“Spirits are just video-like replays of awful events. A supernatural apparition is triggered by atmospherics, that is, when the climate is precisely as it was when the event occurred,” according to a local ghost chaser, a very perceptive way of looking at the other side.
Up to about ninety years ago, the Northeast Philadelphia and Lower Bucks County riverfront on the Delaware River had residences owned by America’s wealthiest families, “lured by the river’s languid beauty and sweet summer breezes,” as written by JD Mullane, a local writer. I can attest to that, living on the riverfront myself.
Only a few of these magnificent homesteads remain, as most have been torn down. Pen Ryn is one of the oldest that still stands in all its awe and glory.
Picking up from where we left off at the previous entry, the Bickleys were considered oddballs due to their reclusive nature. After their parents had died, all remaining siblings lived together on the estate until the last one expired in 1854, neither one having ever married or had children.
Speculations of dark perversions ran rampant, allegedly passed on by servants as macabre rumors throughout the countryside, in pubs over a few pints of ale, or in hushed conversations amongst the genteel citizens of the times.
Many years prior to the 1782 death of Abraham III , the family had reportedly locked up and held captive Elizabeth Shewell, Abe’s wife Mary’s sister, secured nightly in one of Pen Ryn’s second-floor bedrooms.
Elizabeth had been living previously with her brother in Philadelphia, when she met colonial artist Benjamin West in 1762, to whom she got engaged before he sailed for England to become King George III’s court painter.
West wanted to return to the colonies to wed Elizabeth, but the king sent a ship instead to pick her up, afraid his painter would never return to England.
In the meantime, Elizabeth’s brother was violently opposed to the marriage and had arranged for her to be held prisoner by his sister Mary at Pen Ryn.
Word of this young damsel in distress spread throughout the colony. Three men conspired to free the maiden. Under the cover of darkness, “a ladder, a signal lamp, and a rowboat delivered Elizabeth to the king’s ship, waiting in the Delaware River,” as written in a local publication by the Bensalem Historical Society.
Elizabeth made it to England, married West, and was last known to have lived happily ever after. The men involved with her daring escape were Billy White, the future Bishop of Pennsylvania; Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin Franklin, a founding father, statesman, gentleman and a scholar.
Eerie Christmas Eve tale to be continued…