A red-brick, three-story inn with a wrap-around porch in Cashtown, Pennsylvania is home to ghosts, according to widespread lore, but the mysterious historical tavern is also deeply embedded in my own family’s story. Cashtown Inn is located at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains, just nine miles west of Gettysburg, site of one of the bloodiest and most brutal battles in the American Civil War. The horrific number of Union and Confederate soldier deaths in the three-day battle (around 30,000) gives the Gettysburg area a sense of haunting suffering. Cashtown Inn, however, had real and unwelcome travelers that led to its specific ghostly notoriety.
In the summer of 1863, Confederate troops began to fill the streets of the small town (1.5 square miles) of Cashtown and surrounding farmlands. The innkeeper, Jacob Mickley, watched the military advancing and wrote, “The entire force under Lee passed within twenty feet of my barroom.” Northerner Mickley soon found his inn filled with Southern soldiers. Confederate General A.P. Hill suffered from a chronic disease and needed a clean and safe site like the inn in which to recuperate. Cashtown Inn had a reputation for clean facilities for daily bathing, good beds, and a peaceful community. The inn also had two large firebrick ovens in its cellar, which could handle baking bread and preparing other food for massive numbers of troops.
During the Confederate army’s stay at the inn, injuries and deaths grew to the thousands. The wounded required surgeries, including amputations, in the inn-turned-field hospital. The many amputations led to Cashtown Inn’s haunted reputation. Piles of severed limbs were said to be high enough to block basement windows, in fact, so high that sunlight could not enter.
The inn’s resulting stories of “nighttime footsteps, banging doors, flickering lights and self-locking doors” led to the inn being investigated in a modern day Ghost Hunters television episode, “The Fear Cage.” The inn also had a cameo role in the big screen film, Gettysburg. Current owners have a collection of photographs that appears to show unexplained light orbs and skeletal figures. Inn guests can stay in one of a number of rooms and suites named for Union and Confederate generals and can participate in popular “ghost hunts.” Afterwards, they can eat American fare and drink a favorite beverage in the heavily wood-apportioned bar while chatting about ghouls.
My grandfather and grandmother lived in Cashtown for their entire married lives and owned the Cashtown Inn from 1927 to 1946. Their home was several doors down from it, just past the small general store with creaking wood floors. My grandfather, also a Mickley like the Civil War owner, appreciated old houses and thought the inn should be restored. He owned one of the other few businesses in Cashtown (a gas station, as well as an expansive farm outside of town). Cashtown separated from neighboring McKnightstown in the 2010 census and currently has 456 residents, many of whom have close connections to the Mickley family. These family members, including an aunt in the area, are well-versed in the history of the town and are eager to tell their stories of Union soldier family members who fought and died in the epic battle just down the road. Some relatives remembered seeing President Lincoln give his famous address. We Mickleys like to share our connections to the tavern or to the legends of ghosts of suffering soldiers who haunt the Cashtown Inn. But many of us sadly believe even more in the real specters of hatred and dominance that spilled blood on shared American land and continue to haunt the country today.