Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jennie Wade House

Image from the Jennie Wade House

There's a whole lotta lore connected with this Baltimore Street home. Jennie - her given name was Mary Virginia Wade - and her sister lived in half of the Gettsyburg duplex while the pivotal Civil War conflict raged around them.

Jennie was baking bread for the Union soldiers on July 3rd, 1863 when a rebel bullet, allegedly fired from a nearby sniper's nest set up in the Farnsworth House, went through two doors and caught her under the shoulder in the back, killing her within minutes. Jennie's body was laid out in the cellar, the only safe place in the house. She has the dubious distinction of being the only civilian killed during the battle (although others died from injuries after the fact.)

There are a covey of ghosties hanging around the house, now a museum. Jennie's still there, and you can sometimes smell the aroma of baking bread and her rose scented perfume in the home.

Some people say she's there still awaiting word on her beau, Sgt. Jack Skelly. A soldier friend was supposed to check on him for her, but was killed at Culp's Hill before he could find her. (Skelly, by the way, died as a Confederate POW from battle wounds. Not a very good day for Jennie.)

Her dad's spook is supposed to be in the house, too. He was said to have lost his mind and ended his days in the poor house because he wasn't at the house protecting his daughter when she died, and held himself responsible for her death.

Other stories say he's bitter because he wasn't allowed to attend Jennie's funeral, or that his mental state was such that he didn't realize Jennie was dead and would wander into the cellar looking for her.

Needless to say, he's not considered a very congenial spirit to bump into and causes a bit of poltergeist activity in the basement, mainly consisting of the aroma of cigar smoke, twirling the guide post chain, and leaving a feeling of deep sadness that blankets the room.

But there are some very friendly spirits scattered around the Wade house. An orphanage a few doors down the street was said to be run by a sadistic director, and Jennie and her sister would let the children play in their house. They're still there.

The kid's ghosts are a very touchy-feely bunch of rugrats. They've been known to say "Hi" to tour guests and follow them around the museum. They like to hold hands, and tug at your ankles, coats and jewelry, still craving attention. They play with the beds upstairs. That may be the greatest compliment to Jennie and her sister - the everlasting affection of the neighborhood orphans. But she does have one more honor.

Her grave, marked by the Mary Virginia Wade monument in Evergreen Cemetery, flies the flag 24 hours a day by Presidential decree. She's the only American woman besides Betsy Ross to be given that honor.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Green Man of South Park

Green Man's Tunnel - Piney Forks Road
Green Man's Tunnel - Image from Bridges of Allegheny County

This is one of the most enduring legends in Pittsburgh – and it's true! Sorta.

I was raised in the South Hills and my high school babe was from Library, just past South Park, so I can speak with some authority on the Green Man, one of my favorite bits of local lore. The story goes that a guy who was an electrician got struck by lightning while working in the area (ironic, no?) He was horribly disfigured, and ended up with a greenish glow from the jolt.

The Green Man roamed around South Park and laid claim to his own tunnel on Piney Fork Road, today used to store salt. His lair has a long history. It was built in 1924 as the Piney Fork Tunnel to serve coal mines along the PRR's Peters Creek Branch. Abandoned in 1962, the locals have given it the name its gone by for decades - Green Man Tunnel.

If you've even driven on Piney Fork Road, you know it's a dark, two lane drive running parallel to Piney Fork Creek. At night, it's a perfect lovers lane – or lair for an ax murderer. It's easy to imagine anything at all happening there once the sun's set. The Green Man's also been sighted in Brookline, Hays River Road, McKees Rocks, North Hills, McKeesport, even Washington County and Youngstown, anywhere it's dark, isolated, and teen imaginations can run free & wild.

But enough of the Green Man myth – the real Green Man was Ray “Charlie No Face” Robinson, from Big Beaver in Beaver County. When he was 9, he was gruesomely disfigured when he tangled with a high voltage line. He was left half blind and his nose was burned off. He had to wear a prosthetic one and coke-bottle glasses for the rest of his life.

But Ray remained pretty chipper, considering everything. One of his favorite pastimes was to walk along the local highway at night so no one would notice his injuries. Soon the local teens spotted him and would stop to chat with him. Ray was a friendly soul, even posing for pictures. They brought him beer and cigarettes – once or twice his worried family found him sleeping in a roadside field. His legend grew by leaps and bounds across the region.

By the time he died at the age of 74 in 1985, the Green Man's tale had spread across the face of Western Pennsylvania. They're even in the process of making a movie about him.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Centralia's Spirits

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Image from Jim at Offroaders - Centralia

We all know the sad history of Centralia, where a work crew set trash on fire in 1962 and accidentally ignited a coal vein. No big deal, they thought then. We'll just dig out the burning coal and everything will return to normal.

Wrong. They couldn't put the fire out, and in fact ended up aerating and spreading it. The feds closed the book on Centralia by buying everyone's property, and for all intents and purposes forced the relocation of the town's 1,100 souls. It was cheaper to move the townsfolk and raze their homes than to extinguish the flames which are expected to continue burning for another century. Fewer than a dozen people remain in Centralia today.

But more than those hardy dozen still call Centralia home. Footsteps, voices, lights and shadows have been heard and seen in completely deserted houses, kept by stay-at-home spooks. The spirits tend to congregate around the cemetery - no surprise there - near where the original fire was set.

One pair of visitors saw a couple of figures wearing miner's hardhats walk out of the large subsidence hole just outside the cemetery. As they approached, both of the men slowly disintegrated into the smoky haze surrounding the town. Even eerier, there's a report of voices from the cemetery saying "Leave here" and "Why did you do that?" Are they spirits still trying to stop the work crew from setting the disastrous fire, or are they just trying to shoo away the curious?

There have been a handful of spots reported in the state that are supposed to be portals to hell, but for my money there's only one. It's Centralia. Old Scratch would feel at right at home in the scarred earth, sulphurous mist and scorching heat of the cursed town. They call the blocked off section of Route 61 leading into Centralia the Highway to Hell. They just may be right.

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The Highway to Hell - Image from Sarah at Offroaders - Centralia

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Anne Coleman & Ten Cent Jimmy Buchanan

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Image from Inn 422

The Inn 422 of Lebanon in Pennsylvania's Dutch Country is built on the foundations of the old Coleman mansion, which was razed for the current building in 1880. And therein lies our spook tale.

The original house was built for Anne Coleman, the daughter of ironmaster Robert and his wife Ann. It was a graduation present to her after earning her sheepskin at Dickinson College in the early 1800s. Her beau was one James "Ten Cent Jimmy" Buchanan.

Her father knew him well, having expelled him from Dickinson while a trustee (although later relenting and allowing him to graduate.) Their love grew while Anne's parents seethed. Marriages were arranged back in the day, and James was no fit match for Anne in her family's eyes. The Colemans were thought to be the richest family in Pennsylvania at the time and they considered Buchanan nothing more than a bald faced fortune hunter.

James went to Philadelphia on business for two weeks, and a distraught Anne received not a single love letter from him while he was away. They had been intercepted by her mother. On the way back home, he stopped at a client's house, and to his surprise an old flame was there.

Though James had no interest whatsoever in her, she made sure to let Anne know that he stopped to see her first in a bit of catty oneupmanship. Worked into a lover's lather, Anne refused to see James when he finally came calling on her and instead went off to her sister's home. She was hysterical, and a doctor prescribed some laudanum, an opiate, to calm her nerves. Anne OD'ed on it and died. No one's sure to this day if she committed suicide or just made an error in the dosage.

James was shattered at her death and remained a bachelor until his dying day. He hung her picture over the mantel of his Wheatland home and it still hangs there today. His last wish was that all his letters from Anne which he had kept for 50 years be destroyed.

But the man her parents thought a neer do well ended up doing OK for himself - he became America's 15th President. As for Anne, she's still at the old Coleman house, now haunting the Inn 422. She's been seen roaming the rooms in the B&B, and still does her house chores - extinguishing candles, opening and closing doors & windows, straightening the beds & fluffing pillows. If not for her meddling parents, she could be haunting the White House instead.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bloody Mary

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Image from Gothic Manor

This is an old folktale retold by S.E. Schlosser in Spooky Pennsylvania. This particular version's setting is mid-state, but it's lore that has its' roots everywhere.

Bloody Mary was an old crone that lived deep in the woods making her living selling herbal cures to the locals. None dared cross her, as she was supposed to be adept at dealing out curses also. The townspeople thought she was a witch.

The village's young girls began to disappear, one at a time. The folk searched the woods, the buildings, the streams and everywhere they could think of with no luck. They even screwed up the courage to see if Bloody Mary knew what happened to children. She denied any knowledge of the missing girls, but the villagers were suspicious. Bloody Mary looked younger to them.

One night, the miller's daughter got up from bed and left the house. Her mother and father tried to stop her, but she tore out of their grasp and headed into the woods. Their struggle awoke the town, and the people all followed the girl.

She made a beeline towards a light in the forest. At the end of the light was Bloody Mary, pointing a bright wand towards the girl to draw her to the spot. The townsfolk set on her, and one farmer had a gun loaded with silver bullets. (Farmers were ready for anything back in the day.) He fired one into the witch and they carried her back to town, where they put up a stake and burned her.

As she sizzled, she spat out a curse. If anyone mentioned her name while looking in a mirror, she would come back and claim their soul. Wouldn't you know that some people actually tried that? And true to her word, Bloody Mary sprang from the mirror, tore their bodies apart and laid claim to their souls - forever. They are trapped in the mirror for the rest of eternity with her.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Troy Hill Firehouse

Image from Troy Hill Citizen's Council

Engine House #39 was built in 1901 and dates back to the days of old Allegheny City. The firefighters stationed there served the residents of Troy Hill and their homes, nestled among the slopes and twisting roads of North Side.

It was the last station to use horse-drawn fire carriages and the only one left with an old time fire bell, named Die Glocke Sarah. It even sported a pole for firemen to shimmy down to reach their engines. It was named a historic structure by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation in 2001.

But no one told fire captain Don Dorsey that the building was haunted when he took command. He found out the hard way. Blankets were pulled off sleeping firefighters. Window shades went up and down for no reason. The dorm trap door closed on its' own. Footsteps were heard upstairs and on the stairway. Closed doors creaked open. Whenever the firemen went to check on the phenomena, they found nothing.

Spectral firefighters have been briefly spotted sitting around a table playing cards in the basement, whiling away the hours as they did in life. The only identifiable spirit is that of Queenie, an old firehouse dog that still enjoys jumping up and down on a second floor bed.

A psychic that visited the engine house told the firemen not to worry. The spirits – 8 firefighters, 3 chaplains, and Queenie by his count - were there to protect the flesh and blood crew of firefighters and even went out on calls with them.

The station was closed in a round of city budget cuts in 2005. But after all these years, it's a pretty safe bet that the phantom firefighters of Engine House #39 are still on call in Troy Hill. This is another four alarm tale told in Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County by Beth Trapani & Charles Adams III.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Phillip's Rangers

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Image from Mother Bedford

This is a bit of lore from Bedford County from back in the day when we were the wild frontier. Captain William Phillips and a small band of militia numbering a dozen in all were sent to Bedford County to quell an Indian uprising.

They marched on July 15, 1780, over Tussey Mountain and into into Woodcock Valley, finding nothing but deserted cabins. The settlers had already fled for safer ground. They chose one of the empty cabins to stay in overnight. Imagine their shock when they discovered in the morning that they were surrounded by a large band of warriors.

They didn't seem to know the Rangers were there at first, but eventually a shot rang out and the battle was joined. It was a fight the Rangers couldn't win, and Phillips went out to surrender after the cabin was set ablaze by flaming arrows. The deal was that they would lay down their arms if their lives were spared. But the Indians welshed on the bargain.

They separated Phillips and his son – they would be worth something in a trade – and a small party took them away. They eventually ended up as British POWs for the next two years. The Rangers, though, were tied to trees, cut open and tortured, and finally put to rest with arrows. It was a slow and savage way to die. A relief column led by Colonel John Piper cut the bodies down and buried them at the spot.

While building a monument in the 1930s for the men at the site of the massacre, 9 of the 10 bodies were found and interred in a common grave that was incorporated into the parklet dedicated to their memory.

It's said that they relive the anniversary of the slaughter, and the Rangers and Indians show up every year late at night on July 16 to continue their battle. There's also supposed to be a solitary black shadow that watches over the grave whose presence can be felt and sometimes seen. Is it Phillips? Is it the Ranger whose body they didn't find? No one knows for sure.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Most Haunted House In America...Not


image by Daniele Montella

Renowned as the “Most Haunted House in America”, the alleged history of the Congelier House is enough to turn anyone's blood cold.

The story goes that 1129 Ridge Avenue was home to Charles & Lydia Congelier, who built the house in the 1860's, and their maid, Essie. The tale begins in 1871. That's when Lydia found out Charles was having an affair with the maid, and ended it by stabbing Charles to death, beheading Essie, and driving herself insane.

The house sat vacant for the next two decades. It was remodeled to become a dorm for railroad workers in 1892, but they wouldn't stay in the house, claiming to hear the sobbing and screaming of a woman. Then it gets interesting.

Around the turn of the century, Dr. Adolph Brunrichter moved in. His maids didn't end up lovers, but cadavers. He beheaded them and then did experiments to keep the heads alive, which apparently he could do for short periods of time.

On August 12, 1901, the neighbors heard a scream and saw a red flash come from the house, blowing out all the windows. The good doctor vamoosed, and police found a decomposed body strapped to a bed and five headless corpses buried in the basement.

Needless to say, the house again remained unoccupied for awhile. Equitable Gas later fixed it up to use as a dorm for its' Italian workforce. They experienced many odd happenings, but wrote them off to hooliganism from the American workers they had displaced, at a lower wage. Then one night two of them were found in the basement, one with a board impaled through him and the other hanging from a joist.

Local police claimed it was an accident – one man fell going down the steps and speared himself on a propped up board, and the other strangled himself in the dark cellar on some loose wiring.

Naturally enough, the house was empty again. In 1920, Thomas Edison allegedly visited the home. He was interested in building a machine to communicate with the dead. The results aren't recorded, but its' said that he left the house as a great believer in the afterlife.

In 1927, police arrested a drunk who claimed to be Dr. Brunrichter. He regaled them with tales of orgies, demonic possession, torture and murder, and wrote “What Satan hath wrought let man beware” in his own blood on the wall of his psychiatric ward. The media called him the “Pittsburgh Spookman”, but officials couldn't figure out if was indeed the doctor or just an imaginative alcoholic, so they let him go, never to be seen again.

That same year, a huge gas tank was being built near the current site of the Carnegie Science Center. It blew, and the ensuing explosion rocked buildings within a 20 mile radius. The Congelier House disappeared from the face of the earth, leaving nothing behind but an 85 foot deep crater. People said Satan himself pulled the ill fated house into the depths of hell.

It's also been said that on occasion a spectral house appears on the site, shimmering and then disappearing again to the netherworld. This was all documented in Richard Winer & Nancy Osborne's book Haunted Houses.

Alas, like most good stories, this one has its' debunker, too. Troy Taylor rebutted the Congelier House claim to evil immortality in his article Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The House On Ridge Avenue, found on the Prairieghosts site.

First, he can find no record of a Charles Congelier living in Pittsburgh or of Lydia's murderous ways, which one would expect to fill the local rags of the era. Next, he says the modest rowhouse was built in the 1880's, totally screwing up the original timeline.

Marie Congelier owned & lived in the house (at least the family name was right), and no trace of the evil Dr. Brunrichter has ever turned up, either as a tenant or a mad scientist. Ditto for the railroaders. They never roomed at the Congelier house.

Marie says that Edison never visited her humble home, and one would assume she'd remember if the Wizard of Menlo Park came calling. He also found that no reports of any deaths, accidental or otherwise, existed from the Ridge Street address. He couldn't find any mention of the “Pittsburgh Spookman” in the papers.

Finally, the gas explosion didn't send the house straight to hell, but only shattered a few windows. The house was eventually razed to make room for a highway interchange. Marie, by the way, died the morning of the gas explosion, not from the blast, but from an accidental cut. She bled to death en route to the hospital, the only known death recorded of someone from the Congelier House. Thanks for ruining a nice spooky tale, Troy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gudgeonville Bridge Legend

(image from Erie Yesterday)

The Gudgeonville Covered Bridge doesn't look like much now, lopsided, vandalized, and covered in graffiti. But it's got a grand history behind it. It was built across Elk Creek in 1868, supposedly on the foundations of the old Erie Extension Canal. After a fire, it was rebuilt in the 1870s, and still stands just south of Girard.

There are several tales connected to the bridge. One, dating back to 1900, says that you can sometimes hear the sound of thundering hooves approaching and then crossing the planks of the bridge. A black stallion with fiery red eyes appears speeding a horseman across the span. Hopefully the steed knows where it's going – its' rider is headless!

Another story involves a young girl that fell to her death sometime in the 1940s or 50s while playing on the white shale cliffs (known locally as the Devil's Backbone) nearby the bridge. She's alleged to walk the bridge on moonless nights and the anniversary of her death. Sometimes you can watch her reliving the plunge to her fate from the cliffs.

But the Gudgeonville legend is based on a poor mule that wouldn't cross the bridge. In the mid 1800s, a man named Obadiah Will of Kentucky was delivering a mule to a man in Meadville. As he was crossing the bridge, a couple of barges carrying Dan Rice's Circus from Girard were floating down the creek, a calliope tooting away on one of them. At this point, different versions pop up.

One says that when the music reached the mule's ears, it literally frightened the creature to death. It dropped dead of a heart attack right where it stood. The mule's name was Gudgeon.

In another twist on the tale, the mule froze when it heard the music and in true jackass style, it refused to budge off of the bridge. In frustration, Will either found a hefty stick and beat Gudgeon to death, or grabbed a wagon part known as a gudgeon and hit the nameless mule with the same end result. (Some spoilsports think the name came about because the small fish in the creek were locally known as gudgeons, but we'll ignore them.) In a final bit of irony, the calliope was supposed to be playing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Anyway, the mule was buried on the west bank of the creek, and Will had “Gudgeonville” (which doesn't exist as a town) painted on both entrances to the bridge in remembrance of the frightened mule that wouldn't cross the dang bridge. He also sued the circus with unknown results. Apparently Dan Rice, the circus owner and a fairly famous entertainer of the era, felt badly enough to write up the tale in the form of an eulogy. (We ran across several references to it, but can't find the eulogy itself.)

The mule's spirit never did leave the bridge. It's said you can still hear its' steady hoofbeat and braying on some nights.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Spirits of the Railroaders Memorial Museum

image from the Railroaders Memorial Museum

In 1882, the Pennsylvania RR built the Master Mechanics Building in Altoona to use as an office. It later became an infirmary and HQ for the railroad police, and today it's the Railroader's Museum.

Hauntings and weird events are an everyday happening there. In the guest shop, toys and models will be taken from their shelves and left in neat stacks on the floor. Frank the spook is often seen clambering on the train engine that sits in the lobby by the entrance to the museum. Frank's picture is hung in the hall – from the 1920s, when he was a flesh and blood member of the train crew. He's also been seen roaming the lobby and spotted in the elevator.

Big band music can be heard on the second floor coming from Kelly's Bar, where the old railroaders would stop after their shift and wash down the track dust with a cold brew or three.

One museum staffer rips the filters off of his cigarettes and leaves them for the spooks whenever he visits there (they smoked unfiltered Camels back in the day.) When he returns, the cigarettes are either moved or gone, and the smell of tobacco smoke fills the room, even though it's now a strictly no-smoking building. They really should break that habit. Maybe the staff should leave them nicotine patches instead of butts.

A spirit by the name of “Big Boss” hangs out on the fourth floor. Two men in flannel shirts have been seen walking the halls, looking disorientated. The building's new layout must have them confused. Orbs have been photographed many times throughout the museum. Old railroaders must have a hard time giving up the ghost - and the good times at Kelly's Bar.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Chatham College Spooks

chatham college
Image from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Nothing like a bunch of rich folk playing patty cake with the French maids to create a few spooks to haunt the halls of Pittsburgh's Chatham College in Shadyside.

Benedum Hall (“Graystone”): Originally, this was the home of The Great Wildcatter, oilman Michael Benedum and his wife Sarah, along with their son, Claude. Claude fell hard for the family maid, Maude. His parents disapproved, of course, and sent him off to the Army.

He died of pneumonia while in uniform in 1918 at the age of 20, and Maude joined him in the afterlife soon afterwards. It's said that they can be heard together playing footsies in the house. It became a dorm in 1960, and the mischievous Claude was known to pull the covers off sleeping students while filling the room with cigarette smoke.

A more malicious story involves Michael, who was said to be involved with a maid from the Rea household (more on them later) and got her pregnant. The enraged Sarah hung the maid from the Benedum's chandelier and tore the baby from her. It's said that sometimes you can still see the maid hanging from the chandelier in her black outfit, feather duster in her lifeless hand.

Other more mundane paranormal activity took place at Benedum. A former resident told us that she saw a spirit looking out her dormer window, and that "there were many other instances of people hearing parties in the main rooms with music playing and people laughing, shadows moving, etc."

Sadly for spook lovers, the college sold the Benedum property in 1986 and it's now the site of pricey town houses and condos.

Berry Hall: Now the admissions office, the building was once used as a dorm. It was built originally as a private residence in 1895. Students could hear the cries of children, and the speculation is they were youngsters that died while living in the house before the college took it over.

Fickes Hall: Built in 1927, the home was the residence of Edwin Stanton Fickes of Alcoa fame before becoming a dorm in 1946. It's ghosts include a woman that committed suicide by jumping out of a window (although readers Michele and her anonymous friend say she was talked back in, squelching that sighting), and the third floor is haunted by the spirit of a boy who fell out of a window.

Another reader, a student who lived on the third floor in the nineties, wrote to add "I frequently saw a female ghost in my room. She appeared to me several times a week, usually between 2:30 and 3:30 A.M. I never saw her until I moved my bed...under the two windows. Her appearances lessened significantly when I moved my bed to a different location. She was a very strong presence."

The main spook, though, is thought to be Fickes himself, who returns to his old suite of rooms every so often, rummaging through desks and closets and jumping in bed with the coeds, the old rake. Mellon's son lived there, too, and has to be considered an etheral suspect.

Gymnasium: The lights stay on in the gym even after you've shut them off. The athletic director isn't sure if the cause is electrical problems or just a friendly ghost keeping the gym open. Spooks have been known to have a basketball jones.

Laughlin House: The house was built in 1912, and it's now a dormitory. The grapevine has it that James Laughlin or James Rea hung themselves there. (They didn't. Julia Rea and Laughlin had a rumored affair, but it didn't end in anyone's suicide.) Laughlin House (Its' namesake is one of Jones & Laughlin Steel's founders, and grandfather of noted American poet James) is supposed to be the eeriest place at Chatham.

One former student told us she had her eeriest experience there: "The worst was a female spirit in Laughlin House (3rd floor). She had long dark hair and a bluish white dress, (and) she woke me up one night by putting intense pressure on my chest..."

Most phenomena experienced there are fairly traditional, with slamming doors, electrical devices turning on and off, ringing phones, opening and closing windows, running commodes and rearranged clothes and shoes. Some feel that the long ago affair cast a negative vibe over the house that can be felt to this day.

Mellon Center: Built in 1887, Andrew W. Mellon lived there for 20 years. There's a pool (now drained and used as a mechanical room) and bowling alley in the basement, and Mellon doesn't like to share them with the students, so he tries to shoo them away.

He's been seen walking across the pool area, but most of the sightings are in the bowling alley. Students can hear Mellon and Henry Clay Frick talking and listening to music. You can smell cigar smoke, and if the alley's closed, you can see the smoke coming out from behind the shut door. If you do bowl, the room is often cold.

The pins get into the act, too, sometimes resetting themselves so you can bowl another frame. There's some unspecified ghostly going-ons on the third floor. It's also said that the eyes of the portrait of Andrew Mellon in the lobby follow you around.

Rea House: This was also built in 1912. The ghost of a maid that had an affair with Andrew Mellon, or maybe Claude Benedum, makes her presence felt in the dorm. (No one's certain which one she did the dirty deed with. What is known is that she ended the affair by hanging herself in the dining room. We're not sure if she was the same maid hung in Benedum Hall or not. If not, same ending, different house.)

Allegedly, a woman's ghost walks through the front windows. There are also reports of crying babies, windows that never close, and some other poltergeist type activity. But for all its alleged history, many other students said that they've experienced nothing out of the ordinary.

Woodland Hall: This is where Chatham's most famous spirit lives, the “Blue Lady of Woodland Hall”. Students wake up with the vision of a woman hovering above them, dressed in a blue chiffon dress. But she shares the spotlight with the ghost of a young boy, who once grabbed a hapless student by the ankle while imploring her to play with him. The specter had a good grip; he left a bruise on her ankle. His haunt, the fourth floor, is always cold.

If you wonder how people from different mansions managed to meet discreetly for their various trysts, the answer is tunnels. Andrew Mellon, a lover of privacy, had various residences connected by underground tunnels (now closed; one reader said it went just from Benedum to Fifth Avenue) that were said to be wide enough to drive a carriage through. And once they got the maid in the back seat...

The school has held an annual Chatham Ghost Walk since 2005 to explore the haunted history behind Chatham’s residence halls.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dead Man's Hollow

image from the Allegheny Land Trust

Dead Man's Hollow is a 400 acre nature preserve in Boston, between Elizabeth Township and Lincoln. It's crossed with steep paths and deep gullies intersecting throughout its' woodlands. There are many remnants of old industrial plants littered across its' landscape.

But more importantly to our ghost tale, it was the site of several unnatural deaths in years past. Every autumn, a ghost makes its' presence felt in the Hollow, rustling through the fallen leaves and making eerie sounds. The mystery is whose spirit it is. There's a long list of interesting candidates to choose from.

In 1874, a group of boys found a man hanging from a tree. Some say the lynching was the result of backwoods justice, others the work of the KKK. Yet others say the man was actually a woman; some claim it was a Native American whose ghost has been spotted on the Youghiogheny River. One version of the tale claims that a baby cries for the victim at night, when the moon comes out. It could be that this unfortunate soul is the Ghost of Dead Man's Hollow, seen haunting the woods since the turn of the century.

But the cast of characters doesn't end there. In 1881, shopkeeper Robert McClure was gunned down chasing the robbers of his McKeesport general store. Ward McConkey was hung for the crime, seven years after the fact. He claimed he didn't do it, and his last words were “Goodbye, all you murderers." Many believe his innocent soul returns to curse those who killed him.

In 1887, Edward Woods drowned in the Youghiogheny River, and his body washed ashore at Dead Man's Hollow. His death was ruled accidental, but many suspected foul play. Could he be the Hollow's resident spirit?

In 1905, Mike Sacco, working in the local Union Sewer Pipe plant, was crushed in an elevator accident. Maybe it's his spirit that's still roaming the area.

Another story has two bank robbers splitting their loot in the Hollow after pulling off a heist in Clairton. One shot the other. Perhaps the cheated thief is still around, searching for his cut of the ill gotten swagger.

Of course, the Hollow had its' share of other mishaps - an earthquake, a lightning strike that caused a derrick of the Snee Oil Company to explode and catch fire, and floods. Maybe our spook met his or her end during one of those disasters.

Another long-reported phenomena is that of the sound of small children laughing in the woods; there's no background tale we can find for the cause of those claims.

Even odder, Dead Man's Hollow has its' own mythical creature – a late 19th century news article said a snake, 30-40' feet long with a 2-3' head was seen slithering through the Hollow. Not too surprisingly, the Hollow was also a haven for moonshiners and their stills. Maybe the snake was a white lightning induced hallucination.

There's only one thing we can be certain of - the name “Dead Man's Hollow” rings undeniably true.

Karen Frank has written a book titled "Dead Man's Hollow: An Oral History and More" concerning the lore and trails of the Hollow. And for everything you could want to know about the Hollow, click on Dead Man's

Monday, October 29, 2007


(image from Wikipedia)

It's time to take a break from the spooky and delve into the history of the region. The legendary state of Pittsylvania, sometimes called Westsylvania, was just a Congressional vote away from becoming a reality back in the day.

According to historian George Swetnam, "In March, 1759, less than half a year after Forbes had taken Fort Duquesne and named it Pittsburgh, a letter from New Jersey to the Maryland Gazette reported a movement for application to the Crown . . . 'to settle a New Colony on the Ohio, by the name Pittsylvania.'" It was to include southwestern Pennsylvania, the western panhandle of Maryland, nearly all of what is now West Virginia, a bit of Virginia, and a tad of eastern Kentucky.

The king nixed that petition (we'd get even with him later), but the settlers didn't give up. They were the western frontier then, and believed that their interests were being snubbed by the city fops back East. A writ for the creation of an independent Pittsylvania was presented to the Second Continental Congress in 1775. But the Revolutionary War broke out shortly afterwards, and in the name of national unity, Congress chose to ignore their request, much the same as they do with citizen requests today.

The region's last hurrah at independence was the Whiskey Rebellion. Riled by a tax on whiskey in 1791 by the U.S. government, farmers in the west began making life sheer hell for the federal revenuers. The tax eliminated any profit by the farmers from the sale of a popular & potable cash crop, and it became the lightning rod for a laundry list of grievances by the locals against the federal government. Does "taxation without representation" ring a bell? As a result, much rioting and tar & feathering of federal agents ensued.

The insurrection flared into open rebellion in July of 1794 when a federal marshal was attacked in Allegheny County. At the same time, several hundred men marched on the home of the fed's top tax man and burned it to the ground, along with anything else flammable they could find to torch on his property.

A month later, President George Washington had enough. He called out the militia (there weren't Pinkertons in those days, we guess) and ordered the Western rabble back to their homes. Washington marched at the head of an army of 13,000, although the generaling was left to Harry Lee. They scattered the rebels, squelched the rebellion, saved the union, and killed the last hope of a Pittsylvanian state.

George Swetnam covers the history of the area in his book "Pittsylvania Country".

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Axe Murder Hollow

image from OKCupid

We'll take a cruise up I-79 and head towards Erie for today's story. This gruesome tale starts in a quiet wooded area off of Sterrettania Road in Millcreek. There you'll find the burned out foundations of a small home. (Not anymore, though. We've been told that plot was the last site sold in the housing project that's sprung up in the area.)

A rock path from there will lead you to a creek with a tree stump near its' bank. A jealous husband who suspected his wife of cheating on him with a farmhand chased her down that path and beheaded her with an axe on that stump. (Other versions say he killed her and his children in the house.) Then he immolated himself by setting the small house on fire.

Skip ahead a few years. A young couple are driving down a narrow road along the creek in the rain when the car got mired in the mud. The driver, being cautious in the secluded spot, told the girl to lock herself in the vehicle while he went for help.

She sat for what seemed to be forever in the car. Then she heard the muffled sounds of a struggle, followed by a gurgling noise. A bright light shone in the car and a voice commanded her to get out. Too terrified to protest, she unlocked the door and stepped into the rain. Hanging from a tree by his ankles was her dead boyfriend, blood dripping from his slit throat.

She turned to the man, and then ran screaming into the dusk. The shadowy figure held a light in one hand, an axe glistening with blood in the other, and was reaching out for her. If you ever visit an old friend that's a long-time Erie local, ask him about the tale. He'll know it. He may offer to take you there. A nice rainy evening would be a perfect time to visit.

Erie's not the only place with a similarly gruesome tale. A reader wrote "There was a tragic murder in York county on Iron Stone Road. A husband killed his pregnant wife and children with an axe and then hung himself. It's said that spheres of lights circle the house!"

There's also supposed to be another Axe Murder Hollow in McKean. A reader, Sally, wrote that "Axe Murder Hollow is located in an area of Thomas Road between Sterrettania Road and California Drive. I lived within walking distance of Axe Murder Hollow for over 30 years and never met any kind of Ghost or supernatural being."

"The property around there is all privately owned property and I knew one of the owners. He owned a lot of construction equipment and was sick of curiosity seekers trespassing on his property and would go out at night with a shotgun with rock salt and fire in the direction of trespassers. This, of course, just added to the excitement and rumors." As for us, we think we'd rather bump into an unarmed spook.

Developers in Erie gobbled up the land and built suburban homes in the Hollow; even the old burnt-out lot was sold. You can barely recognize the place now. But the road is still there, running right along the creek...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The White Lady of Wopsononock Mountain

(image from Pennsylvania Mountains of Attraction)

We head east today, towards the Blair and Bedford county lines and Wopsononock Mountain, for this classic resurrection legend. The tales - there are several versions - all start with a young couple heading along a narrow, twisting mountain road on their way to the Wopsy Hotel (Wopsy is the local shorthand) atop the peak.

To give you an idea of the age and duration of this story, the resort hotel burned down in 1903 and was never rebuilt. In one version, they crash and the husband is decapitated. In another, they both lose their lives. In yet another, a baby is thrown out of a carriage in the accident and dies. In some tales, they're eloping and being pursued by the bride's irate father. In version five, the ghost roams the adjoining Buckhorn Mountain.

The story is so wrapped in the mists of time that while a few people say they were in a car, most believe that they rode a buggy or carriage. At any rate, their fates converge at Devil's Elbow, a nasty curve on the mountain road, where they meet their destinies.

Thus begins the Lady In White legend. She's been spotted many times by the woods of Wopsy Mountain roaming the road, dressed in a long flowing white gown. She's usually seen carrying a candle or a lantern, out searching for someone - child, hubby, dad, whomever.

Many people have stopped and given her a ride. She's described by these kindly souls as beautiful, smiling, and quiet. Oddly, when they glance into their rear view mirror, they can't see her. But when they turn to check on her, she's still sitting serenely in the back seat. And once they reach Devil's Elbow, she disappears. This has been reported many times over the years, and this tale has passed from the realm of folklore to local gospel, much like South Park's Green Man.

The old hotel is now a lover's lane with a famed historic lookout (you guessed it, Wopsy Lookout, a remnant from the old hotel) where you can see 6 different counties when it's clear outside. There's a couple of tales involved with that, too.

First, there have reportedly been multiple suicides there from spurned lovers taking the leap. That's always fodder for a spook tale or two. The other is that if you park there on a clear, dark night, the streetlights below will spell out “Altoona.” I'd really be impressed if they spelled out "Wopsononock."

If you want to take the trip, the mountain road is now called Juniata Gap Road (known locally as Wopsy Road), and runs up the mountain from Altoona. If you're approaching from the opposite direction, we believe the route is along Colonial Drake Highway (known locally as Buckhorn Road), which leads over Buckhorn Mountain and up Wopsy from the other side. Drive carefully.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Phantoms of the Pittsburgh Playhouse

image from Point Park University

This legendary Craft Avenue site is possibly the most renowned haunt in Pittsburgh. Built by Richard Rauh, it opened its doors in 1933, variously known as the Hamlet Theatre, the Summer Playhouse, and the Civic Playhouse. And the theatre wasn't the only entertainment venue located in the house over the years.

The upstairs was used as a brothel, the theatre served as a church, and the basement was a restaurant at various times. Part of the building was the Tree of Life Synagogue and another section served as a social hall in 1910. And it was built over the rubble of a neighborhood of old tenements, which segues right into our story.

The first ghost is Weeping Eleanor, who is never seen but whose sobbing and moaning can be heard at night. She was the victim of a fire that claimed her Oakland rowhouse, once standing where the Playhouse dressing rooms are now located. Eleanor and her daughter perished in the blaze, and she's been lamenting their fate ever since.

The Lady In White is next on the list. She was an actress who discovered her husband was having an tryst with one of the ladies from the upstairs bordello – on their wedding day! The reception was being held in the downstairs restaurant after they were married in the Playhouse church. She climbed the steps in a rage, found them in flagrante delicto, and shot the amorous pair dead. Then she committed suicide by leaping off the balcony, which she yet paces, gun in hand.

The lady has appeared to people on numerous occasions, always in a white dress. She once pointed a ghostly pistol at a stagehand's head while backstage and pulled the trigger. He dodged the spectral bullet, but ended up somewhat the worse for wear – he promptly left the building, never to return.

The third spirit is that of John Johns, an accountant by day and stage actor by night who began performing at the Playhouse in the thirties. It's said that he suffered a heart attack while at a banquet in the downstairs restaurant. His castmates carried him up to his dressing room, #7, to wait for the ambulance, but Johns died before they could get him inside.

Since that day, people have heard disembodied footsteps climbing the stairway to room #7, always stopping just short of the door. Johns occasionally appears wandering the Playhouse, often dressed to kill in his tuxedo.

Caveat emptor with him. As the only spook who is clearly identified, we researched him a bit, and came away with enough to know that the trouper did exist and was a Playhouse regular, but we couldn't find his obituary.

A reader, Deb, wrote that "When I was a student at the playhouse, I was told by Bill Leach, who was the director of the Playhouse Jr. and who had known John Johns, that the actor died at the Veteran's Hospital in Oakland, not in the dressing room." As for the other stuff, she adds simply that "I had some experiences at the Playhouse..."

JJ has sometimes been spotted dancing on stage with the White Lady (We guess she got over her meandering hubby after crossing to the other side.) Johns also checks the sets and fancies himself a director, intently watching the rehearsals from the seats, and will occasionally share some tricks of the trade or a criticism with the actors.

Following in the illustrious line of spooks is Gorgeous George, a misnomer if ever there was one. His claim to fame is that he has a green, oozing face and an unmistakably rank aroma. He likes to tap people on the shoulder and watch their shock when they turn and see his rotting visage. Then he *poof* disappears, cackling maniacally. No one knows where exactly he came from. Maybe he just enjoys the Playhouse company.

The latest ghoul to join in the fun is the Bouncing Red Meanie, sometimes called the Bouncing Loony. On a Halloween Night in the seventies, a group of students held a séance to try to communicate with the ghostly gang at the Playhouse. They conjured up a little more than they bargained for.

During their trance, they looked at the stage. On it was a man with a gashed gray face, dressed in red from head to toe, pacing back and forth. He picked up steam every time he crossed the stage, until eventually he was going so fast he rose in the air and began bouncing of the walls. As that happened, the house phones in the theatre began ringing, distracting them.

One student's gaze again turned towards the seats, and the other eyes followed hers. They found that the auditorium was completely filled with people dressed in turn of the century outfits – starched collars, dark jackets, and evening gowns. A spotlight focused on the Bouncing Red Meanie. He turned toward the crowd and the audience broke into a silent ovation, his reward for the evening's performance that the seance had so rudely interrupted.

The Bouncing Red Meanie manifests itself now either as a man or a red ball-shaped light, and his pleasure is to chase people around at breakneck speed.

There's also alleged to be some ghostly shenanigans that occur in the ticket office, but its mischievous poltergeist pales compared to the antics of the phantom posse working the building.

The Pittsburgh Playhouse has been owned and operated by Point Park University since 1973. It's home to three performance spaces for shows staged by The Rep, Point Park's resident professional theatre company, and three student companies: the Conservatory Theatre Company, Conservatory Dance Company, and Playhouse Jr.

A think tank has suggested that the University relocate its renowned theater department from Oakland to its downtown campus. It might be the smart move for PPU, but would break the hearts of local theatre - and ghost - lovers.