By Emily Myers
Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09
The spirit of Kate Soffel, the woman who participated in a famous jailbreak, still remains in her former home in Mount Washington.
Steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick is said to be "the most haunted man in America."
Those spirits still exist and their stories and others like them can be heard this Halloween season at the Haunted Pittsburgh ghost tours of Mount Washington and Oakland.
"I like the historical aspect of scary stories," said Mark Levy, musical theater grad student.
Attorney Michelle Smith was approached by her current partner, Tim Murray, with the idea of a walking tour of Pittsburgh after Murray had been traveling with his wife. Murray noticed that many major cities across the United States have walking tours but Pittsburgh did not.
"Wie spent a couple of years just gathering stories," said Smith, who realized that these stores were not being told. Smith chose the stories because "it's a nice way to tell Pittsburgh history and ghost stories at the same time."
The story of Kate Soffel is one of the most famous jailbreak stories in U.S. history, because of her role in the escape. Soffel, the wife of the Allegheny County Jail warden, fell in love with one of the prisoners and helped him and his brother escape. All three were caught in Butler County where the two men where fatally shot and Soffel was wounded. She spent two years in the Western Penitentiary and later died of typhoid fever according to an article from 1909 in the New York Time. It is rumored that her spirit still haunts her former residence, Shilo Inn, which is now closed in Mount Washington.
On the tour, one can also hear the story of Henry Clay Frick who is known for his actions in the Homestead Strike of 1892. Frick sent in Pinkerton agents to stop the strike by union steel workers at the Carnegie Steel Corporation and a fight broke out between the workers and the agents. The National Guard had to be sent in to stop the fighting. Frick was later shot by Alexander Berkman, who wanted to be a hero, but Frick survived the wound to his neck.
While on the tour, stories can also be heard about the Cathedral of Learning, the Carnegie of Library and Museum, Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse, Forbes Field's home plate and a house thought to be "the most haunted house in America."
"I think people like being scared … in a safe environment," Smith said.
And those responsible for telling these scary stories are the "ghost guides" of the tours. James "Woody" Cunningham is one of the tour guides and the dean of Pittsburgh tour guides. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called Cunningham, who is from Western Pennsylvania, "Pittsburgh's resident historian and storyteller of ghost tales."
Another guide is president of the national society of newspaper columnists Samantha Bennett. Bennett is now a copy editor for the American Economic Review and uses her public speaking skills to tell the chilling stories of Pittsburgh to those daring enough to listen.
The third is guide Sean Collier, the movie critic for the WDVE Morning Show, currently lives near Pittsburgh, and is a stand-up comic and has appeared in storytelling shows. He has had first-hand experiences validating the existence of a ghost.
When asked why she would be interested in a haunted tour Bethanne Lenhart, a junior theater major said, "'Tis the season."
The Haunted Pittsburgh Walking Tour is held every Saturday night of October. The Haunted Pittsburgh Oakland Walking Tour will be Oct. 17 and 24, both tours beginning at 6 p.m. All of the walking tours offered are $15 and reservations can be made online at www.hauntedpittsburghtours.com.