The Ghosts Keep Playing
Written by Cyan Fink, DLNHC Inventory Coordinator
If you were able to attend Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor’s (DLNHC) Ghost Stories on the Canal Boat event at the National Canal Museum, we hoped you enjoyed a night filled with some spooky stories. We have a few more stories to share with you, because even though October is over, that does not mean that the ghosts stop playing. Canals are fraught with ghost stories, which is not surprising considering canal workers and boatmen spent so much time on the same towpaths, day and night.
If you were on the Ghost Tours, this story might sound familiar. One of the most well-known canal ghosts is the Women in White at Walnutport’s Lock #23. She is said to walk along the canal, rest near the locktender’s house, and even float on the canal water. A Morning Call article from 1963 recalls an event when 150 people drove down Canal Street causing havoc for the police and fireman of Walnutport during a fire. The people were looking for a “Thing,” – a creature dressed all in white who had been reported lurking near the canal. The reports included “A 6’7” women attired in all white… a figure of a translucent body walking on water… a woman dressed in flowing robes who outraced a motorcycle going 70 miles per hour… and a person who disappears under the beam of a flashlight.” Police chief Alex Husack reported that the ghost was either a parent who dressed in a sheet to scare children from playing around the canal at night or some children in a canoe who put a sheet over their heads to scare their friends.
Another spook from the Lehigh Canal was reported in a Morning Call article from 1952. The article is about 5 retired canal men, Edwin A. Roth, Allen Strohl, Wesley Coffin, Harry E. Kelchner and Frank W. Kelchner, who met up to discuss the “good old days,” of the canals. The men talk about superstitions and ghosts they encountered while working, including a friendly old lady in a shawl. The men recall seeing the kindred spirt popping up frequently, but that she was last seen in 1934 by Frank W. Kelchner, who was coming down the towpath and states that he did not want to scare his helper, so he ignored her. After passing the lady, his helper reportedly exclaimed, “Did you see that?” Allen also reported his last time seeing her in 1933, when she crossed along the boat when it was at the “Gap,” (Lehigh Gap) which was said to be her favorite haunt. Both men stated they did not know how long she had been haunting the area, only that both their fathers, also boatman, would laugh when the younger men mentioned her.
Frank W. Kelchner also talked about the time his father moved the family into the locktender’s house at Lock #23 in Walnutport. He reported that the house, “was supposed to be full of spooks,” and he disagreed with his father about moving in there. The family found charms throughout the house to keep evil spirits out. That seemed to “work” because he reported that any mid-night spooky occurrences could be easily explained away the next morning.
Canal ghosts are not just a Lehigh Valley phenomenon. Civil War Soldiers from the Battle of Ball’s Bluff are also said to haunt the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal around mile 33. The battle was a major defeat for the Union soldiers, as many were injured and drowned by the Potomac River and the canal. At the end of the battle the Union’s losses stood at 223 killed, 226 wounded, and 553 were captured. 54 of the dead, almost all unknown, were buried nearby. The ghosts of those who drowned are said to haunt the canal towpaths on the other side of the Potomac. It is speculated that boatmen would not tie their boats up there at night and that mules would pick up the pace when walking through the areas.
These are just a few ghost stories of the canals. If you’re interested and want to see one for yourself, maybe you just need to go for a walk on the D&L Trail.