By Barbara A. Noe
I sit on the patio of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania’s Baladerry Inn overlooking a gazebo surrounded by a sweep of trees. Cicadas shrill, a warbler sings, and a friendly house cat brushes against my legs. I am happy and content, though my eyes keep darting to that gazebo. The inn’s proprietor, Judy Caudill, had told me that, during the Civil War, the former farmhouse served as a Union field hospital, and it’s said that ghosts of soldiers who died still roam the grounds—especially in the vicinity of the gazebo.
More than 7,500 soldiers died at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and were buried quickly without proper rites, many to be forgotten forever, so it’s no wonder that spirits are said to roam the inn—and throughout the town and the battlefield of Gettysburg. Reports of phantom apparitions, bone-tingling cries of wounded soldiers, ghostly Civil War music, even the eerie sound of horse hoofs in places where horses fell victim (apparently horses can be ghosts, too) are common.
Judy had gone on to say that an FBI paranormal investigator was once visiting the inn. As they were standing in the kitchen, the agent asked her if she believed in ghosts.
“Not really,” Judy said.
“Just to let you know,” the agent responded, “there’s a portly woman in the room here with us, wearing a long dress and apron, her hair in a bun.”
Thankfully, during my time at the Baladerry Inn, I don’t see a thing (though I admittedly keep my eyes shut tight throughout the night). In the spirit of it all, however, I decide to go on a ghost tour. A few years back, there were only four ghost companies in town; now there are 21 within just a few blocks, promising varying degrees of ghost sightings.
I choose Sleepy Hollow of Gettysburg Candlelight Ghost Tours, operated by Cindy Codori-Schultz, whose ancestor, Nicholas Codori, owned Codori Farm, site of Pickett’s Charge. We meet in front of the Historic Dobbin House, an old inn that existed during the Civil War. In fact, the ghost of a Confederate soldier is said to stare forlornly out of one of the second-floor windows. Holding a candlelit lantern, a hoop-skirted woman named Phyllis leads us through dark, rainy streets, recounting tales of ghosts and apparitions of poor, unsettled souls who still wander the earth.
In one house on Baltimore Street, the computer is still on, the TV glows, the owner having fled some time ago, terrified of the Confederate spirits that haunt it. Nearby, at the Farnsworth Inn, the spirit of a little boy, Jeremy, who was injured in a horse-and-carriage accident during the Civil War and who, as he lay dying in the house, was reassured by the doctor that he was safe, is now seen contentedly playing marbles.
In the middle of a field we come to a large maple tree against which six wounded Union soldiers were propped—and died.
“This is one of Gettysburg’s hottest spots of paranormal activity,” Phyllis says. “Come here after 11 p.m., and you’ll find people with cameras and all their equipment, looking for ghosts.”
“Are ghosts really there?” a young boy in our group asks.
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Phyllis just shrugs and gives a knowing smile.
Back at the inn the next morning, I meet a couple that’s in town for a paranormal conference. “See any ghosts?” I ask, just because that’s what you do in Gettysburg.
“Not here,” the woman replies. “We went on a tour last night, though…” implying they came across something, but I don’t want to hear it. Maybe ghosts exist, maybe not, but I know one thing is sure: Ghosts are big business in Gettysburg.
I go back to the inn’s patio and my comfortable chair, blocking out any notion that a Civil War soldier may be peering over my shoulder.
Barbara Noe is a senior editor for National Geographic Books. Read her last post for Intelligent Travel, “Walking Above Jerusalem.“