Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ricketts Glen State Park

Tuscarora Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park
(photo by Dave Pidgeon of Compass Points)

Ricketts Glen is a National Natural Landmark known for its old-growth forest and many waterfalls along Kitchen Creek. It's carved out of five townships in three counties: Sugarloaf in Columbia County, Fairmount and Ross in Luzerne County, and Colley and Davidson in Sullivan County. The burg of Ricketts, 30 miles west of Scranton on the Sullivan County border, has been a ghost town since 1920.

The park area was once home to the Susquehannocks - who had their own local tales of evil spirits lurking on the nearby Sheshequin Path - and later Lenape and Shawnee before being pretty much cleared of Native Americans after the French & Indian War and Revolution.

It was named after Civil War Colonel R. Bruce Ricketts, whose family bought the land a generation earlier. The ex-officer ran a hotel and over time either owned or controlled 80,000+ acres of land in this area through his lumber companies, which clear-cut nearly all the property (and, in fact, the state still allows controlled lumbering in the park). His family sold 10,000 acres to the state after his death, and PA opened the park in 1944.

There are a couple of spooky tales associated with the isolated area. Here's the better known local lore:

First is the legend of the "ghost tree." During the lumber boom days, a boy was cutting down a tree when it toppled on him, causing his death. A sapling sprouted where the boy died, and grew into a white tree that has never produced a single leaf, even to this day. It's also said that nothing will grow near the ghost tree.

Lake Jean's story is a bit spookier. A boy fell through the ice, and his parents, watching from a shore side cabin, rushed to his rescue. They too cracked the ice and dropped into the frigid lake; all three drowned. Since then, it's been said that strange lights appear over the lake, and that the faces of the family can be seen in its waters.

Locals also claim to hear voices in the wind. There is no cemetery in the area; many think the voices are the laments of all the restless spirits that were never properly laid to rest, dating from the Native-American to lumberjack days.

So hey, if you're ever visiting Pennsylvania's great northeast, take in Ricketts Glen State Park. It's a beautiful site, brimming with history, meandering trails, waterfalls, scenic spots...and a smidgeon of spookiness.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

George Rogers Clark Park

Fort at George Rogers Clark Park

OK, first, let's not get lost. This isn't the national park in Indiana or the City park in Louisville, but a local park in Clark County, Ohio, by Springfield. Still, it's an impressive little area; they pack a lot of attractions into its 250 acres.

This is where the Shawnee village of Peckuwe (Piquia) and a small British stockade stood until Colonel George Rogers Clark drove the combined Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, and Wyandot tribes out of Clark County on August 8th, 1780.

The Battle of Peckuwe was the largest action of the American Revolution west of the Allegheny Mountains. Standing beside the local Miami, the other tribes had been pushed out of Pennsylvania by the white settlers and were trying to draw a line in the sand in Ohio.

Beside fishing, picnicking and other outdoor goodies, the park features the George Rogers Clark Memorial and the Davidson Interpretive Center, which gives a history of the battle and the era. The Hertzler Museum is there, too; more on that later. In 1980, a triangular fort and blockhouse, modeled after the larger one in the village, were built. There's a lotta Ohio history on display there.

Of course, shades of the big battle's participants have been reported; Indians, colonial soldiers, and even ol' George himself have been sighted roaming the fields. Hey, the spirit of frontiersman Dan'l Boone, a long time foe of the Shawnee and active in Ohio Valley campaigning against them, is supposed to be a ghostly park visitor.

The star spook attraction may or may not be the Hertzler House. Daniel Hertzler, whose land the park sits on, built the home in 1854 for his wife and ten children, and was killed there in 1867 by robbers looking for the banker's rumored cache of cash.

It's now a museum and supposed to be haunted by Hertzler, whose murderers were never captured. The legend is that a face can be seen peeking out the window from the road.

It's believed by conspiracy theorists that tour guides avoid talking about the lore for fear that people will stop visiting the park. Others say the guides avoid the topic because it's hogwash and they don't want blamed for noisy ghost hunters nebbing through the neighbor's windows at night in search of ectoplasm. Both sound plausible enough.

If you ever get to visit the park, there are exhibits aplenty to learn the Ohio Valley's colonial history. And if you're lucky, you may even get to see some of the folk who made that history at the same time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

McConnell's Mill State Park

McConnell's Mill from The Allegheny Front

Located in Lawrence County, McConnell's Mill State Park's 2,546 acres are claimed to be one of Pennsylvania's more heavily haunted areas. It's home to sheer cliffs and the swiftly flowing Slippery Rock Creek, and many outdoor enthusiasts have lost their lives rappelling or riding the white water.

And if sudden death isn't enough to ramp up some bad juju, there are also some long time spirits associated with the park.

One is a worker who was killed when the machinery at McConnell's Mill (a grist mill that was in operation from 1852-1928) acted up. He still walks the same path to and from work as he did when he was alive, more or less a century ago.

It's claimed that if you get there at the right time, you can see him walk along the path with his lunch bucket, go into the mill, turn the lights on, and then scream as he relives that fateful day.

There's also the tale of caretaker Moses Whorton, who died at the turn of the century and still patrols MM, chasing poorly-behaving visitors away from the parkland he loved and protected during his life. A freed slave, he lived in the park in a cottage by the mill, back when Thomas McConnell still owned the land.

He stayed there for three decades, beginning in 1880, and it was the only home he knew since he was 20. It's said that if he's needed, a honk of a car horn by the old mill will bring him back.

It doesn't eeven take that much sometimes, said Butler County story-teller Jim Clements, who told Susan Seibel of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette " the dead of night, a honk of a car horn will summon Whorton. But the horn of one car was broken, so one of the boys rolled down a window and yelled, "Honk!" into the dark, causing his companions to dissolve with laughter. Their laughter caught in their throats, though, as a gray figure materialized and walked toward the car from the direction of where the miller's house once stood, the boys said. The figure hoisted a club or bat, ready to defend the mill once more."

"That was enough for the boys," Clements said. "The driver slammed the car into gear and made a frantic escape."

Another bit of lore involves a young girl who died in an accident at the McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge (built in 1874) by the mill. If you park on the bridge, turn off your lights and honk your car horn three times, her vision will appear in your rear view mirror. When you turn around to see her, she's gone. (BTW, H&H strongly recommends against sitting in the middle of a covered bridge at night with the lights off, unless you're looking to join the restless departed).

Hell's Hollow - what a great name - is the site of a long ago kiln built near a small waterfall, and is also said to host some spirit visitors.

However, bummer though it may be, it appears that all of the old park's tales are mere urban legends. A variety of paranormal hunters have dragged their recorders and vids into the woodlands and returned with nary an orb.

But hey, if you're ever stomping through McConnell's Mill and spot Moses, the old mill hand, or a little girl in your rear view mirror, give us yell. One reader has said she has gotten orb photos from the mill. So maybe these stories aren't entirely folk legends...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore

Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel

The Radisson hotel was named after George Calvert, aka Lord Baltimore and the founding father of Maryland. The 23-story hotel, opened in 1928, was built in the Art Deco style popular during the decade and was the largest in the state at the time. It's a historic landmark hotel and a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

How haunted is the old building? Hard to say. It's spooky lore seems to stem from the keyboard of Paul Schroeder, who wrote “A Haunted Hotel in Maryland” for

One story involved an alleged suicide on the 19th floor, and the elevators’ constant trips up there at night, with no one ever getting in or out of the car.

Another sighting, not reported by Schroeder, is of gangster-type spooks haunting the Lord Baltimore's halls, apparently reliving the high life of their wise guy days.

Guests, particularly those sensitive to the paranormal, have complained of nightmares, touchings, and other signs of presence from the other side.

A long-time employee, Fran Carter, was Schroeder's mother lode of tales. One story is of three people standing in the moonlit ballroom, each positioned in front of a window, gazing at the ceiling.

Carter passed within feet of the trio, even noting the brass buttons and ascot of one of the men. Likely assuming they were checking out the hall for an event, she offered to turn on the lights. As soon as she hit the switch, they disappeared.

She also related that she saw a little girl wearing a long cream colored dress and black shiny shoes run by, bouncing a red ball and going through an open door into the hotel hallway. Carter chased after her, thinking she was lost. The hallway was deserted.

Turning around, she spied a well-dressed older couple in tux and gown. Thinking they were looking for the runaway child, she pointed down the hall. The couple vanished in front of her eyes.

That was on the dreaded nineteenth floor, and that little girl is the star ghostie of the hotel. She's been reported several times as a screaming child in a long gown, crying and rocking herself back and forth. Whether she has a part to play in the suicide tale, no one knows.

If you ever visit Charm City, get a room on the nineteenth floor of the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore. You can let us know if Paul Schroeder and Fran Carter are right.