Every year Cherry Springs State Park brings people to this remote location in Potter County. Located along Route 44 in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Black Forest region, its remoteness allows visitors and astronomers to gaze into the heavens without light pollution.
There were already visitors setting up for the night sky watch when I pulled into the gravel opposite the gazing field. The promise of a clear, cloudless night would be ideal to explore the universe.
However, I was not here to explore the heavens, though it is on my list of things to eventually do. I was here to explore another light that is known to roam the grounds of the state park – one that has a supernatural origin.
Walking along the path, I read a number of signs that tells the history and the importance of this wild location. It was here in 1818 that Jonathan Edgecomb erected a tavern, the Cherry Springs Hotel, along the Jersey Shore Pike. The tavern would be destroyed by a fire in 1897 and was reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938.
I first encountered the story of the Cherry Springs Ghost Light in the writings of Robert Lyman. Lyman credits Henry Shoemaker for the story, but it is not one that has been collected in Shoemaker’s collected writings. After a little digging, I discovered a story in the January 20, 1938 edition of The Potter Enterprise. The newspaper article is a reprint from Shoemaker’s article in the Altoona Mirror with a subtitle of “Legends Never Heard Before.”
According to the legend, the story of the ghost light takes place in the late 1890s. At the time the Cherry Springs Hotel was owned and operated by Jake Cannon and his wife. Living in the woods nearby was a bootlegger, originally from Lebanon County, along with his wife and six-year-old foster daughter. Although the Cannons knew the man was producing moonshine for locals and for those traveling along the Jersey Shore Turnpike, they allowed the family to reside in a shack on the tavern’s property.
One evening – whether it was due to the influence of alcohol is not known – the man grew angry with the girl for not doing her lessons and beat her to death with a horse harness. The Cannons noticed the little girl had disappeared, but did not question what happened to her.
Soon after the girl vanished, Mrs. Cannon spotted a strange light near the bootlegger’s cabin. The light would rise out of the ground, shimmer and vanish. The light appeared a number of times before she grew brave enough to investigate. When she approached the location where the light appeared, she noticed the ground had been disturbed. Curious to know what was buried next to the cabin, she decided to dig at the spot and soon uncovered the missing girl’s body. Next to the body was the horse harness which had been used to kill the young girl.
Mrs. Cannon went to the bootlegger’s cabin, but neither he nor his wife were home. She returned to the spot where she had uncovered the young girl’s body to discover it had vanished. The family was never seen nor heard from again. The ghost light continued to be spotted until it burned down in 1879 and – according to Lyman – the ghost light was never seen again.
The article in The Potter Enterprise states fire did not stop the ghost light from appearing in the old apple orchard near the hotel. Ed Irwin had spotted the light a number of times while hunting deer in the orchard. He claimed, “I knew it was not reflected light, it seemed to take the form of a gaseous substance but light-giving.”
As I stood there, I could not help but wonder how much of the legend was or was not true. Lyman ends his story by stating this was one of two murders that had occurred at this remote location. Digging deeper into the newspapers, the second one may not have been a murder, but was definitely a disappearance that captured the region and continues to be whispered about. With that in mind, my thoughts wandered to the disappearance of a young child in October 1878.
Note: The mystery of what happened to the young boy can be found here: The Disappearance of Henry Schall.