Ghosts, Poltergeists & Apparitions > Ghostly Encounters

The Swamp Church


By Rich Kerstetter

GREGG TOWNSHIP - Mary Sennholz has never seen the ghost, but she knows of others who claim they have.

Sennholz grew up near Bethesda Evangelical Church and now owns the building -- "The Swamp Church," as the locals around Farmers Mills have always called it because of its location on marshy ground along Penns Creek.

It's those marshes, some speculate, that, when conditions are right, create fogs and mists that help fuel creative imaginations.

Whatever the reason, several ghost legends are centered in the Farmers Mills-Penn's Cave area. One involves the sound of the church's bell heard from afar when no one is there to ring it.

In another, more gruesome tale, a headless man can sometimes be seen in the local fields and hills. This ghost is supposedly that of a young man who, after joining the Union cavalry during the Civil War, had his head blown off during a charge at Mossy Creek, Tenn.

The most famous Farmers Mills ghost story, however, is one that Jeffrey Frazier, in his book "Pennsylvania Fireside Tales," referred to as "The Mournful Ghost of Swamp Church."

In this story, a young woman dressed in black and carrying a young baby, approaches The Swamp Church about midnight on May 3 each year, calling, "Will, Will."

Jacob and Rebecca Shultz, a Pennsylvania German farm couple who first reported seeing the apparition in the 1880s, said the woman walked or floated up the dirt road to the church, seemed to enter the building and, in what appeared to be faint candlelight, walked up and down the aisle, presenting the baby to members of the congregation.

In another version of the legend, heard by Civil War historian Jeffry Wert, of Centre Hall, the woman knocks on the church door but is not allowed in.

According to the legend, the woman's boyfriend, Will, enlisted in Company D of the 148th Pennsylvania Regiment in August 1862. On their last night together before he left, she became pregnant.

In the unit's first taste of heavy combat at the battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863, the young man was killed. Legend has it that the Bethesda congregation rejected the young woman when, in June, she became an unwed mother.

So, depending on the version, she either presents the baby to members of the congregation or knocks on the door, trying to enter the church where she has been rejected.


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