|Mount Gilead church|
The following is an excerpt from Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America's Most Colorful Hermits by Marlin Bressi (Sunbury Press, 2015)
A mere 520 feet in height, Buckingham Mountain is a bit of a misnomer. Although it is the second highest point in Bucks County, it is neither imposing nor majestic, yet this verdant hillock rising above the rolling farmlands has struck a chord of fear into the hearts of many locals for generations. Atop Buckingham Mountain is a deserted church, known once as the Mount Gilead African Methodist Episcopal Church. Built in 1835, the church was founded by runaway slaves and was considered to be one of the more important places of refuge for escaped slaves in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A spooky little cemetery, overgrown with vegetation, can be found next to the old abandoned church. The entire mountain is rumored to be haunted, and it is here they say you can race the devil, if you so desire.
The rules of the footrace vary, depending on who is telling the tale, but they say that winning the race will bring a year of good luck, while losing the race will bring grave misfortune. Runners never see their otherworldly opponent, but it is said that you can tell be the wind whether you're winning or losing the race against the devil. If you feel a gust of wind after completing the sprint from the church to the cemetery, it's the devil trying to catch up to you. But, if you feel a gust of wind before reaching the cemetery, it's the devil brushing past, and you best prepare yourself for a terrible misfortune. It's unclear how this legend began. Some claim that some of the slaves were practitioners of black magic, and this so angered God that He cursed the church and the hill on which it stands. Others claim that the spooky legend was manufactured by Albert Large, a hermit who once called Buckingham Mountain home.
Little was known about Albert Large until 1858, when the hermit was discovered living beneath the "Wolf Rocks"- an outcropping of boulders near the summit of Buckingham Mountain. On his way home from work one evening from the nearby quarry, a free slave had decided to take a shortcut by passing over the mountain. When he approached the Wolf Rocks he was frightened by a menacing voice which seemed to emanate from beneath the ground. Believing that he had heard the angry growls of something sinister and demonic, the young man took off running as fast as his feet could carry him. Once off the mountain, the young man sprinted back to the quarry and related his experience to the workers. The men at the quarry decided to investigate, and the group proceeded to the spot of the otherworldly emanations. Upon reaching the rocks, the men heard a booming voice warning them to leave at once or else they would be killed. The men were also threatened with death if they so much as told another soul about what they had seen. One of the bolder fellows in the group thought he recognized the voice and inched closer to the rocks, in spite of the repeated warnings.
"Why, it's Albert Large!" the quarry worker remarked. "Albert, just what in the world are you doing under those rocks? You come on out of there!" insisted the quarryman. The menacing voice replied, rather defiantly, that he wasn't Albert Large. The group of men tried to convince the strange fellow to come out of his hiding place, but the man adamantly refused and told them to go away.
The men returned to town and paid a visit to Large's friends and relatives who lived in the neighborhood, and they agreed that they should ascend the mountain and try to talk some sense into Albert. Even though the hermit continued to deny that he was Albert Large, enough of the villagers recognized his voice and they needled him until the hermit finally confessed that he was, indeed, Albert Large. Once the townsfolk had talked the stubborn recluse out of his hiding place, Albert confessed that he had been using the shallow cave as his private hideaway for nearly thirty years, sleeping in his rocky habitation by day and sallying forth into town for food during the night. At first, he only went to the cave whenever he needed to get away from life's troubles but, over time, he spent more and more time there until he decided to make it his permanent home. The curious villagers demanded a tour of Large's secret hideaway, of course, and they pestered Large until he agreed to show them around.
Albert's cave, which had a well-hidden entrance, consisted of two small rooms; one of which was used as the hermit's living quarters, while the other served as a pantry. The walls of the cave were paneled with boards, upon which hung various utensils, pots, pans, and cooking implements. An iron kettle, inside of which was found a cooked chicken, stood in one corner of the room. The intruders also found a pot of butter, a few bottles of whiskey, a pile of clothes and a handful of other objects which made the hermit's confinement bearable. All in all, it was a very comfortable little cave and some of the visitors remarked, in a jealous tone, that they wished they had a private getaway like Albert's, some cozy little place to which they could escape after a hard day of work or an argument with the wife.
At the time of his discovery, the hermit presented a shaggy appearance and some of the locals convinced Albert to make himself a little more presentable. He reluctantly agreed to a shave and a haircut. His old friends and neighbors, figuring the old hermit could use some company, made frequent visits to the cave, much to Albert's chagrin. As his celebrity spread throughout the countryside, even strangers began to journey to the cave in order to catch a glimpse of the celebrity recluse. Throngs of visitors showed up unannounced, inviting themselves inside and laying their hands all over the poor recluse's property. Some even demanded some sort of souvenir they could return home with, to show off to their friends. The poor old hermit could not stand this invasion of privacy, and he soon abandoned his beloved hideaway in search of a new cave. By this time, however, he had become such a local celebrity that newspapers began reporting his every move. As a result, everywhere the hermit went, crowds followed. Realizing that the life of hermitry occasionally required one to play the role of social butterfly and gracious host, Albert Large gave up his life of seclusion-- it was just too darn noisy.
One of the last newspaper articles about the hermit of Buckingham Mountain appeared in the April 29, 1858, edition of the Bucks County Intelligencer, which reported:
We are informed that Large, the hermit, has returned to this county and is now staying with some of his friends in Buckingham. He has again assumed the habits of the out door world, having cut off his long hair and shaved his face, and seems happy and contented among his fellow creatures.
Somehow, we get the impression that Mr. Large might disagree with that statement.
Author's Note: If you enjoyed this story, be sure to buy a copy of Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America's Most Colorful Hermits. The most comprehensive book on hermits ever written, it contains stories detailing the lives of 80 eccentric hermits from virtually every state in America.