Friday, November 23, 2012

Charlie Schwab

 Charles Schwab from PA Libraries

Charlie Schwab was a lot of things in his lifetime. He was a business tycoon that ran Bethlehem Steel, philanthropist, the force who forged the city of Bethlehem out of four municipalities, theater lover, business wheeler and dealer, union buster, gambler, womanizer and ultimately a rich guy who died broke when the stock market crashed in 1929.

But it's his afterlife that interests us. He's known as "Schwaboo the Ghost" at Penn State and left behind a legacy of haunted houses. He's kind of an oddity in that he was was associated with several haunts during his lifetime, but has chosen not to spend eternity in them.

Maybe the everyday dead people they host are too low brow for a member of the gilded gentry to join with, but it's much more likely that he just didn't have much attachment to the rooms when he was alive. But he sure had a nose for places the otherworlders liked.

The most famous of the buildings is the Hotel Bethlehem. Schwab built it in 1920 so his business clients had a first class hangout when they came a'calling.  It was erected on the demolished bones of the Eagle Hotel, and that inn is the root of its spookery.

The Bethlehem is storied to be home to all sorts of paranormal phenomena, from poltergeist annoyances to mists and apparitions. Some spirits are seen regularly, and three are known by name. One is May Yohe, a stage actress who once lived at the Eagle. People have heard her singing and playing the piano while her specter has been reported in the exercise room on the third floor and in the lobby.

Another is Mrs. Brong, an Eagle innkeeper who was noted for going barefoot. Staff and guests have seen her ghost in the restaurant and kitchen, dressed in 1800's attire but sans shoes and stockings, giving her away. Finally, there's Daddy Thomas, an unofficial city welcome wagon type during his life, who resides in the boiler room.

Some as of yet unidentified spirits have been seen, too. They are a lady who is often spotted in the dining room/kitchen area, children playing throughout the hotel and another child on the mezzanine.

And if it's open, don't miss a chance to book Room 932, publicized by the Bethlehem as the "Room with a Boo." A man has been reported popping in on guests occasionally, and EVPs recorded the voice of a spirit named Mary. Paranormal phenomena is commonplace; we particularly like the wallpaper changing color.

Another of his haunted addresses was 114 W Fourth Street in Bethlehem. It was his in-laws' home, and Charlie and his wife Emma stayed there while waiting for their new house to be readied. Later, it was the the residence of Schwab protégé Eugene Gifford Grace, who became president and chairman of Bethlehem Steel.

It's the following act that's the likely source of the spooks, though - Cantelmi’s Funeral Home. No one spoke of spooks there; it was an occupational hazard, so why complain?

But the business that followed, Anna Mia's Restaurant (don't look for; it's been shuttered for over a decade) bore the brunt. The guests and staff heard unexplained music, footsteps, voices and found objects moving from place to place. As for spirits, well, that's up in the air. The owners were said to be fond of their friendly ghost, though others said there were no actual apparitions at the place.

A Moravian College student and her bud investigated rumors of Schwab's haunted barn on his former Bethlehem property after hearing old wives tales concerning its spookiness. They entered the gray, falling-apart shed, and the first thing they noticed was that no sound from the outside penetrated the barn, even though the doors were wide open - and they were as big as, well, barn doors.

Then they felt a cold spot. That was followed by raspy voices warning them to “Get Out” over and over, and they heeded the advice. Whether there's a rational explanation or not we'll never know; the rickety structure has since been demolished.

Ah, but there is one place that the specter of Charlie Schwab is thought to visit. That would be Schwab Auditorium at Penn State, built through a $155,000 donation by the stage-loving Scwab and his wife. It was the first PSU building financed by a private donor, and is still used by the Center for the Performing Arts for chamber music.

Now he wouldn't be the only ghost there; George Atherton, a college president buried outside the auditorium, is reported to be an ethereal visitor, along with a variety of mists and apparitions.

Schwaboo the Ghost's claim to fame: Performers have witnessed a seat in the auditorium go down as if someone were sitting on it, and then later rise, as if the invisible person got up and left. People believe that the unseen patron is Charlie, who loved theater. No report on he he feels now that it's a musical center.

So old Charlie may not be earthbound any longer, but he sure has left a trail of haunts behind him - his hotel, his temporary crib, the barn on his estate, and a college auditorium that we know of. Too bad he wasn't a medium back in the day. Charlie Schwab would have attracted the spirit world like a flower does bees.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Burlington County Prison Museum

The Burlington Prison Dungeon from the Burlington Prison Museum

Mount Holly Township is home to 9,500 souls, the county seat of Burlington County, New Jersey, and an eastern suburb of Philadelphia. It's also noted as one of the more actively haunted spots in the east, which makes sense as they trace their municipal roots back to 1688. If you want confirmation of that spooky factoid, just take a trip to 128 High Street and visit the Burlington County Prison Museum.

Built in 1811, following the design of the young and then unknown architect Robert Mills, the prison functioned from 1811 to 1965, making it the oldest continually operating lockup in America at the time of its closing. The smallish stone building (it held 100 prisoners in its heyday) not only looked foreboding, but also looked like a textbook haunted English manse. And its reputation has lived up to its looks.

Workman renovating the prison in 1999 for its conversion to the museum were the first to note some eerie going-ons. Their tools would disappear, to be found later behind prison doors that hadn't been opened in decades. They could hear footsteps where no one was at, and ghostly voices and moans added to the cacophony. Glimpses of shadow figures flashed by, caught just in the corner of their eyes. It got to the point where the work gang would leave the job site in a group; no one wanted to be left alone in the old jailhouse.

So whatcha gonna do? Well, what everybody does in those circumstances (at least in this blog) - they called in the paranormal investigators to get to the bottom of the situation. The ghost hunters poked and probed with their electronica, and came up with EVPs, orbs and mists, apparition sightings, temperature spikes and drops, and all sorts of anomalies. One set of investigators were followed by the scent of a burning cigarette that tailed them through the womens wing. The paranormal community confirmed what the workmen already knew - the prison was spook central.

Staff and visitors reported like phenomena (especially in the gallows and solitary confinement areas), and more - the senses of presence and depression, objects that move themselves, electronic malfunctions, moans and screams, but especially sightings. Shadow figures were reported from the first floor of the prison. There are tales of a spirit in the shower area who was kind enough to leave a footprint in the dust once. Others have claimed to see a legless ghost glide from the main gate toward the prison yard.

The basement is a hot spot; twice prison employees were killed near there by inmates during break-out tries. One cellar spook is thought to be that of murdered prison guard William Harry King, who has been reported roaming the lower level hallways of the prison.

But the star of the show is the otherwordly Joel Clough, who was sentenced to hang in 1833 for the brutal stabbing murder of a lover who had jilted him, convicted by a jury that didn't buy his insanity defense. He tried to escape - not much to lose, hey? - and for his efforts was tossed in the dungeon, a solitary cell with an iron ring in the middle that he was chained to while stark naked 24/7. Clough eventually had his neck stretched at a crossroads a few miles outside the jail in front of a large crowd, and was buried in the prison yard in an unmarked grave, the spot now marked by a tree.

Since his hanging, prisoners, guards, staff and regular folk have allegedly seen items in the room levitate, heard his moaning and rattling chains, and seen his apparition sitting in his cell. Security motion detectors keep going off there, even when the area is empty. Paranormal teams have all confirmed an active presence in and around the dungeon, so it looks like Joel Clough has claimed Burlington prison as his home for the afterlife.

The prison lore was featured in an episode of the SyFy Channel's "Ghost Hunters." It's included in Jeff Belanger's "Encyclopedia of Haunted Places." And if you want to catch it up close and personal, no prob. The museum (a National Historic Landmark) is open Thursdays-Sundays. If you're in the neighborhood during trick-or-treat season, they offer a "Haunt of the Prison" tour weekend evenings in October with a tricked-out Halloween prison yard.

See if you can tell the local actors from the local apparitions.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Back To Normal

Sorry, guys, the blog was hijacked earlier this week and it took ol' H&H a couple of days to root out the offending code. But we're back to normal, and we're sorry for the redirect.