Phantoms of Philadelphia Oct 21, 2014 17:19:04 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 21, 2014 17:19:04 GMT -5
Phantoms of Philadelphia
A plethora of phantoms haunt the City of Brotherly Love, where Americans declared their independence and conceived a nation. It is also the city where the country’s first hospital, public library and penitentiary were established. And it seems some of those responsible for all this history are reluctant to leave.
Among the most famous specters in this “city of firsts” is that of Benjamin Franklin, a great innovator himself, who appeared to a cleaning woman early one morning in 1884 at the American Philosophical Society. As the story goes, the young woman was setting out her pails and brushes when she was bowled over by one of the Society’s members as he rushed toward a bookshelf. He was an old gent, mostly bald, but with a fringe of grey hair that curled down over a collar that was as old-fashioned as his hose and knee breeches. Tiny, wire-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of his round nose and he carried a huge stack of books in his arms. The lady was astonished, not because Benjamin Franklin, who had just knocked her over, had been dead and buried for a good many years, but because he did not stop to apologize. She and her mother, who both encountered Mr. Franklin’s ghost frequently, agreed his manners were usually impeccable. This incident, reported in an 1884 issue of the Philadelphia Press that attested to the upstanding character of the women who related it, is one of the most famous of the Franklin sightings at the Society’s library, which still stands near Independence hall on the south side of 5th Street between Chestnut and Walnut streets. The library is open only to members, but visitors often admire its exterior – and ponder the statue of Franklin standing above the door. In the 19th century, there were tales that the statue detached itself from its base from time to time and danced through the streets.
A Spirited Seamstress. Betsy Ross is thought to linger, too, haunting her old home – the Betsy Ross House (above) – at 239 Arch Street in the Old City district, not far from Independence Hall. Some historians now question whether the nation’s most famous seamstress did, in fact, sew the first American flag – or whether, for that matter, she actually lived at the Arch Street house that is now a museum and her memorial. But all agree she is buried there. As to whether she is still about, some have reported seeing her sitting at the foot of her bed, weeping. Museum employees also claim to have heard strange whispers coming from the basement of the house, however, some speculate shades more modern than Betsy’s are the culprits. They suggest the whispering specter might be the spirit of Charles H. Weisberger, founder of the Betsy Ross Memorial Association and one-time resident of the house. Others speculate the whisperer is the ghost of a gift shop employee who was shot by a former security guard and left to die in the basement.
While Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross are among the most renowned Revolutionary-era ghosts, others from that passionate period remain anonymous, although many are associated with well-known sites. The most famous location of all is, of course, the Liberty Bell’s former domicile, Independence Hall, which stands across the street from the American Philosophical Library that Franklin is presumed to haunt. While National Park Service officials do not often talk about it, phantoms are rumored to wander the first floor of the Hall’s central clock tower. One evening, a park ranger about to close up for the night heard the building’s security alarm. Checking the tower, he saw a man clad in a fancy coat, breeches and stockings and assuming he was a reenactor, was about to ask what he was doing on the premises after hours when the figure vanished before his eyes.
Lafayette in Society Hill. More Revolutionary ghosts, famous and nameless, are said to haunt the Society Hill area just south of Independence Hall. One of these may be the spirit of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette. Despite his aristocratic origins, the young French nobleman was a passionate revolutionary and anti-monarchist. He traveled from France to America in 1777 to join the colonists’ fight against the British Crown and became a close friend to General George Washington. Lafayette would also play a role in his own country’s revolution in 1789. Perhaps his love of liberty explains his long-standing attachment to Philadelphia, for although he died in 1834 and was buried in Paris, there are those who believe he haunts Philadelphia still.
In 1965, the respected historian Edwin Courant Moore reported seeing Lafayette as one of several spirits in the shapes of Continental Army officers, clad in blue, walking up the stairs of the Powel House (above), the former home of one of Philadelphia’s early mayors and now a well-known tourist attraction. The Powel House seems to hold other shades as well. Moore’s wife claimed to have come upon a young lady wearing a beige and lavender dress sitting in the drawing room fanning herself and as she [Mrs. Moore] was about to speak to her visitor, the apparition smiled at her and slowly faded from sight.
Phantom Felons. Philadelphia’s 18th century assortment of spirits appears to include villains as well as heroes: Carpenter’s Hall, for instance, is said to be haunted by the nation’s first bank robbers. The Hall, in the center of Independence National Park, was the meeting place of the First Continental Congress in 1774. Although actual sightings of spirits have been rare, strange sounds, smells and other manifestations are common. Loud banging noises have been heard on the third floor, but when the racket is investigated, the source cannot be determined. A powerful stench is said to emanate from the same area and members of staff have told of seeing what appear to be footprints in the dust in areas where no one has been walking – no one living, that is.
Some investigators link the weird occurrences to a robbery that took place September 1, 1798, when two men entered The Bank of Pennsylvania, then located on the first floor of Carpenter’s Hall, and at gunpoint, demanded exactly $162,821.16 in cash. One of the robbers is believed to have been a man named Tom Cunningham, who had a room on the third floor of the very same building. Police arrested him, but for reasons that have never been entirely clear, he was released after a few days. If Cunningham did, in fact, elude justice, he did not escape punishment. Not long after the robbery, he contracted yellow fever and died in his rented room above the bank. It was shortly thereafter that witnesses began reporting strange noises coming from what had been his room.
Graves of Washington Square. One of Philadelphia’s most enduring ghosts haunts the fashionable pathways of Washington Square. Now the center of an upscale neighborhood, the Square was once the site of mass graves, where an estimated 4,000 bodies were buried, approximately half of which were Revolutionary War soldiers. Of the remainder, many were the unidentified dead or those whose families were too poor to afford a proper burial. At one time, a macabre trade centered on the potter’s field in the Square. Unscrupulous men would dig up bodies for doctors and medical students in need of cadavers. There was no one to protect the nameless and indigent dead against such predations until a Quaker woman, remembered only as Leah, began to patrol the Square at night, and her mere presence scared away the body snatchers. Even after she died, there were those who claimed she wandered the graveyard in spectral form, and it is said that even now, her wraith is occasionally spotted gliding about the Square in the pale light of the moon.
Spirits in Solitary. If Washington Square was once a symbol of suffering, Eastern State Penitentiary (above) remains so to this day. The old prison on Fairmount Avenue, between 20th and 22nd streets, was the first of its kind in the newly formed nation and has always been a bit creepy. Back in the early 1970s, just before it closed, guards would shiver slightly when they were forced to walk alone along its dim, crumbling corridors.
Nonetheless, in its prime during the 1800s, Eastern State was considered a model institution and its pioneering method of keeping inmates in solitary confinement to ponder and repent their sins was hailed by many as enlightened. But even then, the place that added the word “penitentiary” to the language disturbed some people. Charles Dickens thought its isolation of prisoners barbaric: “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers,” he wrote. “There is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature.”
If the tales are to be believed, some of these poor wretches and the men who watched over them may still be serving endless sentences. Since the prison reopened as a historic monument, a number of ghosts have been reported. Sean Kelley, program director at Eastern State, recalls hearing of a ghostly guard in one of the prison’s abandoned towers. The witness distinctly saw the guard waving at him through the tower glass, but when he looked up again, he realized the guard could not have been there for the tower had been abandoned for several years. Additionally, a locksmith working on the penitentiary’s restoration reported having been caught up in something of a supernatural maelstrom while alone one evening in the prison’s exercise yard. While attempting to unlock a door to the yard, he watched in horror as rocks in the walls began to glow and spectral figures and faces appeared.
William Penn’s Garden. Tourists disturbed by visiting the most horrific of Philadelphia’s haunted sites might seek serenity in one of its loveliest locations: the beautiful garden behind the nation’s first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, at 9th and Pine streets. Fittingly, the presiding specter there is a ghost, who in life, predated by a century the turmoil of revolution and war. He is William Penn, the city’s founder. Penn’s statute in the hospital garden, though not as famous or nearly as large as the Penn statue atop City Hall, has the advantage, or so it is said, of being mobile. Rumors have long circulated that on some evenings just as the clock strikes 6, Mr. Penn takes to strolling the streets. If true, one can only wonder what the old Quaker thinks of the city now and what other famous shades might join him in his ghostly perambulations.
Ghosts Afloat. Moshulu is a floating restaurant moored permanently at Pier 34 in Philadelphia’s Delaware River port. With her dark wood exterior and handsome dining room, the four-masted vessel is a romantic place to eat. But diners at Moshulu sometimes get more than a meal – they are treated to a visit from another world. In her time, Moshulu was a grand sailing ship. Considered one of the fasted cargo transports of her type, she made 54 passes around Cape Horn ferrying grain, coal, copper ore, lumber and other goods from one side of the world to the other. In 1939, she won an international race sailing from Australia to England. But she knew tragedy as well as glory. From her launch in 1904 until she was retired in 1940, 28 of her crewmen lost their lives on the high seas.
Strangely enough, present-day crew members and restaurant patrons have heard what sounds like voices murmuring in the ship’s rigging, just where one might expect to find the ghosts of dead sailors. Of course, an old ship rocking gently on the river might well creak and groan, but those who have heard the eerie whispers insist these are spectral voices. Additional spirits walk below deck. The staff regularly snuffs out the restaurant lanterns at evening’s end, but on occasion, they are discovered burning the following morning. Some employees working after hours claim to have seen the lanterns begin to glow spontaneously, as if lit by unseen hands. At one point, members of the ship’s cleaning crew found the self-lighting lanterns so unnerving they asked to have their shifts changed so they could begin work before everyone else went home.
Haunted Fort. On the banks of the Delaware River next to Philadelphia International Airport, stands Fort Mifflin (above), where American revolutionaries fought the British during the darkest period of the War of Independence. For six weeks in the fall of 1777, the Redcoats bombarded the fort and demoralized the American contingent. At one point, the invaders delivered up to 1,000 cannonballs a day. “I endured hardships sufficient to kill half a dozen horses,” Pvt. Joseph Plumb Martin of the Continental Army wrote, “our men were cut up like corn stalks.” Four hundred Revolutionaries – an estimated 70 percent of the garrison – died during the ordeal. Perhaps it is one of those young American soldiers whom modern-day visitors to Fort Mifflin have seen hanging about near the artillery shed. Witnesses report spotting a callow, confused-looking soldier with an old-fashioned musket in hand apparently awaiting orders that will never come.
Other Mifflin specters relate to different periods in the history of the fort, which later served as a Civil War prison. One of the better-known is the “screaming woman,” a middle-aged lady in late 18th-century attire, reported in the officers’ quarters. Some say she is the spirit of Elizabeth Pratt and she screams out of terrible sadness because her estranged daughter died of dysentery before the two could reconcile. Distraught, Mrs. Pratt committed suicide shortly thereafter and still weeps, eternally desperate, but unable to make amends. Other visitors have spotted the apparition of a man lighting oil lamps in the barracks. A medium who walked through the fort claimed the ghost was a lamplighter named Joseph Adkins. Several other phantoms reputedly haunt the casements, including a shadowy figure who sits in a corner sewing, sometimes revealing, as he turns toward visitors, the total lack of a face beneath his crumpled hat.
Sources: Mark Brewin, Discovery Travel; and Haunted Philadelphia.