Whether “adopted” or abducted (it is not known which for sure) by the Cherokees who reputedly lived then in the rocky gorge that is now named Rauch’s Gap, Zora Machamer influenced the course of history there, if one is to believe the story. Her frightening, bizarre experience makes Edgar Allen Poe’s famous, chilling poem, “The Raven,” seem rather tame in comparison.
The Cherokees apparently held superstitious beliefs that included the many ravens in the area at that time. With their rookeries high up on the Ravensburg (Nippenose or Kalbfleisch Mountain), these black birds — larger than crows and with a deep, groaning call instead of a simple “caw” — often would be seen performing their high dives and circus-like somersaults in the air above the Indians’ lodges.
Supposedly, the Cherokees interpreted the ravens’ acrobatic maneuvers in an evil light. The birds could actually be “raven-mockers,” who in the daytime appeared as ravens, but who at night became “vampires” who sucked the blood of their unsuspecting, sleeping victims!
And Zora Machamer apparently (to these Cherokees) was being targeted, as she was wasting away daily, with new holes and dried blood on her body each morning. So one night, they surreptitiously pulled out and went south, eventually to settle in the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, leaving Zora behind and alone at Ravensburg.
Discovered a few days after the Cherokees left by three young, early pioneers in Nippenose Valley — George Clark, Joe Green and Jess Rauch — Zora Machamer seemed to them “a living skeleton.” They carried her to the Metzger family home just south of where the Cherokee settlement had been, where Dr. Fullerton looked at her and concluded that “the girl’s peaked, bloodless face indicated there must be something to the ‘brukelak,’ or vampire theory, about the raven-mockers.” Well, Zora, fortunately, recovered under the doctor’s care, and eventually married George Clark, one of her rescuers.
The surprising conclusion to this tale came later, when word somehow eventually got back to the Rauchtown area that an old squaw, on her death bed down in North Carolina, admitted that she had, “to keep herself sound and supple, night after night put a goose quill into the girl’s (Zora’s) flesh and sucked her blood as she slept, until the tribal fears made the Cherokees move on.”
The “raven history” of Ravensburg State Park continued when, supposedly as a result of the establishment of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp S-127 and its building of the fire tower in 1933, and then the dam and park in 1935, most of the ravens departed the gorge, with its days of isolation now over.
Improvements to and paving of the gap’s road and its accompanying greater use, and the growth of the community of Rauchtown, also contributed to the birds’ greatly diminished presence. Still, however, yet today a few of these striking birds can occasionally be seen on the park grounds, perhaps to be heard emitting groans lamenting the passing of the days when large flocks of their ancestors soared from the rock ledges above, into the air of Ravensburg.
Now, in the early spring of 2008, Ravensburg State Park’s 78 acres “caw” to the area’s residents to come visit and enjoy what is offered. And that’s quite a lot — fishing for native brown and brook trout in Rauch Run, tenting at one of 21 camping sites (beginning the first Friday in May), picnicking under one of four pavilions or at one of the many other “out under the sky” tables, hiking the trails, playing at the ball field, enjoying the kids’ playground areas, or just sitting by the dam.
Native stone structures remain from when the CCC workers built them in 1935. These include the dam and its walls and channel, culverts along the Raven Trail, pavilion fireplace-stoves and fountains. Some stone ruins also exist (sections of old walls and bridges), gracing the grounds and reflecting nostalgically to the past.
The park’s main hiking path is the Raven Trail (which runs from the camping area at the north end to the dam near the south end). Marked by white circles of paint on the trees, this beautiful, well-maintained path follows Rauch Run, crossing it three times on picturesque wooden bridges.
Another trail, through the northern end of the park, is the Mid-State, which actually coincides with the Raven Trail for a couple hundred yards from the park office (the black-and-white log structure just off Route 880 south of the main park entrance) north toward the camping area. Marked by orange tree blazes, the Mid-State Trail enters the park at the office, having come from across 880 from the northwest (a sign by the road there reads, “Mid-State Trail Falling Spring Trail Shaw Mountain”). It exits the park at the edge of the camping area, ascending Nippenose Mountain to the south; a sign there informs, “Boundary Line Trail to Bear Mountain Loop and Mid-State Trail.”
Additionally, Castle Rock and Thousand Step Trails offer challenges to those who possess billy goat genes. The former is at the extreme southeast end of the park (just above Route 880 where it curves directly south) offering a scaling up to the erosional spires of sandstone that look like towers of old, medieval castles. The latter really refers to a climb up the talus (granite rock) covered slope of Nippenose Mountain, just south of the ball-playing field.
Ravensburg State Park truly is a beautiful, perhaps fairly unknown and under-appreciated, outdoor recreational area. Within a northern hardwood forest, along spring-fed Rauch Run, the park is especially beautiful when the mountain laurel blooms about late June. Early spring, however, is the time to visit to enjoy the full, rushing, bubbling and burbling waters of Rauch Run.
This past Easter weekend, four members of the Ryan family did so. Jack Ryan, with his two daughters (Kaitlyn, 6, and Leah, 3), from nearby Middle Road between Rauchtown and Oval, and father and grandfather Jack Ryan Sr., from the Jersey Shore area, enjoyed the play areas, dam and the Raven Trail.
“We come up here quite a bit. The kids love it. My wife, Terri, would be here too today, but she’s home expecting our third child, Luke, who’s two days past due. That’s why we’re just up here, staying close,” Jack Jr. said.
“This is a good family park. You don’t see any trouble here,” Jack Sr. added.
Sitting on the wall of the dam was a young married couple. Nathan and Tina Helminiak of Dover were enjoying a restful, contemplative moment, having stopped on their way to spend Easter with Nathan’s parents in Jersey Shore. He said that, while growing up, “This was a state park where I spent a lot of time.”
More information on Ravensburg State Park can be obtained by going on the Internet to www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/ravensburg.aspx, or by calling 570-966-1455. Park Manager is Robert Deffner.
The park can be reached by taking Exit 192 off Route 80, then driving north four miles on Route 880; or by taking Route 880 south from Route 44 between Jersey Shore and Oval (the park is about three miles south of this intersection).
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this article came from Wayne O. Welshans’ 1995 book, “A Nippenose Collection,” which contains Henry Shoemaker’s piece, and from DCNR’s Web site on Ravensburg State Park.)
Jack Ryan Jr., left; daughters Leah, second left, and Kaitlyn; and Jack Ryan Sr., right, at the Ravensburg State Park playground area.