I attended a “ghost” history walk in Prospect Cemetery last week.
The people of Brackenridge, PA, established Prospect Cemetery in 1864.
This cemetery includes markers from as far back as 1817. (The Victorians moved graves to Prospect from other local burying grounds.)
The remains of Brackenridge’s founder and namesake (Judge Henry Marie Brackenridge) and his family rest here.
The 13 acre cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the Allegheny River, upstream from Pittsburgh.
A few years ago, the cemetery met financial troubles. A local newspaper covered the issue in several articles.
Later, volunteers organized annual “history ghost walks” to raise money for cemetery upkeep.
Jonathan and I attended the walk each year. (We paid $10 per ticket this year.)
Each year’s ghost walk featured Judge Brackenridge and his wife. The other featured cemetery residents varied each year. Volunteers dressed in period costumes as “ghosts” – the people featured on that year’s tour- and reenacted that person. The “ghosts” featured included deceased community members from both the 1800’s and the 1900’s.
This year’s featured “ghosts” included TWO Civil War veterans. One of these veterans was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and taken to Andersonville Prison. He later wrote a book about his wartime experiences. This year’s tour also included a World War I veteran who later served as a police officer for decades.
In my opinion, the “history ghost walk” is a creative solution to the cemetery’s situation.
This year’s walk occurred under a nearly-full moon.
(I’m not aware of any historical fiction that included Henry Marie Brackenridge. However, his father, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, appeared as a character in the novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. Hugh Henry founded the University of Pittsburgh. Here’s another blog post that I wrote about the Brackenridge family.)
I just learned that Parnassus (in New Kensington, PA) shares a man’s brutal life story with downtown Columbus, Ohio. In fact, this story even left its mark on Columbus’ current National Hockey League arena.
Cutright shared one ghost story from his tour – the tale of haunted (cursed, even) Nationwide Arena, the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL team. Cutright revealed that the arena was built on the parking lot for the former Ohio Penitentiary.
Cutright noted that an indigenous Mingo village (Salt-Lick Town) once stood on this entire property. He talked about the village’s destruction in 1774. He noted the tragic death toll of Mingo families, at the hands of white settlers led by a man named William Crawford.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Our William Crawford?“
See, I live in the Parnassus neighborhood in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Parnassus emerged from the remains of Fort Crawford, at the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River.
Colonel William Crawford’s troops in the Continental Army built Fort Crawford in 1777. This was during the American Revolutionary War. Crawford previously fought with the British in the French and Indian War in the 1750’s. Crawford survived the Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat) in 1755. Crawford knew George Washington!
I Googled “William Crawford” and “Columbus.” I saw the portrait of the man who led the attack on Salt-Lick Town in present-day Columbus. This was indeed “our” William Crawford!
Now, to be clear, I do realize that William Crawford doesn’t “belong” to New Kensington. Crawford was born in Virginia. Connellsville, PA, reconstructed his Pennsylvania log cabin. Crawford County, PA, was named after William Crawford. Crawford County, OH, was also named after William Crawford.
I just read a bunch of Crawford’s top Google search results. I skimmed his Wikipedia page. He incites controversy today. He led military expeditions during a time when colonial America was at war with various Europeans and also with various Native Americans. Carnage resulted. I could write an entire blog just on Crawford’s bloody travels and still not get my hands around his legacy.
For instance, Crawford entangled himself in Lord Dunmore’s War. The white settlers and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes attacked each other in this conflict. Virginia and Pennsylvania also violently challenged each other over their border, including a chunk of Western PA. The Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh has an exhibit about this.
Let me tell you a little bit about how Colonel William Crawford died.
First, keep in mind that the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783. However, in the years before this, the settlers in colonial Pennsylvania and Ohio fought the British and they also fought assorted Native American communities. The settlers killed Native Americans, and the Native Americans killed settlers.
In 1778, Crawford led an expedition of colonial settlers that massacred a village of Native American women in Ohio. (The men who lived in this village were away from home at the time.) This colonial expedition included a guide named Simon Girty.
Girty witnessed the slaughter of these Native American women. He later expressed his revulsion for this violence.
Girty returned to his “home base” at Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh. However, Girty then fled west from Pittsburgh. Girty defected from the colonial settlers and joined the British who were in Ohio and Detroit. (Again, this was during the American Revolutionary War against the British.)
The whole “Simon Girty thing” was a big deal at this time because Girty was a white man from Central PA who had been captured by Seneca warriors as a child. Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. Girty built relationships with several Native American communities. He worked as a guide and interpreter. Can you imagine the talent and “institutional knowledge” that he could provide to the British?
(Alexander McKee, of McKees Rocks fame, defected with Girty.)
Then, in 1782, Crawford led the Crawford Expedition against Native American villages along the Sandusky River in Ohio. These Native Americans and their British allies in Detroit found out about the expedition, and they prepared to engage it. These Native Americans and the British troops defeated Crawford and his militiamen.
A force of Lenape and Wyandot warriors captured Crawford. They tortured Crawford. They executed him by burning him on June 11, 1782.
Simon Girty was there, at William Crawford’s execution.
In fact, witnesses alleged that Girty “egged on” Crawford’s captors as they tortured him. Witnesses even alleged that Crawford begged Girty to shoot him as he burned alive, and that Girty laughed at Crawford.
Girty denied that he encouraged the warriors who tortured Crawford.
Girty settled in Detroit, among the British. Years later, Detroit became part of the United States and Girty fled to Canada. At least one internet source listed Girty as a Canadian historical figure. I learned that Girty’s name appears on an Ontario memorial for “Loyalists” (to the British Crown).
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) dedicated at least two plaques in Girty’s memory.
Now, Hannastown was the first county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. I read that the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition. On July 13, 1782, Seneca warrior Guyasuta and his men burned Hannastown and its crops. Greensburg became the county seat after this.
If you want to read historical fiction in which William Crawford and Simon Girty appear, then I suggest “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.
Last year, I posted here and here about the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. I blogged about my visit to the aviary with my mom and my sister E.
Since it’s fall again and I promised you ghost stories, I want to talk about the aviary’s haunted history.
Per the National Aviary’s own website, the aviary sits on the site where the Western Penitentiary sat from 1826 to 1880. Did you ever hear of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia? Well, this Western Penitentiary housed inmates in the western part of our state. (Western Penitentiary later moved a short distance downriver.)
If you’re interested in American Civil War military history, you can Google “Morgan’s Raid” and read all about Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s raid of Indiana and Ohio in 1863. Morgan and his regiment were captured only miles from the PA state line. Morgan was imprisoned in Ohio, escaped by tunneling his way out, but died in another raid a year later in Tennessee.
Many of Morgan’s men were imprisoned in Chicago. However, over 100 of his captured soldiers were held as prisoners of war (P.O.W.’s) at the Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh.
Several of Morgan’s soldiers passed away at the Pittsburgh prison, where the aviary now sits. One of these men died trying to escape.
Local folklore says that these soldiers still haunt the aviary. I didn’t notice any ghosts when I visited the aviary last summer. However, you may visit the aviary and decide for yourself.
This is a photo of the induction ceremony for the Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber at the 2015 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. The ceremony and the festival occurred in Point State Park (at the Point) in downtown Pittsburgh in June 2015.
See, the festival occurs each year during the week of my husband Jonathan’s birthday. So, we usually spend Jonathan’s “birthday weekend” at the festival. We plant our camp chairs at the festival and view whatever programming appears.
In 2015, we showed up at the festival about noon on “birthday Saturday” and looked at the schedule. We actually arrived a few minutes before the start of this “induction ceremony,” which happened directly in front of our chairs. So, we watched this ceremony.
Now, the festival commissioned Rudy Shepherd to create this artwork. At this “induction ceremony,” a performer spoke about all of the negative energy that the artist designed this artwork to absorb.
This ranks among my favorite artwork from the festival!
Now, if you’re not familiar with Western Pennsylvania, know this: downtown Pittsburgh marks the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, and the mouth of the Ohio River. That’s why Pittsburgh exists. George Washington served in two military campaigns in the 1750’s to claim this land for the British.
After the second campaign, the very piece of land in my photo became the British Fort Pitt.
A lot of blood spilled over this piece of land.
If you want to read a bunch of depressing stories about Fort Pitt and the founding of Pittsburgh, you don’t have to work too hard on your Google search. There’s even a Lore podcast shout-out to the Fort Pitt smallpox blankets.
If you spend time in Pittsburgh, then you heard of Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza. You heard of their benefactor, Mary Schenley. You probably know more than I do about Mary Schenley’s maternal grandfather, James O’Hara. This first part of my blog post is for all of the other fantastic, generous folks who read my blog.
I’m well aware that you can read all about James O’Hara on Wikipedia. I typed the first half of my post from memory specifically so that I don’t regurgitate Wikipedia.
James O’Hara was born in Ireland in the 1700’s. He sailed to colonial America in the 1770’s, after the French and Indian War and shortly before the Revolutionary War. Now, from what I understand:
1.) O’Hara did NOT land in Philadelphia as an impoverished immigrant.
2.) He grew up privileged and highly educated.
3.) He sailed to the New World shortly after he received an inheritance.
4.) So, he arrived in Philadelphia with a nest egg that he was eager to invest and grow.
Now, back in the 1770’s, nobody had the internet. Suppose that you were a Philadelphia businessman. One day a man showed up on your doorstep and introduced himself as James O’Hara. This man who claimed to be “Mr. O’Hara” announced that he came from a wealthy family and that he had a bunch of capital that he wanted to invest in colonial Pennsylvania. Furthermore, “Mr. O’Hara” advised that he wanted YOU to introduce him to your fellow Philadelphia businessmen. Well, you couldn’t just Google “James O’Hara” in order to vet him. You couldn’t check his social media to make sure that his network included the “correct” people back in England or Ireland.
Since the internet didn’t exist, James O’Hara arrived in Philadelphia with several “letters of introduction” from prominent men in England and / or Ireland. He presented these letters to Philadelphia leaders as “proof” that he, James O’Hara, was good enough to be received into their social circles. This is how O’Hara met the members of Philadelphia’s elite families. I’m under the impression that O’Hara met Robert Morris, a Philadelphia financier, this way.
O’Hara decided that he could make money in the fur trade in Western Pennsylvania. At that time in history, the British had just won the French and Indian War. They established Fort Pitt at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River. They called this location the “Forks of the Ohio.” This spot later became downtown Pittsburgh.
O’Hara travelled to Fort Pitt. He purchased beaver pelts from Native American trappers, and he resold them to East Coast merchants who shipped them to the Old World. In England and Europe at that time, fashionable dressers wore hats made of beaver fur. O’Hara profited from the fur trade.
The Revolutionary War started. O’Hara served in the Continental Army as one of George Washington’s quartermasters. The United States won its independence. The war ended.
O’Hara went into more business ventures. From what I understand, O’Hara was really good at getting richer. O’Hara obtained large amounts of land that later became Pittsburgh, including portions of downtown Pittsburgh.
O’Hara also established Pittsburgh’s first glass factory.
O’Hara and his wife Mary Carson had six children. One of their daughters married a man named Croghan, and this union produced Mary Croghan.
Mary Croghan’s mother died young. Mary was an only child. She became the wealthy heiress to part of James O’Hara’s substantial fortune when she was a young child. Mary’s father sent Mary to boarding school. The teenaged Mary fell in love with her significantly older British teacher, Mr. Schenley. Mary Croghan eloped with Mr. Schenley and she became Mary Schenley. She moved to England with her new husband.
This union caused such a scandal that, from what I read, Queen Victoria refused to receive Mary Schenley socially.
Now, while this happened, Pittsburgh developed into a manufacturing hot spot for the Industrial Revolution. Mrs. Schenley owned some of Pittsburgh’s prime real estate.
Andrew Carnegie visted Schenley in England. He asked her to donate land in Pittsburgh for a public park. Schenley donated the land that became Schenley Park.
I learned about the “James O’Hara” part of this story from the 1963 historical fiction novel The King’s Orchard by New York Times best-selling author Agnes Sligh Turnbull.
Here is a curious thing that I discovered from reading The King’s Orchard :
James O’Hara had an Irish Catholic father and a Protestant mother. O’Hara’s parents lived apart. His mother raised him. However, O’Hara attended a prestigious Catholic boarding school in France. Turnbull mentioned O’Hara’s Catholic background in passing about five times in the entire several-hundred page book.
From what I understand, O’Hara married a Protestant and he and his wife raised their children in a Protestant faith.
I learned from the last chapter of The King’s Orchard about O’Hara’s generosity to Pittsburgh’s early Presbyterian church. I learned through a Google search about O’Hara’s generosity to to Pittsburgh’s early Catholic church.
Now, Turnbull (the author of The King’s Orchard) grew up in New Alexandria, PA (in Westmoreland County) in a family with Scottish and Presbyterian roots. (New Alexandria is near Greensburg and Latrobe.) Turnbull moved to New Jersey after World War I, but she wrote several novels about Western PA. Almost all of these explore the adventures of Presbyterians of Scottish descent. I read some of these other books. So, I speculated that Turnbull “glossed over” James O’Hara’s Catholic background.
I personally think that Turnbull’s novel The Day Must Dawn, about Hannastown’s destruction (and the failed Crawford Expedition) during the Revolutionary War, is a better novel.
However, I think that you will enjoy reading about the following in The King’s Orchard:
1.) Fort Pitt originally had a moat.
2.) When workers dismantled Fort Pitt in the 1790’s, James O’Hara purchased most of the fort’s brick. He also purchased an original Fort Pitt block house. (Schenley inherited this block house from O’Hara. Schenley donated this block house to the Daughters of the American Revolution. This Fort Pitt Block House is now a public tourist attraction, located inside Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. This is the oldest existing structure in Pittsburgh and also the only remaining part of Fort Pitt. )
3.) One of James O’Hara’s friends, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founded the school that became the University of Pittsburgh.
4.) Brackenridge grew up poor on a New England farm. Brackenridge borrowed books and put himself through Princeton. A cow ate one of the borrowed books.
5.) The first time that Hugh Brackenridge saw his wife Sabina, he was a lawyer headed to the courthouse in Washington, PA and she was a farmer’s daughter chasing after a runaway cow. He watched her vault over a fence without touching the fence, and he told the other lawyers that if she did it again, he would ask her to marry him. She did it again. Her father said that Brackenridge couldn’t marry her because he needed her to shrub the meadow. Brackenridge paid her father $10 to hire somebody else to shrub the meadow.
6.) After Brackenridge married his wife Sabina, he sent her off to a Philadelphia finishing school for a year so that she would learn how to be a suitable wife for his political career.
7.) Angry protestors almost burned down James O’Hara’s house during the Whiskey Rebellion. Brackenridge talked them out of it.
8.) When O’Hara first arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1770’s, he lived in the inn section of Elliott’s, aka the Old Stone Tavern. I learned that many of Pittsburgh’s earliest historical figures, including Colonel William Crawford and Simon Girty, drank in Elliott’s bar. I found this notable because this building still exists in Pittsburgh’s West End. A local preservation group seeks to restore it.
9.) Finally, in the introduction to Turnbull’s 1963 book, she thanked several parties, including the Denny family, for their assistance with her research. Ebenezer Denny was Pittsburgh’s first mayor. Ebenezer Denny also appeared as a character in The King’s Orchard. Now, I mention this because I just read a memoir written by public figure with a notable connection to the American Civil War and also to the White House. This memoirist referenced “the Dennys” in her tale about her own parents’ journey down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Missouri. I intend to blog about this mystery memoirist in the future.
I actually learned about Turnbull when I worked as a student at St. Vincent College Library in Latrobe. One of the librarians discovered that I liked historical fiction. He told me that I should check out Agnes Sligh Turnbull, “a local author,” as he put it.
Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). My sister, herself an IUP graduate, told me that IUP used to have a Turnbull Hall. “But,” my sister said, “they tore it down a few years ago. The site is now a parking lot.”
Turnbull passed away in the early 1980’s. Turnbull is buried in New Alexandria.
I, personally, visit Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh several times each summer.
I purchased The King’s Orchard and The Day Must Dawn used on Amazon since both are out of print.
I spent a day on Chatham University’s main campus in Oakland (Pittsburgh) for an event last fall. I grabbed lunch at Cafe Rachel, Chatham’s coffee shop.
Chatham named the shop after environmentalist Rachel Carson. Carson graduated from Chatham in 1929 when the school was called Pennsylvania College for Women. She wrote Silent Spring in 1962.
One wall of Cafe Rachel detailed Carson’s life. This wall noted that Carson was born and raised in Springdale. (Springdale is across the Allegheny River from New Kensington.) The wall told me that Carson graduated from Parnassus High School in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.
(I already knew this. Wikipedia already knows this. However, I was psyched to see the Parnassus reference on a wall at Chatham University.)
Do you have any fun facts to share? Post them here.
After the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 killed at least 2,209 people, tourists took picnic lunches to Johnstown so that they could sight-see the damage.
People who lived along the Allegheny River (including the people of Parnassus) didn’t have to make this trip, though. The Johnstown Flood came to them.
You see, the South Fork dam upstream from Johnstown failed. The deluge wiped out several communities including downtown Johnstown and its surrounding neighborhoods. The debris washed downstream on the Conemaugh River.
Now, if you look at a map, you will see that we residents of Parnassus actually live downstream from Johnstown. Here’s why:
1.) The Little Conemaugh and Stoneycreek Rivers merge in downtown Johnstown (at Johnstown’s own “Point”) to form the Conemaugh River.
2.) The Conemaugh flows into the Kiski at Saltsburg.
3.) The Kiski flows into the Allegheny.
4.)About ten miles later the Allegheny flows past Parnassus (the city of New Kensington wasn’t founded until 1891), then past numerous other river towns such as Verona.
5.) Eventually the Allegheny meets the Monongahela at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio.
Here’s a passage from Chapter IX of Pulitzer Prize-winning (and Pittsburgh native) David McCullough’s “The Johnstown Flood,” about the aftermath of the flood:
The Allegheny River, with its endless freight of wreckage, also continued to be an immense fascination. Children were brought from miles away to watch the tawny water slip past the shores, so that one day they might be able to say they had seen something of the Johnstown Flood. The most disreputable-looking souvenirs, an old shoe, the side of a packing box with the lettering on it still visible, were fished out, dripping and slimy, to be carried proudly home.
There were accounts of the most unexpected finds, including live animals. But the best of them was the story of a blonde baby found at Verona, a tiny river town about ten miles up the Allegheny from Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Press, the baby was found floating along in its cradle, having traveled almost eighty miles from Johnstown without suffering even a bruise. Also, oddly enough, the baby was found by a John Fletcher who happened to own and operate a combination wax museum, candy stand, and gift shop at Verona.
Fletcher announced his amazing discovery and the fact that the baby had a small birthmark near its neck. Then he hired a pretty nineteen-year-old, dressed her in a gleaming white nurse’s uniform, and put her and the baby in the front window of his establishment. Within a few days several thousand people had trooped by to look at the Johnstown baby and, it is to be assumed, to make a few small purchases from the smiling Mr. Fletcher. Then, apparently, quite unexpectedly, the baby was no longer available for viewing. The mother, according to Fletcher, had lived through the flood and, having heard the story back in Johnstown, rushed to Verona, identified the birthmark, and went home with her baby.
So if this story is true, in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood somebody fished a live baby out of the Allegheny River at Verona. (Verona is downstream from Parnassus and upstream from Pittsburgh.)
So, voyeurs may have stood on the ruins of Fort Crawford in Parnassus or on the adjoining grounds of the Presbyterian Church as the debris of demolished towns and demolished lives discharged past them. Perhaps a looky-loo climbed down the river bank here to fish a souvenir out of the Allegheny. Perhaps bodies washed ashore here.
I worked in downtown Johnstown for several years. Buildings there include plaques showing 1889’s high water mark and the downtown park features makers honoring the victims from Johnstown’s three deadliest floods (in 1889, 1936, and 1977). I often drove under the stone bridge that trapped many of the 1889 flood’s victims.
How sobering that the ruins of Johnstown coursed down the Allegheny, past all of these river towns on the way to Pittsburgh, in 1889.