New Hope, Pennsylvania is known for, among other things, ghosts. There is the ghost that is said to haunt the Inn at Phillips Mill, a ghost that rocks in a rocking chair and, it is said, occasionally steals delicious treats from the pantry of the famous restaurant of the Phillips Mill Inn, which is among the very best restaurants in Bucks County.

Now there are undoubtedly some who do not know Bucks County, Pennsylvania. That county is one of the three famous original tracts of land that William Penn created in 1682. He named it after his native Buckinghamshire, and he himself dwelt in that county’s small hamlet known as Falls. A school district not far from Oxford Valley (known as Pennsbury) is named after William Penn’s own nearby villa of the same name. Some of the towns of the county bear names also drawn from the English countryside, prominent among them (and proximate to New Hope), Solebury.

But all that is off the topic, for we are concerned with ghosts. The ghost of the Inn at Phillips Mill is one thing—it is a sweet-eating ghost, and likes to rock in a rocker. So everyone’s assumption is that it (he? she?) is overweight and probably badly out of shape. No one has actually ever seen its silhouette, but the facts speak for themselves. The missing desserts, sometimes amply missing, are a clear sign, and the self-propelling rocker, too, seems to have more wear and tear beneath its rocker rails than should be caused by a lightweight ghost. Thus, that rocker’s ghost is most assuredly weight challenged. I say this not to “fat shame” him or her; I merely state the obvious.

The ghost of the Logan Inn, by contrast, I personally believe to be spurious. I say this with all due respect to the former owner, whose mother’s soul this ghost is said to embody (if embody is quite the right word, which I doubt). That ghost, whose name is said to be Emily, may or may not be a psychological projection of the former owner. What is the evidence? First, ghosts rarely have names unless they are quite famous ghosts. Second, there is no proof of this ghost’s existence, other than a few creepy apparitions in a mirror of room #6 at that famous inn. Those could have been reflections of light or mere figments of the viewer’s imagination. I have no idea, but I only know what I’ve heard on the street. The entire affair sounded to me too far-fetched to be true. Yet even as I write this, I fervently hope not to be offending that ghost, should it exist, as an offended ghost is an unsafe ghost. Indeed, now that I think about it, why am I calling Emily into question? Perhaps it is my own psychological issues that make me question a perfectly good ghost story. Yet, admittedly, in Emily’s case, the evidence is lacking.

But the story of Aaron Burr in his underwear is, I believe, better documented. First, no one denies that Aaron Burr, then vice president, was on the run after his duel with Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton, who had purposely missed Burr, died the day after the duel. Burr, for his part, did not, of course, miss Hamilton and was charged with the murder; nonetheless, he was eventually acquitted of the charge and was able to serve out his term. Afterwards Burr tried to make Louisiana into a separate country, but failed to do so and eventually fled to Europe before being acquitted again and returning to New York. So why his ghost would be in New Hope is unclear, and why it is consistently said “to be seen in its underwear” is, perhaps, at least on the surface also unclear.

Unclear to those who don’t know the full story, that is. That story runs as follows: When Burr was on the lam in New Hope en route south, he stayed in a small inn (now known as the Aaron Burr House).He had, perhaps out of fear during the duel or simply for other unknown reasons, soiled his pants. On the days that he stayed clandestinely in New Hope, just after the duel, which took place on 11 July 1804, he sent his pants and first pair of undergarments (for he had two) out to be cleaned. But then there came a loud knock on the door of his room in the tiny inn, which is located at 80 West Bridge Street in New Hope. And there he was, sitting in his armchair in the room, smoking his pipe, reflecting on the difficult events of the previous day. He was, naturally enough, forlorn, a broken man, for he had by then learned that Hamilton had purposely missed him. He fervently wished that he could go back in time, undo the stupid duel (for he was already thinking of the entire affair as stupid), and could just go back to Washington D.C. to serve out his term as vice president.

But time had marched on, and his valet had marched off with his pants. And now someone (he never found out who—a reporter perhaps?) was knocking at the door. And he was dying of shame and, of course, embarrassment for not having brought with him an extra pair of pants—so hasty had been his flight. And so, he climbed out the window and in so doing actually fell to the ground—an entire floor below! His heart actually stopped from the shock of the fall but, within a few seconds, started to beat on its own again. (That is the only cogent explanation as to why his ghost haunts New Hope and not New York, where he died years later a second time, for ghosts of people who die twice can choose whichever of the two locations they would prefer to haunt).

And, of course, because he died the first time in his underwear, that is all the ghost is allowed to (or, I am told wants to) wear. And many people have seen this ghost, not in the Aaron Burr House but only in the nearby street, West Bridge Street, late at night. I cannot verify beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the case, in no small part because I now live in Texas, but that the last time I was there that was the scuttlebutt on the streets of New Hope, and I for one am inclined to believe it. Indeed, why shouldn’t I? I’ve walked by that house many time as a lad, and I always, every single time, got a chill down my spine, even in the hot summers that often occur in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. So, if you see a ghost in his underwear in New Hope, you’ll now know whose ghost it is—none other than that of Aaron Burr.

Happy Halloween! Beware of or, perhaps better,
be on the lookout for, ghosts!

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