As the archivists of Western Pennsylvania's nightmares, the folks at Haunted Pittsburgh don't scare easily, but we confess that the night we spent in infamous room number 3 of the legendary Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford County made our blood run cold. The well-publicized tales of spiritual manifestations in that room put us in a state of palpable unease, and only the dawn could deliver us from the dread of night.
Every year, countless travelers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike whiz by the iconic colonial fieldstone tavern that dates to 1762. The savvy ones who venture off the granddaddy of toll roads for a meal or an overnight stay are in for an unforgettable experience -- truly remarkable food, the incomparable charm of a bona fide old tavern, and a spectacular bevy of spooks. It doesn't get any better. For ghost seekers in Western Pennsylvania, this place is paranormal Mecca, and many have come to investigate.
There are too many sightings, and too many other-worldly occurrences reported, to chronicle in a short space. A highway robber was hanged there in the late 1700s (note to concerned reader who sent us a text message: "hanged" is the proper word when referring to an execution), and some people think his spirit has never left. Guests feel an unseen presence touching them; doors open and close by themselves; people decked out in frontier garb peer through windows from the outside; a man is seen sitting at the bar when there's no way the man could have gotten into the tavern; guests' personal belongings -- shoes, eyeglasses, you name it -- move around on their own in the middle of the night; rolls of paper towel unroll themselves; a baby is heard crying when there's not a baby in the place; a strong military presence from a long-ago military conflict manifests himself in the basement; and a civil war veteran with a wooden leg has been heard walking around.
Once a woman traveling from Chicago, who knew nothing about the tavern, got off the Turnpike and stopped in. From out of the blue, she asked the owner, "Was someone hung in this building?" When the owner confirmed that, indeed, a man was hanged there in the 1700s, the woman turned to her husband and said, "See, I told you!"
The place isn't just teeming with ghosts, it's rife with the history of Western Pennsylvania. It's been witness to the unfolding American saga since before the Revolution and, as but one example, troops summoned by President George Washington camped out there in 1794 on their way to quell the Whiskey Rebellion.
Melissa and Shannon Jacobs own the restaurant now, and Melissa told Haunted Pittsburgh a lot about the place's ghostly heritage. She's also had her own encounters. She said that she had heard stories from guests about the blender in the bar turning on by itself. She discounted these accounts – until very early one morning, when no one else was around, she was coming up the dark steps from the lower level of the building to the bar when, without warning, the blender came on by itself. It's more than a little jarring when a noisy appliance with a reputation for being haunted suddenly comes on in the darkness. Melissa confirmed that the power switch was still in the “off” position when she went to stop it. It should not be surprising that Melissa bought a new blender. It, too, came on by itself -- this time with the lid off, spewing strawberry daiquiri all over the room. So, yes, the spirit has a sense of humor, though the prank wasn't especially funny to Melissa when she had to clean up the mess.
Upstairs there are charming rooms where visitors can spend the night. Room 3 has a notorious rocking chair that suddenly starts rocking in the dead of night. When guests place a purse or a coat on the chair, they often awaken the next morning to ﬁnd their belongings on the ﬂoor.
Haunted Pittsburgh cannot recommend this place highly enough. Whether you love a good ghost story, or want to bask in the atmosphere of a genuinely historic inn, or just like great food, you must visit the Jean Bonnet Tavern.
Here is their website: http://www.jeanbonnettavern.com/index.html
Like them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jean-Bonnet-Tavern/59575610282?ref=mf
The Inn has been the scene of several unexpected deaths, and it's teeming with spiritual activity. We took a medium to the spooky old watering hole. She says the place has several active spirits. The ones she contacted were all jovial.
One hot day soon after a former owner bought it in the mid-80s, he and some friends were moving things into the building. When they opened the front door, they were greeted with a blast of sustained icy cold air that thundered down the stairs from the second floor -- the breeze was so strong it blew the cap off the former owner's head. The former owner believed it was the spirit's way of letting him know it was there. Our medium sensed the presence of a spirit named “Lucy" or Lucia" going up and down the stairs, and she might have been responsible for the strange Arctic blast. Some people say that a skeletal figure known as "Grandma" haunts a second-floor dining room.
After the place changed hands in 2013, the current owner was washing glasses behind the inn’s bar when five coins came out of the wall and flew right past his head, narrowly missing him. That's probably "Louie," a spirit whose calling card is to leave dimes or quarters all over the building. It's not clear who “Louie" is: some say "Louie" is the original innkeeper. Others say he's one of the men who died in the building. Our medium says he has a distinct attachment to the place. He hangs out at the bar a lot, but sometimes he’s on a rocking chair out front, and other times he appears in a mirror upstairs.
One time, a general manager at the restaurant heard chairs being moved around in the dining room. When he went to investigate, the room was empty. Another time, he heard someone repeatedly call him by name--except no one was there, at least, no one human. A former owner once was awakened by a disembodied voice that also called her by name and promised never to harm her.
Objects move on their own. Furniture rearranges itself. While servers are taking orders in the upstairs dining room, they sometimes feel a finger going from the base of their neck down the spine. Lights flicker. Sometimes at dusk, the place suddenly gets very warm for no reason. One night, a bartender got locked in the bathroom by some unknown force. Sometimes a ghost can be heard vacuuming and moving chairs upstairs.The sound of loud breathing has been heard coming from someone who isn't there, and the sound of aluminum foil rattling has been reported for no discernible reason. A woman once saw someone standing behind her in the bathroom mirror, but when she turned around, no one was there. One night, a heavy potted palm tree made it from the floor onto a table all by itself. The current owner once saw the silhouette of a man in the basement cooler when he was changing kegs, and he "got the sense he wasn’t good.” Another time he saw a young boy ghost on the second floor landing, mischievously peering around the door frame.
The volume on a TV in the bar is sometimes raised on its own. Our medium says that a male spirit who is “loud” hangs out at the bar -- it could be that when he was alive, this spirit was hard of hearing.
Several witnesses have reported seeing a little girl in a white dress roaming around upstairs. This might be “Emily” – our medium says she hangs out near an upstairs window. Emily feels sad and neglected, but she’s not malicious.
My personal favorite story: one day back in 1985, the then-owners painted a gray fence outside red. A short time later, a waitress heard talking in the living room so she went in expecting to see guests, but no one was there. On a table she found an obscure old novel called “Gus the Great” opened to page 438. The following words jumped out at her: "A repulsive abomination had been perpetrated. Hoodlums had desecrated it with a paint brush."
Now THAT'S a great ghost story!
NUMBER THREE: THE SHILOH GRILLE
Kate Soffel, the wife of the warden of the Allegheny County Jail at the start of the 20th Century, fell in love with a prisoner on death row and helped him and his brother escape--and she went with them, leaving husband and four children behind. The brothers were killed, and Mrs. Soffel was captured, in a shootout in Butler County that resembled something out of the Wild West. In 1984, Pittsburgh's most bizarre love story was made into a motion picture called "Mrs. Soffel" with Hollywood A-listers Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson in the leads. And now, more than 100 years after her scandalous exploits, Mrs. Soffel still hangs around Pittsburgh--she haunts the Shiloh Grille on Shiloh Street on Mount Washington.
Mrs. Soffel and her husband lived in the building that houses the Shiloh Grille before he became warden (the building actually belonged to Mrs. Soffel's father), and it may have been the last place where she was happy. It is one creepy place.
Mrs. Soffel has appeared in the dining room mirror wearing a white flowing dress, and she’s been seen peering out windows. Upstairs, it’s even creepier. One of the waitresses was standing in the hallway outside what used to be the Soffel bedroom when she distinctly heard a conversation taking place between a man and a woman -- only the waitress was the only mortal present.
The owner of the restaurant told us that when he bought the place, he started out not believing in ghosts, then one day he was all alone in the restaurant when someone came up directly behind him. He could tell they were smoking. He spun around -- and no one was there. We have reports from at least three other people that they've smelled cigarette smoke outside the Soffel’s old bedroom. Someone else on staff has seen a man in a blue suit standing at the top of the stairs even though there were no humans upstairs.
If you go to the Shiloh Grille, and if you need to use the restroom, take a friend. One time, a couple that had been on our ghost tour decided to grab a bite to eat at the Shiloh Grille after the tour. They had a very nice meal, and after dinner, the young woman decided to use the lady’s room on the second floor. There was nobody else in the room. She went into a stall, and she heard the door to the restroom open and the distinct sound of “ladies’ heels” walk across the floor. Whoever it was went into the last stall and shut the door. The young woman finished her business and went to the sink to wash her hands. She knew for a fact that whoever went into that last stall did not come out. She was drying her hands when she had the creepiest feeling that something wasn't right about whoever came into the restroom, but she couldn't put her finger on it. She was thinking, “should I look under the stall -- or should I get out of here right now?” Very slowly, she turned to look at the last stall. There was absolutely no sound coming out of it. As quiet as she could, she crouched down and peeked under the door. To her horror, there was nobody in that stall.
The young woman hurled the paper towel into the trash bin, flung open the door, and practically ran down the steps. Her heart was racing when she got to her table and announced to her boyfriend: “They weren’t kidding on that ghost tour. Now let’s get out of here.”
NUMBER FOUR: GYPSY CAFE (NOW CLOSED)
Gypsy was located in a very old building in a very old neighborhood. In 1763, King George III of England (he’s the one who literally found Americans to be revolting) gave Major John Ormsby about 2400 acres of land as payment for his service in the French and Indian War. That land became what we now know as South Side. The building that housed Gypsy was constructed in 1854 and for many years it served as the First United Presbyterian Church of Birmingham. The restaurant was in what was the Church’s basement. In days long gone, the Presbyterians used to bury their dead in the church basement. We don't want to freak out Gypsy's former patrons, but the fact is, they really don’t know what -- or who -- was lying beneath them as they chowed down the delicious Shrimp, Scallop and Feta Stew.
Gypsy Café opened in 2004, its owners, Melanie and Chef Jim, were destined to be there, and here's proof. Years ago, Melanie was in college in Pittsburgh when her wallet was stolen. She lost her driver’s license, her student ID and her credit cards. Fast forward, years later: Melanie and Chef Jim are starting Gypsy, and they’re cleaning out the dumpster on the side of the building when, what do you think they find? Melanie's wallet -- with Melanie’s old driver’s license, student ID and credit cards. Someone, or something, wanted them there.
The new owners remodeled the place. Chef Jim and a friend went to move an ice machine from the second floor down to the floor where the restaurant sat, and some leftover water spilled out and soaked the carpeting on the stairs. Melanie went to clean the carpet at the bottom of the stairs when -- twice -- out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone standing right there at her elbow. It was a young boy, 6 or 7 years old, with blond hair and wearing a cap. He was dressed in blue short pants and a jacket. Immediately, the name “Nick” popped into Melanie’s head. About two weeks later, a woman who’d been a waitress at the coffee shop that occupied the site before Gypsy took over stopped by. She asked Melanie and Chef Jim if they had "seen the ghost yet." Melanie was startled, but said she had seen “something,” and the waitress proceeded to explain that people frequently saw – you guessed it – a little blond-haired boy, at the bottom of the stairs--and they called him Nick.
Nick wasn’t the only ghost there. A couple that frequented the restaurant always sat at their favorite table near the bar. One day, Melanie came in and saw them at a different table and asked why they'd moved from their usual spot. They told her it was because the woman was sitting there--a woman Melanie couldn't see. She was "a woman in gray" the couple explained, and she was drinking tea.
Séances were held there periodically, along with tarot card readings, and at one of the séances -- three of the participants saw--you guessed it--a woman in gray, sitting at that same table.
Gypsy is gone, but our guess is that Nick and the Lady in Gray aren't.
NUMBER FIVE: PAPA J'S (NOW CLOSED)
The women's room is located down a small, dark hallway where old photographs of children used to line the wall. A waitress said she did not like to go into this part of the building because the children pictured on the walls were rumored to haunt the hallway.
One time, a customer was washing his hands in the men’s restroom upstairs when he saw the reflection of an elderly woman wearing a babushka and holding towels. Upon returning to the dining room, he commented that it was unusual for a restaurant to have a towel lady. The waiter gave him a strange look. "What do you mean a towel lady?"
A former waiter reported seeing a girl "walk through walls," and after a while, that became a little bit much for him, so he quit. Another waiter has seen the ghost of a little girl tip over food trays. A bartender, alone one night, saw the same little girl walk right past him on the other side of the bar. He calmly cleaned up, walked out, and never returned. Another waiter became curious about this girl. He did some checking, and it seems the girl once lived in the building. According She disappeared one day in the early 1900s, and the following week was found floating in the Monongahela River.
Haunted Pittsburgh alumni, the great Sean Collier, had his own experience at Papa J’s. He was recording a podcast with two other comics in a room entirely walled with mirrors, like a sinister carnival fun-house. At some point about an hour into the podcast, Sean saw something in one of the mirrors – it was a woman in a very old-fashioned pink dress. Sean was certain he saw her dart across the room, then disappear into a reflection. Well, this brought the podcast to a screeching halt. Sean started stammering that he had just seen a ghost. One of the other comics said that he didn't actually see the spirit himself, but that before Sean said anything, he felt the room turn icy cold and the hair on his arms stood up. That was the last time Sean ever did comedy at Papa J’s. He said it’s hard to be funny when you’ve got one eye out for ghosts.
NUMBER SIX: THE GRAND CONCOURSE
We can't trace the origins of the spirits that occupy the building, and there are too many stories to recount. A kitchen worker confided to us that faucets turn on by themselves. After hours, the restaurant is filled with strange sounds—creepy, other-worldly sounds. You know, the usual ghost stuff.
Sometimes, employees will find items moved or knocked over when they come to work in the morning. In other circumstances, that might be attributed to common carelessness, but not at the Grand Concourse. One morning, a cart of dishes was found dumped on the floor. One of the managers decided to check the security video to see who the culprit was. The manager reviewed the entire video, and the video showed the cart sitting untouched, with all the dishes in place, throughout the night--even after the point in time when the dishes were found all over the floor. Sounds like a spirit with a sense of humor.
The Landmarks Building is home to one of the most spectacular ghost sightings we are aware of. It happened in April 2004, in the corridor outside suite 250. People reported to us that they saw a white translucent figure roughly in the shape of a human being. It was suspended in mid-air with one arm draped over a railing. The presence didn't manifest itself for long -- just long enough to scare the observers half to death.