I parked at the park office for Hickory Run State Park and stepped out into the cool afternoon air. Zech and I prepared for a short walk to our destination of the day. Others were getting out of their vehicles, crossed the wooden bridge and disappeared into the forest following the Shades of Death Trail, but that was not why we were visiting the park that day. Instead, Zech and I crossed the road, stopped to take pictures of Hickory Run before we walked a short distance along the road and followed a trail up the hillside.
Hickory Run State Park, located a stone’s throw south of Interstate 80 at the western edge of the Pocono Mountains, attracts countless visitors each year who come to explore the natural features of the park. The park consists of 15,990 acres with more than forty-four miles of hiking trails for those seeking adventure. The most common destination for the adventurous is the large boulder field which was made a National Natural Landmark in 1967 and a State Park Natural Area in 1993.
The short trail ends at an old cemetery which rests beneath a canopy of pines – needles carpeted the ground hiding many of the broken stones. Despite the main road through the park being only feet away, the area seemed so quiet and peaceful. Many of the standing stones are weathered, broken, or missing altogether. Although the majority of the stones being in poor condition, I studied the stones of the pioneers who settled the area. At one time a stone wall surrounded this piece of sacred ground, but most of the wall has vanished with time though it does still exist in a couple places around the perimeter of the cemetery. As I studied the stones, one date immediately caught my attention – October 30, 1849. It was in the early morning hours of that morning a tragedy hit the region and would be the origin for one of the parks enduring legends.
The community of Hickory Run grew with the lumbering industry and at one point six saw mills existed along the creek. Floods in 1849 devastated the community and a fire in 1875 wiped out most of the remaining mills and destroyed acres of forest. Only a handful of buildings remain of the community including: the park office and the chapel, while other foundations can be spotted among the trees. The old cemetery remains hidden on the hillside overlooking Hickory Run.
Among the early settlers was Isaac Gould and his wife, Susan, who settled along Hickory Run about two miles above the town. They built a small cabin along the stream where they raised their seven children. Isaac made his living in the lumber industry and operated several saw mills in the area.
Upstream from the Gould home, another saw mill was being constructed and the dam for this mill was being built on loose rock and quicksand. Isaac had approached the Philadelphia owner and begged him to halt construction, but Gould’s pleas were ignored.
In October 1849, Gould’s fears were increased as a series of storms flooded the area. Weeks of rain had weakened the dam above the Gould home and on October 30th, tragedy struck.
Susan had spent the day at home with her children while Isaac was away on business. Elizabeth – who went by Lizzie – had spent the day running errands and arrived home on the evening of October 29. Lizzie brought terrifying news to her mother from town; many feared the dam located upstream from their home would not last the night. Despite those fears Susan remained at the house, putting the children to bed. As the children slept, Susan remained awake that night watching and listening for danger.
At four o’clock on the morning of October 30, Susan heard the noise she had dreaded. It started as a low rumble that grew louder and louder as it approached the house. Fear overcame her at the realization the dam had finally given away. A wall of water slammed into the Gould cabin with enough force the building was lifted off of its foundation and moved roughly five hundred feet downstream. The wall of water was high enough it completely submerged the one and a half story cabin.
Once the wall of water had passed, Susan managed to break a hole in the roof and got her children onto the roof where they called for help. Two mill hands arrived to help the family. All of the children were found safe, except one; Lizzie was missing. An initial search failed to find her.
Susan told the rescuers she could not find Lizzie, but claimed she could hear her calling out for her. Though none of the others could hear the phantom voice, the mill hands followed Susan and soon discovered Lizzie’s lifeless body beneath a pile of driftwood near the house.
Lizzie was not the only one who lost her life that evening. Winfield, the baby, would later die from overexposure to the cold that night. The town blacksmith, Jacob West, lost his wife, Elizabeth, and four of his children – Diana, Jacob, Ursula, and Scott – in the flood. The West family are buried under a simple stone located just a short distance from where lizzie was placed to rest.
Later investigation would prove that the dam collapsed due to being built on unstable ground. Isaac would sue the dam’s owners, but lost the case.
Although Lizzie was placed to rest in the sacred grounds of Hickory Run Cemetery, Legend claims she never found peace. Many have reported seeing the ghost of a young girl roaming the park. She has been spotted playing along the banks of Hickory Run and also in the forest surrounding the old cemetery. Some visitors have seen her walking along Route 534, which runs through the park. Others claim that on cold, rainy nights the sound of her crying can be heard.
But Lizzie may not be the only ghost haunting the park. Some have heard the sound of a woman’s voice calling out Lizzie’s name late at night. Could Susan’s ghost also be haunting the park searching for her daughter?
Zech and I finished paying our respects to the early settlers buried and carefully left the cemetery. We paused at the entrance to take one last look at the ancient stones standing along the carpet of pine needles, before we continued back down the hillside, leaving the sacred spot to the quiet of nature.
Note: Though we did not see Lizzie’s ghost that day, I did have something happen that would cause me to return to the park to photograph the cemetery a couple weeks after my first visit. When I arrived home from our visit, I started going through the pictures I had taken that day. Every single picture turned out clear and in detail, except the three close-up pictures of Lizzie’s grave. All three of them were out of focus. While I cannot say it was paranormal, I have a hard time figuring out why only three – the three of Lizzie’s grave – were the only ones of forty-some pictures of the cemetery did not take correctly. I personally believe it is something I had to have done while taking the pictures, but who knows – maybe Lizzie did not want her stone photographed that day.
If you choose to visit Lizzie’s grave and Hickory Run Cemetery, please use caution. The old stones are fragile and many broken stones are hidden in the carpet of pine needles.