Men, if you decide to take the Strasburg ghost tour this fall, when ghosts put a chill in the air, be prepared: Annie Gonder might just try to terrify you.
Annie has her reasons.
When her brother, a railroad tycoon, built the grand mansion that still stands at 130 W. Main St. more than 100 years ago, Annie was left behind at the modest family home next door. She never stepped foot in the Gonder Mansion.
“A series of men died,” says Tim Reeser, who along with his wife and daughter, runs the Ghost Tours of Lancaster and Strasburg. “She was seeking retribution.”
Reeser says the story is one of many that come from the town of Strasburg and is a favorite during the ghost tours.
“Annie has been seen in a window of the mansion and a rocking chair on the porch,” he says.
And it’s been said that only men can see her or hear her cackles of laughter.
The Reeser family has been producing ghost tours in this area for 20 years. This time of year is when they swing into high gear.
The 90-minute tours run through November and are available nightly in Lancaster and Fridays and Saturdays in Strasburg.
Tim Reeser is the author of “Ghost Stories of Lancaster, PA” as well as ghost story books from Philadelphia; Tampa, Florida; St. Petersburg, Florida, and Ocean City, New Jersey.
His ghostly adventures began in Cape May, New Jersey.
“We spent summers there when I was a kid,” he recalls. “It was a lovely town and had a lot of history — it’s really old.”
Fascinated by the stories he heard, Reeser did more research, finding plenty of old stories — especially maritime stories — and began giving tours in the summer, at night.
From there, the Reading native started doing tours in Strasburg and then Lancaster.
“There are a lot of stories that came out of Strasburg and Lancaster,” he says. “They are really old towns. The history is very rich — 300 years. But some of our stories are newer, from maybe 30 years ago. We like to have a balance.”
The key for all tours, no matter where they are held, is good storytelling.
“Our guides go through a six-week training session,” Reeser says. “We stress that people can believe the stories if they want to, but they must be entertaining.”
They are stories filled with lost love, early death and betrayal.
Some of the stories, like the massacre of the Conestoga Indians at the Fulton, are horrid, while others might be a little scary or creepy.
In their research, the family reads newspaper and historical accounts and listens to first-person accounts and stories.
“We do a lot of interviews,” Reeser says. “We really like the historical aspect, the folklore, or ghostlore as we call it. It’s passed down from generation to generation.”
About 10 years ago, tours began in Philadelphia, a city even richer in history than Lancaster or Strasburg. And tours are held seasonally in Florida and Ocean City, New Jersey.
A good ghost story isn’t just a series of events.
“If you don’t have a lot of historical context, if you can’t find something behind what happened, they can get boring,” Reeser says.
He points to the Grape Hotel, which was located on North Queen Street. There were stories about ghosts, but there wasn’t enough information to fill out an entire story.
But places like the Fulton and St. James Cemetery are filled with stories. And Reeser says a story about John Reynolds and his fiance, Kate Hewitt, will most likely be be in the tour. (Guides get to choose from a large repertoire.)
Reynolds was a Civil War general who lived on King Street and the couple got engaged in the late 1850s. But because they were of different faiths, they kept the engagement a secret.
Reynolds died the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. As they prepared his body for burial, they found a ring with the inscription “To Kate” grasped in his hand.
His fiance attended the funeral and broke down, then disappeared into a nunnery.
“It’s a really heartbreaking story,” Reeser says.
A misty figure in military uniform has been seen walking along West King Street, clutching a ring in his hands, no doubt searching for his lost love.¶