Rumor has it
by Lou Bernard
Did you know that Ambrose Bierce visited a house on Water Street in Lock Haven? Of course you didn’t, because I only just now made it up. But I’m using it as an example of the sort of weird rumors I hear all the time.
People come up to me to ask me about this stuff a lot. And it’s hard to blame them, as there’s so much strange stuff in Clinton County’s history already. Since I’ve heard so many odd historic rumors over the years, I thought I’d set the record straight and share some of these with you.
“Are there really nuclear weapons hidden in Castanea?” I have seriously been asked this. The answer is, to the best of my knowledge, no. Though some people have suggested that the government has stashed nukes in Castanea Township, there is no evidence to back this up.
The weirdest thing about this one, though, it how plausible it seems upon examination. There were local people who worked on nuclear weapons, and Pennwoven Wire, very near Castanea, manufactured some of the mesh used in one explosive device. Maybe that’s how the rumor got started. It’s also plausible that, in the case of a war, the Russians would have no immediate designs on Castanea, Pennsylvania.
“How do I find information about the bus crash in McElhattan that killed all those kids?” You don’t, because it never happened. This is a rumor called a gravity hill, which involves small children haunting the site of railroad tracks where they died. I have no idea how this came to be attached to McElhattan, but it’s also been told about a whole lot of other locations. I can think of three in Pennsylvania alone. I cannot stress this enough: Quit asking me about the gravity hill. It simply never happened. (I think I’ve written about this one before, but it annoys me enough that it bears repeating.)
“So during the Great Runaway, how many cabins did the Indians burn down?” That would be none. The Great Runaway happened along the Susquehanna River in July of 1778, when the settlers heard they were about to be attacked and used the river to get to safety in Sunbury. People are under the impression that the Native Americans came, found the cabins empty, and burned them to the ground, but there is no actual evidence of this.
Jenny Reed, daughter of Fort Reed builder William Reed, was very kind to the Native Americans, and often gave them bread and milk. This was probably the reason that no cabins were burned; the Native Americans just kicked a few rocks and called it good. Jenny Reed has also been spelled “Reid” and “Read,” and I don’t care which one you use. I’m still mad about the gravity hill.
“After 9-11, my brother’s friend’s cousin says he saw Army guys at Lock Haven airport.” Probably not, or at least not any organized movement. I’ve been asked about this one a couple of times. It is possible that some troops from the National Guard base in Dunnstown were shipped out through the airport, but I have not encountered any formally government-ordered troop movements into the Lock Haven airport.
“I hear that the sidewalks in downtown Lock Haven, that herringbone pattern, was chosen by one person. Is that true?” Weirdly, this one is a maybe. And I think that person might have been me.
It was sometime around 1999 when city council decided to put in the new sidewalks. I remember them announcing in the newspaper that there would be two patterns to choose from, a herringbone and a regular straight-line brick pattern. They had samples behind City Hall, and wanted citizens to vote on which pattern they liked best. They had a ballot in the local newspapers.
I actually clipped out the ballot, went down to City Hall, and cast my vote for the herringbone pattern, which is what was actually chosen. Here’s the quirky thing: When I went into City Hall to cast my vote, nobody had any clue what I was talking about. In spite of the ballot they’d run in the newspapers, they swore they had no idea about any voting process. Finally one woman on the second floor took my ballot. They installed the pattern I’d voted for, and in about seventeen years, I’ve never encountered anyone else who cast a vote for the sidewalks.
So I may have picked the look of our sidewalks, being the only person who voted and all. I have, however, been wondering about that on and off for over a decade now. So if anyone happens to have any memory of any of this, please, contact me and let me know.