When I was writing Haunted Ohio III, I spoke with a young woman in Columbus, Ohio, who told me how she had been disturbed by a ghostly crying baby, and of the ingenious way she found to soothe the little spirit.
She was fortunate to be able to hush the dead. The lore of apparitions is filled with wailing infant ghosts, Unloved, unwanted, and buried in unsanctified soil, they sob, unseen and inconsolable.
In 1873 travelers in the Welsh Mountains of Pennsylvania were disturbed by what sounded like the cries of a tormented infant. But this infant was not unseen: It was a child in a basket on a tree-top. And down would come baby, basket and all…
A Ghost in the Form of a Baby
We have something on the summit of the Welsh Mountain, midway between Morgantown and Waynesburg, and about one-fourth a mile from the main road. For the past two weeks the cries of a child could be heard by persons passing along the road, and on a Sunday night as Robert Gorman, residing north of Downingtown, in company with another gentleman and two ladies, were passing the point, the cries became heart-rending, and they thought someone was treating a child shamefully. After walking a short distance one of the ladies, a Miss Ellie Parker, who resides near Paoli, stopped suddenly, and told the party to look up at the top of a large tree just in front of them, and there was seen a baby seated in a small basket, swinging back and forth, with but faint cries.
The ladies became frightened at the sight and begged one of the gentlemen to try and get up the tree and bring the child down. The distance up to the first limb was some twenty feet, and the gentlemen found it was impossible to get up. While the conversation was going on as to how the child could be brought down the child gave one scream, and as if by magic the basket fell half the distance to the ground, causing the ladies to scream, and the entire party to be more or less frightened. In less time than it takes to write this the basket and its contents were back to their place again, the child crying all the time.
This movement struck terror into the party. They watched the movement of the basket, and saw the baby plainly for five minutes afterward, and all at once the basket and its contents disappeared. The ladies state that the child was alive, for they saw it move when it fell down toward them.
On Monday evening a party numbering some twenty repaired to the place, and all saw the same thing. Mr. S. J. Peters, residing south of Lancaster City, was one of the party on Monday night, and he says he saw the baby in the basket, saw it move, and saw the falling and the disappearing. Reading Eagle
Lewistown [PA] Gazette 8 September 1875: p. 1
I didn’t really know what to make of this story, which seems to suggest that the apparition was on some kind of visionary tape-loop, replaying the basket’s fall over and over. I thought it might possibly be related to those repetitious ghosts who are said to walk on the anniversary of some tragedy, but on a tighter schedule. This story caused a sensation–even making it as far as The New York Times.
But after the story above was published in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, I found this deflating follow-up piece:
The Reading Baby Ghost a Fraud
From the Reading Eagle
The great mystery of the baby in the basket in the Welsh Mountain is at last solved. From the time that the account appeared in the Eagle at least three hundred persons visited the place in the mountain to behold the wonderful baby and its movements. On the last night it appeared a party of ladies and gentlemen, consisting of eight ladies and ten gentlemen, came from near West Chester in carriages, with the full determination of ascertaining all about the affair. They had with them ropes and a ladder to ascend the tree, but when they beheld the baby near the top of the tree, and the baby in it, they were fully determined to ascend and bring the little one down, and when the ladder had been put against the tree, and two of the men were going up, the basket with the baby gave its celebrated drop act, which chilled every one in the party, and when it returned to its position, and disappeared altogether, they became almost bewildered and returned to their homes without accomplishing what they had started out for.
Mr. Joseph Broadbent, Mr. Amos Runk, the Gable brothers, and many of the farmers in the neighbourhood, who are well acquainted with the locality and its residents, assert that there is a young lady residing near the place, and that she is an excellent ventriloquist, and had, with the aid of some companions, a basket arranged, and a large rag baby made and placed in the basket, and the whole was worked from a secluded place by a wire. When the basket would disappear it was pulled to the place where the lady and her companions were concealed and taken away. We are willing to acknowledge that we were badly sold.
The Sun [New York, NY] 9 September 1875: p. 2
Well, that is certainly an ingenious little scheme! I have to say that I am more than usually skeptical about nineteenth-century stories of the paranormal miraculously explained by a hidden ventriloquist. It is too much like the “and then I woke up” story ending. Why not name the lady and her companions? And what, precisely, was the point? It seems an overly complicated practical joke, if, in fact, it was a prank.
Digging a little deeper, I found more puzzlement, which probably could be solved with some local knowledge. It was reported that there was a gang of thieves operating in the area, as this article claims, since the 18th century, and as this next article says, “for years.”
In the northwest portion of Chester county, adjoining Lancaster and Berks counties, there is a very rugged strip of country known as the Welsh Mountains. For years that place has been the safe retreat of a set of land pirates known as the “Welsh Mountain Gang.” It was a thoroughly organized body, including members in all classes of the community from the very scum to the wealthy farmer. They preyed upon their neighbors and committed every crime short of murder. Matters had grown so bad that an organization was perfected to ferret out and break up the practice of the gang, and last week the labors of this association were rewarded by the capture of J. Lewis Robinson, a wealthy farmer, in whose possession was found a whiffletree belonging to a member of the detective society. An examination revealed the fact that Robinson’s house must have been a kind of headquarters at which to deposit the booty or else he was captain of the gang, and what was found was his share of the plunder, such as horse collars, double-trees, shovels, spades, stove pipes, clocks, crockery and glassware, silk and other dress goods already made up, shawls, scarfs, bedding and sheets, lap robes, afghans, blankets; in fact every imaginable thing for the use of man, woman or beast. The result of this capture will no doubt lead to breaking up this band of thieves that have so long annoyed the citizens of the above neighborhood.
The New Bloomfield [PA] Times 27 April 1880: p. 4
Does this have anything to do with the baby? Was the apparition something to lure people into a trap so they could be robbed like the Crying Baby Kidnap Lure celebrated in folklore as used by serial killers in parking lots and at front doors everywhere? Or is that an equally tortured explanation?
Given the place name, you will not be surprised to learn that this part of Pennsylvania was settled by the Welsh. It runs in my mind that there is some sort of murderous evil spirit in the British Isles that lures travelers with the sound of a crying baby. It is only heard, rather than seen. If there is such an entity, its name escapes me. Or am I thinking of the 1973 Greensburg, Pennsylvania UFO case where the witness said the alien creatures made a noise like a crying baby or the Greensburg Bigfoot flap of 2003 where the same noise was reported?
Thoughts? Throw your voice to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her new blog at The Victorian Book of the Dead.