Back in 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Shank served as the caretakers for Rock Ford Plantation.
The house was not open to the public back then. In fact, it was pretty rundown and considered by some to be spooky, haunted place. But the Shanks occasionally gave tours of the home, once owned by Revolutionary War General Edward Hand and filled with history.
George Washington was said to have had tea there.
Sam Slaymaker, the director of Rock Ford, discovered the caretaker couple in an old newspaper article and it gave him an idea.
He would bring that couple back to life for this year's "Haunted History" Halloween event at Rock Ford, which opens Thursday and runs through Oct. 18, with an additional family-friendly performance Oct. 20.
"The tours they gave tended to focus on some of the more creepy, macabre aspects of the house," Slaymaker says. "Probably what people wanted to hear about."
Indeed, death haunted Rock Ford in many ways, with tragedies, illnesses and a suicide.
And since it was uninhabited for so long, those stories just grew more macabre.
"The article was interesting," Slaymaker says. "The caretakers seemed to take an almost curatorial interest in the house. The wife seemed particularly interested."
The couple took good care of the house, according to the article, and they didn't change anything.
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to have two actors as the caretakers?'" Slaymaker says.
He wrote a script and then called Gary and Mary Adams Smith, of Theater of the Seventh Sister.
The theater company had worked with Rock Ford to produce several Halloween events and had performed "Twelfth Night" there a few years ago.
Slaymaker had to give the wife a name because, back when this newspaper article was written, women were only known by their husband's name. He chose the name Clara.
"Charlie and Clara are both a little creepy and a little weird," Slaymaker says. "But I thought it would be interesting to have them contrast with each other, have a juxtaposition of views."
Clara is interested in the history of the house and wants to show it as a museum.
Charlie is a lot less sophisticated,
"He wants to talk about killings and blood stains," Slaymaker says. "He will start and she will shut him down. She thinks it is not appropriate and she has great loyalty to the Hand family, she is being respectful of them."
In 1790, at the heyday of the house, 10 family members — Edward and Katharine Hand and their eight children — lived there. By 1807, only five were still alive.
Edward's son Jasper was so devastated he fled the house, which remained closed up for about 20 years.
"Weeds and vines grew up, it got to be known as a haunted house," Slaymaker says. "Nobody wanted to live there."
The tour that visitors will take is based in the past, before Rock Ford was renovated and open to the public. But Slaymaker has kept dates a little nebulous.
Of course, when the Shanks actually lived there, the house was not furnished the way it is today.
But Slaymaker came up with an intriguing idea.
Clara will tell visitors that they are simply keeping furniture for the Lancaster County Historical Society.
But she will go a little further, explaining that she's set the table for them.
While Charlie reveals more and more about the darker side of the house, Clara is making strange, rather subtle suggestions about the family and who exactly it is they are working for.
To add even more tension, volunteers will be dressed in 18th century period clothes, wandering slowly through the rooms, The idea, Slaymaker explains, is to suggest that something is going on, something from another realm of time.
"You've got a great atmosphere here to begin with," he says. "Ramp it up and manipulate it a bit and slowly turn up the tension."
The Haunted History of Rock Ford
Opens Thurs. Cont. through Oct. 18
Thurs. 7 p.m.; Fri. 7 and 9 p.m. $15
Rock Ford Plantation
881 Rockford Road, 392-7223