Roadwork was the thing on Route 6 west of Smethport. By the time I arrived in Smethport, I was ready to get out a stretch my legs – I had definitely been sitting too long.
Parking near the courthouse, I wandered about the lawn reading the Pennsylvania historical markers, along with the other war memorials nearby. After photographing the memorial, markers and courthouse, I wandered up the hillside to see the large building behind it. Although I knew the building was currently closed, I could still photograph the exterior of the building that is often placed on lists of the “Top Ten Haunted Places in Pennsylvania.”
Located on West King Street, on the hillside behind the courthouse, the Old County Jail now houses the McKean County Historical Society. The building had housed countless prisoners over the years, but one never left – the restless spirit of Ralph Crossmire is doomed to roam the building for eternity.
The haunting of the old jail begins on November 19. 1892, when the lifeless body of Mrs. Lucetta Crossmire was discovered hanging in the family barn in Farmers Valley, north of Smethport. Lucetta was the widow of Niles Crossmire and in 1892 was fifty years old. Lucetta and Niles had been married for thirty years when they separated and she returned to Eldred to live. In December 1891 Niles died and Lucetta returned to the homestead to take care of Daniel Crossmire, her father-in-law.
According to all accounts, Lucetta was a well-liked woman and was not known to have any enemies. Neighbors described Lucetta as kind and hard-working. Living with her was her son Ralph, who was twenty-seven-years-old. He was described as having black hair, a brown beard, and gray eyes. He was noted as being athletic – especially for his sprinting anility – and craftsmanship.
On the evening of November 19, 1892 Lucetta’s lifeless body was discovered by seven-year-old George Herzog. The son of a neighbor, George had been sent to look for Lucetta when she had not returned from milking the cows. Word of his horrific discovery quickly spread and neighbors soon gathered at the Crossmire farm.
It was quickly determined by her neighbors that the scene looked set-up and they did not believe she committed suicide. Lucetta’s face was covered in blood, her dentures were discovered a distance away form her body, and her skirt was discovered ripped off and on the ground beneath her. They also discovered a pool of blood roughly four feet away from where her body was discovered. A search discovered a single button that appeared to have come from a man’s coat. Outside, they discovered tracks made by men’s rubber boots in the snow and found the place where the murderer waited for Lucetta.
Ralph, who had been living in Mount Jewett, was immediately considered the prime suspect. Authorities questioned his neighbors in Mount Jewett and finally one witness stepped forward to state they had seen Ralph getting onto the train for Smethport the Thursday before Lucetta’s murder. Two days after Lucetta’s murder, Ralph was arrested for killing his mother. It was believed Ralph killed his mother for his father’s estate – it was known that the two of them had an argument about the estate before his father had been buried. The aftermath of the argument resulted in Ralph moving out of the house.
He was held in the Smethport Jail until his trial which began March 2, 1893. During his time in prison, he seemed unconcerned about the situation. Ralph should have been found not guilty – the prosecution’s case was purely circumstantial. No witnesses could place Ralph at the scene of the crime, though the primary witness for the state was a Mrs. Pelton who stated she saw Ralph in the area the night before Lucetta’s murder.
The prosecution maintained that Ralph had choked his mother to death before striking her with a piece of wood to make sure she was dead. Afterward, he staged the scene to make it appear she had committed suicide.
The only piece of evidence against Crossmire was a button discovered nearby that was from his coat. If he lost the button during the struggle, or if he lost it months before could not be determined. Note: Some newspaper articles state Ralph’s coat was discovered and it had human blood on it. This is not in every article, but all seem to agree that a button from his coat was discovered at the murder scene.
The whole case against him was based upon circumstantial evidence and Crossmire maintained his innocence throughout the trial.
After a three-day trial, the lawyers made their closing arguments. The jury deliberated for eighteen hours before returning for a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder. Ralph was sentenced by the court to hang for the murder. Before he was sentenced, the judge asked Ralph if he had anything to say to which he replied he was innocent and implied the main witness – Mrs. Pelton – had always had something against him.
On December 14, 1893, Ralph was executed by hanging. At ten that morning, Sheriff Grubb led Ralph to the scaffold that had been erected in the jail’s yard. The cold December day kept people inside and Ralph merely told those present he was innocent. A black cap was placed over his head and the noose around his neck.
The gallows used to execute Ralph were not the typical gallows. Ralph was not led up a set of steps and dropped into eternity. The gallows, which stood fifteen feet high, had two posts placed eleven feet apart and connected with a crossbeam that formed a crude looking “A.” Crossmire stood on the ground next to one of the posts and next to the other post was a weighted box, with a rope connecting the two by a set of pulleys. When the signal was given, the box was dropped, yanking the condemned upward to his death.
Ralph’s body was taken to the County Farm Cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave. But Ralph’s spirit did no rest peacefully.
In the August 30, 1893 edition of The Potter Enterprise, Crossmire was already planning his revenge. Crossmire supposedly claimed he “would return after death if possible and harass and annoy certain people in Farmers Valley and elsewhere during the remainder of their natural lives.” He kept this promise.
In Robert Lyman’s Forbidden Land, he records the first sighting of Ralph Crossmire, who is called Brassmire, in “Ghost in Jail.”
According to Lyman on the scaffold Crossmire proclaimed that if he was executed, he would return to haunt the jail. After his execution, he appeared to the prisoner who had been placed in Ralph’s former cell. Ralph appeared suddenly, scaring the prisoner before vanishing. Other prisoners also claimed to see Ralph’s ghost walking about the jail and requested to be released or moved to another location. Those requests were denied.
As far as his promise to return to haunt Farmers Valley, I have not found any reports to suggest his spirit returned to haunt the area.