Centre Country has probably produced more governors, professional football players and scientists than any other county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But, the county also has a rather lengthy list of famous phantoms.
Cobbled together from pieces of Huntingdon, Lycoming, Mifflin and Northumberland counties in the 1800s, Centre County came of age during the Victorian era — an age steeped in the spirit-rapping hysteria of spiritualism.
Some of that eerie era has not left the county. In fact, a quick look at the towns, villages and a rather haunted college campus in Centre County reveals a long list of spooky mansions, spirit-filled fields and demon-haunted dorms among its ghost stories and ghostlore.
We’ll take a look at some of them now.
The grave of Penn State’s seventh president, George Atherton, is located right outside of Schwab Auditorium. Atherton’s eternal spirit is said to roam the auditorium frequently. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mansell
A NICE DAY FOR A FRIGHT WEDDING
When you think of haunted houses what comes to mind?
Elegance that hints at past glories? Check.
If that’s your definition of a haunted house, then Bellefonte is your type of place. Many of the Victorian mansions of Centre County’s county seat don’t just look haunted — reports are that they actually are haunted. Lovingly restored, some of these homes remain private residences, but a few now serve as bed and breakfasts and museums. And some of the guests and visitors to these homes take back more than good memories and souvenirs. They take back plenty of Bellefonte ghost stories.
The Hasting Mansion, once owned by Pennsylvania Gov. Daniel Hastings, is supposed to be one of those sites that are haunted by a few ghosts. Of all the mansion’s ghostly inhabitants, the one who is talked about the most is said to be the spirit of a young woman who died in the home — when it served as an inn — on her wedding night. She is said to appear again and again, but always attired in an ethereal white wedding gown.
Rumor has it that while the ghost doesn’t seem to be particularly malicious, her appearance is said to be a portent of death. No, there’s nothing malicious about that.
When the Noll family moved into the soaring Victorian home on Linn Street in Bellefonte, the resident spirit didn’t exactly throw a welcome party for them. That’s what Nancy Noll, who, along with her husband, operate The Queen, one of the town’s bed and breakfasts, told. They said that one night, shortly after the family moved in, a bookcase unexpectedly came crashing down in the bedroom. But, apparently the spectral suspect behind the cascading bookcase became just another member of the family. The ghost, who everyone now calls “Harry,” still makes his presence known, but he has been pretty quiet recently, Noll said in an email interview.
Does Centre County’s most haunted church need an eggs-orcist?
Egg Hill Church rests in a pleasant enough section of the ever-pleasant Potter Township. But, the rumors that surround this little wooden chapel are anything but pleasant. Over the years, the story has spread that the church had been the site of a brutal mass murder. In some stories, a minister — who was either possessed by the devil or just insane — poisons his parishioners. In other versions of the tale he shoots them. Ever since then, the church has been haunted.
Except, according to just about every local historian, the incident never occurred.
That hasn’t stopped paranormal investigators ghost hunters, and people who just want a good scare from telling stories about Centre County’s most haunted church.
Each Halloween, while football fans eye the Coaches’ Poll, Penn State’s University Park campus easily attains top haunted campus rankings in most paranormal polls. Why? Well, for starters, there’s a grave right on campus. According to folklorists, the grave of Penn State’s seventh president George Atherton, which rests right outside of Schwab Auditorium, is the epicenter of paranormal events. Atherton is one ghost — of about three who are collectively referred to as Schwaboo — who inhabits the auditorium. Across the street, Frances Atherton, wife of the president, is said to gaze forlornly out the second-floor window of Old Botany, keeping an ever vigilant eye on her husband’s final resting spot.
Nearby, the ghost of a murdered student is said to wander the maze-like stacks of the Pattee Library. The rest of the campus has a few scary tales to tell. In the late 1970s, or early 1980s, as movies such as “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist” were becoming blockbusters, an RA was chased out of her room by supernatural activity, according to a widely told legend.
The ghost of Frances Atherton, wife of Penn State’s seventh president, George Atherton, is said to watch from the second floor window of Old Botany, located across from Schwab Auditorium on PSU’s campus. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mansell
THE PHANTOM OF THE ROWLAND
Built in 1917, the Rowland Theater is the crown jewel of Philipsburg’s cultural life that has attracted its share of celebrity visitors. Tom Mix, cowboy movie and vaudeville legend, performed there and Erik Estrada, who later went on to star in the 1970s hit television series “CHiPs,” visited the theater. But there are a few visitors who haven’t left the theater after the applause and fanfare finally faded. Several visitors who have attended shows, volunteers at the theater and paranormal teams who have investigated the venerable establishment, say it’s haunted. According to one story, people have seen a large black mass, or shadow, slowly skulking through the theater and across the stage. Others have claimed to hear voices and strange noises.
What’s causing the haunting? According to believers, in addition to all the residual spirits of people in the past who attended shows or worked at the Rowland, the theater is said to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves who may have stayed in the theater as they made their way north through the Underground Railroad. As proof, believers say that tunnels are under the theater that connects with other buildings in town. Skeptics, however, say that these really aren’t tunnels. They’re air ducts for heating and ventilation.
It seems, then, just like the show, the debate on the Rowland Theater haunting will go on.
Finally, if you’re looking for ghost towns in Centre County, the Scotia Barrens, an aptly named region right outside of State College, is a ghost town with lots of ghosts. Once home to a busy iron ore mining operation, rumors of murders and lynchings now haunt the site. The most famous is said to be the ghost of a murderer who was executed in the Barrens, or the spirit of a lynching victim.
The Scotia Barrens, located just outside of State College, is rumored by many as one of the county’s hotspots for paranormal activity. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mansell
The former iron ore mining community of Scotia Barrens is a ghost town today as evidence of the town’s past remains standing at the site, located near Port Matilda. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mansell
Matt Swayne is a freelance writer from State College. He has penned five books relating to ghost stories and ghost lore, including “America’s Haunted Universities,” “Haunted Rock and Roll,” and “Haunted Rails.”