Haunted Lancaster: The Fiery Specter of Grace Hubley

Grace Parr Hubley was the daughter of Colonel Adam Hubley and Lydia Field. Hubley also had a wealthy great aunt, Mrs. Grace Peel Parr, for whom she was named. From this rich relative, Hubley inherited $50,000 and other valuable household items in 1814. Hubley ran with Lancaster’s inner circle of lawyers and iron masters society.

1817 painting of Grace P. Hubley by Lancaster’s artist Jacob Eichholtz. This is the only known painting of Hubley.

In addition to being independently wealthy, contemporaries described Hubley as very attractive and always well-dressed. Yet, Hubley never married despite being engaged three times.

Some believe that Hubley’s bad luck in love may have been divine punishment for causing the breakup between future U.S. President James Buchanan and Ann Coleman.

James Buchanan and Ann Coleman

In 1819, prominent Lancasterian and president of Farmer’s Bank of Lancaster, William Jenkins caught in the Panic of 1819. The Panic of 1819 was the first widespread and durable financial crisis in the United States that persisted through 1821

Fun Fact: Jenkins built Wheatland in 1828; however, he originally named the property “The Wheatlands” for its vista of waving wheatfields. Later, it was shortened to Wheatland.

James Buchanan’s home, Wheatland, located on Marietta Avenue.

Jenkins had selected Buchanan to represent the financial institution in court. The solvency of Jenkins’ bank depended on Buchanan’s legal dealings in Philadelphia. After an extended period away in court, James returned to Lancaster with news of the case. His first stop was his client’s home. As it turned out, Grace Hubley and her sister were visiting their uncle William Jenkins that same night.

Grace had accompanied Buchanan in the past to parties and events. Without his knowledge, Hubley underhandedly rushed off a message to Ann that James had visited her first.

When Buchanan finally arrived at Ann’s home, the servant informed him that Ann did not desire to see him. Later she sent an angry letter to James, terminating their engagement. The next day, at the urging of her parents, Ann visited her sister, Margaret, in Philadelphia to quell her anxiety over the breakup. The new scenery did nothing to soothe her feelings of loss.

A doctor prescribed Ann Laudanum. In the early 1800s, this medication, which contained approximately 10 percent opium by weight, was used to treat “female hysteria.” Ann took a dose on the night of December 9, 1819, and died. It is unknown if the lethal dose was by accident or an act of suicide.

Wabank Hotel

As she grew older, Hubley enjoyed the company of younger people. She would often chaperone her nieces and their friends when they held their house parties at the Wabank Hotel.

After her return from one of these parties to her home on the corner of Duke and Marion streets, Hubley met her tragic death.


She was standing with her back to an open grate, and just like that, her dress caught fire. Within moments her entire dress was ablaze! Screams from Hubley’s maid attracted the attention of two men. The first was Newton Lightner, who was walking in front of the stately home. The second was neighbor, Dr. Ehler. The two men ran to her assistance and smothered the flames with a rug.

Dr. Ehler carried her to her bed and administered what help he could, but Hubley was so severely burned that she died the following day on November 17, 1861. She was 75 years old.

The Lancaster Examiner · Wednesday, November 20, 1861

The Fiery Haunting of Grace Hubley

There are stories of people driving or walking by the Duke and Marion street intersection who have reported hearing a woman’s screams. People have also reported seeing someone on fire in this exact location. Supposedly the Lancaster police station receives a few calls each year about this intersection.

Have you ever seen a fiery specter in the vicinity of Duke and Marion street?


One thought on “Haunted Lancaster: The Fiery Specter of Grace Hubley

  1. In my presentations on Robert Coleman and James Buchanan, I was aware of the story but did not know who the woman was who sent the message to Anne Coleman. Thanks for connecting the dots!

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