The White Woman of Montgomery Bar
Montgomery's Bar is located just a few miles north of the junction of the north and west branches of the Susquehanna River. The area used to be known as "Shamokin" by the Iroquois Indians. "Shamokin" translates as "where the eels live." There used to be very good eel fishing in the river at this junction. A large dam that was put up by a power company diverted the eels' opportunity to return to their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea, however. So there are no more eels here. Oddly enough the town near the dam is now named Shamokin Dam or if translated back from Iroquois the "where the eels live" dam. But they don't live there anymore.
The town surrounding the junction of the two branches is known as Northumberland and at one time was slated to become the capital of Pennsylvania. It was thought that a town on two rivers would support good commerce. As it is, the Susquehanna River is temperamental - floods or droughts wreak havoc on the levels of the river. Susquehanna in Iroquois means, "muddy waters." High in the spring; low in the summer; frozen in the winter.
Back in the lumber era of Pennsylvania during the later part of the nineteenth century it was common practice to use the waters of the river to carry the logs from the northern reaches of the Commonwealth to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. It was the rafts men who performed this dangerous task. Balanced on the logs and flat boats they steered through strong currents of the spring flood season as a way of getting the logs to market.
For amusement and after a days work was done, they often stopped at one of the many taverns along the banks of the muddy Susquehanna for a good drink, some dancing, and some music and to meet a pretty girl. A fiddler most often carried the music to the taverns. As they say, at that time the woods were full of fiddlers.
It happens - and this is a true story - that one evening at Montgomery's Bar the local young people had got together for a night of fun and frolic at the tavern which is now long gone, barely a stone left to mark where it once stood. One of the rafts men, who remains nameless often played his fiddle at this stop and set the folks to dancing with his wildly provocative tunes. Ah! But one night while he stood fiddling away for the dancers he spied a fair young maiden, a waitress and a beauty, in the crowd that filled the tavern. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to meet her and perhaps win her heart, he handed his fiddle over to a fellow rafts man who also happened to play the fiddle (as I said - the woods were full of them!) and wove his way across the room to meet Susan Hilbish.
Picture the scene as if it were taking place today and the rock musician and the dance for the teens and the waitress and the flattery that begets one when the Star of the show wants to meet you! Well, there you have Susan. So they got it on, so to say. The fiddler and the waitress had a fine time dancing, and later on in conversation, and later on... Susan fell in love.
But the fiddler had to leave the next morning and finish guiding the logs to the headwaters of the Susquehanna. He said he would be back - when the river ran right again for floating logs downstream. It took a year but Susan waited.
He did indeed come back to the tavern at Montgomery's Bar. The young people once again danced to his wild fiddle music and Susan once again brought them their drinks and food, all the time sneaking a glance at the fiddler with whom she had fallen in love. But he did not see her in the crowd this time! No! As fickle as the river down which he had come, so was his heart! The year before he had been full of passion for Susan and now his passion for her was but a puddle on some muddy rocks. He saw yet another fair young maiden in the crowded tavern and handing his fiddle over once again to a river mate, took off after a new girl! Susan was crushed. Brokenhearted. Dispirited. She slowly crept up the stairs of the tavern and found her way into a closet to cry her tears for the fiddler in private. She scratched a poem about love lost on the wall of the closet.
Oh Faithless one, how little can you know
Of heartaches and pains that I endure
I loved you, trusted and in vain did wait
For the day when our love would be secure
But another heart now wins over mine,
My dreams of hope and love and life are gone
Be true to her, I pray, my dying wish
I end it all...
Then she took a bottle of poison and drank it. The words remained there for as long as the tavern stood.
Although the walls of the tavern no longer stand, the young people say that there is still a weeping that can be heard if one frequents the grounds of Montgomery's Bar. Every now and then one will claim to have seen a white mist in the shape of a woman hovering around tables that are now longer there. The fiddler - who had promised Susan he would return to love her, again has disappeared for good.
Copyright Beverley Conrad 2000
All Rights Reserved
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