Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Strange Happenings at Miller House

There have been some strange happenings at Miller House, on West Washington Street, in Hagerstown, MD.

The Miller House is now the home of the Washington County Historical Society, which was founded in 1911, the same year, actually, that the last family to live in Miller House -- the Millers, appropriately enough -- purchased the house from the Neills.

The first and main section of the Federal Style townhouse was built in 1825 by William Price, an attorney and grandfather of Emily Post of etiquette fame. When his first wife died in 1844, Price sold the property to fellow attorney, Alexander Neill, II, and moved to Cumberland.

Both Alexander Neill III, and Alexander Neill IV, were born and raised in the house with all their siblings The Neills sold the house to Dr. Victor D. Miller, Jr., one of three physician sons of a Civil War surgeon from the settlement known as Mason Dixon, on the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line. Dr. Miller built the last small section on to the east side of the house, which became a suite of doctors’ offices, including his own. When Mrs. Miller passed away in 1965, their sons, Victor D. Miller III and Col. Henry Miller donated their share of the property to the Washington County Historical Society, which houses its offices and library in the basement.

Several of the rooms have been restored to their appearance during the Victorian era, while several other rooms serve as collection rooms for a pottery collection (from the first owner of the plot of land), antique dolls (creepy!), and Civil War artifacts.

Instead of the lives and legacy of the people who lived in Miller House, the Washington County Historical Society's October-themed ghost tour of the house museum focused on the inhabitants' deaths and the weird events that have been going on since the house was acquired by the Washington County Historical Society in 1966.

Footsteps above in empty rooms, dining room tables -- set for a Christmas dinner -- rearranged to suit the tastes of the former mistress of the house, artifacts rearranged on a former owner's desk, and ghostly little girls following museum visitors have all been experienced by the staff of the Washington County Historical Society.

The tour also explored the impact of the Spiritualism movement, which began in the United States in the late 1840s and is based on the belief that the spirits of the dead have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. The new movement was led by mediums, who claimed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead. The peak of the Spiritualism movement lasted between the years after the Civil War and around 1920. This movement, in fact, brought the "talking" boards, upon which the Ouiji board is based, to many parlors, including the then owners of Miller House.

The tour also explores hauntings at other nearby homes. Then, they allow the tour participants to explore the house on their own, even doing their own ghost-hunting. This combination ghost tour and ghost hunt was a fabulous opportunity to wander around the Miller House and enjoy the elegance of this middle-class Victorian home. It truly is a lovely building!

Getting there: 135 West Washington Street, Hagerstown, MD

Hours: Wednesday-Friday 1-4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., tours available year-round. Closed holidays.

Website: www.washcomdhistoricalsociety.org

For other day trip destinations focused on ghosts, haunted buildings or October-themed activities, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Ghost Walk or October Fun 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! 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Barns of Butler County

Beginning in mid-October, I started a series of posts about things to do and see in Butler County, PA. This is the second installment of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Butler County" below this post.

Not on the barn tour, but it should be! Thanks to the barn tour, while out and
about in Butler County, I started photographing every picturesque barn we passed! 

Butler County still remembers its rural, agricultural roots, and many of its old-time barns still dot the county. These magnificent structures bring us back to a simpler time. Each barn offers its own history, as individual to it as the patina that comes with their age.

Not on the barn tour, and sadly, falling into decrepitude, this lovely old barn is humongous, with
four levels! I loved the weathered red color on its sides.

Some of these barns are well on their way to -- and a few are already well past -- two centuries of use, and were used for cattle, dairy farming, chickens, and most are still in use.

The all-stone Drovers Inn Barn was owned by the Harmonist Society and is on the Barn Tour. Unique for
its all-stone construction and four silos, one of which is actually built in the barn.

You can spend an afternoon driving around Butler's countryside, and you'll definitely get to see cool things in addition to the lovely scenery, such as the lovely, old-time country church attached to a local graveyard, or farmland vistas that unfold as the road unscrolls before you. The fall is a perfect time to drive from barn to barn, enjoying the changing autumn foliage and lovely rolling farmland along the way!

I fell in love with the scenery as I traveled around trying to capture the amazing old barns. Despite that, I struggled with this post. Should I focus on the history of each barn, which is available at the Butler County Barn Tour website? Or should I treat the post more as a photo safari?

I decided on a combination. If you want the history, you can click here and get all the amazing details, including barn addresses and the benefit of a map of the barns on the tour. I included key points in the photo captions. The highlights of the barn tour are below.

Barn Tour Highlights

Back when this barn was built, in the 1800s, it housed cows. Now it's
home to alpacas. Worth going for the alpacas alone!

The Harmonist Ziegler-Wise Barn was built in 1805 and is the county's oldest and only surviving barn of three
built by the communal Harmony Society of German Lutheran Separatists.

The Wimer barn was cool from several angles. Built in 1893, I really appreciated the 
patina of worn layers of cream, red and grey paint.

Another view of the Wimer barn.

Fairfield Farm barn, built in 1914, is possibly Butler County's most beautiful barn. Note the distinctive trio of cupolas,
which not only add decorative detail but are practical as well, by increasing the ventilation.

For other day trip destinations in and around Butler County PA, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Butler County 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! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ghost Hunt: Anderson Mansion

Located in the historic Manchester District in downtown Pittsburgh, Anderson Manor is unique and packed with history. Built in 1830 by Colonel James Anderson, with additions to the house in 1905, this home was a part of the elite district during the Pittsburgh Steel Industry boom.

A western Pennsylvania paranormal investigations and ghost hunt event group, Ghosts N'at (pronounced "ghost en-at" -- en-at being a Pittsburgh region colloquialism, meaning "and all that") offers paranormal investigations at places such as Anderson Manor. Ghosts N'at notes that many of its ghost hunts are at historically important sites, such as this mansion, which helps preserve them for future enjoyment and education.

Anderson Manor was a former private residence of Colonel James Anderson and a residential hospice and nursing home, which was when the wing of rooms and offices were added to the building. Lots of people flowed through its doors, and because of the nursing home segment of its history, lots of people died within its walls.

Anderson inadvertently influenced this country's history by providing an educational boost to a future steel mill baron. Anderson made a practice of offering working boys, among whom was Andrew Carnegie, weekly access to his well-stocked library, and Carnegie became a regular borrower. Anderson opened his personal library of 400 volumes each Saturday night, and helped start the first library in the area.

It is worth noting that the Manchester District of Pittsburgh has always been rife with reported ghost sightings, including the story of the infamous home called “The House the Devil Built” just blocks away. The Staff of Ghosts N’at were called in to investigate of the Manor and were astonished with the amount of activity they encountered.

So what can you expect if you sign up for a ghost hunt? As you check in, you're quickly divided into groups (they keep friends and family together). The evening we participated, about 30 other folks were there as well, so the groups were all 10 to 12 individuals. After a brief orientation and history of the building, each group was taken to a different location in the building, each known to be a "hot spot" of paranormal activity.

As at other similar events, Ghosts N'at cannot promise you'll witness paranormal activity or see a ghosts. Ghosts aren't well-trained dogs, who will sit, stay, shake paws, or roll over on command. Ghosts N'at emphasize that ghosts were people too, with all the quirks and humor they enjoyed during their living years. Ghosts N'at also avoids using mediums, whose feelings and sensitivities can "fill in the gaps" for a lack of real paranormal activity but can't be validated or verified.

Our group was sent to a second floor dining room (what is now the second floor used to be on the first floor). Although our Ghosts N'at guide, Ken, did his level best to trigger (without provoking) some activity, we experienced nothing that could be labeled paranormal in that room. (In fact, Ken and the Ghosts N'at staff go out of their way to try to debunk things -- they'd rather you have a REAL experience than a made up one.)

After almost an hour, we moved to one of the former nursing home bedrooms on the third floor of the new wing. There we captured EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon), worked with dowsing rods to communicate with the ghosts, and experienced whispers.

Finally, our group made our way back down to the first floor, where we interacted with ghosts via flash lights and EVPs. Interestingly, the ghosts weren't entirely cooperative with the flash lights: unlike our experience the following night at Carrie Furnace, they didn't turn them on and off as responsively as at the steel mill. Other participants that evening were lucky enough to capture interesting orbs; I caught nothing on my camera(s), hence the strategically spooky looking photos of the chandelier and tin ceiling. Still, I didn't leave disappointed -- I felt as if I'd gotten to participate in a ghost hunt.

Finally, at the end of the evening, they gathered all three groups together to share our various experiences -- a neat way of bringing a fun and quite exciting evening to a close.

I have to say, I really was impressed by both the professionalism and friendliness of the Ghosts N'at staff. We've gone on other ghost hunts (Ghost Hunts USA) and did not encounter much of either. Throughout the evening, the staff asked to see the photos and videos we took, answered our questions, and ensured that we participated by asking the ghosts questions (emphasizing that this was OUR ghost hunt, not theirs) and operating the various pieces of equipment (dowsing rods, EMF readers, K2 meters, etc). They shared their excitement and enthusiasm for paranormal investigations, a real treat! It also was clear that they had researched this location, knew where the hot spots were, and did their best to provide an enjoyable experience for everyone.

If you want to discover who is lurking around the mansion, definitely consider joining the staff Ghosts N’at for a ghost hunt at the Anderson Mansion!

Getting there: 1423 Liverpool Street (in the Manchester neighborhood), Pittsburgh

Website: http://www.ghostsnat.com/

Can't get enough ghost hunts? Check out the following ghost hunts and paranormal investigations we've participated in!


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Almost Too Much to Do in Moraine State Park!!

Beginning with this post, I'm starting a series about things to do and see in Butler County, PA. This is the first installment. To see others in this series (once they're published), click on the label "Butler County" below this post.

Looking to enjoy the fall foliage? Take a boat ride on the Nautical Nature!

About an hour north of Pittsburgh is Moraine State Park -- a treasure! And unlike many state parks I've visited, Moraine does not appear to be ridiculously over populated. Like other places I've blogged about (thinking particularly about Dolly Sods), it's also the site of an ecological disaster that has been put right in recent decades. Now it's a destination for hiking, biking, kayaking, wind surfing, sailing, fishing, camping, and picnicking. In the fall, with the changing colors of the leaves, it's gorgeous.

The park's trails are well marked and well groomed.

To really understand the history and eventual creation of the state park, you have to go back to the glacier era, tens of thousands of years ago, when several continental glaciers reached to just north of the park's current boundaries. These huge ice sheets carried with them stones and soil; as the ice flows crawled across the land, they reshaped it. Ice dams created lakes; flowing water from melting ice carved out gorges.

When the glaciers retreated, they left behind moraines -- hence the name of the park. These moraines, or deposits of gravel, sand, and clay, are found throughout the area.

Lovely vistas open up along the park's many trails.

During one or more of the ice advances, a continental glacier dammed area creeks, creating three glacial lakes. The glaciers also created a landscape of rolling hills topped with hardwood trees and swamps in the valley bottoms.

A stretch of the paved bike path on the North Shore.

Humans have inhabited the land for centuries. Native Americans used the land for hunting; in the 1800s, farmers cleared the forests and drained the swamps. Sand and gravel deposited by the glaciers were mined and sold. The discovery of bituminous coal ushered in a boom time for the region. Seven coal beds were deep-mined and later the land was strip-mined, all devastating the environment.

During the late 1800s, wells were drilled to extract oil and gas. When the wells dried up, they were abandoned and left unsealed, further contaminating the surrounding land.

The Western Allegheny Railroad was built to transport the extracted minerals to Pittsburgh. The railroad ran the full length of the Muddy Creek Valley and through the Village of Isle, where the PA 528 bridge is today. Abandoned in 1939, the old railroad grade is still visible west of the dam and in the Muddy Creek finger of Lake Arthur. (Sounds like the parts of it above water might be a candidate for a rail trail!)

The Nautical Nature boat ride takes you throughout Lake Arthur.

Much of the park area lost its topsoil and many streams were polluted with abandoned mine drainage.

The park's more recent history started in 1926 when a man from England moved to the region. His curiosity and love of his surroundings sparked the park's genesis. Frank W. Preston, an amateur geologist and naturalist, visited the Muddy Creek Valley and noticed that the hills had a unique shape. He correctly attributed it to the glacial periods.

Windy days bring out the wind surfers on Lake Arthur!

He studied the land for decades, naming the land forms after Edmund Watts Arthur, a prominent Pittsburgh attorney and naturalist. Eventually, with the support of friends, Preston formed the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to purchase land, intending to recreate the glacial landscape and preserve open space.

The paved bike path on the North Shore is popular with bikeriders and walkers!

Muddy Creek was subsequently dammed to create modern Lake Arthur as a smaller version of the huge glacial lake.

The former Pennsylvania departments of Forests and Waters and Mines and Mineral Industries helped to reclaim the abused land by sealing the deep mines and back-filling and regrading the strip mines, capping the defunct gas and oil wells, refertilizing the soil and planting thousands of trees and plants.

The dam was completed by the end of 1968; by 1970, Lake Arthur reached its full level. Moraine State Park was dedicated on May 23, 1970. Since then, hiking and paved biking trails have been added, as well as multiple boat launches and other facilities.

Although the paved bike path wasn't flat, it's ups and downs are fairly gentle.

Lake Arthur's shallow waters are home to a variety of warmwater fish. Frogs, newts, turtles, and water snakes prowl the edges of the lake, and above and around the lake, you're likely to spot great blue herons, green herons, and belted kingfishers. During the early spring, common loons stop at the lake on their migration north. Ospreys were re-introduced to the park in the 1990s, and bald eagles are also likely to be spotted during the warmer months.

One of the best ways to get an appreciation of the park and Lake Arthur is by going on the Nautical Nature boatride, run by park volunteers who try to run three tours each on Saturday and Sunday.

Getting there: 225 Pleasant Valley Rd, Portersville, PA 16051-2031

Hours: The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, unless otherwise posted. Park information, launch permits, cabin information, and assistance can be obtained at the park office near the entrance to the South Shore. The park office is open year round, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends during the summer.

Dogs: Yes!

Website: http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/MoraineStatePark/Pages/default.aspx
For a map of the park: http://www.docs.dcnr.pa.gov/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_003617.pdf

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

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 17, 2017

Ghost Hunt: Carrie Furnace

The Carrie Blast Furnaces, overlooking the Monongahela River in the industrial town of Swissvale, PA, remain an 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 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 where 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, wear 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.

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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.