The Bickleys were blue bloods and they made sure everyone knew it. The colonial aristocrats remained loyal to the Crown during the American Revolutionary War, as did most of the other comfortably rich families in the colonies during that era.
When British General Howe was about to leave his Philadelphia command for returning to England in May 1778, cousins of the Bickleys—the Whartons—staged a grand ball in the commander’s honor, which was considered to be the most lavish event of its time.
Hannah Bickley, one of Abraham III’s daughters and reportedly quite a beauty, attended the affair as a favorite amongst the multitudes of British officers who made it to the gala festivities.
One month later, the British evacuated Philadelphia. Hanna, her cousins, or any of the other loyalist were not invited to attend the massive celebrations held in the honor of George Washington and his officers, upon their return to the new republic’s capital with the Continental Army.
From this point on, the family became more and more reclusive in their day-to-day activities, remaining mostly to themselves within the confines of Pen Ryn.
Robert Bickley, another one of Abraham’s sons, became involved with a local lady of common heritage and married her against the will of his father, who became enraged and considered the girl unworthy of the family crest.
During that particular Christmas Eve, Robert came home for attempting to gain his father’s acceptance of his new bride, arguing bitterly with his parent in Pen Ryn’s parlor. Each of their tempers flared hot and high as the flames in the blazing fireplace beside them.
Abraham disinherited his son, ordering him to leave the premises and never return, at which time Robert stormed out of the room, grabbed his coat and hat in the vestibule, cursing his father with every last step out of manor house, slamming the front door behind him.
The father, according to this legend—another one spawned by the Bickleys’ servants over the years—softened his attitude later that night and regretted his harsh actions, wishing for his son to return in order to make amends. As midnight approached, pounding knocks on the front door resonated loudly throughout the mansion.
Abraham presumed it was Robert and quickly opened the front portal to let him in, only to be greeted by a huge wintry gust of wind with leaves that blew well into grand hallway, covering the marble-tiled floor.
However, as the story goes, Robert never left Pen Ryn that night. Despondent over his disinheritance, young Bickley is said to have run down the grand lawn in front of the manor to the Delaware River, diving into the frigid water to his death, drowning after having been submerged ultimately under the ice. His body was never found.
So now, purportedly on Christmas Eve when the conditions are supposedly right, such as when the full moon casts its bright rays and lights up the otherwise black December night, Robert’s slimy, debris-covered, dripping-wet corpse is said to rise from the Delaware at the steps of the river wall.
He is alleged to slowly drag himself on his feet across the prodigious lawn to the mansion, up the front stairway. Standing before the grand entrance, the apparition pounds violently on the double doors to get in, all while “moaning in a ghostly fashion,” as phrased by the publication, Traveling Through Bensalem 1692-1984, written by the Bensalem Historical Society.
If the front doors are opened, a hideous, decaying figure is seen standing in a steaming puddle produced by slime, oozing from his drenched body. While cursing his father, this chimera insists on being re-admitted to the House of Bickley, from which he was ostracized.
Should the front doors close, the ghost of Robert Bickley encircles the manor, tapping on each available window with skeleton-bare fingers, as bloodcurdling screams of terror fill the inside of Pen Ryn Manor.
At the last stroke of Midnight, the wretched spirit vanishes and the grounds return to silence except for the sound of the old grandfather clock’s keeping time.
I wonder, what would happen if whomever opens the front door of the manor invites the ghost to come in? Maybe that would free the tortured Bickley phantom from this terrifying Christmas Eve ordeal.
Along with all of the previous supernatural hubbub, a magnificent steed awaits in the shadows by the side of the house, atop of which sits a beautiful woman dressed all in black. Should anyone approach her, the specter produces a whip and thrashes it wildly to prevent any further encroachment. Alleged to be Robert’s wife, who was never let into Pen Ryn, the wraith disappears with her husband at the last midnight chime of the clock’s bell.
JD Mullane, a local reporter, wrote about this eerie tale in the Bucks County Courier Times. Taken from his article dated 24th December 2009:
I’ve investigated this legend and can report that no one living of sober credibility can attest to ever seeing the vexed spirit of Robert Bickley rising from the river. But maybe they weren’t there at the right time, say on a Christmas Eve midnight when the moon is high and wood smoke and iced black silence hang over the Delaware.
Christmas Eve 2015 will be sporting a full moon; but unfortunately mostly cloudy is the forecast. I’m tempted to take a run out there tonight, as it’s only a couple of miles northeast of where I live. We’ll see.
The mansion had changed hands a few times after the Bickleys died out. The deed passed to distant relatives who eventually built a west wing on the house in the early 1900s, as seen partially at the left in the photo above. At the time its roof was made of glass.
Pen Ryn finally ended up with the Biddles, another prominent founding family along the riverfront, whose grand estate is one of the other few still standing today, and is adjacent to the Pen Ryn Property.
The mansion for several years during the latter twentieth century was used as a Christian school run by the Episcopal Church of Eddington, the town where Sarobia sits. Further additions were made as can be seen in the photos from the previous two entries.
Presently the Pen Ryn estate is used primarily for weddings, an idyllic setting for a marriage ceremony and reception during spring and summer.
I visit the Pen Ryn property often in the spring and summer, as an osprey’s nest sits out in the river on a range marker within sight, and is a regular bird-watching/photographic spot of mine when the raptors are in town for the season.
The glasses in the above photo sat atop the river wall at the steps during one of my previous stops, probably placed there by someone from a wedding at the mansion. I’d like to think perhaps they belonged to Robert and his bride from the night before.
Merry Christmas and sweet dreams. Thanks for your continued support.