My last post related the tale of Spoonie Gohn’s encounters with Slaymaker’s ghost at Margaretta Furnace. It was one of the two “Weird York County” stories I shared at the York Daily Record’s recent Unraveling York County History event.
My second account that night was “The Headless Horseman of the Codorus Valley.” The story was first told by historian Armand Gladfelter in one of his several books on the Seven Valleys area.
James Ruby was from eastern York County, but after their marriage, he and wife Mary moved first to Carroll County, Maryland and then back again to York County, this time in the south central area. They raised their eight children near Zeigler’s Church in North Codorus Township.
Besides being a successful farmer, James Ruby had the power to stop the flow of blood by laying his hands on the afflicted person and repeating a specific passage from the Book of Ezekiel. I guess you could call him a pow-wow specialists. He was often summoned to neighboring farms when an accident had occurred, arriving on his old white mare.
James Ruby and his old white mare passed away on the same day in 1859. He was buried in nearby Zeigler’s churchyard, but he didn’t exactly rest in peace. For nearly 100 years he was often seen riding his old white mare up and down the road that passes the church.
Neighbor Mrs. Depfer, who lived by that road, was ill, and a young woman names Katie Behler was hired as her nurse. Not being from that area, Katie was startled to look out the window and see what appeared to be a headless horseman riding a white horse down the road. Mrs. Behler said, “Oh, that’s old man Ruby, he rides there every evening.” (Even in life, Ruby slouched forward in the saddle, making it appear as though his hat sat on his shoulders, but he wasn’t really headless.)
Another time young Susan Hoff was out around dusk picking berries near Zeigler’s church. She suddenly ran down to her house shouting “Mam, ich hab de ald man Ruby gesehne.” (“Mom, I just saw old man Ruby.) Susan lived well into her nineties, never wavering that she had indeed seen Old Man Ruby riding his old white mare by the churchyard.
It has been 70 years now since anyone reported seeing Old Man Ruby, but if you happen to be over around Zeigler’s church just about twilight, keep your eyes open for a slouched over figure on a white horse.