In November of 1935, a grim story unfolded along Sides Mill Road outside Strasburg, Pennsylvania, that would forever haunt the landscape. Lifelong miller Frank Sides met a grisly end within the walls of his father’s mill, a fate so horrific it seemed like the stuff of nightmares. His untimely death became the inspiration for the Hell’s Funnel of Strasburg urban legend.
However, the actual events of what happened are exponentially more terrible than the ghost story that persists today. Both tales are included below. Which do you prefer—the legend or the true story?
Hell’s Funnel of Strasburg Urban Legend
On the outskirts of Strasburg, Pennsylvania, deep in the heart of Amish country, Aldus Sides toiled tirelessly in his grist mill. One fateful morning in the early 1900s, misfortune struck. In a moment of carelessness, the unforgiving blades of the mill’s waterwheel claimed Sides’ hand.
With phones and neighbors scarce at this remote location, the miller had no choice but to rush home, seeking the aid of his devoted wife. However, stricken with helplessness from the severity of his injury, she could only bear witness as her husband’s life ebbed away, blood staining the earth beneath him.
Overwhelmed by grief and despair, she took her own life, choosing to depart from the world that had brought her such sorrow.
The area that once embraced their shared existence, now dubbed Hell’s Funnel, is rumored to resonate with the lingering spirits of both Sides and his wife. A small, tranquil pond near their former home has become a focal point for these apparitions. Witnesses have recounted sightings of a lady in a ghostly white gown, her ethereal presence wandering along the lakeside or hovering above it as if yearning for a connection beyond the veil.
Chilling tales persist of those who ventured close to the water only to have unexplained scratches appear upon their arms, as if the tormented spirits sought to make their presence known, leaving an indelible mark on those who dared to draw near.
A mill existed in this location as early as 1727 when Samuel Taylor built a 1.5-story frame mill along the South Branch of Little Beaver Creek. Around 1792, Samuel Hawthorne replaced the previous building with a massive 30′ x 75′ stone structure with an adjoining 30′ x 35′ miller’s house. This feature made the building one of a few in the country where the mill and miller’s house were attached.
A front porch for the house portion of the structure was added in the 1850s, while Benjamin Gonder was the owner.
The mill changed hands a few times until Elam B. Troup, who bought the property in 1885, sold it to Aldus M. Sides in 1903.
Early on the morning of November 25, 1935, 47-year-old Frank was performing a routine repair, working to fix a belt on a hoist. Frank was no stranger to the mill, for it belonged to his father, Aldus.
Frank was responsible for its daily operations, living on the premises and dedicating his life to the family trade. Little did he know, this would be the last task he’d ever undertake. As the first rays of dawn painted the sky with an eerie hue, tragedy struck.
Later that morning, at around 8:15 a.m., two local men, Lester Winters and Ellis Yeuninger, arrived at the mill with business to conduct. They called for Frank, but there was no answer, just the haunting hum of the mill’s equipment. Instinctively, they embarked on a search, their trepidation growing with each step.
Their investigation led them to the mill’s attic. There, they discovered Frank’s lifeless body, battered beyond recognition. According to a November 26, 1935, Intelligencer Journal article, “The left arm and both legs were torn off and the abdomen ripped open.” The macabre scene was forever etched into their memories, never to be forgotten.
The men quickly shut down the machinery and summoned Strasburg physician Dr. S. H. Hackman to confirm the grim reality.
Deputy coroner Dr. J. F. Trexler conducted an investigation and determined that Frank’s clothing had become tangled on an upright shaft as almost none was left on his body. His frantic struggles were in vain as the relentless machinery whirled him around the deadly shaft. Trexler’s only comfort in the horrific accident was that while Frank’s body was a grotesque tableau of mangled flesh, his death had likely been instantaneous.
Frank’s death was not the only tragedy to strike the Sides family. His brother, Charles Sides, had met a similar fate just two weeks prior. He was found fatally wounded with a shotgun near their home, the coroner ruling it as a suicide after a week of investigation. Without a doubt, grief cast a long shadow over the Sides family.
The following year, in 1936, the mill closed with Frank’s wife, Nila, opening a gift shop on the square in Strasburg.
On July 26, 1999, the mill section of the structure burned in a fire. Arson was suspected but never proven. Beyond repair, the ruins were cleared away. The stone building stood vacant for the next few years, frequently vandalized. In July 2005, the property was sold to an Amish couple, Joseph and Barbara Esh, who planned to put a house on the hill above the old mill house. However, the hill proved too steep for a horse and carriage.
In 2009, Steve and Wendy Hess purchased the property and renovated the former miller’s house into a beautiful home. Stones from the old mill have been repurposed as a retaining wall.
As for being haunted, an October 18, 2006, Intelligencer Journal article said, “According to rumors, Sides’ ghost still roams the property.” The apparition is often spotted by the small pond near the miller’s home, a place where he had perhaps found solace in life. The ghostly figure, with tattered clothing and a mournful expression, is said to wander the shores, seemingly searching for something lost.
Those who ventured near the water would sometimes feel a chilling presence and tell tales of mysterious scratches on their arms as if Frank’s spirit yearned to communicate his anguish. It serves as a warning to those who dare to wander there, a reminder that some tragedies, like Frank’s, will eternally echo in the realms beyond the living.
The former Sides Mill is located outside Strasburg, PA. The property is a private residence, and any sightseeing should be limited from the road inside your vehicle.
After publishing the article, scores of people commented on social media. Many shared their spooky experiences at the abandoned mill. Several people echoed similar tales from the ’60s and ’70s about an axe-wielding maniac they called “Hatchet Man.”
The legend warned that if you parked too close to the mill, Hatchet Man would materialize, gripping his deadly weapon with a chilling determination. There was even a tale of him slashing open the roof of a trespasser’s convertible, leaving behind only a shredded canvas.
But the horror didn’t end there. An even darker rumor spread like wildfire among the locals – Hatchet Man’s hunger was not just for terror but for something far more sinister. Some claimed he hid beneath the bridge near the mill, waiting for unsuspecting travelers to satisfy his cannibalistic desires.
Adding to the eerie atmosphere, a mysterious blue light would emanate from inside the ancient stone structure, casting an otherworldly glow that seemed to beckon the curious. Locals whispered that stepping inside the mill was a one-way journey into the unknown. Legend had it that once within its ominous walls, the doors would vanish, trapping intruders in a maze of darkness with no escape.
Not everyone’s incident directly involved the former mill. One reader recalled being out by the pond one night with friends. They all turned around after hearing a noise behind them but saw nothing. When they turned back, a toy sailboat was in the middle of the pond. Instantly, the entire group was sprinting through the pitch black.
Another reader recalled the tale of a witch who lived in a nearby house, and when an obnoxiously loud motorcyclist rode up to her home, he was never seen or heard again.
More recently, in the early 2000s, visitors reported seeing a “woman in white” in the windows of the old stone structure. At least two visitors photographed the wraith. Ryan Hudler shared these three photos on Facebook. After Hudler saw the apparition in the rearview mirror of his blazer, he took the following two photos.
During another late-night visit, Hudler captured the final image showing what looks like a woman in white in one of the top windows. Hudler insists his friends went inside and had a crazy experience.
Regardless of the story, everyone agreed on one thing concerning the stone edifice. It was creepy! Nevertheless, the family that has lived on this property since 2009 assures the general public they have never witnessed any ghosts, spirits, or other unexplained activities and asks that you kindly respect their privacy.
- Intelligencer Journal 26 Nov 1935, Tue · Page 2
- Intelligencer Journal 18 Oct 2006, Wed · Page 49
- Mills of Lancaster County
- Legend of Hell’s Funnel
- Sides Mill
- Fruit Valley Mill / Sides Mill Site
1864 Map of Strasburg Township, Lancaster County, PA$24.99 – $25.99
‘Mills of Lancaster County Book’ by Don Kautz
The grist mills of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were once the hubs of their local communities. People came to the local mill not only to get their corn and wheat ground but also to catch up on the local news. In many cases, the mill served as the local post office. At one time, there was a mill for every 2 1⁄2 square miles. Now, there are less than one hundred still standing.
This book serves as a record of those mills, relating some of the stories of the men and women who worked the mills. Organized by watershed, the book contains the full catalog of mills past and present with details and timelines. As poet Sarah Doudney wrote, “The mill will never, never grind with the water that is past.” Yet, we can look back and see the role that those old mills played in the county’s history. Click here to order your copy.
Sickman’s Mill Ghostly Green Glow
In the 1970s, Sickman’s Mill operated as a campground. Patrons, on multiple occasions, have reported seeing an eerie green light coming from the third-floor windows of the mill at night. Could the glow belong to Frederick Pfeifer, who died nearby on December 1, 1845, while en route to the mill with a load of wheat? Click here to read more.