Located between the boroughs of Columbia and Marietta is Chickies Rock. At over 422 acres, it is the county’s second-largest regional park. Its most notable feature is the massive outcropping of quartzite rock towering 200 feet above the river. The vista offers impressive views of York County, the borough of Marietta, and farmlands of northwestern Lancaster County.
Bike paths and walking trails now lead visitors to the sites of interest in Chickies Rock County Park. But one thing seems to run through its long history, unbidden and dark: the supernatural. Locals will agree that the view from Chickies Rock is indeed spectacular and that the history and geology of the site are interesting. But along with the beauty, science, and history are tales that encompass the mysterious: legends of curses, ghosts and strange monsters.
The rock and surrounding land seem to possess a certain magnetism. Hundreds of years ago, it attracted Native Americans. In fact, the name Chickies Rock comes from the Lenape word Chiquesalunga meaning “place of the crayfish.” There is a nearby stream with the same name. Technically, it is now called Chiques Creek. The name changed from Chickies Creek in 2002. The area once boasted seven iron furnaces and rolling mills, a canal, and a trolley line. Remnants of furnaces, canal walls, and trolley-line grades are still visible today.
The earliest legends involve the Susquehannocks that once lived in the area. One of the oldest tales in which there are many variations to the story, but regardless of the version, persistent tales circulate of a Colonial-era dressed white man standing at the summit of Chickies Rock or near the water’s edge below. His fate is known as The Lover’s Leap.
THE LOVER’S LEAP
Arguably the most popular myth involving Chickie Rock is the story of Lover’s Leap. In one version of the story, a young Susquehannock Indian named Wanunga lived there with his beautiful wife named Wanhuita.
One autumn, several men including Wanunga left on an extended trading expedition with far-off tribes. While he was away, Wanunga’s wife became friendly and eventually fell in love with a nearby white settler. The two would sneak off under the cover of darkness to Chickies Rock for secret rendezvouses.
After several weeks, Wanuge returned home. He immediately noticed the lack of interest from Wanhuita and became suspicious. One night he observed Wanhuita sneaking out of the longhouse and decided to follow her. Staying in the shadows, he followed Wanhuita up the hill to Chickies Rock. There in the moonlight, Wanuge’s worse fear was realized as he saw his wife in the arms of another man. Adding insult to injury, it was a white man.
Wanunga flew into a rage, pulled his tomahawk, and ran at the man, catching the white man off guard, Wanunga repeatedly hacked at him. After slitting the man’s throat, Wanunga cast the rival’s lifeless body off the cliff’s edge.
As Wanhuita watched her lover tumble into the dark oblivion, she screamed a heartbreaking, “No!” Furious over this final betrayal, Wanunga lunged at his wife. He grabbed Wanhuita attempting to throw her over the cliff too but in the struggle, they both tumbled off. As they plummeted to their deaths on the jagged rocks 100 feet below, Wanhuita’s screams filled the cold night. Even more frightening are the phantom screams of Wanhuita often heard still today late at night.
Wanunga too has remained forever cursed to haunt the area. When exploring the area surrounding Chickies Rock, people report seeing a ghostly Indian figure silently moving through the night on a revengeful mission. Sometimes he’s seen holding a tomahawk. He’s frequently sighted in, around, or on top of the old tunnel at dusk or on overcast days.
Not everyone believes the ghost is Wanunga, some think this Susquehannock apparition is warning people to stay off sacred Indian grounds. There are also stories of ghostly drumming heard by hikers. No one has ever been able to locate the source of the drumming despite many attempts. I personally heard this drumming as a young child while disobeying my mother and wandering deep into the woods with siblings and cousins. It’s a sound I’ll never forget. I’ll also never forget the look of fear on the adults faces as they carried us out of the woods with a jarring swiftness.
Even if you don’t believe in Indian ghosts or spectral apparitions, Chickies Rock is a place of death. Before the county built a fence around the summit in 1990, one or two people died there every year. Even with a protective railing, at least four people have fallen to their death in the intervening years. Sometimes it’s accidentally from people hiking to close to the edge or having too much to drink. Other times its suicide. There are even whispers of murder being committed from atop the rock’s summit.
Accidents on the rock have decreased since the county built a split-rail fence around the summit in 1990. Newspaper archives show 12 people have died from falls there since 1981 – eight of those between 1981 and 1990.
Four deaths at Chickies Rock have been reported since the fence was built, according to newspaper records. The most recent death was in November 2006, when a York County teenager fell while watching trains.
THE CURSE OF CHICKIES ROCK
Towards the end of the 19th Century, three sisters lived in a small house atop Chiques Hill in an area referred to at the time as “The Rock.” It was a common belief by many in town that these women were practitioners of the Black Arts.
The sisters, witches or not, were content to be left alone away from the progress of a rapidly modernizing world. Unfortunately, progress and greed felt differently.
The plan was to build tracks along the side of the ridge from Columbia with a completion date of 1893. The railway would climb 1,900 feet on a 6% grade, running on the west side of Chickies Hill Road and then curving sharply west to reach Chickies Park. It was here that an amusement park would be built on the west end of the ridge, atop Chickies Rock, overlooking the Susquehanna. The only problem was the home occupied by the three sisters sat squarely in the middle of the proposed site.
The C&D began purchasing all the needed parcels of land. Most were eager to sell except for the sisters. The C&D made several offers. Each more generous than the one before. But the sisters refused every time. They would never give up their ancestral home.
Railway officials discussed building the park around the sisters but given the controversy of them possibly being witches the plan was scrapped. Left with no alternative the trolley company convinced local officials to give them the land through eminent domain.
Left with no choice, the sisters made a suicide pact. But before they followed through, the sisters turned to the black arts for revenge. They cast a spell from the Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses to curse the land in an affirmation that greed on the part of the new owners would certainly bring death.
The Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses is an 18th – or 19th-century black magic text allegedly written by Moses and passed down as one of the hidden books of the Jewish Tanakh. Eventually, the text was brought here to Lancaster County by German immigrants. The book is rumored to be the most powerful of the series. According to lore, this book of dark magic cannot be destroyed, unless cast into the fire by a boy born on the Sabbath.
A series of costly mishaps preceded this tragedy, both in construction of the park and its operation. The trolley line was abandoned on April 25, 1932. It’s believed that their black magic spell still curses the ground today.
One of these tragedies happened on August 9, 1896. The day began like any other Sunday. Townspeople attended worship services. Families gathered at noon for a meal together. As the day slipped into the afternoon, children swam in local creeks as adults sat on their front porches sipping lemonade.
That evening at Chickies Park (spelled Chiques at the time) overlooking the Susquehanna River there was a sacred band concert of spiritual music. Then, like today, Chickies Rock was a popular summer destination. In fact, at the turn of the 19th century, there was even an amusement park near the overlook.
People could ride the hub and spoke network of trolley lines from almost anywhere in Lancaster County to visit. Sadly, no remnants of this amusement park remain today.
Towards the end of the concert, there was a severe storm that delayed the arrival of the trolley from Marietta. It was common practice not to operate the trolleys during a thunderstorm.
When the four-wheel car No. 61 of the Pennsylvania Traction Company arrived after the storm, with Adam Foehlinger as a motorman and Harry Hershey as a conductor, the car was engulfed by passengers eager to get home. The trolley’s capacity was 28, but possibly 80 adults and children climbed aboard. Every seat was quickly filled then the aisles as was every bit of space on the front and back platforms.
About 10 pm, the overloaded car started its downhill ride towards Columbia. At Klinesville, about a mile from Columbia, two women signaled to get off. However, due to the weight of the car and the wet rails, the trolley was unable to stop at the crossing going an extra 150 feet before coming to a full stop. The car was then backed up so the women could disembark.
Underway again the trolley began to move forward on the steep slope increasing in speed. Problems for the overloaded trolley worsened as millions of potatoes bugs swarmed over the rails making the overworked brakes ineffective. The increase in speed caused the trolley pole to leave the overhead wire, cutting the electricity and plunging the interior into darkness. With no brakes and in complete darkness, the passengers broke out into screams. The trolley car eventually hit 60 miles per hour.
On a curve, the wheels left the rails. The car careened wildly across a road, snapping off a gatepost, then sliding on its side for 75 feet, striking a tree, then a trolley pole, and dropping over a 30-foot embankment. It ended on its top, with wheels and motor high in the air.
The accident killed six people including the mayor of Columbia H. H. Heise, motorman Foehlinger, William Pinkerton, Henry Smith, W. J. Ludlow, and William Metzger. In addition, another 68 people were injured.
More recent spooks include a mummified ghost – he’s armless, and has arrows sticking out of him. The river shore sports the spook of a man that died in a riverboat accident roaming its banks. In 2004, a tall shadowy silhouetted man wearing a fedora-style hat and flowing cape was spotted. Similarly dressed specters exist in Native American lore throughout the country. They seem to be fond of remote areas and usually seen standing atop cliffs and hills, where they act like sentries or watchmen.
The spirits of men have been seen at the foot of the cliff, appearing and then vanishing before your eyes. They’re supposed to be the apparitions of dearly departed RR and canal workers. And let’s not forget our favorite gremlins, the apple loving Albatwitches that call Chickie’s Rock home.
Sightings of the Albatwitch – reportedly a very slender, 4- to 5-foot-tall, ape-like creature covered in reddish-brown hair – date back 400 or 500 years to the Susquehannock Indians, who inhabited the area around Chickies Rock on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna. They named it Albatwitch after the apple witch.
These humanoids like to sit in trees and snack on apples, particularly those of unsuspecting picnickers. They even throw the cores at them after chomping the fruit. In fact, that’s how it got its’ name – Albatwitch is the local jargon for apple snitch.
While local lore attributes the name to the Susquehannocks, the creature’s association with apples appears to be of more recent, more European vintage. The Albatwitch gained that reputation in the late 1800s, when Chickies Rock was a popular picnic spot complete with a trolley that ran there from Columbia.
Oddly, the best-known phenomena is the mist that forms on top of the rock and morphs into a spook. Teens admitted making up the story in 1969, but it’s still the most widely reported sighting. Nothing like the power of suggestion, hey?
So, whether you’re looking for ghosts, strange monsters or believe in curses Chickies Rock is a great place to roam. It’s filled with enough history and haunts to keep anyone entertained.
You can find the park at 880 Chickies Hill Rd, Columbia, PA 17512. Hours are 8:30am to 8:00pm Monday thru Sunday.