Haunted highways. Every state has them and Pennsylvania is no different. From phantom hitchhikers to spectral vehicles to gravity hills, there are many miles of highway that are supposedly haunted. White Deer Pike – also known as State Route 1010 and the Sugar Valley Narrows Road – is supposedly one of those roads if the story shared with me is correct.
It was a story that brought me to this location. As I got out of the vehicle, the sound of tractor trailers passing only yards away on Interstate 80 filled the air. Despite the interstate, White Deer Valley remains mostly an unspoiled wilderness. The region has the unique privilege of having the only Interstate 80 exit in Pennsylvania with no facilities nearby.
White Deer Valley starts in the mountains south of Loganton, passes through the McCalls Dam State Park region, and ends just south of the cut in the mountains where White Deer Creek passes through on its journey towards Interstate 80. The stream flows the entire length of the White Deer Valley and then parallels the interstate until it empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River at the town of White Deer. The valley takes its name from a legendary albino deer that once roamed the area. While albino deer are rarely seen today, the valley is still home to deer, bear, and turkey – nearly every trip I’ve made through the area has been rewarded with wildlife of some type.
A couple years back when I was reading some of the writings of Henry Shoemaker, I stumbled upon a legend that he claims comes from White Deer Valley. Shoemaker records a haunting in his collection Pennsylvania Mountain Stories. According to Shoemaker in “The Ghost Walk,” this story involves a man he refers to as Daniel McKean who, in 1846, moved to the valley with his parents and brothers.
The McKeans cleared the forested land and erected a house and barn along White Deer Creek. When clearing the ground around the homestead, they allowed two gigantic white pines to remain standing at the front of the barn to provide shade for the animals using the water trough. Everything seemed to go well for the family as they farmed the lands in the remote valley.
Life would make a interesting turn for the McKeans one evening when the sheep did not return from the pasture. Daniel was sent out to find the missing animals. By the time he found the animals, returned them to the barn and stabled his mount, it was around eleven o’clock.
Daniel closed the barn doors and turning towards the house, was surprised at the sight before his eyes. In the area between the two large pines was a ball of light that looked as if it were dancing. As it bounced between the trees, the ball elongated and grew larger until it transformed into a young lady of great beauty. Their eyes met and Daniel instantly fell in love with the ghostly woman.
Time seemed to stand still as he stood there caught in the vision of beauty.
Finally, the ghostly figure reached out and touched one of the trees. The beautiful maiden instantly turned back into a ball of light and disappeared.
The next night Daniel slipped out of the house and was once again treated to the same vision. This went on for some time until his father demanded to know exactly what Daniel was doing. Shoemaker does not record why his father demanded this. Maybe he was caught sneaking out or maybe Daniel’s work ethic disappeared. Whatever the reason, his father finally confronted Daniel about his mysterious night wanderings.
That night Daniel was accompanied by his father to the area where Daniel had been watching this spectral beauty. Daniel’s father never spoke about what he did or did not see that night, but the next morning, despite Daniel’s protests, the two pine trees were cut down and burned.
For weeks after, the two stumps dripped a strange red sap that looked like blood. Daniel never married as his heart belonged to the ghostly woman. Daniel’s brothers eventually moved on, found their own homes, and started families.
When his parents passed on, the lands were left to Daniel, who remained in the old farmhouse. People would see him sitting near the old, rotted stumps talking to himself, hoping to see his lovely maiden again.
I have a love/hate relationship with the late Henry Shoemaker. Though I’ve read his stories, I have found issues with many of his writings. Several cannot be found recorded anywhere before he wrote them. In others, he takes events and changes the location and the names of those involved just enough to create his own version of the story from factual events.
As I read the story “The Ghost Walk” in his Pennsylvania Mountain Stories, I was tempted to push it aside. However, I have a modern story that puts some credence on this story. And I have to admit, he may have been on to something with this story.
The story about the ghost of White Deer Pike was one that was shared with me before I knew anything about the story written by Henry Shoemaker. When I first stumbled upon “The Ghost Walk,” I will admit I was surprised — I had been told years ago a story that had a number of similarities.
I went to college with Frank and his wife, Heather. We had a number of classes together and while doing a project for a literature class discovered that we all were interested in ghost stories and folklore. We would share ghost stories, but we rarely spoke about personal experiences.
“Have you ever seen a ghost?” Heather asked one evening. The statement came seemingly out of nowhere and immediately caught my attention. Frank tried pushing it aside, but I was definitely interested. After a little prying they shared with me their story that happened in the autumn of 1995, a couple weeks before they shared their story.
They were headed home for the weekend and due to a number of reasons, they did not leave Lock Haven until it was getting dark. “It was around eight, nine at night when we left,” Heather recalls. They were nearing the Mile Run exit on Interstate 80 when they came to a halt due to traffic, which was lined up as far as they could see.
“For an unknown reason the traffic just sat there,” Heather would recall. “We decided to get off and take the side road that paralleled the interstate.” This side road would be White Deer Pike.
As they drove along, both of them thought it was strange that no other vehicles got off at this exit, especially seeing that the traffic was barely moving. They had traveled just a short distance when they saw her standing along road.
The short distance, according to Frank was roughly a mile. “We got off the exit and turned left. We crossed over a bridge and then we went down a hill. It was in that area where we spotted her.”
They described her as beautiful young woman, about twenty years old and blondish hair. She wore what appeared to be a flowing white-tinged, translucent wrapping that did little to hide her natural beauty. “She might as well have been naked,” Frank would laugh causing Heather to give him a cold stare. “You saw everything.”
The figure was standing along the edge of the road when they passed her. “She was standing along the right side of the road. I mean right on the edge. I had to swerve into the other lane to avoid hitting her.” Not sure what they had just seen, they found a place about half a mile past her where they could safely turn the car around.
The figure was still standing there when they got back. Frank and Heather described a young woman with long, flowing hair. They both agreed that she seemed to be solid and she seemed to shine in the car’s headlights. Though she never moved her clothing flapped wildly in the air as if caught in a strong wind. Looking at her, the thing both would later remember were her eyes. “They were sad eyes,” Frank remembered. Heather agreed.
“It’s funny,” Frank wrote recently. “It has been twenty some years and I still remember the sadness in those eyes. I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but those eyes.”
The words Heather spoke next summed up their experience: “She turned into a ball of light and zipped off through the woods.” In an instant the woman who had been standing there shrunk into a small ball of light and flew over White Deer Creek and disappeared southward into the woods – all in a matter of seconds.
Frank and Heather sat there for a couple of seconds (though they said it felt like a long, long time) before they decided to get out of the area. They quickly turned around and drove as fast as they could to place some distance between them and what they had just witnessed.
The sincerity in their voices that evening told me they experienced something they could not explain. “It has stuck with us,” Frank’s recent reply mentioned. “We never drove that stretch of interstate in the dark. If it was getting dark when we wanted to leave Lock Haven, we just waited until the next day. It made Heather happier because she never liked driving past that spot after that night. Honestly, I don’t blame her. I’d never drive through the area in the dark again.”
It would not be until a couple years later that I would stumble upon Henry Shoemaker’s story. As I read the story Shoemaker recorded, I could not help but note some similarities.
1) Both events took place along White Deer Creek and Frank and Heather’s sighting was not very far from where Henry Shoemaker claimed Daniel’s ghost story happened in 1846.
2) Both ghosts were described as beautiful women.
3) Both turned into a ball of light.
Could this possibly be the same spirit?
A couple times, while in the area and with the sun starting to dip behind the mountains, I’ve detoured off Interstate 80 and made the journey along White Deer Pike. Unfortunately, I’ve never found the restless spirit on my side trips through the Sugar Valley Narrows.
If you travel at night through the Sugar Valley Narrows, and decide to exit Interstate 80 to travel along the White Deer Pike, be sure you keep your eyes open – maybe you too will spot the lovely maiden.
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