A Spirited Town

The grave of Baron and Baroness de Beelen Berthoff is housed at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hanover.

The grave of Baron and Baroness de Beelen Berthoff is housed at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hanover.

by Nancy Duffy, photography by Amy McIntyre Devilbiss

With the change of season comes a change in conversation. Stories about beach vacations, late summer nights, and the “one that got away” fishing tales are replaced with stories of cross-town football rivalries, harvest festivals and, of course, Halloween.

Gettysburg may have ghosts, but Hanover has its own stories to tell.

Since its beginning, when Hanover was “laid out in 1763 around a hub of five radiating streets” which led to Baltimore, Frederick, Abbottstown, Carlisle and York, stories of unfamiliar happenings have taken root and have become part of this town’s landscape.

As a Matter of Fact

One might consider the Hanover Area Historical Society at 208 Third Street an interesting place to find information on tales and legends because, as Marvin D. Mulhausen, librarian and researcher for the Society said, “we deal in facts.”

However, the Wisconsin native and 13-year resident said he loves history, and he is more than happy to dive into the stacks of books, maps, newspapers, typed and handwritten accounts that catalog Hanover.

And he’s good.

Marvin D. Muhlhausen of the Hanover Area Historical Society loves history and researched the Hanover archives where he found some clippings of spooky tales.

Marvin D. Muhlhausen of the Hanover Area Historical Society loves history and researched the Hanover archives where he found some clippings of spooky tales.

“I did some more research,” Mulhausen said, “and I found these clippings.”

Here are a few uncovered tales to tell around the cooler autumn nights.


Not only does the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hanover house the historic Hook & Hastings organ that produces beautiful music, but its grounds also house the remains of Baron and Baroness de Beelen Berthoff.

According to Sally M. Barach in her collection “Haunts of Adams and Other Counties,” the summer of 1804 was wrought with “a severe epidemic of yellow fever.” The Baron, a native of the Austrian Netherlands, had been in Pennsylvania for 20 years, the last seven of his life spent in York County.  His lineage was strong, hailing from one of the “patrician families of Luxemborg,” which also made him wealthy and arrogant.

In April of that summer, the Baroness contracted yellow fever and died. She was buried elsewhere by the help who had not yet been stricken with the deadly disease.

When the Baron died a few months later, there was no one left to bury him, as all of the help had died, so his body was “simply put in a coffin.” Random men were hired to carry the coffin to the cemetery and also to locate the grave of the Baroness and move her to be with her husband.

That did not happen.

Whether afraid or careless or both, the hired men simply “dumped the two coffins” into the Conewago graveyard and ran; the de Beelen Berthoffs were left without a proper burial.

They were eventually moved to an area near the altar of the church, but even that did not please the Baron and his wife.

Apparently, the Baron was “miffed” at the lack of ceremony that accompanied his death because these unsettled spirits can reportedly be seen pacing back and forth in the early morning hours in the cemetery. It is thought that the Baron may have felt it was simply unacceptable to go from riding in a one- to two-horse drawn open carriage, a “Fine Phaeton,” to attend Mass at the Chapel to being just “dead like everyone else.”


According to the recollections of Robert E. Spangler compiled in 1951, Pigeon Hills was named for the “wild pigeons … [that] flocked to this region about 4 miles from Hanover Square in such numbers that the sky was darkened.” In October 1947, Boy Scout Council No. 544 dedicated a marker to the wild pigeons (passenger pigeons) that came in droves from the “pioneer days until the 1880s.”

A few years earlier, on February 12, 1872, something – or someone – else resided in Pigeon Hills.

The Hanover Herald published an account of a ghost seen “on a farm on which the owned died recently” leaving his widow and children. There was “considerable excitement” surrounding this sighting by a “hired man who slept in an upper room.”

On that Thursday night, the widow awoke because of a “strange noise” outside, the watchdog also howling “fearfully.” Hearing heavy footsteps upstairs on the far side of the house, she called for the hired man. Before he could descend the stairs, the “ghost of the deceased appeared before [him] with outstretched arms” and then disappeared.

Within the week, the ghost passed two more times through the bedroom of the hired man, the “second time approaching within two feet” of the bed.  The hired man screamed and the entity disappeared.

No person has been willing to sleep in that house since.


Other tales of interest include that of the Conewago Phantom, who lives in the woods off of Dicks Dam Road. Years ago, Boy Scout troops and leaders had been known to pack up early because of a strong presence in those woods with a “mothman-like” appearance.

A former pastor at Emmanuel United Church of Christ on Broadway who fell to his death during reconstruction is thought to make his presence known every now and then.

Perhaps it is the same spirit who looks for a book or two at the Reader’s Café across the street. Employees occasionally hear sounds of books falling from the upper level when they are sure no one else is in the building.

Move out toward Codorus State Park to see the Slave Woman of Marburg Lake walking along the shoreline. All at your own risk, of course.

Happy Haunting, Hanover.



Author: HM

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