teen COVER STORY: Ghosts in the dark - LancasterOnline: Lifestyle

teen COVER STORY: Ghosts in the dark

History and Halloween mingle on a Ghost Tour of Strasburg

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Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008 7:06 am | Updated: 4:05 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

It's Saturday night. It is crisp and cool, and the night is impeccably clear. It's October, and it is time to get a dose of history.

Why? Why should I care about history now?

First, I like history. I just do. You might not, but the history I am swallowing tonight is far from taciturn.

My friend Emily picks me up, and we head out to a very historic spot in the area: Strasburg.

There is a historic tour happening in Strasburg, and it's called a Ghost Tour.

The Ghost Tour mixes history with a macabre twist. Starting on Main Street, the tour spotlights the more ghoulish history of some of the local spots, with a distinct flavor of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Before the tour starts, guide Kim Jarvis asks the group where they come from.

One says Chicago, another Connecticut, and there's even a family from San Diego. I get the feeling that this tour is definitely something geared toward tourism.

The tour starts, and we walk down the block, being regaled with some somewhat disturbing stories of the exploits of the infamous Paxton Boys vigilantes and insane families living in mansions. We hear about mutilated American Indians and blown-up Civil War soldiers still lingering in the area.

The legends of the area are surprisingly numerous when recited to me. I realize that this area has a lot of very raw history, which is surprising, because of how calm the area seems now. At night, when the lights are out and the moon is shining - that's when the place becomes more vivid.

Though we are in the 21st century and the noise of traffic is sometimes fierce as we walk down the road, past the Victorian dwellings, the history that is told is visceral and real. Places along the walking route are tangible, and the stories are descriptive and interesting.

The most interesting story is told when we reach the Gonder Mansion. It is visually stunning, though we are told by our black-hooded guide that flash photography is strictly prohibited.

The house has two turrets, making it look like a Queen Anne castle. The yard is immaculate, and the coach house around back is quite picturesque.

We are told that the house has a history of insanity and suicide, and the spirits of the previous owners are known to still dwell within the ornate walls.

I am not one to believe ghost stories, but the history is very well-displayed.

Our last stop is an interesting one. We head toward a graveyard down the road from the mansion where the Gonders are buried. As we approach the gates of the graveyard, we are told the story of an anonymous iron master, whose cruelty was legendary.

The sounds of hooves clop from down the street, just as our guide tells us about a phantom carriage carrying phantasm soldiers. I must admit that the atmosphere built on that moment was very appropriate and very memorable.

We enter the graveyard and are shown some of the more noteworthy tombstones. As soon as we are shown the monuments, we are informed that the tour is over.

We all quite somberly walk back to the place where we started from on Main Street, a little store called Mrs. Penn's Shoppe.

As we walk back, I reflect on the information that was presented to me.

The stories of ghosts I found to be somewhat gimmicky and a little too fantastic at times, but the history was amazing. I had no idea that Strasburg was once called "Hell's Hole," because of how secular it was at its beginning.

But that was just one of the many things that I learned. At the risk of dulling the experience if you decide you want to take the tour, I will not recount any more specifics, but I do recommend it if you have a fascination with history.

The tours start at 7:30 p.m. and run every half-hour until 9 p.m., as needed. Tours runs every day this time of year.

I learned a lot about this area, and the tour actually allowed me to gain a new perspective on this place we call home.

Don't be turned away by the fact that it's educational. I thought it was fun - not really scary but fun.


WHAT: Ghost Tour of Strasburg

WHERE: Leaves from Mrs. Penn's Shoppe, 2 W. Main St., Strasburg

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. daily through Nov. 1 (Tours are added every half-hour until 9 p.m., as needed; tours are offered year-round on certain days of the week.)

COST: $14; $8 for ages 4 to 12

MORE: Call 687-6687 to make reservations. Visit www.ghosttour.com for more info. A ghost tour of Lancaster City is also offered.

Zac Morrow is a Hempfield graduate and attends Harrisburg Area Community College. E-mail him at YourLife@LNPnews.com.

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