The Siren of the Loyalsock

The Loyalsock flows peacefully under the Hillsgrove Covered Bridge

I followed the Loyalsock Creek deep into the mountains north of Montoursville as Zech and I explored the wild landscape, wondrous vistas, and beautiful waterfalls of the region. We had already visited a number of waterfalls, but the next location on the list was the Hillsgrove Covered Bridge.

We parked along Covered Bridge Road and got out to photograph the bridge.

“It seems so peaceful here,” Zech observed as we set up our cameras.

“Don’t let the stream fool you,” I replied. At this location, the Loyalsock did seem so peaceful, yet I knew that the stream has its rapids and dangers. The creek has its origins in western Wyoming County, very close to the border with Sullivan County, and flows sixty-four miles through Sullivan and Lycoming Counties before emptying into the West Branch of the Susquehanna at Montoursville. Most of its journey takes visitors through the wilds of north-central Pennsylvania. It is no wonder why fisherman, kayakers, and photographers are attracted to the rugged beauty of this location.

“I ever tell you about the Siren of the Loyalsock?” I asked as we set up to photograph the bridge. Zech stopped to stare at me. “Supposedly the ghost of a young lady haunts the Loyalsock. Her singing lures men to their deaths.”

“Just like the sirens out of The Odyssey?”

“More like out of Henry Shoemaker,” I responded.

Zech sighed. “What does he have to say about this siren?”

“Her name was Sweet Cicely.”

Shoemaker records the story “The Siren” in his collection Tales of the Bald Eagle Mountains and the story is one that continues to be a part of the lore of central Pennsylvania. Shoemaker’s “The Siren” has its origins during central Pennsylvania’s lumbering boom of the late 1800s, when the mountains were stripped of the trees. The logs were tied together in a make-shift raft and shipped downstream. The stream would be filled with lumber headed to the Williamsport region to be processed. Those taking the rafts downstream faced death in the form of unseen dangers lurking beneath the waters and the fast moving currents of the streams. The Loyalsock was no different.

Over the years, many made their way safely through the dangerous waters of the Loyalsock, but the good fortune seemed to vanish as the Loyalsock began claiming the lives of the raftsmen.

Even the most experienced avoided the Loyalsock,

The reason, according to Shoemaker,  these men were being lured to their deaths was because of a phantom who haunted the area. The men heard the song the ghostly voice sang and, upon hearing it, attempted to get closer to find the source. The ghostly voice belonged to the young girl named Sweet Cicely who was murdered along the Loyalsock.

Sweet Cicely, lived in a crude cabin along the Loyalsock with her parents, Powderhorn and Maggie Sue. She was described as a lovely young lady who caught the attention of neighboring boys as well as those lumbermen who traveled the Loyalsock. Despite the attention, she ignored their advances and as Shoemaker states “made no efforts to be civil to them.”

Imagine the surprise when Sweet Cicely announced she had a sweetheart. The handsome Indian youth, named Wild William Winters who caught her heart, had come from the Warren region and was working on the farm of Ezra McGrady, who lived across the river from her home.

Every evening, when her chores were done, Sweet Cicely would walk to the stream’s edge and sit on the rocky ledge overlooking the Loyalsock. Here she would wait for William to finish his work and paddle across the stream to be with her. While she waited for him, Sweet Cicely would often sing in her sweet soft voice that echoed along the banks of the stream. She sang because she was happy and in love.

One evening as she sang her love song for William, she caught the attention of a raftsman who was filled with ill-intent. Due to his work, William was later than usual when the lone raftsman heard her sweet song,

Seeing she was alone on the ledge, the raftsman turned towards the shore. He found a place to land his raft and after tying it up he approached the lone girl. Filled with malice, the raftsman assaulted Sweet Cicely who tried to defend herself and screamed out for help. In a fit of rage, the man grabbed the poor girl by the neck to silence her and strangled Sweet Cicely.

Her screams caught the attention of William and he set out across the stream. But he arrived too late – Sweet Cicely was dead and her murderer had escaped by running into the surrounding mountains to hide.

Sweet Cicely’s body was taken to her father’s home and though justice was demanded, the officials at Williamsport did not want to hear that a white man committed the crime. Instead they threatened to lock up William for the murder.

While human justice failed, a supernatural vengeance took place.

The following spring, raftsmen began reporting the sound of a girl’s singing coming from the ledge where Sweet Cicely had sat waiting for William to arrive. Hearing the song, many raftsmen let go his oar and the current sent the rafts crashing into the large rocks along the shore. Many a raftsman would fall into the waters and either drown or have their necks broken by the logs swinging about in the current.

As the chaos was going on in the stream, the echoes of a young girl’s voice could be heard singing her song to her lover, William. Those who managed to survive knew to ignore the singing the next time they brought their rafts downstream.

While raftsmen questioned the source of the singing, old Ezra McGrady knew it had to be the restless spirit of Sweet Cicely, who had been murdered at this spot.

Then came the day of another fatal rafting accident along the Loyalsock. The sun was beginning to set as once more the sound of the siren’s song filled the air. The victim this time was a well-known raftsman from the newly formed Clinton County. The man had run this stream many times in his younger days, so when he was knocked off his raft by another raft which had been following too closely behind, it came as a surprise. His body was mangled by logs and rocks and when it was pulled from the stream, it was decided to bury him nearby.

From the ledge the siren’s song continued until he was buried. As the last bits of sod covered his body, the phantom voice stopped its song and it was the last time that anyone ever heard from the Siren of the Loyalsock.

“You believe it?” Zech asked as I finished the story.

“Running logs on the streams was a dangerous job,” I replied. “Drownings and accidental deaths were too common during that time period, especially for those who were not familiar with the stream and its moods.

“As far as the Siren? Who knows, maybe she found peace with that last death. Or maybe she’s still out there, waiting for her next victim.”

“So we should get our pictures and get out of here before she realizes we’re here?” Zech offered.

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” I answered. We did not hear her that day as we finished photographing the bridge, before leaving the area, heading deeper into the mountains and farther away from the haunted waters of the Loyalsock.

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