Bellefonte’s rich history is apparent in the architecture of the many homes and buildings and on the many bronze plaques that line the downtown area.
You have to take a closer look, or maybe a closer listen, to realize the small Victorian town still clings to an impressive spiritual history. With Halloween approaching, the carved pumpkins and campy decorations that dot some Bellefonte homes don’t do this haunted legacy justice. But ask, and you likely will receive, a ghost story or two.
“Almost everyone who lives here has something, some kind of story,” Nancy Noll, a longtime resident says.
Noll owns and operates The Queen, a bed and breakfast on East Linn Street. The Queen fits in perfectly with some of the town’s other haunting architecture.
Up a set of stone steps off the sidewalk, the towering Victorian home looms large over Linn Street. Noll and her husband have put tons of work into the house since they bought it in 1974.
“It just looked haunted!” Noll exclaims. “It was the neighborhood albatross!”
Noll’s suspicions were soon confirmed when she and her family moved into the home in the ’70s. She may have even fallen victim to a recent haunting, spending an early October afternoon — and since — digging through filing cabinets and desks in her home office and rummaging about in search of a book of Bellefonte ghost stories.
“Maybe Harry took it?” someone will suggest later.
“Maybe he did,” Noll will reply.
“Harry” was on hand to welcome Noll and her family to The Queen. After moving in, Noll would come downstairs in an empty home to find a tub of ice cream sitting out, the freezer or refrigerator doors open or the TV turned on. Closet doors would be open after she was sure they were left closed.
Similar bizarre occurrences would take place on the second floor.
“My son always said, ‘Harry did it!’” Noll says.
The Nolls had a lot of work to do on the house and had to renovate floor-by-floor. As they did so, Harry’s presence moved from floor to floor. The only scary episode happened when a large bookcase came crashing down toward her son’s bed one night, Noll says. Other than that, Harry eventually became like an extended family member. They eventually even learned a bit about his past and how possibly a spirit could be connected to the home.
While her son and his friends would use an Ouija board to try and talk with Harry, Noll researched and found out that a housekeeper who worked on the property in the 50s indeed had a brother named Harry. It’s important to note: Harry has never disturbed any guests.
While sitting with local paranormal investigator Bill Benzie, he accidently drops his phone on our conference table. Quickly he says out loud, “That was me, Bill”. He says this as an instinctive reminder that while we’re recording the interview, the noise of the phone dropping is him, and not of paranormal activity.
He and his wife and partner Lisa have spent most of their lives in Bellefonte and have been up and down streets like Linn. They’ve passed homes like The Queen. They sense there could be some energy in them they would love to investigate.
“There was a lot, a lot, a lot of good stuff that happened in this town,” Benzie says. “And a lot of bad stuff that happened in this town and all that energy from Day 1 is still around.”
Benzie and his wife Lisa are part of the Spring Hill Paranormal Investigators, a four-person team based in Bellefonte. They’re quick to point out that most spiritual energy — ghosts — are not evil. Cases like bookcases falling are usually a matter of physics coupled with structural failures. But the tapping on the table shows his point — sounds like that are distinct. We know what causes them.
He and Lisa have something with them they can’t explain to everyone. It’s a photo of a full-bodied apparition. Something so rare, Bill is hesitant to show too many people before he can find a way to safeguard it against theft. He’s happy to say, it’s his team’s busy season.
“Paranormal activity doesn’t just restrict itself to Halloween,” Bill says. “They (the ghosts) don’t know it’s Halloween, they don’t care. But we do get a few more emails and a few more phone calls.”
And there are many more stories to share, Noll and the Benzies agree on that. Noll wants to add more to the book — when it resurfaces. Noll has chatted frequently with some of her neighbors who seem to have been paid visits by Harry. They’ve reported to her similar happenings as Harry hasn’t been heard from at The Queen in some time.
Romayne Naylor has shared similar experiences about growing up in Bellefonte. The amateur historian and freelance writer grew up in town and used to lead a haunted tour of Bellefonte, something Noll and others would like to see come back.
“I grew up in a home that had 3 orbs in it, whatever they were,” Naylor said. “Sometimes together, distinctly different in shapes and color, white glowing orbs, but you could see through.”
Naylor said her family never talked about it as their parents instructed them not to. When a college friend visited, she was terrified of the orbs.
“People think you're crazy,” Naylor said. “When my parents brought one of my newborn siblings home from the hospital, (the orbs) all came into the nursery, checked to see if the new baby was okay and away they went.”
Naylor still can’t explain the phenomenon. She doesn’t even necessarily call herself a believer, either. She does believe in a good story, though.
She was happy to share a few stories she used to tell along her haunted tours through town. Ghost tours that Noll helped with as well.
On it, the tour stopped at the train station where she’d tell the story of Lucinda Hall, a woman who lived in nearby Wingate during World War II who hitchhiked into Bellefonte carrying two American flags in order to see new local soldiers off to war. She’d do the same when they returned.
She frequently wore all black and after she died, there were reports from people who saw a woman in a long black coat looming around the station where a plaque exists, dedicated to her memory.
The tour continued to the Bush House, which no longer stands, where about three decades ago a woman who worked there used to take her young son to work with her. As she worked, her son would stay in a room where a rocking chair sat. He’d mention “His friend Daniel” taught him various card games. She thought it was an imaginary friend but as they left the house one day and walked past a portrait of Daniel Bush on the wall, the boy pointed it, identifying the man as his friend.
During the town’s Victorian Christmas celebrations in the 80s, the Bush House would put one white electric candle in the windows each night. By the morning, all of the ones on the third floor had been unplugged or the bulbs unscrewed.
Jail Hill (top of High Street behind the courthouse) was another frequent stop for the tour. Although the old stone fortress that served as a prison was destroyed by fire decades ago, plenty of criminals met their ends there. Some say that you can see a man’s body, which is said to be the last man hanged in Bellefonte, in full silhouetted by a full moon, hanging and swaying from the gallows, its shadow projected onto the porches of nearby houses.
There’s a good chance that most people from Bellefonte have a story or two to share.
“I don’t know if I believe in ghosts but I like to tell their stories,” Naylor said.
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