Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Witchcraft Road?

Where else but Berks County would you find such an interesting collection of names of roads and towns? Just west of Virginville in the northern part of the county, we find a Witchcraft Road which runs northwest toward Windsor Castle off of Virginville Road, through an area that locals refer to as Witches' Dance. There is also a nearby cave that is known as Dragon's Cave. There are lots of caves in this area, including the well-known Crystal Caves that are a popular tourist attraction. Certainly does make one wonder what sort of things happened in the early part of our history in that area to generate these names that have persisted in to our modern age.

Moving a bit further west as we approach the mountains to the northwest, we find the Hex Highway which probably has all sorts of stories in its past as well.

Since both sets of my grandparents lived in Berks County, I heard many stories about the area growing up. Some of my favorite stories, though, were the ghost stories my Dad's mother would tell us when we spent the night at their old farmhouse near Joanna. After dinner, we would go out to the woods and find some nice samples of "spook wood", those wonderful, fungi-covered pieces of wood that glowed softly in the dark, and then we would settle down in the old guest room and wait for Gram to come tell us a story. She would make them up as she went along, bringing in bits and pieces of the local lore in the process. She always had a vivid imagination and could come up with amazing stories to our delight as youngsters.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Stone Willie

The city of Reading in Berks County has always been an interesting town for me. It was the closest major city to the homes of both sets of grandparents, as well as being the home of many of my relatives. So it was not unusual for me to spend time there as a child. It was always easy to tell we were nearing our destination when I could spot the Pagoda up on Mount Penn, and , of course, as a teen, the outlet stores were always a big draw for me when it was time to do some serious clothes shopping.

Reading has it s fair share of strange stories too, including its very own mystery corpse down at Auman's funeral home on Penn St. The story has been covered by a number of writers, including Charles Adams in his book Berks The Bizarre, so I'll keep this short. The basic story is simple - a unknown vagrant was arrested in Reading and died in 1895 while in jail, his body sent to Theo C. Auman, Sr., a local undertaker. Auman was experimenting with a new set of chemicals for embalming and wished to try them on the unclaimed and unidentified body, known generally as James Penn for lack of better identification. Permission was granted and Auman found that his new chemicals worked a bit too well - the body became stone-like and acquired the nickname of Stone Willie. More than a hundred years later, the body, still unclaimed, was still on display at Auman's in a second floor room until fairly recently. Sometime during the past few years, Auman's funeral home in Reading was sold to a new owner, so at this point, I am not sure what the status of Willie is.

Some years ago, at the time of the funeral for my uncle's wife, which was handled by Theo Auman, Jr., I learned from my mother that her brother had been good friends with Teddy Auman, as he was known to my uncle, for many years. No doubt that is why the funeral for Aunt Pat was handled with such attention to detail. Mom always thought Ted to be a bit hard to take, though. As she put it, "When we were kids, Teddy always wanted to play undertaker. It was strange." Or not, if you consider that Ted would have grown up with Stone Willie in the background, in his father's business establishment.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Is My Family Haunted?

I seem to more than my fair share of odd relatives and it's rather amusing at this point to find names from my family tree popping up on sites devoted to the paranormal. My latest find is a mention of a restaurant in Douglassville which is supposedly haunted by its former owner, Caleb Brinton. This is obviously one of those times where it's handy to have the full Brinton family genealogy handy, so I'll have to dig out my copy and see what I can find!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Centralia - PA's Real Hot Spot

This video by the Discovery Channel, gives a good overview of the siutation in Centralia, PA, the town that's been on fire underground for over 40 years.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Haunted Inn in Stottsville

The same article that mentioned the bodies buried on the Cult House property also talked briefly about an earlier murder, that of another thief named Gary Crouch. Apparently, Mr. Crouch upset someone connected to the Johnston gang back in 1977 and ended up planted near the Stottsville Inn in western Chester County. Since the Stottsville Inn already has its share of ghost stories, he may not have been noticed.

Sitting along the Strasburg Road in Pomeroy, the Inn enjoys a fine reputation as a country restaurant and it doesn't appear to have been harmed any for having a few ghosts. As the story goes, a young woman named Josephine was murdered in her room by her husband Horace, who then killed himself. Near the front entrance there is a picture frame on a wall with a reproduction of Horace's suicide note which reads cryptically, "I love, love, love you. You are the dream of my life. Come with me to the shoe store and I will make love to you. Love, Horace."

Below that is a post-script in which Horace revealed his rather unorthodox form of suicide. It read: "P.S., I can't live without you so I will commit suicide in the barn. I will bite a cow's leg and he will kick me in the head and kill me. For without you, life is nothing."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just Plain Weird

STEWARTSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - February 5, 2007 - A Ronald McDonald statue taken from a family's York County home last month was found beheaded in a wooded area over the weekend.

The statue owned by the Grieger family disappeared January 15th.

On Thursday, Joy Grieger found its severed head returned to her family's Stewartstown property, complete with X's drawn over its eyes. Police say the rest of the 300-pound statue turned up in Hopewell Township on Saturday.

Grieger used to work at a McDonald's, and her family adopted the statue decades ago.

Police say the family did not know anything about its whereabouts until its cement head showed up on their lawn last week. The Griegers say they plan to offer a 500 dollar reward for information leading police to the culprits.

I'm not which is weirder - the idea of collecting a Ronald McDonald statue or decapitating one... Come to think of it, my father-in-law lives in Stewartstown....

The Cult House

I came across the reference to this place while searching for something else, so of course I had to learn more about it. Isn't that the way it always is? The Cult House sits back on top of a hillside off of Cossart Road near Chadds Ford and has been known for years as a spooky place. At one point , the property belonged to the DuPont family, not really a big surprise since they owned an enormous amount of property int his area at one point. There have been tales of trucks chasing people down the road, which is barely wide enough for two cars to pass and graffiti adorns many of the trees and signs along the way. A few years ago, the area served as the backdrop for the Movie The Village, but it also has a bit more of a bizarre history.

On December 30, 1978, police uncovered the bodies of three boys, Jimmy Johnston, Duane Lincoln and Wayne Sampson, who had been part of a very active crime ring that has threatened the Chester County areas for years, operated by the Johnston brothers, a trio originally from Tennessee. A fourth young man, Jimmy Sampson, was also killed by the gang, but his body was never found. The Johnston brothers, Bruce, Sr., David and Norman, were responsible for the deaths of 4 young men and a 15-year old female and had eluded police for months. Finally, Ricky Mitchell, another young man who had been involved in the crime gang, led police to the bizarre mass grave where the three bodies were found, no doubt fearing that he would be the next victim of the Johnston brothers. More details of the crime and its effects can be read in this article from 1999.