Haunted Lancaster: Did the Curse of Chickies Rock cause the worst trolley accident in Lancaster County history?

August 9, 1896, began like any other Sunday. Townspeople attended worship services. Families gathered at noon for a meal together. As the day slipped into the afternoon, children swam in local creeks as adults sat on their front porches sipping lemonade.

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Chickies Rock Vista is at the top of a 200-foot tall cliff on the west end of Chickies Ridge.

That evening at Chickies Park (spelled Chiques at the time) overlooking the Susquehanna River there was a sacred band concert of spiritual music. Then, like today, Chickies Rock was a popular summer destination. In fact, at the turn of the 19th century, there was even an amusement park near the overlook.

People could ride the hub and spoke network of trolley lines from almost anywhere in Lancaster County to visit. Sadly, no remnants of this amusement park remain today.

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Chickies Park highlighted in blue, yellow, and red on the left side of the map.

Towards the end of the concert, there was a severe storm that delayed the arrival of the trolley from Marietta. It was common practice not to operate the trolleys during a thunderstorm.

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Pennsylvania Traction Company car no. 2 photographed circa 1894 just east of Columbia at Stoner’s Quarry. The destination sign reads, “Lancaster and Columbia” and “Chickies Park – Marietta.”

When the four-wheel car No. 61 of the Pennsylvania Traction Company arrived after the storm, with Adam Foehlinger as a motorman and Harry Hershey as a conductor, the car was engulfed by passengers eager to get home. The trolley’s capacity was 28, but possibly 80 adults and children climbed aboard. Every seat was quickly filled then the aisles as was every bit of space on the front and back platforms.

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The area of the accident highlighted in red.

About 10 pm, the overloaded car started its downhill ride towards Columbia. At Klinesville, about a mile from Columbia, two women signaled to get off. However, due to the weight of the car and the wet rails, the trolley was unable to stop at the crossing going an extra 150 feet before coming to a full stop. The car was then backed up so the women could disembark.

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Klinesville located southeast of Chickies Rock.

Underway again the trolley began to move forward on the steep slope increasing in speed. Problems for the overloaded trolley worsened as millions of potatoes bugs swarmed over the rails making the overworked brakes ineffective.

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Potato bug

The increase in speed caused the trolley pole to leave the overhead wire, cutting the electricity and plunging the interior into darkness. With no brakes and in complete darkness, the passengers broke out into screams. The trolley car eventually hit 60 miles per hour.

On a curve, the wheels left the rails. The car careened wildly across a road, snapping off a gatepost, then sliding on its side for 75 feet, striking a tree, then a trolley pole, and dropping over a 30-foot embankment. It ended on its top, with wheels and motor high in the air.

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The worst trolley accident in Lancaster County history killed six and injured 68 people on August 9, 1896.

The accident killed six people including the mayor of Columbia H. H. Heise, motorman Foehlinger, William Pinkerton, Henry Smith, W. J. Ludlow, and William Metzger. In addition, another 68 people were injured.

After the accident, a safety switch was installed at Klinesville with all trolley cars required to stop there. Damage claims from the tragic disaster aided by company mismanagement forced the Pennsylvania Traction Company which had operated the line out of business. The Marietta to Columbia route was later folded into the Conestoga Traction Company.

The Curse of Chickies Rock

Towards the end of the 19th Century, three sisters lived in a small house atop Chiques Hill in an area refer at the time referred to as “The Rock.” It was a common belief by many in town that these women were practitioners of the Black Arts.

The sisters, witches or not, were content to be left alone away from the progress of a rapidly modernizing world. Unfortunately, progress and greed felt differently.

Most trolley companies of that era had one or more amusement parks along their routes to help enhance summer revenues and provide a place for weekend outings. Conestoga Traction Company had Rocky Springs and Maple Grove, so it made sense the Columbia & Donegal Electric Railway would want one too.

The plan was to build tracks along the side of the ridge from Columbia with a completion date of 1893. The railway would climb 1,900 feet on a 6% grade, running on the west side of Chickies Hill Road and then curving sharply west to reach Chickies Park. It was here that an amusement park would be built on the west end of the ridge, atop Chickies Rock, overlooking the Susquehanna. The only problem was the home occupied by the three sisters sat squarely in the middle of the proposed site.

The C&D began purchasing all the needed parcels of land. Most were eager to sell except for the sisters. The C&D made several offers. Each more generous than the one before. But the sisters refused every time. They would never give up their ancestral home.

Railway officials discussed building the park around the sisters but given the controversy of them possibly being witches the plan was scrapped. Left with no alternative the trolley company convinced local officials to give them the land through eminent domain.

Left with no choice, the sisters made a suicide pact. But before they followed through, the sisters turned to the black arts for revenge. They cast a spell from the Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses to curse the land in an affirmation that greed on the part of the new owners would certainly bring death. 

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The Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses is an 18th- or 19th-century black magic text allegedly written by Moses and passed down as one of the hidden books of the Jewish Tanakh. Eventually, the text was brought here to Lancaster County by German immigrants. The book is rumored to be the most powerful of the series. According to lore, this book of dark magic cannot be destroyed, unless cast into the fire by a boy born on the Sabbath.

A series of costly mishaps preceded this tragedy, both in construction of the park and its operation. The trolley line was abandoned on April 25, 1932. It’s believed that their black magic spell still curses the ground today. Read more about the haunting of Chickies Rock here.

Uncharted Lancaster: Trolley Trail Adventure

But that’s enough history of the ill-fated trip for No. 61 of the Pennsylvania Traction Company trolley car. When you are ready to start Pequea Trolley Adventureclick here.

More Haunted Lancaster

You can read more about the things that go bump in the night at Chickies Rock here. If you have a ghost story you want to share as part of Haunted Lancaster, comment below or email me.

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