Monday, April 23, 2007

Along the Supernatural Trail in super, natural Central PA

Back in the day when the Lincoln Highway was known as the Forbes Road (a century before Abe was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye), a highway bandit was making things messy for pioneer travelers out around Fort Bedford. So a trap was laid, a prisoner caught and a trial held inside the local Jean Bonnet Tavern. Found guilty he was hanged right then and there. That fuels the ghost stories that come with the good food, comfy lodging and yes, powerful spirits at the historic Jean Bonnet.

Doors lock and unlock at will. Water pitchers are thrown from shelves at unsuspecting bartenders. Potpourri is tossed around empty rooms like confetti. And the blender pops on at random wee hours. Get a new blender, plug it somewhere else, it doesn’t matter. We figure this is one spirit who loves his piña coladas.

It’s our first stop along a supernatural trail of otherworldly natural beauty and out-of-this-world eating. Just down the road from the haunted tavern we find the haunting Gravity Hill, a weird and non-tourist-trap phenomenon every shunpiker should see at least once. It’s not easy to find, so we ask help from a guy in his boxers walking a boxer (no lie), and three PennDOT workers putting up signs, and pull up to the foot of a slight hill, marked on he road by a spray-painted “GH START.” Put the car in neutral and sure enough we coast up the hill. Put a ball on the road and it rolls up the hill. Water seeks its unnatural level up the hill. We haven’t had this much fun getting the creeps in a good stretch.

Our minds blown a bit, we’re north on country Route 26, winding between the Mid-State Trail, PA’s longest footpath (from the Mason-Dixon right up to NY) and the Raystown branch of the Juniata River, with its submerged ghost-town villages flooded to create the huge Raystown Lake. Plenty of spirits floating around here, no doubt. But on our two-lane blacktop it’s one peaceful, blue-sky drive.

We find hickory-smoked babybacks around Wipple Dam and tuck away an afternoon snack. Then check back into the spirit world inside the Reynolds Mansion B&B in Bellefonte, a town of big sky and bombastic Victorian architecture. And ghosts.

About 100 years ago, William Reynolds’s wife Louise was confined to her bed and occasionally to a wheelchair. She could never have children so William painted a beautiful cherub mural on the ceiling so she could always look up and see happy, chubby babies. Today guests often hear the sound of a wheelchair rolling around the “Cherub Room.” One tells of waking before dawn to find a woman in gossamer at the foot of the bed, watching his sleeping, pregnant wife with a beautiful smile.

We enjoy the house brandy, spirits to ward off spirits, and wake up to fresh poppy-seed-lemon scones and a day sunny and bright with possibility.

The ragtop heads the back way out of town and toward a diner so good, trains stop on the tracks alongside without warning for roast pork and peanut butter pie. Can’t wait to dig in. Until then, we’ll see you round the bends and backroads.

When you hit the road, here's where to stop. (For a map with photos of all these places and more, go to

Jean Bonnet Tavern

Owner Melissa Jacobs raises goosebumps with tales of the spirits who inhabit this haunted hotel. Perfect with a tankard of ale and a medium-rare filet mignon. After dinner, stroll the gardens and feed the goats outside. Reserve a room with a ghost at

Gravity Hill

Is it an optical illusion or a supernatural phenomenon? Seeing is believing, so watch your car roll up the hill and shake your head in wonder. Ask a local or find a secret map at

Old Bedford Village

A weird, beautiful village with homes, stores, churches, schools, an opera house and tavern – even the village smithy – circa 1750 through 1900. Re-enactors in period dress show you the ropes as you stroll through time. See for yourself at

Miller’s Diner

10 years ago a train pulled up out back and the engineer came in for lunch. The impromptu nooner caused a crazy traffic jam, as he left the back of the train hanging over the intersection. Cops found the railroader inside with some chocolate-peanut-butter pie and fined him $94. (True story!) On Rt. 22 three miles east of Rt. 26. 814.643.3418.

Doan’s Bones

Roadtrip rule #3: When you see smoke, stop. It could be barbecue. Here at Doan’s little shack, they do the ribs with real hickory and you can smell it coming a quarter mile away. Best to eat a rack right off the trunk of your car. On Rt 23 near Whipple Dam just south of State College.

The Wizard of Odd

Stan Smith’s weird and fun sculpture garden features your favorites from the Wizard of Oz, all made from stuff he finds lying around the old farmhouse. Sign the guest book and ask, “Where’s Dorothy?” Worth the search on Linden Hall Road near 322 in Oak Hall.

Jim’s Italian Cuisine

Penn State’s legendary coach Joe Paterno wolfs down homemade spaghetti and meatballs here all the time. The lasagna and buttery garlic bread make this little BYOB a legend in its own right. On a little alley up the hill from the classic courthouse in beautiful Bellefonte. 204 E. Cherry Lane. 814.355.2169.

The Reynolds Mansion

Your amiable host Joe Heidt III will wake you with delicious baked peaches and lemon scones after a night of listening for ghosts in this haunted “best-of” B&B. The tap water comes from a local spring that is bottled and sold around the world, so enjoy a soak here in a Jacuzzi full of Evian-like luxury. Reservations at 800.899.3929 or

This is just the beginning. When you find something weird and wonderful, drop us a line at

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