Paranormal preys on Pittsburgh

Haunted tours showcase city's spooky side

When asked if they believe in the supernatural, people will typically give one of three responses. One would be that the person has never made contact with the paranormal, but believes in the possibility of it. Another would be someone who has experienced paranormal activities or events, and therefore believes them to be true. Finally, there is the nonbeliever, who thinks that because they have never been affected personally, that the paranormal cannot possibly exist. Though all three of these people share very different beliefs when it comes to ghosts, spirits and things of that nature, they will all share the same shiver crawling up their spines when they attend one of the four Haunted Pittsburgh Tours.

"You can tell who is actually into the tour and who was dragged there by their friends, boyfriend, et cetera." said Rachel Dillinger, a tour guide for Haunted Pittsburgh since June of this year.  "But, by the end of the night, I can usually get a reaction out of the [forced people]"

Haunted Pittsburgh has been around since 2008, but they have been receiving stories and doing research since 2004 and 2005. Founder Tim Murray wanted the perfect combination of ghost stories that make the skin crawl, and the enriched history of Pittsburgh that many people do not know. The tour started after both Murray and his wife had went on many different ghost tours all over the country and felt Pittsburgh needed its own.

"The purpose of our tours isn't to get dressed in costumes and get screams out of people," Murray said.

"We want to provide the visitors with the history of Pittsburgh, as well as ghost stories that give you a shiver."

According to Murray, Henry Clay Frick claimed that he was saved by his daughter's spirit when Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate him. That is one of Murray's bases of his opinion of the supernatural.

"I personally have never had an encounter with a ghost, but I respect other people's beliefs," Murray said. "And, if Henry Clay Frick saw a ghost, and he was a smart business man, then who are we to question the [supernatural world]?"

There are four different tours that are offered through Haunted Pittsburgh, but the most popular is the Station Square and Mt. Washington tour.

"The main tour is done every week, and we usually sell out quite a bit," Murray said. "We definitely draw great crowds in July, especially with more tourists coming in the summer. The locals tend to come more in the fall or winter time."

The main tour starts off at Station Square, and then travels up to Mt. Washington through the Monongahela Incline. Both Murray and Dillinger have heard some stories about the Incline being haunted, something that even an employee there could confirm to Murray. Then, while up on Mt. Washington looking over the city skyline of Pittsburgh, the tour guide will begin to tell historically haunted stories about each area that can be seen from above. There is also a tour of Mt. Washington, which even includes a visit to the Mt. Washington Library, which is not only the home to books, but according to Dillinger, the home of about seven ghosts.

"On one of my tours, I had a couple of amateur ghost hunters, and they were just snapping so many pictures of the windows while we were in the library," Dillinger said. "After the tour, they came up to me and showed me some of the pictures that they had taken. In one of them, specifically, I could make out a shadow-like person who looked like he was listening from the window. Then, in the same exact picture, I could see a face pressed up against the window right next to the first ghost, and the face appeared to be just staring at us."

Dillinger, from Chicago, bought a talisman while visiting New Orleans, and she wears it at every tour, not for costume jewelry, but it is for protection.
"I wear the talisman because it is supposed to protect myself, as well as those around me, from ghosts following them home," Dillinger said. "However, it does not guarantee that your items will be protected."

Speaking of unprotected items, there is an interesting phenomenon that occasionally happens to some of the visitors who come on this specific Haunted Pittsburgh tour. Both Murray and Dillinger (who witnessed one of the victims last week) vouch that this always gets a reaction from their audience.

"There is a ghost on Shiloh Street, around the Shiloh Grill, where people seem to always lose things that they had on them," Dillinger said. "Last week, a man on our tour told me that after I informed the group about the ‘Cell Phone Ghost' (as he's nicknamed), he reached into his coat pocket for his two cigars, and they were gone."

Besides the frightful Station Square and Mt. Washington and Oakland tours, a new addition to the Haunted Pittsburgh tours is the Haunted Pittsburgh Ghost Ride. Riding on a double-decker bus, it takes visitors from South Side Works, over the West End Bridge, to the "notoriously ghost-infested" North Shore. Then, it makes a stop at Station Square, and finally heads Downtown. This almost wraps both the Station Square and Mt. Washington and Oakland tours together, except that it adds its own element to the tour as well.

"Some people don't like walking, especially when it begins to get cold outside," Dillinger said.

"Though the bus tour gets to hear stories about all of the areas, some of the stories are different. This guarantees that you won't get the same thing on each tour."

It may seem as though the Haunted Pittsburgh tour has everything haunted in Pittsburgh covered, but there are plenty of places that are not on their list. Two Point Park University freshmen recently felt the effects of the paranormal during a recent trip to S.W. Randall Toys and Gifts, located at 630 Smithfield St.

"The guy who was working on the doll floor was telling us about apparent sightings of a lady," James Hornak said, an 18-year-old freshman criminal justice major. "Right after that, I walked to the corner where she had been spotted, and I felt such an unbearable chill go up and down my spine. At the exact moment that I moved away from the corner, the chills stopped altogether. It was pretty intense."

Before Hornak stood in that corner, freshman public relations and advertising major Noelle Novakovich, 18, stood there to browse the collection of dolls that were on the wall. As she stood there, she felt a weird energy that she could not describe.

"It made me feel very uncomfortable, almost as if it was sucking the life right out of me," Novakovich said. "As soon as I walked away, that heavy feeling completely left."

To find out further information on Haunted Pittsburgh Tours, go to their website at: www.hauntedpittsburghtours.com /

Published Monday October 11, 2011

Link: http://www.pointparkglobe.com/features/paranormal-preys-on-pittsburgh-1.2640325?pagereq=1