Haunted Lancaster: The Ghost of General Reynolds

Ghost of General John Reynolds

Where to find it: 42-44 West King Street (current home of Younger Realty Group)

Background

This is the birthplace and residence of Major General John F. Reynolds. As a brilliant military strategist, he was considered by both the Union and Confederate armies to be the best general in the North. Born on September 20, 1820, he was one of 13 children many of whom to died before reaching adulthood in this very building.

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42-44 West King Street. The second and third story of the building offers a hint at what the building looked like in the mid-1800s.

In 1837, he was nominated to the United States Military Academy at West Point by future President James Buchanan (who has some ghosts…er…skeletons in his own closet—more on that later this month). Buchanan was a personal friend of Reynolds’ father who was the owner of the Lancaster Journal newspaper from 1820 to 1834.

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Major General John F. Reynolds

General Reynolds was eventually offered the command of the Army of the Potomac but refused stating that he didn’t want to take orders from Washington politicians. His distinguished military career included the Battle of Chancellorsville, the second Battle of Bull Run, and for making the critical tactical decision to begin the Battle of Gettysburg. The three-day battle is considered by many historians to be the turning point of the Civil War.

Catharine (Kate) Mary Hewitt

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Catherine (Kate) Mary Hewitt

Shortly before the battle, Reynolds engaged his longtime Catholic sweetheart, Catherine Mary Hewitt. The engagement was complicated by the fact that Reynolds was a Protestant so the relationship was kept secret. The two planned to marry upon his return from Gettysburg.

As a symbol of their engagement, John gave Kate his class ring from West Point while Kate gave John a gold ring with the inscription, “Dear Kate.” She also gave him a medallion to wear around his neck “to keep him safe.” Kate even pledged to enter religious life if John died in combat.

Tragically, Reynolds did not survive the war. He became one of Gettysburg’s first fatalities, dying instantly when he was shot through the neck by a Confederate sharpshooter while leading his men into battle. He was the highest-ranking soldier on either side killed in the three-day conflict.

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However, Reynolds’ story doesn’t end with his July 1st death. Two days later a reluctant but grief-stricken Kate called on Reynold’s sisters before the funeral. She was so distraught that she sat with the General’s body through the night. His funeral took place the following day, July 4, at Fulton Hall (now the Fulton Theatre) and was buried in Lancaster Cemetery.

Eight days after Reynolds’ burial, Kate—as promised—applied for admission to the Sisters of Charity convent in Emmitsburg, Maryland, just ten miles from the spot where Reynolds died. The Sisters at Emmitsburg found Kate “unsuitable for community life” because she mourned too much for a man who was neither her husband nor a blood relative.

Eventually, she returned to her hometown of Stillwater, New York to work as a teacher. Kate died in 1902 of “bloody lungs(pneumonia). She never married.

Catherine Hewitt’s grave

Her tombstone is octagon shaped and symbolic of rebirth and resurrection. The word “Mizpah” is carved upon it and is a Hebrew benediction meaning, “May God watch over you until we are together again.” 

Ghost of General John Reynolds

Some believe that Kate’s grief was so deep that Reynolds’ spirit never found peace. As such his ghost wanders the streets between the Fulton and his family home looking to meet his fiancé just as he had promised he would more than 150 years ago.

So if you feel a chill while walking near 42-44 West King Street and notice a tall, handsome, anachronistic dressed man, there’s a good chance you just saw Reynolds’ ghost.

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More Haunted Lancaster

If you have a ghost story you want to share as part of Haunted Lancaster, comment below or email me.

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