Continuing on in the subject of my previous blog entry, "A Haunted Church" I would have to relate that sometimes I get some flak from other Christian Ministers for even suggesting a church that is right with God can be haunted. Many offhandedly cast aside even the remotest possibility that such an occurrence could happen.
While I will not give an extensive history of such here, (and if one were to make a scholarly search in historical documents published records from around the world the concept of a 'haunted church' is not only not an oxymoron, it seems to be quite a common occurrence) I would like to highlight in this article one of the most disturbing occurrences of a church haunting I have ever encountered.
This encounter with a dubious entity also was published on the front page of a leading Western Pennsylvania Newspaper over a century ago. Yet today it has been long lost in the mists of time, and all but this historian know of what happened in that ancient churchyard in Shenango Township in Lawrence County Pennsylvania so many years ago.
It was November 1869, David Barge came trudging through the dark woods that surrounded the outskirts of New Castle Pennsylvania one late dark Thursday evening. He came through the mostly unexplored back woods to open the doors of the small Savannah Methodist Episcopal church for the weekly prayer meeting. It was not an uncommon thing for him to do, for since he had come back from his duties as an officer in the American Civil War he had began to seek solace within the church, and it was his quickly becoming his only brief bit of peace from memories of the bitter conflict that had ripped not only his country apart but his local community as well.
But all the horrors he had beheld in this conflict of brother between brother within the past decade did not prepare him for the horrors that awaited him in the churchyard that late November night.
The New Castle News of Monday February 26th 1917 tells of the encounter of that dark Thursday night. Reporter David P. Jackson related the tale told to him by the eyewitnesses:
"As it sometimes happened that nobody came to the prayer meetings, he waited in front of the church to see whether it would be necessary to light up or not. No one came and as he turned around to start home, there stood a mysterious thing beside him. David Barge was a veteran soldier...He had courage to contend with flesh and blood but this thing seemed to be a fallen spirit untimely released from the vastly deep, where, since the flood, they had been confined in chains of darkness awaiting judgment day. "There is something about the mysterious and uncanny that is more terrifying than real danger and this ghostly figure did something which Confederate guns had failed to do. He was so panic stricken and fled wildly from the churchyard, so anxious to put space between him and the apparition that he did not take time to open the gate but leaped the fence. His agitation was so great that when he reached home, nearly a mile away, his folks noticed something was wrong and with some difficulty induced him to relate what had happened, as he knew he would be laughed at."
Barge's 18 year old nephew, Eli Gaston was there at the time. The next evening Gaston and his brother went to their friends farm on which land the tiny church stood. They had great sport at the expense of Eli's Uncle and his great scare from the 'ghost' by the church. After a few hours of joking about they decided that they would investigate the churchyard themselves. So they walked through the cornfields and made their way to the tiny church. They stood there where David Barge had stood the night before and they saw nothing. Having proved their point they turned to walk home.
It was then that the apparition 'glided' from behind the church and came to a halt right in front of them.
Once again it is best to hear what happened next in David Jackson's own words from the 1917 New Castle News,
"At this sight all their philosophy vanished and they became as panic stricken as David Barge had been and fled as precipitately as he did. They were ashamed to tell anyone about it that night, but the next day they took a fourth young man into the secret and that evening the four repaired to the churchyard with their nerves firmly braced, determined to investigate the phenomenon. "At the usual time the unearthly figure appeared and glided toward then, but this time there was no panic-they stood their ground. The ghost remained a few moments and then glided away to the rear of the church where they could see it standing beside a small tree and they heard a scratching sound such as a cat makes when trying its claws on the bark. It would disappear while their eyes were upon it and then reappear at some other spot. Once when it came near them and stood motionless one of the boys asked, 'What do you want?' Whereupon 'it made a groaning sound as if trying to speak but could not.' To quote the language of my informant. It disappeared in the graveyard and was next seen visible outside, in the meadow, but they could not see it crossing the fence as a material thing would have been obliged to do. The party seperated, two taking their station in the meadow and two remaining in the graveyard. Sometimes, the ghost would be seen in the meadows, but they could never observe its progress from one to the other. It just disappeared and reappeared.
"The night was cold, there had been no snow and the long grass was crisp with frost and crackled under their feet whenever they moved. The ghost had been invisible for a while and the two in the graveyard were watching intently in every direction for its reappearance, with every sense at high tension from nervous strain, but they neither saw nor heard anything till suddenly they found it standing closely behind them. If they retreated it would follow but it would retire if they advanced toward it. It was a white object with a resemblance to a human figure but the form was so vague and indefinite that they declared that they could not see it move when it changed its place but, as Eli Gaston said, 'It seemed to glide over the ground as if it were on wheels'."
After that night the boys spread the story of what happened to them all over the small farming community. Farmers and towns people gathered at the church every night to try to have their own encounter with the entity. A century and a half before it became vogue they were 'Ghost Hunters', in their own way. They wanted an encounter, and they brought guns and pitchforks just in case.
But it never came back.
Soon after this story was published in the New Castle News, Reverend Charles Merill the old church was torn down and a new building was erected in 1910. It no longer stands near the cemetery where the strange apparition appeared those nights long ago.
At the current church building there has been no reported encounters with the paranormal. In fact correspondence with the current Pastor shows that the congregation did not even bother to keep old photographs of the church.
It makes you wonder why.
Of course the apparition was considered an 'Nephelim' escaped from Sheol when interpreting the dated language of the story. So the witnesses and community considered this a demonic entity that appeared at the church.
But why the church?
And why would a 'Nephalim' appear in a graveyard just to scoot around a bit and not really bother anything except to scratch the bark of an old tree?
Perhaps more congregants should have shown up at that Thursday night prayer meeting in that late November night.
Until Next Time,
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