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?

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.

Hauntings At The Hoyt Museum in Western Pennsylvania

This looks like a job for Scooby Doo and the Meddling Kids who travel in the Mystery Machine!

I’ve blogged in the past about my favorite spooky podcasts. In fact, here’s my most updated list of 13 Haunted History Podcasts.

My list included Snap Judgement Presents: Spooked. Now, WNYC studios presented the podcast Snap Judgement. WNYC and Snap Judgement originally introduced Spooked to me. That’s why I included the NPR link here.

Spooked later moved to a subscriber-only model on Luminary. However, Luminary occasionally releases former subscriber-only episodes to the public.

My iTunes and Spotify profiles both advised me that Spooked JUST released to the public a former subscriber-only episode titled “Fright At The Museum.” The episode detailed a former museum intern’s allegedly true experiences with ghosts at a museum which she referred to as The Hoyt.

I Googled “The Hoyt” and its alleged ghosts “Alexander Hoyt” and and “May Emma Hoyt” and I discovered that The Hoyt is actually the Hoyt Art Center in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

New Castle is north of Pittsburgh and south of Erie in Western Pennsylvania. If you like to shop at outlet malls, note that New Castle is 16 miles south of the outlet mall in Grove City.

Through this podcast and my Google research, I learned that The Hoyt’s physical location consists of the two adjacent, century-old mansions once occupied by the siblings May Emma and Alexander.

May Emma allegedly lived a Roaring Twenties lifestyle not approved by Alexander. Alexander allegedly burned May Emma’s prized possessions after she died. Hence the ghost stories.

I learned that only very recently did preservationists undertake a major restoration project at The Hoyt. Restoration continues.

I understand. Jonathan and I live in a house built in the 1890’s. Restoration continues at our establishment as well. In fact, I soon hope to blog about a major project at our house!

Once upon a time, I myself worked as a “sort of” intern at an old building-turned-art center in a recovering Rust Belt town. I worked as the “Events Coordinator” at the Bottleworks Ethnic Arts Center in the Cambria City neighborhood of Johnstown. (My placement came from participation in Americorps / Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps/ PMSC.) The Bottleworks occupied (still occupies) a former bottle factory – hence the name. I never encountered any ghosts at Bottleworks, though. Maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention.

Happy Halloween. No One Will Read This Except for My Family

I picked out a bunch of ghost story books that I believe certain of my family members should read. I have these books in my possession already. Nobody has to go out and buy anything. I won’t be able to tell my family in person that these books are really great – because when I see my family in person, everyone talks at once. Hence, this blog post.

I don’t actually benefit financially if anyone else out there purchases any of these books. I’m a huge fan of some of the people that I mention below. I might possibly stalk some of these people if I lived closer to them. Nothing more.

Scritch Scratch: A Ghost Story by Lindsay Currie

I blogged before that after the 2020 Covid lockdown started, I got hooked to Adam Selzer’s work. Selzer posts daily virtual tours on his “Mysterious Chicago” Facebook page. I discovered Selzer when I searched for “virtual ghost tours.”

Selzer himself wrote Young Adult fiction. He also wrote adult non-fiction and established a Chicago “ghost” and “True Crime” tour company. Because writing Young Adult fiction doesn’t actually pay the bills. Selzer himself alluded to this. Selzer and I are almost the same age. I am impressed by all that he accomplished. I might blog about Selzer’s own books in a future post. However, I actually blog today about the YA books that he promoted for another author: Lindsay Currie.

Selzer posted last year that Currie’s new YA book, Scritch Scratch, featured a ghost tour guide based on Selzer. The book described a Chicago ghost tour of locations and stories that Adam featured during his own real ghost tours. Selzer promoted the release of Scritch Scratch by posting his own virtual ghost tour of the places and stories featured in Scritch Scratch.

Plus, R.L. Stine wrote a quote for Scritch Scratch‘s cover.

R.L. FREAKING STINE!

R.L. Stine wrote some Point Thrillers, which were the only things in the world that I read in seventh grade. He also wrote Goosebumps. R. L. Stine might be the reason that I know how to read chapter books.

R.L. Stine sold Scritch Scratch to me.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Currie wrote this before she wrote Scritch Scratch. I would have never read this book had I not first discovered Scritch Scratch. This title does not summon me to read it.

However, the plot included visits to a real Chicago cemetery and a real Chicago grave. The junior high school kids in this story solved a mystery about a real person buried at this grave. This real person is the star of a real cemetery ghost story.

Adult Jenny really enjoyed this spooky book written for kids.

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Here’s what happened: During Covid lockdown, I watched a virtual talk about historical fiction. I won a history trivia challenge question. I forget the question, but the answer was “the French and Indian War.” I submitted the first correct answer. The contest hosts promised to ship me a book as my prize.

I won a paperback copy of Bellewether. I won a paranormal suspense / romance that look place in the modern day with frequent flashbacks to the French and Indian War in the 1700’s. The flashbacks explained why a ghost from the 1700’s haunted the present day. Everything took place in the Lake George / Fort William Henry / Fort Ticonderoga area of upstate New York.

Now, Jonathan and I spent a week in this exact area with Jonathan’s sister S. (so, my sister-in-law S.) and S.’s now-husband E., and also with Jonathan’s parents.

(FYI: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper took place at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. Cooper based his novel on actual events at the fort.)

I read Bellwether in one day, even though it isn’t a YA novel.

However, my sister-in-law S. will also love this book. So, S., when I see you, I will hand you my “won” copy of Bellewether.

Pennsylvania History Reading on the Eve of September 11

Pious Spring in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and also in a little farming community down the road from Shanksville (the Flight 93 crash site). However, not everyone who reads this blog lived in Pennsylvania for decades like I did. (Not sure whether I should actually admit this . . . ) So, if you’re still new here and want to learn more, here are some books about Western Pennsylvania history that I enjoyed:

1.) Anything by Thomas White

White teaches and archives at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and he also wrote a million books about Pennsylvania history and folklore. I just finished reading White’s “The Witch of the Monogahela: Folk Magic in Early Western Pennsylvania.”

2.) The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Turnbull grew up in New Alexandria in the late 1800’s. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After World War I ended, she wrote this fiction novel about colonial settlers in Hanna’s Town (Hannastown) during the Revolutionary War. When I toured the visitor’s center at the Flight 93 National Memorial, I learned that Flight 93 travelled over part of Westmoreland County just moments before it crashed in Somerset County. The plane travelled over the same mountains that provide the setting for this book about living with fear and hope in the 1700’s.

If you decide that you liked Turnbull’s historical fiction, note that she wrote “The King’s Orchard” about early Pittsburgh businessman James O’Hara. (O’Hara was philanthropist Mary Schenley’s grandfather and also the source of her significant fortune.) She also wrote a novel titled “Remember the End” about Alex MacTay, a fictional mine owner in Greensburg during the Industrial Revolution. I suspect that Turnbull based MacTay on a hybrid of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.

I don’t recommend any other of Turnbull’s many, many novels. For instance, I attempted to read her story “The Richlands” about a farming family in Westmoreland County. The book took place in the late 1800’s – I think? Everyone travelled by horse. The farm boys had to physically build their own prep school. (Kiski Prep?) There was a creepy farmhand. The father fired the farmhand before he did anything exceptionally creepy, such as murder the wife and kids. Kinda disappointing. Turnbull forgot to include a plot in “The Richlands.” NOTHING happened for 300 pages.

3.) Hannah’s Town, by Helen Smith and George Swetnam

This book was “The Day Must Dawn” for kids. It followed a fictional girl named Hannah who lived in Hanna’s Town and thought of it as “her town.” Hannah’s family very conveniently moved away from Hanna’s Town right before the British and their Native American allies sacked and burned the town. The book was written in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. I mentioned that I just finished reading a Thomas White book. Well, in the White book that I just finished, White specifically cited “Hannah’s Town” co-author Geroge Swetnam as one of White’s folklore sources.

4.) Grant by Ron Chernow

Grant was a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Chernow also wrote the biography of Alexander Hamilton upon which Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his Hamilton musical. In Grant, I learned that Grant’s father, Jesse, actually lived in Greensburg (down the road from Hannastown) for years before he moved to Ohio and fathered Ulysses.

5.) The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

I learned that in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood of 1889, somebody fished a live baby out of the Allegheny River at Verona. (Verona is downstream from Parnassus (where I live) and upstream from Pittsburgh.)

6.) American Elegy: A Family Memoir by Jeffrey Simpson

Simpson wrote this memoir about several generations of his family who lived in the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington. His family lived on the same block on which I now live.

7.) The Girl Factory: A Memoir by Karen Dietrich

Dietrich grew up in Connellsville. She wrote this book about her experiences in elementary and high school in Connellsville. I read this because I saw a write-up for it in a Pittsburgh newspaper. I included it here because the author is my age. She graduated from high school with a whole bunch of people who then attended college with me. Then, even though she didn’t go to college with me, she eventually (briefly) taught creative writing at my old college. I read this book while wondering the entire time if she wrote about anybody that I recognized. I did not recognize anybody. Maybe I’m not very perceptive.

Did the Jersey Devil Fly to Pennsylvania? Also, What is REAL Fame?

Sandhill Cranes. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October 10, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

The Jersey Devil is a mythological creature. Its origin story maintains that the Jersey Devil was the result of a 13th birth to a (human) colonial family in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The Jersey Devil terrorized the family (or killed the family, according to some versions of the tale). Then, it flew up the family’s chimney. People have reported it flying for hundreds of years now. Mostly in New Jersey, of course. However, at least one person reported seeing it in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River.

This Cryptid also named a professional hockey team and inspired its mascot. I speak of the New Jersey Devils. I work in an office in Pittsburgh. My one manager – a Philadelphia-area native – sits directly across an aisle from me. He placed a pillow featuring the New Jersey Devils’ “devil” mascot on a shelf directly above his desk. I see that devil pillow every time that I look at his office’s glass front wall.

So, the locals adopted the Jersey Devil as a beloved part of their culture.

I listened to these podcasts about the Jersey Devil:

Episode 9:  A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke

Episode 314: The Jersey Devil from Last Podcast on the Left

(Just a warning that Last Podcast on the Left (LPOTL) includes adult language and content.)

I’ve read several books on folklore that include chapters or at least mention of the Jersey Devil. Depending on your source, you will read different things about the Jersey Devil.

Some of my sources speculate that people who reported seeing the Jersey Devil actually saw a sandhill crane. That’s why I included at the top of this blog post a photo of two sandhill cranes. Here’s another photo of the same pair of sandhill cranes:

Sandhill Cranes. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October 10, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I took these particular photos in October 2020 from a kayak on Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western Pennsylvania. The park sits about 90 miles south of PA’s Lake Erie shoreline. When I took my photos of these birds, the birds ate in the wetlands at the lake’s edge. I made a lot of noise. The birds ate. They did not flee from me. They just ate. I took these photos during the same week that I read that biologists anticipated significant numbers of migratory birds to fly south for the winter. I am under the impression (I am NOT a scientist) that these birds stopped at Lake Arthur to feed during a migration from somewhere on the Great Lakes to somewhere south.

Here are different sandhill cranes that I saw on an island of Lake Huron in Northern Michigan in August 2020 and August 2021:

Sandhill Cranes. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Sandhill Cranes. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Sandhill Crane. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Sandhill Crane. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I’ve established what sandhill cranes look like. My crane photos are all from the Great Lakes region. However, from what I understand (again, I am NOT a scientist), sandhill cranes have a range that includes other areas of North America.

Was the New Jersey Devil actually a “Pennsylvania” Sandhill Crane?

Also, what does it actually take to be famous through the ages?

I blogged about American Naval hero Stephen Decatur a few days ago. He defeated pirates. He won a Medal of Honor. He married a socially elite woman. He and his wife were an early 1800’s power couple! He lived in a mansion near the White House. He seconded Oliver Hazard Perry in a duel. He then died in a duel himself. A bunch of people who were born before the American Civil War were named after him.

And – he (allegedly) saw the Jersey Devil while he was testing cannons for the United States military. He (allegedly) fired a cannonball at the poor creature.

And – for me – the whole Jersey Devil story is what convinced me that Stephen Decatur will not be forgotten in America. He was famous enough to be linked in folklore to a beloved American figure – the Jersey Devil.

Just for the record, several sources that I consumed also linked Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, to a Jersey Devil sighting. Joseph Bonaparte used to be the King of Spain. After Napoleon’s defeat, Joseph had to move to New Jersey. The Canadian band Moxy Früvous has a song titled King of Spain that begins with the lyrics “Once I was the King of Spain, now I eat humble pie.” The song’s lyrics include mention of employment in a North American pizzaria. I personally think that the song is a dig at Joseph Bonaparte – the former King of Spain who had to move to Jersey, and then went down in folklore for his alleged run-in with the Jersey Devil.

Remastered: When Duelers Sailed the Great Lakes

US Brig Niagara. Sailing from Lake Erie to Port of Erie, Pennsylvania. Photo taken from Presque Isle State Park. (Photo taken in 2010’s. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Updated July 1, 2021

My blog’s most popular post is about the time that Jonathan and I accidentally sailed into Misery Bay off of Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Presque Isle State Park now features a monument to the War of 1812’s American naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry. The monument at the end of a little peninsula sits next to Misery Bay. In fact, when my husband and I sail, we try to use the Perry Monument as a landmark to prevent ourselves from sailing into Misery Bay.

Here is a photo that I took on my iPhone of the Perry Monument on Columbus Day Weekend in 2019. An organization associated with the National Guard decorated the monument minutes before I took the photo.

iPhone photo. Perry Monument, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. Circa October 14, 2019.

I took an interest in the Perry Monument that sits next to Misery Bay when I visited Erie for the very first time around the age of 10 or so. I was actually born in Perry County in Central Pennsylvania. I lived there for the first seven years of my life. So, after we moved to Western Pennsylvania, I was very excited to see a monument dedicated to the namesake of my original home. I had my parents take a photo of me standing next to the monument. On this same trip, I took a pontoon boat tour offered through Presque Isle State Park. I learned about the folklore surrounding Oliver Hazard Perry and his experiences with Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond during the War of 1812.

Here’s what I didn’t learn on this boat tour:

Some of the American Naval heros of the War of 1812 era – including men who sailed the Great Lakes – dueled. Some of them died in duels.

I learned this much later by reading Wikipedia. So, I trust that Wikipedia and many published books about U.S. Naval history will satisfy you much more on the particular details of this subject than I can in a 1,000 word (or whatever) blog post.

But for example: In 1818, Oliver Hazard Perry fought in a duel. He and his opponent survived. However, Perry chose for his “second” a man who actually did die in his own duel just a few years later. That man was Stephen Decatur.

I don’t remember learning about Stephen Decatur in school. However, I don’t remember a lot of things from my U.S. History classes, even though it was my favorite subject.

I liked to read biographies of famous people from the American Civil War. I noted that a lot of the biographies mentioned various other people who had the first and middle name of “Stephen Decatur.” For instance, the writer Mary Chesnut’s father was Stephen Decatur Miller. A bunch of other famous people from the early 1800’s had relatives or acquaintances named “Stephen Decatur This” or “Stephen Decatur That.”

I thought, “This Stephen Decatur guy must be pretty special if a whole bunch of people named their kids after him before the Civil War happened.

So, I looked up Stephen Decatur on Wikipedia. I learned that he – and his fellow Naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry – and a bunch of their other fellow officers got themselves into duels. Often.

So many duels happened before the Civil War, that the Washington elite journeyed to a designated dueling grounds (the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds in Maryland). In fact, I learned from Wikipedia that Francis Scott Key’s son, Daniel, died after a duel that started over a dispute about the speed of a boat.

Stephen Decatur served as an officer in the United States Navy from 1798 – 1820. I’ll make this quick because anyone can just read all of this on Wikipedia. Decatur fought pirates along the Barbary Coast of North Africa. He witnessed his own brother, James’s, burial at sea. He earned a Medal of Honor.

Here’s an example of how highly folks regarded Decatur: I listened to  Episode 9:  A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke.  This episode told the myth of the Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. According to the folklore, Decatur saw the Jersey  Devil as he tested cannon balls in Burlington, New Jersey. The legend maintains that Decatur fired a cannon at the Jersey Devil but that the Jersey Devil flew away. This myth implies to me that if such a decorated hero as Decatur saw and reacted to the Jersey Devil, then us common folk should believe that the Jersey Devil actually existed.

I don’t know if Decatur actually saw the Jersey Devil and fired a cannon at it.

However, in 1818 Decatur did actually build his residence in Lafayette Square in Washington, a very short walk from the White House. Before this, Decatur married Susan Wheeler. I am very much under the impression that his bride was from the most well-connected tier of American society. (Aaron Burr and also Napoleon’s brother allegedly attempted to court her.) Decatur and Susan entertained the elite in their gorgeous Lafayette Square home. (In fact, you can still visit this “Historic Decatur House.”)

So, after all of the struggle and success, Stephen Decatur agreed to duel another Naval officer, James Barron, in 1820. Decatur shot Barron. Barron shot Decatur. Decatur died at the age of 41. Barron survived for several more decades.

Dueling declined after the American Civil War. I learned on Wikipedia that the last Bladensburg duel occurred in the late 1860’s. I read in a book of Maryland folklore that a suburban housing development now sits on most of Bladensburg’s “dueling grounds.”

I reworked this blog post because later this year I want to blog about that time that Stephen Decatur allegedly saw the Jersey Devil and tried to kill it. So, here’s some context about Stephen Decatur’s fame in the 1800’s. He, and Oliver Hazard Perry, and others were America’s heros. They sailed the Great Lakes in the 1800’s. Some of them also dueled – at great personal cost.

They Built a Steel Mill on Top of It . . .

Edgar Thomson Steel Works. Braddock, Pennsylvania. Across the Monongahala River from Kennywood Park. May 8, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Updated May 11, 2021

What do Kennywood Park (an amusement park outside of Pittsburgh), and the Tower of London have in common?

Well, at each of these places, I heard a shout-out to British Major General Edward Braddock.

At Kennywood Park , a statue and also a Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission (PMHC) sign honor General Edward Braddock. When I rode the train around Kennywood, I ate a chocolate brownie as the train intercom extolled the park’s fun rides and told us about Braddock’s Defeat.

Braddock’s army and its Native American allies marched ON the land that became Kennywood Park in 1755. They crossed the Monongahela River (the Mon) at what is now Kennywood. After they crossed the river, a French army and its own Native American allies attacked them. Braddock’s army retreated.

Braddock died. A lot of his men died or taken prisoner. Women who followed the army as cooks and laundresses also died or were taken prisoner.

You can actually find a much better synopsis than mine with a 30 second Google search. A lot of Google searches refer to this as the “Battle of the Monogahela.”

However, I have an anecdote! I went to London and I toured the Tower of London. The Yeoman Warder (“Beefeater”) who was assigned to docent my tour group started off by saying:

Is anyone in this group from Pennsylvania?”

The Yeoman Warder said something about the Yeoman’s own involvement in the Coldstream Guards. He specifically mentioned the grave of “General Braddock.”

Well, then the Yeoman Warder moved on to a different subject (after all, we were at the TOWER OF LONDON). I had to look up the Coldstream Guards later.

Here’s a photo that I took inside the Tower of London in September 2008. The man in the front is a Yeoman Warder, known colloquially as a “Beefeater.”

Turns out that General Braddock also belonged to the Coldstream Guards. Officers from the Coldstream Guards actually travelled to Pennsylvania to dedicate a new monument at General Braddock’s grave in 1913. So, they did this less than a year before World War I started.

Now, just to be clear, General Braddock wasn’t buried at the actual battlefield. He wasn’t buried at Kennywood Park. Braddock was wounded at the battlefield that is behind Kennywood. He died of his injuries later, and miles away, during the retreat.

A young George Washington served as an officer on Braddock’s staff. Washington had to oversee Braddock’s burial.

The Coldstream Guards dedicated a new monument at Braddock’s actual grave in Fayette County in 1913. They actually travelled from the United Kingdom to Pennsylvania and attended the dedication ceremony. Here is an old photo that I took of the actual grave in Fayette County.

Braddock’s Grave in Fayette County, Pennsylvania

Here is a close-up of the Coldstream Guards’ regimental badge on Braddock’s grave monument:

Here is a close-up of the Coldstream Guard’s regimental badge on Braddock’s grave monument in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

I really wish that I could blog here that the Coldstream Guards also visited Kennywood Park in 1913 during their trip to see Braddock’s grave. A trip to Kennywood in the summer before World War I! Sadly, I have not found any mention of any Coldstream Guard visit to Kennywood during any of my 20 minute Google searches.

That would be a fun story to tell, if it were true.

I don’t have anything else to add here about the Tower of London, the Coldstream Guards, or Braddock’s actual grave in Fayette County.

The rest of this is about Kennywood Park, the Battle of the Monongahela battlefield, and the bike trail that runs between these two.

I discovered a now-defunct travel blog in which the blogger visited this area because he had an interest in the battle’s military history. In his blog, he RAILED against “developers” for completely carving up the actual site of the Battle of the Monongahela. (There’s actually a “Braddock’s Battlefield History Center” IN Braddock, PA, near the site of the battle. However, I think that this blogger meant that he wanted to visit someplace where one could retrace the actual battle, like one can do at Gettysburg.)

I, too, find it a shame that people today can’t visit the actual battlefield and walk where the two armies fought.

But, the thing is –

The developers who failed to preserve the battlefield were . . . business associates of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The battlefield was “ruined” . . . at the turn of the century. The turn of the LAST century. During the Industrial Revolution.

If you aren’t familiar with Henry Clay Frick’s treatment of organized labor, then Google “Homestead Strike.”

Also, go ahead and Google “Johnstown Flood” and “South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.”

I mention all of this just to point out that “ruining the site of the Battle of the Monongahela” wasn’t the very worst allegation ever connected to Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.

So, how did the business activities of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie “ruin” this battlefield?

Well, they built a steel mill on top of it.

They built the U.S. Steel plant known as the Edgar Thomson Steel Works on top of the battlefield.

Edgar Thomson Steel Works. Braddock, Pennsylvania. Across the Monongahala River from Kennywood Park. March 30, 2018. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I mention all of this because a bike trail – the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) -runs along the Mon River behind Kennywood Park. You can ride on a path directly behind the roller coasters. You can look across the river and see this U.S. Steel plant .

You can ride past a 1906 locomotive roundhouse in McKeesport.

Here’s some photos of said roundhouse.

Locomotive Roundhouse. McKeesport, Pennsylvania. May 8, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Locomotive Roundhouse. McKeesport, Pennsylvania. May 8, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek) – This is the back of the “round” part of the word “roundhouse.”

Jonathan took much better photos than I did. You can view Jonathan’s photos here, at our other blog.

Kecksburg UFO Detour

Kecksburg UFO Monument. Nicknamed “The Acorn.” Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. April 10, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I watched a lot of the original series of Unsolved Mysteries this past winter. (This is in reference to the original episodes hosted by Robert Stack.) These are currently available to watch for no additional charge on Amazon with an Amazon Prime membership.

The Unsolved Mysteries episode that covered the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, UFO is Season #3, Episode 1. It first aired on September 19, 1990.

I remember watching this episode when it aired on network television.

I was so excited because the turnoff for Kecksburg was midway on the trip from our house in Berlin, Pennsylvania (Somerset County) to my grandma’s house in Irwin. So, Unsolved Mysteries finally visited “my” neck of the woods. Sort of.

(Kecksburg is located near Mount Pleasant, and I still get excited when I see the road sign for Kecksburg when I drive from New Kensington to the house where I grew up.)

Anyway, I now live in New Kensington and part of my family still lives in Berlin. I drive through Mount Pleasant on Route 31 on my trips to Berlin. The established route bores me sometimes. So, when the weather is nice, I take various “scenic routes.”

Yesterday, I drove to Berlin and I chose a scenic route that took me through Kecksburg. Except, I took a wrong turn at an intersection in Kecksburg. I pulled into a parking lot to check my directions.

I thought, “Doesn’t Kecksburg have some sort of monument to the UFO incident? Maybe I should see if I can find it.”

So, I searched for the Kecksburg UFO monument on my phone. It turned out that the UFO monument was actually a 4 minute walk DIRECTLY BEHIND ME.

As in, if I had gotten out of my car and turned around, I would have seen the monument in the distance.

So, I drove over the the monument and snapped this photo.

I learned that locals refer to this momument as “The Acorn.”

Here is a newspaper article from the Trib about this monument.

As part of this detour through Kecksburg, I drove on Clay Pike Road. I first tried out this scenic route last fall. The trip is gorgeous in good weather but especially in the fall. I highly recommend it.

My Very First Haunted House

The Allegheny Mountains. Simon Girty crossed the Alleghenies as a child in the 1700’s. I crossed them as a child in the 1900’s.

I’ve blogged in the past about Simon Girty. I don’t feel like linking everything that I’ve ever wrote about him. I created “Girty” as a new category on this blog tonight, so you can just click on this to see what I wrote.

So, I mentioned before that the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission installed a marker along the Susquehanna River to note Girty’s birthplace near Harrisburg. I actually Googled the distance between Girty’s birthplace and my very first childhood home in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Turns out that I spent the first seven years of my life only ten or twenty miles from Girty’s birthplace. We both started out in Central PA and then went on to have new adventures on the OTHER side of the Allegheny Mountains.

I’m a Central PA native because of economics. Both of my parents grew up in the Greater Pittsburgh area. (My mom grew up in Carrick.) My dad’s first teaching job out of college came from rural Perry County. So, he moved there a month before their wedding. Mom moved to Perry County the weekend that my parents got married.

I mean, if you want to get technical about it, the Girty family and all of their fellow colonial settlers of European descent lived in what became of Perry County due to economics, too. They moved into the already-occupied lands along the Susquehanna. They struggled with the indigenous people who already called dibs on that whole place. Girty grew up to see the the non-European point of view on this whole mess. If you want to get even more technical, this land around the Susquehanna wasn’t Perry County back then. The county was later named after the War of 1812 hero Oliver Hazard Perry. Girty was born in the early 1700’s. He was an old man taking refuge with the British when the War of 1812 happened. (Though, I just found out through a Google search that Simon Girty only preceded Oliver Hazard Perry in death by a year and a half. Girty died old. Perry died young. So, I guess that nobody wins in the end? Except for me. I made out well because my husband just made me fresh stove-popped popcorn to eat as I write this.)

I should have warned you about tonight’s history dump. That way, you could have closed out this post to go read a Reddit message board about vaccine shaming or about that physical fight that happened last weekend at a Bath & Body Works store.

Anyway, I spent the first seven years of my live in a pretty rural town in Perry County, near the farm where Simon Girty was born in the 1700’s. I wasn’t born in the 1700’s, but some days I feel as if I am indeed that old. “My first hometown” in Perry County was so tiny that it made my “second hometown” in Somerset County seem like a regular little city.

For instance, back in the Perry County days, we lived next to the town’s elementary school. (The high school was twenty miles away.) It was still light outside when I feel asleep each night in the summer. I fell asleep looking out of the window at cows in a field on a mountain. The other thing that I saw on that mountain each summer night were trees with no leaves or dead leaves. (The area had a gypsy moth infestation in the local forests.) The town itself was only about one mile long or so. I walked and biked the entire length of it many times before we moved away.

An Amish community farmed in the area. Some of these Amish were teenagers. Some of these Amish teenagers hung out with the teenagers who lived next to us. These teenagers all drove around in a car meant to emulate the jalopy known as the “General Lee” from the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” That is, the neighbor’s car played the song “Dixie” just like the car in the TV show did. Also, the neighbor’s car was orange and I think that it had Confederate battle flags on each side, just like the “General Lee” did.

We all had huge backyards. The neighbor’s teenagers allegedly grew weed in their backyard garden, according to my mom. One day, a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter flew low over our little neighborhood in our little rural town.

So, back to the house that became my first childhood home. My parents bought it shortly before I was born. It was an old house. It was a fixer-upper. (I keep ending up living in fixer-uppers in interesting neighborhoods. Story of my life.) Also, somebody was electrocuted on the power lines. Whoever this poor man was, he died right in front of the house. This happened before my parents bought the place. This was all before The Internet happened to us, by the way. Google didn’t exist. After my parents moved into their new home in their little town in Perry County, the neighbors came over and told my parents all about the terrible accident. Caveat emptor!

So, my parents told us kids this story about the electrical accident after we had moved away and we were all adults. And one of my siblings said,

“I used to hear a man’s voice calling out when we lived there. I used to call back “Dad, is that you?” I thought that it was Dad. Except, Dad was at work when this happened.”

This particular sibling was five years old when we moved away from the house.

And that’s how I found out that my first childhood home was haunted.