Union Cemetery, located on the western edge of Millheim, appears to be like any other rural, small town, Pennsylvania cemetery. Despite the appearance, the sacred piece of ground holds a mystery that has baffled generations. That mystery was the motivation that first brought me here and keeps bringing me back.
The parking is limited, so I pulled as far off on the edge of Route 45 as I could and got out of the vehicle. I immediately saw the stone standing a short distance away and walked over to take a closer look at it. At first glance it appears to be a normal tombstone, just a little larger than those surrounding it. The only word is at the stone’s base and marks the last name of the family buried here: Musser. Halfway up the front of the granite column is a metal plaque that states the names of the couple buried here: “Daniel A. Musser / 1822-1888 / Lydia A. Musser / 1826-1918.”
The stone holds a secret that has kept the attention of local residents over the years and continues to provide mystery with each generation as people stop to visit it in an attempt to solve the secret. It was a story I heard from my mother and before that her father. The story tells the secret of a stone that is supposed to bleed.
Walking carefully around the stone, I scanned the memorial for any signs of blood. On the front of the stone is a reddish stain which runs from the the bottom of the plaque to the “U” in Musser. While I cannot state for fact that this was blood, it did remind me of a bloodstain.
Was this enough proof? Was the legend of Millheim’s bleeding stone true?
The story of Millheim’s bleeding tombstone is one that has been handed down through the generations and it involves Daniel Musser, a local businessman and a respected member of the community. Reading through local histories, there is nothing recorded that would suggest that he was involved in any type of criminal activity.
However, shortly after his death Daniel’s life became more exciting. At some time after his death, it was reported that the stone marking his grave was bleeding. One version says that the blood seeped out of the letters of Daniel’s name. Another version of the story states that the image of a knife appeared on the stone, close to his name and the blood dripped from the point of the blade. The strangest version of the legend claims that the blade of the knife protruded from the granite shaft and the blood dripped from the end of the blade.
All the stories agree that the Musser family had the stone replaced at least once, possibly twice. Tired of the dripping blood and the crowds of curiosity seekers, a metal plaque was placed over the names and that slowed down the bleeding.
With the story of blood seeping from the stone there had to be a reason behind the paranormal activity. Soon stories about the evil act Daniel Musser must have done while alive began to circulate. Everybody seemed to know that Daniel must have killed somebody while he was alive, but exactly who he killed varies in each telling of the story. The most popular story is he killed a traveler passing through the region. Having killed the man, Daniel took his money and this was the source of his wealth.
Another popular version states the person he killed was his wife and he got away with the murder. Yet another popular version tells he killed the maid who worked for the family, while a different version claims he murdered a child. The most interesting version claims that Daniel was a serial killer who preyed upon travelers and it was when he began killing his neighbors that his evil deeds were discovered.
Some versions claim that he lived a full life while other stories state he was discovered in the process of the murder and was hanged for his crime.
Despite the many versions of the story, I’m surprised at the number of people who still believe the story – or at least their version of it – is true. There is no information that shows Daniel Musser was ever involved in any type of criminal activity and – without a doubt – Daniel was not hanged for any crime.
If Daniel was innocent of murder, then where did the story of him being a murderer come from? I believe that the 1924 murder of William Musser by his nephew Harry was the origin of the story about Daniel killing someone. There are two reasons why I think this. First, while I cannot find a time frame that tells when the stone started to bleed, I have noticed the murder story seems to have taken off during the late 1920s.
The second reason I think William Musser’s murder is the basis for the legend is many versions of the story state it is William Musser who is buried here and it is his stone that bleeds. Looking through my notes, I realize the version I had first written down, the version my grandfather had told me years ago, stated William was the man buried here, not Daniel. Note: the murder of William Musser can be found here: The Murder of William Musser.
As I stood there, I asked myself “What is causing the stone to bleed?” I have stopped by the cemetery numerous times throughout my life and I’m going to state, something is definitely going on, but I really don’t know. The best explanation I can come up with is based on my own observations over the years. I believe there is a connection in modern times between the weather and the bleeding. The stains seem to appear more often in rainy years than dry ones, which makes me believe there is a connection between the metal plaque and water.
The only problem with this theory is I’m tossing out all of the testimony people have shared over the years of having seen the stone bleeding before the metal plate was put on the stone. I’m throwing out the tales my grandfather and mother have told me about personally seeing it bleed.
As I left the cemetery, I knew the mystery was far from being resolved but I have no answer and I understood I probably never will find a satisfactory one.
This is not the only bleeding tombstone which supposedly exists within Pennsylvania’s borders. In Glimm’s Flatlanders and Ridgerunners, he records the story of a bleeding tombstone that is located in Sullivan County. The story is an unidentified man was hanged for a murder he claimed he did not commit and a sign would be given of his innocence. After his burial, an image of a knife that appeared on the man’s gravestone and blood dripped from the tip of the knife, although I would personally think a bleeding dagger would be a sign of guilt. I do not believe that the Sullivan County bleeding tombstone exists and if it does, I have not been able to track it down. The story is so vague and includes no names or locations, other than it happened in Sullivan County. I personally believe the Sullivan County stone was a retelling of the Bleeding Musser stone and was set in Sullivan County by the person who had told him the story.