Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Darkness Transformed to Light

חדשות חב"ד

Darkness Transformed to Light

(Associated Press) "Haunted" Inn to Become Chabad House

MERION, Pa. -- Rabbi Shraga Sherman knows about the murder and he's heard about the ghosts. But it's going to take a lot more than that to scare him away from the Colonial-era General Wayne Inn, a supposedly haunted building that he's transforming into a synagogue, Jewish community center and upscale kosher restaurant.
Continued in full article

Sherman, director of Chabad Lubavitch of the Main Line, is spearheading a $1.5 million renovation to give his growing Orthodox congregation a new home in the Philadelphia suburbs.

The plan is welcomed by the Lower Merion Historical Society, which has seen a parade of restaurant owners pull out of the National Historic Site, where guests have included George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette and the inn's namesake, Revolutionary War Maj. Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne. The building has been vacant since 2002.

"To save historic structures they have to be repurposed," said society president Jerry Francis. "We're looking for the renewal of the General Wayne Inn."

Whether the new tenants will be welcomed by Wilhelm, the Hessian soldier who is one of several reported apparitions at the inn, remains to be seen.

Sherman is unfazed. He said community support, plus the inn's "phenomenal location (and) functional space," make it the perfect site for the new Chabad Center for Jewish Life.
The synagogue space alone _ which he said might hold up to 200 people _ would quadruple the capacity of the current Lubavitch facility in nearby Bala Cynwyd. A ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for Wednesday.

The plans add another chapter to the colorful history of the inn. The original portion of the inn was built in 1704, many decades before Philadelphia's elite turned the area into a tony collection of towns known as the Main Line.

Over the centuries it has stayed true to its initial use as a roadside tavern. Along with guests such as Washington, Lafayette and Wayne, Edgar Allan Poe is rumored to have worked on "The Raven" there.

And Wilhelm, according to Francis, was buried in the basement.

There are varying versions of the Wilhelm story, but Francis' tale goes like this: Wilhelm was shot during a skirmish in 1777 by colonists who, afraid of British reprisals, hid his body in the cellar. The soldier couldn't be buried outside because the ground was frozen.

Wilhelm is reported to be a charming prankster, Francis said. Claims of other ghostly appearances _ and occurrences _ investigated by paranormal societies also seem to be more playful than frightful: a cash register inexplicably filled with water; napkins on perfectly set tables mysteriously ending up on the floor.

But the inn's karma seemingly took a turn for the worse with the murder of restaurateur James Webb in December 1996. Webb was shot in the head by business partner Guy Sileo Jr., who is serving a life sentence.

The next three eateries at the site failed, but Bob Duncan, director of building and planning for Lower Merion Township, said the Lubavitchers' mixed-use idea might be what's needed to revive the property.

"This is a different concept than anything that's gone through there previously," Duncan said. "It could work."

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