Tag Archives: ghosts

Don’t Go In There!

It’s hard to say why I find horror movies, and haunted house movies in particular, so appealing. It probably has something to do with being frightened, but from the comfort and safety of my couch or theater seat (the credits roll, and I’m reminded that none of this is real). It could also have something to with the house I grew up in, the “original homestead” of my ancestors in Oregon. While I don’t recall it being particularly haunted, it was a shadowy old Victorian house in great disrepair, and years after we moved out I heard rumors that it was the sort of abandoned house that teenagers would dare each other to spend the night in (I will not include a photo here dear readers, because I don’t want it to haunt your dreams). Of course, scary movies might also appeal to me because of my family’s occasional visits to the Timberline Lodge for dining — the Lodge served as the exterior of one of the (imho) most creepy movies ever filmed, The Shining.

Pop Pilgrims The Shining from Timberline Lodge on Vimeo.

Whatever the reason, I like a good, scary haunted house movie. And whether you prefer your haunted house movies to be atmospheric or funny, there’s sure to be something on this list that appeals to everyone:


The Amityville Horror
A couple’s Long Island colonial house on the river’s edge seems perfect–until it isn’t.


The non-ghosts are scarier than the ghosts in this film. After a  trendy New York family moves into an old farmhouse, the former tenants (a couple of likable ghosts) contact the afterlife’s bio-exorcist “Beetlejuice” to help them scare the family away. The Danny Elfman score for the film is also killer.


The Changeling
After the death of his wife and child, a composer moves to a secluded mansion, where he attracts the unwilling attention of a possible ghost. An underrated gem, with some scenes that inspired the director of the more recent The Conjuring.


The Conjuring

One of the best haunted house movies to come out in years, this 2013 film focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in the secluded farmhouse they just moved into.

The Evil Dead
Five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods unwittingly resurrect malevolent demons and spirits.


The Haunting
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, this psychological thriller tells the story of four people who come to a haunted house to study its supernatural phenomena—and may never leave.


House (1977)
After learning that she will be sharing the summer with her father’s new girlfriend, a young girl invites some friends to join her at her aunt’s house instead. With a sick aunt, a bloodthirsty cat, and evil spirits lurking around, the girls find that it might have been better to stay at home. A very weird, crazy film that is half horror, half dark humor.


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Ghost Town

I grew up in a town with some spooky history.  Not quite We Have Always Lived in the Castle spooky, but spooky nonetheless.  Gettysburg, PA was the site of the battle* that changed the course of the Civil War, and with over 50,000 deaths— almost as many as in the entire Vietnam War– the town is known almost as much for its ghosts as it is for the battle itself.

Gettysburg at the time of the Civil War.  [Image is in the public domain; click picture for full source information.]

Gettysburg at the time of the Civil War. [Image is in the public domain; click picture for full source information.]

As anyone who has ever grown up in a small town knows, you spend a lot of time “hanging out.”  In Gettysburg, that meant spending a lot of time at various places around the battlefield and picking up various bits of lore without even trying.  Ask anyone who lived in the area, and they can probably tell you a ghost story that they remember off the top of their head, even if they can’t remember all the details.  For instance, I remember that there was a statue of a soldier that supposedly turned its head to look at you (it was one of the state monuments, although for the life of me I can’t remember which one).  I also know of a stream that had a little wooden bridge going over it, and the story goes that a woman hid her child there when the confederate soldiers rode into town.  She was killed by soldiers, and you can still hear her sometimes in that area calling out for her child.

Many people who grew up in the Gettysburg area develop a lifelong interest in Civil War minutiae; I’ve been left with a love of ghost stories.  Here are a few you might enjoy:

A haunting image of a young Civil War soldier.  [Image is in the public domain; click picture for full source information.]

A haunting image of a young Civil War soldier. [Image is in the public domain; click picture for full source information.]

The Ghosts of Gettysburg, by Mark Nesbitt: It would be remiss of me to not mention this title (and series) in this post.  The Ghosts of Gettysburg books compile stories that the author has painstakingly collected from sources around the region.

Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, by Beth E. Trapani and Charles Adams III: Pittsburgh isn’t without its share of ghosts! I think that if you dig around the history of any older city, you’re bound to turn up some good ghost stories. This book has gotten some mixed reviews (this one is my favorite!), but is still a good introduction to Pittsburgh’s paranormal history.  The experts in our Pennsylvania Department could certainly point you towards other stories, if this book gets you interested.

Widdershins: The First Book of Ghost Stories, by Oliver Onions: These stories lean more towards psychological horror than outright fright, but I guarantee that at some point after reading the first story in this collection, “The Beckoning Fair One,” you’ll find yourself alone in the house wondering just how much you believe in this type of thing.

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James: Can you tell I’m a fan of psychological ghost stories yet?  If you’ve ever taken a creative writing course, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “show, don’t tell,” and that’s exactly what James does in this novella.  This subtly creepy story is often hailed as a classic of the genre, and for good reason.

Does your hometown have any creepy ghost stories?  Any readers from the Gettysburg area who have a good story to share?


*incidentally, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.


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When there’s something strange in the neighborhood…

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…

– Jess, who ain’t afraid of no ghosts


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I’m not a Halloween fan in the least–come to think of it, I’m not a holiday fan at all. But since it’s nearing All Hallows Eve, I thought this post might create the appropriate atmosphere for the cold and dark season ahead.

My favorite scary stories are not the usual horror books about serial killers hidden somewhere in the house on a dark and stormy night with their horrifyingly graphic descriptions; you can read true crime that is scarier. But I do enjoy ghost stories, always have, even though they usually scare me to death. Here are my favorites.

  The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons. Stephen King put this on his list of best horror novels; I’m not a King reader (I could not finish The Shining, even in daytime, because I was just too scared). But unlike your typical haunted house story, this house is a newly-built house, not an ancient castle or creepy Victorian mansion. Nothing but tragedy touches the lives of the three different families who occupy the new house next door to Colquitt & Walter Kennedy and, as the horrors escalate, they decide to take matters into their own hands. Set in 1960s suburban Atlanta, this book grabbed me from beginning to end and I’ve re-read it several times since. Note: this is Siddons’ only horror novel; she usually writes genteel Southern fiction.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. A close friend of Charles Dickens, Collins wrote sensational fiction (a combination of mystery and suspense) and this is considered by many to be among the first mystery novels. A young art teacher, Walter Hartright, traveling to meet his new students, encounters a strange and mysterious woman in a graveyard dressed in white. When he tells his students, the Fairlie sisters, of his vision, he discovers they may have some connection and together they set out to solve the mystery.

  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I once took a film class in college and we watched Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, based on James’ eerie novella.  A lonely governess is employed by a wealthy man to take care of his niece and nephew in the isolated English countryside with the stipulation that she not bother him at all no matter what situations may occur. The children, Miles and Flora, seem to have been traumatized by the illicit behavior of the former governess and her lover, but her time there is spent keeping the children (and herself) safe from their presence of evil. Is it all in her head or are there really ghosts?

Julian’s House by Judith Hawkes. A newly married couple, professional parapsychologists, move into a Victorian mansion to  document supernatural sightings. What they don’t expect is that the hauntings will eerily coincide with their own fears and feelings, causing them to question themselves and their marriage. I enjoyed the descriptions of the field of parapsychology as well as the actual story.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. In 1972 Amsterdam, a teenage girl lives with her father, a history professor.  One day he disappears and, in her search for him, she discovers that he was engaged in the research (on vampires) of his former professor and mentor, who also mysteriously disappeared nearly twenty years before. In suspenseful and elegant language, Kostova takes you on a whirlwind search for truth amid a legend of horror and evil told in three time periods, across Eastern Europe, all in the quest for Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. This book will be enjoyed by lovers of both literature and history, specifically the history of Dracula.

~Maria, who is already longing for spring and summer, seasons of light!


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