North Hills' Favorite Haunts
Written by John Fries
on Babcock Boulevard through North Park, just to the left after
passing the lake, there's an unmarked, unobtrusive dirt road you
can easily miss. In fact, most people usually do miss it, which
is okay because it really doesn't go anywhere except further into
But to many
of us who grew up in and around the North Hills, that road is
known unofficially as Blue Mist Road, named for the fog that is
said to roll in when the weather conditions are just right. It's
the road on which apocryphal stories abound about secret rituals,
strange goings-on and car engines stalling after nightfall when
they reach the gnarled, twisted tree that sits ominously at the
end of the road. It's the stuff sub-urban legends are made of.
Late one chilly
Halloween night several years ago, a bunch of friends and I drove
down Blue Mist Road. We had heard the stories and wanted to see
for ourselves. For better or worse, nothing happened, although
at the time we were sure we heard strange sounds and thought it
possible that someone-or something-might have been watching us
through the darkness.
places in the North Hills, Blue Mist Road has become part of local
folklore, like the story of the Green Man, a mythical local guy
who is said to have accidentally stepped on a fallen electric
cable during a rainstorm and received a powerful jolt of electricity
that turned his skin green and caused his facial features to melt
is scientifically possible doesn't matter; for years, he has been
the subject of countless campfire stories and much speculation,
and a number of neighborhoods claim him as their own. And if you
mention the Green Man to enough people, you're likely to encounter
someone who knows someone who knows yet another person who supposedly
has met him.
the word-of-mouth stories that get passed around without any real
evidence and are, most likely, just fun campfire stories. On the
other hand, there exist a number of documented accounts that come
complete with witnesses who claim to have seen, heard or felt
things that went bump in the night.
At the Depreciation
Lands Museum just off Route 8 in Allison Park, some say a ghostly
presence, albeit a friendly one, has made itself felt from time
to time. In her book Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny
County, author Beth Trapani writes about the "Deacon," a ghost
some museum volunteers say they've encountered at the building.
him the Deacon because the building used to be a church, and they
figured the nickname was appropriate. Initially, they discovered
him during the mid-1970's when they were renovating the building.
A volunteer replacing window panes was having a difficult time
getting the glass to fit in the window, so she took out her pocket
knife to shave some wood from the window to make space for the
Out of the
corner of her eye, she saw a man standing in the middle of the
newly painted floor. When she turned to face him, he disappeared.
That's odd, she thought. Then she again saw him out of the corner
of her eye and again turned toward him. Once again, he disappeared.
She finally said to him, "The least you can do is help!" At that
moment, her knife cut exactly the right amount of wood from the
frame and the glass fit perfectly.
Not long after
that, a young boy was on a ladder painting over the stairwell.
Volunteers say the ladder tipped, almost fell, then just stopped
and returned to an upright position. Some of them wondered if
the Deacon broke the boy's fall. Years later, when a group of
Girl Scouts was spending the night in sleeping bags in a multi-purpose
room whose original ceiling had been covered years before by a
drop ceiling, their leaders were awakened by a loud crash. Parts
of the old ceiling had fallen onto the newer ceiling, causing
parts of both to fall onto the floor, along with glass from a
light fixture that broke in the process. But not one person was
harmed or even touched, and, in fact, most of the girls slept
through the night.
At the Elfinwild
Volunteer Fire Company, the ghost that is said to mingle with
the firefighters is not a deacon, but a former chief. The ghost
of Ralph "Obie" Obenauf, who became fire chief there in the 1950's
and, incidentally, is buried directly across the street in Mt.
Royal Cemetery, is credited with all kinds of late night happenings
at the fire house.
to Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh, the firefighters at Elfinwild
have experienced a wide range of unusual happenings that has included
phantom footsteps on the stairs, doors that creak or open and
close by themselves, lights that go on after they've been turned
off, and the feeling of being watched. These things, they say,
are courtesy of Obie. Some members of the crew have even reported
smelling the pipe that Obie used to smoke regularly.
is not alone among fire departments; the Troy Hill Fire Company
is said to boast a ghostly presence as well that has manifested
itself in a number of ways, ranging from strange noises and sensations
to shaking beds. One fireman even saw, momentarily, people playing
cards in the basement who had disappeared a second or two later.
many more stories like these across the North Hills. In 1937,
at St. Nicholas Croatian Roman Catholic Church in Millvale, a
Yugoslavian artist named Maxo Vanko hired to paint murals in the
church is said to have seen a ghostly figure in black in the wee
hours of the morning whom he assumed to be the parish priest.
He later found out that it not only was not the priest, but that
others in the parish had experienced the unidentified figure as
At the Harmony
Hotel in the Harmony/Zelienople area, there are documented cases
of strange ghostly occurrences as well. The lobby of the hotel
even boasts framed newspaper articles about the accounts. And
on a couple acres in Valencia, not far from the Harmony Hotel,
there's a business located where there used to be a farm house.
Some very strange things were seen, heard and felt in the old
farm house by a close friend of mine who lived there as a child.
A newer residence now exists on the property, but I'm told that
the late night visitations and unexplained occurrences still occur.
much every region of the country and most others around the world,
the North Hills has its share of ghost stories. Many are documented;
some are passed around by word of mouth.
So the next
time you're alone in the house, and it's late at night, and you
feel a chill in the air, well...maybe it's just the wind.
to Writing Samples
Copyright © 2003 by John Fries, Pittsburgh, PA.
Please direct all correspondence to JohnFries@aol.com.