Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of five ghost stories, written by Matt Connor and told during the Clinton County Art Council's recent Tour of Terror in downtown Lock Haven. The stories will continue through Friday - Halloween Day.
The beautiful and award-winning brick house at 30 West Water Street in Lock Haven was built with the huge wealth generated by the Kistler family leather tannery, once located near where Painter Stadium stood until recently. It began as the dream of Sedgewick Kistler, an important local politician who ran for the U.S. Senate and hobnobbed with many of the country's most influential lawmakers.
Sedgwick married the former Bertha Kaul in 1906, began construction on the home in 1907, had their only child, Gertrude, in 1908, and completed the house in 1912.
The years between 1906 and 1920 were probably the happiest the Kistler's experienced, because very soon a calamity would darken their otherwise well-ordered and comfortable lives.
Thanks to his political connections, Sedgewick was selected as a local delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in San Francisco in 1920. That year he decided to take Bertha and Gertrude on a tour of the western United States as part of his trip to San Francisco.
On a tour of Yosemite National Park, however, tragedy struck. In one instant young Gertrude was her typical bubbly, lively self. In the next she had suddenly fallen from a rock outcropping and plunged into the treacherous and fast-moving Mercedes River, where she drowned.
Her body wasn't recovered for days.
Chauffer H.J. Pink, made an attempt to rescue the 12-year-old girl, but in doing so was crushed against the rocks in the roiling rapids and died from head injuries.
This was the singular cataclysmic event in the lives of the Kistlers. After a solemn trip home with their dead daughter, little Gertrude was buried in a family plot in Saint Marys.
It is said the Kistlers never lived full time in their beautiful home ever again. Instead they divided their time between Lock Haven and a luxury hotel in Philadelphia.
Even when in town, however, the Kistlers passed their time almost like living phantoms, ignoring their old friends and crossing the street whenever they saw an old acquaintance approach them, grief written over their increasingly grim countenances.
The shades were drawn over their windows, and the interior of the house grew increasingly somber and oppressive. Before long neighborhood children began to speculate that the house was haunted, an idea many of their more superstitious parents found easy to believe.
The family maid was often the sole lonely resident of the huge house for the next 32 years, and the Kistlers gave strict orders that Gertrude's possessions never be touched.
Her former room remained a shrine to the little girl.
Nothing in it was ever moved or altered. For over three decades, it remained exactly as it was on the day she died. As if it were waiting for her return.
And rumors around town abounded that she did indeed return regularly to the lovely old house. It was said the Kistler family maid was occasionally jolted by the sudden presence of the little girl. Always mischievous in life, the tiny specter of Gertrude was said to appear to the poor woman and surprise her when she least expected it.
Finally, on April 28, 1952, Sedgwick Kistler found relief from the lifelong grief he suffered over the loss of his daughter. Just six months later, his devoted wife Bertha followed him in death.
The house was then sold to the Griffin family, owners of a local wood furniture factory. But before the Griffins set foot in the house, they had Gertrude's old room torn out, and a series of hall closets built in its stead.
Thanks to the talented artisans of the Griffin furniture plant, the moldings and doors of these new closets exactly matched the old house. If you were to step inside the house today, you'd never know Gertrude Kistler's old room had ever existed. And local lure has it, that's just the way the Griffins wanted it.
Since 1993, Beth and Rick Riccardo and their three sons, Wilson, George and James have resided in the house. According to Beth, on the first day they moved in, they were visited by a senior citizen who startled the couple with his strange pronouncement.
"You know this house is haunted," he said to them, "don't you?"