Why We Keep Returning to Happy Valley (Nittany Valley Press Excerpt)

The following abridged version of the legend of King Wi-Daagh’s spell, originally recounted by Henry W. Shoemaker, appears in full in “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” a collection of regional folklore published by The Nittany Valley Society. No matter how mystical or supernatural it seems, this legend offers a telling and satisfying explanation for one of the most striking and oft-remarked phenomena of the Nittany Valley. Almost everyone who lives here for any length of time seems to have an irresistible desire to return as often as possible. Is there something in the water, or in the breezes that come down from the surrounding mountains, that keeps us coming back — or at least longing to come back? There seems to be an attractive power in the mountains and valleys of this region that calls us.

The next time you, or anyone who has once been in the Nittany Valley, suddenly feels a strong urge to go back to Penn State or to any of the areas that were once part of Wi-Daagh’s kingdom, just smile and remember this legend, and you will immediately understand why the feeling seems so irresistible…

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King Wi-Daagh’s Spell

It was the unvarying custom, and perhaps the chief peculiarity of King Wi-daagh, the last ruler of the Susquehannah Indians, that any of his subjects who happened to lay eyes on him, must return and see him again one year from the date. This he imagined instilled a proper respect for his exalted station, especially when the person who had looked at him would have to travel two hundred miles through forests drifted with snow to repeat the performance. If he but knew it, his subjects came to hate the sight of him for this very reason. But he had other faults. As a financier he was a failure. His bargain with the Proprietary Government in September, 1700, when he deeded the fertile Otzinachson Valley to the Penn family for a few trinkets and a bale of English goods, will stand out as the most one-sided land deal in history.

King Wi-daagh was very susceptible to flattery, a few grandiose compliments delivered to him by persons of the proper rank and he would give away anything. These were probably used by Penn’s emissaries and if they had carried the farce much further he might have given them his birthright and handed back the trinkets and the bundle of goods. Though he ever regretted the sale, he kept it mostly to himself, which is to his credit. But to the day of his death he was pompous and overbearing to his kind, exaggerating trifles and glossing over the really important events in life. As long as his followers came back the following year after having seen him, he was satisfied. To put people to trouble seemed to be his chief delight. He was letting some splendid energy go to waste.

To each Indian who met him he handed a piece of shell, curiously carved, and when a year later the bearer returned, it was broken in half by the King’s chamberlain, as a sort of receipt to prove that the Indian had fulfilled his obligation.

As he grew older he was mortified by the knowledge that most of his subjects acknowledged the Penn family, and not himself as the real rulers of the realm. He protested that he merely thought he was selling the Englishmen right of way through the Susquehanna Valley, he did not expect them to attempt to be his overlords. That was his feeble defense to go down through the ages against the paltry sum given him for his property. He was humiliated when one year his chamberlain reported to him that four hundred Indians whom he had met on his walks had failed to return to pay their respects at the expiration of the year. Even before his death, his sons and sons-in-law were quarrelling over the remnants of his domain like buzzards struggling over a dying horse. Perhaps if he had not estranged his subjects by his silly idea of making those who saw him return in a year, he might have rallied them around him and forcibly broken his contract with the Penns. Only a handful of Indians, and mostly from his immediate household attended his funeral exercises. No doubt the bulk of his subjects feared they might be exacted to come back the next year and call on his corpse.

King Wi-daagh’s ghost was as unhappy as the living tenement had been. He had not been in his grave a week before he acquired the habit of taking midnight strolls through the Gap to the small spring at the foot of the upper mountain. Few Indians travelled at night, as lights were uncertain and expensive, so there was little to relieve his churlish loneliness. But he was occasionally seen from distant points by those who were unlucky enough to build their campfires along the path. When he loomed up before them, from back of the blaze, he would hold out his hand as if trying to give something to the campers. Obviously a spirit could not do this, unless it be the double of a living person, and he would sink back into the gloom and vanish. For some odd reason, those who saw him always found themselves back in Antes Gap a year later, no matter if they had left there after their first visit vowing never to return. They always met the regal ghost on their second visit, and he would flit about them like a hazy rainbow before he dwindled out of sight.

When the Indians were driven out of their beloved valleys of Central Pennsylvania, they took especial care not to warn their white supplanters of King Wi-daaghs ghost and his propensity to make those who saw him pay a return visit. They would have a laugh on their haughty conquerors if a ghost with far less substance than a jelly-fish compelled them to do homage in this manner. It would be the triumph of Indian spirit over Anglo-Saxon matter. Many a self-important Scotch-Irishman, through a chance meeting with the spook, was compelled to tramp back from the Chillasquaque, the Mahantango, the Codorus or the Swatara. Why they came, they could not understand. They always felt easier after their second meeting with the ghost, but the trips usually wound up by a long siege of insobriety, and plenty of curses heaped on the offending apparition.