While I explored Cherry Springs State Park, my mind drifted to a real mystery that may have been the basis of the story shared by Henry Shoemaker and Robert Lyman. According to them, the Cherry Springs ghost light was connected to the murder of a young girl who was buried on the property of the old tavern. Historically, there is no evidence to support the murder of this nameless young girl. Note: the story of the Cherry Springs Ghost Light can be found here: Cherry Springs Ghost Light.
However, I believe this piece of folklore was based on a real mystery that haunted the region – the disappearance of three-year-old Henry Schall. In the words of Mary Welfling, who wrote about Henry’s disappearance in a November 24, 1962 article for The Potter Enterprise (Coudersport, PA) – “It was told and retold with various revisions until it (the disappearance) bore little resemblance to the original circumstances.”
Henry was the son of John and Lizzie Schall, who lived on Billy Lewis Road in Potter County, roughly two miles from its intersection with the turnpike (present-day Route 44) and north of Cherry Springs and Patterson State Parks. Henry was described as having a light complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes.
On the morning of October 22, 1878, Henry, who was dressed in a striped shirt, dark green jacket, brown cotton pants, and leather shoes with copper toes, was left in the care of his grandmother. At the time his father, John, was cutting timber on Pine Creek and his mother, Lizzie, had left the house that morning to fetch in the cows.
When Lizzie returned home late in the afternoon, she was informed Henry had disappeared and his grandmother had not been able to locate him. Note: If recorded, I have not been able to find when Henry disappeared. Was it right after his mother had left to retrieve the cows, or was it much later in the day?
Lizzie, though tired from bringing the cows home, set out with a lantern in search of her missing son. At one point during her search that evening, Lizzie thought she heard Henry cry out, but was unable to locate where the cry came from. The following day thirty men arrived to search the woods and by the following day the search party had grown to over one hundred and fifty men. The search failed to discover the missing boy.
By the time John arrived home, he was convinced Henry had been abducted by someone. Despite his thoughts, he continued to search with a handful of relatives even after the rest of the search parties had had given up on finding the lost boy.
In January 1879, a clairvoyant was contacted who stated the boy was not lost, but had been stolen. According to the clairvoyant, the boy would be returned if a reward was offered. A reward of $200 was offered for his return – with no questions asked – but Henry was never returned.
In the aftermath of the Henry’s disappearance, a couple theories made the headlines as to what happened to the boy.
The first of these theories appeared in the January 16, 1919 edition of The Potter Enterprise and would be reprinted in John French’s The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania. In a statement by Reuben Daniels, a local man named John Nesbit was responsible for Henry’s disappearance.
Nesbit was sick in bed, and thinking he was dying at the time, revealed to Daniels the following: Nesbit had been approached by a wealthy pigeon hunter from New York City, who paid Nesbit to kidnap the boy. The man had been hunting near the Schall home and saw young Henry, who reminded the wealthy man of his dead son. The man approached the Schall family and offered to adopt young Henry, but the offer was refused.
The man approached Nesbit and offered him money to kidnap Henry. Nesbit agreed because he owed a neighbor money and this would clear him of his debt. That morning, after Lizzie left to round up the family’s cows, Nesbit abducted Henry and turned him over to the wealthy New Yorker. Nesbit also claimed that he had seen Henry many years later – Henry had grown into a young man believing he was taken in by the wealthy man after his parents had died.
In researching Henry’s disappearance, I initially wanted to push the kidnapping theory aside due to it happening in the wilds of remote north-central Pennsylvania. However, the 1962 article by Welfing makes a statement that leads me to believe this may have some truth to it. John was worried that the boy had “wandered to one of the main roads and was taken by travelers.” Why would John be worried his son was kidnapped? Maybe the confrontation between John and the unnamed New Yorker occurred, making John believe the man returned to take Henry.
The second theory mentioned by Welfing is that someone in the Schall family was responsible for Henry’s disappearance. Welfing states that John was under suspicion for many years after his son’s disappearance. John and Lizzie both had alibis – at the time of Henry’s disappearance, Lizzie was out chasing cows and John was working on Pine Creek. However, the last person to see young Henry was his grandmother and nothing is recorded to say she was considered a suspect in the disappearance.
A third possibility is Henry wandered off and met with an accident in the woods. The area where he disappeared is as remote to this very day as it was in 1878. It is possible he wandered away from the homestead and was the victim of an animal attack or some other tragedy. Almost every source covering Henry’s disappearance mention this possibility, but quickly push it aside believing he could not have wandered very far from home. One statement that would give credence to this theory is that Lizzie was convinced she heard her son crying out that first night as she searched for him.
The final theory that is presented comes from Robert Lyman’s writings. Lyman is convinced that the young boy had been murdered. The story he records was told to him by Wanda, the daughter of Mrs. Sterling Kimball. Their story was: the mother and daughter had gone to the Cherry Springs Hotel to take care of a dying woman who lived there.
On her deathbed, the woman claimed she had her husband kidnap Henry and bring him to the hotel. The reason they kidnapped Henry was not revealed, but the couple ended up murdering the young boy and buried his remains under the floorboards of the tavern. She had been haunted by their evil deed and wanted her husband to give the boy a Christian burial, which he refused to do. The woman died with the murder of Henry on her conscious.
The only thing about this confession is the Cherry Springs Tavern was never searched to see if this story had any truth to it. Even when it burned down 1897, I could not find any mention of a child’s skeleton, or any skeleton, found among the debris. In my mind, this theory is the least likely to have been the fate of young Henry Schall, but it has become a part of regional lore.
I finished my walk around the state park with no definite answers to the disappearance of the young boy. I left with the lingering question – What happened to Henry Schall?