HAUNTED PITTSBURGH'S 12 CREEPIEST COINCIDENCES EVER

Haunted Pittsburgh loves true stories that defy description. We collect them, we research them, and we've been writing about them for some time. Here are our top dozen.


(1) WIZARD OF OZ TRIVIA: SO BIZARRE, IT'S CREEPY

Yes, it really happened. During the filming of the beloved classic "Wizard of Oz" in late 1938, the MGM production staff was looking for a coat for actor Frank Morgan to wear in his role as charlatan Professor Marvel. You will recall that Mr. Morgan also played the Wizard in the film (as well as various small roles). The film's publicist explained the kind of coat they were looking for: "They wanted grandeur gone to seed. A nice-looking coat but very tattered."

Where to find such a coat? According to the publicist: ". . . the wardrobe department went down to an old second-hand store on Main Street and bought a whole rack of coats. And Frank Morgan and the wardrobe man and Victor Fleming [the director] got together and chose one. It was kind of a Prince Albert coat. It was black broadcloth and it had a velvet collar, but the nap was all worn off the velvet."

The coat fit Morgan perfectly. It had exactly the right look of shabby gentility, so they used it in the film.

One hot afternoon during filming, Frank Morgan happened to turn out the pocket. Inside was a name that caused Morgan to do a double take -- the name was "L. Frank Baum." Mr. Baum, of course, was the creator of "The Wizard of Oz" -- back in 1900, he wrote the book that the film was based on, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

The folks at MGM knew this was an astounding find. They figured out the identity of the tailor in Chicago and sent him pictures of the coat. The tailor sent back a notarized letter saying that the coat had been made for Mr. Baum. And then Mr. Baum's widow identified the coat, too.
MGM was convinced, but everyone else thought the story was a publicity stunt.

(2) CURSE OF THE FOURTH OF JULY

The brilliant, short-tempered John Adams, our second president, was the leading champion for the cause of America’s independence in the Second Continental Congress. More than any other person, Adams was responsible for America’s formal split from Great Britain.

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, and one of America’s most revered statesmen, was, of course, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

By 1826, both Adams and Jefferson were old men living on borrowed time while the young nation they helped start was excitedly looking forward to America’s 50th birthday. July 4th of 1826 was celebrated throughout the land as a great and glorious jubilee.

But something so peculiar happened that day, of all days, it can aptly be called otherworldly.
On that 50th anniversary of America’s independence, John Adams died at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts at the age of 90. His last words were reported to be, "Jefferson survives."

If Adams' death on that day, of all days, wasn't sufficiently ironic, consider this additional fact: Thomas Jefferson also died that same day. His last words were reported to be, "Is it the fourth yet?"

The two statesmen most closely associated with our independence died on the 4th of July, 1826, America's 50th birthday.

As if that wasn’t enough, the next president to die, Jame Monroe, our fifth president and the last of America's Presidents who was a veteran of the American Revolution, died five years later on July 4th, 1831. Of our first five presidents, three of them died on July 4th.

We don't know what to make out of any of it, but sorry, we refuse to dismiss it as "just one of those things."

(3)  MIND-BLOWING, CREEPY "POLTERGEIST" FACT

You've all heard those hokey stories about film sets being "cursed." Here's a story that no Hollywood press agent could have invented.

The film "Poltergeist," released in 1982, is a fun-house spook-fest about a family whose young daughter, Carol Anne, was abducted by a malevolent spirit and sucked into his other-world. Carol Anne was played by Heather O'Rourke, who went on to star in two "Poltergeist" sequels. Just after she completed her work on the third film, she tragically succumbed to cardiac arrest caused by septic shock brought on by an intestinal disorder.

The creepiest thing about "Poltergeist" wasn't scripted. It's what's hanging on the wall in the bedroom Carol Anne shared with her brother, Robbie. The somewhat dark and blurred photo here shows the bedroom, where so many awful things happen in the film. See the poster? It references Super Bowl XXII.

"So what," you say? Remember we told you "Poltergeist" was released in 1982. Super Bowl XXII wasn't played until 1988.

Okay, that's a little weird, but so what?

Super Bowl XXII was played in San Diego on January 31, 1988. On that same day, Heather O'Rourke, the young star of all three "Poltergeist" films, became violently ill and couldn't stop vomiting. She was rushed to a hospital, and she died the following day -- in San Diego.

Incidentally, Dominique Dunne, 22, who played Carol Anne's sister, was murdered by her boyfriend in 1982, several months after the release of the original "Poltergeist" (some of the Hollywood ghost tours stop at the house where the murder occurred). Ms. Dunne was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park, the same cemetery where her on-screen sister would be buried just a few years later.

(4) WOMAN WITH WORLD'S WORST LUCK

In 1997, Kathleen Caronna, a 33-year-old investment analyst, was a spectator at the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City when a gust of wind famously blew one of the parade’s signature giant balloons, the Cat in the Hat, into a light pole at 72nd Street and Central Park West, bringing the pole's metal arm crashing down on Ms. Caronna’s head. The blow fractured her skull and put her in a coma for 24 days. Fortunately, she survived, but it was the worst accident in the parade’s storied history. The Cat in the Hat balloon was retired from the parade, and on Thanksgiving Days in the years that followed, Ms. Caronna got out of town. But that’s not the end of the story.

On October 11, 2006, another major disaster put 72nd Street on the front pages of newspapers across America, and it, too, was caused by the wind. A light aircraft carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor crashed into, and ripped apart, apartment 41FG of Manhattan’s Belaire Apartments.

Apartment 41FG just happened to be – you guessed it – Kathleen Caronna’s apartment. Ms. Caronna arrived home a few minutes after the engine of the doomed Cirrus SR20 landed in her bedroom and transformed it into an inferno.

What are the odds that two terrifying, bizarre, and high-profile Manhattan accidents – both occurring on 72nd Street, and both caused by the wind – would victimize one woman?

"It's spooky. It's very spooky," said Ms. Caronna's sister-in-law.

Aside from getting out of town on Thanksgiving, Ms. Caronna might want to stay clear of 72nd Street altogether -- or at least head underground when the wind blows.

(5) MAN KILLED BY A SHOT FIRED TWO DECADES EARLIER

This may be the most bizarre story you will ever hear. In 1893, Henry Ziegland, who lived on a plantation near Honey Grove, Texas, jilted his paramour, the beautiful Matilda Tichnor. In a fit of melancholy, Ms. Tichnor took her own life. Ms. Tichnor’s brother was so enraged that he hunted down Ziegland at his plantation, and while Ziegland was leaning against a tree, the brother shot at him at close range. The bullet grazed Ziegland’s face and embedded itself in the tree. Ziegland staggered, and the brother thought he had killed him. The brother, anguished over what he thought he had done, took his own life, just as his sister had done.

But Ziegland did not die. He survived and married a wealthy widow, and they lived for many years on Ziegland’s plantation. But we can’t say they lived happily ever after.

Twenty years after the tragic episode with Ms. Tichnor and her brother, Ziegland decided to remove the tree where the bullet was lodged. The wood of the tree was so tough, it proved impervious to the usual methods of felling large trees, so Ziegland brought in dynamite to blast it.

The moment the dynamite exploded, Ziegland fell to ground, mortally wounded. It took some time to figure out what happened, but when police put the pieces together, it left them speechless. The force of the explosion had blown the bullet embedded in the tree into Ziegland’s skull. The bullet killed Ziegland instantly – twenty years after it was fired at him.

(6)  JFK's PREMONITION OF HIS OWN DEATH

This is a story that isn't as well known as it should be, but it's downright chilling. First, you need to know that President Kennedy was a huge James Bond fan. In 1961, Life Magazine reported that Ian Fleming's Bond thriller “From Russia with Love” was one of JFK’s all-time top ten favorite novels. Hollywood reacted to the news by turning the book into the second James Bond movie. Although the film “From Russia with Love” wasn’t released in the US until months after the President’s death, JFK got an advance screening of it on November 20, 1963, just hours before he left on his fateful trip to Texas. It was the last motion picture he would see.

But it was something that occurred several weeks earlier that, in retrospect, is jaw-dropping. The President decided to have some fun and film his own James Bond thriller. And no, we're not making that up -- i'ts not an urban legend or something that can't be verified. JFK wrote a little script, enlisted some friends to act in it, and got the White House photographer, Robert L. Knudsen, to film it in Newport, Rhode Island, over the Labor Day weekend of 1963.

Are you sitting down? One of the scenes filmed depicts the president’s own assassination. In it, JFK is walking down a long pier leading from the presidential yacht, the Honey Fitz. Suddenly, he clutches his chest and falls flat on the ground. A woman named Countess Crespi, a famous fashion aristocrat of the era, and her small son, are walking behind the President, and both proceed to step over his body as if it weren’t there. Behind them is none other than Jackie Kennedy, and she, too, steps over her husband's body and keeps on walking. Then, Red Fay, Under Secretary of the Navy and JFK’s buddy from the PT-boat days, stumbles over the president’s body and falls on top of him. 

According to the book ''A Hero for Our Time'' by Ralph G. Martin, “a gush of red surged from the President's mouth, covering his sport shirt.''

Mr. Knudsen, the photographer who filmed the scene, confirmed the book's account and said he shot the sequence several times. He would not provide any particulars about the dialogue. The film was done for fun, he said, and was never meant to be made public. Knudsen would not say what became of the film, and it boggles the mind to think what a print would be worth if it were unearthed.

But on November 22, 1963, Mr. Knudsen couldn’t help but think about JFK’s home movie. ''I wondered if it was a premonition he had,'' the photographer said, ''or a quirk of fate.” Whatever it was, it was eerie.

There’s a chilling footnote to the story. It turns out that there was another huge James Bond fan that figured prominently in the Kennedy saga--the President’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald had spent much of 1963 in New Orleans, where he frequented the public library and borrowed several Bond novels over the span of a few weeks. The novel that Oswald had checked out over the Labor Day weekend -- while JFK was making his little movie -- was “From Russia with Love.”

(7)  SHARON TATE'S EERIE PREMONITION

Actress Sharon Tate, the late wife of director Roman Polanski, was brutally murdered in the early morning hours of August 9, 1969 by followers of madman Charles Manson. Polanski was overseas on business when the crazed butchers invaded the house where he and Tate lived at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. 

The details are unspeakably gruesome. Tate was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. With Tate that night -- at the wrong place at the wrong time -- were her former lover Jay Sebring, aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski, and Frykowski's paramour Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger coffee fortune). Tate's unborn baby boy was also killed during the horrific blood bath, as was 18-year-old Steve Parent, who had been visiting the caretaker of 10050 Cielo Drive. One of the maniacal killers wrote "PIG" on the front door with Sharon Tate's blood.

There's a bizarre footnote to the massacre that ranks among the most unsettling premonitions we've come across. Three years before that horrific August night, Sharon Tate was staying at Sebring's home on Easton Drive in Benedict Canyon while Sebring was out of town (pictured here). Sebring's home was formally owned by MGM film director Paul Bern, and it had a horrific history. Bern had married screen superstar Jean Harlow in 1932, and two months later, out of the blue, he supposedly killed himself in that house. We say "supposedly" because some people still insist Bern was murdered. From then on, the house acquired a reputation for being haunted. The story goes that after Bern's death, a man killed himself in the guest house, and a maid hanged herself on the property.

Enter Jay Sebring, the "hair stylist to the stars," who bought the house in 1965. Sebring was famous in his own right. In 1966, he spoofed his own persona by playing a famous hair stylist in a cameo for an episode of the Adam West "Batman" series (his character was aptly named "Mr. Oceanbring"). Some claim Sebring was the model for the Warren Beatty character in "Shampoo."

In any event, three years before the Manson murders, while Sebring was away on business, his then-girlfriend Sharon Tate was staying at his house. She wasn’t usually spooked, but for some reason she was that night, in that particular house. She kept a light on by the side of her bed. In the middle of the night, she was awakened by the ghostly apparition of a creepy little man she recognized as none other than Paul Bern. Bern seemed to be looking for something. To say that Tate was shaken would be an understatement. Tate told herself she needed a drink, so she scurried down the large staircase to the first floor. When she reached the bottom, she wished she had stayed upstairs because she saw something that made her blood run cold. It was another apparition, but this one was far more terrifying than the first. Tate saw the lifeless body of her boyfriend, Jay Sebring, tied to a wooden post. His throat had been slashed ear-to-ear.

Tate ran to the bar and, for reasons she later couldn't explain, began picking at the wallpaper, then she tore it away altogether.

She finally made it back to bed and somehow managed to go back to sleep. Jay Sebring woke her up the next morning, and Tate was thrilled to see him alive. She told herself her ghostly encounter the night before had been a dream. But then Jay said something that made her realize it wasn't: “Hey, who tore the wallpaper off by the bar?”

Sharon Tate could never shake the feeling of dread from the visions she saw that night, and she repeated the story often.

Some three years later, just a mile away on Cielo Drive, the Manson family came calling, and Tate and Sebring were brutally murdered with the others. You can guess the rest: Jay Sebring's bloodied body was found tied to a wooden post -- just as Tate had envisioned it.

(8)  CREEPIEST “LOVE STORY” EVER

In March 1995, Terry Cottle, 33, had a terrible fight with his wife Cheryl after she told him she couldn’t stay married to a man who made less money than she did. Terry Cottle aimed a gun at his head, pulled the trigger, and the slug entered his skull just behind the right ear. Four days later, Cheryl removed her husband from life support and donated his organs.

Sixty miles to the southwest, a man named Sonny Graham needed a heart transplant, and he got Terry Cottle’s heart. Mr. Graham didn’t know Terry Cottle or his widow, Cheryl, but after his recovery, he sent a letter to Cheryl to thank her for donating her late husband’s heart. Mr. Graham met Cheryl for dinner, and he fell instantly in love with her. Eventually, they married.

That two different men with the same heart would fall in love with the same woman would be sufficiently bizarre, but there’s more.

All was not perfect with the newlyweds. Sonny Graham ate up his retirement savings and racked up huge debts “to keep [Cheryl] in the style she wants to live.” Then one morning, almost 13 years after he received Terry Cottle’s heart, Sonny Graham walked into a shed in the backyard, put a Remington shotgun to his head, and killed himself, just as Terry Cottle had done.

Did one woman break the heart of two husbands? The SAME heart?

(9)  ‘THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED’: THE OTHER-WORLDLY COINCIDENCES CONNECTED WITH THE DEATH OF BUDDY HOLLY

In early 1959, rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly went on a tour dubbed “The Winter Dance Party” throughout the Midwest with Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. (“The Big Bopper”) Richardson. The tour stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959, for two concerts at the iconic Surf Ballroom. Even though it was a Monday and a school night, 1,100 teenagers came out, and both shows were sold out. The venue’s ocean beach club motif was a jarring contrast to the brutal winter outside. The second show ended at midnight, and then the entire company was off to the next stop on the tour, Moorhead, Minnesota.

Buddy Holly had grown weary of darting around the nation’s tundra in an unreliable bus, so that night, he chartered a four passenger, red and white single-engine Beech Bonanza plane. Holly was set to fly with his guitarist Tommy Allsup and his bass player, Waylon Jennings. But Richie Valens wanted to fly with Holly, so Allsup agreed to flip a coin with Valens to see which of them would fly. Valens “won” the toss.

Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, who was suffering from a cold. When Holly learned Jennings wouldn’t be flying with him, he joked, "I hope your ol' bus freezes up!" The country singer shot back, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes!" Jennings later said the flippant comment haunted him his entire life.

Shortly after takeoff, at around 1:00 a.m. on February 3rd, the plane’s 21-year-old pilot apparently flew directly into a blizzard, lost visual reference, and accidentally flew down instead of up. The plane plowed into an Iowa cornfield at more than 170 miles per hour. The bodies of Holly, Valens, Richardson, and pilot Roger Peterson lay near the wreckage in deep snow for ten hours before anyone could get to them.

The crash made the front pages of newspapers across America. Holly’s mother learned of her son’s death while watching television. Holly’s wife heard about it on the radio, and she suffered a miscarriage as a result of the trauma. Legions of young rock and roll fans were numbed by tragedy on a scale few of them had ever known.

The "Big Bopper" was 28; Buddy Holly was 22; Richie Valens was just 17. The picture here is of a roadside sign in the form of Buddy Holly's signature glasses near the crash site.

There are some eerie events associated with "the day the music died." Not all of the tales can be substantiated, but it seems clear that Buddy Holly had, indeed, talked about a hypothetical plane crash just before the tour started -- whether it was a dream or a premonition is unclear. Buddy’s wife, MarĂ­a Elena, also supposedly had a premonition of a plane crash, but we can’t substantiate that.

The year before the crash, Joe Meek, a famous British recording engineer and producer, supposedly attended a tarot reading and received a message: "February third, Buddy Holly, dies." Meek told Holly, the story goes, and Holly supposedly was not concerned about it. Whether or not that really happened, it is a fact that Meek was obsessed with Holly after the singer’s death. Meek claimed that the late artist communicated with him in dreams. Then Meek lost it one day and killed his landlady before killing himself. That happened on -- are you sitting down? -- February 3, 1967, the 8th anniversary of the crash.

On September 6, 1978, wild man Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, accompanied Buddy Holly fanatic Paul McCartney to the premiere of the film “The Buddy Holly Story.” The next morning, September 7th, Moon died after drinking champagne and overdosing on clomethiazole. September 7th happened to be Buddy Holly’s birthday.

On December 30 1985, former teen star Ricky Nelson sang Buddy Holly’s hit “Rave On” as the last song in a concert in Guntersville, Alabama. It turned out to be the last song Nelson ever sang. After the concert, he boarded a refurbished DC-3, but after an emergency landing in De Kalb, Texas, the plane burst into flames and Nelson perished. (The plane previously had been owned by Jerry Lee Lewis, who supposedly had a premonition that he would perish in a crash in that plane.)

On Feb. 3, 1990, the 31st anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, another of Holly's contemporaries, singer Del Shannon, played a memorial concert for Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper in Fargo, N.D. It would be Shannon’s last concert. A few days later, he took his own life.

And the stories about Holly, and his tragic death, keep coming. Little wonder we can't stop talking about him. He is a towering figure in the rock and roll milieu, widely regarded as one of the genre’s most influential forces despite a tragically short career.

Twelve years after that awful February day, Don McLean's hit single "American Pie" famously referred to the tragedy as “the day the music died,” a metaphor for the loss of shared innocence as the turbulent '60s loomed. But, in fact, the music couldn't die in that frigid Iowa cornfield. It will live on for as long as people remember Buddy Holly, likely forever.

(10)  ROBERT TODD LINCOLN'S CONNECTION WITH PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATIONS

In either 1863 or 1864 – historians aren’t sure – Lincoln was president, and the Civil War was raging. Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was attending Harvard, but one day, he finds himself in Jersey City, New Jersey for reasons lost to history. Robert is on a train platform next to a stationary train when a crowd pushes him.

The train starts to move, and Robert’s feet fall into the open space between the platform and the train. He's helpless, and he's in danger of being badly injured -- except that a stranger pulls him up by the coat collar to safety. Robert recognizes his rescuer – it's Edwin Booth, the famous actor and brother of the man who would later kill Robert's father.

 Booth did not recognize Robert, and only learned of his brush with the Lincoln family later, when Robert publicized it. After the assassination, the tale gave Booth some comfort -- it was some small mitigation of his brother’s vile deed.

But wait. It gets creepier. Aside from Lincoln, Presidents McKinley and Garfield were also assassinated. The three assassinations seemed to have an other-worldly connection--via Robert Lincoln.

Less than a week before his own assassination, Abraham Lincoln famously had a very disturbing dream in which he foresaw his own funeral in the East Room of the White House. That dream was widely publicized.

On the night he was shot, Lincoln wanted Robert to go to the theater with him and Mrs. Lincoln, but Robert was too tired. Robert would later experience much guilt for not accompanying his parents that night, because he believed that if he had been there, the outcome would have been different. Lincoln was shot, and the rest is history.

Jump ahead to 1881. President Garfield has a dream similar to Lincoln’s that foretells of his own death. Garfield is aware of the Lincoln dream, so he seeks out Robert Todd Lincoln to lend his insight. Garfield invites Robert to join him on a train trip to New Jersey. Robert obliges, and he is with Garfield at the Sixth Street train station in Washington, D.C. when Garfield is assassinated. 

Twenty years later, in 1901, President William McKinley experiences a similar troubling dream foretelling his own death. McKinley, too, is aware of the Lincoln dream, so, like Garfield, he seeks out Robert Todd Lincoln. McKinley invites Robert to join him at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Robert obliges, and that's where Robert sees an assassin fire the shot that would kill President McKinley.

Robert, guilt-ridden for not being with his father when he was killed, was drawn by some inexplicable force to the scene of two other presidential assassinations. And please don't try to tell us that this was "just one of those things." Robert’s connection to presidential assassinations was not lost on him. He refused a later presidential invitation with the following comment: ". . . there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present."

(11)  JOHN WILKES BOOTH WEIRDNESS

We're not finished with Lincoln.

On April 13, 1867, the Army Medical Museum opened on the third floor of what had previously been Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., the place where Lincoln was shot almost exactly two years earlier. Among many other bizarre items, the museum displayed part of a dead man's spine. It was identified not by the man's name but by the date of his death: April 26, 1865.

The spine belonged to Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth. Booth's mortal remains were being displayed to the world just a few feet above the spot where he had killed the president, almost two years earlier.

(12)  COINCIDENCE OF BROTHERS' DEATHS

In July 1975, Erskine Lawrence Ebbin was knocked down by a taxi and killed in Hamilton, Bermuda — by the same taxi, with the same driver, carrying the same passenger, on the same street, that killed his brother Neville the previous July. Both brothers were riding the same moped. Both were 17 when they died.