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.

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