Hauntings at Sachs Covered Bridge

To one side of the town proper of Gettysburg, is a beautiful old bridge crossing the Marsh Creek, between Cumberland and Freedom Townships in the State of Pennsylvania. Its construction is distinct. Built in 1852, the one-hundred-foot Sachs Covered Bridge is a town-truss bridge, an architectural design patented by Ithiel Town in 1820. Town became rich off his patent. It was said he charged as high as two-dollars a foot in royalties for his designs, but the bridge became famous. (1) One of the few remaining truss town bridges in Pennsylvania, it was designated the state’s most historic bridge in 1938. (2)

Sachs bridge
Sachs bridge.

At the time it was built, it must have been an engineering marvel to the farmers and townspeople of Gettysburg. Instead of heavy piers, the supporting frame was built with wooden beams, plank floors and extensive lattice work that could be made from whatever wood was available. It could be assembled by laborers. Its structural integrity allowed large volumes of traffic, including heavy wagons, to cross over without peril.

The picturesque bridge didn’t dwell in domestic peace for very long. Only a decade after its construction, Pennsylvania was at war with the newly formed Confederacy. Robert E. Lee’s army had already swept over Virginia, securing Chancellorsville in a bold move that caught the larger Union army by surprise, by splitting his troops into two separate invasions. Confident he could continue gaining ground in the north, Lee began his march to Gettysburg.

Lee’s plan depended greatly on the element of surprise. On the first day of his advance, his troops met with the Union’s Army of the Potomac and mounted an aggressive assault for the town of Gettysburg. If it had just been Meade’s army he had to contend with, it’s possible Lee would have secured the town. By the second day of fighting, he had managed seize much of the town, despite heavy losses, but Lee had lost the element of surprise. By July three, Lee’s army had just fifteen thousand able-bodied troops and the northern Union battalions began pouring in from every side. (3)

Two brigades of the First Corps Union army marched across the bridge on their way to Gettysburg during the first day of fighting. It was also used by the Union III Corps on their way to Black Horse Tavern. Four days later, his army in tatters, Robert E. Lee and his troops used the bridge as they staged a hasty retreat in the rain and fog. (4)

The interior of the bridge
The interior of the bridge.

The bridge appears to be a conduit, linking the past with the present. Thousands of footsteps marched over it during those four days of battle and the sound of that steady march still seems to echo from the floorboards.

Walking through one hundred feet of covered bridge can be a daunting experience. The past clings to the one hundred-seventy- year-old boards. Occasionally, mysterious vapors will waft out from the latticework orbs will appear, floating near the ceiling. Neither the vapors nor the orbs are camera-shy. Both have been caught on camera by visitors. (5)

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Visitors have reported hearing the distance sounds of cannonballs and battle cries while crossing the bridge. Others have seen ghostly figures sharing a cigarette or standing guard near the exit. One recognizable ghost is Robert E. Lee, who is said to stand by one side of his bridge, smoking his pipe as his army slips away into the fog.Midway through your supernatural journey across the bridge, you might begin feeling cold spots and ghostly touches. You might smell cigar smoke and hear disembodied voices. It’s as though the bridge recorded a memory of those fateful days and brings those memories back to when it was young and filled with glory. Neither good nor bad, just a remembrance of when thousands of feet strolled across the bridge, filled with resolve and purpose.

One of the most prevalent stories, told by locals and visitors alike, is a grisly one. Many have witnessed the apparition of three soldiers who had been hung from the rafters of the covered bridge. There are two versions of who the hanged men were. Both stories are plausible. In one story, they were deserters, caught and hung by the Confederacy before continuing their flight into Virginia. The other is that they were Confederate spies, caught by the Union and hung for treason. Hanging men don’t talk. They only leave their reminder that death came by a rope instead of a bullet. (6)

Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, the Sachs Covered Bridge is remarkable. Its history gives it a life of its own. Its lattice truss design is a study in elegance and has proven to be so well-integrated, not even a major flood, over a hundred years later, could destroy it.

The bridge is so sturdy, it remained open to vehicle traffic until 1968, when it was decided to open it to foot traffic only. The historic landmark and popular tourist attraction was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. A 1996, a state-wide flood demolished a very large percentage of Pennsylvania’s bridges, taking out large, modern steel bridges as easily as it washed out humble, wooden one. The badly damaged Sachs Covered Bridge had washed downstream, yet ninety percent of it was salvageable and used in its reconstruction. (7) The reconstructed bridge is an exact duplicate of the one that carried the Union into war and allowed the Confederacy to escape. The materials are the same, imprinted with the same memories.

What motivated these ghosts to seek asylum on a bridge that has gone from horse and buggy days to automobile transport, and nearly complete destruction during a flood? They were there only for a moment before traveling on to their next destination. Could it be that the bridge, so lovely and serene, was an oasis in an episode of madness? The only violence recorded with the bridge was the three hanging men. Did they curse in their final moments, dooming the men who captured them to forever play out the scene of crossing the bridge?

Battle noises, apparitions, hanging men, disembodied voices, ghostly touches and the lingering smell of cigar or pipe smoke have all been reported by visitors and locals who dared to walk across Sachs Covered Bridge. (8) Some insist the spirits are more prevalent at night, while others state the time of day doesn’t matter. Either the bridge itself or the spirits within it, have moods, with hair-raising experiences occurring on some days and complete tranquility on others. Sightings have been so frequent, they have even been shouted out at ordinary social media sites as well as in ghost-hunting circles.

Even historians are baffled by the number of people who swear they have had a supernatural experience on the bridge and diligently mention that the Sachs Covered Bridge is not only America’s most historic bridge; it is America’s most haunted. (9)

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ithiel_Town
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sachs_Covered_Bridge
  3. https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-gettysburg
  4. http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMHPHX_Sachs_Covered_Bridge_Gettysburg_PA
  5. https://www.quotev.com/story/5416370/Ghost-Stories-and-Folklore/8
  6. http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-201
  7. http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMHPHX_Sachs_Covered_Bridge_Gettysburg_PA
  8. https://www.pahauntedhouses.com/real-haunt/sachs-covered-bridge.html
  9. http://www.scenicusa.net/010713.html
Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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