Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Winter Walk in Swallow Falls State Park

When the weather outside is frightful,
A walk in the park can be delightful! 

I was hoping for both snow and frozen water falls, but I was disappointed by balmy 40-degree days over the Christmas holidays. My family and I had rented a cabin, right on the shores of Deep Creek Lake. Plans included going sleigh riding, snow-shoeing, and snow-mobiling, even dog sledding.

The warm weather thwarted those plans. Instead, we enjoyed a winter walk in Swallow Falls State Park, which I've blogged about before. Swallow Falls State Park is located on the west bank of the Youghiogheny River, not far from Oakland. In fact, just 60 miles downstream on the Youghiogheny is the fabulous, and possibly my favorite, Cucumber Falls, near Ohiopyle and its namesake falls which provided content for one of the first posts of the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog!

Muddy Creek Falls

The only officially designated Wild and Scenic River, the Youghiogheny acts as a watershed from the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains and encompasses approximately 397 miles in Maryland. Within Swallow Falls State Park, the river offers dramatic drops in elevation complete with falls, rapids and dense forestation.

The upper Swallow Falls.

Without the distraction of those silly colorful autumn deciduous tree leaves, I focused more on the lovely towering hemlocks, as well as other aspects of a forest in the winter.

The oldest grove of white pine and eastern hemlock in Maryland resides in Swallow Falls State Park. The tall hemlocks, some more than 300 years old, tower over park visitors and remind them of medieval European forestry.

Detail in the rock right next to upper Swallow Falls.

This hike is rewarding, because there are several falls along a fairly short trail: Swallow Falls, Muddy Creek Falls, and Toliver Falls. There are some steps leading down to both Swallow Falls and Muddy Creek Falls, but it's not terribly strenuous. Muddy Creek Falls and Swallow Falls are the main attractions at Swallow Falls State Park, but Tolliver Falls is just as rewarding.

Tolliver Falls. Although only 5-feet high, in warmer weather, it makes a nice wading pool.

Muddy Creek is a crashing 53-foot waterfall and is the reason most visitors go to the state park. Winter rain fall engorged it, making it spectacular. As with elsewhere in the park, tall hemlocks dominate the Canyon Creek Trail travels through. The 1 1/4-mile long trail guides hikers between Muddy Creek Falls and the two parts (aptly named Upper and Lower) of Swallow Falls.

Adventurous kayakers just after they passed through the lower Swallow Falls. They passed through
the upper Swallow Falls just before we got there -- we weren't fast enough to see them close by.

Getting there: 222 Herrington Ln, Oakland, MD 21550

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Dogs: Perfect for your pooch!!

Website: http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/swallowfalls.aspx

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Civil War Battle Nobody's Heard Of

Almost everyone's heard of the Battle of Gettysburg. But almost nobody has heard of the Battle of Monterey Pass, which took place immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, as the Confederate troops retreated back into Maryland and across the Potomac into the relative safety of Virginia.

The Battle of Monterey Pass was fought along a mountain ridge, in a blinding thunderstorm, during the middle of the night on July 4, just one day after the close of the battle of Gettysburg.

Because Pennsylvania only had a few battles, this battle is also commemorated as Pennsylvania's second largest.

Unlike the more famous Antietam and Gettysburg, this battle wasn't fought on fairly level farm fields, with opposing sides confronting each other from strategically placed battle lines. This battle was fought by weary, battle-exhausted troops strung out over narrow roads through rugged countryside in mountain passes. Ravines on one side and cliffs on the other often limited their movement., and played a part of the battle.

Following the devastating defeat at Gettysburg, Confederate Major General Robert E. Lee ordered the retreat of the Confederate troops from Gettysburg in the early hours of July 4, 1863.

By that afternoon, the Confederate Army began their march through South Mountain. During the aftermath of the battle, the Confederate army marched past Waynesboro through Monterey Pass, and many thousands of soldiers bivouacked here before continuing their march to the Potomac River at Williamsport and Falling Waters, MD. The soldiers were so weary that some literally were sleepwalking while they trudged along. 

Just 7 miles to the east of Monterey Pass, Union General Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry division came into Emmitsburg, MD. Some famous names formed part of Kilpatrick's cavalry division, including General George Custer, who led a brigade. They were ordered to attack the Confederate wagon train that was moving through South Mountain. 

The Hawley Memorial Church now stands where the battle began, in what is now Blue Ridge Summit.

The 5th Michigan was the first of Kilpatrick's cavalry division to climb the mountain.toward Monterey Pass. They'd learned of the Confederate presence there when a local resident, Charles H. Buhrman, learned of the Confederate retreat at Monterey Pass as well as the capture of several local citizens. He had ridden toward Emmitsburg until he encountered one of Custer's scouts.

The Confederates, as they headed through Monterey Pass, deployed one cannon to guard the pass, while the rest headed west toward the safety of Williamsport and Potomac River. A 9-mile long wagon train of wounded soldiers, supplies, and livestock extended from Fairfield, PA, through Monterey Pass into Maryland. The Union cavalry didn't get to the foot of South Mountain until dusk, and they didn't encounter the Confederates until midnight.

At Pen-Mar Park, I spotted a lovely male nuthatch, who paused a moment to stare at my intrusion into the closed park.

At midnight, in a tremendous thunderstorm and driving rain, the Union cavalry were surprised and blinded by cannon fire from the Confederates near Monterey Pass, at what is now Blue Ridge Summit; an episcopal church, built in the 1870s, now sits on the site. The Confederates drove the Union troops back, but eventually General Custer's brigade reorganized and advanced toward the summit. For the next several hours in the rain and darkness, the opposing forces engaged in some of the most confusing and chaotic fighting of the Civil War. In some instances, the soldiers could only tell where the enemy was by flashes from their guns, or when the cannon or lightning illuminated their positions.

The driving tour takes you up to Pen-Mar Park, which offers an impressive panoramic view of the Cumberland Valley, below. The Appalachian Trail passes through Pen-Mar Park.

Eventually Custer and his troops prevailed, and began storming through the long line of wagons, overturning many wagons and setting fire to others. However, Kilpatrick had divided his brigades, and eventually withdrew from Monterey Pass, so Custer's successes were for naught.

Normally not a fan of vandalism, it seems that colorful graffiti is a tradition at High Rock. The spraypainted colors echo the exuberant colors and hues in the Cumberland Valley, below.
The battle eventually spilled into Maryland, southwest of Monterey Pass during the early morning hours of July 5th, making it the only battle to be fought on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line. Taking up where he had left off at Monterey Pass, Kilpatrick resumed the battle in Ringold, MD, after some of his units destroyed Confederate wagons and supplies at Leitersburg, a few miles away. Eventually, though, Kilpatrick withdraws to Smithsburg, and then further still to Boonsboro, giving up the fight entirely and allowing the Lee's army to retreat to Virginia.

High Rock is  located near the highest point of South Mountain in Maryland. This area was used by Union cavalry just after the Confederate Army re-entered Maryland marching toward Williamsport. At High Rock you can see three major towns that are important to the story of the Confederate retreat after Gettysburg: Smithsburg to the extreme left, Ringgold in the center, and Waynesboro to the right. Often you can see hang gliders launching from these rocks!
The only way to try to understand this battle is to take the driving tour -- plan on dedicating at least a couple of hours to do so. Most of the driving tour takes you past private property. It covers some steep terrain, and winding roads, but brings you past some of Pennsylvania's and Maryland's loveliest countryside. The tour takes you through the site where the battle began -- now there's a quaint church on the site, built well after the Civil War. But then it follows the Confederate wagon train, as well as the site where Union troops burned the Confederate wagons they'd captured.

Taken from Harbaugh Church, where Union troops burned captured Confederate wagons, looking up to the South Mountain Ridge.

Know Before You Go: Following the driving tour directions can be difficult without a navigator. Don't go alone!

Websites: http://www.montereypassbattlefield.org/

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Six Great Romantic Dates for Valentine's Day

It's not to early to start planning that special date for your special someone!

Romantic dinners are great, but truly impress your special someone with a creative idea to show how much you love to be with them! Although I believe any activity which you and your special someone are doing together could easily be a romantic date, below are my topic suggestions for spending some time together!

A day at the zoo -- the Smithsonian National Zoo, to be exact. Not only is it romantic, but the price is right: free. If you go with your special other in February, then it'll be chilly. Get yourself some hot chocolate at one of the food stands. Dress warmly, walk close to each other, and snuggle as you watch the cute animals, which will be very frisky in the cooler weather!

Create your own heart! Commemorate your love on a special Valentine's date to blow your own glass heart, at Art of Fire Glass Studio. You may choose from basic red, or any other color! During this experience you'll enjoy an up-close, customized introduction to glass-blowing and work with an experienced glass artist to create your own special heart. Call ahead to make an appointment!

Spend a night at a gorgeous haunted inn in a quaint, historic town... take your pick: the Logan Inn in New Hope, PA or Farnsworth House Inn in Gettysburg.

Both the Logan Inn and Farnsworth House Inns are in the heart of lovely little towns that offer both excellent restaurants (including going on the Savor Gettysburg restaurant tour) and boutiques to browse in, plus plenty of other great things to do, from touring Revolutionary War battlefields (New Hope) and Civil War battlefields (click here and here for more details on different ways to experience the battlefields) in Gettysburg to touring historic homes (Parry Mansion in New Hope, Shriver House or the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg).

Take your Romance on the Rails -- a tasty dinner, a vintage setting in an old timey rail dining car, beautiful mountain scenery through the windows... I don't need to say more.

My top pick for a romantic evening is to go howl with the wolves! On the full moon each month, the Wolf Sanctuary of PA holds a Howl with the Wolves bonfire. The Full Moon tour event is held on the Saturday evening closest to the full moon and features a bonfire, live entertainment, and self-guided tours. Guides will be stationed at each pack to provide information and answer questions throughout the evening. Bring a folding chair and blanket, and marshmallows or hot dogs to roast on the bonfire as well as refreshments (though alcohol is not permitted).

For other day trip destinations, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Like Ike: Exploring the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg

"...above all else, a good leader needs integrity--
a deeply ingrained honor, honesty and decency."

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 17 October 1961

It was fitting that I traveled on I-70 to get to U.S. 15 to go to Gettysburg to visit the Eisenhower Farm, in Gettysburg, PA. Among Dwight D Eisenhower's many accomplishments as our nation's 34th president was launching the Interstate Highway System. As a dedicated daytripper and frequent user of these roads, I am chronically grateful to him.

Eisenhower was an American politician who served as President of the United States between 1953 and 1961. He was a five-star general in the U.S. Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first Supreme Commander of NATO.

Eisenhower's two terms saw considerable economic prosperity. He was voted Gallup's most admired man 12 times, and achieved widespread popular esteem both in and out of office.

In fact, Eisenhower is now deemed to be one of the greatest U.S. Presidents. He was a moderate conservative who continued New Deal agencies and expanded Social Security. He also launched the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), established strong science education via the National Defense Education Act, and encouraged peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act.

The Eisenhower National Historic Site, adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield, was his home and farm, serving as a weekend retreat and a meeting place for world leaders. With its peaceful setting and view of South Mountain, it was a much needed respite from Washington and a backdrop for efforts to reduce Cold War tensions.

When you tour the home, you get to see every room, from the sun porch where the President entertained world leaders, painted, and watched television to the First Lady's entirely pink bathroom.

Their formal living room, stunning and elegant, reflects the public stature of the Eisenhowers, showcasing gifts they'd received from heads of state and friends alike. Of note, a silk Tabriz rug from the Shah of Iran, as well as a marble fireplace, removed from the White House in 1873 by President Grant. A man with simpler tastes, Eisenhower considered the room to be "too stuffy."

The master bedroom.

Touring the house, you feel as if the Eisenhowers just stepped away for a few moments. The rooms are all warm and inviting. Pink was Mamie's favorite color, and most of the rooms are decorated in shades of pink.

Touring the farm brings to life Eisenhower's devotion to his Black Angus cattle. He maintained a successful cattle enterprise -- aptly named Eisenhower Farms -- for 15 years. His show cattle quickly gained recognition in the Angus-raising community, winning grand championships at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show as well as blue ribbons from major competitions across the United States. Ironically, the day we visited, we saw nary a cow -- they were all in fields away from the house!

Eisenhower’s association with the town and battlefield of Gettysburg began in spring 1915 when, as a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point, he visited with his class to study the battle. Three years later during WW I, Capt. Eisenhower found himself back in Gettysburg with his wife Mamie and their first son. Despite his hope for duty overseas, he had been appointed commander of Camp Colt, the US Army Tank Corps Training Center located on the fields of Pickett’s Charge. At war’s end Eisenhower left Gettysburg for new assignments, and it wasn't until after he retired that he returned again. After World War II, while president of Columbia University, the General and his wife returned to Gettysburg to search for a retirement home. In 1950, fondly recalling Camp Colt days, they bought the 189 acre Reddy farm adjoining the Gettysburg Battlefield.

During his first term as President, he and Mamie renovated their Gettysburg home. Much of the original house was not sound and had to be torn down. The construction was complete by March 1955 and the Eisenhowers began to visit on weekends and holidays. In 1961, after 45 years service to their country, General and Mrs. Eisenhower retired to their Gettysburg Farm. For the next eight years the Eisenhowers led an active life.

In 1967 the Eisenhowers donated the Gettysburg farm to the National Park Service.

Getting there: Go to the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitor Center to purchase tickets to the Eisenhower Farm and to catch the shuttle there. The Gettysburg Battlefield Visitor Center is located at 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325

Dogs: No

Hours: Shuttle bus departure times from the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center vary depending on season. 2016 Winter Season: January 1 - March 25; during the winter season there are days that the site is closed or has a delayed opening due to inclement weather. Call 717-334-1124 for the latest information.

Website: https://www.nps.gov/eise/index.htm

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Great Allegheny Gap: The Bridge-to-Bridge Ride

During the midst of winter, one of my favorite activities is to plan my spring bike rides! One of my favorites is the Bridge to Bridge Ride along the Great Allegheny Passage!

A friend and I took advantage of great spring biking weather and rode a short segment of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). This was my first ride of the season, so I kept it short, just 10 miles all told. This was my first foray to the GAP, so I wasn't sure what to expect of the trail or the scenery, but it seemed appropriate that I'd introduce myself to the GAP with the "bridge-to-bridge" ride, between two soaring viaducts, just five miles apart.

The access point for this ride is Meyersdale, a few scenic miles away from the Maryland border. We parked at the historic Meyersdale train station, which is also a museum devoted to the Western Maryland Rail Road; there is also a gift shop that sells bike jerseys and t-shirts with the Great Allegheny Passage logo and maps. Once we explored the Meyersville Train Station museum, used the rest rooms and changed into our biking clothes, we were finally ready to start our ride.

I'd read last winter that if you begin your journey in Meyersdale, in one direction there's a viaduct just 2 miles away, and in the other direction, another viaduct just 3 miles away. Total trip would be an easy 10 miles and I knew I wanted to make this one of the first rides of the season.

I couldn't remember the directions -- did the blurb I'd read recommend going right or left first? Who knew? So we turned right -- it seemed the right thing to do. (I crack myself up.)

First we encountered an ornate Bollman Truss Bridge, which surprised us as it appeared suddenly around a bend, about 1.5 miles (estimated) away from the train station. It was lovely - we've encountered Bollman Bridges before -- there's one in Williamsport along the C&O Canal. This one had been rescued from a nearby road crossing and put in place where it could continue to serve many more years carrying the GAP over a country road below. This Bollman Truss sported an ornate decoration that was a lovely example of Victorian design marrying form with function. You would not see that sort of design on today's truss bridges! 

This rare iron truss bridge has an interesting story. Built in 1871, it originally carried the B&O Rail Road over Wills Creek, a few miles east of Meyersdale. In 1910, all 30 tons of it was moved to carry a country road over the B&O Rail Road a few miles WEST of Meyersdale (for a bridge, it's really gotten around), where it served until 2006, when it was slated for demolition. Again it was saved and repurposed to carry the trail over a road, and was placed in its current location.

Wendal Bollman was a pioneer iron bridge builder in America and a self-taught "intuitive" engineer. As a carpenter for the B&O Railroad, he first taught himself how to make wooden railroad bridges. In 1852 he patented his own unique truss form for iron bridges. By 1858 he'd formed his own company, continuing to build iron bridges for the B&O and other railways. Eventually though, steel won out because it could support the heavier loads that the trains began carrying. Eventually, almost all of Bollman's beautiful iron bridges were replaced. Notably, only one of his patented "Bollman truss" bridges survives, the Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge that is near my home, in Savage, MD.

Not long after encountering the Bollman Bridge, we came upon the Keystone Viaduct. Measuring 910 feet, it carries the GAP over a railroad, a country road, and the lovely Flaugherty Creek. We were lucky enough to reach the viaduct while a coal train was still passing beneath it. The view from the viaduct was lovely.

We turned around at the end of the viaduct after riding a little further on the path past a bank of rhododendrons, which will be spectacular in about six weeks from the time of our ride in mid-April! (I'm guessing they'll bloom in late May/June??) Although not steep (it is a rail trail, after all), we pedaled uphill (slightly) from the Meyersdale Train Station to the Keystone Viaduct. The journey back to the train station was noticeably easier. 

The Great Allegheny Passage travels 150 miles from Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, and is the continuation rail trail for the C&O Towpath, which link together in Cumberland. The blog has covered the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) both east and west of Hancock, and it's no coincidence that this rail trail has links to the Western Maryland Rail Road -- the Wabash system had selected a rail route for both passenger and freight lines that traveled from Cumberland to points West, passing through Meyersdale. In 1910, the Western Maryland Corps of engineers surveyed the route through Meyersdale; subsequently, construction began early July that year.

Two years later, the first train crossed the Salisbury Viaduct -- one of the main attractions of this short 10-mile ride and our next destination on the ride. The Salisbury Viaduct is also one of the signature attraction for the GAP itself, appearing in multiple photo essays of the rail trail and appearing on its logo as well.

When we reached the station, we kept going past it. If we'd started by turning left out of the parking lot (and as it turns out, the recommendation I'd read suggested going left first), our first segment would have been a breezy ride downhill -- often coasting -- two miles to the almost 2000-foot long Salisbury Viaduct, which lofts a breath-taking 100 feet above the Casselman River, farmland, and the highway below. 

Just beyond the viaduct is an old Meyers-family graveyard -- presumably the Meyers farm was nearby; we wondered whether Meyersdale had gotten its name from this Meyers family. There is a bench in the corner of this peaceful spot -- a good break from the ride to enjoy the scenery or enjoy a picnic -- the Meyers didn't seem like they'd mind the company.

The three-mile ride back to the train station was harder than the first leg from the train station to the Keystone Viaduct, but easily doable, and I believe this is the right order to do this ride: breaking up the uphill portions made it a little more pleasant, especially for those who aren't at their peak fitness. :)

Throughout the ride, we enjoyed the sounds of the countryside -- roosters crowing, the call of a hawk piercing the air, the train whistle as it encountered road crossings. It's very peaceful and a lovely setting for a bikeride. The path itself is packed fine gravel and it there was little debris on the railtrail itself, although property owners adjacent to the trail seem to throw their garbage down the slopes from their properties, making some sections of the trail unsightly. Although we went on a week day, it's my guess that the trail doesn't become as crowded as more urban trails (such as the NCR or C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland).

Know Before You Go 1: There is ample parking at the Meyersdale Train Station, which offers rest rooms, and a small gift shop that also has good trail snacks. You can also pick up a free GAP trail guide and other materials there.

Know Before You Go 2: To sum up the order of the ride, from the Meyersdale Train Station, turn right out of the parking lot, heading south on the trail two miles to the Keystone Viaduct. Turn around after crossing it, heading back toward the train station. Keep going past the train station another three miles to the Salisbury Viaduct. Check out the cemetery on the opposite side before heading back toward the train station. Of course, you can lengthen your ride by going further beyond either viaduct.

Getting there: 527 Main Street, Meyersdale, PA.

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: http://www.atatrail.org/tmi/directions.cfm

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Spirited Stay at Gettysburg's Most Haunted Address

Gettysburg has witnessed more than its fair share of history, and subsequently, it appears that the small historic town has more than its fair share of the paranormal. I was extremely excited when a good friend of mine suggested we go on an organized ghost hunt at Farnsworth House Inn, in Gettysburg.

Ghosts, an overnight in a lovely bed and breakfast inn, Civil War history... what a great idea!!

Disclaimers. Do I believe in ghosts? I don't know, but I'm fascinated by them, so I suppose I do. I love ghost stories and supernatural movies and such. I'm scared to death that I'll encounter a ghost in my home, but I'm happy to go visit one. I believe I've seen a ghost at my work, and as regular readers of this Blog know, I've photographed orbs (Harpers Ferry, Annapolis) and even mists (Shriver House Museum, also in Gettysburg) on my various jaunts. At one location, I photographed orbs in my hotel room and heard a ghostly voice crying "help." I enjoy ghost stories about the places I visit. I never outgrew being scared of the dark, and at my age, I've given up trying.

Farnsworth House is a great location for a ghost hunt. There were multiple deaths in the house and its been continually inhabited for 200 years. John F. McFarlane is the first recorded owner of the home. The wooden structure in the back of the brick house dates to 1810. McFarlane later added the brick portion in 1833; he owned the home until his death in 1851.

When the Civil War came to Gettysburg, the house was owned by Harvey Sweney (alternate spelling "Sweeney"), who watched Lincoln's procession after the battle. Sweney spent time between Illinois and Gettysburg in the 1860s, and when the Civil War broke out, his sons James and Henry joined Illinois military units. Harvey Sweney, noted for being extremely short tempered, and reportedly abusive to his loved ones, lived in part of the home, renting out the rest of it to Joseph Weikert and his family. So where was the rest of Sweney's family? His wife and daughter Elizabeth lived at the home of Solomon Powers across the street from the Gettysburg Academy Building at the corner or Washington and High Streets.

During the battle, Confederate sharpshooters fired from the safety of its windows in the garret, killing Union soldiers; supposedly one of the sharpshooters accidentally shot Jennie Wade, who became famous for being, tragically, the only Gettysburg civilian who died during the battle. Afterward, wounded United States soldiers were brought into the house, which like many other structures in Gettysburg, served as an erstwhile hospital, and of course, many of those soldiers died on the premises. Harvey Sweney himself died in Illinois on March 27, 1870.

The house passed through the hands of several owners and one of the later owners, the Black family, called it “Sleepy Hollow Inn,” advertising that there were “135” bullet holes in the side of the home.

In 1972, Loring and Jean Shultz purchased Sleepy Hollow Inn -- renamed Farnsworth House Inn in honor of Brigadier General Elon John Farnsworth, who led an ill-fated charge after the failure of Pickett's charge, claiming the lives of Farnsworth and 65 of his men.-- from Sara Black Gideon. The Shultz family claims the inn has been haunted by as many as 16 spirits and that each spirit has its own distinct personality and name.

The identity of the ghosts range from an 8 year old boy named Jeremy to a former mid-wife nurse and several soldiers.  Paranormal elements that have been reported are things such as the sound of heavy breathing and the sensation of someone tucking people into bed. The inn has several rooms that are supposed to be hot spots for specific spiritual activity for particular ghosts such as the Sara Black Room, which is supposed to be one of the most active rooms. Thankfully, my friend and I were given the quieter Eisenhower Room, decorated in pink in honor of Mamie.

An orb in motion, also by the stairs.
Before dinner, the group met up, and together decided upon an impromptu visit to nearby Sachs Bridge, which is supposed to be haunted. Although we did not find much, we watched a lovely sun set, and the experience among the small group seemed to establish a friendly tone that lasted throughout the experience.

Sachs Bridge. Photo courtesy of Pam Dzbrenski.

The dining room, and the room from which we conducted a major portion of our ghost hunt, served as our base of operations. Its antique-filled d├ęcor perfectly set the mood for the ghost hunt. A walnut corner cabinet filled with period china graces one corner. Over the fireplace hangs a painting of Gen. George Meade, the Union commanding general at Gettysburg, and a variety of period prints and photographs adorn the walls. A mantel clock ticks away above the fireplace; heavy drapes cover the windows. There is also a bust of Lincoln and a corner secretary, its shelves filled with antique knickknacks, in the entry hall.

Included in the cost of the ghost hunt were the night's accommodations, dinner, and breakfast. Dinner included a local dish, spoon bread; the inn's famous goober pea (peanut) soup -- the soup had a rich, peanut flavor and was sprinkled with chunks of peanuts; and game pie, which combines pheasant, turkey and duck with mushrooms, in a flaky-crust pie (it is the restaurant's most popular dish).

The stairs leading up from the front hall were the most active for me.
As with most buildings that have survived more than 200 years, the inn's interior has settled into a variety of quirky slants and its floors were creaky. Because it was January and the ghost hunt rented out the entire B&B for the ghost hunt, it was spookily quiet, a hauntingly perfect setting for a ghost hunt.

Lisa, one of the ghost hunters, awaiting dinner on Saturday night.

The ghost hunt began for real after dinner, although as we were checking in and meeting our fellow guests and ghost hunters, I captured an interesting orb by the stairs (but at the same time, debunked the "misty feet" reported to be seen on the stairs -- these are a reflection. We began in the dining room, with an introduction to the tools of the evening: dowsing rods, EMF reader, microphone/recorder for EVPs, motion detectors, and a spirit box, which can channel ghostly voices. Ashley Brennan, of Keystone Paranormal Investigation Association, was our local tour guide and medium. Ashley herself is an interesting individual, an expert in demonology and an experienced investigator into the paranormal.

Chris, one of the ghost hunters, tries out the dowsing rods; Logan in the back experiments with the infrared camera.

After the introduction and possible interaction with the spirit of Harvey Sweney himself, we headed out into the cold (it was 22 degrees out and the wind was ablowing) to visit "The Grove," haunted by murderer Steve, and his victim/niece Rachel, as well as Civil War-era soldiers, since it abuts the National Park Service-preserved National Battlefield.

Ashley and Pam Dzbenski recounted how, recently, a pentagram and evidence of Satanic rituals surfaced at The Grove, all of which apparently has introduced a menacing presence(s) to the area. I have to admit, I was really scared out there, as the others talked about invisible footsteps circling us, and presences confronting us from further down the path. Fear is infectious. I didn't "feel" anything, but my hysteria matched my companions', and soon we were hustling out of the woods. But it wasn't just because of the sub-zero wind chill that I was grateful to return back to the warmth and relative safety of Farnsworth House.

Once back in the Inn, we headed down to the basement, where a motion detector went off for no apparent reason. Minutes earlier, the outside basement door had rustled ominously. Again, it was really frightening, and I was glad as we climbed up the steps to the main floor. But we kept going, and soon we were in the attic, where Confederate sharp shooters aimed their guns at Union soldiers; some died on site, right there in the attic. Through a dowsing rod, we made contact with Jeremy, a little boy, and another unknown presence. As we sat in the dark, the attic door slammed open, scraping across the uneven floor, frightening us. We reclosed it, and a few minutes later, it suddenly opened again. My heart was pounding; I was really scared!

We visited several of the bedrooms, encountering moving cold spots and hearing a couple of knocks and thuds. Throughout the evening, we used the spirit box, but heard very little conclusive ghastly comments from it (although I admit to falling asleep once or twice, and may very well have missed something). By the end of the night, we believed we had made contact with Mary, Harvey, at least one soldier, Jeremy, and possibly even Sara Black Gideon.

We finally turned into bed at 4 a.m. (by which time I'd been up for a record 24 hours). Although our room with its antique doll was suitably creepy and our minds fully receptive to reaching across the barriers of time and space after all night ghost hunting, our sleep for the remaining hours of the night was like that of the dead, deep and peaceful.

Countless other guests may have heard phantom footsteps on the stairs or above in the attic and other unexplained noises, or felt their shoulder being tapped by unseen hands, or awakened to see the ghost of Mary sitting on their bed, but not us. We shrugged in disappointment and relief, and reminded ourselves that ghosts are not performing seals. They prefer to creep up on you when you are least psychologically prepared, the better to scare the bejesus out of you (else, where's the fun in it?).

The cool thing about Farnsworth Inn is that it embraces its haunting inhabitants. So if you're in search of a paranormal experience, this is definitely the place to stay!

As my friend noted on the way home, attending this ghost hunt was like going to a movie and suspending your disbelief -- only in this case, it's not a 100% disbelief. With memories of the attic door bursting open fresh in our minds, we both agreed that there may be a little truth to the ghost thing.

Getting there: 401 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, PA

Websites: Farnsworth House Inn, www.farnsworthhouseinn.com;

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Updated 8/16/2018