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Ghost of strangled boy once haunted historic cabin in Jumonville

Jumonville's famous cross overlooks the scene of an 18th century murder


Just east of Uniontown, in Fayette County, is Jumonville, famous for its 60-foot-tall cross which protrudes from the top of Dunbar's Knob. Built in 1950, the enormous cross is visible from a distance of fifty miles on a clear day, and can be seen from three states. Jumonville is also home to a Methodist retreat center, which sits on the site of an old orphan's school that was created by the state of Pennsylvania to care for the children of Civil War soldiers killed in battle.

In the late 19th century there was another point of interest that made Jumonville famous-- a  mountain shack haunted by the ghost of a boy who was strangled to death.

In early January of 1896 the surrounding towns and villages were buzzing with rumors of a peculiar haunted cabin in the woods near Jumonville, and a party of volunteers decided to pay a visit to the shack and see if the rumors and legends were true. Many volunteered, but as the appointed day of the investigation grew nearer, most of the folks had suddenly lost their bravery. Eventually a party of a dozen strong-willed men was organized and, armed with old muskets, they ventured to the site of the alleged haunting.

The January 18, 1896, edition of the Allentown Leader describes the event, which might very well be the first organized "paranormal investigation" in the history of Fayette County:

They had not waited long within the dingy old walls when strange and unearthly sounds were heard in the old kitchen in the rear of the building. The stoutest heart quailed, but they crowded closely together, each feeling secure in each other's company. Gradually the moanings came nearer and grew louder.

Things were about to get spookier. Much, much spookier. According to witness accounts, the sounds seemed to be that of a strangled child. The group then observed a phantom-like figure which appeared in the doorway, but instantly vanished. A few of the men in the party claimed that they saw what they believed to be two ghostly figures engaged in a life-or-death struggle:

One of the party said he could see armless hands clutching the throat of a child, and being unable to bear the sight any longer he rushed screamingly from the house.

The other members of the party followed in his footsteps, beating a hasty retreat through the rugged forest and eventually coming to a halt near a stand of trees at the edge of a clearing. They weighed their options and eventually arrived at the conclusion that it was not worth going back to the cabin for another look. They had seen more than enough.

As for the haunted cabin, historical records indicate that it was built by Robert Fulton, a soldier who served under General Edward Braddock during the ill-fated Braddock's Campaign in the summer of 1755. After the war had ended, the Fulton's stone cabin became a popular hangout spot for local youngsters, where they gathered and danced the night away.

It was during one of these dances that a gruesome murder took place. William Wise, a brutish woodsman, was presumably intoxicated during the dance. A young boy who lived down he mountain near the Wise homestead had been informed that William's wife had fallen gravely ill. The boy ran miles through the woods and up the mountain to relay the message to Wise, begging him to leave the party and return home. Wise didn't give much credence to the boy's plea; instead, he refilled his glass with cider. The boy refused to give up, however, and this apparently angered the backwoods brute. Wise grabbed the boy by the neck and slammed him to the floor. By the time he released his grip, all life had been extinguished from the innocent messenger.

William Wise, as it turns out, was never arrested for the crime, even though he had a reputation for being close friends with some of the most heartless thugs who ever called Fayette County home. One of Wise's closest companions was a man by the name of John McFall, and the two men spent countless hours in the mountains in pursuit of lost Indian treasure. Wise and McFall were often seen trudging through the wilderness armed with picks, shovels and a treasure map.

McFall later murdered a tavern owner named John Chadwick during a dance at Fulton's cabin on November 16, 1794 (some historical records, such as the memoirs of early settler Robert A. Sherrard, claim that McFall murdered Chadwick inside the latter's tavern) by bludgeoning him to death with a wooden club. After his arrest, McFall escaped from the jail by burning a hole through the wooden door of his cell while the guards were sleeping. According to legend, McFall used his own urine to extinguish the fire before fleeing into the mountains. He was captured a few months later, tried, convicted and hanged, thus earning the dubious distinction of being the first person executed in the county.

Not long after John McFall's execution, William Wise took his own life with his old, trusty musket. Perhaps he was filled with guilt and remorse for murdering the poor boy who had ran through the woods to relay the message of his wife's failing health. Or perhaps he believed that justice was about to catch up with him, just as it had caught up with his old treasure hunting buddy. At any rate, the lives and deaths of John McFall and William Wise have passed from local history to Fayette County legend.


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