Fall is the perfect time of year for a hike at the beautiful nature preserve at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. It’s considered one of the best places to see fall foliage and the fall hawk migration. It is also considered to be one of America’s most haunted places.
Part I: The Dark History of Hawk Mountain
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Township, Berks County, is located on Kittatinny Ridge on what was sacred ground to the Lenni-Lenape Indians in that area. In 1756, they slaughtered the Gerhardt family, who lived in a cabin on the hill. The lone survivor of the brutal attack was their 11-year-old son Jacob, who incredibly returned to the site sometime around 1793 and built a new home where his family’s old one had been.
In 1850, Matthias Schambacher took possession of the two-room dwelling and established it as a tavern for travelers who were heading to the as yet unsettled north. Stories quickly began to circulate of disappearing traveling salesmen, of locals hearing screams and moans coming from the barn and of people being chased away from the property by a bloody hatchet-wielding Schambacher, who was also reported to have been seen scrubbing blood off of the barn walls. Adding fuel to the rumors was the fact that Schambacher (whose name is sometimes spelled “Schaumboch” or “Schamboch”) would come to town selling clothing and other items. According to one story, a merchant who was selling Civil War uniforms disappeared and a few days later Schambacher was seen selling the same items. The merchant was last seen at Schambacher’s tavern.
Schambacher died in 1879 at age 55 after a mental breakdown. He is alleged to have made a deathbed confession to murdering at least 11 travelers to his inn, saying that he robbed and killed them, then chopped them up and put parts of them down a well and parts of them in the woods for the animals to get rid of. He claimed to have been driven to madness and murder by a voice whispering in his ear, telling him to commit the acts, and believed there was a great evil in the mountain. He is buried in New Bethel Union Cemetery in Kempton, not far from Hawk Mountain.
The next inhabitants of the tavern were William Turner, his wife and their eight children. According to old records found in the tavern, the Turners found human remains in the three wells on the property.
If you’re visiting Hawk Mountain, look for the small white building with a plaque that reads “Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Schaumboch’s Tavern, National Register of Historical Places” along Hawk Mountain Road. The building currently houses Hawk Mountain Sanctuary employees and is labeled a private residence with signs. If you are heading west on Hawk Mountain Road it is located on your right as you ascend the mountain, roughly a quarter of a mile east of the sanctuary entrance and opposite the education center. It is on the left if you’re heading east. Pay attention, because it’s easy to miss!
Stay tuned for Part II: The Ghosts of Hawk Mountain
Ellen Flynn is a writer and amateur historian of haunted places, which she has explored via her Facebook page, Creepy Lehigh Valley. With her husband Tom, she co-owns The Art Establishment, a community art studio and gallery in Fountain Hill. Click here to read more of Ellen’s stories on Saucon Source. Listen to our recent podcast interview with Ellen here and on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and Google Play. Search for “No Rain Date,” and don’t forget to subscribe for more great local news and interviews!