Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A great many tales of horror can be found in the legends of southeastern Pennsylvania, the ones discussed here just happen to be a few of my favorites. Gathered from paranormal books and online forums to entertain–and perhaps warn–you as we near campus’ favorite holiday.
Happy Halloween, Swarthmore.
Situated among the greenery of Willowbrook Lane is an ancient home, built in the 1700s for Benjamin Kirk and his family. The structure still stands today in Media, having braved the centuries with admirable determination and hosted a great many families within its walls. Having been a home for so many years, it’s only natural for it to have a few remaining residents. According to one man who grew up in the house in the 1960s, his whole family became quite accustomed to the others who shared the space. One phantom presence was that of a young woman who had a habit of looking after and caring for the boy and his brothers. An elderly man had even stopped by once to show pictures to the family, quite certain that the woman they had seen must have been his sister. Another discernible spirit was that of a father—an older man, perhaps Benjamin Kirk himself, who seemed to protectively watch the brothers as they played. As frightening as any paranormal experience might be, at least these two seemed to be fairly benevolent. That is, as opposed to the “something in the basement.” The man recalls fixing a clock once in the shadowy basement when he felt something in the corner watching him. Then, quite suddenly, the light switch flicked off. The switch that was, much to the discomfort of the man, only an arm’s length away from him; something had to have walked past him to reach it. In addition, the family’s dog refused to spend more than a few minutes in the basement, rocketing back up the stairs as soon as someone let go of his collar. Of course, if you’ve ever seen a horror film you know the first reason to never go somewhere is if the animals won’t.
Another home that has become quite infamous for its tragedy and supposed spirits is the Heilbron Mansion, also located in Media. The building that exists now is not the original—which supposedly burned down, killing seven of the family members inside— nor is it the second, which also burned down in 1987. The second incarnation, however, holds the most stories. Rebuilt in the mid-1700s by the Edwards family, it is said to have been a station on the Underground Railroad. A beacon of hope for many escaped slaves, the house seemed to only bring despair for those who resided in it. Stricken with bouts of depression and often withdrawing into the library, Joseph Edwards’ wife climbed the steps to the front window and hanged herself. She left Edwards and their sixteen-year-old daughter alone in the large home. A man is also rumored to have committed suicide on the property some years later, perhaps by the old maple tree which seems to bring heavy amounts of anxiety to those who near it. Families who have lived there in following years reported noises near the coach house and the maple tree as well as frequent footsteps of someone ascending the stairs from the library to the third floor. Strangely enough, the footfalls cut off once they reach the front window. The mansion’s current owners have yet to report any strange occurrences, but it’s very rare to find neighbors who are willing to near the grounds.
Devil’s Road and Cult House
One of the most notoriously cursed places in Pennsylvania can be found a mere thirty minutes from Parrish steps. The Devil’s Road, located near the Delaware border, has had a foul reputation for decades as a winding path to something much more evil. The trees along the road all grow at a violent angle away from the finish. The dense canopy of branches turn twilight to midnight in the woods. Animals are absent. An overwhelming silence takes hold of the trail. What makes Devil’s Road so infamous, however, isn’t the strange trees or stranger quiet, but instead the house that sits like a coiled snake at the end of the road. The Cult House, they call it; made of crumbling stone and bad memories, it has become a perfect vessel for folklore. According to legend, the DuPont family had moved to the house with the intention of being left alone. Their self-seclusion has been traced to a number of conclusions. Some say that they had a habit of marrying their own family, and so to hide the resulting children they needed a secluded space and a large basement. Others say they needed private space for their cult; the idea that this family had consisted of Satan worshippers is supported in some ways by the fact that, to this day, you can near the house and find freshly gutted animals. Whatever happened to or was committed by this family remains hidden in lack of historical record, but it is safe to say something awful did indeed occur. Those who make it all the way to the house report a feeling of intense anxiety upon entrance—I say “those who make it” for a fairly simple reason: most don’t. A legendary place, it is a common sight to see people, especially youth, attempting to find Devil’s Road and follow it to Cult House, yet very few have actually ever seen the home. Most of these horror-seekers are literally chased off of the road by an anonymous truck. In the middle of the night, with no street lamps and any moonlight obscured by thick trees, a truck always manages to find these adventurers with no headlights or direction. Reason says it is merely a disgruntled neighbor or a resident with a sick sense of humor, but fear isn’t always logical, and most who get chased away refuse to return.
Even Swarthmore, with its passive Quaker roots and community, isn’t completely safe from the grim history that grips Pennsylvania. We can’t forget the notorious Crum Creek Witch, suspected of devouring children and communicating with Satan himself. Or, of course, the fact that Mary Lyons Dorm was a World War II naval hospital; agonized veterans overflowing into the rooms some students now call home. Papazian Hall, the labyrinth that it is, hid within its walls the very ideas that helped destroy entire cities across the ocean. So, when you’re drinking and dancing and having a grand old time this Halloween, don’t forget who’s walked on these lands before.
They might come back to claim them.
Featured image courtesy of pinterest.com