionary village of Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Crawford’s son-in-law and nephew were also executed. Simon Girty and two others were a witness to the death of his friend. The other two people later testified to Girty’s actions; one said that he instigated the natives to kill Crawford, the other said that he pleaded for his friend’s life until he was also threatened with death. It is the more diabolical of the two accounts that has become the popular standard of testimony to the character of Simon Girty.

Girty also took part in the October 1, 1779 ambush and murder of a group of American forces returning from New Orleans, near Dayton, Kentucky. With him in the ambush was a large force of Native Americans and, Alexander McKee. McKee’s mother was from North Carolina and, an adoptee of a Shawnee tribe. Similar to Girty, he was raised to have sympathies for the plight of the Native Americans in the country during this time period. It is because of the all insinuations of the man’s villainy that it is easy to overlook that he also saved the lives of many settlers who were prisoners of the Natives. In many cases, he purchased their freedom at his own personal expense.

On his way to Canada in 1796, on the run from both the colonists and the Senecas, he reportedly hid in a cave for three days. This cave currently lies along Routes 11 and 15, although the exact location is unknown; though many locals say that they know the exact location, but each one gives a different explanation as to how reach the cave. The locals also say that the area on top of the rocky canvas is haunted. Years ago, it used to be a recreation area with picnic tables overlooking the Susquehanna River. The same river that Girty used to act as a river pirate on, stealing goods from other passing boats.

At night, they say, strange lights and noises would waft down to the land below. They also say that Girty was not the only criminal entity to take shelter on top of the rocks. It was a den of thieves in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The rest of these robbers are currently unnamed and perhaps their names will never be known. That is not from lack of trying, sitting in the parking area at the bottom of the mountain, where there are no private property signs. The digital recorder played, but the response was mysterious and unknown. Possibly giving light to the Native American tribes that were in the area; though I do not know what it means, it sounded as if a man said, “Rum chee it”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Murder

Rehmeyer’s Hollow Nelson Rehmeyer It sounds like a tale from the 1600s; one that should have occurred at the same time that Salem, Massachusetts succumbed to the mass hysteria of their witchcraft trials. For you see, York County also had a trial involving bewitchment; though this one happened much more recently. On this occasion, it was not the so-believed witch who was on trial; it was the men who murdered him. Folk magic and pow-wowing are old time traditions in Pennsylvania.

As one drives through the Pennsylvanian Dutch country side, people can see that the folk traditions are still alive and well. The telling tale with this is the hex signs painted on the sides of barns. These symbols are not as eerie looking as they may sound; it is really a type of folk art with either stars in circles or an array of different hexagon or octagon shapes. Inside those shapes can be hearts, tulips, trees, birds, or the commonly seen compass roses. The artwork is similar to the patterns one would see on a quilt. There is a controversy over whether or not the Pennsylvanian Dutch actually believed in any magical properties attributed to the signs or if they are for decorative purposes only to make their barns look as charming as their houses. Out of this pow-wow tradition also a rose a fear of the unknown by those who were superstitious and unaccustomed to the Pennsylvanian Dutch customs.

At a time just before the Great Depression, those fears came to fruition for one York County trio; and the target was a man by the name of Nelson Rehmeyer. Rehmeyer was considered by the locals to be a practitioner of pow-wow medicine, a healer in a way. As far as Milton J. Hess, John Curry, and John Blymire believed, Mr. Rehmeyer was dabbling in witchcraft and had hexed the three of them. So, on a cold November night, right before Thanksgiving, in 1928, the three went to Rehmeyer’s isolated farmhouse in Stewartstown, in the southern part of the county. The plan was to take a lock of his hair, which was to buried six feet under; and a copy of John George Hohman’s book, the ‘Long Lost Friend;’ a textbook for pow-wowers. It was believed by the three that by using the hair and the book, they could break the spell that had been placed upon them. At some point in time after their arrival, their plan went horribly awry and they brutally murdered Nelson Rehmeyer by beating him to death. The poor man likely suffered greatly before his death.

After he was certainly dead, the three set fire to his body; which did not burn completely. The cause of which was cited by two theories: one that involved the hounds of hell and the other said that his bladder burst. When a neighbor later found the victim’s body, a fierce investigation followed and the three perpetrators were quickly arrested and given an expedited trial. The trial became a national sensation with York County being called the, “Cockpit of witchcraft.” Blymire’s attorney, future Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Herbert Cohen, pushed for an insanity defense. But, the final headline of the trial read, "Belief in witchcraft not insanity, judge rules ... ." Blymire and Curry were found guilty and received life sentences for first degree murder. Wilbert Hess was found guilty of second degree murder and received a ten-year prison sentence. Hess’ attorney, Harvey Gross, through a rather skillful argument, that his client never had any intention to murder the victim. He was only a pawn in the other’s more malicious intentions.

Though the men involved in the pow-wow practitioners death wanted to vilify him in court; there were plenty of other York County natives who were willing to jump to the deceased defense. They also sighted that the man had been given a Christian burial; which if he was really a witch that would not have happened. Today, Rehmeyer’s body is located in the St. John “Sadler’s” Lutheran Church in the Stewartstown/Shrewsbury area. Descendants of Nelson Rehmeyer believe that the witchcraft story that the men implored for their trial was one of fiction. They believe that the true cause of the home invasion was simply robbery. No matter what the people of the current age think; the witchcraft trial of York County is a black mark on its history.

The media made York County out to be a haven for those who wished to practice the dark arts; which is simply not true by any stretch of the imagination. However, there was a benefit to the trial and that was that justice was carried through to the end.

Is Hex Hollow haunted? A lot of the locals believe it to be. I cannot say for sure myself since I have never been there to investigate it. At one time, the owners of the property made quite an effort to keep people away from the house; although the murder victim is said to wander around the hollow itself, not just the house. The owners went as far as to have trespasses prosecuted for breaking into the property. Recently, however, the murder house has been transformed into a haunted attraction for spectators to go to the house around Halloween.

McClure, James. “Jim McClure: Hex Murder a spooky bit of York County’s past.” York Daily Record. Updated: 10-26-2012. Accessed 5/31/14.
Rehmeyer’s Hollow, York County, Pa.” Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Murder. Crime Library. accessed 5/31/14. Accessed 5/31/14.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke and New Bern, NC

This is another excerpt from one of my upcoming books. It is only the rough draft but, it is still a fun read!
Ocracoke Island These next accounts may seem a bit on the verge of the fantastical. Not because the stories are about flaming phantom ships, there are quite a few of those; it is because it occurs in an area with high tourist traffic and there are very few eye witness accounts. I include it only because it is a local legend of the Outer Banks and also, a former anonymous member of the Coast Guard claims to have seen something unusual on the waters around North Carolina.

There are two ships matching the same description and with an identical legend; which leads to the conclusion that they are one in the same. One is called the Flaming Ship of Ocracoke and the other is the Flaming Ship of New Bern. As the legends state: every year a flaming ship appears off the island of Ocracoke or at the mouth of the Neuse River at the Pamlico Sound (which is the sound between Ocracoke and the mainland.) The ship never appears to be consumed by the fire; it just burns until it fades away. On board the ship was a group of Palatines who set sail in 1710 from England to America.

This part of the story does hold a basis in historical records. The Palatines were German Protestants from the Palatinate region of Germany. As with many other travelers during this time period, the Palatines were fleeing their homeland for a very specific reason, war! When Philip V, the grandson of the French King Louis XIV, ascended to the Spanish throne following the death of Charles II in 1700, the reason for the war was sealed. Even though it was at Charles’ bequest that Philip follow his rule; other countries in Europe feared that the relation between Spain and France would lead to an empire. The event was called the War of Spanish Succession in Europe; and in America, it was considered a part of, and called, Queen Anne’s War. Though, this latter war was more about who would take control of the American continent. The War of the Spanish Succession lasted from 1701-1714 and pitted France and Spain against England, Austria, Portugal, and the Netherlands. During this, France invaded the Palatinate region of Germany, forcing the citizens there to flee to Holland and then to England. In 1709, the English government issued sixteen hundred tents for the Palatine encampments; and welcomed the victims of their enemies.

Quickly, the influx of the Germans into England became too much for the country to bear. In 1710, it is estimated that between ten and thirty thousand people immigrated to London. To combat this influx, the government began sending the refugees to America. In 1710, three large groups of Palatines sailed from London, one of which sailed to Carolina. The other two went to Ireland and New York where there was already a large number of Palatines. To protect themselves from thieves on their voyage, the people pretended to be poor; with only enough money to make a voyage to the New World. In actuality, the Palatines aboard the ship were quite wealthy. It was only when they caught sight of the shoreline did they reveal their true wealth. In their excitement to go ashore, they began to carry their precious items on to the deck of the ship, showing off their fortune to every crew member aboard the ship. This proved to be their fatal error. Instead of allowing the people to unload, the captain announced that they would not land until the next day.

The people made haste to hide their valuables again and then settled down for the night. After it was believed that all the men, women, and children were asleep; the captain and his crew murdered every last one of them. Most of the Palatines throats were slit before many of them could awake. Using the lifeboats to escape, they loaded the cargo into the boats and set fire to the ship. As they rowed away from the flaming ship, the crew turned to look back. In amazement, they discovered that the ship was not sinking. Instead, it began to move and screams echoed from the hull as if the passengers were still alive. This site absolutely terrified the crew of the ship, who discarded their misbegotten treasures immediately upon landing on the shore.

Every year the ship re-appears, waiting for the blood stolen from to be repaid. There are no recordings from this time that mention a ship sinking during this year; let alone a Palatine ship. This does not mean that the ship did not exist. During the 1700s, it was not uncommon for a ship not to be logged or for the sinking of a ship to not be recorded. Quite often, ships would fall victims to pirates or mainland scavengers who would not want the final location of the vessel to be known. Back in a day and age where it would take days for any news to travel throughout a single colony; hiding vessels were fairly easy and they were either set on fire, ripped apart, or left to the waves. There is another Palatine ship in Rhode Island; although this one comes with a little more legitimate history… ________________________________________

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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