Summer in Philadelphia, PA can be a brutal time of year. In the past two weeks we have consistently seen temps upward of 97 degrees. The sun beats down mercilessly, leaving no place to hide. Any shaded areas you can find offer little refuge from the relentless humidity. Heat waves like this are sometimes responsible for the tragically avoidable deaths of the elderly. In fact, in the past week I have heard at least one report of such an occurrence.
With the hot weather out of control, there isn’t necessarily a need to lock yourself inside an air-conditioned cell. Philadelphia-area residents have a long-standing tradition of escaping by way of two nearby options; The NJ shore and the Pocono Mountains.
Some time in late July, my girlfriend Kate exclaimed we had just won the lottery. A semi-expenses paid trip to Ricketts Glen Campground (in the Pocono Mountains), courtesy of some friends who were unable to stay the full length of time they had booked. This meant three days to relax up in the mountains and escape the summer oven-like heat, which sounded great to me. The camp is located a couple miles up a VERY steep hill, and upon arrival you will have no internet access no matter what carrier you have.
One of the first things I did was go online to see if there was any possible haunted background to the place or surrounding areas. While it didn’t appear that Ricketts Glen was regarded as an area featuring any kind of abnormal ghost sightings, there certainly are a couple of stories which could cause an uneasy night of sleep.
First is the legend of the ghost tree. Details are very scarce on this one and everything online just kinda says the same thing: During the lumber boom days, a boy was cutting down a tree which, through poor planning, landed on top of him. A white, leafless tree subsequently grew in the same spot. Hmmm…..ok. Its odd that there are no names, dates or other details to elaborate on this more. From what I can find out, the ghost tree itself is not known for, or has caused any kind of disturbances. In fact, this story completely slipped out of my mind and I didnt even think to find out where the tree was or ask any locals for more details while I was up there.
Another notable story from Ricketts Glen occurs on Lake Jean, which I believe is considered part of the campground. It takes place in the wintertime while there was a not-so-stable layer of ice over the lake. It is a familiar but no less horrifying story; a boy walks out on a thin layer of ice, only for a break to occur and the child falls through. According to the story, the parents were on the shore watching the event take place. Instinctively, they rushed across the ice themselves to save him, and inevitably the even heavier bodies also caused the ice to cave. This horrifying chain of events has led to some locals claiming to see strange lights over the lake and the faces of the family in the water. Its unclear what time of year this happens, but wintertime would be my guess. Ricketts Glenn campground does in fact stay open year-round, and I could definitely imagine a much creepier vibe at that time of year. I was actually thumbing through the guest logbook to see if there were any entries throughout the cold-weather months, and I found several from just our cabin alone. No reports of any creepy stuff, mostly just frozen waterfalls. I’m trying to even imagine what it would be like to vacation there in the winter, and the thought of being in a cabin with no internet access sounds like isolationism to a depressing level.
That pretty much wraps up the creepy stuff……and there was not much of it, nor did I see anything out of the ordinary. I did stumble across some rather disturbing stories related to an extremely steep hill on 487 leading up to the park. On the last day of our camping trip, Kate and I stopped by the Colonel Ricketts Hard Cider operation. The owner was a pleasant gentleman who got into the cider making business late in the game. I was instantly impressed with the cider tasting samples that he placed in front of us. Somehow the topic of the enormous hill came up. The hill was so steep, that on descending it, the steering wheel shook rapidly back and forth. At the bottom of the hill when we got out I caught a glimpse of smoke coming out of the wheel wells of my truck. It was disconcerting to say the least. I knew the brakes on that truck were due for maintenance, but still….smoke?? I relayed this story to the Cidery owner. He immediately recalled tragic stories of 18-wheel trucks descending the hill without first shifting into lower gear. Failing to do that will cause your truck to gain momentum and accelerate to an out of control speed. The brakes in most cases would burn out (thankfully mine didnt completely go) and become useless. Some drivers would attempt to shift into lower gear as they were speeding faster and faster, but at that point your clutch would probably bust apart if you actually had enough strength to put it in gear at that speed. You would then not be in gear at all, and once in neutral there would be no stopping the truck. The cidery owner did not go into further details except to mention that he remembered two specific examples of trucks going off the road and killing the driver. The hill is now well marked with warnings for trucks of that size to shift gears. As I think back to the image of smoke rising off the brakes of my own truck like a ghostly pattern in the air, I try to block out the horrifying images of helpless drivers careening straight off the road. Id rather look back at the three fun days of hiking and viewing amazing waterfalls, and I hope to return there again soon.