Tag Archives: Solebury

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!

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Reminiscing about New Hope & Adding Letters to a Name

A few years ago I subscribed to the Philadelphia Inquirers online version of the paper. I did it not only to read Faye Flam’s column “Planet of the Apes,” my weekly spiritual challenge workout, but also for sentimental reasons and that New Hope is in the greater Philadelphia area. Anyone who happens to have read the Curious Autobiography will be able to infer why one might feel nostalgic for New Hope. The setting of most of that book is New Hope, Pennsylvania, a place near Philadelphia and nearer and dearer yet to my heart. If you have been there, you may have at least a general impression of why that might be the case. If you have not been there and you happen to have the opportunity to go, I recommend it. It is a town of paradoxes. On the one hand, it is a very modern place, avant-garde is not a strong enough adjective to describe it. Most of the folks who live there are progressive, inclusive, sometimes open-minded to a fault; that fault, of course, is that sometimes an open-minded person becomes quite close-minded if the person with whom he or she is conversing is not as receptive to new ideas.

historic flag.New HopeOn the other hand, it is a very old place, a place not simply steeped in tradition but equally as much in the history that undergirds that tradition. New Hope is itself a stone’s throw away from Washington’s Crossing State Park, a place the records and preserves the memory of a vital moment in our country’s history. The Fourth of July and that holiday’s incumbent fireworks are serious things in New Hope—the entire Delaware River that separates that hamlet from Lambertville lights up with them, and they’re set off, to this day, I believe, from the bank parking lot. fireworks in New HopeNever mind that the bank is now a Starbucks. It serves the same purpose as the bank, for it’s a place to bump into friends. Those would now likely be folks who used to live there and are back in town, like you, for nostalgic reasons, as the locals have all changed from the old days—well most of them. I think I saw James Martin, our famous woodworker, downtown walking his dog the last time I was there. But perhaps I did not. Perhaps that was just a vision of the old days, when I would see him nearly every day, completely unaware of the depth of his learning under the Japanese master Nakashima, or even the heights to which he had taken that learning.

Cutalossa Mill, Solebury
Cutalossa Mill, Solebury

Indeed, many of the old locals who still abide have migrated to Solebury, which has its own particular quaintness. Some have always lived there, but come downtown less frequently than they used to. “It’s the crowds,” Brad Livzey told me when I last saw him and asked him how often he went into town. “There are just too many people. I get down to Fran’s Pub every once in a while, but honestly, it’s just too crowded—too much traffic.”

And he’s right, all that quaintness makes for a lot of traffic. But to come back to my discussion of that series in the Inquirer to which I alluded earlier. I read it along time ago now, but it is more or less the same as all the others she has written since; in fact, I think she now longer writes it, but rather only a variation on it for another venue, eschewing, even barring God from any aspect of our existence. That article was by Faye Flam, who I imagine still writes a column on how science has solved humanity’s problems and religion and spiritual things are stuff and nonsense. But Faye is really refreshingly honest about it. I actually love that column, because in it she touches upon the question of what is a choice, when it comes to faith, and what is not. And yes, as she says there, “People of faith wonder how we nonbelievers get through the day. Sometimes I’m not so sure myself.” I think she’s exactly right. I think I respect my friends who are atheists sometimes more than those who are believers, because I don’t know how they get through the day, indeed.

That said, I thought I’d close this week’s blog with a poem, one written for none other than Faye herself. Now I am not the first to have responded to Faye’s positions, as some have done so with reasoned and passionate prose, but I may just be the first in verse. It’s a playful ditty, meant not just for her, of course, but for us all, calling us all, if we can hear the call—Faye suggest we can’t, though I suspect at some deep spiritual level (concerning the idea of free will) she is wrong—to rethink our positions. But that’s the progressive child of New Hope in me, calling on all of us to rethink our assumptions. We could be wrong, and we must admit that. Indeed, the person of faith, the normal, boring churchgoing Presbyterian or Lutheran or Catholic knows that; they fight some battle for some minor doctrinal point, about which they could have it round about and upside down. But they also know one more thing: God can’t be wrong and won’t be restrained by our faith or lack thereof. And that is, to the believer, a great comfort. That is faith.

A Letter (or Two) for Faye

Ah, Faye, it will not go away,

No matter what you say, it’s here to stay—

Faith, I mean. And like your name, Faye,

You’re almost there, but need just two letters to complete

What comes in a gentle whisper. And wouldn’t it be neat,

If you knew which two, and could do that feat,

Could make your name and all your ideas whole?

Aye, from your tongue rich and raucous laughter would then roll;

And yet, without those two, what you write is just another way to extol

Empty science, which like empty faith, is void

Of all meaning, and just gets you annoyed

and makes you feel like Sigmund Freud.

On a overcast day, when everything’s symbolic

And the best arguments are simply vitriolic

So you (and I) drink like an alcoholic.

But that’s off topic, Faye, you know,

And I just want to tell you so

About those letters—were they ‘e’ and ‘o’?

No, no, one was an ‘H’, an ‘H’ for the ‘Here I am,’

That Abram heard from the Lamb that made the ram—

The very letter that completed AbraHam.

That’s the same voice, small and still

That spoke to Moses on the holy hill

That does not compete with science but by its will

Completes it, Faye, you see. Or do you see?

The other letter’s like what St. Peter calls a tree,

But means a cross, that is, a “T”.

For on that cross, dear Faye, a bridge was built

Over the river of sin, and past the mire pits of guilt

That makes those insipid disagreements over evolution wilt

By comparison. For to compare God and science, Faye,

You know, it’s silly, really—not to take away from what you say,

Or how strongly your readers feel when they repay

Your invitation to relate their strong opinions, some “for God”

Some “against.” And don’t you find it strangely odd,

That whether we shake our head or nod,

At the end of the day, Faye, He is, like science, here to stay,

And just like science, has much to say to our tomorrow and today?

But with this difference: his is the small still voice that can add, merely with two letters, true life to Faye.