The story of the Bethesda Church would not be complete without a word of the ghost stories that are deeply embedded in the Penns Valley folklore. It is difficult to trace their origin. Surely we may write them off as the product of intoxication, or too fertile an imagination, or the workings of the subconscious. But we may also argue that they actually relate to supernatural occurrences, such as meetings with spirits that surpass our understanding.
The ghost stories came down through the years by word of mouth, as they were told and retold by neighbors and visitors to the Church. Most senior citizens in the valley vividly recall the old tales told by their parents and grandparents.
Until it was razed a few years ago, a small house, one of the oldest in the valley, stood not far from the Church. In the 1880s, Jacob Schultz and his wife Rebecca lived there, carving out a meager living on nine acres of land and doing odd jobs for farmers in the neighborhood. They used to tell of an experience which they believed was an actual encounter with the ghost of a young woman.
It was a starless night early in May. They were still sitting on the front porch, relaxing after a long hard day. They were about to retire for the night when the air suddenly turned cold as they sensed the approach of someone, a shadowy form of a young woman in mourning, passing by on the way to the church. Their scalps tightened and fear would not let them move as they watched the dark-robed shadow enter the church. Soon, the interior washed with soft candle light, and they could clearly see her silhouette. She slowly moved from pew to pew as if she were introducing a baby to each member of the congregation. After the last introduction she left as quietly as she had come. All the while, the Schultzes were sitting quivering with fright, and were unable to move or talk long after the ghost had left.
The next day, they could not keep quiet about what they had seen. For some people the story was just too much to believe. But others have reported similar experiences, especially near midnight on May 3. They are convinced that the ghost of a young woman who actually had been a member of the congregation during the Civil War often returns to the Church on the anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville. Her childhood sweetheart had joined Captain Andrew Musser’s Company D of the Centre County Regiment (the 148th) in August 1862, and was killed eight months later, on May 3, in that terrible battle that slew so many fathers and sons from Penns Valley. When she gave birth to a beautiful boy in June 1863, there was no father. He lay buried in a soldier’s grave near Chancellorsville. But the congregation never accepted her story of young love and war tragedy. The members shunned and wronged her with every opportunity and refused to welcome her baby. After a while, both disappeared and were never seen again. But their ghosts often return in search of the kindliness and love which the congregation denied them.
The ghost of this young mother may also be heard at times when the fog settles over the creek and the moonrays enfold the beautiful spire. Many people have heard moaning, weeping, and sighing in the valley, and a ghostly voice calling for the baby’s father , “Will... Will.”