When my son decided to attend Gettysburg College, we knew U.S. News ranked it 53rd for National Liberal Arts Colleges, 35th in best undergraduate teaching and 85th in Best Value School, but we didn’t know it was ranked third for most haunted school campuses.
The school is adjacent to several Gettysburg battle fields. That major Civil War conflict happened at various sites in the town and surrounding the town over three days, from July 1 to July 3.
Union causalities numbered more than 23,000 and the Confederates lost more than 28,000 men. Gettysburg College’s Penn Hall was pressed into service as a hospital and a morgue during the battle.
According to lore, more than one college administrator has taken the elevator down to the basement, to find an entire ghostly field hospital in operation when the doors opened.
Some students say they have encountered the lost and wandering spirits of dead soldiers all around campus and in excursions to the battlefield.
When we dropped our son off at campus in September, we eschewed name hotels and instead selected a bed and breakfast. The three-story house, now called the Keystone Inn was built at 231 Hanover Street in 1913 for $25,000.
From the third-story window, one can see Culp’s Hill, a major battle site on the final day of the battle. A mere five blocks and one can walk on another field where war was waged.
Walking through the town at dusk, there are numerous places to sign up for ghost tours. Then I found out the Keystone Inn, where we were staying had its own erie history. The owners have kept a scrap book of newspapers clippings of its history.
The Gettysburg Compiler reported in October 15, 1909, that a new furniture factory was going up and investors were sought. Later the paper reported that the factory wasn’t turning a profit, but that Clayton Reaser had been hired and there were hopes he would turn it around.
Reaser lost his mom when he was four years old and because of the family finances, attended elementary school and then became an apprentice to a carpenter: he worked in the post office, a shoe business and a carriage works. He married and had two children, when interviewed by the Gettysburg investors.
One York County history book reported “He posses excellent business qualifications and is a pleasant, genial gentleman.”
There must have been something about the young man that impressed investors, because he was hired. He lived in York, and once he had the job, he rode his bike 30 miles to get to Gettysburg because he didn’t have a car,
In 1911, the newspaper updated the furniture factory story, “A visit to the plant is an education as to what Gettysburg is doing and can do. Reaser Furniture Plant is distributing a weekly payroll of $1,000.
Under his guidance, a second plant was built and soon there were nearly 350 men working in the factories with a weekly payroll of $3,500.
With his success, Reaser was able to better provide for his wife Annie and their seven children Catherine, Helen, Ruth, Paul, Esther, David Joseph. A three-story house was built in 1913 and shortly after, it was reported the successful factory manager moved his family and his father Lewis and into the large home.
When he moved to Getttysburg, he made a vow that if he were successful, he would devote his life to helping others.
He became superintendent of the Lutheran Church Sunday School and supported public schools. The newspaper reported that he was prosperous and well-respected, and that the town benefitted from his philanthropy. There were now two furniture factories that he managed.
On March 1918, he was killed.
The Gettysburg Times March 30 headline went several columns deep:
“Factories Head Killed in Plant”
“Clayton S. Reaser
Death in the Basement of the Plant He Built”
“CAUGHT IN THE BELTING”
“One Leg Torn From
The Body, which
Was otherwise Badly
Cut and Bruised.
Has Large Family.”
The newspaper reported that Reaser was making his daily rounds in the factories. He had gone into the basement to look for veneer but instead had been caught by one of the mechanical belts in the dimly lit room. “So far as can be found no one saw him got into the basement where there are a number of belts and pulleys, all traveling at high speed.”
Just before Reaser was pulled in by the belts, a supervisor had asked that power be shut off, because some repair work needed to be done and he feared that some of his men would be “endangered by the belts.”
“Reaser, general manager of the two local establishments was whirled around both pulley wheels sustaining injuries which causes his death within a few minutes. Life was fast ebbing when the badly mangled body was found.”
The foreman Marvin Crouse was first upon the scene and explained to the paper that he was horrified to see a human leg lying some distance from one of the main belts. He told the reporter that blood was rushing from his [Reaser’s] head. That one leg was torn entirely from his body ant the other mangled severely and there were numerous other injuries, too.
“His clothing was badly torn; his hat was found some distance from the body. Some personal effects at other places,” was written.
A subsequent obit reported: “Clayton S. Reaser, 41, was one of the most useful citizens which Gettysburg has possessed.” It pointed out that when he came to the factory there were 17 men and the payroll was $200 weekly. When he died there were 350 men working there with a payroll of $3,500 weekly.
Town businesses shut down for the funeral from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and the factory workers attended en masse.
After his death, not much is written about Annie, the father-in-law and children. They were still listed as living in the house on Hanover Street when the 1920s census was done.
It is not likely Annie had life insurance for her husband or that she received a great deal of money or was bought out by partners. It was reported that twelve years after her husband’s death, Annie ran out of money and was forced to sell the house. She moved to a small residence on Broadway in Gettysburg.
Her daughter Helen was married in 1931. She gave birth do a daughter at age 28, but died four days later. Her oldest son Paul became a Lutheran minister.
A small explosion occurred in the gas furnace in the Broadway home, burning Annie badly and she was in the hospital for several weeks.
According to a 2013 story in the Gettysburg Times “Recalling Reaser” which used material obtained from Joel Reaser who was Paul’s oldest son: “Annie basically ran out of money.”
In 1935 she was living in an apartment house, taking in laundry to make money.
The Gettysburg Compiler reported in November 1935, “Annie Reaser, 58, ended her life by drowning herself in her home in the Sachs’ apartments on York Street.
“Her body partly clad was found at noon.” She had lived in an apartment from early summer after a furnace exploded in her home on Broadway. She was badly burned about the body. This followed the death of her daughter in 1931. The body was found by her youngest son Joseph and there was a note on the door “Precious Joe” and warned him not to come in by himself.
Joe found a clerk from a store downstairs to accompany him, and the two of them entered the apartment.
The Compiler reported that “Life was extinct when the young men found the body.”
She had left a note a second note in the apartment for her son. The paper reported that she had not been herself for weeks and that according to persons who had read the note said that “intimated that Mrs. Reaser was losing her mind and that she would rather be dead than insane.”
The 1913 house was sold again. In 1938, the Synders bought the house for $7,500 and turned it into five apartments. They sold it to Dr. Shealy in 1952 for $32,000.
The furniture factory closed on October 29, 1960.
According to historical records, Dr. Shealy gave the house to the College because “he said it was making too much money.” The College sold it to the Martins in 1987. They stripped the woodwork, paint and wallpaper to restore it to its original state. In 2008, Mike and Marj Day bought the house.
In 2019, the house has ghosts, but it seems they’ve found solace: settled.
Gettysburg is a town filled with unseen souls. When the wind breathes softly, there is a peace that can be felt. But, every so often there is an unexplained chill on one’s spine as if someone is staring at you from behind; reminding you of the past. Reminding you to be vigilant; to remember history.