Ghosts of the PA Wilds: The Haunted Portrait
In Williamsport, on the southern edge of the Pine Creek Valley & PA Grand Canyon landscape of the Pennsylvania Wilds, the Taber Museum is at 858 West Fourth Street. This is home to the Lycoming County Historical Society. It’s also home to a variety of artifacts, which can be seen upon entering the museum.
One of them is the portrait of Nellie Tallman.
You might not think much of the portrait if you saw it. A painted artwork in an oval, gold frame, it shows a little girl. Cute, chubby, she poses with a serious expression. You’d take a glance at it, and then walk right past.
Unless you knew the story.
Nellie Tallman, a young girl from Williamsport, is believed to be haunting the museum—Specifically, that painting.
Nellie T. Tallman was born on August 16, 1867, the daughter of John and Louisa Tallman of Williamsport. Nellie and her family lived at 122 Market Street, according to the 1870 Williamsport City Directory. Their home isn’t standing these days — there’s a church there now.
John Tallman wanted to study art, so he took lessons from Severin Roesen, an artist who lived in Williamsport from 1860 to 1872. Roesen went on to become very famous; some of his paintings hang in the White House today. Tallman was studying under him and learning from him.
As practice, he decided to paint a portrait of his beloved daughter, Nellie. And then tragedy struck.
On December 5, 1870, while sitting on a stool and posing, three-year-old Nellie fell off the stool, hit her head, and died of her injuries.
She was buried in Wildwood Cemetery. Her grieving father chose to complete the painting, and hung it on the wall of his home. But, according to legend, it wouldn’t stay. No matter where he tried hanging it, it fell off, as if knocked down by a playful ghost.
Tallman finally placed it in the attic, and it stayed there for decades.
Many years later, descendants of the Tallmans decided to sell the home. They gave the painting to the Taber Museum. And you’d think the whole thing might be over at that point, but no. The weirdness continued, almost immediately.
Nellie’s portrait was placed on display. The very first night, it went down again in the most dramatic way possible. A car lost control and crashed through the front door of the museum. The portrait was knocked to the floor.
It was picked up and restored, and then hung in the Victorian Parlor portion of the museum. Where, of course, it refused to stay. It became part of the closing routine to check and make sure Nellie’s portrait was still where they’d left it; staff checked every night. Knowing that the portrait was safe, and that the building is alarmed, they would lock up and leave.
And every morning, Nellie’s portrait would be off the wall and on the sofa nearby.
The speculation was that Nellie’s ghost still watched over the portrait. Playing? Acting out? Nobody knew for sure. Finally, the portrait was hung up across from a painting by Severin Roesen. Remember him? He was the famous artist teaching Nellie’s father to paint in the first place. And Nellie seems to be comforted by that. The painting has consistently stayed on the wall ever since, hanging where it was placed.
It’s still there today, available for everyone to view. In fact, the museum sells a postcard of the portrait in its gift shop, with Nellie’s story on the back. The Taber museum has plenty to see and learn…. And if you’re interested, stop by and get a look at the painting, perhaps still haunted by a little girl who died too young.
“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 Thursday 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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