Ghosts of the PA Wilds: Dark skies and headless ghosts
A lot of ghost stories come about through old legends, handed down through the generations. Some are further documented, with a certain amount of proof in the form of paperwork – obituaries, newspaper articles, and so on. And in the Dark Skies landscape of the PA Wilds, there’s a ghost that’s both. This one has old legends and modern documentation.
What it doesn’t have is a head.
The story begins with Hiram Cranmer. Cranmer was the postmaster in Leidy Township, Clinton County back in the mid-1900s, and he never met a paranormal story he didn’t love. He was always telling stories of ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and ancient legends, and he’d share these stories with anyone who seemed remotely interested.
In August of 1950, this included two staffers from the Lock Haven Express. Reporter Pete Stevenson and photographer Jim Patterson heard some of the stories Cranmer was telling, and they decided to go up and interview him. One interview rapidly turned into a very productive ghost hunt.
Cranmer told the two men about a French settler who found out where the Native Americans had a secret cave of silver. Interestingly, this is not the only legend of a silver cave in the area; it’s been well-documented that there may be silver in the north end of Clinton County. When the Frenchman attempted to steal some of the silver, he was caught and beheaded by the tribe, and now his headless spirit roams the area, looking for the lost head.
Stevenson and Patterson decided to go see for themselves. They rode up along Kettle Creek, and crossed the bridge, stopping at a small cemetery to keep an eye out. (The cemetery itself, founded in 1920, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the haunting; it’s just a convenient landmark.) They parked their car and waited.
“It was a chilly night,” Stevenson wrote later. “Mists swirled up from the creek, enveloping trees… The clock on the car dashboard read close to two AM.”
They sat and waited. Which, to be fair, is a lot of the method of paranormal investigation. Then, after a time, Patterson pointed and said, “Look! What’s that?”
The two men saw a “reddish-blue outline,” standing and wavering near the bridge. As they moved closer, they heard a “low, sickening moan.”
The figure moved, and they followed it. Along the road, as they trailed behind it, a film canister fell out of Patterson’s pocket, making a sound. The ghostly figure turned and approached them, and they ran back to the car.
They drove to the nearest town, found a sympathetic restaurant that was open late, and had a couple of drinks. (That is not part of paranormal investigation.) Once they’d calmed down, Patterson pointed out that nobody was going to believe it unless they had a photo.
Photo: The Headless Ghost article, courtesy of the Lock Haven Express
So they went back. The wind was blowing, and Stevenson’s hair kept getting in his eyes. He pulled out a comb to brush it back, and the headless figure appeared again – possibly in response to the sight of a comb, which the ghost itself couldn’t use.
“It groaned, low and mournful,” Stevenson wrote. “Then two arms raised toward us in a threat. Our eyes, running up and down its five foot height, fixed on its shoulders. There was no head.”
It moved toward the men, and Patterson lifted his camera and took a photo.
As the flash went off, “There was a scream, long and high.” And then the ghostly figure vanished.
The two men ran back to the car, and drove to Lock Haven. They went back to their offices at the Express, and wrote the story and developed the photo. And the whole story ran on the front page on August 12, 1950… photo included.
The headline was “Headless Ghost Still Roams in the Woods of Clinton County.”
“Well, the headless Frenchman of Kettle Creek can’t stand the sight of a comb,” Stevenson wrote. “It makes him mad.”
About the Ghost of the PA Wilds series:
“Ghosts of the PA Wilds” describes a series of ghost stories from the region written by historian Lou Bernard, who also revels in folklore and the paranormal. Each Monday of October, and leading right to Halloween, the PA Wilds Are Calling blog will feature a new ghost story to celebrate the spooktacular season upon us.
Know of another good PA Wilds ghost story worth investigating and sharing? Let us know in the comment section below!
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