13 Haunted History Podcasts

Here’s my list of 13 haunted history podcasts that don’t hurt my ears. (I am very picky about audio quality.)

I listened to episodes from each of these.

These aren’t specific to Pennsylvania.

1.) American Hauntings Podcast by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck (The entire first season is about Alton, Illinois and the entire second season is about St. Louis, Missouri. The second season includes a multi-episode feature on the Lemp family. The audio quality of some of the first episodes is not excellent, but it improved greatly as the series progressed. I thoroughly enjoyed the history and story telling.)

2.) Snap Judgement Presents: Spooked From WNYC Radio

3.) Lore by Aaron Mahnke

4.) Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network

5.) New England Legends by Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger

6.) Southern Grimoire by K D Burr

7.) Southern Mysteries Podcast by Shannon Ballard

8.) South Gothic by Brandon Schexnayder

9.) Southern California Ghosts and Folklore hosted by Susan Burns

10.) Why Is This Place So Haunted from Destination America  – I think that this podcast consists of only 2 episodes. Both are posted on iTunes. The first episode is about the Rhode Island Shore and the second episode is about Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

11.) Hurstories  by the students of Mercyhurst University’s Digital History: Storytelling Class –  Mercyhurst University is in Erie, Pennsylvania. (My little sister currently attends Mercyhurst. She didn’t take this Digital History. Also, this podcast series was produced before my sister enrolled at Mercyhurst.)  “Hurstories” includes 4 episodes of Mercyhurst ghost stories.

12.) Curious City by WBEZ in Chicago – See the October 2014 episode “We Ain’t Afraid of No (Chicago) Ghosts!”

13.) The Bowery Boys: New York City History by Greg Young and Tom Meyers – See the annual ghost story episodes posted each October.

Bonus:

Biscayne Tales: The Miami History Podcast  – The episode from October 2014 is titled “Ghosts of the Biltmore.”

My Evening with the Fire Hall Medium: Part 2

To recap Part 1: A rural fire department (that I call  “Hosting Fire Department” ) held this fundraiser: a fire hall dinner with a medium who contacts the dead. I am skeptical of mediums and psychics. I attended the dinner anyway.

Here’s Part 2:

In order to reach Hosting Fire Department’s hall from my town, I turned off of the main highway at a cemetery.

Then I drove past “Witch Way.”

I drove into a heavily wooded area as the sun disappeared behind dark clouds. The rain pounded my windshield as I pulled into Hosting Fire Department’s parking lot.

The volunteers at Hosting Fire Department were very friendly and helpful. I left a voice mail message the night before the event to ask if I could still buy a ticket. The organizer called me back Friday morning to let me know that she could reserve a ticket for me. She asked me if I was meeting up with anyone else there, and I told her that I would be alone because I didn’t have friends. (Snark doesn’t translate well over the phone.)

Since I didn’t need to sit with anyone else, the organizer seated me at a table that was reserved but still had extra seats. That’s how I ended up sitting at the middle table directly in front of the “stage.”

The volunteers prepared a fantastic chicken and pasta dinner.  (At the end of the event, the volunteers thanked us all for supporting their fire department.)

But you didn’t actually want to hear about a fire hall chicken dinner, right? You wanted to hear about the medium. I shall call her “Fire Hall Medium” since she traveled from the heart of Pittsburgh to the little fire hall in these woods in Western PA. So here goes:

During dessert (cake), Fire Hall Medium introduced herself to each person in attendance as she handed us her business card.

Per the card, we can schedule Fire Hall Medium for individual sessions as well as for group events. We can hire Fire Hall Medium to remove ghosts. We can book her for weddings and funerals.

The organizers introduced Fire Hall Medium to the room. She showed off her heavily tattooed arms. She explained her journey from corporate employee to self-employed medium. We learned about her Native American heritage. About her experiences as a young child talking to her dead grandmother. About her spiritual training in Lily Dale, New York.

Fire Hall Medium asked us to concentrate on thoughts of our departed loved ones.

At the same time, she warned us that when she is working a large room such as ours (the event advertised 150 tickets available), she is bombarded with many departed souls trying to get her attention at the same time.  She can only speak to a few of these beloved dead within the 90 minutes allotted for this show.

She told us not to be mad at her if she doesn’t make contact with our individual loved ones tonight.

To be clear, I entered the dinner a skeptic. However, I still thought of all the people that I lost. Just in case.

She then initiated her first “contact.”

Fire Hall Medium said that the soul trying to contact her was a woman. She named a characteristic of this woman that was very general and frankly could be applied to almost every woman I knew. Then she named a characteristic that was a little bit more specific, but still pretty general. Then she named a third characteristic that was slightly more specific than the first two characteristics.

Fire Hall Medium said to the room, “Does anybody know this woman?”

Fire Hall Medium continued to name characteristics until a very nice lady in the back of the room took the bait. The nice lady announced that the soul was either her mom or her grandma or her Aunt Jane or something. The nice lady shared with all of us additional details about her loved one. Fire Hall Medium built on these details about the “soul” who contacted her.  Fire Hall Medium gave the nice lady a vague message from the other side as the nice lady cried.

Fire Hall Medium then told a long story about something medium-related that happened in Fire Hall Medium’s own life.

Fire Hall Medium then started the next “contact.” The pattern pretty much matched the first. Fire Hall Medium announced clues that started out general and became more and more specific until an audience participant claimed the “soul” as “their loved one.” The audience participant discussed their newly-found loved soul with the Fire Hall Medium. More tears.

Then Fire Hall Lady told another long story about her own life.

This pattern basically described the entire 90 minute-long presentation.

A few times, Fire Hall Medium did get pretty far into describing the “soul” without having any “takers” from the audience. Whenever this happened, Fire Hall Medium backtracked and told the audience that she misread some of the details.  She noted that she sometimes had trouble hearing the soul correctly because so many other voices of dearly departed shouted out to her at the same time. Then she would switch up the details until an audience member finally claimed the “soul” as their loved one.

Fire Hall Medium ended the evening by announcing that the ghost of the former fire chief of Hosting Fire Department stood in the back of the fire hall. She told us all that the dead former fire chief had a message for one of the firefighters in the kitchen. She gave that firefighter a hug and thanked him on behalf of the dead chief’s ghost. Everybody clapped. The end.

Several people cried during the 90 minute event. I feel that they truly believe that their loved ones contacted them through Fire Hall Medium. I hope that they found peace through this. I also hope that nobody exploits them financially or emotionally due to this belief.

I personally arrived a skeptic and I left a skeptic. But I already explained this.

Do you believe that you have a chance to make contact with your loved ones in the afterlife?

My Evening with the Fire Hall Medium: Part 1

Last week, a (Western Pennsylvania) volunteer fire department held this fundraiser: a dinner with a Pittsburgh Area medium. A medium who claims to contact the dead.

I – a skeptic – attended this dinner with a medium because:

  • A volunteer fire department held this dinner as a fundraiser.

Volunteers planned the event.

Volunteers prepared the chicken and pasta dinner in their fire hall.

(Coffee, iced tea, and soda pop were provided, alcohol was BYOB. Tickets were $35 each.)

I shall call this particular fire department “Hosting Fire Department.” In disclosure, my husband is a volunteer firefighter at a department less than 10 miles from Hosting Fire Department. My husband is not affiliated with Hosting Fire Department.  We like to support local fire department fundraisers.

  • I attended for the experience.

I write fiction about the life of a Pittsburgh medium in 1890. I wanted to watch an actual practicing medium “at work.” Even if I never publish these stories, at least I can get a few blog posts out of the evening.

 

Here’s why I became a skeptic years ago:

  • Do a Google search or a Wikipedia search on the Fox sisters. Then do a search on the spiritualist movement in the 1800’s. If you’re still bored, then look up the debate between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a finale, search “Confirmation Bias.”
  • When I attended and lived at (a Catholic) college, our school required each floor in each dorm to plan two activities for outreach. For our project, my floor invited a Greensburg Area psychic to our lounge to give private palm readings for $25 or $35 each. We advertised this on campus so that people not affiliated with our dorm could also pay for readings.  (Somehow the residential life office at our Catholic college approved this. I don’t think that they fully understood our “project.”)

So many people showed up that the psychic stayed several hours past her scheduled time. Why not? Everyone paid their fee directly to her. I didn’t purchase a reading because I was nervous about spending money. However, several of my friends did throw down the $25 or $35 to learn their futures. The psychic told my friends that if they shared what they “learned” in the readings, then their readings wouldn’t come true. However, my friends shared their readings with each other a few days later. They learned that the psychic gave them all basically the same prediction!

To be clear, the Greensburg Area psychic at my college was NOT the Pittsburgh Area medium who performed at last week’s fire hall dinner. I share this story to point out that I knew going into this dinner to not be disappointed with the outcome.

Did you ever hire a psychic and / or a medium? What was the outcome?  Did the experience leave you satisfied?

Al Roker’s New Book Underwhelmed Me

Al Roker just put out a new book: Ruthless Tide: The Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood, America’s Astonishing Guilded Age Disaster.

Al Roker’s new book underwhelmed me.

In my opinion, it rehashed much of  “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough. It didn’t provide enough new insights.

Here’s the thing: From ages 7 – 18, I lived in a small town in the Allegheny Mountains (the Laurel Highlands) about 30 miles from Johnstown.  Johnstown was the “city.” We drove to Johnstown frequently in order to access services that we didn’t have in our own town.  (Johnstown was much closer to us than Pittsburgh.)

At my school, we studied the Johnstown Flood of 1889 for weeks. We had to write essays about it. We toured the flood museums in downtown Johnstown and at the site of the South Fork dam that caused the flood. (Yes, multiple museums about the the Johnstown Flood exist.) We also visited the stone railroad bridge where many flood victims burned to death, as well as the cemetery where Johnstowners buried many of their flood victims. We saw the graves of the unidentified flood dead.

After college, I moved to Johnstown for three years for a job. I worked downtown. Every day, I walked past monuments to the victims of Johnstown’s three major deadly floods. I walked down the streets that the flood destroyed. I drove past and under the infamous stone railroad bridge. (Route 56 goes under the very edge of this bridge.)

After I left Johnstown, I purchased and read “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough.

Roker listed McCullough’s book as a source document. In fact, under his section “A Note on Sources and Further Reading,” Roker says, “The best-known modern book on the subject is David McCullough’s groundbreaking The Johnstown Flood, first published in 1968; its nearest predecessor similar in scope was Richard O’Connor’s Johnstown: The Day the Dam Broke, published in 1957.”

If you aren’t familiar with the Johnstown Flood of 1889, then first note this: downtown Johnstown is in a valley at a river confluence. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was an exclusive, secretive, private club upstream from Johnstown.  Many of the very wealthy industrialists of Pittsburgh, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick. Andrew Mellon, etc, belonged to this club.

On the days leading up to May 31, 1889, a significant amount of rain fell. On May 31, the dam on the private club’s private lake failed. The lake emptied into the valley below. This caused the Johnstown Flood of 1889.

To Roker’s credit, he did focus a great deal more than McCullough did on the actual members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.

However, if you needed to read one book – and only one book – on the Johnstown Flood, I recommend McCullough’s book over Roker’s book.

As a side note, Johnstown is upstream from New Kensington and Pittsburgh. McCullough’s book noted that flood debris and flood victims were carried to at least Pittsburgh. Here is my blog post about that.  

The Pennsylvania Shelf

I removed a book from the Oakmont Carnegie Library without “checking it out,” and I have no plans to return it.

The Oakmont Carnegie Library includes in its basement the Squirrel’s Nest, a used bookstore. You can purchase used books and other items during library hours.

I like to browse the “Pennsylvania Shelf” at the Squirrel’s Nest. See the above photo. I took that photo with my phone minutes before I pulled from it that book which says “Pittsburgh” on its grey and black spine.

This book is titled Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City, by Stefan Lorant. I purchased this signed third edition of this 670-page coffee table book for five dollars at the Oakmont Library’s Squirrel’s Nest.

The copy in my possession has a copyright date of 1980, but the book also lists a copyright date of 1964 for the first edition.

That’s right. For five dollars, I purchased a 670-page time capsule of Pittsburgh from 1964-1980. Signed by Stefan Lorant.

On page 416, I read the following: The Three River(s) Arts Festival started in 1960 and has been repeated each summer ever since. Its main features are an open-air exhibition of paintings, performances of plays and high school band concerts. 

I mention this because the Three Rivers Arts Festival is currently underway for 2018. I have attended it every summer now for over a decade in order to watch national acts on the main stage. I have never seen a high school band perform at the Arts Festival. (Not to knock high school bands. I played the clarinet in my own high school band for four years.)

Here are some other favorite gems from Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City:

From pages 488 – 489, the caption under 4 page-length photos of women wearing miniskirts: “Pittsburgh girls have the most beautiful legs in the world,” says a Frenchman, says an Italian, says a Turk, says a German, says a Hungarian. Nevertheless – it is the truth.

From pages 490-491, the caption under 4 page-length photos of women wearing skirts and shorts: If these Pittsburgh girls would walk in Paris all sidewalk cafes would be filled by males. But alas, Paris does not have the steep hills of Pittsburgh to develop shapely leg muscles.

From pages 572 and 573, the caption under 4 page-length photos of women wearing split skirts: The miniskirt of the seventies (see pages 488-491) is superseded by the split skirt of the eighties. Though fashion trends have changed, the women of Pittsburgh remain as beautiful as ever.

From pages 592-593, the caption under 4 page-length photos of men wearing suits: The men of Pittsburgh are immaculately dressed, even on the hottest summer day they wear a vest and a tie – downtown executives are conscious of changes in fashion.

Thus were Pittsburgh men, women, and “girls” in 1964-1980.

P.S. After I published this blog post, I did some digging (Google search) and I learned that Stefan Lorant was born in Hungary and he was imprisoned for opposing Hitler in the 1930’s. He became famous for documenting all this after he fled to England. Really famous. So famous that Edgar Kaufmann (the department store titan and owner of Fallingwater) wooed Lorant – persistently –  until Lorant agreed to author Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City. 

A few years ago, I would have played it off that I totally knew that Stefan Lorant was a famous filmmaker, photojournalist, and magazine editor. But the truth is that I had no idea until about 15 minutes ago.

So if you knew who Stefan Lorant was before you read my blog post, then:

1.) Congratulations. You are more well read than I am.

2.) Please continue to enjoy my blog.

3.) You can help me to figure out if I can sell my signed copy of Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City for more than the five dollars that I paid for it.

Corpus Christi Sawdust Carpets

Holy Martyrs Parish in Tarentum marks the Feast of Corpus Christi by creating sawdust carpets in their parking lot each year.

It would not be fair of me to regurgitate the information that I just took off of another website about these sawdust carpets. So, if you want to know why and how the parish does this, you should Google it. I just did.

I live across the Allegheny River from Tarentum. However, I found out about these sawdust carpets less than a week ago, when my sister-in-law shared a Facebook post about this.

Here is what I personally noted about the tradition:

This past Thursday (May 31) was the Feast of Corus Christi. So, on today – Sunday – the parishoners of Holy Martyrs labored over their sawdust carpets. They worked all morning and afternoon on these in order to hold their vesper service in late afternoon.

I took my sister-in-law and her two small boys to Holy Martyrs at around 2 this afternoon.  We chose this time because this was after the last Sunday mass.

We parked on the hill above the church since the parish makes its carpets IN their parking lot.

Then, we walked around the parking lot and looked at all of the finished and work-in-progress beauties.

From what I understand about the tradition, the church held its vesper service in late afternoon. Then, they brushed over all of their sawdust masterpieces!

What traditions does your church celebrate?

 

5 Tales of the Brackenridge Family (that I Learned from a Novel)

Cemetery talk prompted this post.

The Community Library of Allegheny Valley announced an informational session at its Tarentum branch about the history of Prospect Cemetery in Brackenridge, PA. 

I learned about this talk from our local newspaper. I cannot attend the session. However, I DID attend a “ghost” (and history) tour at Prospect Cemetery one Halloween.

I learned that Hugh Marie Brackenridge and his wife and family are prominently buried at Prospect Cemetery in Brackenridge.

Hugh Marie’s father, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founded both the University of Pittsburgh and also the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And then I read the novel “The King’s Orchard” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. This historical fiction follows General James O’Hara (George Washington’s quartermaster and Mary Schenley’s grandfather), with Hugh Henry Brackenridge as the protagonist’s good friend.

And here’s what I learned from “The King’s Orchard” (and also from the internet) about the Brackenridge lore:

1.) Hugh Henry Brackenridge grew up poor on a farm in New England. He borrowed other people’s books. A cow ate one of these borrowed books.

2.) Hugh Henry saved up enough money to send himself to the school that became Princeton University.

3.) The first time that Hugh Henry  saw his wife Sabina, he was a lawyer headed to the courthouse in Washington PA. Sabina was a farmer’s daughter chasing after a runaway cow. (Cows are a theme here!)

Hugh Henry watched Sabina vault over a fence without touching the fence. Then, he told the other lawyers that if Sabina did it again, he would ask Sabina to marry him. She did it again.

Sabina’s father said that Hugh Henry couldn’t marry Sabina because dad needed Sabina to “shrub the meadow.” Hugh Henry paid Sabina’s father $10 to hire somebody else to “shrub the meadow.”

4.) Hugh Henry (again, the founder of Pitt) wanted a political career. Sabina had no education. So after the wedding, Hugh Henry sent his new wife to finishing school in Philadelphia for a year.

5.) Sabina’s son was Hugh Marie Brackenridge.

McKeesport to Duquesne Bike Ride, Part Deux

 

This post is just more photos from last weekend’s rail-trail bike ride along the Great Allegheny Passage past McKeesport, Port Perry, Duquesne, and Kennywood Park.

Here are more scenes from the McKeesport roundhouse:

 

 

This is the US Steel Braddock Works. We stopped for a rest directly across the Mon River when I took this:

Peddling (AND Pedaling) in McKeesport

On April 29, my husband Jonathan and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. We drove to McKeesport to try out a “new to us” section of the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail.

The McKeesport Police Department sits next to the trail and offers free parking to trail users. So, we parked at the McKeesport Police Department.

We biked past this vacant train roundhouse.

We crossed the Monongahela River (the Mon) on this former railroad bridge.

Then we rode alongside miles of working Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Union Railroad rails. We peddled past Kennywood Park roller coasters running cars of screaming passengers. (Kennywood’s open!!!!)

I don’t have any roots in McKeesport. However, I can tell you a little bit about McKeesport’s saga and struggle with steel.

My mom grew up in Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh and McKeeport and all of the other river towns here thrived with steel mills. (Thrived with the money that steel brought here.)

When I replay the childhood visits to my grandparents’ house in the Burgh, I smell the sulfur. I see the mills glowing on Christmas Eve.

I was born in central Pennsylvania right before the Pennsylvania steel industry collapsed. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors left the state. Then my friends from high school left the state. Then my friends from college left the state. Then three of my sisters and my sister-in-law left the state.

Which is my way of saying that I know that bike trails alone won’t bring all of these people back to Pennsylvania. But it was fun to bike past all of this history last Sunday.