Lititz Springs Inn’s Haunted Portrait of General Sutter

According to urban legend, the Lititz Springs Inn is plagued by eerie and inexplicable paranormal activities whenever the portrait of General Sutter is moved from its place of honor above the fireplace in the sitting area. People have reported seeing shadows where there shouldn’t be any. Others have heard footsteps in vacant halls and on empty staircases. Sometimes, utensils even appear to fly across the kitchen. Most longtime employees will not even touch the painting.

Who is John Sutter?

John Sutter established Sutter’s Fort in an area of Mexico that would eventually become California’s state capital. However, Sutter’s most enduring legacy was discovering gold on his property that kickstarted the 1849 California Gold Rush.

Contemporaneous illustration of Sutter's Fort in the 1840s
Contemporaneous illustration of Sutter’s Fort in the 1840s

Early Years

Sutter was born Johann August Sutter on February 28, 1803. He was the child of Swiss parents born in Kandern, Baden, Germany. When Sutter was 23, he married Annette Dubeld, the daughter of a wealthy widow, on October 24, 1826. The couple stayed busy producing four children in five years—John Augustus Jr., Emil Victor, Anna Elisa, and Alphonse.

During this time, he operated a dry goods business but showed more interest in spending money than earning it. Facing bankruptcy charges likely to land him in jail, Sutter skipped town in May 1834, leaving his wife and five children behind in Burgdorf, Switzerland. From there, Sutter headed to America to reinvent himself as Captain John Augustus Sutter.

Sutter first settled in Westport (now Kansas City), Missouri, where he ran a store for four years. Next, he sailed to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), creating a successful trading business with the indigenous population.

Sutter’s Fort

In 1839, Sutter sailed back to the mainland, settling in an area called Alta California, which at the time was a province of Mexico. Sutter was granted 48,000 acres of land in the California territory from Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado of Mexico on the stipulation that he resided in the area for a year and became a Mexican citizen, which he did on August 29, 1840.

Alta California territory in Mexico
Alta California territory of Mexico is highlighted in red.

He named his holdings New Helvetia in honor of his Swiss heritage. In the summer of 1841, he began the construction of a massive fort. When the fort was completed in 1844, John Sutter applied for and was granted another 96,000 acres of land surrounding his existing property. In total, Sutter owned 225 square miles of land. Sutter’s Fort would later become the city of Sacramento and the capital of California.

When the war with Mexico broke out in 1846, Sutter quickly switched sides and raised the American flag over Fort Sutter. He supported U.S. troops at his fort at his own expense throughout the war. As peace returned in 1847, Sutter expanded his operation by constructing a sawmill. This was the beginning of the end.

Sutter's Mill in 1850.
Sutter’s Mill in 1850

Relationship with Native Americans

Since 2020, a darker side of Sutter’s legacy has emerged. To build his fort and develop an extensive ranching/farming network in the area, Sutter relied on Native American labor. Some worked voluntarily for Sutter, but others were subjected to varying degrees of coercion that assembled slavery or serfdom. Sutter believed these indigenous people had to be kept “strictly under fear” in order to serve white landowners. 

Housing and working conditions at the fort were deplorable and described as “enslavement,” with uncooperative Indians being “whipped, jailed, and executed.” Sutter’s Native American “employees” slept on bare floors in locked rooms without sanitation and ate from troughs made from hollowed tree trunks.

If Native Americans refused to work for him, Sutter responded with violence. Observers accused him of using “kidnapping, food privation, and slavery” to force Indians to work for him and generally stated that Sutter held the Indians under inhumane conditions.

California Gold Rush

On January 24, 1848, Sutter’s partner, James Marshall, noticed gold flecks in the stream that fed the mill. The secret of gold was impossible to keep. News spread like wildfire, bringing with it chaos. Sutters’ workers abandoned their jobs as countless thousands of “49ers” poured into the region. These prospectors, mad with gold fever, paid no attention to property rights. They tramped Sutter’s crops, stole his livestock, and tore down his barns to build huts.

While “The Gold Rush” of 1849 made some rich, it brought financial ruin to Sutter. With his wealth decimated, Sutter sent for his wife and children in 1850, and together, they settled at Hock Farm in the corner of his former landholdings.

Sutter Hock Farm in 1927
Local Yuba-Sutter residents restoring the Sutter Hock Farm facade in 1927

Throughout the 1860s, John Sutter frequently traveled to Washington, DC, to petition Congress for reimbursement for his lost lands associated with the Gold Rush and for expenses incurred in housing troops during the war. At the end of 1865, Sutter moved to Washington, DC, after Hock Farm was destroyed by fire.

Moving to Lititz

Sutter and his wife, Annette, moved to Lititz, Pennsylvania, in 1871 after staying at the Lititz Springs Hotel (now the Lititz Springs Inn). Impressed with the excellent schools for their grandchildren and the wondrous healing powers of the spring water for Sutter’s rheumatism, they purchased land and built a home on East Main Street across from the hotel that attracted them to the area.

Lititz Springs Hotel
Lititz Springs Hotel

The two-story brick home was constructed for $10,000. The house featured a gabled roof, an extensive wine cellar, and the town’s first hot and cold running water. The home remains, restored to its original appearance, at 19 East Main Street.

Sutter’s grandson, John Augustus III, was enrolled at the Beck School, and his granddaughters Anna Eliza and Carmen were placed at Linden Hall. Annette was a bit of a recluse who rarely ventured outside the home; however, Sutter enjoyed dining at the hotel across the street.

Linden Hall

Still trying to obtain compensation from the U.S. Government, Sutter was given one last hope in early 1880. His advocates in Congress assured him a bill was pending and appeared to have an excellent chance of passing. Unfortunately, 1880 was an election year, and Congress adjourned early in June, allowing many bills to die without action.

This last disappointment proved too great. Sutter died of heart failure in his Washington, DC, hotel room on June 18, 1880, while writing a letter explaining his most recent defeat to his wife. His wife, Anna, passed away seven months later.

God’s Acre

While not a member of the Moravian Congregation, Sutter and his wife were honored with an exclusive spot in the northwest corner of the cemetery located directly behind the church known as God’s Acre.

In 1887, seven years after his death, Congress decided to honor Sutter. They voted to erect a seven-foot marble wall around his grave. As the workers arrived in town, granddaughter Eliza Hull objected to a structure of this kind. She argued that such a monstrosity was against the Moravian practice and would mar the quiet beauty of the cemetery.

An ingenious compromise was struck. A six-foot trench was dug around the grave, and the seven-foot wall was set in place—six feet underground and one foot above the ground. In 1939, a joint ceremony between the towns of Lititz, PA, and Sacramento, CA, was held, during which a bronze plaque was dedicated honoring John A. Sutter. These photographs show his grave and marker.

Why does the Lititz Spring Inn have a Painting of General Sutter?

The Lititz Springs Inn first opened for business in 1764 as the “Zum Anker,” or the Sign of the Anchor. Over its nearly 260-year history, it’s changed names a few times. First to the Lititz Springs Hotel and then to The General Sutter in 1930 to honor the California Gold Rush pioneer, who lived several years in Lititz and is buried in the Moravian Cemetery. In 2020, the establishment changed the name to the Lititz Springs Inn over concerns about Sutter’s newly surfaced dark legacy.

The Full Haunted Tale

In the heart of Lititz, Pennsylvania, nestled within the historic Lititz Springs Inn, hangs a portrait with a chilling secret. The painting depicts the stern visage of General John Augustus Sutter, a man whose presence has lingered far beyond his mortal days.

The story began when an overzealous employee decided to do some holiday redecorating. Unaware of the portrait’s sinister reputation, they removed it from its place of honor above the fireplace.

The inn’s usually cozy atmosphere transformed into a supernatural realm that night. Guests reported hearing phantom footsteps echoing through the halls and whispers in empty corridors. Glasses and plates levitated, suspended in mid-air, before crashing to the floor with a loud clatter.

One longtime employee soon realized the connection between the portrait’s displacement and the surge in ghostly occurrences. She hastily returned the picture to its original spot, hoping to quell the restless spirit of Sutter, who had once enjoyed dining at the hotel so much.

As a result, the portrait of General Sutter remains untouched above the fireplace, likely to never be moved again. While the ghostly disturbances have since ceased, the legend endures, serving as a chilling reminder that some spirits will stop at nothing to protect their legacy and haunt those who dare to disturb their slumber.

Guided Ghost Tour of Lititz

If you want more Lititz ghost stories, book a Guided Ghost Tour of Lititz. Founded in 1756, the historic town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, is the location of several ghost stories and paranormal happenings. You will journey down Main Street with your knowledgeable guide as you discover these tales and see many structures associated with them along the way. Just some of the stops along the tour include a haunted tavern from the 1700s, the location of a mysterious grave in the basement of a store, a former Revolutionary War hospital that is said to be haunted by at least one spirit, and an authentic corpse house built in 1786. This is a family-friendly tour suitable for all ages. Click here to book your Guided Ghost Tour of Lititz. They are six days a week and end November 4, 2034.

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