Carla J. Behr is a freelance writer who resides in NW Pennsylvania.
Old Ghost Stories
My grandfather loved to tell a ghost story and he was good at it. He passed this haunted tale on to his children and grandchildren. In written form, it may have gone something like this...
The Ghost of St. Michael’s Cemetery
St. Michael’s Church sits like nobility on a rural hillside. As a sentinel, a statue of the archangel himself stands above the threshold of the church guarding the devoted. Church history states, "Nearly one hundred ninety years ago, in Europe, personal freedoms were diminishing. In Germany, army conscription was on the horizon, and adventurous individuals were looking to the New World for a better way of life." The parish has grown and prospered since its humble beginning in 1836. But in the late 1800s, it held a spooky secret.
The Reverend John McEntee began his pastorate at St. Michael’s in February 1894. By July 1895, he would be dead, but his short time as a pastor would prove to be more valuable than any here or in the afterlife could imagine.
Father McEntee stayed in the brick rectory, which sat lower on the hill to the left of the large stone church. The cemetery was his side yard and reached up the hill beside the church and beyond. He ended his day like any other—at the kitchen table while Ambros, a weathered German man, laid a plate of spaetzle and currywurst before him and quietly exited the house. On this day, Father McEntee ate little. His ability to taste was leaving him in his later years, and he was tired. He ascended the stairs, changed into his nightclothes, and with Heini, his faithful shepherd sleeping on the braided rug beside him, he fell asleep with a rosary still dangling from his fingertips.
The Whistling and Crying in the Graveyard
In the middle of the night, something woke the old cleric. Heine was lifted up on the rug, his teeth bared, and a low growl vibrated under his fur. Someone was walking through the cemetery whistling a tune. The whistling was coming closer, and then there was a knock at the parsonage door. Father McEntee jumped up and put on his overcoat that lay across a trunk at the bottom of his bed. When he opened the door to the bedroom, Heine shot out and down the stairs. It must be a parishioner, thought the priest as he maneuvered the stairs.
Heine was already at the front door, waiting and growling. But before Father McEntee opened the door, he could hear a soulful weeping. The old priest threw open the door and vehemently searched the church grounds and the cemetery path. He could not see anyone. Perhaps they were ashamed and hiding. The priest knew that it took a great deal of effort to get the Germans to bare their souls in the confessional. He learned from these people that confession doesn’t always happen scheduled—it sometimes happens when someone breaks, and that could be anytime, anywhere. A field, a roadside, the deathbed. “Hello," the old priest called, “it is okay—you may come to me,”… but the wailing continued and began to fade into the tombstones, and soon the night was quiet.
“Come along, Heine,” the priest whispered. “We will sleep now.” Together they managed the stairs, and after a quick prayer for the disheartened soul who showed up that night, the two fell fast asleep.
Friday dawned early with spring in the air. Ambros cooked and set breakfast and was gone. Heine played among the tombstones and then followed the old priest into the sanctuary, where a quick rosary was said. Once outside again, the dog sniffed around the churchyard and pawed at a patch of soil. He waited on the porch of the school across the road where the Benedictine Sisters of Erie administered studies, and Father McEntee went that morning to greet and bless the students. He waited at the parsonage while the priest had lunch with the Young Ladies Sodality, and that evening after dinner, he waited again while the priest attended a meeting of the Knights of St. George.
Upon arriving back at the parsonage, Father McEntee shared a hard biscuit with Heine, and they turned in for the night.
And somewhere in the middle of the night, the priest bolted up in bed searching for Heine, who stood growling by the bedroom door. And then came the familiar whistling from the night before. The priest grabbed his overcoat and made his way downstairs, and again a knock came before he was at the door. It startled him, and he hesitated a moment before opening the door. But there, in the cool night air, nobody could be seen. And when the wailing started again, the priest followed the sound down the path to the cemetery, and though he heard, he still could not see. And it was in that moment that he tipped his head toward heaven and a single thought entered his mind; Ghost! As if the wooden structure could keep a spirit out, he slammed the door and put his back up against it. Heine was cowering before him. The priest fumbled in his coat pocket for a rosary and spent the night sitting in the living room by a dimming fireplace, wide awake and praying.
In the morning, he quickly dressed, grabbed his old bible, and with Heine by his side, made his way in the chilly morning hours to the church, where he prostrated himself before the tabernacle in prayer. And when he finally rose, slowly and painfully, he was sweating under his overcoat. As the next day was Sunday, his only goal for the day was to prepare for mass. Not wanting to leave the protection of the Blessed Sacrament, he positioned himself in the front pew, studying and praying far into the morning and afternoon. Never in all his years of service to God had Father McEntee ever come close to such an experience. He had heard of such things as spirits and devils but never had he faced anything like it before, and he was frightened.
And as shadows began to fall across the church's stained glass windows, the priest was drawn to reread the second reading, which was a letter of St Paul to the Philippians. “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,” And the words on the page of the faded old bible seemed to bold themselves, "...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” The old priest slammed the book, which woke Heine, who had been sleeping in the vestibule, and together they hurried back to the rectory in the fading light of day.
Cook had prepared breakfast and lunch, set it and taken it away, and left dinner on the table by the time the cleric returned to the rectory. Father McEntee ate little from his plate and then lifted it from the table to a waiting Heine. Then he positioned himself beside the fireplace, first adding new logs and stoking the flame. Somewhere into his Gethsemane watch, his flesh betrayed him, and he fell asleep. But he was sharp awake, holding Heine by his muzzle, hushing the shepherd, and praying quietly aloud when the whistling started.
"Saint Michael the Archangel,” the whistling came from low in the cemetery, “defend us in battle.” Slowly it grew louder. “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” The closer it came, the stronger it was. “May God rebuke him, we humbly pray." And the sound was coming down the path that led to the rectory. “And do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host by the Divine Power of God," and just within feet of the parsonage door, “cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits," there was a knock at the door. The old priest was there now and put his hand to the knob, ”who roam throughout the world,” and he opened the door and shouted out the final line, “Seeking the ruin of the souls!!” And no person was there and the wailing started back up over the hill toward the cemetery when the old priest pulled out his last and final arsenal, “In the name of Jesus Christ, who are you?”
And immediately, the wailing stopped. There was a brief pause, and then a distraught voice called back, “I am the ghost of Father Deckenbrode, I owe the cook $200 and St. Peter will not let me into heaven until the money is paid." Then the wailing began again and faded as the entity made its way deeper into the rows of tombstones and was gone.
The old priest, sweating, slammed the door. He was both frightened and victorious, but now at least, he knew his visitor. The question now was—where would he get $200?
He summoned Heine and, exhausted, climbed the stairs to bed.
The next day the old cleric took the pulpit and preached like he had never preached before. He elaborated on the name of Jesus, the power in the name and strength of God to send his archangels when all the terrors of hell stood at the door. And as he finished celebrating the mass crowded with German immigrants, mostly farmers, he worried again about the money.
So with his most passionate plea, he beseeched the people to give only for a “special intention” using the word “desperate” to make his point. He did not want to scare the people, telling them they had a displaced spirit of a former priest roaming their beloved church grounds.
After mass, the church treasurer handed him a basket full of money, “$201.11, Father” —he said with a gleam in his eye.
The priest changed his vestments and went straight to the parsonage. Cook had already set the noon meal and was removing his apron when the old priest set the basket on the table. “This will make right Father Deckenbrode’s debt.” The cook looked startled. He opened his mouth to speak but then closed it as if he decided against what he was about to say. He gathered up the basket and left, glancing one final time to nod at the priest before exiting the kitchen.
Rest in Peace
That afternoon Father McEntee took Heine for a walk. He wondered why Father Deckenbrode had borrowed the money from the cook. Many unanswered questions laid to rest right here. The old priest had found what he was looking for—the grave of Father Deckenbrode. He reached down and scratched at Henie’s head as he prayed, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the soul of this faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. Rest in peace, Father Deckenbrode, may you rest in peace.”
That night, St. Michael’s grounds were quiet. Never again did Father McEntee hear the whistling and crying of Father Deckenbrode, the cemetery ghost.
Note the rectory to the left of the church, the statue of St. Michael above the door entrances and the cemetery to the left of the church behind the rectory.
© 2013 Carla J Swick
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 19, 2016:
Thank you for sharing, Judy
Judy on January 14, 2016:
Great story! My grandparents lived next to a cemetery & as a child when I visited overnight my grandmother would tell me ghost stories at bedtime from when she was a child. Loved those visits & always loved a good ghost story.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on December 04, 2015:
Thank you for sharing, Andy! Yes, I love Fryburg - very fond memories as well.
Andy Schrecengost on December 04, 2015:
My grandparents owned the house to the left of the rectory. My Dad and his 8 siblings grew up there. They say they never heard anything or any stories. As a kid though, I was always a little creeped out about the cemetery being right there when we'd go to bed at night when visiting. I miss this area terribly now. It's a gorgeous place that I only learned to really appreciate as an adult. Great story!!
Paul Perry from Los Angeles on April 29, 2013:
Laura L Scotty from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 03, 2013:
I awoke to read this one in the middle of the night. Great tale with a happy ending.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 23, 2013:
Laura Tykarski from Pittsburgh PA on January 23, 2013:
I loved this , nothing beats a good ghost story right before I head off to bed. I am looking forward to reading more of your hubs. Voted up and interesting.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 23, 2013:
Thanks Anna Marie - I love this story as well and it was a pleasure telling it.
Anna Marie Bowman from Florida on January 23, 2013:
A fantastic story!! I am sure you have done your grandfather proud!! I love a good ghost story, and especially one that has a rather happy ending.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 22, 2013:
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 22, 2013:
Voted up and interesting. Thanks for sharing this spooky and fascinating story.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on January 21, 2013:
I thought the same thing - it must have been his entire life savings. Of course, I am not sure how many offerings it really took to raise the money, but I like to think like the loaves and fishes, that something divine took place. Thanks for sharing.
William R Vitanyi from Edinboro, Pennsylvania on January 20, 2013:
Back then $200 was a lot of money. I wonder where the original cook got it.