Right on the side of Route 116 as it winds through the town of
The tomb itself is empty. It was built by a prominent early settler of the town, but he is not interred there. Unbeknownst even to many
It's a story that's been around since the 19th century, in print since at least the 1930s and still very much in circulation. In fact, I heard a version of it within a couple of minutes of asking about town history on a recent visit to the general store.
Recorded many times, the basic legend goes as follows: One dark and stormy night, a wealthy traveler arrived on horseback to put up at the old tavern. When morning came, he was nowhere to be seen, and his bed had not been slept in. His horse was found the next day in a nearby field with a terrible gash in its neck.
Townspeople suspected the innkeeper of foul play. Without a
body or any other proof, though, no charges were brought. Soon after, bloodstains began to appear on the stairs leading to the second floor, and they could not be removed. Strange lights were seen in the window of the room the stranger was said to be slain in, and sometimes even a gory apparition with hollow eyes was spotted.
The tale is most often attributed to the 1830s and set in the original Bowker Tavern, also known as the Bowker Hotel. Liberty Bowker began leasing a tavern along what is now
In recent decades, some versions of the tale place it next door to the store, in what was once the
A closer examination of
The story of the tavern begins with Joseph Williams, who arrived from
Joseph Williams, along with his partner Jacob Blake, was involved in a wide variety of business dealings, including half the real estate sales in town. Not all of these transactions appear to have been legitimate; at least one unhappy associate had to set the authorities on Williams for money owed him.
Around 1815, Jacob Blake died, but Williams remained close with his widow, Olive. Three years later, Joseph inexplicably began selling off his many land holdings, all except the lot where he had built the tomb in question. This he reserved for himself and the widow Blake, according to a notation in the deed. Virtually everything else he sold, sometimes at an apparent loss, up until 1823, after which there is no more mention of him in records.
Olive Blake, meanwhile, was swept up in the Shaker missionary zeal that gripped the town during those years. She eventually relocated, along with her daughter Rhoda, to the Shaker community in Mount Lebanon, along with dozens of other
Rhoda refers to a man arriving on horseback to the tavern one evening. He checked in, but before going to his room demanded to see Williams and was taken to his nearby home. Soon, angry voices could be heard coming from the house. Then there was silence. In the morning, Rhoda says, it was found that the man's room had not been slept in, and no sign of him could be found save his horse, which remained in the stable for days unclaimed.
After this, many people noticed a decline in Williams' health, and he seemed always distracted, even depressed. It was during this period that he sold off nearly all of his land. Finally, according to Blake's account, he was standing by his fire one night, when he fell and was "consumed by the flames." He ran from his house to the nearby river, extinguishing himself, but died shortly after.
Curiously, no one seems to know where his body is buried. The tomb, if it was ever used, is currently empty, and inscriptions from
What really happened to the unnamed traveler that came to
That and the legend of the murdered traveler, which is as alive today as it ever was.
Joe Durwin is a longtime local mystery monger. Send tips on haunted places, unexplained occurrences, rumors and other accounts of the strange to email@example.com
-The same sort of “lights” that legend describes being seen in the Williams Tavern after the suspected murder were also reported by Shakers in their documents, in particular at the nearby widow Olive Blake’s house. The tavern incident took place at the