Nestled in the heart of Amish country is the beautiful town of Strasburg. The picturesque village is filled with cozy bed and breakfasts, unique shops, and tasty eateries. It even has the power to transport visitors back in time, offering authentic Amish buggy rides or trips via steam-powered locomotive.
Strasburg’s architectural crown jewel is the magnificent twin-turreted Queen Ann style Gonder Mansion. Located at 130 West Main Street, this Victorian estate has a deep setback and sidewalk lining stone wall. It was built by local railroading tycoon Benjamin B. Gonder in 1905.
Sister Annie Gonder
While the mansion was being constructed, Benjamin, commonly called BB, lived across the street in a small, modest home to monitor the builder’s progress. Living with BB were his wife, Mary, their two children, and BB’s spinster sister, Annie.
When the large home was finally completed in March of 1905, the entire Gonder family was eager to move into what was easily the most beautiful house in town and much of Lancaster County, for that matter. However, to her disappointment, Annie was barred from moving into the beautiful new home.
She was rumored to be “simple-minded,” and BB’s wife, Mary, found her to be an embarrassment, especially when entertaining guests. Among other things, Annie had a habit of loudly laughing at things male guests said, especially ones she found attractive.
As with all small towns, there was gossip. In 1905, debate raged about whether Annie should have been allowed to live in the mansion. Some speculated there had been a fight between either Annie and BB or Annie and Mary, causing her ostracism. Others thought Mary simply did not like Annie and her awkward nature.
Annie struggled to understand the rejection from the family she loved so much. She spent hours every day staring out the window at the beautiful home from which she was forbidden to enter. Over time, she began to see faces from pieces of mirror embedded in the stucco beneath the eaves—two smiling and one frowning.
Annie came to believe the frowny face was looking directly at her, mockingly her and her isolation. Convinced it was her sister-in-law Mary’s doing, Annie swore revenge.
BB was the first of the Gonder family to die. He suffered a heart attack and died at home on March 16, 1916. Annie’s melancholy deepened after BB’s death until she unexpectedly left town one day on May 28, 1918. It was soon discovered Annie had committed suicide by drowning herself in the Pequea Creek just outside Strasburg.
It would appear that even in death, Annie was an embarrassment to Mary. When it came time to bury Annie in the nearby Strasburg Cemetery, her grave was placed to the far left on the Gonder family plot, and the tombstone was turned so it faced away from the rest of the family.
It wasn’t long after Annie’s death before men—and only men—reported hearing a female sounding laughing inside the mansion even when no women were inside. Some admitted to glimpsing the ghostly image of a woman moving about the great house.
Legend says that Annie, barred from living in the lovely mansion, now spends her afterlife there, haunting the corridors and parlors of the home she was denied entrance. Why only be seen or heard by men? Perhaps Annie doesn’t want her sister-in-law Mary to know she’s there.
However, Annie’s ghost might not be entirely jovial. Five men, including BB Gonder, are said to have died in the mansion. Perhaps Annie is looking for some male companionship in the afterlife.
Where to find it
Gonder Mansion is located in Strasburg at 130 West Main Street. Click here for directions.
Men—and only men—report hearing a woman’s laugh while inside the home. Some admit to actually seeing the ghost of a woman. In the past 100 years, at least five men have died inside. Gentlemen, this might be one to sit out.
Warning: Gonder Mansion is a private residence. Please limit your sightseeing from the sidewalk.
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1864 Map of Strasburg Township, Lancaster County, PA$24.99 – $25.99