Who's Buried Beneath Kettle Creek Reservoir?

Why Kettle Creek just may be the spookiest state park in Pennsylvania

Constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1961, the Kettle Creek Reservoir in Clinton County is a popular destination for fishermen, boaters and swimmers. Yet, beneath its peaceful waters rests the bones of long-forgotten early settlers of Leidy Township.

In the summer of 1960, fifteen workers were tasked with the challenge of relocating the graves from ten cemeteries that lined the banks of Kettle Creek to make way for the large 1,793 acre lake. These pioneer graveyards contained the remains of hundreds of early settlers, but by August it became clear that there was a problem-- nobody was quite sure just how many graves there really were.

Workers from Walter E. Steelman and John J. Cicero Associates, the contractor in charge of reinterring remains to the North Bend and Maple Grove cemeteries outside of the reservoir zone, were startled to discover that they had dug up 33 more graves than what was expected. As it turns out, numerous gravesites were either unmarked, or their markers had long since been lost or destroyed. Because of the careless and hurried nature of the project, nine of the 33 "mystery" graves were moved to North Bend, while 24 were moved to Maple Grove. To this day, the identities of these early settlers have never been discovered; these graves are now marked with simple metal plates bearing one single word: Unknown.

By the time the reservoir was created, 474 graves had been moved to North Bend and Maple Grove, although it is entirely possible (and quite probable) that dozens more had escaped detection. This was 1960, after all, and it would be decades before technologies such as ground penetrating radar (GPR) would aid in the detection of lost graves. But, even if GPR technology had been available to the contractors, it is doubtful that every single grave would have been discovered. This is because pioneers had lived in the valley long before the establishment of graveyards, burying family members on their own homesteads, in graves marked only with fieldstones or simple wooden slabs. Even with modern GPR technology, canvassing an area of 1,793 acres would be a monumental task, requiring several months and perhaps years. And yet this task was completed in scarcely more than two months, with equipment primitive by today's standards, and a labor force of only fifteen men.

The first grave transfer occurred one year earlier, in May of 1959, with the removal of graves from the Wertz-Pfoutz cemetery, but the bulk of the project took place between July 22 and August 30 of 1960, with the relocation of the Sullivan, Earl Summerson, Summerson, Proctor, Calhoun, Old Maple Grove, Campbell, Brooks, Botsford, and Stowe-Pfoutz cemeteries. 

Map of the relocated cemeteries from the Aug. 30, 1960 edition of the Lock Haven Express

But there may be more than centuries-old graves beneath the waters of Kettle Creek Reservoir. History records at least one unfortunate soul whose lifeless corpse never recieved a proper burial-- and his remains may still be at the bottom of the lake.

In June of 1912, an interesting find was made by a trout fisherman named Michael Lykens. While making his way from one branch of the creek to another through a marshy swale, Lykens stopped in a thicket to eat his lunch. While seated on a log, his eyes fell upon an unusual artifact-- an old-fashioned smooth-bore rifle leaning again the stump of a rotted tree. He picked up the rusty rifle and the remains of the wooden stock crumbled in his hands. When he stooped down to gather up the pieces, he discovered what remained of a human skull.

Lykens also found several other human bones, many of which disintegrated at his touch. It was apparent that these remains were very, very old. By the design of the rifle, Lykens estimated that the gun was from the late 1880s, and he theorized that the gun belonged to a hunter who had also rested at the very same spot. The unknown hunter must have gotten bogged down in the swampy ground, or perhaps died of natural causes. Lykens made no effort to move the bones.

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