Almost every area has its own ghostly and haunted tales. Lycoming County is no exception.
Many of these spooky tales are steeped in local Native American legend and superstition. Even the area of the valley of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River has otherworldly aspects to it. The area once was known as Otzniachson, or area of the “people of the Demon’s Den.” Count Nikolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf, an early Moravian missionary who explored this area in the mid-1700s, wrote in his diary that the area was given the name Otzniachson because “for it was here the Indians say the evil spirits have their seats and hold their revels.”
Staying with devil’s theme in local geography there is a “Devil’s Cave” along Lycoming Creek near the Wildwood Cemetery. There is a unique geological formation of large boulders along Montgomery Pike called the “Devil’s Turnip Patch.” And there is a road with a 90-degree bend to it in Piatt Township called the “Devil’s Elbow.”
Other Native American-related ghostly tales include that of King Wi-daagh, a chief of the Andaste Indians. His ghost is said to haunt the area of the Nippenose Valley in the vicinity of Antes Creek. He haunts the area, in part, to protest the bad deal he made when selling land in his territory to emissaries of William Penn for only a few trinkets in September 1700. A large column from the Pennsylvania State Capitol was placed in tribute to King Wi-daagh at the homestead known as “Lochabar” along the banks of Antes Creek. An inscription on the column commemorates the treaty. Visitors to this area, especially in the autumn, can see a ghostly mist coming off the emerald green waters of Wi-daugh’s Spring giving a very ominous and spooky sense to the place.
Also in the Antes Fort area are reports of haunted houses. Col. Henry Antes, who founded Antes Fort, is blamed for this. It is alleged that near the end of the Revolutionary War, Antes engaged in an early form of biological warfare against the Indians of the area. He and other white settlers were having disputes with Indians and to end the dispute, Antes is supposed to have purchased the blankets of several people who had died of smallpox in the Harrisburg area. He then “donated” these infected blankets to some of the local Indians. Many people caught the disease and died, and when a local Indian chief found out about Antes’ alleged atrocity he was outraged and vowed revenge on Antes and those around him. This revenge is supposed to have taken the form of the haunting of houses in the Antes Fort area, according to an Oct. 29, 1988 Sun-Gazette article.
Another interesting ghostly apparition related to Native American lore is about the beautiful Indian maiden during the mid-1800s who is the “Siren of Loyalsock Creek.” Sweet Cicely would lure raftsmen to their death on the riffles of Loyalsock Creek with her sweet, haunting and alluring voice. She reportedly sang because she was happy although raftsmen supposedly murdered her.
There are several non-Native American-related spooky tales of this area. The most famous involves the immortal American author Mark Twain.
Twain came to Williamsport in 1869 to lecture. While walking around downtown he was disturbed and disgusted by the rundown condition of the some of the city’s graveyards, particularly the one located in Ross Park on Pine Street, site of the former City Hall.
Most of the coffins and remains formerly held in that graveyard were disinterred and placed in the Williamsport Cemetery on Washington Boulevard. What remained at Ross Park were decaying reminders of the former graveyard. What Twain saw while sitting on the steps of the Pine Street Methodist Church inspired him to write a short story titled, “The Remarkable Dream.”
In the story Twain has a conversation with a disgusted skeleton that was picking up some of the other remains from the rundown cemetery. Other “residents” of the rundown cemetery join the skeleton to try to find a more respectable final resting place.
Twain described hearing the “click clack” of the skeleton. The skeleton in question told Twain, “We are all leaving. We cannot tolerate the treatment we are receiving at the hands of our descendants. They open new cemeteries, but they leave us to our ignominy.”
Twain’s story first appeared in the Buffalo Express in 1870, a newspaper that Twain edited and was part owner.
Another strange tale involves the Thomas Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society. Its provenance is uncertain, so it may be apocryphal.
The tale involves the portrait of 3-year old Nellie Tallman painted by her father, John. While she was being painted she fell from a stool and broke her neck, an injury that killed her. The portrait was later donated to the museum.
Shortly after the painting was donated it fell down and was damaged. It was sent out to be repaired. Soon after being returned, it fell down again. It was put back up and fell down several more times. It was later moved to Victorian Parlor of the museum and few days after being placed there, it was found lying face down on the floor. No explanations have been developed for why Nellie’s portrait kept falling down. Some assert that it is haunted.
By Lou Hunsinger Jr., Williamsport Sun-Gazette