Today a vacant lot sits on the corner of Steinwehr Avenue and Long Lane at the Southern end of town. Until recently it was the site of the “Home Sweet Home” Motel. It was purchased and removed to clear the area to its 1863 appearance.
During 2007 I met two men who gave me their haunting stories of this site. The first had worked at the motel years ago and was certain the spirits of soldiers who died on the site were lingering there. Calls would come into the office day and night with complaints from guests who were disturbed by the loud noises taking place on the property, banging on the doors or walls, footsteps coming from above. The source of these odd sounds could not be found or explained. Most remarkable were the footsteps above. The building was only one story!
The televisions would turn on or off for no reason, phones would ring, toilets would flush and the thermostats would change for no reason. (I’ve discussed this experience in my other books – ghost are curious souls; they play with anything with which they are unfamiliar).
The second story I received came from a utility worker who had been on the site during the demolition. He and a fellow worker had felt that they were always being watched. At first, they just laughed it off and joked about the area being haunted. On this last day at the job however, they had an experience that wasn’t so funny. As they packed up their truck, they felt a sensation of something passing through them. It wasn’t a feeling of wind going around them, rather something solid going through them. As they looked at each other in disbelief they heard a voice behind them, as they turned, they caught the fading image of a man turning to mist and being carried off by the breeze. He said there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t see that sight over and over again in his mind.
Many a soldier died on that site and many linger waiting to return to their own Home Sweet Home.
Footprints in the Snow (Part 1)
Around the town of Gettysburg and for miles surrounding it, the dead soldiers were buried in shallow graves. Plain wooden markers were the only reminders that someone’s father, son or husband lay in the warm dirt of summer eventually turning into a cold, damp, frozen tomb in winter.
The re-interments went on through the summer and fall of 1863 and into the winter, spring and yet another summer of 1864. In fact, some still lay there today, waiting – wondering – if they will ever be found and given a proper burial. Sadly, there is no doubt that many a brave soldier is doomed to spend eternity in their shallow grave here in Gettysburg, PA.
A curious story has been told about these forgotten soldiers. Perhaps you have noticed it yourself. If you visit the town and surrounding fields during a snow event, a very odd occurrence takes place.
It was first noticed and talked about over 100 years ago. It seems that no snow will lie on the graves of these forgotten souls. When this phenomenon was first noticed, there were thousands of bare spots dotting the landscape from Hunterstown to Emmitsburg, Fairfield to Bonneauville. Over the years, as soldiers’ graves were discovered and moved to cemeteries, the numbers declined. With modern development of structures, parking lots, paved roads, etc., the unmarked graves are becoming scarce. But yet, some still remain waiting to be discovered. A good time to search for these lost souls is during a snow fall, when the snow melts on contact with the graves who lie below.
Footprints in the Snow (Part 2)
Could it be that the warmth of patriotism still burns through the remains of the fallen? Is their desire to be with comrades what keeps the ground warm? Maybe it is the fire that still burns for a loved one, a desire that not only melts the heart but also the snow! Then again, it could be an anger even hatred towards those who buried them in such haste that they now rot away, forgotten by every living person. Anger so strong, so hot, that it heats the ground more than one hundred and forty-five years later.
No matter what the cause for this amazing occurrence it continues today here in Gettysburg, PA.
Another noteworthy winter ghostly event can happen as a snowfall blankets the battlefield. Footsteps! Not just any footsteps but those that seem to mysteriously appear and go nowhere. Throughout the area, these have been known to be found. Some say they appear to come from nowhere, as if the person rose from the ground to begin a journey across the fields. Those who have followed these ghostly tracks are amazed to find that they end just as they began-nowhere! Some believe that this certainly proves that the dead really do rise to walk again among the living.
Who will dare to go
On a cold Winter’s day
To walk through the snow
Where the dead soldiers lay
Follow slowly their tracks
In the cold of the dead
But don’t turn your back
For many have said
That the soldiers still roam
Among the bloodstained ground
As they dream of their home
Snow melts till they’re found
The Cellar Below (Part 1)
The building known today as the Hall of Presidents sits on East Cemetery Hill, just North of the National Cemetery; it did not exist at the time of the battle in 1863. The grounds, however, held a portion of the Union Line that covered Cemetery Hill. There was extensive skirmishing, as the Yankees exchanged fire with their Rebel counterparts to the North, at the edge of town, three blocks away. A failed attack by the Confederates, on the evening of July 2nd, ended near this area resulting in numerous casualties on both sides.
Dead soldiers were buried here and the wounded were cared for in makeshift field hospitals where the soldiers suffered greatly as they tried to hold onto life. Eventually the living was moved to a large hospital North of town known as Camp Letterman. The Union dead were exhumed and moved a short distance to the National Cemetery.
But, were they all removed? We will never know for sure. It is well documented that graves were poorly marked with small wooden plaques and some Confederate graves were not marked at all. Many of these have been lost forever, as the years passed, and the last reminders faded away into obscurity.
Sometime after the war the Homestead Orphanage, for children who had lost their fathers for the Union cause, opened just one hundred feet away to the north. Old photos from 1870 show the orphans running and playing in this open space between their home and the National Cemetery.
During the early 1900’s, a large frame two-story home, complete with a six-foot deep cellar, was constructed on that open space. The front exterior has seen some extensive renovation but the interior remains fairly intact behind the “Presidential Displays”. We will never know if any or how many graves were disturbed as the dirt was removed to create the cavity in the earth under the structure. However, we do think that it may be the root of the haunting in the Cellar Below!
As you venture down the stairs today, you may be taken in by a feeling of depression or melancholy. Others have even experienced light-headedness or an overwhelming sense of anxiety or a need to escape to the outside. Keep in mind that you are standing in the void caused by the removal of earth where soldier’s blood drained into the soil, where bodies were once entombed. This is a realm of those soldiers who may have been temporarily buried here, only to be exhumed years later and hauled away to another burial site. Or perhaps, it’s haunted by the unfortunate forgotten ones, who were thrown in a pit never to have the peace of a proper burial. Is it any wonder that voices are heard whispering in the darkened corners of the area? Voices of spirits wondering when they will be released from this seemingly eternal damnation. Voices asking if you are the one who has come to rescue them and lead them out of the darkness. Voices beckoning you to come closer and seek them out. Do you dare?
The Cellar Below (Part 2)
…Those who hear these ghostly voices should focus a little harder and maybe hear the cries of pain that still seem to emanate from the souls of those who suffered above in the field hospital. The screams must have been awful as arms and legs were being amputated without the aid of anesthesia or pain relievers. The crying and screaming do still echo today in this remote area, heard by those “lucky” enough to be at the right place at the right time.
There is a brick fireplace built into the South wall of the cellar and today it appears that some long gone resident is still building a fire for warmth or cooking. It may have been fifty years or more since that fireplace has been lit, but that doesn’t stop visitors from experiencing the aroma of wood burning or meat cooking. In this area as well, a ghost seems to be enjoying a cigarette even though there is “No Smoking” allowed.
So be prepared if you visit the Cellar Below. Prepared for a visit into an area where only the spirits know what they have prepared for you!
When the museum above is closed and secured for the evening, there is heard the footsteps, of someone from the other side, pacing on the floor above. Could it be the original owner? The woman who resided here from 1904 until her death in 1955? She may not be pleased that her once proud home has become a haven for visitors and tourists and is anxious to drive them out.
During an evening investigation in February 2006, a number of odd and unexplained events were experienced:
1) Lights were seen in various rooms flickering, while lights in adjoining rooms stayed on with a steady glow.
2) A variety of odors were encountered at different times lasting from a few seconds to minutes. Some of these scents were lilacs, coffee, cigars, cigarettes, roses and a pleasant masculine after shave aroma.
3) One investigator felt that she was touched a number of times.
4) Footsteps were heard on both the first and second floors as well as on the staircase.
5) Photos of “Orbs” were taken. (A form of ghostly energy caught on film.)
It was a unique evening in the Hall of Presidents and we encountered enough unexplainable events to say that the Hall is Haunted.
This concludes the first story in our series. Stop by next month for the first part of another story.
Ghostly Images Book Series Volume I, II & III can be purchased at Ghostly Images of Gettysburg, Gettysburg Tours and other fine locations throughout Gettysburg.
McCreary’s Unwelcomed Guest (Part 1)
On the South/East corner of Baltimore Street and LeFever Avenue you will find Alumni Park. Often, on warm summer evenings in the pleasant surroundings at the Park, a sudden chill passes through the visitors, sending a chill through the body and causing goose bumps to rise.
Visitors here are sometimes treated to a ghostly image of a Confederate soldier standing off in the distance watching, waiting and sometimes pacing anxiously back and forth. If you are brave enough to stay and watch this spirit, don’t be surprised if he starts to walk toward you. Be brave and hold your ground. He always vanishes before he reaches anyone.
This same spirit has been observed rising up out of the ground and then standing perfectly still, staring up toward the west. Some think he is looking into the large Sycamore tree but he is not! He is staring at the home of Samuel McCreary. You cannot see it because it no longer exists, but at the time of the battle, the two-story brick building stood on this property providing shelter to the McCreary family. It was identical to the Twin Sycamore building just across the street. Unfortunately, in 1951 it was demolished to make way for the entrance to the new school property to the east.
During the battle, Confederate sharpshooters from Louisiana were quite active firing at E. Cemetery Hill from positions in the house here at the south edge of town.
McCreary’s Unwelcomed Guest (Part 2)
On July 2, Cpl. William H. Poole (ninth LA) entered the McCreary residence and climbed the stairs to the second floor. He pushed a drop leaf table across a doorway that led out to the balcony on the south side of the home. Using the table top to steady his musket and feeling secure behind the leaf, he began the deadly chore of killing Yankees. It didn’t take long for a Minnie ball fired from up the hill to return the favor. The ball pierced the wooden leaf and entered the Rebels chest, killing him instantly.
The McCreary family was left with the dirty task that follows such an event. They wrapped Poole’s body in a quilt and buried him behind the house in their yard. After the hasty interment, the job of cleaning the blood from the table, floor and walls still had to be performed. The family spoke of their ordeal for years afterwards.
But what of Poole’s body, was it ever removed for proper burial down south? Does it remain today forgotten in the ground here at Gettysburg with the other eight hundred Confederate dead still missing around the town?
Perhaps the ghost of Cpl. Poole is trying to tell us something. Rising up from his burial plot and staring toward the house; toward the second story room where he spent the last sad seconds of his mortal life. Maybe he wonders why he used the wood table as a shield instead of the window where he would have been protected by brick.
A Thirst for Life (Part 1)
At the east base of Culp’s Hill, is a battlefield landmark known as “Spangler’s Spring.” During the battle, the area was occupied by both the Union Army (just South of the Spring) and the Confederates (one hundred yards to the North). Legend has it that during a lull in the fighting on the evening of the Second Day, Yanks and Rebs called a truce and shared the cool spring water and their tales of war. As dawn approached, they returned to their units and eventually continued to fight each other all over again.
During the summer months, the National Park Service allows re-enactors to set up camp in the area and educate the public with displays of army life. During the Summer of 2007, a father from Texas had left his wife and daughter at their motel and ventured out to the area with his two young sons. As the trio sat with other visitors listening to the presentation, the father began to get an occasional glimpse at two young Union soldiers in the area near the spring. They seemed to be relaxing while enjoying the water and their conversation. It was strange that the father kept losing sight of them for minutes at a time, only to spot them again back at the spring.
A Thirst for Life (Part 2)
When their visit with the re-enactors was finished, the father caught sight of the two soldiers again. He pointed them out to his boys and suggested that they stop and say hello. But that’s as close as they got to those two young men. As they walked toward the spring, one soldier, then the other seemed to vanish into the night. If you’ve ever been to the spring, you know that it’s out in the open with nowhere to hide. After searching the area, the father and sons were left to wonder what they had just experienced. They returned to their car with more than history to tell when they got back to the motel.
Could these be the same two lost soldiers who’ve been seen in Spangler’s Meadow or Pardee Field? Both of these areas are just a short walk from the spring and both hold their own stories of sightings of two Union Soldiers from the other side.
Night of Courage, Night of Cowards (Part 1)
On July second, 1863 Confederate soldiers from Louisiana made an evening attack just after dark, something rarely done during the Civil War. Their goal was to break the Union line on E. Cemetery Hill, cross Baltimore Pike and capture the Yankee position in Evergreen Cemetery. This accomplished, the Union Army would be split in two and defeated each in turn.
The Louisiana soldiers crossed over the ground behind the Jennie Wade House as they advanced toward their goal at the top of the hill. The rebel “yell” could clearly be heard as they drove the Yankees from the wall. The road was crossed and the cemetery captured. Victory would surely be theirs!
But where were their supporting comrades? The troops to the right and left flank had not advanced because of the darkness and the Louisiana “Tigers” desperately held their hard-fought soil.
Then slowly more and more Union soldiers appeared on the scene, being sent back from other parts of the battlefield. Without enough manpower to hold the position, they slowly fell back foot by foot, yard by yard. Back across the road, across the wall and down the slope. Confederate soldiers lay dead and dying on E. Cemetery Hill. If only they had a few more men, victory would have been theirs.
Back in the 1960’s, back when tours were less formal, other stories could still be told. It was only one hundred years after the battle and people who had talked to old veterans were still alive telling stories they had been told earlier in the century.
During this period a tale was told about the retreat of the Louisiana soldiers. It seems that as they slowly moved back down the hill from the stone wall, they had gone about two hundred yards when they came to a small group of five Confederate soldiers hiding in a grove of pine, tulip and locust trees. These men had begun the attack on E. Cemetery Hill but once the firing began, their bravery faltered and they chose to linger to the rear. Eventually they took shelter among the trees. Cowardly they lay low, hugging the ground, as their brave comrades advanced, some to their death. Imagine the anger and disgust of the brave troops returning from the fight, still thinking about how close victory had been, “If only we had a few more men.” Suddenly finding these five hiding soldiers, their contempt must have been out of control. No one will ever know how many shots were fired or by who, but in an instant, it is said that a few Louisiana soldiers lay dead.
Just behind the Holiday Inn is a grove of pine, tulip and locust trees roughly six hundred feet from the stone wall. It is very near the sight of that sad event. In that area is often felt the cold, damp air of death, even on warm summer nights. Cold spots seem to wander aimlessly through this grove. It is believed that the spirits of four soldiers are wandering restlessly searching perhaps for revenge.
Night of Courage, Night of Cowards (Part 2)
A story was told a few years ago by a family from North Carolina. They were spending a week in Gettysburg at the Holiday Inn on the third floor in a room facing East. The parents were in the room on the third night with their two-year and five-year-old girls when suddenly their ten-year-old daughter rushed into the room and excitedly reported that she had been watching four Confederate re-enactors in the woods behind the hotel. She said that as she looked on, she felt they were getting ready to put on some type of display. (It should be noted that this family attends many reenactments and the ten-year-old was already becoming a ‘Civil War buff’.)
After hearing the young girl’s story, the father said he decided to humor his daughter by going out to the rail to take a look. Nothing unusual was to be seen, but the girl insisted that it had happened. On the next night as they were all returning to the room after dinner, the father carried the two-year-old into the room. Mom escorted the five-year-old inside. The ten-year-old, still outside, was again treated to the same strange vision down on the ground below, but no one else was there to experience it with her.
On their fifth night at the hotel, the girl couldn’t stop thinking and talking about the strange sighting. She anxiously watched from the rail for ‘her’ vision to appear. After an hour of wondering what was going on in his little girl’s mind, the father asked his daughter if she would like to go down and explore the area. She rushed down the stairs with Dad to find ‘her’ four re-enactors. As they walked across the area several times, Mom watched from the rail above. Finally, just before the father was ready to give up, they both felt an extremely cold blast of air pass through them. The father said he felt goose bumps as a low pitch scream was heard in the distance on the Gettysburg Tours parking lot. As the two stared in that direction, they said they saw a ‘smoky figure’ roughly shaped like a man coming toward them. There, in what would have been a head, was a dark shadowy hole. They didn’t wait around to see what he wanted, the father picked up the girl and carried her safely up the stairs to the railing outside their room. Waiting for them was the girls’ mother who added to the story; while Dad caught his breath, Mom said that just minutes before she saw them begin to run, she had seen the vision of four soldiers wandering the area. But she hadn’t seen the smoky figure advancing toward her husband and daughter.
Why was that young girl and her family chosen to witness that scene from so many years ago? Young people seem to communicate with the other side much more often than adults. Their minds are open and clear. Older people close that portal as they age, choosing to block out belief in the unknown. So, if you have children or grandchildren, pay attention if they come to you with strange stories of sighting dead relatives or friends. Someone may be communicating from the other side trying to reach you, through the child.
Premature Entombment (Part 1)
Just recently (November 2007) I was given a story by two very excited sisters who were visiting the Jennie Wade House. They were spending the day in Gettysburg celebrating the sixty-fifth birthday of the older of the two. They had picked up a carryout lunch on Steinwehr Avenue and since it was such a beautiful day, they drove out to the picnic grove on West Confederate Avenue. As they sat facing each other enjoying their meal they commented on just how peaceful it was. There was only one other couple at the far end of the grove and even the birds were enjoying this “Indian Summer” day as they sang away.
Moments later the atmosphere changed as the birds fell silent and a sensation of anxiety swept through the women. The first sister was facing the parking lot while the other faced West toward the trees. As the two sat there staring at each other, the first said she felt a coldness putting pressure on her back, she was too afraid to turn around. The other sister looked past her companion and into the trees and to her amazement, only fifty feet away, there stood a man. Where could he have come from so fast? He was filthy dirty! Not dirty from sweat but dirty from soil. He was practically covered head to toe in dirt. He didn’t have a hat or shoes and what she saw of his clothing he appeared to be wearing a uniform.
Although fear was gripping her body, she called to her sister to turn around and look behind her. She turned just in time to see the image being sucked into the earth with such force that the ground seemed to shudder. Fortunately, they had just about finished eating and what they hadn’t finished was left on the table as they hurried back to their car.
Premature Entombment (Part 2)
Their story is similar to one told to me four years ago by a man from Maryland who had been out hiking the battlefield one fall afternoon. He was on Reynolds Avenue near where Gen. Reynolds was killed during the first days’ fighting. As he walked the fields, stopping to read each inscription on the monuments, he noticed the pungent aroma of what he thought was a rotting dead animal. He began to feel ill and lightheaded as the smell got stronger. He had to get away before he fainted so he turned to run back to his vehicle. But before he could take a step, he realized he was not alone. There, not thirty feet away, he saw an image that was so unbelievable he didn’t want to tell anyone – ever!
He was looking at a filthy dirty man partially buried in the ground before him. His left leg and left arm below the elbow could not be seen and appeared to be buried trapping him where he lay. The horrible vision lasted but a few seconds before it disappeared into the ground.
He had to tell someone, however, and after one of our Ghost Bus Tours, he picked me to hear his tale. I politely listened and was fascinated by what he had to tell. Although I’ll never know who he saw in the image, I explained that some soldiers were mistakenly buried alive.
Medicine was not what it is today and with so many traumatic deaths during the battle there is no doubt that some unfortunate soldiers were accidentally taken for dead and buried prematurely. Being buried alive was a very real fear up to the following century. With the lack of proper equipment and no embalming, mistakes were made.
There are cases where the dead were dug up for a variety of reasons and when the caskets were opened, they found evidence that the dead had returned to life. Fingers were worn down and bloody from clawing at the casket cover, knees were broken from kicking, desperately trying to escape, hair was pulled out and distorted facial features were found as if the dead were screaming for help.
Some of the rich tried to escape this terrifying death by planning an escape. They would be buried with a cord tied to their finger. The cord would be run through a tube to ground level where it would be attached to a bell. An attendant would be paid in advance to sit by the graveside and listen for the bell to ring. If it did, he would then eradicate the unfortunate soul. Because of this unique escape plan, we do have two expressions that live on today: “saved by the bell” and “A dead ringer”.
With the thought of such a horrible death implanted in the minds of that generation and then the reality of being buried alive on the battlefield, I can just imagine that these two hauntings are the result of “premature entombment!”