‘Shooster’ of Speedwell

By on November 5, 2014

Mystery surrounds the beloved hermit who disappeared during the harsh winter of 1950

Let’s take a trip just northwest of Lititz to an area near what once was (not too long ago) Speedwell Forge Lake.

Many years ago, tramps and squatters were very common to areas around the country. Often times, they would hunker down in a farmer’s barn, or in the woods along streams, or near springs in the forest. If they were lucky enough to find temporary shelter in farmstead outbuildings, they would sometimes be given leftover food for nourishment, or scraps of old pieces of clothing to keep warm. In return, many of these characters would do small tasks around the property or create small keepsakes for the children in exchange for a roof over their head.

Shooster's real name was Albert Zimmerman, an immigrant cobbler born in 1856. Little more is known about the Speedwell woods-dweller. (Photos provided by Neil White)

Shooster’s real name was Albert Zimmerman, an immigrant cobbler born in 1856. Little more is known about the Speedwell woods-dweller. (Photos provided by Neil White)

One such person, well known in this area, was a gentleman named “Shooster,” who lived in the Speedwell hills as a hermit as early as 1900.

Shooster’s real name was Albert Zimmerman, but very little is known about his past. Born in 1856, research tells us that he lived on what was once the Freeman estate, located near Elm. It is said that he was born in Bohemia and came to the United States at a very young age, working as a cobbler for many years. While living in the Speedwell hills, he occupied a small hole or cave under a large rock in the forest off of Lake View Drive. At this place, which he called home, he had wood for a fire piled high, as well as stones to hold his cooking kettle and coffeepot. Folks would often visit him, many times bringing jars of food, as well as newspapers so he could keep up with current events. His “hut” measured nine feet across, and barely three feet tall. His kitchen, where he did all his cooking, was located about a quarter-mile down in the hollow by the creek. Occasionally, but only when necessary, he would steal chickens from his neighbors for food.

He never married, but was friends with many of the locals, who always greeted him with a kind smile whenever they spotted him. It is said that he once held up a tavern in Elm, but decided to give back the guns and money he had taken from the establishment. The police decided to let him go for these actions.

Eventually, Shooster moved to a “better” location, approximately 500 yards from what is now Oak Lane. This area was in a valley that had a spring, so he could have access to fresh water. He even cut a “V” into the rock by the spring so the water could form a small pool just deep enough to keep his canned goods cold.

There was also a sawmill close by where he could get slab wood to build a shelter to keep him warmer during the winter months. Eventually, he built a modest home with a dirt floor. He would never hurt a fly, and loved visitors. The local children were never frightened by him. As a matter of fact, they were fascinated by his lifestyle, and he always greeted them was a simple “hello” and a smile.

For recreation, good old Shooster built a tire swing and even had tamed pets to keep him company. He had a dog, as well as a kangaroo mouse which he kept in his pocket. When he had visitors, the pet mouse peeked out from the dark and sat attentively, like it was a part of the conversation. When his dog passed away, he placed white flint stones in a circle around the grave, marking the final resting place of his companion. The next year, it is said that daffodils bloomed there.

Shooster, the legendary hermit of Speedwell, was a familiar character during the first half of the  1900s. He mysteriously disappeared during the brutal winter of 1949-50. (Photo provided by Neil White)

Shooster, the legendary hermit of Speedwell, was a familiar character during the first half of the
1900s. He mysteriously disappeared during the brutal winter of 1949-50.

The winter of 1949-1950 was especially cold, and all that Shooster had to keep warm was a small blue wood stove and several blankets. During this time, his “home” consisted of a tree stump for a chair, a tarp that acted as a door to his shelter, and a slab of wood that served as his table. Several theories swirled around his disappearance after this harsh winter. Did he run out of wood and freeze to death? By the time the locals noticed that he was gone, his “home” was ransacked, but his body was missing.

Certainly, it was his choice to live as a recluse. He was smart enough to hold a job in the outside world if he chose to do so. But not Shooster. Rather, he chose a simple way of life, and lived in the wilderness as he pleased.

To this day, nobody is sure of the whereabouts of his remains or where he is buried. While living, he would tell folks that he had relatives in the country, even having a cousin who was a prominent businessman and millionaire. He also told at least one group of visitors in 1926 that every three months he received the interest on $6,000 which would continue being paid to him as long as he lived, the result of a will made by a doctor in Ohio whose life he saved.

Perhaps one day, someone will come forward with additional information about his demise and final resting place; but for now, Shooster’s mysterious disappearance, like many other things pertaining to his life, must remain a mystery.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a freelance feature writer for the Record Express, and president of the Lititz Historical Foundation. He welcomes your comments at coryvb@hotmail.com.

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