Note/disclaimer: I consider myself a historian and folklorist who collects Pennsylvania’s legends and lore. However, every now and then while out getting pictures I have had an experience that I cannot explain and this is one of those stories.
Everyone knows that Gettysburg is haunted. Right?
The landscape has to be haunted because my bookcase has three full shelves dedicated to the legends and lore of Gettysburg. Almost every nook and cranny – from the battlefield to the town to the lands surrounding the military park – seems to have a paranormal story connected to it. According to some, the 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 shed on these sacred grounds between July 1 and 3, 1863 has created a hotspot for the unexplained.
Unfortunately, the paranormal side of Gettysburg has overtaken the historical side in the minds of many people. Many visitors arrive here not to remember the history, but in hopes of experiencing the paranormal side of the battlefield. Surprisingly, despite the countless stories that have been told and retold about the ghostly side of the battlefield, in all of my trips to Gettysburg, I can only say I’ve experienced two unexplained events. Note: The other unexplained experience was at the “P. Noel Rock” and it can be found here: P. Noel.
I fell in love with the battlefield the first time I visited it with my family. Always ready to explore the battlefield and its monuments, I agreed to meet up Randy for another day of exploring as he had some new stories to share – in both the realms of history and folklore.
Randy shared a number of stories about the ghosts that roam the town and the battlefield while we were eating breakfast. Our conversation soon turned to Sachs Bridge and the hot spot it had become for ghost hunters over the past couple years. Although I had visited the bridge many different times over the years, I had to admit I was not all that familiar with the legends and lore of the covered bridge.
Located on Waterworks Road, just off Pumping Station Road, the beautiful covered bridge was built in 1854 by David Stoner and was used by both Union and Confederate troops as they crossed over Marsh Creek during the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1938, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways declared the one-hundred-foot-long covered bridge to be the most historically important covered bridge in the entire state. Despite its historical significance the years had taken its toll on the bridge and in 1968 it was closed to vehicular traffic. In 1980 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it took until 1991 before steps were taken to restore the bridge to its former glory, but in 1996 a flood swept the bridge off its abutments. Steel beams were placed and the bridge was sat on them, raising it another three feet above the flowing waters of Marsh Creek.
As we drove out to the bridge, Randy informed me some of the stories regarding the bridge. One legend involves a group of soldiers supposedly executed there. Accused of being spies, three Confederate soldiers were hanged from the beams of the bridge. Or maybe it was three Union deserters who were caught and executed. Word of mouth claims that the ghosts of these three men hanged here continue to haunt the bridge.
“I can tell you one thing. I have not been able to find strong evidence that the hanging ever occurred. The first I can find anything reported about this triple hanging is in the 1980s. For some reason this story has taken off and become a part of local lore.”
Others have reported the strong smell of pipe tobacco though none is present at the time. Strange lights and sounds have also been reported by those investigating the bridge and its supposed ghostly activity.
We arrived at Sachs Bridge and discovered the only other people around were two fishermen standing in the stream. We had the bridge to ourselves for the moment, so I grabbed my camera to get some pictures of the historical bridge.
Randy continued talking about the history of the bridge and the modern claims of activity while I took pictures. We started across the bridge and had only gone a couple of steps when I paused to take a couple pictures of the men fishing in the waters below.
I was in the process of taking those pictures when a very loud clip-clop, clip-clop sounded at the far end of the bridge – the sound seemed to echo within the bridge. I turned and stared at the opposite end of the bridge, searching for a cause for the mysterious sound. I glanced over at Randy – he had a curious, look on his face as he stared at the far end of the bridge.
“Did you hear something?” I asked as my mind raced to discover a source for the sound.
“Yeah,” Randy spoke softly as he too searched for the source of the sound. “I’m not sure…”
“It sounded like a horse walking.” After a couple of seconds, that seemed to drag on for hours, we shook it off as our overactive imaginations and I went back to taking pictures of the men fishing.
I had snapped another picture when the interior of the covered bridge was suddenly filled with the steady sound of clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. I stared as the sounds of an invisible horse approached the spot where Randy and I stood. The noise moved slowly towards us, coming to a halt at a spot roughly halfway across the bridge – about twenty feet from where we stood. I turned the camera towards the center of the bridge and snapped a couple of pictures hoping to get something, but nothing out of the ordinary appeared on the photos I took.
I knew without a doubt what I heard was the sound of a horse walking across the floor boards towards me, but at no time was I – nor was Randy – able to see anything out of the ordinary. I would like to think it was a soldier checking us out, seeing what we were doing on the bridge.
We remained at the spot for a couple of minutes, hoping to hear something else, but whatever had come onto the bridge was gone. We never heard it retreat back off the bridge nor did it continue its approach towards us. Whatever it was, it had vanished.
Randy and I walked the length of the covered bridge a number of times in an attempt to discover the source of the noise, but could find nothing out of the ordinary. We quickly ruled out a branch possibly tapping against the bridge. We scanned the roof for birds and other animals as a possibility, but found nothing. We walked around on the boards we had been standing on, thinking it had been loose board and one of use created the sound, but again, we ruled it out as we found no loose boards.
In a desperate attempt to solve the noise, we even asked the two fishermen in the creek below if they heard anything out of the ordinary. They gave us a strange look as if we were nuts and said they had not heard anything out of the ordinary.
After ruling out any possibilities for the source of the noise, Randy and I were left with no answers to what we both heard. “Do you think we heard a ghost?” Randy asked. as we finished photographing the bridge and prepared to leave for other parts of the battlefield.
“I’m not sure, but I know what I heard and I don’t have an explanation for it,” I replied.
“Well, if it wants the bridge, it can have it,” Randy spoke. “We have other parts of the battlefield I want to show you.” We left the covered bridge, with no answers for what we heard, to the two fishermen and the spirits that haunt Sachs Covered Bridge.
Note: In writing this article, I emailed Randy and asked him if he had had any more experiences at Sachs Covered Bridge. His response: “I have not heard or seen anything since the ghost horse incident. I’ve gone back numerous times and have tried to figure out what we heard without luck. If it was a ghost we heard it has not made another appearance while I was there.”
I’ve also been back to the bridge a number of times since that day and often find myself wondering who or what was riding across the bridge that early morning years ago. Was a soldier checking us out, wondering what we were doing on his bridge? Or was it completely unrelated to the Civil War and the battle fought here? Or was it something natural making the noise that we were not able to discover?
I don’t have an answer.