Haunted Pennsylvania: In your lonely travels, beware of apparitions roaming the turnpike

By Stephanie Sigafoos, The Morning Call

Pennhurst State School and Hospital, located in Spring City, Pa. was built in 1908 to provide care for the “feeble-minded and epileptic.”  Eventually, it became an institution for mentally and physically disabled individuals living in Southeastern Pennsylvania. However, due to several years of controversy over its appalling conditions, the institution closed in 1987. Today, it is advertised as the Pennhurst Asylum for an annual Halloween event. Photo courtesy of roadtrippers.com

Think you’ve heard all the best ghost stories the region has to offer? Think again. They go far beyond a baby wailing at the site of the former King George Inn, ghostly forms roaming the halls of Hotel Bethlehem, or a missing hiker on the Appalachian Trail at Bake Oven Knob.

The Lehigh Valley and northeast Pennsylvania are full of fascinating ghost stories re-told each October by costumed guides during candlelit walking tours. Paranormal investigators add their own mystique with EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recordings and explanations of parapsychology.

Are you a believer? Even if you’re not, ghost lore is hugely popular and extends not just through the Commonwealth, but around the world.

Type the query “driving alone at night” into Google and the search engine will finish it with an unsettling two-word addendum: Driving alone at night horror stories.

Chances are, we’ve all had our own experiences navigating dark and winding roads in unfamiliar places. But — how many of us have had chance encounters with phantoms, bogeymen, and things that go bump in the night?

As far back as 1888, blood-curdling tales have emerged from travel on roads around the Lehigh Valley.

There was a bridge on the old Philadelphia Turnpike, a rudimentary path that wound its way out of Allentown, across South Mountain, and over a bridge where a weird and spectral appearance was often reported.

“It is the venerable, wooden shingled pile of old age that spans Trout Creek, near where the East Penn road whirls across the turnpike in the direction of Emaus,” an archived story says. The bridge occasionally “breaks a wagon, shakes up an old farmer and kills a cow or so.”

Ghosts that haunted the bridge seemed to have no fear of anything, the story said, not even the local aversion to water.

A farmer returning late from Allentown one evening reported seeing a procession of white horses march across the bridge, and later fell ill after returning through the area.

The horses, it turns out, were not the last animal spirits known to haunt that road. A horseshoer in South Bethlehem reported a tremendously large black dog stalking the bridge, stepping easily to the roof, and terrorizing all who came near.

Eventually, the bridge became a source of contention between Lehigh County and the City of Allentown. According to an archived story in The Morning Call, the bridge had been “in a miserable condition for years” and was considered an eye-sore.

“Many have been long fearful that some distressing accident will happen there,” the story read.

Later reports noted a “spook dog” walking with a “traveler” on the turnpike before both would hit a known point and mysteriously vanish. There were a dozen men who claimed to have encountered the dog, and others who believed it to be the materialized ghost of a murdered man.

“They confess they never pass the spot without a shudder, and hurry by as fast as they can. Women never pass the place at night, and many even make a wide detour to avoid it in daytime,” the story goes. Speaking of haunted turnpikes, the website Try To Scare Me has a fascinating history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, noting it was a railroad before it ever became a highway. That project was abandoned in 1885.

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