Where to go: The intersection of Ironville Pike and Norwood Road outside of Columbia. Click here for directions.
What to do: Arrive no later than 11:45 pm and wait in the dark facing east near the intersection of Ironville Pike and Norwood Road on a cold fall night.
What happens: If done correctly, the sound of a galloping horse can be heard in the distance approaching your location. You might even hear a tormented voice yell, “I’ll be in Columbia by the stroke of midnight…or I’ll be in Hell!” If the conditions align with the original trek of the doomed rider, then you might even catch a glimpse of a headless horseman galloping towards you.
A man walks into a bar…
According to legend, this tale unfolds northeast of Columbia during the mid-1800s. As early as 1830, this area had become an industrial center. The land was rich in iron ore, ochre, and silica sand. As a result, several mining operations employing numerous men sprang up, and the aptly named town of Ironville was born.
This story begins as so many stories with an unfortunate ending do…at a bar. It was a crisp fall evening, and the local tavern was filling with the usual suspects after a hard day’s work. All were merry within the walls of the warm inn as the patrons downed countless mugs of lager.
However, one particular laborer had promised his wife that he would be home by midnight. But as the clock ticked closer to twelve, the already inebriated man having again lost track of time ordered yet another mug of ale. At the very least, the hapless man would be wearing a coat of liquid protection to guard against his wife’s verbal assault should he again be late.
At 11:55 pm, a friend realized the time and alerted the laborer to the late hour.
“You’ll never make it home by midnight.” The man said.
Gulping down his final swallow, the laborer slammed down the mug and proclaimed, “I’ll be in Columbia by the stroke of midnight…or I’ll be in Hell!”
The man staggered out the doorway, mentally preparing himself for a ride of a lifetime down Ironville Pike. His horse too sensed the seriousness of the situation and danced on the dried leaves as his master mounted.
In a moment, the man and horse galloped away down the dark road. As he sped off, the laborer yelled once more, “I’ll be in Columbia by midnight…or I’ll be in Hell!”
Despite the cold night’s air stinging the man’s eyes and the wind screaming past his ears, he urged his horse to go even faster. About a mile away from the tavern, there’s a slight bend in the road before intersecting with Norwood Road. It was here that the horse raced towards an unseen low hanging tree branch. In an instant the man’s race to Columbia abruptly ended.
The next day the decapitated body of the rider was found next to his dead horse. Although his head was never located.
A legend begins
Through the years, residents along Ironville Pike claim to hear the pounding hoofbeats of a horse in the minutes before the stroke of midnight. Others argue that on cold autumn nights in the minutes before 12 o’clock to have actually seen a headless horseman galloping towards Columbia.
Above is the intersection of Ironville Pike and Norwood Road as it appears today. To hear or see the headless horseman, arrive no later than 11:45 pm and wait in the dark facing east near the intersection of the two roads on a crisp cold fall night. Just watch out for any low hanging branches, or you might share the headless horseman’s fate.
If you have a ghost story you want to share as part of Haunted Lancaster, comment below or email me.
If you missed one of my four “Ghost Stories and Tales of the Unknown” presentations this month, here is one of the stories I told: The Legend of Ironville’s Headless Horseman.
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You can own beautiful reproduction maps of East Hempfield, West Hempfield, and Columbia Borough from 1875 and 1899.
1894 map of Columbia, Pennsylvania$27.99 – $34.99
1899 West Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, PA (18×24)$29.99
1864 Map of East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, PA$24.99 – $25.98
1864 West Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, PA$22.99 – $24.99
1864 Map of Borough of Washington and Borough of Columbia, Lancaster County, PA$22.99 – $24.99
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