A centuries-old secret lurked beneath the Salem Lutheran Church in the Franklin County village of Pleasant Hall until it was discovered by workmen reconstructing the church in the spring of 1929. Even today, very few people are aware of the secret Indian grave located in the bowels of the church building.
The humble brick church that is visible today, a well-known landmark of Letterkenny Township, was built on the site of the original house of worship, which is believed to have been built in or around 1740. Although historians still debate the date of the original church's construction, it is evident that the church could not have been built prior to 1736, when the title to that particular section of land was still held by Indians.
Several decades later a new church was erected on the same spot, and continued to serve the Lutheran worshipers of the Letterkenny valley without interruption until major renovations took place in 1929, at the direction of Rev. W.J. Schultz. Among the scheduled improvements was the installation of a furnace, which required an excavation beneath the building.
It was during this excavation that the mystery tomb was discovered-- the final resting place of, in all likelihood, a powerful Indian chieftain.
Unlike other burials of the region's indigenous peoples, the unknown chieftain was laid to rest in a tomb hewn to a depth of four feet in solid white stone. According to the workmen who unearthed the forgotten grave, only a few inches of the perpendicular end of the tomb were disturbed during the excavation. The construction workers worked around the tomb, taking great pains not to cause any further disturbance to the sacred site. After they were done installing the new heating system, the workmen sealed the tomb behind a wall.
The identity of the once-powerful Indian chief remains unknown. He might have been a Lenape or a Shawnee warrior. Perhaps he did battle with the famed Indian fighter Major James McCalmont, the Upper Strasburg native who served during the Revolutionary War. According to legend, McCalmont was so skilled that, while running on foot, he could reload and fire his musket without breaking a stride.
Years later, when McCalmont became a judge, he became extremely modest about his exploits as a frontier scout and Indian fighter, which, perhaps, only caused his legend to grow. He never admitted to killing an Indian, although he never denied shooting at them, either. However, it was understood throughout Franklin County that whenever Major McCalmont shot at a target, he seldom missed his mark.
Could the unknown chieftain buried in a stone crypt, hidden behind a wall beneath the Salem Lutheran Church, be one of Major McCalmont's victims?
Until the answer is discovered, this question will remain one of Franklin County's most remarkable unsolved mysteries.