The Susquehanna River begins in two separate branches in Central New York and Western Pennsylvania, winding its lazy zig-zag pattern nearly 450 miles through the rural heartland of Pennsylvania and Northeastern Maryland. As the largest river basin on the east coast, it fosters the growth of remarkably dense forests throughout over half of Pennsylvania’s landmass. A place that is no stranger to the bizarre and unexplained, Pennsylvania is home to an exceptional number of paranormal and cryptozoological phenomena, but one of the strangest stories ever told; one of the strangest creatures ever described is purported to reside in a densely forested area on the banks of the Susquehanna in the South-Central portion of the state.
The history of the Albatwitch.
Equidistant between the towns of Columbia and Marietta, Chickies Rock County Park is supposedly the home to a group of diminutive bipedal hominids with a taste for apples and mischief. The creatures are named for a nasty habit that they have developed over decades of learning the behavior of their human counterparts. Their bizarre common name is said to be short for “apple-snitch”, as legends speak of how the Albatwitches were frequently found to perch in trees until the opportunity for food presented itself. They would then leap down from the trees to steal apples from picnickers, occasionally even throwing them at the terrified people. Some say that the Albatwitches either became extinct or were driven nearly into extinction in the later years of the nineteenth century.
Some sources say that the Susquehannock, like many Native American tribes, had a belief in a small apelike creature, and sometimes depicted it on their war shields. It is generally agreed upon that their home was at the base of Chickies Rock where the ruin of a village and burial grounds were found in the early part of the 20th century. Could this figure that they used to adorn their elements of war be the Albatwitch? Others state that the legend of the Albatwitch is very similar to a legend from the Netherlands that describes a two-foot-tall harry humanoid that had a habit of stealing cooling pies from window sills as well as other general mischiefs. Could the Albatwitch be a transplanted mythology carried with the Pennsylvania Dutch from their homeland? This would not be the first example of a legendary creature making its way to the new world in the minds of an immigrating people.
Chickies Rock, where the creatures supposedly lived, does have a tradition of strange sights and sounds – in the 1950s and 1970s, a manlike figure was seen several times, and local legends also speak of sounds like the crack of a whip heard in the woods at night. One can only wonder if these could be connected with the Albatwitch. Whether these stories are connected or not, several sightings of Bigfoot-types have been recorded from this area. A vague report concerning the sighting of a hairy humanoid came from Lancaster in 1973. Lancaster is a scant 10 miles east of Columbia. Another came from the town of North Annville in the same year. In addition, several reports have surfaced from right across the river. Numerous citizens of neighboring York County claimed, in 1989, to see a group of small ape-like creatures scampering about in the leaf-barren autumn forests of Chickies Rock.
Alan Wilkerson’s encounter with the Albatwitch.
I recently caught up with Alan Wilkerson, a local paranormal investigator, and enthusiast of all things unexplained who claims to have had an encounter with the minor monster back in the early 2000s. He recounted the incredible experience in great detail.
“It was February 14th of 2002 about 6:00 AM. While driving west on Route 23 between Silver Spring and Marietta, Pennsylvania I noticed a figure that appeared to be walking on the road directly in front of me. On this stretch of road in the early morning hours, there is not much traffic. While slowing down so as not to hit what I thought to be a person on the road I approached and was starting to get a bit nervous. Even though it was still dark out, with my headlights shining I could see this figure walking on the road straight ahead of me.
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As I slowly approached, the figure appeared to be dressed in all black and continued to walk not aware of the automobile that was behind it. As my car was now just coasting slowly I could see this black figure and noticed short black hair covering its body from behind. This figure appeared to me to be about 5 and a half feet tall and really skinny. I am guessing about 80 lbs. It was like it wasn’t concerned about me being behind it or maybe it didn’t even notice.
I was a little shaken but curious as to what this was. All sorts of things were going through my mind. Was it a kid dressed up? What kind of sense would that make? Was I daydreaming? I can’t say how long this event lasted. It happened quickly. It seemed to be just a flash before it was over.
I got so close to this figure that I could almost touch it with the car but still, it kept walking. It wasn’t until I put on the high beams of the headlights that it finally took notice. At that moment I got scared as a chill ran up my spine. The figure turned around and looked me straight in the eyes.
I became more frightened now as two yellow-looking eyes were staring at me. It wasn’t an evil look. It didn’t appear malicious. It just felt like it recognized me, but still, I was frightened at what I was looking at. As it turned, I thought it might approach the car in earnest, then it simply vanished. I sat on the road for a moment looking to see where it could have gone but there was no explanation.
The aftermath of the Albatwitch.
I could see nothing on the left or right. Both sides of the road were open fields that time of year. Now I was scared but curious as to what I had seen, and I broke the speed limit to get to the nearest phone that day. I called my girlfriend to tell her what I had seen, and she knew something was wrong. She could tell in my voice. Returning home, I drove past the place where I had seen this person or creature or whatever it was, and even when driving past I got the chills.
When my girlfriend came home that night from work, she knew something was bothering me and that I wasn’t the same. I am not an easily frightened man, I have done over 600 investigations of haunted places and I can tell you that this was the first time that I can say I was a little scared.
I didn’t sleep for a couple of days after that because the visions of the yellow eyes were haunting me. I really can’t explain what happened that morning because that is the first time something like that has ever happened to me. It wasn’t until a few days later that I received a call from Eric Altman of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society of which I am a member. He told me of a reported sighting of some strange tracks that were found at a reservoir in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. I told him I would investigate it.
It didn’t dawn on me until a couple of weeks later that the day I had this encounter was also the day the tracks were found in Waynesboro. Was this a vision, dream, premonition of what was to come in the investigation requested by Eric in the days that followed? Did this really happen? I will never know but one thing is for sure even to this day when I go by this place, I still get the chills and a frightening feeling.
I thought about going back there to look for tracks the day after this happened but I dismissed this as daydreaming. I actually believed I didn’t see this happen. About two weeks later I was reading a Bigfoot book where one of the stories says that a woman shot at one of these creatures that came to her door, when she fired the shotgun blast at the creature it simply disappeared in front of her. No blood no tracks.
This had me thinking that maybe I did see something after all but by then the tracks or any sign of this creature would have been gone. Did I see something that morning? I don’t know, but it certainly did put a scare into me.”
At the end of the day, there are many theories as to what the Albatwitch truly is. Could this be a unique hominid native to south-central Pennsylvania that has been in the region since the time of the Susquehannock? Could it be sightings of adolescent sasquatch? Could this simply be imported Pennsylvania Dutch folklore? Regardless of the objective truth, the Albatwitch has become a vital part of Pennsylvania folklore. Since 2014, on October 8th, the Albatwitch Day Festival has been celebrated by the people of the tri-county area. Billed as “the largest little bigfoot festival in the world”, it includes guest speakers, vendors, food, and a ghost tour. Above all, it truly embraces the folklore of the region in a way that gets citizens interested and involved in their history, and at the end of the day, what more could we, the lovers of all things Fortean, hope for?