About two weeks ago, I went on the Haunted Pittsburgh Ghost Tour of our fair Downtown. As we wandered from Market Square to First Ave. and up to the old County jail, the guide shared a fun mix of urban legends and ghost stories about our city. And of course, I came home wanting more information.
One of the more interesting tales we heard on the tour was about Kate Soffel and the Biddle brothers, Jack and Ed. In 1901, Jack and Ed were imprisoned on murder charges as part of the Chloroform Gang – a charming group of burglars who would chloroform their victims to gain entry to homes or businesses. During a robbery gone wrong, the owner of a grocery store was shot and killed. While waiting for their day to hang, Jack and Ed became friendly with the warden’s wife, Kate Soffel. She spent many an hour with the inmates trying to rehabilitate them by reading from the Bible. As these things tend to go, Kate and Ed became a little more than friends. She eventually helped them coordinate an escape, only for the authorities to catch up with them in Butler County. The men died from gunshot wounds and Kate was seriously injured. She was brought back to Pittsburgh, stood trial for her part in the plot, and served time in the very jail she helped the brothers escape. Since her death, she’s haunted the warden’s office of the old County jail. We have two non-circulating items at Main about this story for some further reading or you can visit Kate at her other favorite haunt – her post-prison home on Mount Washington is now the Shiloh Grill.
After talking about the tour with some co-workers, one mentioned the former Dixmont State Hospital. The psychiatric hospital opened in 1862 in Kilbuck Township and remained in operation until 1984. And like any state hospital worth its salt, the property is completely haunted. When the remaining buildings were torn down in 2006 to make way for a new Wal-Mart, so many issues happened during construction – namely massive landslides – that the property was abandoned.
The dorm I lived in for two years at college is very haunted. Hillside (originally the Ladies Hall and Music Conservatory) was constructed in 1885, making it one of the oldest buildings on campus. Plus, it was supposedly used as a hospital during WWI. Lots of potential there. Particularly in the left wing, dorm residents have reported hearing typing on their computer keyboards in the middle of the night, seeing doors opening and closing, and things flying off of walls in ways that defy physics. There is also a weird acoustic “dead spot” at the foot of the hill leading up to this dorm – if you can find the right location on the sidewalk, conversations with the person next to you become muffled and it’s even difficult to hear yourself talk.
Do you have any favorite local legends or ghost stories? Let us know and check out a few more in these books…
- Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends
- Legends & Lore of Western Pennsylvania
- Urban Legends: 666 Absolutely True Stories That Happened to a Friend– of a Friend– of a Friend
- The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories
- Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
- The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings
- Ghosts of Southwestern Pennsylvania
- Haunted Places: the National Directory: Ghostly Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings, and Other Supernatural Locations
- Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County
– Jess, who ain’t afraid of no ghosts