Saturday, July 25, 2009

Trotter's Curse

Anthony Wayne, by James Sharples, Sr., from Explore Pennsylvania

In 1792, General Mad Anthony Wayne built Fort Fayette. It was slightly downstream from the site of old Fort Pitt, and served as a HQ and supply post for the the troops during the Indian Wars. When he wasn't fighting, he was drinking, and he was a nasty, thoughtless drunk.

Sergeant John Trotter, a camp aide, caught him in one of his stupors, and figuring he would be out of commission for awhile, took a trip home to what is now Murrysville. While he was gone, Wayne called for him. Discovering that he was away, the hung over general commanded three officers to find him and shoot him on the spot for desertion.

They ran across him returning to the fort, and prepared to do Wayne's bidding. Trotter asked for a Bible first, and called down the Lord's vengeance via Psalm 109 (The Prayer Of A Falsely Accused Person). He finished with "My accusers will be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak." Then the officers carried out their orders.

When Wayne sobered up and realized what he had done, he sank into a deep depression. Trotter's curse would be enough to depress anyone and it worked on everyone involved. Not only was it said that his spirit haunted Wayne and the guys who executed him, but the futures of the perps were...well, cursed.

One officer became an alcoholic and for the rest of his life believed that Satan, in the form of a mad dog, followed him. The second officer was afflicted with a form of diabetes that made him continuously thirsty. The third officer went insane, convinced he was possessed by the Devil.

As for Wayne, he died four years later, never winning elective office as he so fervently desired. His body was disinterred from its' Fort Presque Isle grave, and his bones had the flesh boiled off them and then were buried in different spots around the state. Trotter is buried in Penn Hill's Beulah Presbyterian Cemetery, where he's said to lay quietly at rest.

This story is retold in Haunted Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson & Mark Nesbitt.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

History Haunts Old St. Patrick's Cathedral

old saint patricks nyc
Image of Old Saint Patrick's Cathedral

The corner stone of Old St. Patrick's, on 263 Mulberry Street in Soho, was laid on June 8, 1809. The cathedral was dedicated on May 14, 1815, and served as the seat of New York City's diocese until 1879.

Beneath the church lies a catacomb of mortuary vaults, opened only once a year, the resting place of many former St. Patrick's Cathedral bishops and Tammany Hall politicians. Buried underneath the front entrance way is Bishop John DuBois.

He was forced to leave France by the French Revolution in May, 1791, and fled in disguise to America. He opened a school on the mountain in Emmittsburg, Maryland, founding the present Mt. St. Mary's College. Father DuBois became bishop in 1825, and served until 1839, passing away at the age of 84 in 1842.

And if you ever want to talk over the early days of Catholcism, stop by. His spirit is said to remain in the church, and he's been spotted often by visitors to the Cathedral. But he's one-upped in rank by an almost-saintly spook.

Outside is a cemetery containing many old graves and tombstones, hidden from Mulberry Street view by a tall brick wall built in the 1800's to ward off rock-throwing Protestants during New York's gang wars. Its most famous guest was Pierre Toussaint, a Black New Yorker, born a slave in Haiti, and originally buried there, although he now rests at the new St. Patrick's.

In 1995, then Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal O’Connor, ordered his remains to the crypt for the archbishops of New York that lie beneath the main altar of the cathedral. Toussaint is the only layman in their company.

Toussaint attended daily Mass at 6 a.m. for 60 years while operating a high-class hairdressing salon after being freed as a slave. He founded, with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, one of New York City's first orphanages, and helped raise funds for the city's first cathedral in the 19th century - Old St. Patricks.

Oh, and the Church has beatified him after accepting a miracle, one step from being declared a saint. His intercession cured a five-year-old little Irish boy of advanced scoliosis, with spinal X-Rays as the proof. Now he's Blessed Pierre Toussaint.

And though his bones were transplanted - the Church actually had his body exhumed in 1990 as part of the sainthood process - he never left his his old stomping grounds. Toussaint's spook is regularly sighted roaming the Old St. Patrick's cemetery, on the grounds he helped to build.

Who sez all ghosts are evil?

BTW, Old St. Patrick's is the starting point for Marilyn Stoat's "Street Smarts" tour called "Soho Ghosts." So if you're ever curious...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pittsburgh Zombies, Arise...

george romaro zombies
Zombies From George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" from Wiki

Yes, it's the the season of the zombie. Pittsburgh's undead can rise and take part in the South Side Zombie Walk Saturday night. The creepy crawlers should shuffle their way to the Town Tavern, at 2009 E. Carson Street. Underage zombies can mill about outside or rally at the Beehive a few blocks away between 7-8 PM.

Here's the night's ghoulish grind and its rules (yes, even the undead have to toe the line), according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

And if you care to feed on human flesh at the Monroeville Mall, home of the Guiness record-setting Zombie Mash-Up, it's scheduled for the haunting season, on October 11th.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Anchors Aweigh

USS Constellation at the Inner Harbor from Historic Naval Ships

There are three ships of the United States Navy that have borne the name USS Constellation, honoring the new constellation of stars (it was up to 15 when the first was launched) on the United States flag.

Baltimore's Constellation was commissioned in 1854, the second of the trio, and was the last all-sail ship built by the United States Navy. It served through the Civil War and wasn't decommissioned until a century after its christening. Today the proud lady sits on drydock in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, a naval museum and living slice of American history.

And hey, it's still got a pretty experienced crew on board - of spooks.

One story tells of a priest that was roaming the ship alone, trying to get his bearings straight. He was taken in tow by an older guide, who showed him all the nooks and crannies and knew the entire history of the ship. Except there were no guides on duty.

The padre's description of his host fit Carl Hansen, the ship's old night watchmen. He died in 1965, but has been sighted many times, both as a spirit and a below-decks card player. But most of the apparitions aren't so thrilled to be aboard the "Connie."

The best known may be the ghost of Neil Harvey, a young yeoman accused of deserting his gun station during a raging sea battle. The captain had him lashed to his cannon tube, and fired, splattering poor Harvey to a very messy burial at sea. (Other stories say he fell asleep on guard duty and was executed by firing squad in front of a cannon; how boring.)

He's been seen in uniform, generally on the orlop deck (below the main deck) and is so realistic that he's often mistaken for one of the ship's guides, although he's also been seen as a glowing blob. The giveaway is that he floats over the decks.

The spook of the captain that had him executed, Thomas Truxtun, is also a regular. The no-nonsense (some say sadistic) skipper also treads the ship - he was its first commander - and is usually associated with the forecastle, the short deck by the bow. Truxtun’s ghost is donned in a Revolutionary War era Navy uniform with a ruffled shirt, gold-striped pants and a cocked hat, holding a sword.

And to show their loyalty to the ship, both Harvey and Truxtun transferred over from the original USS Constellation, a frigate that first set sail in 1798. Hey, what self-respecting spook wants to haunt a non-existent ship?

But never fear; there are spirits besides Hansen that belong to this version of the Connie.

One is the apparition of an eleven year-old boy, an assistant to the ship's surgeon. He was stabbed to death by two sailors in 1822 on the orlop deck, but still calls the ship his eternal home.

Another oft-sighted spook is the sailor that hung himself on the gun deck, and his melancholy soul is still reportedly seen there.

There are, of course, the usual phenomena - orbs, the smell of gunpowder, and unexplained noises and footsteps. We'll leave you with a final story.

In 1955, a naval officer, last to leave the ship, took a picture of the empty Constellation. It was published in the Baltimore Sun, and lo and behold, a figure was seen in the photo of a man on deck. Did someone stay aboard? Was it Truxtun or Hansen? Or is there another spirit manning his station on the Connie, forever sailing the boundless seas?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mercyhurst's Spooky Sister

Mercyhurst Old Main and Chapel - image from Family Images

Founded in 1926, Mercyhurst College in Erie has become the second largest Mercy-operated Catholic college in America. And like virtually every Catholic college worth its salt, it sports a spooked-out sister.

Old Main Tower: Mercyhurst's first building was the Gothic Old Main, built by the Sisters of Mercy and completed in 1925. And this dorm is Spook Central for the school.

The tale is that during the WW2, when the Old Main was still used as a convent, one sister joined the order after she was told her fiance had been killed in combat. But he was just MIA, and he returned with a ring for her after the war. Having taken her vows, she couldn't marry him, and went mad. She was confined to the Old Main Tower to protect herself (and the other nuns too, we'd assume).

The sister eventually killed herself. The distraught nun is said to roam the halls of the building and has been seen on the Old Main Tower, where the students believe she keeps a benevolent eye on them. (The Sisters of Mercy owned Old Main outright until 1993, renting it to the College until then) and in Egan Hall.

Christ the King Chapel: The sister of Old Main fame has been seen in the chapel, as has a blue orb by a statue of young Jesus (the chapel is joined to Old Main, a dorm now, but a convent back in the day). It's said that the good sister slipped the ring she got from her boyfriend on the icon's finger. It stayed on His hand until the 50's, when a girl took it in an effort, it's alleged, to get her boyfriend to commit. We'll never know if it would have worked; she died on the way to the tryst.

Another bit of lore is that if you touched the ring, you'd meet a tragic end within five years. At any rate, Mercyhurst decided it would be good policy to not have its students killed off by a cursed wedding band, and the ring disappeared after that night. Some say it reappears on its own every so often to raise a little havoc, while others say it was buried and forgotten. Some believe the sister is still looking for her ring.

Egan Hall: This is the only haunting not related to the tragic nun. Egan's lore is that there are certain rooms that you can't keep a mirror in; it'll will shatter. It's also said that faces can be seen reflected back just before the mirror explodes. There are also unexplained lights that occasionally shine from Egan's attic, which has been boarded off from the Hall proper and has no access point.

A reader wrote and said that there were "Old Hag" experiences in the dorm, where sleeping people would feel as if they were being held down in bed, and that visions of nuns, monks, and even a small girl were seen by her classmates.

Egan Hall is connected to Old Main and the Chapel, too, and it's been claimed that people have seen the face of the suicidal sister in windows. She sometimes roams the halls, and enjoys playing poltergeist tricks on the students, like turning things off and on.

Weber Hall: Many students who walk over the small green island in the middle of East Main Drive in front of Weber Hall swear that they immediately suffer bad luck. Is it local lore - or where the ghostly sister's ring was buried?

There are supposed to be other apparitions in habits on campus, too. We've heard stories of the shades of old nuns gathered outside the Chapel, and other spirit sisters have been spotted in the Grotto.

The sister's sad tale was written up by Stephanie Wincek in Ghosts of Erie County.