If you’re looking for a place to experience a haunting this October, or maybe converse with the souls of the dead, the centuries old town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, should be one of the first places logged into your GPS. The surrounding historical battlefields alone witnessed the death of nearly 9000 soldiers and some 22,000 casualties during three days of conflict in July of 1863. Monuments for the dead dot the landscape everywhere you look as you drive the twenty-five miles of roads snaking through the national monument. Obelisks. Cemeteries. Aging buildings. Tangled forests. At twilight, as the fog settles on the granite headstones, you’ll likely keep your car windows rolled up. But if you’re the type who likes to meet their ghosts up close, Gettysburg has much to offer.
If you stroll down Baltimore Street in the center of urban Gettysburg, there is no shortage of “Ghost Tours” available for your selection. The city has taken great pains to keep its historical district authentic to its famous era, and despite the ubiquitous 7-Eleven or McDonalds, the preservation is mostly successful. Bronze historical placards hang beside almost every entryway and more modern structures are kept off the main drag. Gettysburg maintains an incredible amount of 19th century charm that should not be missed.
For my own ghostly adventure, I chose to explore the Farnsworth House, which sits at 401 Baltimore Street amid a tangle of adjoining structures and a quaint (yet, creepy) courtyard that doubles as a beer garden (a big plus in my book). The house was originally built in 1810 and has a long history of earthly departures, including its cellar being utilized as a makeshift morgue during the Civil War. Since its most recent ownership, the Schutlz family purchasing it in 1972, paranormal activity has been a large part of the business’ promotion. The owners claim that no less than sixteen poltergeists occupy its walls and grounds, and walking in and around its interior after dark, it’s easy to believe. There is an eight-year-old boy who was trampled by horses along the cobblestones in front of the inn, and a midwife whose apparition can still be seen restocking the linen closets long after midnight.
While the Farnsworth House offers walks around the surrounding countryside, you can experience the home itself best if you stay on the property. The outer brickwork tells the homes story the moment you arrive. It is pockmarked with what is reported to be over 135 bullet holes. And, an eerily lonesome window hangs atop its northern face where an assassin once fired rounds from the attic crawlspace. At the time of our visit, the courtyard/beer garden just below that window was decorated with cobwebs and tombstones and was even being haunted by a fiddle player dressed in period attire, striking the perfect atmosphere for our visit.
The inn itself does offers dinner service, and I highly recommend you reserve your party a table here. The price tag for each plate is in the $25-$50 range, so it can get pricey with a drink or two, but the meal includes wonderful additions–like a shared plate of picked watermelon rinds and a cup of spoon bread, samplings of food from Farnsworth’s past. It is well with the cost, and you get to eat a meal in the parlor of the ghostly manor itself.
Our final adventure into Gettysburg’s haunted history was in the cellar, believe it or not. For a very budget friendly $7, we were led below the floorboards for an hour of ghost stories…and not so ghostly stories. The setting was ideal. Candlelight casting shadows. Death portraits hanging from the walls. Authentic nineteenth century caskets, including one built for a child-sized occupant, laid at the front and back of the room. That being said, this adventure would have been chilling only to the youngest of observers. Karen, our storyteller and an eight year veteran of the Farnsworth House, seemed to have less knowledge of the inn’s ghostly occupants than most of her audience. Sadly, instead of actual stories, Karen spent most of her time talking about random noises her coworkers had heard over the years. With the rich history Gettysburg and the Farnsworth House offers, it was a real disappointment our host had so little to say. But, at $7 a person, sitting in the perfect Halloween setting with a great meal and a few drinks behind me, it was hard to complain.
Gettysburg, including the historical treasure it already is, turns out to be a great choice for a Halloween vacation stop. You’ll find holiday adventure choices too numerous to count, and most of them will satisfy even the most skeptical of paranormal explorers. And, don’t miss a visit to the Farnsworth Inn on Baltimore Street. Despite a terrible attempt at basement frights, there is much to love about this Civil War era gem.
Do you have any favorite local “haunts”? Share them with us?