A sign on the Ghost Town Bike Trail in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, identified the cage pictured in the above photo as “Vintondale’s Single Cell Jail.”
The sign identified Denise Dusza Weber as a Vintondale historian. The sign attributed the following story to Weber:
This cell was one of two located in Vintondale’s borough building. The local public school had located classrooms in this same building due to the school’s increased enrollment in 1912-1913. As a result, one classroom shared a wall with this jail cell. In February 1913, students in this classroom reportedly heard moaning on the other side of their shared wall. Weber noted that a miner had taken his own life in the jail cell.
I learned that Weber wrote at least two books on the Vintondale area.
Jonathan and I biked on the Ghost Town Trail on November 1, 2019. On that day, Vintondale was still decorated for Halloween. The single cell jail stood in a pavilion next to the bike trail, and it included Halloween decorations. We observed two paper “ghosts” hanging in the cell.
Almost every person in the entire world had a rough few months, or a rough few years, or a rough life.
I’ve worked from home full time since mid-March. I know that this takes me out of the running for “who had it roughest.”
I don’t want to get into a contest about who had it roughest. I won’t win. I don’t want to win.
Even so, I’ve struggled since March to make it through each work week – and that’s okay.
I heard through our aunt that my cousin K.G. and her co-workers decided to NOT call our current reality the “New Normal.” Instead, they refer to it as the “Temporary Weirdness.”
(Cousin K.G., if you’re reading this, keep in mind that I’m not trying to be F. Scott Fitzgerald as he plagiarizes his wife Zelda’s diary. Let me know if you want me to remove all references to “Temporary Weirdness” or else give you a writing credit for this blog post.)
So here’s two things that keep me going through this “Temporary Weirdness”:
1.) My “new” chair
My husband J. also works from home in our “Temporary Weirdness.” When this “started,” J. purchased a “new” chair for himself. That is, he purchased a chair from a company in Chicago that refurbishes office furniture and also manufactures Covid-19 masks. (The company was permitted to stay open BECAUSE they added “mask making” to their list of things that they now do.)
Meanwhile, I worked each day from one of our dining room chairs. I did this for several weeks.
I told myself that it wasn’t “necessary” for me to spend money on my own “new” chair because I should save up all that I could just in case I caught Covid-19 and got really sick or died. I know, that was stupid.
My back hurts even when I’m not sitting all day on a dining room chair. So, for several weeks, I snapped at J. all day, every day.
Then J. said to me, “Why don’t you use my chair today?”
I used J.’s chair that day.
That evening, we ordered a chair for me from the same company.
I really wish that I had just purchased my own comfortable chair back in early March!
See, I read the blogs of other people who work for long periods of time from home offices. A bunch of these people highly recommended that readers invest in comfortable office chairs. And it STILL took me weeks before I broke down and bought myself such a chair.
2.) Awesome podcasts, videos, and live-streamed events from extremely talented people
Ever since the global pandemic “quarantine” (it’s not a REAL quarantine) hit my world, I’ve entertained myself with podcasts, virtual tours, videos, live-streamed events, etc, from entertainers. Many of these extremely talented souls post links to their online tip jars since they haven’t been able to perform to live audiences since March. And of course I tip. After all, I’m privileged enough to work 40 hours a week from my “new” comfortable chair.
I consider many of these talents to be “essential workers” because they’ve helped me to function ever since the “Temporary Weirdness” started.
Actually, some of these talents helped me to make it through life as a semi-functional adult ever since my mom got sick and died two years ago.
And the thing is, almost all of these talents perform in places too far away for me to realistically visit in person. So, if the internet didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the joy that they all give to me.
Here’s the thing that hurts me: I know that I will never be able to do for other people what these performers do for me. I will never be able to write a podcast, or take a photo or video, that will help somebody who just lost her mother make it through a stressful day of work. I will never give somebody a reason to get out of bed after nightmares about dying alone of Covid-19.
But, I can attempt to keep a single reader fairly amused for a few minutes.
(Just to recap: The Ghost Town Trail is a walking and bike trail in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I graduated from high school in the county that sits just below Cambria County. After college, I worked for Americorps in the nearby economically devastated city of Johnstown. I shared office space with several Americorps members who contributed to the Ghost Town Trail. )
Anyway, my husband J. and I biked on the Ghost Town Trail last month.
(Don’t worry, the trail was “legally” open that day. We social distanced. We brought masks. We hand sanitized. We did nothing during our bike ride that would cause you to blame us for killing your grandparents. )
I blogged last June about our previous trip down the trail.
Last month, we rode on a newly-opened trail spur. This spur took us past the spooky old train depot pictured in this post.
The thing reminded me of Stephen King’s short story “Willa.”
I told J. that the train depot just HAD to be haunted. I just HAD to grab a photo just in case I “saw a ghost”.
I didn’t see any ghosts. Still, I hope that you enjoyed these photos for a few minutes.
Here’s something else that’s up with me and J.: My husband has been really busy with woodworking during our “quarantine.” He finished our downstairs bathroom medicine chest and he made himself a new desk. (You know, so that he can work from home during our Temporary Weirdness.) Here’s a blog post about the chest. He already wrote the post about the desk and he will post it next week.
A few years ago, my husband Jonathan and I visited the Michigan Fireman’s Memorial in Roscommon, Michigan. I took the above photo at this memorial. I post it tonight in honor of the following dates:
September 29 – October 6, 2019: Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters
October 6 – October 12, 2019: Fire Prevention Week
October 8-10, 1871: Great Chicago Fire
October 8, 1871: Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire
October 8, 1871: major fires in Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, Michigan
October 9, 1871: major fire in Urbana, Illinois
October 12, 1871: major fire in Windsor, Ontario
In honor of Chicago and its firefighters, here is a photo that I took of a Chicago fire boat:
Here’s a little story for you: I learned on Wikipedia that a town by the name of Singapore, Michigan ONCE existed on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Singapore became a ghost town as a result of the October 1871 fires, but it DIDN’T burn.
Singapore, MI was founded in 1836. The town included two sawmills. As one might expect of a town that has sawmills, a forest bordered Singapore.
Well, the fires produced such a great demand for lumber that the businessmen in Singapore deforested the area surrounding Singapore. With the trees gone, the town had no protection from Lake Michigan’s sand dunes. By 1875, the town was covered up by sand!
In my opinion, this is the premise of a Margaret Atwood story.
The English language is inane. I just Googled the capitalization rules from three different style books in order to type the title for this blog post. I’m still not sure if I have the capitalization correct. I couldn’t just Google the phrase itself because this phrase comes from a much longer sentence in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.”
Anyway, the ancient Romans engineered arch bridges.
The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) built the stone arch bridge in 1907.
This bridge crosses the Conemaugh River on the side of Bow Ridge. This bridge replaced two other bridges and aqueducts at this river crossing. The bridge survived the Johnstown Flood of 1936. The Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam nearby in 1952 for flood control. This stone bridge no longer holds railroad tracks, but it now provides access to the dam’s east side.
The iron bridge that passes over the stone arch bridge IS a currently active railroad bridge. I took the above photo as a freight train carrying crude oil crossed the bridge and also crossed the Conemaugh River. Keep in mind that the Conemaugh feeds the Kiski River. The Kiski feeds the Allegheny River. The Allegheny feeds the Ohio River. The Ohio feeds the Mississippi River. Think about this as you watch a train full of crude oil traverse the Conemaugh.
Both of the bridges at Bow Ridge cross the Conemaugh River downstream from the dam.
If you cross the stone arch bridge to access Bow Ridge, you will see the remains of the Bow Ridge Tunnel. The ghost town of Livermore, Pennsylvania sits beyond this tunnel, on the other side of Bow Ridge. (The government partially flooded Livermore when they built the Conemaugh Dam and created Conemaugh Lake.)
If you access the Tunnelview Historic Site through the entrance to Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, you will see this fantastic sign:
Here- at the Tunnelview Historic Site – you will find a small pavilion, primitive restroom, parking lot, and canoe put-in. You will also see remains of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal. This is where Jonathan and I put-in when we kayaked to Saltsburg twice.
Oh! I have to tell you about the FIRST time Jonathan and I kayaked from here:
We parked here at the Tunnelview Historic Site. We paddled downstream six miles, almost to Saltsburg. We stopped for lunch. It was June, and the current didn’t “seem” all that strong. As per our plan, we set off to paddle upstream back to our car.
Hey, I think that we have been paddling next to that same rock for the past ten minutes. What the – when did the current get that strong?
That’s right – we couldn’t paddle upstream. We portaged our kayaks upriver for a good part of the return trip. We smelled a dead animal rotting in the water. Jonathan didn’t tell me about the snakes that swam past us because snakes scare me. I worried that we wouldn’t get back to our car before the sun set, that we would have to spend the night in the woods, and that somebody would find our car and report us as missing on the river. As I pulled my kayak over the stones on the riverback, I fantasized about the search party that would be sent after us, about our faces all over the news. (We did get back to our car and get the kayaks loaded right before it got dark.)
In hindsight, we should have paddled to Saltsburg, then hired the canoe outfitter in Saltsburg to take us upriver to our car. We talked about doing this when we realized that we couldn’t paddle against the current. Why didn’t we? Because we’re stubborn.
On our second trip, we parked in Saltsburg and let the outfitter drive us to the put-in at the Tunnelview Historic Site. Then we paddled downriver to our car. Much better.
Life is easier when we aren’t stubborn.
Here is the sign that SHOULD have tipped us off that the Conemaugh River’s current “might” be sorta strong at our put-in spot:
Here’s another important sign:
(Here is a close-up of the artist names:)
We haven’t picnicked at Tunnelview or kayaked on the Conemaugh River for a while because we’ve spent so much time this year with the “new” sailboat. However, I really think that you would enjoy your visit to Tunnelview.
As I noted, the remains of the canal and aqueduct at this site were part of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, which worked in a system with the Allegheny Portage Railroad. From the 1830’s – 1850’s, this system hauled boats over the Allegheny Mountains. Pennsylvania paid to construct the entire thing. Then, after about only two decades, the system became obsolete! I WILL blog about this on some future day.
(This is a redux from the blog that I created with my husband Jonathan, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. I will shortly pull more of my favorite stories out from the crypt. I want to share more of my favorite moments and places with you fantastic readers.)
Maybe you’re looking for “free” places to explore with your family each summer. My own awesome mom did this because she had five active daughters.
Maybe I can help you. I know of several “free” ghost towns in Western Pennsylvania.
Here’s Ghost Town #1: The Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria Counties. This is a 44-mile “rails-to-trails” trail. You can ride your bicycle or walk / run this trail from Blacklick, PA to Cardiff, PA.
Such trails here in Western Pennsylvania charge no admission. You don’t need to have a special permit to enjoy our public trails! (I vacationed once in the Adirondacks in New York State, and the bike trails there charged admission.) You can access the Ghost Town Trail through several trailheads that provide free daytime parking.
As the name “rails-to-trails” implies, this trail lived an earlier life as working railroad lines. People dependent on the economic opportunity from blast furnaces and coal mining lived along these tracks. They built houses, schools, churches, and stores along these tracks. They died along these tracks.
Some of the structures remain as ghost towns. Thus the name, “Ghost Town Trail.”
For instance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s uncle, Warren Delano, developed the railroad town of Wehrum along these tracks. Wehrum evolved into a ghost town after the mines closed in the 1930’s. Wehrum now consists of one standing house, a bank vault, and the Russian Orthodox cemetery.
Jonathan and I travelled from the Pittsburgh area on PA Route 56 to access the trailhead in Vintondale. The bike trip took us through the Blacklick Creek Valley. Adventurers can view two out of the valley’s three original iron furnaces: 1.) Eliza Furnace (AKA Ritter’s Furnace), and 2.) Buena Vista Furnace.
Folklore claims that one of the Eliza Furnace’s original owners died suddenly after a financial or personal setback. The lore includes tales that this owner still haunts the furnace.
I’m sure that other ghosts, real or imagined, also haunt this trail.
We define places through our own pasts, our own kaleidoscopes.
For instance, I grew up in Central and Western PA to Pittsburgh-area parents. PA’s steel industry collapsed. My extended family left the state for brighter futures elsewhere. My friends from school left the state. My family and friends who stayed here struggled to find (and keep) family-sustaining jobs. I know a lot of good people who suffered after the steel business imploded here.
Johnstown, near Vintondale and the Ghost Town Trail, nearly became a ghost town in its own right.
I lived in Johnstown for a few years after college. I had my own reasons for this. I struggled when I lived in Johnstown.
I organized cultural activities through an Americorps program that served (economically distressed) communities in Western PA. I shared office space in Johnstown with two fellow Americorps members who worked on remediating the section of the Ghost Town Trail that ran through Vintondale.
I lived and worked in an almost-ghost town while my office-mates preserved a tourist attraction marketed as a “ghost town.”
Then, I moved to the Pittsburgh area. Jonathan and I returned to Vintondale to pedal along the Ghost Town Trail. We now belong to the Ghost Town Trail’s “Pittsburgh tourists.”
When I pedal along the Ghost Town Trail, I reflect on my time spent with loved ones in PA’s “almost-ghost” towns.
You’ll reflect on your own truths as the you tour the Ghost Town Trail.
Did a man who later claimed to be affiliated with Livermore Cemetery actually pursue several trespassers during a late night car chase in Derry Township, Westmoreland County? Did the Livermore Cemetery “associate” actually shoot at the trespassers and also try to force them off of the road as he chased them down?
I ask this because I actually heard this story on “The Dirtbag Diaries,” a national podcast for outdoor enthusiasts sponsored in part by the clothing company Patagonia. Each October, this podcast releases its Tales of Terror. On Tales of Terror Vol. 8, released in October 2017, contributor Joe Shearer claimed the following:
Shearer recounted that he and his friends admittedly trespassed in Livermore Cemetery. They arrived in two cars. They walked through the cemetery. Shearer did not admit to causing any vandalism. He claimed that he and his friends merely visited the cemetery in order to spook themselves. The following happened as the friends returned to their two cars:
1.) A “mystery man” who did not identify himself allegedly pointed a gun at the group and told them to put their hands on one of their cars.
2.) Half of the group was actually still in the woods, so this half of the group ran out of the woods to their second car.
3.) The entire group was able to jump into cars and drive off.
4.) The “mystery man” with the gun allegedly got into his own auto and pursued one of the cars as he shot at them.
5.) This “mystery man” also allegedly tried several times to force one of the cars off of the road as he pursued it.
6.) Both cars managed to get away from the “mystery man.”
7.) The group riding in one of the two cars eventually managed to locate a state trooper on the main highway. They convinced the trooper to accompany them back to the Livermore Cemetery. They located the “mystery man” at the cemetery. The “mystery man” allegedly identified himself as being associated with the Livermore Cemetery. The podcast then referred to the “mystery man” as an “overzealous grave keeper.”
8.) According to the podcast, the state trooper convinced both sides to shake hands and drop the matter.
If you want to listen to this specific podcast episode, here is the link on the podcast’s website. This specific story begins at 3:32 in the episode. This is the very first story told in Tales of Terror Vol. 8, and you can go to 3:32 to skip the show’s introduction.
Today, the local media website Triblive.com posted a story by Jacob Tierney about Livermore Cemetery. Tierney interviewed several people associated with the cemetery about issues surrounding vandalism and trespassing. I am very curious as to whether the officials at Livermore Cemetery are aware of this podcast episode about this alleged incident.
If the incident in this story did actually happen, I am sure that the self-identifying “cemetery associate” has a completely different perspective on what happened that night.
I’ve personally never been to Livermore Cemetery. I have picnicked many times at nearby Conemaugh Dam and Tunnelview Historic Site.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the actual town of Livermore no longer exists. Most of Livermore is actually under the Conemaugh River.
Livermore is (was?) near Blairsville and Saltsburg. In the 1950’s, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam on the Conemaugh River. This created the Conemaugh Lake and flooded Livermore. The town’s cemetery remains above the river bank.