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This story by Phyllis Maguire was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on October 28, 1998. All rights reserved.
The Ghostly Side of New Hope
Frosty nights and autumn bluster are adding to the ambiance of the Ghost Tours of New Hope, running Friday and Saturday evenings through November. At the Logan Inn, universally recognized as the town's most spooky site, where the tours begin, there have been sightings of a Revolutionary War soldier, a former sentry perhaps from the Trenton campaign or a spirit that remained when the Inn's dirt cellar served as a temporary morgue for soldiers who succumbed to disease.
There have been many instances of logs in cold Logan Inn fireplaces bursting into blazing flames; of intense wafts of lavender, redolent of a former owner's dead grandmother; of the peach-colored glass witches' ball disappearing from its glued base in the tavern, to be found in different rooms throughout the inn; of the ghost who will not leave room number 6; and of a woman in a white dress, seen standing by the back porch window.
Now in its 16th season, Ghost Tours was the brainchild of Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey, who herself passed into the spiritual realm in 1991. Adele Gamble, her former associate, who now leads the weekend tours, delights in recounting the many mysteries of her riverside haunt.
Gamble's mentor, Jeffrey was a native New Yorker who attended the Spense School and Barnard College who worked as a Vera Maxwell model and an NBC Radio broadcaster before moving to Southampton in Bucks County in 1948. As a journalist with an intense interest in the supernatural, she collected stories of hauntings for her "Dark Side of the Delaware" series in the Philadelphia Bulletin's "Sunday Magazine." Forty tales were published in her 1971 "Ghosts In The Valley," followed in 1973 with "More Ghosts in the Valley" that extended the geography of sightings to Greenwich and Cape May, New Jersey. Both books are still in print.
Jeffrey discovered the Delaware Valley to be "abundant with phantoms" -- particularly New Hope which, she wrote, "harbors a colony of apparitions" along with its (living) actors and artists. She found an ardent disciple in Gamble, who first worked for Jeffrey in the mid-1980s, helping her organize a Getaway Mystery Weekend at New Hope's quaint (and haunted) Umpleby House. During her overnight stay, Gamble says she repeatedly heard footsteps on the stairs outside her bedroom and finally ventured out into the hall.
"I felt a sudden drop in temperature and saw a misty figure coming down the stairs," she recalls. "And while putting clues for the Mystery Weekend around the first floor the next morning, I heard the back door close and then heavy footsteps. Once more it got cold, and there was a large mist of a figure that faded."
Gamble's introduction to New Hope's phantom community continued during a Halloween seance organized by Jeffrey in the home of Joseph Pickett, a (deceased) butcher and primitive painter. "I was sitting near the window in the full moon when someone yanked my hair. People said they saw a figure standing beside me" -- presumably Pickett himself, who remains one of the town's most familiar apparitions. Gamble has maintained Ghost Tours and overseen the distribution of Jeffrey's books since the author's death.
Some claim it is all the water in New Hope that helps conduct spiritual energy. Situated on the Delaware, with the Delaware Canal, the mighty Aquetong Creek, and several streams flowing through it, it's a natural magnet for artists and apparitions. Like Jeffrey, Gamble thinks spirits linger across the river from Lambertville because of the sheer weight of history. Given "how old New Hope is, there has been a lot of heartache there," she says. "With so many actors and actresses, painters and poets, all that sensitivity has built up over the years."
But artists and actors were 20th-century imports to a town first settled by the Dutch and then Quakers on land sold by William Penn's agents. The first gristmill along Aquetong Creek was built in 1707, followed by a sawmill and a fulling mill to finish newly woven woolen cloth, and by 1740, a rolling and slitting mill to flatten bars of Bucks County iron ore and cut them into nails. A ferry began plying the river in 1722. It was operated by John Wells, a carpenter who built his own tavern. Across the river, Emanuel Coryell opened a competing ferry on the New Jersey side.
By 1760, both ferries were owned by Emanuel's son, John Coryell, and Coryell's Ferry prospered as a busy stop along the Lower York Road, the route between Philadelphia and New York. Iron-laden Durham boats from the Durham Iron Works docked there; the village became a port for farmers' products; a new ferryboat accommodated the Conestoga wagons arriving from the west. A staunch patriot, Coryell befriended George Washington and welcomed the Continental Army during the winters of 1776 and 1777. McKonkey's Ferry, eight miles south, was the site of Washington's crossing -- but Coryell was such a well-known personage, villagers for many years after his death claimed to see him walking with the ghost of his dog, Captain.
Back among the living, a wealthy Quaker named Benjamin Parry bought and built an enterprise in Coryell's Ferry in 1784 that he named Hope Mills. When the complex burned six years later and was rebuilt, he dubbed them the New Hope Mills, and the name stuck. By 1798, New Hope consisted of 34 buildings, the oldest remaining home being the Vansant House on Mechanic Street, built in 1743, and purportedly haunted by a cleaning ghost, content to spend its afterlife tidying. The Parry Mansion is a beautiful stone Georgian built by Benjamin himself in 1784; it is now open for tours.
New Hope remained an important industrial town through the 19th century, with silk manufacturing and iron foundries augmenting its mills. The construction of the Delaware Canal in 1832 brought coal and iron canal boats directly through town, a common sight until 1931. In the early 1900s, the area began attracting more than yeomen and entrepreneurs: impressionists Edward W. Redfield, William L. Lathrop, and Daniel Garber founded what was known as the New Hope School of painting, garnering national attention with paintings that remain sought after today. By the 1930s, New Hope art galleries were drawing visitors, a flow that surged when the Bucks County Playhouse was constructed on the foundations of Parry's gristmill in 1939.
"The Playhouse changed the complexion of New Hope entirely," says historian Francis M. Curley, a retired history teacher at the New Hope-Solebury High School. Born in New Hope in 1920, Curley has lived there all his life. "With the Playhouse bringing in crowds for eight performances a week, first restaurants opened, and then shops. That process is still going on, even though the theater isn't what it used to be." For years, the Playhouse served as an out-of-town test run for Broadway, boasting a stellar crowd who settled into country homes: playwright Moss Hart and wife Kitty Carlisle in nearby Aquetong, with George S. Kaufman a Holicong neighbor, his Barley Sheaf Farm now a popular bed-and-breakfast, and Oscar Hammerstein's house just up the river.
But 200 years earlier, it was New Hope's taverns that pulled in out-of-towners. Built in 1722 and licensed as Wells's original ferry house in 1727, the Logan Inn is the oldest operating inn in Bucks County and the fifth oldest in the nation. An important way station during New Hope's carriage and ferry days, it is still bustling -- and, according to local lore, it is New Hope's most haunted site, making it a fitting starting point for the Saturday evening Ghost Tours.
Inside the Logan Inn, the "Woman in White" is rumored to be, says the guide leading the tour up Ferry Street, the ghost of a millworker's daughter, abandoned by an erstwhile lover, who purportedly killed her newborn before disappearing herself. Many have heard the phantom cries of a baby there at 63 Ferry Street, one of a beautifully preserved row of houses once home to millworkers and their families.
The tour doubles back over the railroad tracks where actress Pearl White lay tied during the silent film thriller series, "The Perils of Pauline"; she is apparently resting soundly. (Nor have there been any sightings of Jessica Savitch, New Hope's most notorious and recent accidental death.)
Then it's over bridges, through narrow alleys wedged between shops that hug the steep hills, down winding stone steps over an old entrance to tunnels used by the emancipators' Underground Railroad, into pocket-sized gardens hidden behind New Hope's busy streets. Along the towpath and through the warren of tiny streets and yards spin tales of sightings and sorrows: loyalists said to still be seen hanging from ancient trees, murdered by their revolutionary neighbors; suicides following business failures; animals still bellowing near the fencing academy that once served as the town's slaughterhouse. Ornery while alive, a former restaurant owner has been seen still scowling through her kitchen window, while Joseph Pickett may still be painting at a ghostly easel in the Wedgwood Inn gazebo.
Even the venerable Parry Mansion, lived in by successive generations of the Parry family until 1966 and now owned by the New Hope Historical Society, isn't immune. Sometimes lit candles are said to appear at windows, and a young girl has been seen sitting on the edge of a bed in one of the bedrooms. "But it's not clear whether she's haunting the room or the bed itself," the guide explains. "It's not at all unusual for furniture to be haunted."
There are many who don't believe -- like historian Curley, who particularly objects to sightings of Aaron Burr who, some say, laid low in New Hope after the encounter that proved fatal to Alexander Hamilton. "It is almost impossible for him to have been here," Curley avers. And others worry more about New Hope's present image than about its restless former residents, wanting fewer body piercing venues and more of the upscale audience Lambertville has been able to cultivate.
But even for those who think ghost tales are more entertainment than gospel, the Ghost Tours provide a unique view into the architecture and history built up over centuries along the river. And though many apparitions are reported, none are malicious -- merely reluctant, perhaps, to leave the bustle of this river town, particularly on a Saturday evening in the summer or autumn, when storefronts are gaily lit and the clatter of dishes can be heard coming from crowded restaurants.
Tour director Gamble certainly doesn't find the town's ghostly denizens to be threatening. After spending years having her hair pulled and shivering through plummeting temperatures, she has yet to fear the supernatural. "Dead people can't hurt you," Gamble says matter-of-factly. "It's the live ones I worry about."
-- Phyllis B. Maguire
The Parry Mansion is open Fridays through Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call 215-862-5652.
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