American Murder House: General Wayne Inn – Merion Station, PA

Historic photo of the General Wayne Inn.

The General Wayne Inn was opened in 1704 and operated under various names, such as the William Penn Inn, the Wayside Inn and Streepers Tavern, before being renamed in 1793 in honor of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a local Revolutionary War and Indian War hero. Mad Anthony wasn’t the only Revolutionary War celebrity who had stayed or dined in the Inn.  George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette also supped there during the war. But the General Wayne Inn wasn’t just a restaurant and inn, it also served as a post office, a general store and a coach stop for many, many years.

The ghosts of the inn mostly stem from Revolutionary times. Reportedly, there are seventeen spirits inhabiting the building, eight of which are Hessian soldiers who met their end in or around the building. After so long, reports vary on how these soldiers ended up haunting the inn.  The basement is best known for apparitions of the soldiers.  In the mid-1970’s a man named Michael Benio contacted the then owner of the inn, Barton Johnson and told him that a Hessian soldier named Ludwig was coming to him each night at two o’clock to ask for his help in exhuming his body which had been buried without a proper religious ceremony. The soldier claimed that he was buried in the walls of the inn’s cellar. Mr. Johnson, who had already proved himself as being sympathetic to his restaurant’s ghosts by hosting a seance several years earlier, gave permission for Mr. Benio to dig. Stories vary in regards to the success of the dig. Some versions say that Mr. Johnson called a halt to the digging when it ventured out under the parking lot. Another version states that Benio was successful in recovering some bones, as well as some pottery and other artifacts, and that he was able to provide Ludwig with his consecrated burial. Either way, it is said that Ludwig at least, no longer haunts the inn.

Some of the other soldiers weren’t content to stay in the basement, especially when comely young ladies were imbibing at the bar. One of the complaints that the owners and bartenders heard numerous times over the years from women would be that they felt someone behind them blowing on their necks.  Obviously, when they would turn around no one would be there.  It seems that death can’t keep these young men from their flirtations.

Mr. Johnson once left a tape recorder running in the bar area after he had locked up the seemingly empty restaurant for the night.  When he played the tape back he could clearly hear the sounds of barstools swiveling, water flowing from the faucet into glasses, rustling, and muted voices. It seems as if the restaurant had opened itself for a third shift.

Other ghosts include a distressed little boy who appears to be searching for his mother, an African-American who is thought to be a former slave who met an unfortunate end while fleeing to freedom, two young women who, during the seance that Mr. Johnson hosted in 1972, were very reticent about discussing how they died, a woman in period dress who Mr. Johnson and a friend saw walking through dining room, and a Native American. The most famous alleged ghost of the restaurant would unarguably be Edgar Allen Poe.  He was supposedly a frequent visitor to the inn in the 1840’s and in 1843 even scratched his initials into the corner of one of the dining room windows. The inn proudly showed off this distinguished bit of  vandalism until sometime during the 1930’s when the window had to be replaced. Witnesses have claimed to see Poe sitting by the window, gazing wistfully out, or sometime writing feverishly.

None of these ghosts, or the others which inhabit the building are the result of the murder for which this restaurant became infamous. In 1995 two best friends, James Webb and Guy Sileo, purchased the restaurant.  By that time, the General Wayne Inn was the oldest continually run restaurant in the country and had grown to seat four hundred diners. Jim Webb was a workaholic and the executive chef.  Guy Sileo had fronted $100,000 for opening the restaurant. The money had been a “gift” from his father.  A year into the enterprise, Jim Webb was working harder than ever, but Sileo didn’t seem to be pulling his weight.  The stress of running such a huge restaurant without a fully committed partner was getting to Webb, and he had visited a lawyer to see what steps he could take to get out of the partnership.  The restaurant wasn’t as successful as either of them had hoped, and they were in the red.

The day after Christmas 1996, not long after Webb’s visit to his lawyer, Webb was murdered by a single gunshot in the restaurant’s third floor office.  Evidence soon pointed to Guy Sileo, who was the one who found the body.  He lied to police about a handgun he claimed never to have owned, he had been having an affair with a very young sous-chef from the restaurant, and most suspicious, he tried to make a claim on a large life insurance policy he had taken out on James Webb.  Witnesses claimed that Sileo was feeling stress about repaying his father the $100,000 he had laid down to help his son and Webb open the restaurant.

Sileo used the young 20 year old sous-chef, Felicia Moyse, as his alibi. Felicia, whether in shame at having an affair with a married family man, or in despair at being the alibi for a man who appeared more and more guilty as the investigation went on, committed suicide a few months after the murder.  Sileo, class act of a man that he is, then claimed that Felicia had been the murderer and she had committed the act out of revenge, because she knew that Jim Webb had disapproved of her relationship with her married boss.

Thankfully the jury was not fooled by that ruse, and Guy Sileo is now serving a life sentence.  As recently as 2011, his appeal for a new trial was denied.

After the murder, a couple of other restauranteurs took turns purchasing the inn and trying to make a go at it.  None were successful.  In 2006, the inn closed its doors as a restaurant and began a new phase of its life as a Chabad Center for Jewish Life.  It has been renovated inside and out and does not retain the same facade that Generals Wayne and Washington would recognize. Perhaps being a place of religious activity will help settle those spirits that still walk there.  But our ears are still open in case the current occupants have any tales to tell.

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2 thoughts on “American Murder House: General Wayne Inn – Merion Station, PA

  1. In 1991 we had our wedding reception at the General Wayne Inn. It was a beautiful building with great food at that time. During a tour we went into the extra basement/wine cellar. I was hoping for some type of experience but it was just quiet that day. I was sad when the news of the murder came out since I knew it would most likely end with the place closing and lawsuits over the money. I’m glad the building is being used now, it would be shameful for it to remain empty.

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