Road Trip

Eerie Pennsylvania

Sunday, October 28, 2007

WHERE: Bucks County, Pa.

WHY: Haunted history, smells like old spirits and "Signs" of the times.

HOW FAR: About 17 miles from start to finish.

Mystery meets history in Bucks County, where haunted sites and a dark past make for a sinister trip into southeast Pennsylvania.

Bucks's ominousness dates from an infamous land-buying deal called the Walking Purchase, which contributed to a deadly conflict between settlers and an indigenous tribe and supposedly prompted the Native Americans to cast a curse on the area.

In 1737, Thomas Penn, son of William Penn, enforced a treaty in which the Lenape (Delaware) tribe agreed to cede to the newcomers all of the land west of the Delaware River as far as a man could walk in a day and a half. Assuming the colonists couldn't travel far on foot in the tangled vegetation, the Indians agreed to the deal. Penn outwitted them by hiring the three fastest men in the region to run along a carefully cleared trail, thus gaining 1,200 square miles. The tribe was furious at the swindle and eventually joined forces with the French to attack the Pennsylvania frontier during the French and Indian War. But battle was not enough revenge: According to local lore, the Indians also bewitched Bucks, causing floods and fires.

The county, which saw some heavy Revolutionary War action, also claims dozens of documented supernatural spots. Ghosts -- from a man in knee britches to a woman in a high-collared gown -- are said to haunt inns, restaurants, covered bridges and streets. Their presence is reflected by the nomenclature in such places as Haunted Lane, Ghost Mountain and Devil's Half-Acre. The bucolic hamlets of Newtown and New Hope are especially fertile ground for paranormal hunters -- and film directors. Scarefest impresario M. Night Shyamalan, who resides in the region, shot "Lady in the Water" and "Signs" here. (With the latter, sightings of Mel Gibson caused many a female to scream.)

Whether or not you believe, many locals agree that a certain spirit does pervade Bucks County. "You can invite that energy in and have a ghostly experience," says Charles J. Adams III, author of "Bucks County Ghost Stories." "Many of us just ignore it."

-- Ben Chapman

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