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North Hills Magazine

The North Hills' Favorite Haunts
Written by John Fries

Driving north 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 the woods.

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.

Like many 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 together.

Whether this 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.

Those are 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.

They named 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 glass.

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.

According 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.

Elfinwild 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.

There are 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 well.

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.

Like pretty 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.

 

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Copyright © 2003 by John Fries, Pittsburgh, PA.
Please direct all correspondence to JohnFries@aol.com.