The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 30, 2012

VIDEOS/PHOTOS The 13 scariest local haunts

Justin Dennis

— Between Native American curses, Civil War-era wights and burned witches, there’s plenty of paranormal activity in Pennsylvania to keep ghost hunters busy. Everyone loves a good ghost story, especially the caretakers of local lore.

Below is a list of the 13 most haunted places in our area – “hot spots” where locals have reported the veil between the land of the living and the dead to be wearing thin...

Disclaimer: Almost all of these locations are not meant for tourists or amateur ghostbusters. Most are closed, condemned or the owners simply don’t want you there. Please don’t try to explore these places on your own – leave that to us.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Conemaugh Township, Cambria County)

This cemetery along Frankstown Road was established in the 1800s. Reports of an ethereal white lady who stalks the stone markers at night are prevalent.

Cambria Heights High School (Patton, Cambria County)

Years ago, when the theater department at the home of the Highlanders was putting on the beloved musical “West Side Story,” the male lead died unexpectedly from a mysterious illness

– on opening night. But it would seem “Tony” wasn’t ready for the curtain call.

People have reported objects being dropped from the spotlight room above the stage and an inexplicable force that will nudge actors if they aren’t in the right spot or catch them if they fall.

Conemaugh Township Area High School (Davidsville, Somerset County)

Legend has it that the high school was built on a Native American burial ground, which horror cinema tells us is an absolutely terrible idea. Davidsville residents supposedly have seen a figure resembling an Indian chief on opening nights in the auditorium, at graduation and football games.

If the lights go up and down and no one’s at the switch, you can bet it’s the chief, likely communicating his disapproval of the high school’s mascot.

Eureka Mine No. 40 (Scalp Level, Cambria County)

The remnants of this Berwind-White mine in Scalp Level were demolished in 2011, but the small mining community that shot up around it persists today. Many of its original residents who explored the mossy and deserted buildings around the mine entrance claim to have felt as if they were being followed.

Some say they’ve seen a shadow figure “entering” the shaft in the early morning – punching the clock on its eternal shift. “The Ghost of the Old Miner” is what the locals call this specter, and its presence hangs over the nearby railroad tracks, possibly distraught by a sudden, tragic death in the mine.

Baker Mansion (Altoona, Blair County)

The home of the Blair County Historical Society has been embedded in Altoona folklore through generations of ghost stories.

The most famous story, according to Patty Wilson, a Bedford native and the author of “Haunted Pennsylvania,” is that of Anna Baker.

The daughter of iron magnate Elias Baker, Anna fell in love with one of her father’s workers. But Elias wouldn’t let her wed a blue collar worker. Anna died alone in Baker Mansion in 1914, her wedding dress unworn.

They say her bitter, forlorn spirit longed to wear the creme and gold gown and will do so for all time. Wilson said that LIFE magazine named Baker Mansion one of the most haunted houses in the country in 1981. When the LIFE photographers tried to snap some shots of Anna’s wedding dress, all of the cameras malfunctioned or had their film corrupted. BCHS employees claim to have seen the dress swaying side to side behind its glass case, as if the wearer were dancing.

Tours of Baker Mansion are available by calling (814) 942-3916. See our video tour of Baker Mansion on the right sidebar.

Eliza Furnace (Indiana County, near Vintondale)

This 19th century iron furnace sits along the Ghost Town Trail in Vintondale and will be forever tied to its co-owner, David Ritter. It is said Ritter hung himself in the furnace. Why he did is a point of contention – his business collapsed, his wife ran off with another man, his son fell into the blazing oven or an unfortunate combination of all three.

If you pass by Eliza Furnace at just the right time, you might see feet lightly swinging back and forth as they hang from its chimney.

Grandview Cemetery (Southmont, Cambria County)

The Unknown Plot at Grandview Cemetery is the final resting place for 777 unidentified victims recovered from the wreckage of the Great Flood of 1889.

Or is it?

In 2003, local ghost hunter Nancy Coplin took an investigative tour of Johnstown haunts, convinced that the city’s affinity for the supernatural was related to the thousands of sudden and tragic flood deaths the city has endured. Among her findings were a photo depicting a floating orb in motion and an audio recording of a girl’s voice that pleads, “Please save me.”

The Belsano Train Robbery (Belsano, Cambria County)

In October 1924, a Cambria & Indiana Railroad train was carrying a safe with a more than $30,000 payroll for the Ebensburg Coal Co. employees.

When the conductor stopped for a passenger just outside Belsano, the train was boarded by two bandits: Michelo Bassi and Anthony Pezzi. They killed the guards and made off with the safe in a getaway car, only to be picked up in Terre Haute, Ind., carrying weapons and only $6,000.

The two were sentenced to death but the rest of the money was never recovered. It may be wishful thinking, but local treasure hunters might like to believe a $25,000 payday is still in the ground somewhere near Belsano.

The old Cambria County Jail (Ebensburg, Cambria County)

At this 19th century prison in the heart of Ebensburg, the cells and nooses have been empty since 1997. The city has tried to find a buyer for years despite its otherwordly reputation.

When the prison was still in use, a previous warden, hearing footsteps above him, looked up and saw a prisoner walking on the top-floor catwalk. A jail break alert went out as the guards tried to corner the escapee from multiple directions.

When they got to the third floor, the prisoner had seemingly vanished, although the only escape route was a deadly jump from the high catwalk.

Mishler Theatre (Altoona, Blair County)

In the early 1900s, The Mishler Theatre was a hot vaudeville destination. It was built by Isaac Mishler and consumed his life – and afterlife.

Even though Isaac passed on in 1944, actors have claimed to have seen him sitting in the audience during rehearsals and performances and smelled cigar smoke – one of Isaac’s pastimes.

“Some people had experiences, some didn’t,” said Scott Crownover, a former thespian at Mishler Theatre and a member of the Ghost Research Foundation. “It just depended on how much time you spent there.”

Rolling Mill Mine, Johns­town Inclined Plane Hiking Trail (Westmont, Cambria County)

The Rolling Mill Mine, situated off the Johnstown Inclined Plane Hiking Trail in Westmont, claimed 112 lives on July 10, 1902, when an accidental methane explosion shattered three-foot-thick concrete walls and released toxic fumes.

There have been several sightings by locals of ethereal figures wearing mining gear wandering the wooded trail behind The Inclined Plane during the day and night.

Elmhurst Mansion (Loretto, Cambria County)

The tale of Evelyn Nesbitt, a famous chorus girl and model, was immortalized in the 1955 film “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.” The love triangle between Nesbitt, famous New York architect Stanford White and coal empire heir Harry Thaw resulted in White’s murder atop Madison Square Garden in 1906 and the “Trial of the Century.”

When former Tribune-Democrat writer Nancy Coleman stayed in Elmhurst – Thaw’s family home – in the late ’70s, it was about 10 years after Nesbitt’s death.

“We scared ourselves silly,” said Coleman with a laugh.

Although she and three friends had decided to perform a seance in the middle of the night, eerie noises changed their minds.

“Like someone was tip-toeing down the hall,” she described.

Grand Midway Hotel (Windber, Somerset County)

When the GRF investigated filmmaker Blair Murphy’s haunted hotel, Wilson claimed she sensed an energy signature on the second floor. She asked the presence where it was and the reply that came back on their voice recorder was, “In the wall.” Shortly after, cadaver dogs were brought in and instantly keyed on a wall in the room she had asked. The wall was taken down and remains were found but experts couldn’t tell if they were human or not.

Even more grisly: A woman was decapitated by an errant firework on the 4th of July and psychics who perused the area on separate occasions all claimed a female spirit haunts the place.

The Tribune-Democrat's Justin Dennis stayed a night in The Grand Midway - click here for a slideshow.