People often ask about my writing techniques, or where I get my ideas. Like a lot of other authors, I tend to pull ideas from many different sources–my everyday life, my dreams (or nightmares), my own past experiences, and most recently, from local legends and stories.
Both School Spirits and The Witch of Willow Lake are set in a town that was heavily inspired by Lock Haven, PA, where I attended college. School Spirits built on a lot of the campus ghost stories I heard during my time there, and The Witch of Willow Lake continued one of those stories, the tragic tale of Russell (Appleton) Hall Mary.
What I bring to you today is a few articles I found as I did research for these books. A lot of the stories I discovered were both written by and shared with me by Lou Bernard, Lock Haven historian extraordinaire.
So sit back, grab yourself a cup of coffee, hot cider, or cocoa, or even something a bit more potent, and give a read to some Clinton County legends that found their way into my heart and my books.
Russell Hall Mary
This is the story I built upon for Mary Bollinger’s spirit being in the Appleton Hall bell tower. The article states that the first actual documented telling of this story was in 2003, in an edition of The Eagle Eye, LHU’s student newspaper. All I have to add here is that this may have been the first documented telling of the story, but I recall hearing the story when I was there in the late 80s through the mid 90s, and I had my own creepy experiences in Russell Hall (which, by the way, you can read through Kyr’s recounting of her experience in School Spirits). I’ll leave you to decide how much is truth and how much is embellishment.
The Were-Wagon of Farrandsville/Jerry’s Sarah
Okay, so there was more than one alleged witch in Clinton County, and even in the Lock Haven vicinity. I suppose the stories all have their commonalities–usually a woman living alone, almost always at a distance from other townsfolk/settlers, and many times they are reputed to be healers, or at the very least they have some strange habits.
In those days, superstition often took over in the absence of real explanations for why things happened. In my research, I came across two alleged witches who piqued my interest. One was the Witch of Farrandsville, or as Lou called her, the Were-Wagon–I love this guy’s wit, so much like mine at times. This was a woman who was very protective of a spring that ran past her property. Woe to anyone who allowed their horses to drink the water from her spring!
The other witch, obviously, was the one tied to the Giwoggle (see the next entry). The article mentions several women who were blamed for conjuring the Giwoggle, but I was drawn to the name Jerry’s Sarah. I thought it odd and intriguing that she didn’t have a last name, or even a husband (at least from what I gathered from the article). It seemed like a great little tidbit to add to my own story.
Unless you’ve lived your whole life under a rock, you’ve almost certainly heard of cryptids such as Bigfoot/Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, or even Mothman and the Chupacabra, but I’d be willing to bet you’ve never heard of the Giwoggle. Well, unless you’ve been reading Lou’s articles, or more recently, my blog posts.
What is a Giwoggle? Well, it’s kind of like a werewolf, but isn’t. A werewolf transforms between human and wolf, but a Giwoggle doesn’t. A Giwoggle is a beast that has been conjured or summoned–it depends who you ask–by a witch. When I first read the description of this creature, my reaction was a lot like Kyr’s–I laughed. A wolflike beast with horse hooves on its back legs and bird claws on the front? It certainly didn’t sound like something to be afraid of. But as we all know, looks can be deceiving.
So there you have it. Just a few pieces of local folklore that have found their way into my books. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lou Bernard for introducing me to these and other stories. He’s tipped me off to a few more legends that may just pop up in future books. But you’ll have to wait for those.
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