Ghosts Tales from East Falls’ Mysterious Past

These ghost stories come to us from the Chadwick Papers — clippings from the now-defunct local newspaper “The Suburban Press” by the paper’s editor in the 1930’s, Alex C. Chadwick. Transcribed and unedited, below, they’re a time capsule of sorts for scary storytelling 75 years ago.

The old man narrative is archetypal, and then his fantastical descriptions seem kinda child-like and not terribly scary to modern sensibilities (turtle feet? lobster claws?). 

In contrast, Baby Boomer stories tend to evoke common tragedies like car accidents and heartache, rather than demons and goblins.  Classics like “Lady in White” and “taxi-driver-finds-out-she’s-been-dead-for-20-years” reflect a trend towards realism in ghost storytelling that has only intensified in the digital age.

Today, ghost stories are all about EMF‘s, EVP‘s, thermal imaging… Instead of hapless homeowners plagued by spirits, droves of “ghost hunters” gather in clubs to seek out the spookiest settings, actually trying to confront entities and catalog evidence like lab specimens.

East Falls House spooky PM

Is Hohenadel House haunted…?

So far, no ghosts — but that doesn’t mean spirits couldn’t get “stirred up” by an upcoming renovation project, or maybe one’ll wander in off the street or attach themselves to someone living in the house… Oh there are apparently lots of ways to get haunted.

But even if the house remains phantom-free, the surrounding area could certainly still be a hotbed of psychic activity, who knows?! A hundred years ago, creepy paths wound through dense thorny thickets  behind Indian Queen Lane.  Where Midvale is today, a creek called Mifflin’s Run flowed through a craggy forest where, further in, the old Mifflin Mansion sat, abandoned in ruins.

mifflin mansion old photo PM

In this spooky setting, our Ghost Tale from 1935 begins…

Suburban Press

Darkness and Shadows were Cause of Tales of Ghosts

There are many people who hold that electric lightening has done more to abolish the old superstitions that used to exist pretty generally about ghosts. They base their contention on the fact that illy-lighted highways and homes, with deep, dark shadows, gave the imagination too much rein, and that modern illumination is fast destroying the old beliefs. Maybe they’re right. But in the old days, every dilapidated house, every lonely lane, had its legends of ghosts.

One of the best known of these in past times, was the old Mifflin Mansion at the Falls of Schuylkill, which stood on the hill above Ridge avenue, between Stanton street and Midvale avenue. It was a three-story stone building built in Colonial style. Although erected prior to the Revolutionary War, it was still substantial at the time it was torn down in the summer of 1893. It was built by and used as a residence by Thomas Mifflin, the first Governor of Pennsylvania (under the Constitution), who was born in Philadelphia in 1744.

On several occasions George Washington was a guest at the old house. Robert Morris, who financed the Revolution; Benjamin Franklin, scientist, philosopher and First Postmaster-General; Judge Peters of Belmont Mansion, and other patriots of the period used to ride out from Penn’s “greene countrie towne” to breakfast with Mifflin, and such men as Samuel Morris, Clement Biddle, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Meredith and Timothy Pickering attended historic dinners that were given there. But it was after these stirring times that the ghost stories began to circulate.

An old man, up in the eighties, when asked concerning the old place one day last week said, “How your question takes me back to my youth! One winter night a party of us came through a thicket near the mansion from a “good time” we had up in Martin’s little stone cottage in the woods.

“What a time we had getting home; how we scratched our hands and faces and tore our clothes scampering through the blackberry bushes — after we had seen a ghost!

“We had walked along until we reached a little turtle pond, from where we could see the moon shining through an opening in the big trees. The moon was passing behind scattered clouds and looked like a boat sailing through immense white waves, when we felt something pass before us and blow a warm breath in our faces. We could feel the breath and hear a crinkling noise that sounded like tissue paper when a large sheet of it is crumpled in the hands. We were so frightened that we could not stir, and I have never experienced such a sensation before or since in my life.

“I stood there feeling my heart beat and thinking every breath would be my last. The perspiration, as cold as ice-water, came out on my forehead as large as pie-cherries. Just as I thought I would fall over, I looked around and coming from above the trees was a bluish-white object that made my hair stand on end.

“The thing had a head like a lion, with long crooked teeth on either side of its mouth. It had long thick legs and feet like a turtle and from its back extended wings that were webbed like a bat’s, while from the joints and tips of the wings were large claws like those of a lobster.

“The monster gradually descended and began to bark and whine like a whipped dog, and then set up the most fearful howling I have ever heard. The wings flapped through the branches of the trees and just as it was about to pounce on us, one of the boys yelled ‘Murder! Bloody murder!’ That put life into the rest of us and we took to our heels and cut up the hill through briars and everything else, with enough noise to frighten the thing that frightened us.

“There was another night that also sticks in my memory. I was returning home from seeing my best girl who lived up on Indian Queen Lane. I stayed till midnight but didn’t know it was so late until an old English clock struck the hour of twelve. Then I got up, made an apology for keeping the young lady up so late and left. It was in the summer and I hadn’t gone for long before a thunderstorm broke in a great fury over the Falls.

“My, but it thundered and the lightening nearly blinded me, it was so vivid and frequent. I was wet to the skin before I had gone three hundred yards. While I was walking up the Ridge, with my head down and pressing forward against the beating rain I reached about what is now the foot of Eveline street. I heard a noise that sounded like dragging a heavy iron chain over a barn floor. I soon reached the entrance to the old Mifflin mansion, and glancing towards the stone steps, I saw what I’ll always believe was the devil himself! 

“He was fully twelve feet tall and wore and old-fashioned red cloak. He had a head like a bull, with a short horn cropping out on either side. His arms were long and bony: in one hand, which had paws like a grizzly bear, he held the end of his tail, that had been drawn over his shoulder, and with the other hand he carried a long piece of chain, about which the lightning flashed.Sticking through the girdle of his cloak was a long-handled, three-pronged pitch-fork.

“He came down the stone steps at a jump, and was soon brushing me on the face with the end of his tail. I don’t know whether he said anything or not, for I did not wait. I was in a hurry to get home. How I got there I do not know. All I remember is that the next morning when Mother came down stairs, she found me lying on the floor, in front of the open door, which I had probably run against so hard that I broke it open, tearing the bolt straps clean out of the oak door frame!

“That was the first and last time that I ever stayed at a girl’s house until midnight. But they tell me these young chaps today, don’t go until after eleven, and then it’s three or four in the morning when they leave!

“There was another time, just after the Civil War, when large crowds were attending revival meetings that were being held in the Baptist Church on Indian Queen Lane, that a young woman created a great sensation along Ridge road, in the neighborhood of the old mansion. She had a narrow escape from being shot! If Tom Barker’s gun hadn’t snapped, she would have suffered for her folly — it was a bold thing for a woman to do.

“The young woman had been to revival and, hurrying on ahead of the others, she walked up the stone steps, raised her outer white skirt over her head, and waited until the remainder of her party came along, when she gave vent to a hissing sound and ran out in the road.

“Some of the young men left their girls and fled the pike like mad, while the girls screamed and some fainted. Barker was standing on the porch of his tavern across the road, and ran in and seized his double-barreled gun and tried to shoot what he thought was a spook, but the caps were damp and wouldn’t go off.

“The girl, meanwhile, kept running from one side of the road to the other, with half a dozen frightened men chasing her. They took good care, however, not to get too close. She kept on until she got to Spencer street (now Calumet), and after turning around suddenly walked back to the corner in proper attire. In a subdued voice, one of the men said: ‘Lady, did you see a ghost turn this corner?’

“Of course, she pretended to be very much surprised and said she had not seen the apparition. She joined the rest of the crowd, and with them, wondered what they had seen. But the damp gun caps were a lucky accident for her!”

What do you think? Could East Falls be a doorway for spirits and elementals? Do you know of any haunted houses or other locations in East Falls, Germantown or NW Philly..? Have you ever experienced the supernatural first-hand? We’d love to hear more in the comments below (or email to share your story with the wider community.

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