The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 3, 2012

Ghost story, ‘good cause’: Author hopes to scare up some donations for leader dogs

Josh Byers

— The discovery of a lone grave near his home has led a Johnstown man to raise money for a good cause.

James “Jim” Baroni Sr., a transformer repairman for Penelec and an avid outdoorsman, found the grave one day while walking in the woods near his house.

Rachel Peterson was laid to rest there, and the discovery of her grave inspired Baroni to write a spooky, ghost tale.

The book, titled “The Legend of Rachel Petersen,” was published through Damnation Books, an e-publisher in California. A quarter of the proceeds generated by the book are being donated to The Leader Dogs for the Blind, Rochester Hills, Mich.

Baroni’s brother, Gene, was blind at birth and has relied on a leader dog for some time.

“Growing up, we were constantly hand-in-hand. I was like his first seeing-eye dog,” Baroni said.

The two brothers were close.

“When we were kids, we used to fish a lot, and I’d bait his hook for him,” Baroni said. “We also used to listen to books on record a lot. We would buy them and run home to listen to them. I think that influenced my writing a lot.”

Baroni said his brother “never let his handicap affect him.”

Gene Baroni now lives in Philadelphia, and is on his third leader dog.

Baroni recalls visiting his brother a few years ago and going out to get Chinese food.

He said his brother had his dog take them there.

“It is unbelievable how smart that dog is. I swear, it even looked for traffic,” Baroni said.

He estimates that it takes around $45,000 to train a puppy to become a leader dog.

Although it’s a lot of money, it is free of charge at The Leader Dogs for the Blind.

The organization relies on charitable donations to raise and train the dogs.

According to its website, the program includes expenses for public transportation to people traveling within North America. It also includes room and board and equipment costs.

The training, which takes 26 days, teaches the person how to do a multitude of things with the dog.

Baroni appreciates the work the organization does for the blind and hopes his book will raise some money to help with the training of the dogs.

“I want people to buy the book, not only for a good ghost story, but also because it helps a good cause,” Baroni said.

The book is about a 39-year-old sportswriter, Christian Kane, who recently quit his job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette because he was overlooked for a promotion.

Kane moves to the country to write fiction and gains inspiration from a grave he finds in the woods.

He writes a fictional horror story about the 12-year-old girl buried in the grave. The book gains instant success, and he sells the story to Hollywood to be made into a movie. The movie is a hit as well and Kane becomes rich and famous.

However, the girl he wrote about rises from the grave looking for revenge.

Taking no chances, Baroni said he changed the spelling of the name on the gravestone for his book.

“There is a twist ending that no one saw coming,” he said.

“I’ve been told it holds your attention and makes you want to see what happens


The 144-page book was released in December and Baroni said about 100 copies have been sold so far.

The book costs $14.75 for paperback and $4.50 for the e-edition on

But Baroni wants to warn readers that he wrote the book with a mature audience in mind and it does contain adult content.