Friday, October 26, 2012

The Deacon

The Depreciation Land Museum from Find A Grave
Photograph by David Briggs

In 1783, the Commonwealth set aside 720,000 acres of land in western Pennsylvania to compensate its Revolutionary War soldiers for their service. Since the dollar had depreciated drastically enough during the war to become virtually worthless, the land was offered in lieu of their pay. The area became known as The Depreciation Lands, and included all of the North Hills of Pittsburgh, along with parts of Butler, Beaver, Lawrence and Armstrong Counties. And a bit of it still exists today.

At the Depreciation Lands Museum, located on 4743 Pioneer Road off Route 8 in Hampton, you can visit the museum, housed in what was once the red brick Pine Creek Covenanter Church, built in 1837, along side its tree lined cemetery.

The grounds include a replicated one-room schoolhouse circa 1885, complete with a school bell, the Armstrong's log cabin that was built in 1803, a wagon house with a Conestoga and one horse sleigh parked inside, a working blacksmith's shop, outside baking hearths, a meeting hall and an old-timey herb garden. The staff even turns the museum into the "Talley Cavey Tavern" for grog and victual funders.

Oh, the Deacon is still there, too.

He was first noticed in 1973, when the deserted church was being fixed up after Hampton Township bought the property (It's operated by the Depreciation Lands Museum Association, a non-profit group). Workers said they saw a tall old man dressed in a long black coat, trousers and boots, the epitome of an eighteenth century preacher. He was seen often enough that they decided to give him a name, and the Deacon was christened.

Hard to tell if he's a jolly old soul, since he's never spoken. But unlike many spirits in renovated buildings, the Deacon seems pleased that folk are back in his church and polishing it up, even if it's for sightseeing, not soul saving. He's especially fond of the workers.

His first good deed was helping a volunteer who was replacing a window. She was having a tough time squaring up the frames, and was shaving the wood to get a snug fit. In the middle of her frustrating work, she saw the Deacon out of the corner of her eye, but he was gone in a flash when she turned toward him.  Going back to the job at hand, she caught a glimpse of him again, and again he faded from view.

Exasperated at her disappearing sidewalk foreman, the lady said "Don't just stand there. The least you can do is help me." And bingo, her knife sliced the frame perfectly and the window slid cozily in place.

A little later in the project, a youngster was on a ladder painting the frame around the stairwell. Other workers present said that his ladder slipped off the wall, then just stopped in mid-air and popped back up. Some of them believe the Deacon caught the ladder and saved the painter a nasty fall.

In fact, the Deacon may have been in the church before the Depreciation Museum staff. Karen Parsons, the volunteer coordinator, related to Deborah Deasy of the Pine Creek Journal that a visitor told her that his mom was churchgoer there, and fell off a ladder while cleaning. She landed gently on the floor, and he credited the Deacon with catching her and providing a soft and safe landing.

Sometimes he can be a little hard on the help, though. Parsons also told Deasy that an electrician left the museum in a huff when the light switch he turned on kept getting turned off - and no one was in the building but him (and the Deacon, we assume).

He's also a protector. The museum is only open on Sundays, but rents out the grounds to various tours and groups on other days. Once some Girl Scouts spent the night in sleeping bags in a utility room. Their adult mentors, in a different room, were awakened by an avalanche of noise. The original plaster ceiling had crashed through the newer dropped ceiling and its lowered light fixtures, showering the girl's room with debris. Not only weren't any of the scouts hurt, but many never even woke up during the collapse. Once again, it's thought the Deacon came to the rescue.

The Deacon has become quite the local celebrity. Beside Deasy's article, "Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County" by Beth Trapani has a chapter on him. You can do one better by visiting the museum. Just bring a ladder and wobble - that should bring the Deacon running.

Friday, October 12, 2012

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

One If By Land, Two If By Sea from Restaurants In NYC

One if by Land, Two if by Sea is a restaurant located in the heart of New York City's West Village on Barrow Street. It's a romantic room, with rich wood decor, white linen tablecloths, ornately framed oil paintings of old dead people, a grand piano and ghosts...

Well, the ghosts may not be all that romantic, but they do add to the ambiance. Some of paranormal phenomena is just poltergeist pranking: picture frames tilting, devices turning themselves on and off, icy drafts (and we don't mean imported ales) by the bar, flying plates, chairs being pulled out from under people, flickering lights, footsteps heard coming from an empty attic, cold spots, staff members being shoved by unseen hands (sometimes down steps), orbs and that sort of ghostly tomfoolery.

Minor ethereal annoyances, to be sure. But the waitstaff has caught glimpses of shadows out of the corner of their eye, and waiters have even gone to serve customers who turned out to be hungry specters instead of warm bodies. It's enough that some workers have handed in their resignations on the spot.

But there are a lot more things going bump in the New York night than misty forms and incarnate mischief. Mediums have identified 23 spirits who call the restaurant home. The physics say they are from a variety of eras, but are all aware of one other.

In the Constitution Room, diners who are loud or argumentative usually request being seated in another of the restaurant's rooms without knowing why. The answer is simple. The room is the haunt of a former Ziegfeld Follies girl who passed away in the building and didn't approve of uncivil tongues. The staff lights candles for her gentle soul.

The Mezzanine is the stomping grounds of a lady entity in a nineteenth century black dress who appears late at night. One of the balcony tables is sometimes occupied by the specter of an African-American man. Another shadow is a woman dressed in a black gown who walks down the staircase, but never up. The speculation is that she broke her neck falling down the steps.

There's a spirit who inhabits the restaurant office. Another regular apparition is of a man who enjoys sitting by the fireplace, and yet another of a ghostie who is generally spotted by the front door. Others have noted the distinctive perfume scent of a dearly departed patron in the ladies’ room. Every nook seems to have its own lore...or at least 23 of them do.

But Aaron Burr and his daughter Theodosia Burr Alston are the pair most identified with the restaurant, and in fact the building is claimed to be Burr's old carriage house. There's a big honking portrait of Aaron in the house to drive home the connection. Yet with the proximity and all the baggage old Aaron carried around (that duel definitely brought on some bad juju), the jury is still out on whether he is one of the many other worlders who frequent the hideaway, although the court of popular opinion says yea.

Theodosia has quite a story, though. The tale goes that she traveled by ship from South Carolina to visit her dad at home, but was captured by pirates off North Carolina who made her walk the plank. But she made it to New York in spirit, and it's said she now has taken up residence in the restaurant, the closest remaining part of her home.

She's said to have a thing for jewelry, and her usual manifestation is to yank off the earrings of lady patrons, especially at the bar (although in this day and age, she may start targeting the guys, too.)

So if you're looking for a nice, lights down low dinner in the Big Apple with your inamorata, head to One If By Land. Who knows who the two of you will get to split that last bottle of wine with? Oh, and have her wear clip-on earrings, just to be on the safe side.