Cave Legends #1 – The Legend of Penn’s Cave – Centre Hall, Pennsylvania

Penn's Cave

Photo by Flickr user Happy

Penn’s Cave is located in the Ridge and Valley region in the Appalachian Highlands in central Pennsylvania. The legend that surrounds the cave is a story of love denied. It was originally told by Issac Steele, an old Seneca Indian in 1892.

In the early 1700’s, the Seneca Indians discovered the cave that is now known as Penn’s Cave. Chief O-Ko-Cho had seven full-grown warrior sons and a daughter, Nita-nee whose beauty was immeasurable and who was guarded by her brothers carefully. A young Frenchmen named Malachi Boyer from Lancaster County came to their camp one day to trade for furs with Chief O-Ko-Cho when he caught a glimpse of Nita-nee and fell in love instantly. When the chief’s sons went out to hunt, he would sneak into the Seneca camp and steal away with Nita-nee. The two fell in love and made plans to run away and marry secretly, since traditions didn’t allow for the Seneca to marry outside their tribe.

Penn's Cave 2

Photo from

When the time was ripe, they made their escape into the night. In the morning, when Chief O-Ko-Cho was alerted of his daughter’s absence, he sent his seven sons to track her and Malachi down and bring them back to camp. The brother’s found the runaway couple just outside the eastern settlements and brought them back swiftly. Chief O-Ko-Cho then ordered his sons to throw Malachi into the water cave and guard the entrance to insure that he would not escape and run away with his daughter once more.

For about a week, Malachi swam back and forth in the dark waters of the cave, probing for an exit that was not guarded by the Seneca, but to no avail. Starving and out of energy, Malachi vowed that Nita-nee’s brothers would not see him die. He traveled to a far recess at one end of the cavern, crawled up to dry bank and died. Nita-nee’s brothers later ventured into the cave with torches, found his body, tied him up with heavy rocks, and threw him in the deepest waters of the cave river by their father’s request. To this day, tour guides and visitors claim that on some occasions, you can hear the Frenchman’s ghost crying out his lost love’s name.

Penn's Cave 3

Photo from youtube user Randy Flaum

Two tour guides have admitted hearing her name come from a male voice on separate occasions and believe firmly that the cave is haunted by the ghost of Malachi. Ghost hunters have also visited the cave and found plenty of abnormal behavior, including female voices, Native-American languages being spoken, heavy-breathing, and distant conversations, as well as other strange visions during their stay.

Nita-nee, the chief’s beautiful daughter is immortalized in central Pennsylvania as the mascot of Penn State University, the Nittany Lion, as well as local natural monuments: Nittany Mountain and Nittany Valley. Penn Cave opened its doors as a show cave in 1885 and boat tours are available to the public at a reasonable rate.

-Matt Gibson


    1. I’d certainly like to believe that there is a bit of every character in every story in all of us, but no, I think there is a light at the end of most of our tunnels that wasn’t there for Malachi in the end. He did get to know love before he died though, so it’s not all bleak.


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