From the battlefields of Gettysburg, to historic hotels, to the halls of Penn State, tales of ghosts and paranormal encounters in the commonwealth abound.
‘Tis the season — the Halloween season, that is. It’s high time to explore all the horrors and haunts that Pennsylvania has to offer.
In a state with so much history, tales of ghosts and paranormal encounters abound. So let’s examine the stories behind six notable Pennsylvania locations that are said to be haunted.
Civil War Hauntings – Gettysburg
In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, more than 50,000 soldiers perished in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. It is unsurprising that such mass bloodshed in such a short period of time would inspire hundreds of tales of hauntings. Visitors to the historic town claim to have seen apparitions of soldiers on horseback and civilians in 19th-century garb. And ghostly happenings are not isolated to one area. Those seeking paranormal encounters may want to visit the old orphanage, which was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the battle, the Sachs Covered Bridge, where three Confederate soldiers were said to be hanged (and who some believe never left), and the Devil’s Den battlefield area. At Devil’s Den, visitors sometimes experience malfunctioning cameras — which legend has it is the work of a soldier who didn’t appreciate the way his body was photographed in death.
Cathedral of Learning – Pittsburgh
The Cathedral of Learning, a neo-Gothic skyscraper on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. The tower is actually used for learning, with many of its floors dedicated to classrooms. It’s also home to 31 “Nationality Rooms,” which are rooms designed in the styles of, and by, the ethnic groups that helped build and shape Pittsburgh. At least one of these rooms is said to be haunted. The “Early American Room” is sparsely decorated save for rustic touches that would have adorned the homes of pioneers in the 1600s, including an old wedding quilt and a fireplace with a bread oven. But visitors have claimed to feel ghostly presences in the room and even smell the aroma of fresh-baked bread, even though the bread oven isn’t actually used. The former director of the Nationality Rooms even believed the ghost of her grandmother—whose wedding quilt decorates the bed—was a frequent visitor to the room. Cathedral visitors have also claimed to hear music coming from the Croghan-Schenley Ballroom, only to find the room empty upon further inspection. Visit the Cathedral of Learning, perhaps booking a guided tour of the Nationality Rooms, and see if you experience any ghostly encounters.
Old Jail Museum – Jim Thorpe
The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe used to be the Carbon County Jail, and it was the site of the execution of seven Irish immigrant coal miners who were accused of murder by a powerful coal company working with Pinkerton detectives. Importantly, the miners were also accused of being union organizers in the powerful Molly Maguire secret society. Today, the story of the Pa. Molly Maguires tells us about coal baron overreach into the police and jail system (coal companies had their own private police force). And according to witness accounts at the Old Jail Museum, the spirits of the executed coal miners do not want people to ever forget it. Reports of ghostly encounters at the Old Jail Museum are not uncommon. There is also a ghostly handprint on one of the cell walls believed to belong to one of the executed miners — and even after extensive cleaning, the handprint still won’t disappear. You can visit the Old Jail Museum to learn more about the plight of the Molly Maguires and their possible ghostly apparitions, and possibly to tour the museum after dark this October. Don’t be too scared—the museum assures us the ghosts are “friendly”!
Eastern State Penitentiary – Philadelphia
Eastern State Penitentiary is famously haunted given the decades of misery that coursed through the halls of one of the nation’s first attempts at instilling penitence in prisoners instead of punishment. Thousands of prisoners, condemned for crimes from robbery to murder, passed through the gates over the prison’s 142 years of operation; Eastern State finally closed its doors in 1971. Today, it’s a museum and National Historic Landmark — and reportedly one of the most haunted sites in the US. Some visitors report seeing anguished faces in cells, while others report general feelings of misery and gloom throughout the place, suggesting that perhaps the walls remember the torture and suffering experienced by inmates at the prison. The old penitentiary has been featured on several paranormal investigation TV shows, like the Travel Channel’s “Portals to Hell,” which saw show hosts experience strange happenings on camera. You can visit the museum for tours during the day and during October you can experience the prison’s haunted attraction, Halloween Nights.
Penn State University – State College
Penn State is considered one of the most haunted universities in the country. From the stacks of books in the Pattee Library to the Old Botany Building, students have long reported strange apparitions in windows and sudden feelings of unease. But the very best ghost at Penn State—and one we actually wouldn’t mind meeting—is that of Old Coaly, a mule. Old Coaly was a working mule that helped build the original Old Main on campus in the late 1800s. When he died, his skeleton was preserved to display around campus (and it’s still on display today at the HUB-Robeson Center). It’s said Old Coaly can still be heard clip-clopping or braying around school buildings, being stubborn and adorable and translucent. We love you Old Coaly — please haunt us!
Hotel Bethlehem – Bethlehem
Hotel Bethlehem in the city of the same name is one of the oldest hotels in Pennsylvania. The site’s first iteration of a hotel opened in 1823, but before that the site was home to Bethlehem’s first house, built in 1741. With such a long history, no wonder that there are reports of spirit activity within its walls. The Hotel Bethlehem even includes stories of the ghosts on their website, insisting that its ghosts are “friendly.” One of these spirits is May Augusta Yohe, the granddaughter of the original hotel’s owner. In the late 1800s, Yohe would sing for hotel guests in the hotel’s lobby. More than 100 years later, some guests claim they can still hear her singing, even when no one is around. Others hear the piano begin to play all by itself. The hotel recommends room 932 for ghost hunters, as previous guests—some with no prior knowledge of the hotel’s hauntings—have experienced unexplained phenomena in the room.
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