Whispers From the Past: A Ghost Walk in Gettysburg
Welcome to the Tour
This is my second article about the town of Gettysburg, which is now starting to come down off of its tourism-high that usually starts in June of every year. This is when the attractions of Gettysburg are most popular, because throughout these summer months—and especially in July—the fighting on its battlefields was some of the worst of the war.
It is one thing to wander about Gettysburg on your own, and quite another to join a walking ghost tour that takes you to the most haunted attractions in town. I chose to participate in the latter of these activities and I walked away with a wealth of stories to share.
The ghost walk that I participated in took place on a recent summer evening. Our group consisted of about seven people, including a few children, and all of us were equipped with EVP meters. For you non-ghost hunting readers, an EVP meter is said to measure supernatural energy levels. The acronym stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena, and these devices are reputed to react in the presence of ghostly energy.
Our tour guide was a young man dressed in period wear. He was a college student and it was very obvious that he was well-educated in his craft. But what was really convincing was the fact that he actually believed what he was saying. This might have been a trade secret, and my skeptic mind wasn't fooled by his enthusiastic words.
Beneath the Streets
There was one story from that evening that has still remained with me several days later. It was tragic and entirely believable. Our tour guide knew the facts of this tale well and I found myself to be legitimately spooked after bearing witness to it.
As we were walking along the cobblestone back alleys of Gettysburg, one of the children in our group moved to the side of the street where he was poised to walk over a storm drain. Our dashing young guide saw this action, and shouted, "Back over here! We don't walk near the storm drains!"
This scared some of the life out of this child, but the guide proceeded to stop our group and explain the sudden elevation in his otherwise soft-spoken voice. The synopsis that follows is what I can recall about the tale he told.
Sometime during the summer of 1863, in the dog days of a hot and dry season, Union soldiers were encamped in the lower fields awaiting the arrival of the Confederates. At this point, there were already several units of Confederate soldiers inside of the town, but the majority of their numbers still remained in formation as they pushed forward to the Union's trenches.
Several days before news of the Confederates' progress arrived, the Union soldiers there began to dig trenches in the valleys of the fields. This would enable them to maintain a more advantageous position as the Confederates rolled over the bottom of the fields. The trenches were several feet deep- deep enough to hide everything except for the first few inches of a standing man- and their walls consisted of the solid, packed clay that Pennsylvania is almost famous for.
As they waited, the days grew hotter and supplies became scarcer. The Union was unable to run food and medical supplies to their position due to the danger of interception by Confederate troops. Day by day, the men grew hungrier and their wounds from previous skirmishes began to fester. By the end of June, they were defenseless and unable to fight.
Then, at the height of the day, the rains came. And they continued to come, in a deluge of much-needed hydration and relief.
At first, the encamped soldiers welcomed the rain. But eventually, and to their horror, they began to realize that the rain spelled their doom.
Clay does not absorb water like other types of earth does. Instead, water slides off of the clay and collects elsewhere. It becomes slippery and eventually collapses onto itself. And during this deluge, the rainwater collected in the bottom of the trenches, collapsing the walls of the trenches from the bottom up. At the top of the tunnels, the clay earth slid down, trapping the men's boots as they attempted to climb up the sides.
The water easily slid off of the dry and dusty earth, flooding the tunnels with the men still inside. A flash flood barreled through, pinning the men down inside until they drowned. There were not very many soldiers who were able to survive the water.
And, according to our tour guide, the souls of the men who perished live beneath the streets, in the water that pools from the storm drains. And, on several occasions, people walking these streets in Gettysburg have been grabbed by hands that come from inside of the storm drains, hands belonging to the dead soldiers who still haunt the waters beneath the town.
The Most Haunted House in Gettysburg
Another stop on our tour, the Jennie Wade House is widely considered to be the most haunted location in all of Gettysburg. It was here, in 1863, that the only non-military civilian was killed in her sister's home by a lone Confederate sniper.
Jennie Wade was 20-years old and engaged to be married to a Union soldier when the Confederates began to move into the town. She was in the kitchen, kneading dough for bread that would then be baked and given to the Union soldiers encamped in town. And as she stood kneading, a bullet from a Confederate sniper entered through a door and hit Jennie in the back, killing her instantly.
Her body was carried to the cellar by Federal soldiers where it rested until a coffin could be found. Her family members mourned her here, and Union soldiers paid their respects to her as well. And now, some visitors to the Jennie Wade house claim that she still walks the hallways of her sister's house, sometimes crying in the night, the smell of her perfume lingering behind her.
The video to the right further details the hauntings at Gettysburg, including those at the Jennie Wade house and other notable locations.
A Spirited Bed and Breakfast
The Farnsworth House, a bed and breakfast, was once a hub for activity during the war. It served as a shelter for snipers who hid in the attic of the inn and shot at enemies who were stationed on the nearby Cemetary Hill.
The inn remains in its original condition and visitors can observe as many as 100 bullet holes riddled throughout the building, lodged in its walls.
This was the only place during the ghost tour that any of us were able to document a reaction to our EVP devices. Mine went off almost immediately as we entered the parking lot for the inn.
People have claimed that music can be heard from within the building, as well as footsteps and visions of a woman dressed in period wear. Some people who have stayed at the inn have even claimed that as they slept, they sensed a presence standing at the edge of their beds.
The device's reaction was unmistakable as we stood in the lot near the side entrance for the inn. On several occasions, the light would flicker and then would grow stronger as I moved closer to the building.
I am not sure what the inside is like, but I can almost guarantee that the Farnsworth is a little bit more un-lively inside than the other inns scattered throughout town!
The Devil, His Den, and the Triangle
Two of the most popular attractions located on the battlefields are Devil's Den and the Triangle. Some of the most brutal fighting occurred here, and the echoes from the soldiers who lost their lives still echo throughout the otherwise peaceful scene.
The Triangle is located quite close to Devil's Den, and both were highly contested by Union and Confederate soldiers due to their advantageous terrain.
For those of you who have not visited, Devil's Den is an outcrop of large rocks and the Triangle is the field directly behind them. So, these two locations most likely served as the perfect spot for a sniper to hunker down for most of the fighting that took place here.
We did not visit these actual places while on the tour, but we did discuss them. Apparently, many of the tourists who visit Gettysburg have heard of both Devil's Den and the Triangle. They seem to be quite popular and in local ghost lore, they have more than one reason to be.
Visitors to these places have reported strange occurrences: camera equipment malfunctioning; the sounds of drums and the smell of horse manure; whispering voices; and perhaps the most frightening of all, the appearance that invisible people are sliding through the tall grasses, flattening them as they go along.
The Triangle is probably one of the only places in all of Gettysburg in which I feel strangely uncomfortable. According to the locals, the outcrop of rocks at Devil's Den have been there for hundreds of years and the area in which it is located was once populated by Native Americans. For some reason, it has been documented by local historians that the natives did not venture near these rocks. In fact, they disliked the formation so much that they deemed it a place of the Devil and kept their business limited in that part of the field.
Now, if the Native Americans believe something is wrong with Devil's Den and the Triangle field, I for one believe them.
Other Places of Ghostly Interest
The Bloody Wheatfield
Much akin to the bloody fighting that took place near Devil's Den, the Bloody Wheatfield was the stage for some pretty heavy warfare. Located at the edge of the Rose Farm, Union and Confederate troops clashed here during one of the infamous skirmishes, leaving the wheat splattered with blood.
The Henry Culp Farm
Located several miles away from the heart of the battlefields, the Henry Culp Farm was rumored to have served as a hospital for wounded soldiers. John Wesley Culp, nephew to the owner of the farm Henry Culp, enlisted with the 2nd Virginia Infantry after the war broke out. He traveled to Gettysburg and was involved with the fighting there. He was able to visit his family at the Henry Culp Farm on a few occasions.
Unfortunately, he was killed in action; the exact date of his death has been disputed. His sisters apparently retrieved his body from the battlefield and buried it in the basement of the Culp Farm, where modern visitors have heard the sounds of whispers and footsteps echoing from below.
Little Round Top
A site of another battle between the two forces. Ghost sightings have been reported from this area even before the battle began, with soldiers from the 20th Maine division claiming that a mounted figure helped them navigate an unfamiliar fork in the road. Now, visitors have reported that a headless horseman can be seen at Little Round Top as well as the wandering spirits of several haggard-looking Union soldiers.
Do you think Gettysburg is haunted?
© 2013 Jennifer