Have You Heard These Chilling Tall Tales Around the Main Line?

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Love a spooky story around the campfire? These tall tales of happenings around the Main Line and western suburbs will give you the chills.

The Mangled Corpse of the Mad General

You’ll probably know about Anthony Wayne’s life from places like General Wayne Inn on Montgomery Ave, the town of Wayne itself (which takes its name from the general) and his exploits during the Revolutionary War. The tall tales of his post-mortem adventures, however, are far more intriguing than his grandeur on the battlefield.

Buried at Fort Presque Isle upon his death in 1809 on Lake Erie, Wayne’s children, Isaac and Margretta, wanted to have their father’s body reinterred closer to their home in Easttown Township. Thus Isaac and a doctor set out across Pennsylvania with a mission to dig up his father’s bones and relocate them to St. David’s Cemetery. However, the ground in which his corpse lay was quite wet and had preserved his body to a shocking extent.

Isaac had brought a small crate along thinking that all he would need to carry back to Philadelphia were bones. Now he was faced with the unenviable task of stripping the flesh from his father’s slightly decomposed corpse. The solution: Isaac and the doctor would procure a large cauldron, fill it with water and boil the body before removing the flesh. Once the gruesome undertaking was complete, the flesh stripped clean and the bones packed into a crate, the tools and foul water were reburied in the original grave while the duo set back out for Philadelphia.

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On their way back through Pennsylvania, the crate containing Wayne’s bones overturned. Thus, underneath the pitch-black Appalachia night, Isaac went searching his father’s bones. Though they resumed the journey several hours later, it’s said the Mad General Anthony Wayne’s bones can still be found scattered around US Route 322 to this day and, on January 1 every year, Wayne’s skeleton rises from its grave to search for his missing bones.

This story was relayed by Jim Christ, the President of the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund.

A Serial Killer in ‘The Neck’

Described as “a monster in the shape of a man” and short one thumb, Anton Probst was on the lam in the spring of 1866. A farmhand at the Deerling property on Jones Lane in the swamps of what was then known as ‘The Neck’ (the land that would eventually become the sports complex a century later), Probst had systematically plotted the murders of the Deerling family for weeks.

Luring all seven present family members to the barn, including another fellow farmhand, Probst cleaved each of their skulls with an axe before hiding the bodies and presenting each member of the family with a different story as to why they needed to be seen at the barn.

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When the family patriarch, the hard-working Irish immigrant Christopher Deerling, returned that evening with visiting cousin Elizabeth Dolan, Probst lured Deerling to the barn with a tale about a sick steer, then tricked Dolan by telling her the family waited for her inside the barn. When he later confessed that ruse to officers before his hanging, it was said Probst chuckled.

After the gruesome work was complete, Probst said he could’ve killed 100 more men.

Believing the family had money hidden in the house, perhaps as much as $10,000 (nearly $200,000 in present value), Probst rifled through the Deerling belongings, only to find $17.75. Having shaved himself with Deerling’s razor as a disguise, Probst hit the town, but with all of Philadelphia on the lookout for a man missing a thumb, it was mere days before he was spotted and arrested by an alert policeman. Meanwhile, the bodies of his victims were displayed publicly in walnut coffins where ticket holders could view the grisly remains of Probst’s work.

Outraged and alarmed at the murders, the Philadelphia populous mostly agreed hanging was too good for the killer. Some wanted him mobbed, others wanted him publicly tortured and one even thought he should be placed in an iron cage and hoisted over a burning fire.

Probst’s jury took only 15 minutes before pronouncing a guilty verdict, and on June 8, 1866 he was hanged in front of a thronging crowd eager to see the “monster” get his justice. As the tall tale goes, his body was then used for unnamed yet chilling medical experiments at a local college.

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You can read more about the exploits of Anton Probst in Kathryn Canavan’s book, True Crime Philadelphia.

Murders in the Basement

When Hurricane Ida struck the East Coast in September of 2021, it killed a recorded 107 individuals and caused approximately $75 billion of damage. Tens of thousands were affected by what was one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to make land on U.S. soil, but the storm washed up several unidentified corpses in Manayunk, these much older than Ida’s more recent victims.

Lincoln Mill was purchased by a developer in March 2021 and, upon renovations after the building was flooded by Hurricane Ida, a hidden chamber was found in the mill’s basement containing the bodies of several former workers. After authorities were summoned and digging commenced to better understand the past of the building, it was discovered that the mill’s former owner during the 1930s, Viktor Kane, had tormented and experimented on the unfortunate workers of his mill.

The Mill itself had already been associated with death for more than a half century before this event. During the 1860s it functioned as a textile factory for Union uniforms during the Civil War.

Supposedly, during Kane’s era running the mill, he formed a cabal of sinister individuals who used and abused the workers as a way to take out there frustrations. The current staff running the mill note that his night watchman, mill manager and seamstress were all involved in the program. The tall tale of Kane’s exploits came to an end when one of his former accomplices stabbed him in the heart and took her own life afterwards, wishing to be freed from the guilt of his murder.

This tale is the foundation for the Lincoln Mill Haunted House.

Related: Visit These Haunted Halloween Destinations Around the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!