The Ticking Tombstone of Landenberg


London Tract Meeting House, Landenberg, Chester County

If you look closely at a map of Pennsylvania, you'll see an anomalous semi-circular border at the extreme southeastern part of the state. This circle, known officially as the "Twelve Mile Circle", serves as the border between the Keystone State and Delaware. Much of the strange circle is surrounded by Chester County, one of the three original Pennsylvania counties created by William Penn in 1682. While there are many historical points of interest in Chester County, few are strange or as steeped in legend as the Ticking Tombstone.

Near the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg is an old graveyard which contains a tombstone which is said to make eerie ticking noises, much like the ticking of a pocketwatch. Landenberg locals claim that the ticking is the result of two very famous surveyors who arrived in town during the 1760s- Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.  A young child supposedly swallowed a valuable pocketwatch owned by Mason and later died, and the boy's headstone has been ticking ever since. Some claim that Mason was so angered by the loss of his pocketwatch that he tried to hire a surgeon who could reclaim the gold watch from the boy's belly. After every medical man in Chester County refused to cut open the young lad for the sake of a pocketwatch, Mason put a curse on the child.

This legend became so well-known that it attracted the attention of Edgar Allan Poe, who visited the Landenberg graveyard in the early 1840s. Poe was so intrigued by the Ticking Tombstone that he even lodged at the Deer Park Tavern in nearby Newark, Delaware- the same establishment where Mason and Dixon stayed while surveying Landenberg. It is said that the Ticking Tombstone was the inspiration behind Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". There is credible evidence which supports this part of the legend, such as the fact that the tombstone itself is heart-shaped.

This simple tombstone, inscribed simply with the initials "R.C.", has captured the imaginations of thousands; so-called ghost hunters and paranormal investigators claim that the ticking is otherworldly in nature, and the "haunted" Ticking Tombstone has been featured in quite a number of books. However, as it turns out, there may actually be a scientific explanation for the ticking phenomenon.

In the fall 1895 issue of Stone Magazine (a popular geological publication of the 19th century), an article explains that the ticking sound is the result of an underground stream trickling through the limestone formation which lies under Landenberg. The ticking seems to grow fainter each year, which suggests that the subterranean stream is slowly but surely creating a limestone cave deep beneath the surface of Chester County.

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