Note/disclaimer: I consider myself a historian and folklorist who collects legends and lore of Pennsylvania. However, every now and then I have had an experience that I cannot explain and this is one of those stories.
Everyone knows that Gettysburg is haunted. Right?
It definitely has to be haunted because my bookcase has two full shelves dedicated to the legends and lore of Gettysburg. It seems every nook and cranny from the battlefield to the town to the surrounding area has a paranormal story connected to it. According to some, the sheer amount of reported paranormal activity places Gettysburg in the top ten “Most Haunted Cities” in America, if not the entire world. The amount of blood that was shed on these sacred grounds between July 1 and 3, 1863, has created a hot spot for the unexplained.
Unfortunately the paranormal side of Gettysburg has overtaken the historical side in the minds of some people. They arrive here not to remember the history, but in hopes of experiencing the paranormal side of the region. I fell in love with the battlefield the first time I visited there with my family; and one of the very first trips I ever went on when I could drive was to Gettysburg.
Joining Randy for the day, we had already made a stop at Spangler’s Spring and the next place on our journey was Devil’s Den. Note: Spangler’s Spring can be found here: The Spirit of Spangler’s Spring
“You know Devil’s Den is the most haunted place on the battlefield, if not the whole state?” Randy asked as we parked along Sickles Avenue near the Fourth New York Infantry. The monument, capped with an artilleryman holding a ramrod, stands watch over the Devil’s Den region of the battlefield. He spoke of phantom soldiers, strange noises, mysterious lights – all of which were common stories regarding the Devil’s Den area of the battlefield.
“You familiar with P. Noel?” he inquired as we walked past the monument to rocks behind it. At the time I was not familiar with the story. I had numerous stories about the battlefield and its ghosts, but the name P. Noel meant nothing to me at the time.
“It’s a fairly recent legend as far as stories about the battlefield go,” Randy spoke as he stopped at the rock with the name “P. Noel” carved into it. We both stood in silence for a moment before he started telling the story that has been associated with the rock.
Legend states that in the 1890s, Pauline – or maybe it was Peggy – Noel, who lived nearby, was visiting the battlefield. While riding past the Devil’s Den, the carriage she was in overturned and Pauline was killed – the most popular version of this story states she was decapitated and her head was never recovered. Soon thereafter, her ghostly figure appeared searching for her missing head. And then, her name appeared carved into a granite boulder. Some say that it was Pauline’s ghostly finger that traced her name into that boulder.
“In recent years, more and more people have reported seeing the headless ghost of a young lady wandering about the Devil’s Den,” Randy spoke. “The claim is the accident happened right here and Pauline was killed when she landed on the rock. That is the reason she wrote her name here on this rock.”
“You really don’t believe that do you?”
“No,” Randy spoke. “The story is interesting, but there is no proof a Pauline Noel ever existed here, nor can I find any reference of a fatal carriage accident happening here. However, there was a Park Noel who lived in town during the late 1800s. Not only did he live in Gettysburg, he also worked in erecting the monuments on the battlefield.”
“But the truth has never stopped a good story,” Randy added. “The best stories are – bad luck follows those who dare to trace the name.”
I took a couple pictures as we talked of the rock before we left for other parts of the battlefield. Arriving home, I downloaded pictures and began scanning through them. Every picture was focused and clearly showed different parts of the battlefield – then I arrived at the pictures I took of the P. Noel rock. All the pictures of the rock and the name carved in it were blurred. I blamed myself for the blur and promised to retake the pictures the next time I was in the area.
What I didn’t know at the time was this was the beginning of a love-hate relationship between the rock and myself.
A couple years passed before I attempted to photograph the rock again. I had spent the day with Zech visiting the park and I decided to stop at the P. Noel rock. This time having a digital camera, I took a number of pictures of the rock. I double-checked the images and they all appeared to be in focus.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived home and attempted to download the pictures. An error message popped up – every picture of the P. Noel rock had been corrupted and could not be saved.
The following year I arrived at Gettysburg once again, this time visiting the historic battlefield with my parents. I parked along Sickles Avenue, got out of the vehicle, walked over to the rock only to discover my camera battery was dead.
I sighed and walked back to the vehicle. I got out a second battery and checked it. It showed I had a fully charged battery. I walked back to the rock, focused the camera, and pushed the button. Nothing. I cursed under my breath.
Looking at the camera, I tried to figure out why the camera wasn’t working. The battery was dead. On the screen, the battery, that had been fully charged only seconds before, was flashing red.
“You get your pictures it?” mom asked as I returned to the vehicle.
“No,” I grumbled. “This battery is dead too.”
“I thought you said it had a full charge?”
“It did.” I switched batteries, putting in the last of my charged batteries into the camera.
I walked slowly towards the rock, wondering what I had to do to get a picture of it. I stopped in front of it and looked at the camera screen. The battery was at half charge. I pulled up the camera and snapped a quick picture. I heard the camera button click and then the battery went dead. All three batteries needed charged and I had no way of knowing if the picture I took was good or not.
It wasn’t. In the process of moving the camera quickly, the camera strap was in the center of the picture.
The following year, I was back on the battlefield and met up with Randy for another day of exploring. We made a stop at Devil’s Den and I told him about my failure of getting a decent picture of the P. Noel rock.
“You didn’t trace the name and bring about bad luck on yourself?” Randy laughed as he took my camera.
“No,” I replied. I watched as he walked over to the rock and snapped three pictures. Randy walked back and handed me the camera. All three pictures turned out perfect. I thanked him before we moved on to explore other parts of the battlefield.
I’m not going to say it was something paranormal, but if I didn’t know better, I would think that the P. Noel rock honestly hated me and definitely did not want me to take its picture.
I haven’t tried to take a picture of the rock since, but I cannot explain why I had so many issues photographing it. I personally blame myself for the blurred pictures. The corrupted files, well it was an odd disc. The camera strap – that was human error. Three fully charged batteries going dead at the same time I think the batteries possibly weren’t as fully charged as they showed, although all of them going dead at the time time is a little strange. For the record, I’ve never had any issues with the batteries before or since and I still use the same batteries.
Although I don’t have a satisfying answer for why all my pictures did not take properly — as Randy had told me — word of mouth states bad luck follows those who trace the name. I can only image the bad luck that I would have had if I had traced the name.
I shudder at the thought.