Real men don't fear ghosts - do they?

A haunted Gettysburg inn quivers with stories of the supernatural.

By Pete DiPrimio
February 7, 2005

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Real men sometimes sleep with a night light.

Is that so bad?

Ghosts sometimes do show themselves if you know where to look.

Does this sound farfetched?

Let me explain.

I am lying in a bed designed for Civil War-era comfort, which is appropriate considering this is a pre-Civil War-era room in a pre-Civil War-era bed and breakfast. Specifically, it is the Farnsworth House Inn of Battle of Gettysburg fame. It was once occupied by Confederate sharpshooters. It is currently occupied, if you believe in the supernatural, by at least 14 ghosts, seven of whom are regulars and one of whom is, well, not nice.

Hanging across from me on a 19th Century-styled wallpapered wall is an antique mirror framed by carved hardwood. It’s the kind of mirror that reflects this world and, if you have an active imagination, the next.

At this moment, with the clock ticking well past midnight, my imagination is off-the-charts active. It tells me to look into the mirror to see if something is looking back or if something is in bed with me ready to strike with beyond-the-grave force. There is nothing there, I tell myself with closed eyes, except my own reflection. Do not look. Do not be foolish. Go to sleep. But sleep doesn’t come and thoughts of what the mirror might reveal overpower. I open my eyes and see...

Hold that thought.

Here are a few facts. My 15-year-old, won’t-stop-texting son, Vince, and I have traveled from Bloomington, Indiana, on a ghost-hunting, history-enlightening quest to this famous south-central Pennsylvania town. We have brought a digital camera, a camcorder, a digital tape recorder and open minds. We have booked a ghost hunting tour and a couple of other ghostly expeditions as well as a battle-field tour. I have read the history of the Civil War-changing battle as well as the history of the 199-year-old Farnsworth House (its redbrick side is marked by more than a hundred bullet holes courtesy of Union soldiers trying to take out those Confederate sharpshooters). We have come because we know of its haunted reputation amidst Victorian elegance.

We are prepared, ready, engaged.

And then comes the first curveball.

We arrive at the inn to discover our room was changed from two single beds to one romantic queen-size bed. This won’t work. Another room is available, free of charge -- if we want it.

In most circumstances, this would be wonderful. For instance, I would not have to listen to the constant BEEP of Vince’s cell phone signaling yet another text message, or his rapid-fire (can a thumb REALLY move that fast) response. He could text -- even talk -- to his girlfriend in Dad-free peace.

But we are staying in a HAUNTED inn, one of the most HAUNTED places in America if you believe the Travel Channel. This is a place known for ghostly cats and ghostly children and ghostly Confederate soldiers and ghostly women and, oh, yes, that one nasty spirit. It has 10 bedrooms where things sometimes really do go bump in the night. It has a cellar with a coffin and a history of unexplained occurrences. It has an attic that, if you roll a ball along the wooden floor, something sometimes rolls it back.

Did we really want to sleep alone?

Yes, I could mention my concern to the inn people. I could say, “We are too scared to sleep alone.” I also could put on a pink dress, ask for a pacifier and give my son a wimpy example I could never live down.

We’ll do it, I say.

Cool, Vince says.

And then we hear the ghost stories. One involves Mary, perhaps a nurse during the Battle of Gettysburg. She appears to the smell of flowers. A guest once sprained his ankle. He wanted to take a tour of the battle field, but didn’t know if he could make it. He told a waitress at the inn’s restaurant that he suddenly felt tired. So he went to bed. The waitress noticed a floral smell around him as he left. The next day he was refreshed. His ankle was fine. He took the tour. Mary had healed again.

A guide tells us that once during a late-night tour in a supposedly haunted grove of woods at the base of Cemetery Hill (the scene of some of the fiercest fighting) a man appeared. He was dressed in a Confederate uniform. The guide assumed the man was dressed for a battle reenactment. The guide himself was dressed in 19th Century clothing. But the man never said a word. He walked through the group and everyone noticed the sudden chill despite the warm night. The man went into the woods. Some of the people tried to follow him, but he had disappeared.

Was it a re-enactor or a ghost?

Hold that thought.

I get the McFarland Room, a charming room well decorated with photos of dead people and paintings of cats and children that rates as one of the inn’s most haunted. Its rocking chair has been known to rock by itself. Recent guests wrote in a journal next to the bed that the alarm went off even though it hadn’t been turned on, that a woman was tapped on the shoulder by an unseen presence while lying in bed, that another woman felt pressure on her neck as if invisible hands were trying to strangle her, that a ghostly cat had run through the room and disappeared under the bed, that people heard unseen men whispering and an unseen child giggling, and watched coins move on their own.

Adding to the eeriness, we have just returned from a late-night ghost hunting tour -- it includes ghost stories and devices that can detect ghosts by measuring temperature, electromagnetic waves and magnetic waves (plus divining rods) -- in w hich the guide mentions that nasty spirit. At first, he only calls the ghost “W” because he says calling him by name might cause a chilling reaction.

Later, of course, he tells us the name -- Walter. He was a Confederate soldier who had received a “Dear John” letter, which left him bitter toward women. Then, he was shot and killed in the Farnsworth House, which left him REALLY bitter. All that negative energy was trapped inside the house. Sometimes it manifests itself toward women who invoke his name or provoke him.

For instance, Walter once threw a chair at a woman (her boyfriend caught it to prevent serious injury) who dared Walter to show himself. He shoved another woman’s head into a chair. He dislocated the guide’s wife’s shoulder just for saying Walter’s name.

So, I begin wondering, what if Walter can tell I’m THINKING his name. What if he’s in a bad mood, there aren’t any women staying in the inn and he has to go all Poltergeist on SOMEBODY.

So, yes, I leave on a couple of lights because if a ghost is going to play hardball with me, I’ll see it coming in time to play back. I’m not scared, you see. Just prudent.

And so I look into the mirror, check out every shadow, consider every noise. Nothing happens except I have a lousy night’s sleep.

Not so for Vince.

He stays in the Schultz Room across the second-floor hall. He says he twice has ghostly encounters. He insists he is not lying or imagining. Who knows? Perhaps a ghost, tired of Vince’s never-ending texting, pays him back.

Vince says he wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of a man’s moaning. In the morning he takes a shower. The backstop to the door is in place. When he gets out of the shower, the backstop has been removed and placed on a chair by his bed next to a stuffed cat. His room remains bolted shut from the inside so no one from the inn could have been playing a prank.

Eerie? You bet. Proof? Not quite. Still...

Here’s a final ghost story. We are on our last ghost-hunting excursion and the guide has a tale to tell. It seems a woman was on a late-night tour in that same wooded grove just below Cemetery Hill. She thought she saw a little girl in the darkness where no little girl should be. She took a picture with her digital camera. When she saw the picture, she screamed and ran back to the group.

“What’s wrong?” the guide asked.

“Look at this,” the woman said.

The image showed, not a picture of a girl, but of a dark shape hanging by a noose. The girl, it seemed, was a ghost. She had supposedly hanged herself in the woods and still haunts them and those who dare visit.

Night lights, anyone?

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