Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Monday, May 21, 2012



Any avid Judy Bolton fan would surely think that author Margaret Sutton had covered all the known mysteries in Potter County PA in her 38-volume Judy Bolton series. But the truth is, she only touched upon the voluminous mythology of what was once known as The Forbidden land, the Pennsylvania Black Forest region that includes Potter County and its bordering neighbor counties. Of the many legends and unsolved mysteries that Judy Bolton never met up with but surely would have, had she the time, one that stands out is the spooky legend of The Headless Frenchman of Twin Sisters Hollow.

Twin Sisters Hollow is located in the Susquehannock State Forest near Cross Forks on route 144, about 25 miles south of Coudersport. This location is only a few miles away from Ole Bull State Park, where a real-life Norwegian violinist built the castle that was Ms. Sutton's inspiration for the book The Clue in the Ruined Castle. In Twin Sisters Hollow on a small lake accessed by a trail that leads from the highway through the woods, stand the ruins of the Twin Sisters silver mine and smelter, built in the early 1600s by Frenchman Etienne Brule. This famed explorer is reputed to be the original coureur de bois, forest runner and fur trader/trapper, who first explored and helped to open up much of the Great Lakes regions of Canada and the USA.

Although Brule was friend and brother to almost all the Indians of the East and Midwest and had lived amongst them peacefully for many years, legend has it that he ran into some serious trouble in Twin Sisters Hollow. He and his band of men had struck silver and sunk a shaft into the hillside by the lonely little lake. They built a smelter and proceeded to mine the precious metal against the wishes of the local Susquehanna Indian tribe, who believed the hollow and its waters to be a sacred place. When the miners refused to stop their work, so goes the tale, the Indians attacked on the night of the October full moon in 1618, wounded and killed many of the men, and beheaded Brule. As a warning against further disturbances in the hollow, they placed his body with its head in its hands at the opening of the mine shaft.

Throughout the many years since then, scores of sightings have been reported of the ghost of Brule seen carrying his head and wandering aimlessly near the mine and along the Twin Sisters Trail leading to it, always and only on the night of the October full moon. Many of those who have seen The Headless Frenchman have sworn in their testimonies of some aspect of the apparition that is so horrible, so unthinkably macabre, so much so that none have ever been able to express this dreadful horror. So now, almost four hundred years later, it remains an unsolved mystery just what is the terrible secret of The Headless Frenchman.

So why didn't Margaret Sutton write a Judy Bolton mystery about this classic Potter County legend? Well, maybe she would have if the series had continued beyond book number 38. And Judy certainly would have solved the mystery, found out the secret of the headless ghost, something supposedly even more horrific than the fact that he carries his own head!

What could it be? Don't you kind of wonder? Darn, why wasn't that book ever written? Why didn't .... hey, why not try it out right here? Can't you just picture Judy and Peter and Honey and Horace when they were still teenagers in the 1930s stealing down the Twin Sisters Trail on the night of the October full moon in search of the ghost of the Headless Frenchman and its sinister secret? Can't you just hear Judy saying:

"  Ooh, this is so spooky! Will we or won't we see the ghost of the Headless Frenchman? I wonder!"

Peter Dobbs watched from behind as Judy led the way down the dark trail, her flashlight beam bobbing ahead. He grinned to himself in amusement. "There she goes again," he said in low tones to Horace and Honey behind him. "Judy, the 'I wonder' girl!" 

Honey sniffed loudly, showing apparent disdain. Her voice was shaky as she responded.  "You're telling me? And she just 'wondered' us into this terrifying place. Oh Horace, let's go back to the highway and sit in the car. I'm scared!"

Horace chuckled lightly. "Nonsense! No old headless ghost is going to scare me away. Don't worry, Peter and I are here to protect you. Besides, I want to get a picture of old Etienne Brule."

He pointed to his camera, slung around his neck with flashbulb in place and ready to pop. "If I get a picture of that old Frenchman, the paper will put it on the front page! Can't you see the headlines: THREE HUNDRED TWENTY YEAR OLD MYSTERY SOLVED? Finding out the Headless Frenchman's secret will be a big feather in my cap."

"If it doesn't scare us to death, you mean,"   Honey grumbled.

"Come on now, Honey," Judy sighed impatiently, playing around the light beam on the trunks of the towering trees. "What could possibly be so horrible? That's just part of the legend, the Secret. These tales get told over and over, generation after generation, and everybody adds their little dramatic touch. A ghost so scary no one can talk about it? If that's really true, wow, I want to see it!"

"Judy's right," Peter agreed. "It's scary enough just being in these woods looking for a ghost who's carrying his head. Surely somebody way-back-when made up the part about the Secret, and since then almost everybody else who claimed to see Brule just went along with it. That's called 'confabulation'."
"Humpphh!" snorted Horace. "I'd rather the Secret be real. I need a headline, a front-pager all over Pennsylvania. Maybe it'd even make the papers in Ohio and New York."

"You'll get a front-pager all right, Mr. Reporter,"   Honey shot back at him. "  But it'll be more like 'FARRINGDON TEENAGERS FOUND DEAD FROM FRIGHT IN STATE FOREST NEAR TWIN SISTERS HOLLOW'. That's what everybody will be reading!"

Judy smiled as she pulled her sweater closer around her neck. Good thing the night was pleasant, not cold and snowy like it could be in mid-October. It was a perfect night for ghost hunting! But she really didn't expect to see anything, not being a believer in ghosts. She'd already proved out a couple of them to be complete fakes. But this was one of the county's most famous legends and she had promised her friend Yaneeha to look into it. Yaneeha's ancestors were of the Susquehanna tribe and the girl did not believe the legend could be true.They had been peace-loving people and would not have attacked and killed the miners in such a manner, especially to behead a man. Judy had already solved several mysteries on her own, but never one that was three hundred and twenty years old. She was determined to get to the bottom of it!

"Oh lookit!" she suddenly blurted, her free hand clamping down on her chest in surprise as the flashlight beam snapped on to an object in the center of the trail ahead. "My goodness! It's a ... a ... a hand!"

"A man's hand!" Peter gasped, bumping into Judy as she stopped dead in her tracks. "Cut off at the wrist!"

Honey tried to stifle a scream, but it came out anyway sounding like the bleating of a goat.

"Shhhhh!" Horace soothed, placing his arm around her shoulders. "It can't be real. It's just some kind of prop or something."

"Sure looks real to me," Judy mused, training the light beam on the object. And it did indeed look like a real hand, one belonging to a large man.

Peter stooped down to see it better.

"Don't touch it!" Honey warned. "This is way too scary. Gosh, I've gotta ..."

Just then, at that very moment, from above and behind them came a great whooshing of air and a piercing cry that scared the bejabbers out of each one of them. They all gaped up in horror to see a great dark blur and the beating of wings as something, like some evil beast, swooped down to the trail, just missing Peter, and picked up the severed hand in a sharp beak illumined shakily by Judy's flashlight.

Then, with another screech and another swoosh, the dark creature was gone, up into the blackness of the trees.

"An owl!" Judy exclaimed.

"Or an eagle," rapped Horace.

"Right! A bird!" Honey cried. "And that was its food, I'll bet. It wasn't a man's hand, just a joint of some kind that the bird was eating earlier. He thought you were going to take it, Peter, when you stooped down to look."

"Must be," Peter agreed, now back up straight, having jumped up when the bird swooped down. "Maybe it was a coyote's paw. Those big birds can kill wolves and large dogs."

Horace's brows twisted in confusion. "It sure looked like a man's hand to me!"

Judy's heart was thumping from the fright. "I'll say it did!  Whew! That was scarier than seeing the Headless Frenchman himself."

"Oh ... oh ... oh I don't know about that!" Honey croaked out in a terrified voice, pointing ahead down the trail.  "Loooo ... oooo ... ooook!"

The others' eyes shot straight ahead. In the middle of the darkness beyond they could see a figure, like a man's, standing behind one of the trees along the trailside. He was peering at them, or at least it seemed he was trying to. He had no head on his shoulders, so he really couldn't have seen them no matter how hard he tried!

Judy shouted, "Hey you!" And she was off running, pinning the flashlight beam on the ghostly figure.

Horace was right behind her, readying his camera. But Honey was frozen to the spot, too frightened to move. Peter grabbed her by the arm and pulled her along as he rushed ahead.

Judy Bolton was sure the headless man was there. It couldn't be a trick or just her imagination. He was wearing buckskin clothes like Davy Crockett, like a frontiersman, and there definitely was no head on his shoulders. It made her skin prickle and she shivered. It had to be the ghost of the Frenchman Brule! And he was only twenty feet away!


Now only ten!

And then, suddenly, he was gone.

Just like that, poof, totally gone!

"Where'd he go?" Horace demanded as they arrived at the tree the ghostly figure had been standing by.

Judy frowned in puzzlement, snapping her head this way and that, searching the dark woods with the flashlight beam. She realized she was trembling. This was sure scaring her. But it was exciting, too, and she forced a chuckle.

"He was there, all right," she insisted. "But, poof, then he was gone. These woods sure are haunted. But there has to be a logical explanation!"

"Yeeesh!"   Horace suddenly groaned in an especially grave tone. "I don't know about that, Judy!"   He pointed on down to the base of the tree. "For cryin' out loud, look at that!"

Judy glanced down to where the trunk met the ground and she stepped back in astonishment as the flashlight beam hovered there. She bumped into Peter and Honey who had just appeared.

"Good heavens!" she cried.

"Eeee ... eeeew!" Honey screeched, her eyes popped wide.

"My gosh!" Peter stammered. "It's a ... a ..."

"A heart!" Judy broke in with a gasp. "It's a human heart ... and it's beating!"

"Somebody tell me this isn't happening!" Honey shrilled, burying her face on Peter's shoulder.

Horace's flashbulb popped, its brilliance exploding in the darkness. "We'll find out if it's for real when we develop this picture!"

Judy had seen the end of the trail in the bright flash. "Come on, the hollow is just down there a bit. The ghost must have gone back to the mine. Let's go! We have to find out what's going on here!"

She ran ahead leading the way, the flashlight beam showing the old tree trunks on either side of them. Moments later, huffing and puffing, they ran out into the clearing of the hollow. The brilliant light of the full moon flooded the little valley and glittered off the smooth surface of the lake. The crumbling beams of the old smelter ruins glinted back the light and nearby was the old mine entrance, oddly illuminated by a hazy greenish glow.

Judy stopped and the others huddled around her as they gaped in disbelief at the entrance to the old silver mine. There, a figure began to materialize before their very eyes in the strange greenish glow.

It was a man, the same man they had seen moments ago on the trail, the man wearing the buckskin clothes. The man who didn't have a head. But they could all see clearly now that he was holding it in his arms!

"It's Etienne Brule, the Frenchman!"   Peter cried. "Jeez, he really is holding his head!"

"And just like the legend says,"   Judy put in breathlessly, "the apparition is even more horrible than only that!"

His hands trembling, Horace popped in another flashbulb and raised his camera. "You bet it is! He's missing one of his hands and where his heart should be is a ... a ... oh cripes! ... a ...."

Well, Judy Bolton fans, we'll just have to stop right there. After all, we can't reveal The Secret of the Headless Frenchman if the book was never actually written and Judy never figured out what was really going on in Twin Sisters Hollow on the night of the October full moon.

But it sure couldn't really be a ghost! We all know that, don't we?

Don't we?