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’s 15,990 acres has more than forty-four miles of hiking trails for those seeking adventure. The most common destination in the park is the large boulder field which became a National Natural Landmark in 1967 and a State Park Natural Area in 1993.
But I wasn’t here to explore the boulder field on this trip.
I parked at the office and stepped out into the cool afternoon air. While others who were parked in the lot crossed the wooden bridge and hiked along the Shades of Death Trail, Zech and I crossed the road, pausing long enough to take some pictures of Hickory Run before walking up the trail that led to the old cemetery.
The cemetery rests beneath a canopy of pines – needles carpet 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. Despite the stones being in poor condition overall, I studied the stones of those pioneers who originally 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.
Studying the stones, one date immediately caught my attention – October 30, 1849. It was the tragic event that happened in those early morning hours that is the origin for one of the parks enduring stories.
The community of Hickory Run grew with the lumbering industry and at one point six saw mills existed on 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 from the time the community existed and these include the present park office and the chapel – other foundations can be spotted among the trees. The old cemetery remains hidden on the hillside overlooking Hickory Run.
One of the early settlers in the area was Isaac Gould. Isaac and his wife, Susan, settled along Hickory Run about two miles above the town of the same name. They built a small cabin along the stream where they raised their seven children. Isaac made his living in the lumber industry and had 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 top of loose rock and quicksand. Isaac had approached the Philadelphia owner begging for him to halt construction, but Gould’s pleas were ignored.
In October of 1849, Gould’s fears were increased as a series of storms flooded the area. Weeks of rain had weakened the dam even more and on October 30th, tragedy struck.
Susan had spent the day at home with four of her children: Joanna, Elijah, Caroline, and Winfield (the baby). Isaac was away that fateful night on business. Note: Many versions of this story include other children of Susan and Isaac. Their daughter Susan had sadly passed away in 1836 and the youngest two, Isabella and William, had yet to be born.
Their daughter Elizabeth, who is most often referred to as Lizzie in most versions of the sad tale, arrived near dusk on the evening of October 29 after spending the day running errands. Her return brought news from town; many feared that the dam would not last through 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. Fear overcame her as the realization that the dam had finally given away. A wall of water slammed into the Gould cabin with enough force that the building was lifted off of its foundation and moved roughly five hundred feet downstream. The wall of water was high enough that it completely submerged the one and a half story cabin.
After 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 in the aftermath of the destruction 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 their rescuers that she was not able to find Lizzie, but claimed that 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 waters of that fateful night. All of them are buried in the Hickory Run Cemetery under one stone.
Later investigation would prove that the dam collapsed due to being built on unstable ground.
Legend claims that Lizzie 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 finally left the cemetery after paying our respects to those buried there.
Though we did not see her that day, I did have something that caused me to scratch my head and would cause me to return to the park to photograph the cemetery again. When I arrived home after 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. I’ve been back to visit her grave since and have taken pictures of her grave without any issues. I will not say it was paranormal, but I have a hard time figuring out why only three of forty-some pictures of the cemetery did not take correctly. I will admit it may have been something I did and just didn’t realize it, or maybe Lizzie did not want her stone photographed that day.
If you choose to visit this old cemetery at Hickory Run State Park, please use caution and respect. Though they are still legible, the stones are old and fragile. It seems each time I visit there are more stones broken, so please watch your step and be respectful.