The Spook of Turniptown Bridge

Turniptown Covered Bridge

Towards the end of the 19th century, near Lampeter, there lived a lazy farmer. He dreamed of great wealth but refused to do any work. His slothful greedy ways caught the attention of the Devil, who one night appeared before the man in the middle of the Turniptown Covered Bridge.

Today the covered bridge is long gone, burned down for unknown reasons in 1897. In its place today is a concrete structure that carries Village Road over the Pequea Creek between Lampeter and Strasburg in an area known as Edisonville. Before the 1900s, this community was called “Turniptown” for reasons lost to history. *But if I had to take a guess, I would say turnips were involved.*

Turniptown Bridge. “Courtesy of the Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Bridge Dockets Collection”

In exchange for the man’s soul on his 65th birthday, Satan promised great wealth and a life free of vocation. Upon the farmer’s agreement, Old Nick disappeared, and in his place was a large sack full of gold.

The man lived in luxury and wanted for nothing until the time for fulfilling the contract drew near.

On the eve of his 65th birthday, the man visited several Strasburg taverns for an evening of legendary excess. Surrounding himself with a large group of friends, the farmer was relieved when after the clock struck 12, the Devil didn’t appear. Convinced he had tricked Lucifer, the man rode his trusty steed, Old Ben, home. However, as the doomed man crossed the Turniptown Covered Bridge, where the pact was initially struck many years earlier, the Devil dropped down a noose in front of the unexpecting man.

Residents found him hanging from an interior crossbeam the next morning. The local coroner ruled the death a suicide.

After that, the man’s ghost—still hanging—haunts the bridge on the monthly anniversary of his death. As people drive through, he will tap on their noses with his heel or tickle their ears with his toes. Other times he kicks off a person’s hat.

Legend has it that the man’s spirit still haunts this spot.

Keep scrolling to read John L. Shroy’s 1906 poem, “The Spook of Turniptown Bridge,” which inspired the story.

The Spook of Turniptown Bridge

from Be a Good Boy, Good-bye, and Other Back Home Poems
By John L. Shroy · 1906

The old bridge is gone with its dark, gloomy look,
And with it has vanished the Turniptown spook.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

It seems, years ago,—so the story is told,—
A man wanted bagsful of silver and gold.
(Don’t blame him a bit for wanting the pelf,
You’ll admit, if you’re honest, you’ve wished it yourself.)

This fellow was lazy and always would shirk
All kinds of exertion—especially work.
There’s only one being in all of creation
Who’s in love with a man on a life-long vacation,—
That fellow’s Old Nick—a hale fellow, well met,
To the one who has money or to the one who’s in debt.

Nick called on the man, spoke of bagsful of gold;
This ease-loving mortal his soul to him sold
For money sufficient to free him from fear
Of wants unprovided till his sixty-fifth year;
At which time, the man bargained, as per stipulation,
To deliver his soul nor attempt defalcation
By learning and using the plan of salvation.
Then Old Nick disappeared with a smile on his face,
And behold! a bagful of gold in his place.

Nick’s friend lived and prospered. Tho’ his farm was in weeds,
He had plenty of money, not only for needs
But for wishes and wants—he in luxury dwelt.
We’ve no way of knowing just how the man felt,
Till the time for fulfilling his contract drew near,
On the date of his birth in his sixty-fifth year,
Then he took him to drink—tried in vain to forget
That he and Old Nicholas ever had met;

But the thought wouldn’t down, and each day that went by
Was nearing the time when he’d promised to die.
There were taverns a-many in Strasburg town then,
To these he would ride on his trusty “Old Ben.”
The hours he’d pass in revelry wild,
And names the most sacred were oathed and reviled,
Till e’en the most garrulous, whiskey-soaked sot,
Stopped talking and drinking and backed from the spot.

So time sped along; the night at last came
When, in honor, he’s bound to pay the full claim.
That night there were excesses greater by far
Than any he ever had spent at the bar.
The town heard the news-every one with a thirst
Tried to see who could get to the treating place first,
And those who were present were heard to declare,
‘Twas as near Pandemonium as if Nick had been there.

The hours flew by,—he bribed all to stay
Till the clock, striking twelve, proclaimed a new day.
They howled out a song till the old rafters rang,
“We won’t go home until morning,” they sang.
The clock began striking; all trembling and white,
He listened and looked. With a shout of delight
He hailed the last stroke. Then into the night
He rode trusty Ben and laughed at the trick
He felt he had played unsuspecting Old Nick
By remaining in safety with cronies a score,—
He was now sixty-five and the danger was o’er.
The man little knew, it is sad to relate,
That the Devil is willing to patiently wait
When he holds a first mortgage against an estate.
An hour or day are as nothing to one
Who has a “forever” to get his work done.

Turniptown Bridge. “Courtesy of the Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Bridge Dockets Collection”

He passed through the town, down the Turniptown hill,
He slowed to a walk as he turned by the mill.
The damp in the air cooled his feverish face,
As he rode toward the bridge along the still race.
He came to the bridge-it was here he had made
The bargain he since had hoped to evade.
He stopped for a moment then on a dead run
He went into the bridge as if shot from a gun.
Old Nick was on hand and for such instant use
Had let down from a beam a suspended slip-noose.
It caught round his neck,—old Ben couldn’t stop,
A jerk from the saddle, a dull, heavy drop,
And before he had time to think out a prayer,
He swung on the rope like a pendulum there.

Still hanging, they found him next morning quite dead.
“‘Twas a suicide case,” the Coroner said;
“He stood on his horse, overhead the rope tied,
The horse walked away. It was thus that he died.”
The verdict, in silence, was allowed to prevail,
But many there were told a different tale.

After that, once a month, on a night dark and still,
He hung in that bridge above Turniptown mill.
As people drove through, with his heels or his toes
He would gently inflict a soft tap on the nose;
Or if they, by chance, bent aside in their fears,
With the ends of his toes he would tickle their ears.
And this was the evidence all gave unto him,
That while he was substance you passed right straight through him.
There was many a scare. Once a man caught a look
And shot silver bullets right into the spook.
But strange to relate, he still hung there in sight,
And the man ran away in the terror of fright.

All things have an end, as the story books say,
And this is a rule even spooks must obey.
One warm summer night when the spook’s time was due,
The hat was kicked off of a man who drove through.
He was scared most to death, but he stopped at the mill
And, though his teeth chattered as if in a chill,
He said he’d go back and see what was that
Which had scared him so badly and kicked off his hat.
They went with a lantern held out on a pole,
To see the old fellow who had bartered his soul.
When, lo and behold, on a cross beam there sat
A beautiful peacock, and beneath lay the hat.
His long tail hung down in a soft downy mass,
And this is what did things to folks as they’d pass.

The two men explained and many believed it,
But still there were doubters who would not receive it;
And not a few lived in quite recent years,
Who claimed that real toes had tickled their ears.

But the bridge is now gone with its dark, gloomy look,
And with it has vanished the Turniptown spook.

The railroad bridge at Turniptown (Edisonville). Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.

What is a Spook?
from Be a Good Boy, Good-bye, and Other Back Home Poems
By John L. Shroy · 1906

A spook, my dear boy, is what’s left of a man
Who has done something bad—so bad that he can
Never hope to find rest, but must wander around
Thro’ the house or the barn or over the ground
Where he did his misdeeds: he must do them again
Regardless of scaring the women or men
Who chance to be near. In the dark, spooks are white;
But often are black when the moon’s shining bright.

They have nights to appear until that distant day
When the deed from all mem’ries has faded away.
Some say, with a credulous, knowing insistence,
Till a bullet of silver cuts short their existence,
Or until, from the place, with a howl of defiance,
They are forced to depart by reason or science.
That’s a spook; so, my boy, be as good as you can,
So you won’t be a spook when you’re no longer a man.

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One thought on “The Spook of Turniptown Bridge

  1. None of the photos, courtesy of the Lancaster County Archives Bridge Dockets Collection are of the Turniptown Bridge. I don’t know about the others. The one with the metal trolley bridge to the left was on the Beaver Valley Pike (Route 222) over Pequea Creek, removed in 1918. The other was on Lime Valley Road just upstream from the still extant Lime Valley CB on Brenneman Road, also over the Pequea. That one was removed in 1927. I have not been able to locate a photo of the actual Turniptown Bridge as of this writing.

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