Ghost Hunting with The Express
(Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of haunted and ghost stories written by Lou Bernard. One story will appear each day until Halloween.)
By LOU BERNARD
For The Express
I get a lot of feedback on my paranormal articles. People contact the Express or the Ross Library to tell me about ghosts all the time. I’ve gotten kind of used to it.
But, apparently, I’m not the first to go this route. Almost six decades ago, two Express employees beat me to it. I’ve recently found a series of articles written in August of 1950 by Express reporter Pete Stevenson and photographer Jim Patterson.
They were acting on a tip from Hiram Cranmer, who was a big fan of ghost stories. Cranmer wrote and told a lot of excellent stories and legends; there was very little you could do to stop Cranmer from telling you ghost stories. And in 1950, he contacted Patterson and Stevenson to tell them about the Headless Frenchman.
According to the story, there was a French trader who stumbled upon a cave of silver that the Native Americans protected. He stole some of the silver, but was caught and beheaded for it. Which is a somewhat plausible story, actually — I’ve found multiple references to the tribes having access to a silver cave up in the western Clinton County area. According to the legend, the Frenchman can still be seen wandering the area today, looking for his lost head.
Stevenson and Patterson decided to investigate. They drove up to Leidy Township and parked at a cemetery to watch. I believe this cemetery to be the Botsford Cemetery, near Route 144. And they waited.
“It was a chilly night,” Stevenson wrote later. “Mists swirled up from the creek, enveloping trees and deadening sound. The clock on the car dashboard read close to 2 a.m.” (Admittedly, in 1950, clocks on car dashboards always read close to 2 a.m.)
Patterson was about to light a cigarette, because it was required in 1950, when he said, “Look over there! What’s that?”
Near the bridge, they saw a “reddish-blue outline” shifting back and forth. Climbing carefully from the car, they followed it. Stevenson wrote, “A low, sickening moan came from the creek.”
The figure moved, going swiftly up the creek and up the hill. The two men followed after it, until a metal film container fell out of Patterson’s pocket, making a clatter on the road.
The figure stopped, turned around, and moved toward the two men.
“About 20 minutes later,” Stevenson wrote, “we were pounding on the door of Charlie Hedgeland’s place about eight miles away.”
They went into the restaurant, sat down, and had a couple of drinks to calm down. Stevenson and Patterson had the right attitude to be paranormal investigators, however. I know this because they decided to go back.
“Nobody will believe it unless we get a picture,” Patterson said.
So they drove back to the cemetery. After a while, they got tired of waiting in the car, and let’s face it, even hunting ghosts can get a little slow if nothing happens. So they got out and walked back down to the creek where they’d seen it.
Stevenson’s hair kept falling into his eyes, so he took out a comb. And, suddenly, the thing reappeared.
“It groaned, low and mournful,” Stevenson’s article said. “Then two arms raised toward us in a threat. Our eyes, running up and down its five-foot height, fixed on its shoulders. There was no head.”
This, they later reasoned, was why it reappeared and was angry at the sight of a comb. Without a head, you’d get offended by the people who still had hair.
The figure moved toward them. Stevenson stood frozen, still holding the comb. Then Patterson lifted his camera and took a shot.
There was the sound of a scream, and then the thing vanished.
Immediately, Patterson and Stevenson ran back to the car and drove back to Lock Haven. Stevenson and I have two things in common: We were both born on July 23, and we both desperately want to write these things up as soon as possible. He sat down in the Express newsroom immediately, and wrote it while the sun came up. Patterson’s photo, when developed, showed a weird bright figure that does look like a headless guy.
And the story made the August 12, 1950 edition of The Lock Haven Express.
Stevenson and Patterson went on to win awards together, and Stevenson was promoted to city editor by 1952. Sadly, both men are no longer with us: Stevenson died in 2002, and Patterson in 2004.
But I would like to posthumously declare them both honorary members of the Lock Haven Paranormal Seekers. And I think The Express needs to bring back the tradition of this sort of investigation. Bob Rolley, Lana Muthler, Wendy Stiver, are you with me? Let’s take a road trip up to Leidy Township! One of you can drive, and I’ll bring all my equipment. And a comb.