Scary Mary… “The old innkeeper that just stayed forever.” ~ Executive Chef Fred Duerr
Echoes of the past are everywhere in southeastern Pennsylvania. You can hear them resound from the facade of a farmhouse painted white and green or in the full-bodied acoustics of a covered bridge.
This layered history is a blend of the Native American tribes whose existing society helped shape the foundations of our towns and of the founding fathers who realized the dream of our nation in Philadelphia. It always astounds me how I can be in the bustle of the city, then, in just a little under an hour’s time, find myself in the stillness of the country. I love being in Philly – there is a fabulous and diverse art culture, the historic beauty of Old City and the Liberty Bell, not to mention the cheesesteaks (no one does it like Philly). But my heart can’t help but gravitate towards the adventure that follows in those winding farm roads which have remained unpaved since their conception. I let the history of these unchanged paths guide me to the next spot where a traveler can refuel, re-center, and be regaled with some fireside ghost stories.
It was actually my Mom who brought my attention to The Rising Sun Inn (RSI) Telford, PA. She recently had dinner at RSI and (when she was done raving about the food and making me hungry) gave me the full report of its ghost stories. I did some internet sleuthing and the website did, indeed, boast a mouth-watering menu created by co-owner and award-winning Executive Chef Fred Duerr. My interest was piqued further when I read that The Rising Sun Inn was converted from an 18th century stop for weary travelers. I knew I needed to meet with Chef Fred to chat more about his menu, the ghosts, and the rich history of his restaurant.
Nestled in the rolling hills of upper Bucks County, about an hour North of Philadelphia, lies our destination. Dating back to 1739 this building certainly had its share of owners and uses. Opening its doors to the public in 1752 as an inn, Peter Gerhart and his wife, Elizabeth, rented it from George Esterly and ran it as Gerhart’s Tavern.
The tavern was an overnight stop for travelers on the stage coach route from Philadelphia to Allentown. In 1777, the Liberty Bell was famously housed here overnight on its journey to Allentown to evade capture by the British. The property stayed in the Gerhart family for 150 years, finally closing in 1912. From there on the building switched owners every 10-15 years before Chef Fred purchased it in 2006. 13 years later, RSI is a favorite among the local community.
Our accomplished host started his culinary journey at age 13 when he worked as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. A few years later, one of the cooks called out sick and Fred was asked to step in. The next day the official cook was fired and Chef Fred was offered a job on the line. Studying under Horst Herold at Century House and celebrity Chef Tell Erhardt, Chef Fred uses his twenty plus years of skills and passion to create a revolving menu which highlights local grass-fed North American bison sourced locally from Hillside Farms (Telford, PA). Lower in cholesterol than chicken and the leanest or red meats, it’s become one of RSI’s most sought after menu items.
Now, as amazing as the history is and as tantalizing as the menu is, you know this gal came for the ghosts! Before my arrival I was able to dig through stories from employees, ghost hunters, and even from Chef Fred himself during an appearance on My Ghost Story (A&E). Objects moving, people being gently pushed and sightings of apparitions littered my search into the unknown. The most prevalent being a female apparition affectionately called “Scary Mary”. Poor girl, that’s a pretty harsh nickname, even for a ghost. Multiple ghost hunters claim they’ve had an intelligent conversation with a female spirit through electronic voice phenomena (EVP) sessions and using flashlight communication.
Upon my arrival I was introduced to RSI employee Hayley Doyle and a patron, who happens to be Hayley’s best friend, Haley Perkins. Both young women were incredibly enthusiastic about RSI and the delicious meals Chef Fred whips up. Like children collecting Halloween candy, their eyes widen with glee when they describe the chocolate crème brulee (their favorite) or anything Chef Fred makes with bison, particularly the meatballs. Doyle and Perkins are never looking for ghosts; both would much rather enjoy the atmosphere of the bar and indulge in the food, but neither can deny they’ve had strange experiences, especially Doyle, since she’s spent several hours in the building bussing tables. While Doyle and her fellow employees have experienced dizzy spells in the storage room (located in the building’s basement), witnessed doors flinging open by themselves, and experienced occasions when sugar containers suddenly tipped over with no explanation, it was an old crank telephone located near the bar that really got her attention.
Chef Fred is known to have a humorous side and loves to take “volunteers” for one of his favorite pranks. Behind the bar sits an old crank telephone. Since it’s a vintage machine the wiring isn’t exactly up to code. If you place your finger on the wire while someone cranks the handle you’ll end up with a pretty nasty shock (I later learned this first-hand! Thanks Fred!). Doyle and Perkins had seen this trick played on unsuspecting patrons numerous times.
They were the last two patrons on a rather normal night at RSI. During a random conversation about ghosts, they heard the old telephone ring. Both women immediately knew what it was and were dumbfounded. “It’s unnatural”, Perkins would later tell me. The phone was only a few feet away and the chilling sound of that old telephone ring was undeniable. Since no one else was in the building except for Chef Fred, who was cleaning up in the kitchen, Doyle and Perkins have no explanation for the unknown caller.
Both women were quick to tell me that their experience wasn’t threatening and they saw it as an acknowledgment of their supernatural conversation. The timing just seemed all too perfect.
Perkins has also heard footsteps on the second floor while sitting at the bar. Knowing no one else was in the building, she chooses to explain the phantom noises on the acoustics that an old building makes.
Doyle is a little more open to the possibility that it’s not just antique wood and nails. She, along with several employees, often get strange feelings while setting up for the day or cleaning up after all the patrons have gone home. The basement and the Liberty Bell dining room, also the original location of at least 9 boarding rooms, seem to be the most common offenders.
Chef Fred emerges from the kitchen where he’s been hard at work, prepping our meal of bison and other treats. Let me tell you about this food! Melt in your mouth broiled scallops with lemon herb butter, chocolate crème brulee, and a signature dish of bison tenderloin topped with crab. Of course, there’s no shortage of drinks to satisfy your thirst. From beer on tap to signature cocktails like the RSI Signature House Drink, a refreshing concoction of pomegranate liqueur, orange vodka and juice, and champagne. RSI offers a perfect combination of homemade country comfort food with fun and tasty twists on upscale tavern classics at every turn- like their baked buffaloaf and crab stuffed French chicken breast! In addition to their regular menus they also offer banquet and catering menus, custom event dining options, as well as custom triple layered cakes (Peanut Butter Tandy Cake is calling my name… loudly!) that will fit any special occasion.
As Chef Fred joins us it’s clear this is a man who feels at home and it’s no wonder.
“I actually worked here back in the early 90s. For a few months in ‘91, then from ’93 to ’96,” he tells me. As an investigator and researcher, I pay extra close attention to this revelation. Could the long-standing history Chef Fred has had with the building, and the Caspers that dwell within, have anything to do with the present-day activity? Many of the owners that I’ve met in my 13 plus years of research have described feeling drawn to a building or compelled to buy it for reasons they can’t fully explain. I’m beginning to wonder if Chef Fred had similar feelings which caused him to purchase RSI over ten years ago.
Almost as if he was reading my mind, he continues, “it just felt like home.” Confirming my hunch that he felt an unexplainable pull to the location. It’s easy to see why too. Warm colors grace the walls, shiny original hardwood floors comfort your feet, and large windows give you a perfect glimpse into the countryside.
Chef Fred keeps friendly relationships with his patrons, which is evident by the laughter and comradery between him, Doyle, and Perkins. This same energy flows through the walls in other ways too. RSI offers a number of events throughout the year. Margarita nights, live music events, Oktoberfest, and even a 20% off coupon if you see a show at the Montgomery Theatre located just a few miles away. Multiple opportunities for happy get togethers and people to enjoy the historical ambience and daily specials of bison.
Could it be this friendly energy that is allowing activity to occur? It’s rare that I have a current owner who also has a long courtship with the resident ghosts. Chef Fred’s past is valuable to helping us understand who or what is haunting RSI. My mind continues to stir as Chef Fred takes me further into the paranormal history surrounding us.
“All our ghosts are intelligent…there’s no demonic ghosts here,” Chef Fred begins. He makes it clear that he doesn’t agree with a previous ghost hunting group who marked RSI with the dreaded “D” word.
“When I worked here in the ‘90s, there was a pot rack in the back and the pots would start rattling, but no one would be back there. This happened all the time (it still happens to this day). The ceiling over the bar rattles on a regular basis, too. The guy who cleans the beer taps ran out of here one morning when it happened. It was like someone was upstairs and dust was falling from the ceiling. Patti who worked here in the ‘80s- her husband Wayne owned the place- she would vacuum and pull the chairs out, then leave the room. When she came back the chairs would all be back under the tables. They would also set the tables, then come back and find they would all be unset. And I once saw someone walking up the stairs when there was no one else here- a lady in a white, Victorian age dress.”
Surprised that he actually saw an apparition, I asked if the apparition seemed solid or see-through and he 100% verified that she was transparent. After investigating the stairs and realizing no one was there he was left asking himself the same question over and over again, “what the hell was that?”
Being somewhat of a skeptic, this was a defining moment for him. When I ask what his impressions were of that experience he bashfully elaborates, “You think you see something and you (ask yourself), did I really just see that? I didn’t tell anyone for a while.” He decided to keep quiet worrying how others would view him, “they’ll think I’m crazy.”
It wasn’t until his co-workers had mentioned they too had seen the mysterious mistress of the stairs that Chef Fred felt he could finally share his experience.
We start our tour in the basement where many employees have reported feeling sick or uncomfortable. He shows me “the new basement” which is a smaller section that was hidden until the early 2000s when tragically, an attempted suicide with a car revealed the basement’s secret room. Chef Fred confirms that the room has been documented as having been used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Runaway slaves making their way north would either come here or to a house up the road.There have been rumors of a tunnel system, but no evidence of this has ever been discovered. The doorway leading into the room is shallow and you have to duck as you walk inside. Recently a team of ghost hunters exploring this part of the basement recorded an EVP of a male voice saying, “Watch your head” as they were entering the tiny room.
Also in the basement is the beer cooler where Chef Fred explained lights would often flicker on and off as if unseen hands were playing with the light switch. As soon as you’d reach for the light, it’d come back on again. The liquor room housed several old cabinets which he tore down, and in doing so discovered an old Civil War-era rifle which was hidden behind them. It had 3 initials carved into the handle and is now displayed in the bar as part of the period décor.
As for the paranormal activity, it mainly seems to revolve around lights turning on an off and odd feelings, but other than that the basement is relatively quiet. Leaving the basement we head to the dining areas. RSI is comprised of three main areas, the bar, a cozy laid-back local tavern, the main dining room suited for intimate meals, and the Liberty Bell room- a banquet style layout located on the second floor. There’s also the barn suitable for large events and a lovely outdoor seating area for the warmer months.
The most active area on the property is the second floor where the resident ghost “Scary Mary” has been spotted by numerous people dating back to the 1980s. “This is Mary’s area,” Fred would say. When the cleaning staff is here in the morning vacuuming in front of the fireplace, they’d feel as if they were being pushed from behind. She seems to do this more with the male staff rather than the females for some reason.
Scary Mary. No one seems to know where or when the nickname originated. There used to be an old photograph on the wall which a previous owner took with him when he left- he would tell Chef Fred the woman in the photo was Scary Mary. One story says she was murdered, another that she murdered her husband’s mistress, but these are just stories with no evidence to back it up. The rumor is that she’s one of the former innkeepers, but no one for sure knows her identity. “I think Mary is here,” Chef Fred says, “the old innkeeper that just stayed forever.”
“We once had an article in the local paper about the inn being haunted and a lady who said she lived here from 1928 to 1936 called me to tell me why the place wasn’t haunted,” Chef Fred laughs as he recalls the memory. “She wouldn’t give me her name, just that her father was a ‘bad man’, then proceeded to tell me these stories. She said that people would come here during Prohibition and they had a still on the third floor (the attic). Her dad went to jail twice for distilling liquor.” She told Fred a horrible story of how the father shot her puppy after it destroyed his felt hat and how the family would hold séances upstairs after her baby brother died in an attempt to “breathe life back into him”- I’ll take clues your building might be haunted for $100, Alex.
Although, not an uncommon occurrence given the period of time, the mention of this practice gives me pause. I’ve come across many properties that share a similar past regarding multiple séances. Since Chef has had a relationship with the past owners, he knows this story is new information so it wouldn’t have influenced anyone’s present day experience as they didn’t have prior knowledge. How interesting that the part of the building that seems to see the highest amount of unexplainable activity is also the area that held séances for a week.
Chef also mentioned a rather odd story he came across. Apparently, a previous owner found out his wife was cheating on him and he cut off his own penis to spite her. I hate to break it to this guy, but if your wife is cheating, I really doubt this will spite her. I have so many questions, but let’s just hope this story is hearsay.
Next we head up to the third floor. Back in the ‘50s the third floor housed the bedroom of a tenant named Ray Cuppy. He used to have to climb into the window to get into his room, but nowadays, it’s in disuse- dark, full of cobwebs and graffiti painted by someone with a deep love of cars, especially Chevys and Stingrays. This is also where one of Chef Fred’s friends saw a woman in the window. “This happened about five years ago. A friend of mine used to wait in the parking lot for his ride home from work and he swears there was always a lady on the third floor window looking out at him.”
Our final stop is the red barn which is now used for events- concerts, weddings, birthday parties, musical acts, etc. Chef Fred tells me that while no ghosts seem to haunt the barn, about fifty years of junk did, or what I would call treasure! He found some of the artifacts now hanging in the bar out here, an old wagon he refurbished, and an antique Rising Sun Inn sign.
Chef mentions that the reason so many of these old taverns were named after images (rising sun for example) is so the signage was a symbol, rather than words, and an illiterate traveler could recognize it was a place for sustenance and rest. The old sign is now proudly displayed in the tavern paying homage to the restaurant’s past.
Concluding our tour, we look out from the second story barn window onto the sprawling property to speculate on all the people and events that must have taken place over the years. Chef Fred reflects on the history he’s learned, the soldiers who once walked his property, and the stories that are most likely lost to time, “You don’t even know half the brutal stuff that happened back in the day.”
Taking a long look over the lush green grass he further tells me, “We had a Revolutionary War reenactment here. We called it The Guarding of the Liberty Bell. We had uniformed soldiers come and camp out here over the weekend- we closed down the street and they marched down it.” I asked him if he thought the paranormal activity increased after this event. He thought for a moment and said, “Well, after that the ghost hunters started coming.”
Now it’s your turn to take a piece of RSI home with you! Chef Fred shares his Bison Tenderloin and Crab recipe! It is so good!
Bison Tenderloin and Crab
16 ounces bison tenderloin cut into 4 (4 ounces each) steaks
1 lb. jumbo lump crab
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon shallots
½ cup butter
1 cup brown gravy
Juice of 1 lemon
1) Flour steaks and season with salt and pepper
2) On a stovetop cook the steaks until desired temperature; two to three minutes each side over medium to hot heat.
3) Remove steaks and let rest. Using the same pan add mushrooms, crab, shallots, lemon juice, and butter, stirring often, cook until crab is heated through.
4) Top steaks with crab mixture and drizzle with brown gravy.
Special thank you to Rising Sun Inn and Chef Fred, Hayley Doyle, and Haley Perkins. A very special thank you to Jeanne Linden-Fox!
Photography by Rachel Smith
Exciting news! Now YOU can be featured on Haunted Kitchens! Currently, we’re accepting submissions for guest writers. If you live in a haunted house and have a love of cooking we want to hear from you! Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org telling us about your haunting and the recipe you’d like to share. If selected, we will contact you directly.