Sunday, October 15, 2017

13 Days of Halloween: The Bleeding Tombstone

The tombstone of Daniel Musser
Union Cemetery, Millheim
I paused on the sidewalk that bordered Millheim’s Union Cemetery to take in my surroundings. The cemetery rests on the northern side of Route 45 at the western edge of town and by all appearances it is like any other of the small community cemeteries that dot the Pennsylvania landscape complete with an iron arch at the front of the cemetery displays its name for visitors. A handful of trees stand along the stones that appear to be “normal” tombstones.

To the average person, there is nothing that would cause them stop here as they pass through on Route 45. But for those who know the history of Union Cemetery, there is one large marker that stands at the front of the cemetery that draws people to the cemetery. There is nothing about its size or shape that attracts visitors to this cemetery, but its uniqueness has become a part of Penns Valley (and Pennsylvania) lore.

The stone that draws the curious to Union Cemetery is said to bleed. Yes, blood supposedly drips from the stone of Daniel Musser.

The tombstone that remembers Daniel Musser stand only a couple yards from Route 45, just to the right of the iron arch. Daniel was a local resident and businessman. From everything I’ve read, he lived a peaceful and uneventful life, but it would be the strange events that occurred after his death that would cause his name to be known throughout the region.

Soon after the stone was placed, residents noticed a reddish substance that had appeared on the face of his stone. The reddish substance, which many thought to be blood, was oozing from the letters of Daniels's name. The bizarre phenomena attracted local residents and soon strange tales were being told about the cause of this strangeness. Rumors whispered that while he was alive, Daniel must have done some evil deed and these stains proved his guilt. Others whispered that he must have killed somebody (or in some versions, he killed a number of people), and though he got away with it while he was alive, this was a sign of his guilt.

Another popular version of the legend about the bleeding tombstone adds that the image of a bloody dagger appeared above Daniel’s name. When I first heard about the legend of “The Bleeding Tombstone” it was from my grandfather. He recalled seeing a reddish substance on the front of the stone in the area of Daniel’s name, but never recalled seeing the image of a dagger on it.

Due to the unwanted attention the monument was causing, the Musser family had the stone replaced at least once. This second stone also suffered from the mysterious bleeding. Finally an iron plate was placed over the name and the bleeding stopped for the most part; stains of red can still be seen on the current stone. A note about the stone being replaced: I have not been able to determine if or when the stone was replaced. Word of mouth states it was replaced at least twice before the iron plate was put over his name. I have not been able to locate a specific source that definitely states if and when the stone was replaced.

The plaque on Daniel's tombstone
If Daniel was the innocent man that his family claims he was and history records him as being, then it has to be asked: “Why were these stories being whispered about him being a murderer?”

After doing a little bit of research, I believe I know how the story of a murder came to be connected to Daniel. While Daniel died in 1888, it was an event that happened in 1924, involving another man named Musser that makes me think the two stories have become intertwined over the years. See note of discovery below.

On July 20, 1924, Harry Musser shot and killed his uncle, William, in Little Sugar Valley. The area of the murder happened near Route 445 between Madisonburg and Nittany. William had been released July 12 from the Bellefonte jail after serving seven months of his two-year sentence for bootlegging. Before going to jail, he made the mistake of signing his property over to his nephew Harry. While visiting his nephew to get back his property, William discovered Harry had sold it.

On July 19, Harry and William, along with Herbert Heaton, got in Harry’s car and drove to Bellefonte. The trio spent the day roaming the town and drinking. Around one in the morning of the 20th they left town heading towards Lamar. When they arrived at the spot near Little Sugar Valley and Route 445, Harry killed his uncle with a shot to the head.

William’s body was discovered the next afternoon and Heaton was instantly apprehended. Harry managed to avoid capture for a while, but was soon caught. In September of that year, he went on trial and was found guilty of murdering his uncle.

I believe that the story of Harry murdering his uncle has accidentally become a part of the legend of “The Bleeding Tombstone,” making Daniel the murderer in the legend.

As I stood studying Daniel’s stone, I could make out red stains that seem to be coming from under the iron plate. Is it blood? Is it rust? Or is it something altogether different? As far as I’m aware there has never been any sort of analysis to determine what the substance actually is. Until the substance is identified, the mystery will remain a part of regional lore.

Union Cemetery sits on the north side of Route 45 on the western edge of Millheim. Daniel’s stone is right along the road, next to the iron arch. Records show that William is buried in Fairview Cemetery, across the road and slightly west. I have not been able to determine where Harry was buried. If you choose to visit any of these cemeteries, please do so with the respect that they deserve.

Daniel Musser's stone
The dark stain above the "MU" is said to be
Blood that has permanently stained the stone
Another bleeding tombstone?: I have come across a second tombstone that tells of a deadly deed. In Glimm’s Flatlanders and Ridgerunners he records a stone somewhere in Sullivan County that had a bloody dagger appear on it. According to his story, the bloody dagger confirmed that the person buried there was a murderer. However, the details about whose grave it is was not revealed. In all the searches I’ve done, I have not found the identity of the murder victim or the location of this second stone.

A note of discovery: In all the times I had read and heard the legend of the bleeding tombstone, I had always heard the story using the name William Musser. Not until I started rereading everything at hand did I realize that it was Daniel Musser’s stone that was “The Bleeding Tombstone.”

Sadly I, like many others, repeated the story using the name William Musser, something that a number of newspapers and websites still do. The earliest sources refer to the story using Daniel’s name. Over the years Daniel’s name had been replaced by William and exactly when this happened is something that I cannot determine. I am also curious to find out why William’s name replaced Daniel’s in these stories: Harry was the murderer and William was the victim. Again, I’m left wondering why this is, but I have not been able to uncover any clues.