“It doesn’t look too promising up there,” Mike spoke as we approached our destination. I had to agree with his assessment – it had rained the night before and now a thick fog clung to the mountaintop. We were headed to Hawk Mountain and while Mike would normally be scanning the sky for birds, seeing anything in the thick fog would be a challenge.
But the fog was not going to prevent us from exploring.
“So, I hear there is a large, mysterious white bird that has been spotted here. Maybe we’ll find it,” Mike observed to my surprise.
“You know about the ghosts of Hawk Mountain?” I asked, surprised by his announcement.
“No, not really,” Mike laughed. “I looked it up while you were in the last cemetery.”
We arrived at the parking lot for the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and paid the small fee to tour the grounds. If there were any spirits haunting the ridge, the thick fog was going to work in their favor. Mike set off in search of birds while I took my time looking around and enjoying the walk along the ridge – the fog amplified every noise as I walked along the worn trail. I paused at the South Overlook, the first one along the trail. I had been here a couple times before and had enjoyed the views from the mountaintop, but there was no view this morning.
I was content to watch the fog flowing lazily past as my mind drifted to the legends and lore of the immediate area that had fascinated me since I first encountered them years ago in regional ghost books. Quite a few stories are told about the area and the strange white bird that has been spotted by visitors is just one of the many ghosts that haunt the region. Another friend of mine, Dan, who lives in the area, claims, “Most state the mountain itself is cursed.” With the number of stories involving the mountain, I could see why people think the mountain itself was cursed.
The most popular legend involves inn keeper Matthias Schambacher, who is referred to as Schaumboch in some versions of the legend. The tavern he operated still exists along the Hawk Mountain Road and local lore claims many of those who spent the night in Schambacher’s tavern never left – Schambacher would kill them and steal their goods. On his death bed, Schambacher supposedly confessed to killing a number of travelers and disposing of their remains of in one of the many wells on the property. Many of the stories go on to state some of those he killed became a “special sausage” to be served to other guests.
Despite the rumors that exist to this day, there has been no evidence that Schambacher was a serial killer. If as many people disappeared as word of mouth claims, then it would have been front page news, which it was not. There does not seem that any legal actions were against him at the time. According to a number of sources, over the years pieces of bone have been discovered on the property, and while they add to the mystery, there has been nothing to verify the bones were human in nature.
However, there is another story that has been passed around involving Schambacher. When he died, as he was being buried in the New Bethel Cemetery — his grave was supposedly struck by lightning. Another version is the lightning struck nearby and the coffin was dropped by the pallbearers who fled in terror. When the coffin hit the ground, Schambacher’s body rolled out and fell into the grave face down and that was how he was buried. Yet another story involving his burial says that when his stone was erected, it was struck by lightning and exploded into a million little pieces.
The inn he once operated is now a part of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and is rumored to be haunted by a number of ghosts. Some have claimed his victims haunt the tavern. Others have claimed to hear people speaking in German and the sound of somebody crying. There are reports of objects moving on their own and some disappearing to reappear later. But the most popular one involves the spirit of a young girl who roams the building. She was the daughter of the tavern’s next owner and supposedly died by falling down the steps. According to local lore, she was playing with a whistle when she tripped and fell down the basement steps. Many have heard her still playing with her phantom whistle.
Of course, then there are those who have claimed seeing Schambacher’s ghost, who chases trespassers away from the tavern. Those who claim to have seen this ghost state he wields a bloody hatchet.
Although the tavern will forever be connected to Matthias Schambacher, the supernatural events connected with the tavern go back farther in time. The tavern was built by Jacob Gerhardt in 1793 overlooking the lands where, as a child, his family was massacred by Delawares in 1756 – the victims included Jacob’s parents, another woman, and six children. Only young Jacob survived the slaughter and would return years later to build the tavern near his childhood home. Legends state that members of the Gerhardt family have been spotted roaming the mountain, seeking a peace they have yet to discover.
Another spirit has been spotted roaming the mountain more than others: the ghost of a ten-foot-tall Native American. Legend maintains that he guards an ancient ceremonial circle that the Delawares used when they inhabited the area. Many have reported seeing this gigantic figure walking along the road that passes through the sanctuary. Those who have spotted the figure describe it as being “pure evil” and “threatening.”
Others supernatural events include: strange lights dancing among the trees, mysterious screams, phantom voices, and vehicles suddenly dying for no apparent reason.
The mountain does have at least a handful of unsolved deaths attributed to it, including an unidentified man discovered near The Pinnacle in 1977. The most noted death connected with the mountain is the murder of Matthias Berger. Berger was a devout Catholic who lived in a crude hut – described as looking like a tepee – he had built along the old Catawissa Road. Berger mostly stayed to himself and those who knew him were unaware of him having any enemies.
On June 29, 1890, Harry Mohl stopped at Berger’s place to find the hermit missing and the place in disarray. Mohl gathered some people and they began to search for Berger. His lifeless body was discovered lying face down on a pile of rocks. He was taken to Reading and given a proper burial. It has been agreed upon that robbery was the reason behind his death and his murder happened almost three weeks before his body was found. Berger was chased for nearly two miles before he was killed. It is not known who chased him — the murder remains unsolved.
I was still thinking about the ghosts and murders that haunt the mountain when Mike suddenly appeared at my side. “You know what I saw?” he asked.
“A new bird for your lifer list?” I asked.
“Nope,” he laughed. “I didn’t see a thing…it’s too foggy up here.”
I could only agree.