Tales by moonlight: Two hundred embark on historical ghost tour

By on November 8, 2017

Johannes Mueller sightings have been reported at the historical home of the town’s former clothing dyer. (Photos by Marylouise Sholly)

It was a dark and kind of stormy night as people quietly followed lantern-carrying guides over the grounds of the Lititz Moravian Church Square during the 2017 Lititz Ghosts and Departed Spirits Tour Sunday evening.

Close to 200 living people attended the ghostly tour, getting a glimpse into the history of the congregation and hoping, perhaps, for a glimpse of something else.

The tour was a fundraiser for the Lititz Historical Foundation and the Lititz Moravian Congregation Archives Committee, and had been postponed from the previous Sunday (two days before Halloween) due to heavy rain and winds.

While rain fell during the day, the skies had cleared enough as darkness fell for moonlight to accompany visitors on the walking tour.

While similar spirit tours have been held before, this was the first combined tour of the two organizations. The tour changes locations each year, said Anne Wentzel, member of the archives committee.

As a church bell solemnly rang in the night, local historian and president of the historical foundation Cory Van Brookhoven guided visitors through the darkened streets and grounds of the early Moravian congregation to the Johannes Mueller House along East Main Street.

Built in 1792, the stone house is now home to the Lititz Historical Foundation and Lititz Museum.

More than 200 years ago, Mueller had been the town’s clothing-dyer. He enjoyed his beautiful home so much that, apparently, he never left.

A few years back, a Lititz woman was out walking her dog in the evening and saw a man in the first floor window, rocking in a chair. She waved to the gentleman and he waved back.

The next day, the woman told a historical foundation member how impressed she was that their security guard was on duty so late.

But the foundation didn’t have a guard on duty and the house was empty, she was told. Mueller sightings continue to occur from time to time.

The tour was a mix of documented dates and names as well as conjecture, since sightings of spirits have been an unofficial part of the area’s history for a long time.

History buffs Pat and Craig Steinmetz of Manheim, Moravian congregation members, weren’t there to spy apparitions, but to increase their knowledge of the town.

“We want to learn more about the history, and actually, that’s what it’s about more; the history,” said Pat Steinmetz. “The tour tells the stories of the lives of the people back then.”

“We’re really not into ghost tours, per se, or Halloween, we just like learning the history,” said Craig Steinmetz.

But historical ghosts do seem to have a following, and the tour was sold out in the first 20 minutes after being advertised on Facebook, said Kim Barabus of the Lititz Moravian Archives.

The tour had a lot to offer those of an otherworldly bent, and Nightly Guide Van Brookhoven knew the right stories to tell.

Who is that silent girl who wanders through Linden Hall?

Born in 1863, Mary Dixon had a happy childhood in Bethlehem, Pa, until her mother died when she was 13. Her father sent Mary to Linden Hall in Lititz, which happens to be the oldest all-girls school in the country.

Mary enjoyed her time at Linden Hall, where she majored in music. She returned home when she was 19. However, she soon fell ill with tuberculosis and died.

Her grief-stricken father was a wealthy man and spent $25,000 to build a memorial to his daughter, to commemorate the happiness she found at Linden Hall.

The building was named the Mary Dixon Memorial Chapel, and many girls who have come to Linden Hall over the past 100 years report seeing Mary walking through the halls.

Not spooky enough? Then, enter the “Corpse House,” a 1700s stone building whose name says it all.

According to Moravian belief, at the time of death the individual’s soul leaves the body, ascending to Heaven. So, the corpse, which is just empty flesh, is not permitted in the sanctuary, and therefore, a building is needed in which to house the body until burial.

Anne Wentzel (left) and Mary Barabus, both of the Lititz Moravian congregation archives committee, hand out tickets for Sunday evening’s ghost tour.

The Lititz corpse house is the only remaining one in the nation, a presenter told the crowd.

Another man, posing as the congregation’s grave digger, told a story about “Sarah,” an old woman who was on her deathbed. To save time, Tom the gravedigger began digging Sarah’s grave. It made Sarah so angry that he didn’t have the decency to wait until she actually died that she experienced a surge of good health and lived another two years. At least that’s the story that has lasted more than two centuries.

Then there’s the saga of Tom Utley, the town’s shoemaker. Utley died of tuberculosis in 1770, and as soil was being shoveled on his coffin, a “knocking” was heard. The gravedigger ran to the church elders, telling them what he heard, and Utley was brought to the surface once more. But he didn’t appear to be alive.

The craftsman who built the coffin said it was the ‘green’ wood creaking when dirt was thrown on it.

But this was a time of superstition, the gravedigger/actor said, and so a plan was made to tie a string around one of Tom’s fingers, and connect the string to a small bell above ground – just in case.

Utley’s final resting place is in the congregation’s “God’s Acre” cemetery, which dates back to 1755.

Another story guaranteed to scare up some shaking-in-boots was the history of The Brothers’ House. Built in the early 1750s, during the Revolutionary War, the building was used as a makeshift hospital for Colonial soldiers, by order of Gen. George Washington.

Wounded soldiers from the Battle of Brandywine soon filled the house, which became overcrowded and prone to unsanitary conditions, leading to many a soldier’s demise.

Between 1777 and 1778, more than 100 soldiers died in the temporary military hospital, Van Brookhoven said.

In the present day, groundskeepers, guards, and others have reported seeing and hearing strange occurrences and sounds coming from the Brothers’ House.

“There are a lot of tales having to do with the Brothers’ House,” Van Brookhoven said.

The third floor is said to be especially haunted, he said. Electric candles put in the windows of the third floor at Christmastime get moved or flicker or have even been unplugged by unseen hands, Van Brookhoven said.

Passing under the arch that goes across the entrance to God’s Acre, Van Brookhoven showed his stalwart little group a memorial to one of the town’s famous residents — John Sutter, who started the California gold rush in 1848 when gold was discovered on his property.

Sutter is considered by many to be the founder of California.

Gold might have helped some miners, but the revelation drove Sutter into poverty, as the thousands of people tramping over his land and camping on it made the ranch impossible to be farmed any longer, and his sheep and cattle were stolen by squatters.

Sutter eventually moved to Lititz and was eventually honored by the U.S. government with a stone memorial.

The marble supplied by the government for Sutter’s memorial came in seven feet tall slabs. Sutter’s granddaughter decided that Sutter would not have wanted his memorial to interfere with the lovely, peaceful resting place of God’s Acre, so six feet of the stone was buried below ground, with only a one-foot-high rectangle poking above the earth.

The actor portraying Sutter said he was pleased by his granddaughter’s decision, since his California land had been treated so shamefully by trespassers.

A special exception was made for Sutter to be buried in God’s Acre, since he was not a Moravian.

Some things do live on, Sutter (the actor) said.

“They named a hotel after me,” he said. “It’s still standing in the town at the corner of Main and Broad streets.”

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer from the Lebanon area, and a regular contributor to the Record Express. This was her first Lititz ghost tour. She welcomes reader feedback at weezsholly@gmail.com.

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