Board member and volunteer Ed Ziegler arrived at headquarters this morning with an old newspaper clipping from the Times – Herald. This 1972 article recounted an old legend that might be America’s first real ghost story. Digging around I found other accounts of the story, one in our own Bulletin of October, 1955. The pictures in this post come from that article.
It happened in Upper Frederick, around the area now known as Obelisk. In 1738, nine year-old Susanna Reimer began to see a man, first sitting on a tree stump then standing with other farm hands. When she pointed the man out to her sister, 17 year-old Elizabeth, her sister said she couldn’t see the man. Susanna came to believe the man she was seeing was a ghost.
When the girls told their farmer, Frederick Reimer, about the ghost, he believed them. Reimer and others believed the ghost was that of a farmhand named “Miller” who had died a few years previously.
The next time Susanna saw the ghost she spoke to him with her sister’s prompting. The man said that he had died leaving a debt unpaid. According to the Times – Herald article, he owed a woman named “Steinman” 30 gulden. Another source, Charles J. Adams III’s Montgomery County Ghost Stories gives the amount as 50 gulden and adds that the ghost said that his widow could not pay the debt. So the girls promised that they would pay the debt, and the ghost became excited and said that he would go home. Susanna asked where home was, and the ghost led the girls to a burial lot on the Zeiber farm and jumping into the ground.
Frederick Reimer did try to find the woman named “Steinman” and discovered that a passenger list for an English ship named “Hope” had the names Hans and Katherine Steinman and several families named Miller. Reimer tracked down passengers on the ship who told him that Miller and Katherine Steinman argued over money Steinman claimed to have lent to Miller, but Miller denied receiving.
At some point, Miller’s widow came forward and claimed that her husband had asked to borrow money, but Mrs. Steinman refused. Although the story was printed in a book by German printer Christopher Saur and reprinted in a magazine in Germany, no Steinmans ever came forward to claim the money. Reimer apparently gave up trying to pay the debt.
Many years later, in 1757, Frederick Reimer froze to death on Christmas Eve. Many in the community wondered if this wasn’t the ghost’s revenge for not keeping the promise to repay the debt.
Lafferty, James. “When It Comes to Real Spirit, County May Have Had U.S. First.” Times-Herald [Norristown] Oct. 1972: n. pag. Print.
Adams, Charles J., III. Montgomery County Ghost Stories. (Reading: Exeter House Books, 2000) 6-12.
Berky, Andrew S. “America’s First Ghost?” Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County Pennsylvania 10 (1955) 5-11