WHO KILLED JOHN BROWN?

By Lou Bernard
Ross Library
ross13@rosslibrary.org

October 4th, 2012

John Everett Brown grew up in Butler County, and came to Lock Haven around 1916. He was a respected undertaker and a member of several community organizations. He lived at 220 West Main Street.

It was just after one in the morning on March 20, 1938 when Brown’s doorbell rang. Rushing to answer, he tripped and fell over the banister, fractured his skull, and died from his injuries. Brown is said to be haunting the house. Inside the building, residents report music from an unknown source, noises, and footsteps.

Nobody ever knew who rang the doorbell that night.

There are some possibilities. Brown was an undertaker. The obvious culprit for the mystery doorbell ringer would be someone who found a relative dead, and rushed to get help late at night. But a search of the obits, wills, and coroner inquests turns up nothing—nobody died at exactly the right time.

There is another possibility as to John Brown’s death, however: The Last Raft.

When lumbering was a big business in Clinton County, rafts could always be seen on the Susquehanna River. In March of 1938, one final raft was made from lumber. It launched from Clearfield on March 14th, and continued up the river, gathering crowds of admirers. In Muncy it crashed into a bridge abutment, killing all seven men on board.

It is possible that it had killed an extra one, previous to that.

People were talking about it in the community. I know you kids today are all used to texting, but back in 1938, sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to run news door to door. It is possible that the doorbell that killed John Brown was rung by someone bringing news of the Last Raft.

The obvious suspect would have been Ralph Hickoff, deputy sheriff. He was one of the men assigned to deliver news. In the bell tower of the courthouse, his name is carved in one wall: RALPH HICKOFF, MARCH 18, 1938, WATCHED LAST RAFT. Yes—I really did go up into the courthouse clock tower to find it. (It was one of those Nicholas Cage moments: “We’ve got to break into the courthouse clock tower.”)

Chances are, Hickoff knocked on the Brown door to deliver news. When John Brown came running down and was killed, he wouldn’t have known, and moved on to the next house.

And ever since, John Brown haunts the house, his ghost stranded there by the man who thought he was delivering good news.

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Posted in: A&E

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