Jenny Saw Victorian House Ghosts: A Haunted Porch Column Story

Our New Porch Columns. October 2021.

I had to memorize the three types of Greek / Roman columns for a history test in junior high school. Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. I’m not sure why I needed to go through life knowing all this. I can’t even tell you the exact name of the columns used on our rebuilt Victorian porch. Just Victorian, I guess?

Victorian porch columns. Our new Victorian porch now includes all of its Victorian columns.

One of our neighbors stopped on her Sunday walk to tell us how excited she was to see that our porch contractor was “able to save the house’s original columns” for our porch rebuild.

Jonathan explained to our neighbor that these columns AREN’T the house’s original columns. However, we know exactly what the original columns looked like. Our new columns are close reproductions of the original.

Jonathan DID NOT explain to our neighbor that in our quest to identify the house’s original columns, Jenny saw a ghost.

Jenny saw several ghosts, in fact. Maybe.

Jenny is a semi-educated adult. (Jenny managed to fool Saint Vincent College enough that they gave her a diploma.) Jenny functions semi-acceptably in adult life. She does NOT walk around at her life tasks talking about ghosts all day. However, it’s almost Halloween. So, for the pure entertainment value, let’s talk about Jenny’s experience with the “ghosts in her house.”

Jonathan and I attempted to have the porch rebuilt starting in 2014. (We had several, ahem, “false starts” with contractors and vendors as we planned our porch rebuild.) Jonathan attempted to figure out what the original 1890’s porch – especially the original porch columns – looked like. We had seen photos of what our house looked like during the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood that hit Pittsburgh and also a bunch of the other river towns in Western Pennsylvania. (The flood waters went up to the intersection of our street, which is why our house is in the background of some of these flood photos.) We knew that the house’s original 1890’s front porch was replaced in the 1930’s. (The 1930’s porch was the porch that we had removed in 2014.) So, the photos that we saw of our house during the 1936 flood included the 1930’s era porch, not the original 1890’s porch.

Sometime around 2014, I fell asleep in my bed. Jonathan was still awake. I sat up and said the following to Jonathan:

“Jonathan. The people in the hallway want to talk to you about the porch.”

Or – I said something to that effect. I don’t remember what exactly I said because I don’t remember ever saying this.

I was asleep when I said this. Dead asleep.

What I do remember is that during my sleep, I saw people standing in our upstairs hallway.

All of these people wore clothing from the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.

These were the people who wanted to talk to Jonathan about our porch.

Spooky!

Shortly after this happened, Jonathan went through random piles of stuff that previous owners of our house left in our basement.

Jonathan uncovered one of these piles and discovered two of the house’s original porch’s columns.

Here is a photo of one of these columns. The photo is so dark because Jonathan never brought the columns out of our basement. They are heavy.

Original Post from Original 1890’s Porch

Circa 2014 or 2015 or 2016, Jonathan located a company in Texas that produced several of the most popular styles of Victorian-era porch columns. We ordered from this company the porch column style that most closely matched the original columns that Jonathan discovered in our basement.

So, we ordered and paid for these Victorian porch columns circa 2015 or 2016.

The porch columns arrived to us from Texas via a tractor trailer.

There wasn’t enough room for the tractor trailer to park along the street in front of our house. The truck had to park on the next block over. Jonathan had to enlist the help of the truck driver to carry the porch columns over to our house.

The porch columns sat under a tarp in front of our house from that day in 2015 or 2016 until September – October 2021.

We have waited ever since at least 2015 or 2016 to see these columns installed on our rebuilt porch.

We got to realize our Victorian porch column dream last week. Last week, our porch contractor’s crew installed the final column on our porch.

I can’t believe that I finally got to see these porch posts installed on our rebuilt porch. Jonathan’s mom died in 2016 and my mom died in 2018. When we started to plan our porch rebuild in 2014, I never dreamed that both of our moms would be gone before we could sit on our porch again. Within a week from today, I will observe both my mom’s birthday AND the anniversary of when she passed away. (I actually said good-bye to my mom ON her 64th birthday and she passed away less than 48 hours after this.)

The YEARS of delays on our porch rebuild demoralized both of us. We weren’t exactly twiddling our thumbs during these years. Jonathan attempted to hire contractors, find suppliers, etc. We hired an architect. We are so thankful that we found our current porch contractor.

We heard that at least one passer-by asked our current contractor’s crew whether somebody new just bought our house. I guess that they were trying to figure out what prompted the sudden porch activity after years of “inactivity.”

I can imagine this passer-by thinking, “So, is this place Under New Management now, or what?”

I guess that they never attempted to rebuild an 1890’s porch before.

I told Jonathan that I was going to start a local rumor that the influencer couple from “Young House Love” actually bought our house for their next social media project.

“What’s Young House Love?” Jonathan said.

I explained that Young House Love was an old house renovation blog from about a decade or so ago. The married couple who wrote it branched out to Instagram and sponsored posts, and soon they were rich and famous. They were a brand.

“You should turn this house into a brand,” Jonathan said.

Perhaps I will turn this house into a brand.

How does “Porch Column Ghost Love” sound?

The Time Capsule

Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek May 30, 2016

Our first porch contractor found this bottle when he dismantled our 1930’s era porch in 2014.

What’s this? you say. A broken bottle?

Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek May 30, 2016

We saw the words “Natrona Bottling Company” on the back.

So let’s start here, at the Natrona Bottling Company’s own website. Because luckily for us, they still operate, only six miles from Parnassus. Per this website, the company started in 1904.

Jonathan searched eBay, where he learned that bottles such as these dated from the 1950’s – 1960’s. Frostie was a brand out of Baltimore, and during that time period it contracted with several companies to bottle it. Including Natrona Bottling Company.

You can still purchase Frostie Root Beer.

Natrona Bottling Company no longer bottles for Frostie, but luckily for us it currently does bottle its own root beer today. Jonathan and I drink it, out of glass bottles much thinner than the one found under our porch.

Exciting Things Happening in Parnassus

My new front porch, in progress. I took this photo from approximately the area where I used to sit and blog.

I intend to bore you for several paragraphs if you don’t have any interest in Parnassus or its history. But – I wrap up this blog post by talking about controversial old houses in other states. Maybe that’s more up your alley.

So, in 2014, Jonathan and I truly believed that we were going to get a new porch very soon. Our house was built in the 1890’s. Jonathan blogged about our house’s history here on our other blog in 2014. Heck, in 2016, we still thought that we were going to get a new porch in the immediate future. I was so optimistic in 2016 when I blogged here.

We were so naive.

The good news is, if you visit the first link that I posted, you can read Jonathan’s write-up about the first owner of our house, Frank R. Alter Sr., co-founder of the Keystone Dairy Company. Keystone Dairy Company was also located here in Parnassus, New Kensington.

So, anyway, by 2014 we realized that we needed to hire somebody to tear off our circa 1930’s front porch and replace it. You know, before this porch affected the entire house’s structural integrity. A contractor tore off the 1930’s front porch and started to replace it. Started to replace it. After that, from 2014 until the near present day, things did not go at all the way that Jonathan and I expected. Just one setback after another. I haven’t had a porch on which I could sit with Jonathan since 2014.

I didn’t mention any of this on my blog in September because I was afraid that I might jinx this. I still might jinx it. I’m still holding my breath out this. However, it looks as if Jonathan and I are going to be able to sit on our porch together again soon!

You see, we finally found a new contractor who actually committed to building a new porch for us. During this past September, this contractor’s crew tore off the “porch” that the previous contractor started to build in 2014. This new contractor started from scratch. His crew made a great deal of progress this past month.

I posted above a photo that I took today. I took that photo from the approximate spot at which I used to sit and blog, prior to 2014. From the approximate spot at which I am blogging this right now!

You see, years after the porch saga started in 2014, Jonathan lost his mother and then I lost my own mother. I came home from each of their funerals and thought, “Now she’s never going to see how nice our house looks with a finished porch!”

I promise you that if I die before this porch is completed, or even if I die after the porch is completed but before I have time to enjoy the new porch, I will come back and haunt this place. I will stand on this porch and bug the crap out of whoever enjoys it in my stead. You better hope that my two shots of Pfizer actually work.

I am an extremely privileged and semi-educated. I said what I said partially in jest. But partially not in jest. I associate the entire porch saga with family tragedy. I can’t believe that I might finally see the end of the porch frustration.

We still have a long way to go on the old house work. We need to think about replacing the entire back “mud room” next.

I wasn’t a very ambitious 12-year-old. I wanted to do two things in my adult life:

1.) Live in a house built in the 1800’s.

2.) Have a cat. (My parents wouldn’t let me have a cat.)

I accomplished both of these goals that I set for myself at the age of 12. So, I win!

I wish that I could go back in time and tell myself about the realities of life as an old house owner. Not even my own experiences in Parnassus, but also about other people’s experiences.

North Side / Allegheny West, Pittsburgh

For instance, Jonathan and I used to take tours of Pittsburgh’s North Side / Allegheny West neighborhood. On one of of these tours, we visited a home that the homeowners spent the past twenty or so years renovating. We toured a beautifully restored parlor and dining room.

Then, as we walked towards the kitchen, the homeowner said, “We are currently working on the kitchen.”

The kitchen was a pile of bricks.

Literally.

A pile of bricks sat in the kitchen.

The McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois

I have an old house renovation horror story that I learned about from podcasts and Facebook. Whenever I feel down about the lack of progress on our porch, I think about the McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois.

At least Jonathan and I don’t have as many old house problems as do the owners of the McPike Mansion.

Now, everything that I know about the McPike Mansion, I learned from Season #1 of the American Hauntings podcast hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck, some Google research, but mostly just from lurking on the McPike Mansion’s official Facebook page and official website.

A rich businessman built the McPike Mansion shortly after the Civil War. The house has not been occupied since the 1950’s. The McPike mansion is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

From what I understand, the McPike Mansion is not currently approved for occupancy – except for the wine cellar. The current owners, Sharyn and George Luedke, purchased the mansion in 1994. I learned from American Hauntings that the Luedke’s had been led to believe that they would be eligible for some sort of grant money to renovate the place. This turned out not to be the case.

It is my understanding that the Luedke’s intended to renovate the mansion into a bed and breakfast. They have owned the house – and worked on the house – since 1994.

It is STILL NOT CLEARED FOR OCCUPANCY.

Since 1994.

The Luedke’s have been working on trying to restore this house FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS, and they still can’t let guests sleep inside the place.

I learned from reading Facebook that the Luedke’s raise money for the old house renovation by:

1.) Renting out the wine cellar for parties.

2.) Selling tee-shirts. (More on that below.)

3.) Letting people “sponsor” and sign pieces of lumber.

4.) Selling tickets for ghost tours of the wine cellar and premises.

That’s right – ghost tours.

The McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois is regionally famous for being haunted. That’s how I found out about the place.

And, to me, this “ghost tour as a profit center” thing is a double-edged sword.

One the one hand, the Luedke’s sell tee-shirts that say “McPike Mansion” above a graphic of a cute ghost.

On the other hand, thrill-seekers, vandals, and thieves show up on a regular basis and damage the place. In fact, even the McPike Mansion’s sign got stolen at least once.

I got exhausted just reading about the saga on Facebook. I mean, at what point does this turn into Captain Ahab’s search for the White Whale in Moby Dick?

Sauer Castle, Kansas City, Kansas

Another “old house in need of repair” that fascinates me is Sauer Castle in Kansas City, Kansas. This was another mansion built in the 1800’s by a rich guy. It is listed on at least one “endangered historic structure” list. There is a Facebook group devoted to the castle that has over 12,000 members that I used to follow. However, from what I understand, Sauer Castle is privately owned and the mansion’s owner did NOT manage the Sauer Castle Facebook page. The last time that I followed this Facebook page, I noted that almost all of this Facebook page’s posts criticized the current owner for failing to maintain Sauer Castle.

Sauer Castle has a long history of family tragedies, ghost stories, and vandalism. Nobody currently lives in the place. From what I understand, a descendant of Sauer Castle’s original owner purchased the place several decades ago with the intent to restore it. However, after several vandalism incidents, he halted the restoration efforts and he also refused to sell the place to a developer that expressed interest in restoring it. Every article that I Googled about Sauer Castle regurgitated the controversy between the current owner and preservation advocates.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, Illinois

If you’re still bored, Google “Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery” in suburban Chicago. Some people claim that this cemetery holds magic powers. Other people claim that the only magic power found at Bachelor’s Grove is the ability to turn grown adults into quarreling children. Google and Youtube have a bunch of stories about Bachelor’s Grove enthusiasts calling the police on other Bachelor’s Grove enthusiasts for having “unsanctioned” cemetery clean-ups there, people showing up drunk at other people’s houses in the middle of the night just to yell at them about Bachelor’s Grove-related disputes, and people trying to get other people fired over community events held at Bachelor’s Grove. It’s an easy way to waste several hours.

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. Hope to post photos of a completed new porch soon.