On one of my trips to Hawk Mountain, I had the opportunity to meet up with a former college classmate, Dan, who lived in the area. The two of us hiked the trails while swapping stories of where life had taken us over the years.
During the conversation, he asked if I still collected folklore like I had back in my college days. After telling him I had a filing cabinet full of ghost stories, legends and lore, he asked if I was familiar with the legends involving Hawk Mountain. I mentioned that I was familiar with some of the legends and ghost stories that existed in the region. I knew about the legend of Matthias Schambacher and also the unsolved murder of Matthias Berger, along with many of the other stories that were told about the mountain.
“Have you ever been to New Bethel Cemetery?” Dan asked as we finished up our hike.
“No,” I replied. I knew that the cemetery was the final resting place of Matthias Schambacher and while it was on the list of places I wanted to eventually visit, I had not gotten around to it yet. Though a short distance from Hawk Mountain, I usually found myself running short on time and kept promising to visit it the next time I was in the area.
“It’s not too far away,” Dan announced. “If you’re interested, you can follow me and I’ll give you the tour.” I agreed and after a short drive eastward, we were at the cemetery. I was surprised to discover a familiar blue Pennsylvania historical marker at the edge of the cemetery. The marker was for Ben Austrian — a noted painter born in Reading was buried in these sacred grounds.
“Does Ben haunt the cemetery?”
“I don’t believe so,” Dan answered as I read the information about him. “At least I’ve never heard anything about his spirit wandering these grounds. I’ll show you his grave in a couple minutes if you’re interested. But first, we need to make a stop at Schambacher’s grave.”
A short distance from the road, Dan pointed out a spot between two old stones. “According to word of mouth, this is the spot where Matthias Schambacher is buried.” Matthias Schambacher was a tavern owner who, if the tales are true, killed numerous travelers at his inn.
“According to legend,” Dan continued his story. “As Schambacher was being lowered into the ground a bolt of lightning hit the ground nearby and those gathered took it as a sign that God was not pleased with him being buried on holy ground.”
“Another legend about his burial was that he was buried, the stone had just been placed and lightning hit the stone, reducing it to ash and that’s why his grave remains unmarked. If there was a stone, I imagine it was chipped away by souvenir hunters,” Dan observed. “You want to hear the latest rumor about his death bed confession? I heard that Schambacher’s career as a killer is now close to two hundred victims.”
“You really believe that?” I asked.
“No,” Dan laughed. “But people will believe anything they hear.”
“So has Schambacher’s ghost been seen?” I asked.
“Not that I’m aware of. I’ve never read anything about his spirit actually haunting the cemetery and I can’t say I’ve heard of it,” Dan answered. Note: more on Matthias Schambacher can be found here: The Haunts of Hawk Mountain
We walked around the cemetery and made a stop at Ben Austrian’s grave. After paying my respects to him, we continued walking among the stones.
Dan informed me about the typical stories about cemeteries that are supposedly haunted. There have been sightings of ghostly balls of light that wander among the stones, mysterious voices, strange shadows, and cold spots.
“There have been two more recent sightings that I’ve heard about,” Dan spoke as we respectfully wandered among the stones. “The first is a women dressed in mourning attire. Supposedly she is seen walking around the cemetery before stopping and kneeling at a grave. But I haven’t heard which grave she has been spotted at. I’ve only heard about it recently, so I really haven’t had the time to look deep into this story.
“The other story is of a young girl who is usually spotted near the top of the hill, near the large monument. She has been spotted playing among the gravestones.” Dan stopped talking as he stared past me and up the hill. The look on his face told me that something had caught his attention. I turned to look at what he was staring at and immediately noticed a large black spot sitting on top of a stone to the left of the large monument.
“What is that?” I asked not noticing it there before as we walked around the cemetery.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “Let’s go figure it out.” We made our way slowly up the hill getting closer to the black object but we were still unsure what it was.
“It looks like a crow,” Dan whispered. “But I don’t remember seeing it before.”
“I don’t remember seeing it earlier,” I agreed.
“It is a crow,” he announced as we stopped only a couple feet from the bird.
“Go! Shoo!” Dan yelled at it without any result. The bird did not react to Dan’s voice or movement.
“Maybe it is stuffed,” I observed. “But it seems strange somebody would put a stuffed crow on top of a tombstone.”
“People do the strangest things,” Dan answered. “I’m getting rid of this ugly thing.” As he reached out for it – with his fingers a mere inches from it – the bird exploded from the stone and into the air causing Dan to curse loudly as he jumped back. The sudden flight of the bird startled me.
The crow flew to a nearby stone and landed, screaming loudly at the two of us as we stood there in an attempt to regain our composure.
Once my heart rate returned to normal, I started to laugh at the situation. “Not funny,” Dan glared at me, making me laugh harder. It was decided that this was our sign to call it a day as the crow continued to scream at us from its perch.
Getting into the vehicle I watched as the crow returned to its original perch. I had to wonder if there was a reason it favored that particular tombstone. Was there some supernatural connection between that particular grave and the bird or was it merely an odd coincidence? Did the crow have a connection to another spirit that haunts the cemetery, such as the young girl? Or maybe, just maybe the crow and the young girl were one and the same. I shuddered at the thought as I pulled out of the lot.
A final glance in the rearview mirror showed me the bird was still sitting there, and I could swear that I could see its little black eyes staring at me as I left the cemetery grounds.