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Hessian Mercenaries Haunt General Wayne Inn

William Penn stayed there in the early 1700s. In 1777, so did both George Washington and General “Mad Anthony” Wayne. Edgar Allen Poe drank there—copiously by all accounts. But the General Wayne Inn in Merion, Montgomery County, has had some more mysterious residents in its time. And one of them has a novel way of attracting attention.

The Inn’s owner during the 1970s and 80s, Bart Johnson, loved to tell personal stories about his 300-year-old hostelry. One favorite began with an after-

hours get-together with two of his friends in the bar. As they sipped their coffee, a loud bang at the other side of the room brought their conversation to a sudden halt. They saw a cannonball on the floor, rolling towards them. There was no hole in the ceiling, and nobody in the room who could have dropped or thrown it. When Johnson went over to pick up the ball, it vanished before their eyes. This was just one of the bizarre physical manifestations at the place. Napkins placed on tables at closing time would be lying unfolded on the floor in the morning. In the parking lot, lights and car radios would turn themselves on automatically. And on one occasion that seems all the creepier if you’ve ever seen The Ring, the cash register and wine racks flooded, even though there was no water leak anywhere in the building.

Clearly, something bizarre was afoot at the General Wayne. Stories had been circulating for years about soldiers dressed in old-fashioned uniforms in the bar. Johnson had lost at least one frightened custodian because of these apparitions, but their presence wasn’t always threatening. After hosting a large party, he received compliments for hiring an actor in authentic historical dress to mingle with the groups and add atmosphere to the place. He hadn’t hired any such actor.

According to the various sources, the Johnsons brought in psychics Jean and Bill Quinn to hold a séance. During the event, Jean spoke with several presences (though the other guests heard nothing), and found that one of the apparitions was a Hessian mercenary called Wilhelm, ambushed and killed by colonials nearby. The following day, he was discovered and brought back to the Inn for burial. But the commanding officer took a shine to the dead mercenary’s uniform and had him stripped of it before burial. Now, the story goes, Wilhelm is unable to rest because of the embarrassment or anger attending his burial.

Several other presences spoke to Jean, including a lost little boy looking for his mother, two serving girls from the 1800s who had been accused of

stealing rugs from a guest, and eight other Hessian soldiers—one of whom was killed and buried in the basement.

Whether you believe the psychics or not, the General Wayne is party to far more weird goings-on than a regular bar. All in all, it’s no surprise that Edgar Allen Poe liked it so much he left his own mark on the place. He once carved his initials into an upper story window with a diamond ring.

In the late 1990s, after Bart Johnson’s time, the General Wayne went through many incarnations—from Southwestern bar and grill to a sports bar--and finally closed its doors in 2002. Now only the ghosts remain, but they may soon have company. Plans are afoot to reopen the General Wayne as Chabad Center for Jewish Life. According to an article in the May 10, 2004 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rabbi Shraga Sherman believes that “Whatever negativity transpired in this building, the positivity and holiness that we're going to bring in will marginalize it and push it out the door." We hope so, Rabbi, we certainly hope so.

You can read about all of Pennsylvania’s other haunted hotspots in Weird Pennsylvania.

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