Allegheny Arsenal Explosion

Today marks a grim anniversary.

On September 17, 1862, Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Arsenal exploded.

Most of the 78 arsenal employees killed were young females (teenage girls). The arsenal manufactured munitions for the United States for the American Civil War.

Here are the photos that I took of the marker in Allegheny Cemetery for these industrial accident casualties.

Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond

You are all fantastic for reading my blog! I’ve had several readers reach out to me in the past month. I appreciate you all for taking precious time out of your full lives to digest my stories. I don’t want to let you down.

I will tell you a little bit more about our brief sailing adventures on Lake Erie. First, let me tell you about Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond.

The “Greater Erie, PA” region sits on the south shore of Lake Erie, and also on the south shore of Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle Bay’s west and north boundaries exist due to a Peninsula that extends into Lake Erie.

To the west and the north of Presque Isle Bay is a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. (On this peninsula now sits Presque Isle State Park. )

The Native Americans known as the “Eriez Nation” inhabited this area hundreds of years ago. The Iroquois defeated the Eriez in the 1600’s.

If you leave from Erie and head toward the open lake, then Erie (the city) will be on your starboard side and the peninsula will be on your port side.

You will travel past a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park. Then, you will travel past Misery Bay.

Monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry

Then, you will travel through a shipping channel. Finally, you will pass the North Pier Lighthouse. Congratulations. You are on the open lake.

Perry commanded the U.S.’s Lake Erie naval fleet in 1813. This was during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war against the British. This U.S. naval fleet was at Presque Isle Bay when Perry took command. Perry’s forces broke a British blockade at Presque Isle. Then they defeated the British off of the Ohio coast at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.

Perry then returned to Presque Isle Bay.

Do you remember when I wrote that the bay next to the Perry monument is called “Misery Bay?” Well, the bay earned its name from what happened after the Battle of Lake Erie. Many returning sailors contracted smallpox and died in quarantine. They died aboard ships harbored in Misery Bay. The ones who didn’t get sick buried these sailors in the pond next to Misery Bay. Then, sailors who got sick but hadn’t yet died also got “buried” in the pond.

Local storytellers renamed the pond “Graveyard Pond.”

The navy sunk the hulls of two of their ships, the USS Lawrence and the USS Niagara, in Misery Bay for preservation.

In 1875, preservationists raised the Lawrence. They shipped her to Philadelphia. Exhibitors displayed the Lawrence at the U.S. Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Lawrence at that same exhibition.

Preservationists raised and rebuilt the USS Niagara in 1913, then rebuilt her again in 1988. The reconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.

Flagship Niagara Passes Fishermen on the North Pier

My husband, Jonathan, and I purchased our sailboat, S/V Pinniped, last autumn from the original owners, P. and M. In fact, P. built the boat himself from a set of plans. P. told us to be careful to stay away from Misery Bay when we travelled through the channel. Misery Bay is shallow, compared to the shipping channel. P. admitted that he actually grounded Pinniped on various sandbars in Misery Bay.

So of course, when we returned to the bay from our first sail together on the open lake, we accidentally steered into Misery Bay.

Misery Bay at that particular spot has a datum depth of four feet. Pinniped drafts five a half feet.

Fortunately for us, Lake Erie is high this summer. So, the actual depth on that spot on that day was seven and a half feet. We lucked out!

A week later, we again sailed onto the open lake. We sailed past a docked freighter before we left the bay.

Freighter

We sailed about one third of the way across Lake Erie.

And . . . we avoided steering into Misery Bay on the way back!

However, after several hours of sailing, the wind died and the flies appeared. Lots of flies. We motored for over an hour, covered in flies, to reach our slip at our marina. (For the record, we sprayed ourselves generously with bug spray. We still received fly bites.)

Despite Misery Bay and the flies, we both had positive experiences on both sailing trips. Stay tuned for more sailing adventures and more stories from history.

Harry K. Thaw’s Grave

A few months ago, I blogged about the time that Harry K. Thaw shot Stanford White over White’s relationship with Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. (Thaw was from Pittsburgh, and Nesbit was born in Tarentum, PA, although the two of them met in New York City.)

I visited Thaw’s grave in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh.

I didn’t put the rosary on this grave. I don’t know who put the rosary on the headstone.

Here is the marker for the Thaw family plot:

If you want to hear a podcast or two about Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” and Thaw’s murder of White, check out these podcast episodes:

1.) Criminal (hosted by Phoebe Judge), covered this in episode 91The “It” Girl.

2.) Then, an episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder talked about this in episode 136 and heavily “cited” Criminal. (In my opinion, the bulk of the My Favorite Murder host’s “research” consisted of her listening to the Criminal episode! This is merely my personal opinion, though.)

Ancient Henge and Modern Pagans

Today is May 1. May Day. The ancient festival of Beltane.

Ancient residents of Northern Europe celebrated May 1 as a spring festival. My ancient ancestors most likely celebrated on May Day.

In Anya Seton‘s historical fiction novel Katherine, the serfs living on the English protagonist’s estate snuck off and observed Beltane. A nobleman discovered them and ended the party. The powerful men in this novel forbid Beltane since it wasn’t a “Christian” holiday. They labeled Beltane as “pagan.”

In honor of May Day, I blog today about a place in England that predated Christianity in England. Modern-day Pagans (Contemporary Pagans / Neopagans) still gather at this landmark to observe their own beliefs. I blog today about Avebury.

My husband Jonathan travelled to London for business a few times. I took vacation days from my own job, purchased plane tickets, and squatted in his hotel room so that I could blog about England.

Jonathan had a weekend “off,” so we rented a British car. We drove several hours out of London and visited rural England.

My cousin R. previously lived in the United Kingdom for a year. We asked R. for sightseeing recs. Cousin R. told us about Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England.

Avebury Henge, a Neolithic henge monument, encircles a section of the village of Avebury. A ditch surrounds the henge.

UNESCO classifies this as part of its “Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites” World Heritage site.

We decided through our research that Avebury was more accessible to us than Stonehenge from our hotel “base” in London. We had limited “free” time during our trip. So, we skipped Stonehenge in favor of Avebury.

To our delight, Avebury and its attractions charged no admission. We found it uncrowded, too!

Visitors can even shop inside the henge.

Sheep graze among the Avebury Henge.

In fact, I watched a sheep rub itself against the henge stones.

Look at the below photo. Some of the henge stones show long-term wear at sheep level.

We explored the actual village of Avebury:

Here is the Parish Church of St. James in Avebury. To be clear, this IS a currently operating Christian (Anglican) church. I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.

St. James dates from approximately 100o A.D. The Normans possibly altered the church after the Norman Invasion in 1066 A.D.

The residents on this land now called Avebury once celebrated such pre-Christian rites as Beltane. The status quo maintained Beltane as a festival.

Then, the (Roman Catholic) Church brought Christianity to Avebury. The status quo no longer maintained the pre-Christian beliefs and festivals. The status quo maintained Roman Catholicism.

Then, in the 1500’s, Henry VIII established the (Protestant) Church of England. Henry dissolved the Roman Catholic monasteries. His supporters prosecuted practicing Catholics. Henry VIII died. Henry’s son Edward VI maintained Protestantism as the status quo in England. Edward VI died.

Henry’s daughter, Mary I, then became Queen. She reinstated Roman Catholicism and persecuted Protestants. Mary I died.

Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I became queen. The status quo changed again, this time in favor of Protestants.

(This actually provides much of the setting for Anya Seton‘s time travel / reincarnation novel Green Darkness.)

In 1561, Elizabeth I ordered that all churches destroy their rood screens. (The rood screen separated a church’s chancel from its nave.) Unknown parties disassembled the rood screen at St. James and hid it behind a false wall. Church inhabitants discovered the rood screen in 1810. St. James parishioners restored the screen and reinstalled it by the end of the 1800’s.

Here is St. James’ churchyard:

Again, I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.

The rest of this post details landmarks several miles outside of Avebury. We had to drive to these these places. They are “associated sites” included in the official Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site:

West Kennet Long Barrow:

This neolithic tomb contained the remains of over 40 individuals.

We parked and walked up a hill in order to view West Kennet Long Barrow. Partway up this hill we came upon a tree filled with ribbons. Unknown visitors tied various items to many of the ribbons.

Here is the inside of West Kennet Long Barrow. Earlier visitors lit candles inside the barrow before we entered it.

Silbury Hill:

This prehistoric artificial mound is the largest one in Europe.

Thank you for letting me share my adventures with you!

Check back for my upcoming blog post about Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austin.

(Note: Henry VIII closed Tintern Abbey in 1536 when he replaced Roman Catholicism with Protestantism as the status quo.)

Happy Beltane!

The Dead Bride (And Other Tales of Friendship Hill)

Friendship Hill, Albert Gallatin’s home above the Monongahela River

This is Part 2 of my series on the “Secrets of the Mon.” You can read Part 1, Taj Mahal on the Mon, here.

In Part 1, I blogged about Nemacolin Castle, a mansion overlooking the Monongahela River (the Mon) in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

Today I blog about another home on a hill above the Mon. At this new estate, I saw all of these: a Jefferson cabinet member’s “cursed” home, the rumored grave of this man’s dead bride, a live bride preparing for her own wedding, and Robert E. Lee’s confiscated furniture.

Today I blog about Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Point Marion, PA. Today I blog about the country estate of Albert Gallatin.

By now, you’ve all heard of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, right? President Trump appointee Steven T. Mnuchin (Net Worth: $300 million) serves as our current Secretary of the Treasury. The idolized and fabled Alexander Hamilton served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton rival Albert Gallatin served as our fourth Secretary of the Treasury.

Gallatin was born into a wealthy family in Geneva, Switzerland. He emigrated to the Unisted States in 1780’s.

So, just like Hamilton, Gallatin was an immigrant. Just like another Secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin was born into wealth and privilege.

Since Gallatin had money, he got to chose where to live. He first tried to live in New England. He then moved to Virginia.

Finally, Gallatin settled on a rural estate in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He settled above the Mon. He settled on the property that became Friendship Hill.

The Mon flows south to north. Downstream from Friendship Hill, the Mon joins the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. The Ohio River then flows into the Mississippi River.

Now, as I blogged here, tremendous earthen mounds dotted the banks of the Mon, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.

From where did these come? If humans built these, then who? 

Archeologists maintain that indigenous people built these hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But how? 

One theory claims that humans significantly larger than ourselves – those known in lore as the “Tall People” – built these mounds.

Some storytellers insist that aliens from outer space built the mounds.

What is the truth behind these mounds?

Did these mounds bring special energy – special power – to the banks of the Mon?

Did the Mon’s special power call Albert Gallatin to build his home along the Mon?

Gallatin purchased the 400 acres of land in present-day Fayette County, Pennsylvania, that we now call Friendship Hill. 

Since Gallatin pursued a political career, he still lived at times in Richmond, Virginia.

By 1789, Gallatin proclaimed his love for Sophia Allegre, the daughter of a Richmond boardinghouse owner. Gallatin wanted to marry Sophia and take her back with him to Friendship Hill.

Now, keep in mind that this happened less than a decade after the American Revolution ended. Friendship Hill still belonged to the wilderness, the unknown.  Friendship Hill sits on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. White settlers battled the Iroquois Confederacy for this land.  Illness and violence threatened all. In 1789, Virginia and Pennsylvania still recovered from years of war and sacrifice. 

Whatever the reason, Sophia’s widowed mother opposed the match.

And for her own reasons, Sophia eloped with Albert Gallatin in May 1789. 

Albert and Sophia Gallatin set off to build a life together at Friendship Hill.

Five months later, Sophia Gallatin died at Friendship Hill.

How did Sophia die? Pregnancy complications? Illness? Rumors even hint that Sophia Gallatin suffered a violent death in the woods.

In any case, Albert Gallatin buried his Sophia in an unmarked grave overlooking the Mon.

Gallatin left Friendship Hill and carried on with his long diplomatic and political career. He represented Pennsylvania as a United States Senator. He served as  4thUnited States Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, from 1801-1814.  In this position, he purchased the Louisiana Territory and funded the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

Gallatin remarried. His new wife insisted that the couple not live at Friendship Hill. Did the new Mrs. Gallatin fear Friendship Hill’s remoteness? Did she know dark secrets about her husband’s home on the Mon? Whatever the reason, Gallatin agreed to give up living in southwestern Pennsylvania. He sold Friendship Hill.

Future owners lived in and expanded the original structure where Albert and Sophia Gallatin lived. 

The story claims that workers discovered Sophie’s original grave as they constructed a cistern and pump house. They moved her body to another location on the property. 

Friendship Hill changed owners several times. Homeowners suffered misfortune and tragedy. Local folklore blamed the tragedies on a curse.

Then the ghost stories bloomed.

The National Park Service (NPS) acquired Friendship Hill in the 1970’s. Later, volunteers claimed to hear footsteps in restricted places. Rumors told of a young woman’s ghost who peered through windows. 

The NPS placed signage at the location that they believe to be Sophia Gallatin’s “new” grave. Is this truly her grave? 

See more here on Sophia Gallatin’s grave.

Sophia Allegre Gallatin’s grave, per local folklore

I visited Friendship Hill National Historic Site a few years ago.

According to the NPS website for Friendship Hill, the park includes 661 acres and over 10 miles of nature trails.

I saw no food concessions or any vending machines that sold food or drink during my visit to the park. I didn’t pack enough of either of these. I had to leave after a few hours to find a grocery store. I had to drive about three miles to the actual town of Point Marion.

I did locate a clean and comfortable restroom with indoor plumbing.

Friendship Hill, Pennsylvania

I planned my visit during the operating hours for the original stone house where Albert and Sophia Gallatin lived. I paid no admission fee to tour the house. The park staff member at the front desk gave me a map so that I could do a self-guided tour of the main house.  He allowed me to bring my camera inside and take photos.

Friendship Hill includes no original furniture that belonged to Gallatin.

Now, during my visit, the rooms of Gallatin’s Friendship Hill contained Robert E. Lee’s family’s furniture. Here’s why: the NPS also operates Arlington House in Virginia. Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary, (Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter) inherited Arlington House. (The United States confiscated Arlington House during the Civil War.) At the time of my visit to Friendship Hill, the NPS was renovating Arlington House. So, the NPS moved the Arlington House furniture to Friendship Hill temporarily.

Friendship Hill

When I walked from the main house to the parking lot, I saw an event tent. Well-dressed people walked from the parking lot to the event tent.

I drove past a (living) bride and her azure-clad bridesmaids. They modeled for their photos on the edge of the woods where Sophia Gallatin rested.

I went looking for a dead bride that day. I found a living bride instead.

They “Bought” a Dead Body: My Visit to Jim Thorpe, PA

Pennsylvania has a borough named Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe is the county seat of Carbon County.

Here’s a story about Jim Thorpe, PA’s name.

In the 1800’s, white settlers, ah, settled in a gorge in the Lehigh Valley. They named the town “Mauch Chunk.” This came from the Lenni Lenape people’s name for the nearby mountain. I find this ironic, and you will read why in a few paragraphs.

The Lenni Lenape were American Indians.

(I grew up using the term “Native American.” However, the Smithsonian now uses the term “American Indian” in referring to the indigenous peoples of the United States. For this blog post I will use “American Indian.”)

Many white settlers earned their livings from the coal mined above Mauch Chunk. In the 1820’s, they built the Switchback Gravity Railroad from these coal mines. 

(Guess why Carbon County is named Carbon County!)

The mine owners employed large numbers of Irish immigrants. The mine owners exploited and oppressed these miners.

The Irish miners formed an illegal labor union. Some also joined a secret society, the Molly McGuires (the Mollies). The mine owners hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to infiltrate and prosecute the Mollies. Soon, Carbon County hung (hanged?) several alleged members of the Mollies for murder, at the county jail in Mauch Chunk in 1877. Here’s my blog post about this.

A decade later, in 1887, an American Indian named Wa-Tho-Huk (Bright Path) was born in Oklahoma. He belonged to the Sac and Fox tribe.

Wa-Tho Huk was of mixed-race ancestry. Both of his parents were Roman Catholic. His parents had him baptized in the Catholic Church as Jacobus (Jim) Thorpe.

During this time in history, the United States Federal Government set up boarding schools to assimilate American Indians into “white American” culture.

Our government had established the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to educate American Indian children. Carlisle is in the central part of our state, near Harrisburg. It is about a hundred miles away from the borough that used to be known as Mauch Chunk.

As a teenager, Wa-Tho-Huk / Jim Thorpe travelled to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle school.

Now, one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, produced a beautiful episode about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. I posted the link to this episode’s website here. You can also download it from the platform of your choice. The episode is titled “American Football,” dated January 29, 2015. Radiolab posted photos from the Carlisle school here. If you want to learn about the Carlisle school and its athletic successes, you should listen to this episode.

I can’t rival the information presented by Radiolab. Let me just paraphrase that athletics – especially football – played a huge part in the Carlisle school’s education and culture.

Jim Thorpe excelled in sports at the Carlisle school.

Then, he won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the Olympics in Sweden in 1912. His special track shoes “disappeared” before the competitions. Jim Thorpe had to wear shoes that he found in a garbage bin when he won his gold medals.

Then he played professional baseball AND professional football.

Jim Thorpe the man died impoverished in 1953. Thorpe’s widow, Patricia, was frustrated by efforts to convince Thorpe’s birth state of Oklahoma to provide a grave / memorial for Thorpe. She claimed that Thorpe’s estate didn’t provide enough funds to bury Thorpe without outside help.

At this time, Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania existed separately from a neighboring borough named East Mauch Chunk. Both boroughs wanted to “attract new businesses,” according to Wikipedia.

Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk cut a deal with Thorpe’s widow. The two boroughs merged and renamed themselves as “Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.” The new borough of Jim Thorpe built a memorial / grave to Jim Thorpe the man.

The borough also paid Mrs. Thorpe.

In return, Mrs. Thorpe agreed to have Jim Thorpe the man buried in Jim Thorpe the borough.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Thorpe agreed to this without the consent of Jim Thorpe’s remaining family, including children from a prior marriage.

In fact, Mrs. Thorpe agreed to have Jim Thorpe’s body transported from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania while Thorpe’s family was in the process of conducting traditional tribal rituals for him.

So, Jim Thorpe’s body was removed from Oklahoma during his own funeral!

Jim Thorpe’s sons later filed a federal lawsuit to have the body returned to Oklahoma. They argued that Jim Thorpe the borough qualified as a museum under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Jim Thorpe’s body remains in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

Note that Jim Thorpe the man never actually visited Jim Thorpe the borough (Mauch Chunk) during his lifetime. He did attend the Carlisle school, but from what I can tell, this was Jim Thorpe the man’s only connection to Pennsylvania.

My sisters and I grew up telling each other the ghost story that is connected with the Irish coal miners that were hung at the Carbon County jail in Mauch Chunk / Jim Thorpe.

Then we learned about Jim Thorpe the man.

My sister K. moved to the Lehigh Valley a few years ago. My sister E.R. and I visited her. We took a road trip to Jim Thorpe the borough since we had heard so much about it.

So here’s what we saw:

1.) The Jim Thorpe Memorial

That’s right, we visited Jim Thorpe the man’s grave.

This memorial sits in a wooded area on the edge of town. It’s like a little public park.

The original red marble marker bearing his name has a quote from Sweden’s King Gustav V. This memorial sits on soil taken from Oklahoma. I added a photo of this marker at the very top of this blog post.

The memorial now includes several statues and a sculpture. Through the years, the borough added several smaller markers to educate the public about Thorpe’s life in Oklahoma and at the school in Carlisle.

The memorial has a free parking lot that it doesn’t have to share with any other attractions.

There is no admission fee to visit the Jim Thorpe Memorial.

In my opinion, it’s really easy for families to stop here and reflect on the life of Jim Thorpe.

2.) The old Carbon County Jail, now the Old Jail Museum

Here’s a photo that my sister K. took of the gallows used at the Carbon County Jail in the 1800’s. This is the jail where the alleged Molly McGuires were imprisoned until their hangings just outside of the jail walls.

You can use this link to see my prior blog post about this event.

The Old Jail Museum’s physical building witnessed a haunted, loaded history.  As such, it now carries several ghost stories. The museum features these stories on its tours and also on its website.

One word about the tour: visitors are required to climb up and down several staircases. This is NOT a comfortable tour for people with mobility issues.

Also, we had to park several blocks away from the jail museum on the June Saturday of our visit. Keep this in mind if you plan your own visit.

3.) The Dimmick Memorial Library

I mention this because my sister K. loves this library. (K. is a librarian, so she likes to survey other people’s libraries.)

Here’s a photo of my sisters K. and E.R. posing on the library’s second floor.

This library is within walking distance of the Old Jail Museum. Also, it sits on a street full of historic buildings that appeal to tourists. If you are sight-seeing and you need to find a public restroom during the library’s operating hours, then you are in luck.

4.) Streets of historic buildings that appeal to tourists.

I was only in Jim Thorpe for several hours on this one day. We spent most of our trip at the Old Jail Museum. Then we walked around for a little bit more and ate ice cream. I was exhausted.

So I didn’t really explore the histories of the borough’s other buildings. After my next visit to Jim Thorpe, I will blog more of its stories.

Here are my sisters again:

Here is my sister K.’s blog post about her multiple trips to Jim Thorpe.

What towns do you like to visit?

The Legend of Boniface Wimmer

I graduated from Saint Vincent College (SVC) in Latrobe, PA.

Boniface Wimmer, a Benedictine monk from Bavaria, founded Saint Vincent College and Saint Vincent Monastery.

A two-story statue of Boniface Wimmer sits in front of the Saint Vincent Basilica. The college and the monastery flank the basilica and thus the statue.

If you stand at the base of the Boniface Wimmer statue and look in the direction in which the statue points, it looks as if Boniface Wimmer points at the Latrobe Dairy Queen.

So, yeah, we all joked about how Boniface Wimmer stood in front of Saint Vincent and pointed at Dairy Queen.

Neither I nor my husband photographed the Wimmer statue or anything else on the Saint Vincent campus. (Yet.) I am not going to steal somebody else’s online Saint Vincent photo. Instead, I posted above a photo of a Dairy Queen Blizzard.

Wimmer passed away on December 8, 1887. Thus, the Saint Vincent community celebrated December 8 as a holiday. A holiday titled “Founder’s Day.”

Now, I don’t know which leader ultimately made this decision, but at some point after I graduated, the institution moved Founder’s Day to a date in October. Honestly, to me, Founder’s Day is not actually Founder’s Day unless it happens in December. 

(Today is December 7. December 6 was St. Nicholas Day, and today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. However, right this moment I am nostalgic for the old Saint Vincent Founder’s Day celebrations on December 8.)

I don’t remember every Founder’s Day event that I attended through the years at SVC. I remember the evening Founder’s Day fireworks displays. 

Here’s the thing about Wimmer: He didn’t found Saint Vincent Monastery and College in Latrobe as his “only” accomplishment. Saint Vincent was the FIRST Benedictine monastery founded in the United States. However, Wimmer’s efforts led to the founding of several more Benedictine monasteries and colleges. So, Wimmer’s name comes up in other institution’s origin stories

Now, the Saint Vincent community has its very own cemetery behind the monastery and the college. This cemetery includes Wimmer’s grave. I walked past this grave many, many times during my years as a student. I don’t have any photos because I didn’t own a decent camera then.

According to a campus legend, each year on the anniversary of his death, Wimmer’s ghost walks from his grave to the Saint Vincent Basilica. I know of people who actually camped out next to Wimmer’s grave on the night of December 8 in hopes of seeing the ghost.

To be honest, I lived in the dorm that was in the “ghost path” between Wimmer’s grave and the basilica. (This dorm is named Wimmer Hall!) So, if Wimmer’s ghost actually performed, I could have seen or heard something from the warmth of my dorm room. I never saw or heard this ghost. 

Did you ever see any ghosts at Saint Vincent College? If so, drop me a line!

The Mystery “Guardian” of Livermore Cemetery

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.

Have you ever visited Livermore Cemetery?

My New Ken Haunted History Walk

Last week, my husband Jonathan and I learned about the history of Brackenridge and Tarentum during Prospect Cemetery’s ghost walking tour.

This tour raised funds for Prospect Cemetery’s upkeep.

Some of the volunteers involved with the cemetery tour have also in past years performed ghost walking tours of downtown Tarentum.

In these tours, guides lead their groups to actors dressed up as local historical figures. The actors tell stories about their assigned figures.

Jonathan agreed to attend past tours of Prospect Cemetery and Tarentum with me because the tour organizers indicated in media posts that these tours weren’t the type of events where people jump out of the darkness to scare guests. (Jonathan refuses to attend scary ghost events.) Nonetheless, we heard true tales of murders, fires, accidents, and illness.

New Kensington could host its own haunted history walk. I didn’t grow up in New Ken (and neither side of my own family ever lived here), so I don’t know many of the old yarns. However, I compiled my own list of historical figures and events based on my knowledge of Western PA history. I welcome anybody with intimate knowledge of New Kensington history to supplement this list. In fact, if you have anything to add, please feel free to tell me in the comments!

Robert E. Lee . . . Just kidding! I don’t have any reason to think that Lee ever came to New Kensington.

Simon Girty  –  Girty  went just about everywhere in Western and Central Pennsylvania. Also, in olden days, Girty’s name was arguably more controversial than Lee’s. (Spoiler: Girty defected from the Americans and fought with the other side.)

Girty was born in Central PA in 1741. During his violent childhood, Seneca warriors raided the Girty family farm and took him prisoner.

Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. He lived with (and fought alongside) the Senecas during several battles of the French and Indian War. The Native Americans returned Girty to the British colonists during a prisoner exchange in 1764.

Girty worked as a trader and interpreter. He frequented Pittsburgh and travelled these rivers, including the Allegheny River.  Girty originally served with the American forces during the Revolutionary War. However, he changed his mind after American troops attacked a Native American settlement. (The campaign came to be known as the Squaw Campaign because the Americans killed the women found in this settlement.)

Girty defected to the British in 1778.

Girty was present at the execution of American Colonel William Crawford in 1782 and sources allege that he actually egged on the Native Americans who tortured Crawford.  Girty eventually fled to Canada, where he died in 1818. Some sources list Girty as a Canadian.

I believe that Girty travelled the Allegheny River past present-day Parnassus and downtown New Kensington.

My own grandma in North Huntingdon Township often joked about mischief caused by the Ghost of Simon Girty.

Soldiers of Fort Crawford in Parnassus  – Settlers built Fort Crawford next to the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River in the 1700’s. The remains of Fort Crawford later became the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington. A stone marking the fort, and also remembering Colonel William Crawford, now sits next to the grounds of the Presbyterian church and cemetery there. For a history walk, actors could dress up as soldiers and tell the fort’s story.

We could even have an actor dress up as Colonel William  Crawford. In 1782, at the end of the American Revolution, Crawford led American forces into Ohio as part of the Crawford Expedition against Native Americans. Lenape and Wyandot warriors defeated Crawford and his men. They tortured and executed Crawford. Simon Girty was there.

The Frank Alter Family – Frant Alter Sr. was one of the founders of the Keystone Dairy Company in Parnassus. Alter and his family originally owned my present-day house in Parnassus. In fact, an Alter child carved his initials into the woodwork in my attic. The Alter family are now buried in the cemetery owned by Parnassus Presbyterian Church. Here is some research that Jonathan did on the Alter Family.

Johnstown Flood Debris –  We residents of New Kensington live alongside the Allegheny River, downstream from Johnstown. After the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 killed at least 2,209 people, flood debris (and bodies) washed downstream. It washed past our current home and also past all of the other Allegheny River towns downstream from us.  In fact, David McCullough noted in The Johnstown Flood that rescuers pulled a living baby out of the river at Verona.  This happy-ending story is perfect for a history walk.

Here are some more ideas that I blogged about in 2014:

Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

The Logan Family 

Aaron Burr

Victorian Houses in Parnassus

If you have more stories, feel free to add them to this list. I didn’t grow up here. I would love the insights of those who did.

Peck Family Cemetery – Somerset County, PA

This is the Peck Family Cemetery. It dates back to the mid- 1800’s.

You can view this cemetery from the highway between the true high point of Mount Davis and Deer Valley YMCA Camp.

Mount Davis is the highest point in Pennsylvania. It sits in Somerset County. The true high point sits about 10 miles from the border with Maryland.  (Yes, Mount Davis belongs to the Laurel Highlands. Yes, Mount Davis is slightly north of the Mason-Dixon line.)

Deer Valley YMCA Camp actually owns the land upon which this cemetery sits. They maintain the cemetery.

If you plan to visit Mount Davis, please watch your speed. The highway leading up to the true high point passes a sizable number of Amish and non-Amish farms. Depending on the day and time of your visit, you may encounter a high volume of horse and buggy traffic. For instance, my last visit to the top of Mount Davis occurred on a Sunday. We passed several farms that had multiple buggies parked in front, and we also shared the road with buggies in both directions.