The Haunting of Downtown Bethlehem: A Ghost Tour

Photo courtesy of Abagail Brisson

Photo courtesy of Abagail Brisson

Every Friday and Saturday from 6:30pm to 8:30pm during the month of October, the Moravian Book Shop holds the Historic Haunts of Downtown Bethlehem tour. The candle-lit walking tour is conducted by a trained guide, who tells the ghost stories of Bethlehem’s history.

On a recent Friday evening, I joined a tour at the Moravian Book Shop. 

Our first stop was the Brethren’s House on Moravian’s South Campus, home to many infamous ghost stories. There our guide told us about a janitor who saw a man in bloody bandages seemingly going through a basement wall. Visitors to the building, where wounded soldiers were tended to during the Revolutionary War, have reported seeing visions of injured soldiers and a nurse. They’ve also heard footsteps when nobody was present. “Sometimes, the attic lights [in Brethren’s House] will come on on their own,” he said. 

We then proceeded next door to the Single Sister’s House, which was constructed in the 1740’s. In this house lives a spirit named Emily. Years ago, a student was sleeping on the bottom bunk bed in her dorm, and when she looked up to the top bunk, she saw an unknown, malevolent face. As she got up to see who it was, the top bunk collapsed. Lore has it that the spirit Emily had taken the form of something evil to save the student’s life. Emily is considered mischievous, able to shapeshift, make papers fly off of desks, and move things around. Also, a mirror inside the Sister’s Dormitory shows the reflection of an older couple that’s visible when two soulmates stand in front of it. 

Our next stop was the Central Moravian Church. Built in 1751, this is one of the first pre-Revolutionary War buildings in Bethlehem. Several significant figures, such as George Washington, came here to worship.

“The main ghost story associated with the old chapel here is that of the Moravian University music director who was doing a show in 2007,” our guide said. “When listening to the music, she felt transported back in time. It’s not uncommon for buildings that are possessed by spirits over time to have an effect on you when you are inside its walls.” 

He said that the music director saw all of the audience members’ outfits and the music turned to colonial times, but it all changed back to normal moments later. It is believed that the church can give visitors hallucinations. In the church’s courtyard there once stood a corpse house, where bodies would be held in the winter, when the ground was too cold to bury them. The corpse house is long gone, but people have reported seeing ghosts floating around the area where it was.

Before the Central Moravian Church was built, locals attended service in the nearby Guymon House. Visitors to the second floor have reported coming across “cold spots” in the room and feeling like they are being watched by a dark presence. The guide told the group that a different tour guide had felt a presence behind her, as if something was staring at the back of her head. “When she turned around, she saw a dark figure lurching at her in the shadows,” he said. 

The next stop on the tour was God’s Acre cemetery, which is home to “2,600 souls,” according to our guide. There are no big headstones here, only flat and smooth grave markers laid flush to the ground. Typically, most cemeteries have smaller headstones to represent the children who have passed and larger, grand headstones to note someone of significance. Here, all of the headstones are of equal size. The only thing differentiating the headstones are ones marked with flags representing veterans. This location is the most likely for people on tours to see spirits or anomalies in photographs. A psychic who once came on a tour here saw visions of a young lady, but she wasn’t able to communicate these visions and the words. The psychic found she was unable to talk. After returning, this woman ended up finding the grave of a 17-year-old girl who died from tuberculosis– most likely causing her to not be able to speak in her final days. 

Further down the cemetery is a section of graves with American flags for the veterans. At the very end of our tour, the guide showed a photo taken in this section that appears to be of a man riding a horse. This image was taken a few years ago, supposedly during a tour and is assumed to have been a cavalry soldier.

Photo courtesy of Abagail Brisson
Photo courtesy of Abagail Brisson

Along North New St., the guide described the story of how years ago, the women’s seminary in Nazareth would walk to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve to have their Christmas service. On cold winter days, visitors today can sometimes still hear the hymns these women sang on their way here. 

On West Broad St. stands the Boyd Theatre, previously the Colonial Theatre, which was first opened in 1921. On December 27, 1966, a fire broke out in a building next door, which spread to the Boyd and ruined the lobby. The posters put up in the halls were saved, preserved, and are said to still smell of smoke. Little Apple Annie is the name given to the ghost who lived here. This small ghost would supposedly hand out apples in the theater lobby during its operating days. This theater will soon be taken down.

The current Wells Fargo bank was previously a nightclub called The Colonnade. “On November 10th, 1949, a [janitor] at the nightclub came down into the basement, [where] he saw a woman lying on the couch, sprawled out,” our guide said. “When he went to inspect what this woman was doing here, he found it was Ruth Mickley, who was a manager at the nightclub. Ruth Mickley had trauma, a wound at the back of her head. She was dead on the couch. The janitor reported this to the police immediately. At the investigation that followed, after everybody had an alibi and passed a lie detector test, no suspect was ever found for the murder of Ruth Mickley, and her restless spirit stays within these walls to this day.” It is said that there are many poltergeist activities here; objects fall, break, and move on their own. 

We then proceeded to the Sun Inn. In 1777, congressmen met here to discuss the Brethren’s House being used as a hospital and how it was spreading typhoid fever throughout the city. The basement used to be a makeshift jail and dark ghost activity — voices, cold spots, apparitions — is often witnessed here. Those who have been to the Sun Inn will notice that there are little open spots at the bottom of one of the walls. These are basement windows, and photos captured here sometimes show images of spirits. A mirror on the first floor is known as a paranormal portal. In photographs of the mirror, one might see the reflection of an old woman with an orange glow, as well as men dressed in colonial outfits. 

Another stop on the tour was the Red Stag Pub, once a farmer’s home during Revolutionary times. Marquis de Lafayette was moved here after sustaining an injury, and the farmer’s daughter took care of him. Lecil, the farmer’s daughter, never married and it’s believed that she fell into an unrequited love with the marquis, which caused her great heartache. It’s thought that her spirit still roams around the Red Stag Pub and in the apartments above. People who live there say that they have felt a presence, thought to be Lecil, getting into bed next to them. Next door, at Donegal Square, the owner once noticed a leak coming from the apartment about the store. There, he found dresser drawers full of water with no possible entry point. A water spirit is said to be the culprit. 

The Hotel Bethlehem was the next location on our tour. Between 1741 and 1823, the first house in Bethlehem was located here. Francis Thomas came to Bethlehem and saw the building being constructed but died a year later. He was well-known around the area, as he ran errands for many people. In the boiler room of the current hotel is said to be where his ghost roams. A woman who worked in the hotel would often greet hotel guests while she was wearing no shoes or socks. Guests have reported seeing a ghost with bare feet, seeming to be greeting the guests. Another woman married a man which led her to acquiring the Hope Diamond, which she felt was cursed because after her husband died she never found love again. This woman wanted to be a star and would sing in the hotel lobby, which she said was her life’s joy. Her ghost is said to be located on the second and third floors of the hotel. Hotel Bethlehem’s most haunted room is said to be room 932. 

Finally, the tour concluded at the Moravian Book Shop. The tour guide recounted the most famous ghost story about this store. “In the [former] deli, a worker was locking up at night when she saw a customer was still inside of the store when they were closing. But, the customer was in a strange spot. He was towards the back of the store in one of the hallways going towards the kitchen. Confused why a customer was still there, she chased down this man, only to find that in the kitchen the stove lights were still burning and there was no customer to be found.”