Friday, February 25, 2011

South Park Spooks

Corvette Tunnel from Bridges of Allegheny County

South Park in Allegheny County covers 2,013 acres, spreading across the South Hills municipalities of Bethel Park and South Park. It has a host of activities and its trails, pool, rink, and golf course draw visitors by the carload.

It's also a popular place to cruise - H&H spent half his teenaged life loafing there - and when the sun goes down, the spirits come out. There are three particularly enduring eerie tales that are woven into the Park's lore.

One involves the old Sulli-Nesta ("Sully's") pool. It operated until 1977 as a segregated black swimming area, when it was finally filled in after the main Corrigan Drive pool became integrated. At least two people drowned there and the barn hops outside the pool often ended with post-dance brawls. Now it's best noted as the site for the Hundred Acres Manor Haunted House during the Halloween season.

Staffers and visitors there are treated to several spirits. Among several sightings, there are two noted reports.

One employee saw a figure running across the room and gave it chase. When he caught up to him, he realized that it was sunk up to its' ankles in the floor, as if it was running in shallow water. Then the figure disappeared.

The most renown spook is an elderly gent who worked in the old pool's pumphouse. He's been spotted by guests as they came out of the haunted maze.

In the old days, that spot was the edge of the pool where he used to sit during his lunch break. Woman are particularly uneasy around him. They feel him watching their every move and sometimes the sensations are so intense they won't work the area alone.

The sightings are mostly in the summer, maybe because that's when the pool was open, or maybe because the commercial haunts mask the activity of the real ghosts. There are also sounds of doors opening and closing, unexplainable animal-like noises, and voices heard in conversation.

Corvette Tunnel on Piney Fork Road is another spooked out place. Depending who you ask, it's either just under or sharing the infamous Green Man's Tunnel. This spot is haunted by the spirit of a girl that shuffled off this mortal coil when she slammed her 'Vette into another car while drag racing.

If you drive through at the stroke of midnight, it's said that you can hear her screams, screeching tires, racing motors, and see the headlights of the Corvette.

There's also a small creek running alongside the tunnel. Its tale is that a man killed his wife and disposed of her body by chopping it up and tossing it in that creek. If you're walking through the tunnel, the story goes that her invisible spirit clutches at your legs, begging for help.

Finally, its most famed legend involves the Green Man's Tunnel. A hideously scarred green man is reputed to pop up and frighten the romance out of young couples; the tale is based loosely on the real life experiences of Ray Robinson. H&H has the full tale here; it deserved its own post.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jenny Jump Park/Shades Of Death Road

Jenny Jump Park's Ghost Lake from NJ State Parks

Jenny Jump State Forest is located in New Jersey's Warren County along the rolling terrain of the Jenny Jump Mountain Range. Vistas of the Highlands and the Kittatinny Mountains - which has its own set of eerie legends - to the west, and scenic views of the Great Meadows in the east await the visitor who climbs the narrow path leading to the top of the peak.

Rocky outcroppings and boulders line the trail, evidence of the great glaciers that once covered the site. There are 14 miles of trail, scenic views galore, hunting and fishing lands...and the spirit of Jenny, the lore of Ghost Lake, and the legends of neighboring Shades of Death Road and Lenape Lane.

The namesake's story has it that Jenny was a nine year old girl from back in the settler days who lived in a small white house below a cliff. One day the child was picking berries on the rocks above when an Indian surprised her.

In fear she cried to her father below for help. He responded, "Jump, Jenny Jump!" The child leaped from the cliff to her death (it's unsaid, but we assume poppa was below and tried to catch her. Oooops.)

Her small figure, it's claimed, can still be seen wandering around the cliff. She's been described differently; some say she's a little girl in white that skips along the trail, while others describe her as being in a dark blue dress with white sleeves and light hair.

Ghost Lake was created in the early 1900's when two men dammed a creek that ran through the narrow valley between houses they had just built. They came up with the lake's name because of the wraithlike vapors they saw rising off it in the early mornings, and called the vale Haunted Hollow; both are part of the park.

Visitors report that no matter what time of night they visit the lake, the sky above it always seems as bright as twilight. Several have sighted ghosts in the area, especially in a deserted (and now demolished) old cabin across the lake from Shades of Death Road. The spooks are supposedly the victims of long ago murders.

As far as the lake itself, one legend says that the early settlers killed the Indians and threw them into the lake. This seems pretty unlikely, considering that the lake doesn't date back that far in time.

A more likely tale says that the mists are the ghosts of Indians floating up the mountain from an old burial ground beneath the waters. Nearby is a cave known as the Fairy Hole, a Lenape site that may have held religious significance to the Native Americans. Now it's sacred to teen party crowds and graffiti taggers.

Then we have Shades of Death Road which runs along the border of the park by the lake. Why the name? Well, pick your poison; no one really knows the origin.

Some say it's named for the guys murdered in the Ghost Lake cabin. Other theories cite malarial swamps, murderdous highwaymen who were hung along the road, a long history of killings and suicides, attacks by wild animals, or fatal car accidents that happened along the dark, twisty lane at night. The area has its own mythology.

A popular saga of urban mythology involves Lenape Lane, an unpaved private road that is little more than a driveway to some homes that ends at a farm house.

People report that the area is always chilly, gives one a sense of foreboding, and there are claims of seeing apparitions on it.

Legend also has it that nighttime visitors to Lenape Lane can sometimes spot an orb of white light (other versions of the story claim the orbs are the headlights of a phantom car) that appears near the end of the road and chases cars back out to Shades Of Death. There's also the tale of the eerie red light.

The red light is from a reflector nailed in a tree in the middle of the lane, meant to warn drivers that the road bears right. Legend says that if you circle around the tree and drive down the road again at midnight and see the red light shine in the mirror, the driver will die.

Our guess is that the legend was started and spread by the homeowners on Lenape Lane, who have had it up to here with the kids laying rubber up and down their narrow lane at all hours of the night.

Another bit of lore tells of a bridge over the Flatbrook River on Old Mine Road off of the Shades of Death. If drivers stop after midnight with their high beams on and honk their horns three times, they'll be greeted by the ghosts of two youngsters who were run over while playing on the road.

The bridge is no longer accessible by car; a new span has been built next to it. You can still get to the spooked-out bridge on foot. Maybe if you have a good set of flashlights and a vuvuzela, you can still coax the spirits out to visit...

The most enduring legend from Shades of Death Road is that of the Native American spirit guide who takes the shape of a deer and appears along the road at night. If drivers don't avoid him as he crosses the road and crash into the phantom whitetail, they will soon get into a serious accident with a real deer.

A local threw cold water on the legends, writing us that "Bootlegger's started all the spooky tales to keep people away from the area and their stills in the 1920's; it's that simple. Quite a few farmers hung themselves along that road, but more hung or shot themselves on Alphano Road, which runs parallel to Shades on the other side of the valley. I was raised there and never saw a Ghost. I saw lots of spirits though, of the liquid kind."

Our suggestion is to take a day trip to Ghost Lake if you're into communing with the spirits. While the Shades of Death lore is appealing, it's beyond old to the homeowners, with the noise and stolen street signs making their lives spooky. And most people think the combination of its name and unlit, tree-lined back road make-up are the genesis of its tales.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The James Wolfe Sculpture Trail/Johnstown Inclined Plane

Johnstown Inclined Plane
(photo from the Johnstown Area Heritage Association)

Built in 1891, the Johnstown Inclined Plane was constructed as a "lifesaver" after the Johnstown Flood of 1889, meant to carry people from the river valley to the safety of the heights above in an emergency while getting workers to and from the Cambria Iron Works and Rolling Hills mine.

It served its purpose well during the 1936 Flood when it carried 4,000 men, women and children to safety atop Yoder Hill when flood waters again submerged the City.

In over 80 years of operation the Inclined Plane Railway has carried over 40 million passengers and countless vehicles. The Guinness Book of Records rates it as "The steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world."

One of its highlights is the James Wolfe Sculpture Trail. This popular hiking trail winds past the Incline and along the Stony Brook River.

The 1-1/2 mile long trail climbs 500' along the hillside between the top and bottom of the Plane. Spaced along the way are eight steel sculptures created by sculptor James Wolfe.

On July 10, 1902, 112 miners lost their lives in an explosion in the Cambria Iron Company's nearby Rolling Mills mine. People have claimed to see apparitions of phantom miners walking the James Wolfe Sculpture trail that leads up to the mine entrance.

There have been sightings of a lone miner on the trail who disappears as you approach him, and of a pair of miners holding their lunch buckets at the base of the Johnstown Inclined Plane, still waiting for their ride. The spook of a young boy has been reportedly seen there, too.

The sightings date back even further. It's alleged that there was an Indian burial ground near the top of the Plane, and floating lights have been seen dancing around the Native American's final resting place.

So if you get to visit J-Town and ride the Plane to its impressive observation deck, keep your eyes peeled. You may see more below you than the Stony Brook river valley.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Washington Square Park

Hangman's Elm - photo by Srosenstock for Wikipedia Commons

Washington Square Park is among the elite of New York City's 1,900 public greens. The ten-acre site, which also serves as the quad of NYU, is a landmark in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village, and a magnet for marchers, the fashionable and the bohemian.

But when the park was dedicated in 1826, its pedigree wasn't all Joe Cool. Its foundations are an old Native American burial grounds, and like many NYC parks, Washington Square was built over a potters field of the graves first of the unwanted and unknown, and later the victims of the yellow fever epidemic of the early 1800s.

It was also the scene of weekend festivities in the mid-eighteenth century, when it was an execution grounds. The crowds would turn out and picnic while the criminals of the era were hung from the elms in the morning and tossed into a common grave in the afternoon.

A legend passed on in many tourist guides says that the large tree at the northwest corner of the park, honored with a plaque specifying it as the "Hangman's Elm," was the old hanging tree.

Unfortunately for the legend, said tree is located on the other side of the now-diverted Minetta Creek, then the dividing line for the execution grounds, and apparently stood in the back garden of a private house during the necktie party days.

Later, it was thought that the park area was used as a formal cemetery, with tombstones and all, for the dearly departed huddled masses. All in all, it's estimated that 15-20,000 bodies lay under the park's greenery and landmark fountain and arch.

So hey, no surprise that the park has become somewhat famous for reports of apparitions walking around the park during the bewitching hours. Some speculate that the spooks are from the poorly buried Potter Field remains, searching for their bones that have been broken and scattered from their shallow graves.

Other stories say that ghostly figures still sway in the breeze from the sturdy branches of the Hangman's Elm late at night (hey, maybe they did hang people in backyards).

The most famous is the ghost of Rose Butler, the last woman hung in Washington Square in 1820. A maid accused of torching her master's house, she was executed for a fire that later investigations showed to be almost surely started accidentally. Her spirit has been seen swinging from the Elm on stormy nights - when else?

Ghost hunters have photos of orbs galore populating the park.

In justice, the karma of the place may be the source of its lore. New says said that “the place just feels haunted.” So one night, after an afternoon of watching street theatre and sipping Starbucks while playing chess, hang out til the midnight hour. Then you'll discover if the spooks are real or not...