It was the summer of 1969 and I had just completed my sophomore year at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, NJ.
I was proud to be a member of Amwell Valley Hounds Pony Club in Hunterdon County, NJ. That summer the regional rally would take place at the Piping Rock Country Club on Long Island. The cross country course would be maximum height of 3’ and three mile distance. Unlike the previous rallies, two miles of roads and tracks would be performed as a warm up before cross country.
Conditioning played an important part in preparation. My horse Hootenanny and I were up to galloping two miles without stopping by early July. We monitored our distances and continued making progress.
One of my routes was a three-mile ride to my friend Mary Lou’s house. I would visit with her and then ride three miles back home. On the way to her house was the infamous “Gravity Hill” of Titusville, NJ.
I suppose that there are other Gravity Hills throughout the country and each one has a story of its own. At the top of this Gravity Hill are the remains of a sidewalk where a house used to be. Legend has it, that a man killed his wife in the house and her ghost remains in there. She is filled with anger and reaches out to cars as they drive by in an effort to pull them to her.
Tourists stop their cars at the bottom of the hill and put their car in neutral. From that point, the cars roll up the hill toward the remains of the house.
Since I was able to observe this from the top of my horse, I could see it was only an optical illusion. In reality, cars were not starting at the bottom of Gravity Hill and then moving upward. Their starting point was actually on the down slope of the previous hill. They coasted down from the previous hill with enough momentum to start up Gravity Hill.
On this particular day, as Hootenanny and I were coming home from Mary Lou’s house, we both felt groggy and uninspired.
My feet hung out of my stirrups and my reins were loosened so Hoot could stretch his neck. The air was still humid from the storm that had passed through during the night and the black top road still smelled like rain. The clouds remained dark and there was a misty fog that blanketed the country side.
As we lagged along, I began to have doubts about our readiness for Piping Rock.
“We should not be this tired,” I spoke to my horse. “We have taken this route all summer. What is wrong with us today?”
We were at the top of Gravity Hill, when suddenly I heard voices.
At first, it sounded like children playing on the hill across the street. The voices became louder and I could distinguish that what I was hearing was not children. It was a woman singing, “La, la, la. La, la, la.”
I looked across the street in the direction of the sound and could see a figure in a patch of fog. The singing was coming from the figure and the figure was moving toward Hoot and me!
It took my breath away and we walked a little faster.
As the figure came out of the fog, I could see that it was a woman wearing a dark dress. Her arms were folded across her chest and her hair was white and wild. I could not see her facial expression, but I could see that her eyes were directly fixed on me.
She continued singing, “La, la, la. La, la, la.” And kept walking toward us.
“I do not believe in the legend of Gravity Hill and I do not believe in ghosts,” I said out loud glaring at the figure as if I could scare it away. Instead the woman continued walking toward me with her arms folded, piercing me with her eyes.
“La la la, La, la, la.”
My arms and legs froze and Hoot stopped and focused on the figure that continued moving toward us. My horse became aware of my catatonic state. He turned his head and nudged my foot waking me back to my senses.
Startled, I put my feet back in the stirrups grabbed the reins and said, “Hoot, let’s get the heck out of here!” We galloped three miles home without looking back.
After we cooled out and calmed down, I ruffled Hoot’s forelock and confessed to him:
“We just galloped three miles. I guess we are in better shape than I thought.”
Our team ended up fourth at the regional rally. Click on to read that story, “The Piping Rock Country Club Rally of 1969.”
About the Author
Peggy DeForte Vurgason began teaching horseback riding at the age of 15 and later went on to ride professionally. Today, she competes in Western Dressage and trail riding on her horse, Homerun Joe, and along with her husband George and his mule, Billy John. Peggy is the author of The American Riding System, the fiction series Long Ears and Short Tales, and the soon-to-be published novel Hootenanny Spirit.