Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ghost Hunt: Carrie Furnace

The Carrie Blast Furnaces, overlooking the Monongahela River in the industrial town of Swissvale, PA, remain eerie reminder of Pittsburgh's steel industry past, and the conditions the workers there went through. When an opportunity came up to participate in an "intimate ghost hunt" of the former steel mill, I lept at the chance. 

Built in 1884, Carrie Furnaces had formed part of the Homestead Steel Works, and operated almost a 100 years, until 1982. During its peak, the site produced 1,000 to 1,250 tons of iron per day. Steel from the mill helped build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, and other great landmarks of America's industrial age.

All that is left of the site are furnaces #6 and #7, which operated from 1907 to 1978, along with the hot metal bridge. The furnaces, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006, are among the only pre-World War II 20th century blast furnaces to survive.

Until child labor laws went into effect in the early 1900s, children as young as 14 and 15 were employed there. As with the adults, many were sustained injuries, some of them mortal. Women worked at the mill as well, often as carriers of water to the men working in the extreme heat of the mill. They were also exposed to many of the hazards of working in such a perilous environment. Needless to say, there were many deaths of the men, women, and children working there.

The site is currently managed by the nonprofit Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation, which conducts tours and other programs from May through October. The paranormal investigation was run by Ghost N'at (pronounced "ghost en-at" -- en-at being a Pittsburgh region colloquialism, meaning "and all that"), a western Pennsylvania paranormal investigations and ghost hunt event group.

Is that an orb in the upper left corner? More likely a bug. 

After having experienced it, I agree with Ghost N'at's claim that Carrie Furnace is the spookiest location, possibly ever! Because we were a small group -- just 10 of us -- we stayed together as one group. We visited several locations, including the tunnels, the blast furnace site itself, the locker room, and somewhere deep in the bowels of the machinery and pipes. Carrie Furnace is possibly both the coolest and scariest place I've ever visited.

Voices and shadow figures have been captured by the Ghosts N'at staff on multiple occasions at the steel mill. The evening we were there was filled with evidence of the ghastly beyond.

There were two surreal moments: one when we encountered the deer head sculpture, an art project made from wires and equipment found on the site at some point in the past. The deer head sculpture looms some 20 or 30 feet high. 

Although we didn't see any shadow figures, I heard foot steps were there was absolutely no one (in a restricted area of the compound that is off limits to living humans) in the tunnel. We also heard EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon), and our K2 meters, EMF readers, and motion detectors all went off on multiple occasions. Very dramatically, Ken, one of our Ghost N'at guides for the evening, was able to invite the spirit(s) to turn two flashlights off and on, in response to questions we asked throughout the evening. Previously, Ken has spotted both a shadow figure and an actual apparition at Carrie Furnace.

The second surreal moment was when we found the old piano (no, the keys no longer play -- I checked).
Just why? Why is this piano here? We'll never know.

Yes, I caught some orbs in our photos and in a short video (see below). But it was also a buggy evening, despite being in October. As of this post, I haven't had an opportunity to really analyze the video, but that's my next step.

I have to say, it was both eerie, startling, and really, really awesome.


Throughout the evening, everyone was invited to participate in the ghost hunt  and our two guides for the evening, Ken and Alex, made themselves available to the ghost hunt participants for questions or to check out evidence we may have collected, such as the video. They kept emphasizing that this was our ghost hunt -- that they were there to guide us, show us paranormal investigation techniques, and where the hot spots were. They clearly had done their homework previously

The shape of the blast furnace reminded us of a space ship.

We were shown how to use the various paranormal investigation equipment, and then given opportunities to use it. We also were constantly encouraged to speak to the ghosts and ask questions ourselves: we were active participants in the ghost hunt.

I took away the following tips for conducting a paranormal investigation:

  1. Never hunt alone, both for safety and to have a witness.
  2. Take photos in threes (thus, I have three times the amount I normally take for a blog post!)
  3. Always be polite when you try to speak with the ghosts.

The group emphasizes the importance of being friendly to the ghosts, reminding us that "ghosts were people too." Unlike other ghost hunting event organizations, Ghost N'at rejects provoking the ghosts, instead relying on trigger objects (such as whisky, cigarettes, toys, etc.) and tried and true investigative techniques to make contact with the ghosts.

At times throughout the evening, I tried to quietly imagine the incredible din of the steel mill while it was in operation, the shouts of the boys and men, the noise of the machinery, and the heat of the liquid steel as it was channeled in dangerous, open canals to where it was cooled in forms and sent on to its eventual destinations. With the furnace looming over us, it was easy to lose yourself in imagining the din and chaos it must have been when active.

One member of our group was there explicitly for proof of an existence beyond our physical world. I believe she left convinced. So do ghosts exist? I believe there's a force and a plane of existence beyond the pale that we do not understand, and that occasionally, we're lucky enough to make contact with that plane. I do know that I was rarely actually scared at Carrie Furnace, although I was convinced that what was happening around us was real. I did stay with the group, and avoided the dark corners!

Whether you go for ghosts or just for an historical tour of the place, add Carrie Furnace to your bucket list. The place is amazing, and the massive machinery and pipes that make up this steel mill are on a scale you don't often see. I wish I could have been there while it was light out so I could have composed the photos and framed them to make more sense. Often that evening, I was just aiming into the dark, hoping for something (both a good photo and a ghost!).

I've added a day-time tour of Carrie Furnaces to my bucket list. How cool would it be to understand the different areas of the steel mill and how the different parts of the steel mill worked! Historical tours of the steel mill are offered aperiodically. Keep an eye on the Rivers of Steel Heritage website for when these are offered.

Know before you go: Whether you go at night or during the day, where closed toe, comfortable shoes. If you go on a paranormal investigation, then where clothes you don't mind getting dirty -- chances are you'll end up sitting on the ground at some point.

Website: http://www.ghostsnat.com

The bottom of the main blast furnace.

For other ghost hunting destinations, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the ghost walk label below.

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Don't get excited. The black shadow at the bottom of the photo is due to my camera strap getting in the way of the flash.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autumn Drive Through Adams County Apple Country

Adams County is a picturesque rural county in south central Pennsylvania. Although synonymously known as Apple Country, it is most well known for the little town of Gettysburg, the site of the most famous Civil War battle.

But as I've posted in this blog before, there is more to Adams County, and Gettysburg, than the battlefields, although the National Battlefield Park is well worth spending significant time in! The area also boasts a number of very fine restaurants and a surprising array of attractions and activities.

Because of the beauty of the countryside, my husband and I decided to follow the scenic driving tour, ostensibly to go leaf peeping, although we ended up being a week too early, we think. Or maybe the leaf color wasn't that great last year, due to the late summer/early autumn drought that the mid-Atlantic region was experiencing. Even with the leaf color being muted, it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. We ended up stopping at a couple of the county's farmers markets/orchards as well.

All very picturesque, and we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon exploring Adams County.

The tour begins at Meade School on Springs Avenue. The first stop allows you to appreciate this imposing brick building, now a local hotel.

Then it brings you through Seminary Ridge. The road -- Confederate Ave -- follows the contour of Seminary Ridge, which was the main Confederate position for much of the battle. Along West Confederate Avenue there are many cannons and monuments, with paved areas for stopping along the road. Delightfully, near Spangler's Woods, we encountered a horse-back trail ride tour of the battlefields. (I made a note for next year's bucket list!)

Soon, the tour turns right onto Millerstown Road and headed west into the countryside, away from the battlefields. But as you explore the area, it is well to keep in mind that the battles extended beyond the boundaries of the National Battlefield Park.

Just a short drive to the south of town, right on the outskirts of the battlefields near Pickett’s Charge, you come to Sachs Bridge, which is purportedly haunted. A stop on at least one of Gettysburg's ghost tours, and a favorite place for ghost hunting, Sachs Bridge can be a scary place at night: full bodied apparitions, disembodied voices, cold spots and people being touched are some of the paranormal occurrences that have been reported.

The Confederate Army was positioned right across the river and once the battle had ended they retreated across this bridge, walking right past three confederate deserters, who were executed and displayed for their crimes. The bridge, like many barns and homes in the immediate vicinity, was also used as a field hospital during and after those 3 days in July. It is believed that the three men hanged on the bridge for being either deserters or spies for the Union (stories differ) now haunt the bridge; its use as a field hospital is just icing on the cake, paranormally speaking.

In daylight, what is most noticeable about the bridge is its interior lattice design -- a product of it being a "Town truss" covered bridge. The Town truss design was developed by Ithiel Town, of Connecticut, and consists of wooden beams criss-crossed to form a lattice.

As you enter orchard country -- the tour takes you through peach and apple orchards -- the route unfolds view after view of autumnal beauty. Ahead, you will get closer glimpses of South Mountain, through/over which General Lee came to Gettysburg.

Occasionally there are surprises, such as the weird elephant statue along the side of the road.

As the tour takes you onto Church Road, the guide notes that this is Shawnee Indian Country. Thomas Jemison had moved his family into the area in 1754. Later, the Jemisons and another family were attacked and captured as prisoners by a band of four Frenchmen and six Shawnee Indians. They were taken near Chambersburg and all were killed, except Mary Jemison and a little boy. She integrated into the Indian tribe, eventually marrying a Shawnee man. At tour stop 18, there's a statue of Mary Jemison at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, built in 1816.

Know before you go: The Scenic Valley Tour will bring you past some of Adams County’s many areas of historic interest and scenic beauty, at your own pace. The tour covers some 36 miles south, west and north of Gettysburg, including several orchards. The roads you will travel are all two-lane, paved secondary and all turns and changes of direction are clearly marked by “SCENIC VALLEY TOUR” signs. Allow yourself about three hours to drive the route; more if you include lunch or make frequent stops along the way.

Getting there: Find your way to Lincoln Square, in Gettysburg (if you need a GPS address, try 1 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg). Since Gettysburg offers a number of excellent restaurants, I recommend eating lunch and then beginning the tour.

Website: A pdf of the driving tour can be found here:  http://www.destinationgettysburg.com/uploads/files/members/Scenic%20Valley%20Tour%2010.pdf

For other day trip destinations in and around Adams County, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Gettysburg or Destination Gettysburg label below.

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mt Hebron Cemetery Holds 35 Thousand Stories

Beginning in late September, I started a series of posts about Frederick County and Winchester, VA. This is the second installment of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Winchester and Frederick County" below this post.

It's a cliche, but true, that you can discern much about a town by its cemetery; Mount Hebron Cemetery reveals Winchester's secrets.

Mount Hebron Cemetery, in Winchester, VA started modestly, in 1844, adjacent to two much older cemeteries: the German Reformed Church Cemetery, chartered more than a hundred years earlier, and the Lutheran Church Cemetery, chartered a mere 90 years earlier. Both of the older cemeteries now form parts of Mount Hebron, along with the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, which was the first cemetery dedicated exclusively to the re-interment of Confederate soldiers -- the locals revered their Southern heritage (and fully embraced the Lost Cause mythology) but also honored, and subsequently protected, heroes from previous wars as well.

This cemetery is interesting for both its Civil War history as well as the graves of both locally prominent and national Americans, war heroes, and statesmen. All told, there are almost 35 thousand interred in Mount Hebron, and as the tour revealed, there's a story for each individual there.

Although it now encompasses four different cemeteries, Mount Hebron was created and planned in the Victorian rural garden style, similar to, but more modest than cemeteries such as Laurel Hill in Philadelphia; Hollywood in Richmond; Mount Olivet in Frederick, MD; and Loudon Park in Baltimore.

Before public parks and museums became commonplace, rural garden cemeteries were multi-purpose cultural attractions where people could experience the art and refinement previously known only to the wealthy. Artists often were commissioned to create lovely statuary for the more well-to-do inhabitants, and paths and roads were laid out with an eye to gradually revealing pleasant views and landscaping arrangements.

One of Mount Hebron's Revolutionary War heroes is Charles Magill, who served on the staffs of both generals George Washington and Nathanael Green. Injured during the war, he survived, and went on to become an attorney, a Federal judge, a state senator, and finally mayor of Winchester.

A more famous resident of the cemetery is General Daniel Morgan, who during the Revolutionary War was one of Washington's most trusted leaders, and was a hero in both the battles of Saratoga and Cowpens. His restful peace was almost disturbed several times: during the Civil War his grave was obscured, so Union troops wouldn't disinter him and remove him to a Northern site; the city of Winchester resisted a later effort in 1951 to move him to the site of his greatest victory, Cowpens, SC.

One of the first things you notice in the cemetery are the ruins of the old Lutheran Church, which had been built between 1760-1790. The ruins are all that survive after the church burned in 1854, but the ruins establish a lovely landmark for the cemetery.

If you go there, be sure to look for the most mysterious gravestone in Mount Hebron I've ever seen: it's marked with a skull and crossbones, but no other identification.

Stonewall Cemetery -- named, of course, for General Stonewall Jackson, who made Winchester his headquarters in late 1861 through early spring 1862 -- is the resting place for the bodies of 2,575 Confederate soldiers who died in the fields and hospitals of this locality. 

Know before you go: Walking tours are offered or you can create your own by downloading the app from Mount Hebron Cemetery's website.

Getting there: 305 East Boscawen St, Winchester, VA 22601
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily

Website: http://www.mthebroncemetery.org/

For other tombstone tourist destinations, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the cemeteries label below.

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Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips! And follow us @midatlanticdaytrips on Instagram to find up what we're up to between blog posts!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Yaking" in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

I've been to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) several times, always excited to see and enjoy the birds and wildlife. With the purchase of our new kayak earlier this summer comes the opportunity to explore it by kayak. We visited the refuge about 2 weeks ago, in mid-September.

Blackwater NWR was established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway, and is home to an incredible amount of plant and animal diversity in its three major habitats – forest, marsh and shallow water. The refuge contains a third of Maryland's tidal wetlands, making it an ecologically important area within the state.

If you want to see eagles, Blackwater is the place to go. The refuge has the greatest density of breeding bald eagles on the east coast, north of Florida, and sightings of bald eagles are fairly common throughout the year. Eagles can be seen soaring and hunting over the marsh or resting near their nests in tall loblolly pine trees. In fact, several times while simply driving through the refuge, on Maple Dam Road, I've been lucky enough to see several eagles.

The marsh habitat at Blackwater is a brackish -- a mix of salt water and freshwater -- tidal marsh. Tidal marshes serve many important functions: they buffer stormy waters, slow shoreline erosion, and absorb water pollutants and nutrients before they reach the bay. Tidal marshes also provide vital food and habitat, as well as offering shelter and nesting sites for migratory birds. They are also quite lovely, and I was eager to explore the wetlands from the water level.

Originally, I planned on taking the orange trail. However, after a brief discussion with my husband, we listened to what I suggested, and we went what turned out to be the wrong way, paddling right from the boat launch at Shorters Wharf under the bridge. We explored the Blackwater River on that side of the bridge a little -- maybe an hour or slightly more, then turned around and headed back under the bridge, to explore the water trails.

Instead of the orange trail, we headed a few miles on the purple trail until we decided to go up an inlet. We ended up deciding we were tired -- we'd been paddling for about 2 hours already -- so we turned around and paddled back down the Blackwater River to Shorters Wharf.

We saw several eagles, probably a nutria, numerous smaller birds, lots of great blue heron flying out of camera shot, and a surprising amount of fish jumping right out of the water!

Purple Trail

Distance: 9 miles one way (open water; wind conditions important)
Paddling Time: 3.0 - 4.5 hours (speed 2-3 mph)
Put-in: Shorters Wharf public boat ramp
Please note: The Purple Trail is closed to paddlers October 1 through March 31 each year. The closure is critical to avoid interfering with migratory waterfowl on the refuge.

Orange Trail

Distance: 7.6 miles round trip
Paddling Time: 2.5 - 3.75 hours (speed 2-3 mph)
Put-in: Shorters Wharf public boat ramp

Green Trail

Distance: 8 miles round trip
Paddling Time: 2.5 - 4.0 hours (speed 2-3 mph)
Put-in: Rt. 335 Bridge boat launch
Please note: The Green Trail is a scenic trail and is a good trail for beginners. However, during fall and winter, waterfowl hunters may be active on and along the Green Trail. If you want more information about hunting season, call the Refuge Visitor Center at 410-228-2677 for exact hunting dates.

Know before you go: Please note that portions of the Purple water trail are closed in October to allow the migrating water fowl to rest undisturbed.

If you have Google Earth on your smart phone, the following map can be downloaded and used while kayaking the trails: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/files/blackwaterkmz/CanoeKayakTrails101614.kmz
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Blackwater/visit/watertrails.html

Getting there: Shorters Wharf is located on Maple Dam Road. I could not find a street address for it, but most GPS/mapping systems will find it.

For other day trip destinations centered around kayaking, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the kayaking label below.

If you enjoy this blog, please tell your friends about it!

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips! And follow us @midatlanticdaytrips on Instagram to find up what we're up to between blog posts!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Grave Creek Burial Mound: Last Remnant of an Ancient American Culture

Long before the European invasion, in what is considered to be the "Early Woodland" period, there was a remarkable, pre-Columbian Native American culture, which existed between 1000 to 200 BCE, referred to as the Adena. Although all those who are considered Adena shared cultural similarities -- such as sharing a burial complex and ceremonial system -- it is likely that the Adena encompasses a number of related societies. The Adena lived in an area including parts of present-day Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Right in the heart of Moundsville, WV, is the largest conical burial mound in North America. Two thousand years old, this Adena Indian burial ground is known as the Grave Creek Mound. Adjacent to the mound is the Delf Norona Museum, built in 1978, which houses all state artifacts, including many excavated from the burial mound, as well as from other Adena archeological sites.

Grave Creek Mound is one of the last traces of Adena culture that still exists. At one point, Adena mounds numbered in the hundreds, but only a small number of Adena earthen monuments still survive today. These mounds generally ranged in size from 20 to 300 feet in diameter and served as burial structures, ceremonial sites, historical markers and possibly gathering places. Unfortunately, in 1838, much of the archaeological evidence in this mound was destroyed when several non-archaeologists tunneled into it.

The Adena were notable for their agricultural practices, pottery, artistic works and extensive trading network, which supplied them with a variety of raw materials, ranging from copper from the Great Lakes to shells from the Gulf Coast.

The mound construction probably began with the death of a very important person. There is no way to know who this person was -- great warrior, chieftain or religious leader. We know that 25 to 30 years later another important personage died and his remains were placed in an 8-by-12-foot vault on the top of the mound, when it was approximately 35 feet high. The Adena then covered this with dirt until the mound reached its maximum height.

When you visit the Grave Creek Burial Mound, you can follow the spiral walk entwining the mound up to the top. It is an interesting experience visiting this site -- clearly, long ago, this site had special significance for the people who built the mound. Walking up, you have to respect the labor that building it involved -- the mound is steep and rising sharply from the level ground.

Although probably not intended by the original builders, or by the modern-day creators of the spiral walk to the top, when you walk up quietly, alone, in contemplation of the age of the mound and all the unknowns --the sheer mystery of its being -- it is almost a mystical experience. Then you reach the top, to breathtaking views of the countryside (and the now defunct prison across the street from the mound). 

Getting there: 801 Jefferson Ave, Moundsville, WV 26041

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed Sundays, Mondays and major holidays.

Dogs: Not welcomed.

Website: http://www.wvculture.org/museum/GraveCreekmod.html

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Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips! And follow us @midatlanticdaytrips on Instagram to find up what we're up to between blog posts!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!