; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Phantom Ploughman of Lower Merion, Pa

I received the following information from Jon Wyatt, who is a blog contributor and reader from Melbourne, Australia. I don't believe I had been aware of this account previously:

Hi Lon,

I noticed this story in an 1889 Australian digitalised newspaper and thought you may be interested. It was reprinted from a contemporary American publication.

The report describes how several people saw a phantom plowman and two fiery horses in a field near Lower Merion, Pa, in March 1886. The apparition manifested for 2-3 nights and left behind a neatly plowed area.

Lower Merion is an old town first settled by Welsh immigrants in the 1690s, as the phantom was not recognised it possibly came from the 1700s.

The legend is mentioned in the book Unnatural Phenomena: A Guide to the Bizarre Wonders of North America by Jerome Clark and John Clark.

I wonder how many laws of physics were violated at Lower Merion. Are you aware of a haunting where so much supernatural evidence was left?


Jon Wyatt
Melbourne, Australia



In the north-western corner of Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pa., a great hubbub has been raised by a phantom farmer who is nightly seen ploughing in a field. The apparition was first discovered about the end of March [1886] by a farm hand who was returning from courting. Emerging from a wooded pathway that skirted an old forest for miles, this rustic was startled to hear a sepulchral voice commanding a team to halt. He looked in vain about the place for a moment or two, and was about moving on again when the same sound fell on his ear. A shiver crept over him as he heard the croaking of an unseen harness, and his terror was far from being allayed by the whinny of a horse almost directly before him. At that moment the new moon stole over the neighbouring tree tops, and in its misty light he plainly saw the phantom farmer. It was clearly outlined against the dark background, and its two hands held in a steady grasp the projecting handles of a plough. Before it marched a pair of spirited horses, dimly outlined in the misty light, their heads erect and their eyes flashing fire as they moved hastily along. The young man waited another moment to reassure himself, and was about to take to his heels when ploughman, horse, and plough suddenly vanished. Then he, too, fled in wild alarm.


At Silas Brown's corner grocery on the night succeeding this, the young man, Albert Cooper, by name, told this startling story. The crowd adjourned to the alleged scene of the ghost's operations to verify or disprove Cooper's tale. They had not long to wait. Without the noises that had warned Cooper the night before, the phantom farmer appeared before the eyes of the seven men who sat upon the fence, or, to be more accurate, who almost fell from it in terror. His long white hair and beard streamed in the passing wind. No hat was upon his head, nor could any portion of his face be soon except the glistening eyes. These shot out from a height of more than seven feet from the ground, indicating the spectral granger was taller than the average of human kind. About his body, which could not well be traced, there was a phosphorescent glow which dazzled the eyes of the terrified spectators and shone far ahead of the steadily moving hones. The plough he leaned on seemed of skeleton frame, but it tossed off the soft, moist earth as easily as a steamer turns the river waves. On he came, the horses seeming to exhale fire, their heads erect and arching, and footfall as firm and clear as any the watchers ever heard. At the corner of the field they turned obediently at a word from their spectral driver, and again passed before the affrighted spectators, who thereupon fled in haste.


On the following morning a crowd of rustics determined to go to the field and see whether any trace of the farmer could be found. As they came in sight of the enclosure one of the number exclaimed in astonishment : 'I'll be durned if the thing doesn't plough, sure enough.' He was right. One-half of the field had been gone over evidently by no novice. The furrows were not quite so broad as those made by an ordinary ploughman. but they were less ragged and more deep, and were as straight as the most experienced eye could make them. A day or two after the same group went out to view the fields again, and this time they found that the phantom had finished the work. The owner of the field was one of the number, and he took a solemn oath that he had not turned a sod in the enclosure.

Source: The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, NSW, Australia, August 17, 1889, p5

Ghosts and Haunted Places of Pennsylvania: Paranormal Case Files and Haunted Places Series

Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories, The (Big Book of Ghost Stories)

The Paranormal: Who Believes, Why They Believe, and Why It Matters

Ghost Hunting in Central Pennsylvania: True case studies from the founder of the Central Pennsylvania Paranormal Society

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