Saturday, October 30, 2021

Living Large at Lake Raystown Resort

If you're looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life -- just over a couple hours away from several major cities, including Baltimore and Washington DC -- then look no further than lovely Raystown Lake. 

Located on over 400 acres of waterfront property, Lake Raystown Resort is a great place to immerse yourself in nature (while still enjoying a few of the comforts of home we've come to depend upon).

The largest lake (entirely) in PA, Raystown Lake offers you more than 27 miles snaking through the mountains to explore. 

The original lake was built as a hydroelectric project, but was significantly enlarged in 1973 with a new, larger dam by the Army Corps of Engineers, primarily to control floods, provide electricity, and support recreational activities -- boating, fishing, kayaking and fun outdoorsy stuff like that.

What makes Raystown Lake so unusual is that almost the entire lake is undeveloped, because the surrounding countryside is almost entirely owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. That's why most of  vacation homes are near the lake rather than on the waterfront. 

And that's another reason why Lake Raystown Resort is so cool -- it's really one of your only options to be able to stay right on the lake (unless you rent a houseboat, which is a possibility, but that's for a later article).

Besides boating -- one of the primary activities associated with Raystown Lake, for sure -- there's a water park, kayaking or paddle-boarding, swimming, fishing (although the brown carp are reported to taste like mud), hiking along the trails, mountain biking... 

You can camp in your own RV, rent a yurt, rent an Appalachian log cabin or cottage, or stay in the resort itself (which is where I got to enjoy two very pleasant days). But the resort also offers cottages, rustic cabins, and beachside bungalows which can sleep up to eight. There are a variety of options, with or without heat, with or without linens, and so forth.

There's also camping -- tent, camper or RV -- or yurt! available at the resort. 

One way you can enjoy the lake is by enjoying a cruise on the Proud Mary, a simulated river paddle boat. At the marina, you can get tickets to ride the Proud Mary Showboat for a your choice of public sightseeing, breakfast and dinner cruises.

If you're looking to treat yourself after a hard day of living large on Raystown Lake, then head straight into Huntingdon to check out one of the delightful restaurants. 

Consider getting Muddy Run Tavern's signature Piggy Back Burger, enjoy delectable Greek (or Latin American) fare at Little New York -- you always have time for a taste of baklava! -- (and grab a movie at The Clifton 5) since you're, literally, right there. Or grab a meal in the Stone Town Tavern.

I really dug the trendy hippy vibes at Wildflower Cafe, where we enjoyed a fresh feta and walnut salad, loaded with strawberries and blueberries, but the lunchtime menu includes a variety of sandwiches, soups and salads to pick from.  

Getting there:
 Lake Raystown Resort is located at 3101 Chipmunk Crossing, Entriken, PA


Look for upcoming articles about the Lake Rayston area:
  • East Broad Top Railroad
  • Rock Hill Trolley Museum
  • Swigert Automobile Museum
  • Seven Points Marina

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What Lurks in the Halls of TransAllegheny Lunatic Asylum at Night?

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA), which became the Weston State Hospital, was a Kirkbride psychiatric hospital that was operated from 1864 until 1994 by the state of West Virginia. It is now known by its first name. 

Weston, where the asylum was located, was a company town. When it shut down in 1994, the town died with it. Driving down main street, multiple storefronts are boarded up or empty. It's a depressing little town.

In the lobby, inmate artwork is displayed, left behind when the facility was shut down in 1994.

Although it began under the best of intentions, it wasn't long before it became overcrowded and dangerous for its inmates. A facility that was built for a couple hundred inmates housed multiple thousands, all with a variety of mental health disorders and needing care that the state was incapable of delivering.

Although the PhasmaBox app had yielded good results at other locations, at TALA it was a dud.

Sadly, a lot of women were sent there for the terrible crimes such as talking back to their husbands, reading novels, or having minds of their own. Other committal reasons, for men and women alike, were "bad whiskey," "time of life," "cerebral softening," and "issues with masturbation."

Although we deployed the light up cat balls every time we stopped, these too were duds at TALA.

Numerous individuals died at the facility, from a variety of causes ranging from infirmities and sickness related to old age to violent deaths -- suicides and murders and violent attacks.

Establishing laser grids is another popular ghost hunting
technique. This allows us to detect movement more easily.

TALA is so known for its hauntings and for its reputation as the most haunted location east of the Mississippi that Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters Academy, Ghost Adventures, Paranormal Lockdown and Paranormal Challenge have all come to film their ghost hunts at the location. Click on an earlier post about TALA for more history; TALA offers a variety of interesting daytime historical tours.

Forty of us arrived to take part in a paranormal investigation, held by TALA itself, thereby ensuring that all the funds raised during the event went back to TALA, instead of one of the ghost hunting event organizers. 

Gathered in the double murder bathroom on the 2nd floor; dowsing rods
are a common ghost hunting tool. Jess, our guide, is in the middle of the floor.

We were broken into four pre-determined groups, each led by a TALA employee -- tour guides by day -- to explore the approximately 9 acres of inside floors in the Kirkbride Building (the main building in the front). Jess, who'd worked as a guide for 7 years, was our tour guide. She also was a paranormal enthusiast and quite familiar with the entities in the facility.

Our group started on the first floor, which held the children's wing and the original ward built in 1858 -- and which had served as a hospital during the Civil War. We made our way through the facility with each rotation, moving up a floor. We were given two hours to fully explore each floor.

The two hours seemed like 10 minutes, to be honest. The place was crackling with activity and a weird energy, as if the combined emotions of all its inmates had seeped into the halls and ceilings and floors and flowed back to us during our investigations.

I'm not sure what that white swoosh is in the photo.

"Lily" is a little girl spirit, believed to be the child of one of the patients -- yes, often little children would accompany their mothers to TALA or poor Lily could have been the result of a rape while a patient was at the facility. There's actually a room on the first floor solely devoted to Lily. The room has toys and ghost hunters like us bring candy and toys and trinkets for her. 

Although we didn't get much action in Lily's room, others in our group did. One of the balls moved of its own volition. While we were in the room, though, all was silent and still, except for the hallway outside: we heard footsteps, although the rest of our group was in a more distant ward.

Although we hadn't expected to be able to last the whole night, each floor seemed to get better and better, although in retrospect, the violent women's ward and the violent men's ward on the third floor were the highlight.

We speculate that this photo captured an image of the black shadow figure. A black mist might
reflect red IR light or full spectrum light, whereas to the naked eye, it appears as a black mist.
This was a free-forming mist in the center area of the room (it was one of the solitary
confinement rooms on the criminally insane/violent men's ward).

"Dean" is another famous entity at TALA, on the violent men's ward. He was brutally murdered by two other inmates (James Woods, aka "Big Jim," and David Mason), on the criminally insane ward. The two inmates repeatedly tried to hang Dean, but couldn't quite accomplish his death, until they laid him out on the floor, put the bed post on his head, and jumped up and down on the bed, bashing Dean's skull in. Dean is a quiet, timid spirit. 

Dean's room. On the bed is a REM pod, another common ghost hunting tool.

As a group, we gathered in Dean's room. One of our group had noise-cancelling headphones on listening to the spirit box; she would call out words as she heard them, but she couldn't hear our questions. The words she called out always seemed to correspond to our questions: "Are you having fun?" "Bored!" or "Do you want us to leave?" "Wait!" We also had flashlights that the spirit could turn on or off, in response to questions.

But at one point, the responses changed mood. One of our group stepped out into the hallway, and noticed one or more shadow figures. Dean stopped reacting. The spirit box responses changed to high pitched screams. The shadow figures are believed to be Big Jim and David Mason. When we crowded out into the hall, we all saw the shadow figure pace back and forth at the other end of the hallway, in front of a window -- we could see the light from outside be blocked off as the figure moved back and forth.

I think we had the most fun on the violent women's ward. Donna, the group member who had been wearing the noise cancelling headphones in Dean's room, turned her back to us and again donned the noise cancelling headphones. We sent the men down into the violent women's ward hallway first; Donna called out words from the spirit box such as "ass explosion," "cute" "more." Then four of us women headed down into the hall. The words changed dramatically. "Leave!" "Death." "Whore!!" "Bitch." We sent down variations of the group into the women's ward, with similar results. It had us cracking up, but it's worth noting that a couple of the group members, including one of our guides, were scratched.

The fourth floor held the drug rehabilitation ward and an alcohol rehabilitation ward. The side devoted to the drug rehabilitation ward was the creepiest (but not the place with the most activity). For decades, both inmates in the ward and their attendants had reported a weird entity that isn't anything so much as a complete absence of light and color, a Creeper, for lack of a better term. Not human but not necessarily demonic. It hugs the ceilings, creeping forward, threatening the sanity of those who catch glimpses of it. More recently, visitors and tour guides have talked about it. But no one had captured it on film.

The creeper was immortalized and documented by Nick, Katrina and the cameraman (I looked for his name but could not find it) of Paranormal Lockdown. 

This was the ward that our guide, Jess, liked least. She refused to go very far into it, and only when the group of us surrounded her and stayed close, did she seem to feel comfortable. Her fear was infectious. We began a investigation session, but soon an unexplained noise and rustling down the hallway caused us all to flee, as a group. It was scary.

Afterward, we moved over to the alcoholics ward, but didn't experience very much. At that point, it was 4 a.m. I think several of us fell asleep as we were leaning against the wall in the hallway. It was time to head back to the hotel and grab some sleep for real, before driving back home.

Carrie was also live-streaming parts of the ghost hunt throughout the evening.

Funny enough, we weren't the only bloggers in the group (if you consider podcasting to be blogging). The History of a Haunting Podcast was there as well. Carrie, and her companions, Chris and Audra, were excellent additions to the group, sharing their ghost hunting expertise in a warm and friendly way. You can hear Carrie's recounting of her experiences that evening at TALA at her podcast -- listening to it was a fun way of reliving the experience. We all met Donna and Connie, who are guests on Carrie's podcast episode about TALA, that evening. (Yes, I'm "Jody," and my usual ghost hunting friend, Lisa, was there also!)

Getting there: 71 Asylum Drive, Weston, WV

Hours: Check the website below for ghost hunting events sponsored by TALA.


Apollo Theatre
Martinsburg Roundhouse
Moundsville State Penitentiary

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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Plagiarizing Poets and Confederate Spies Inhabit Oak Hill Cemetery

Small in comparison to other Victorian rural garden cemeteries, at just 22 acres, Oak Hill Cemetery is a prime example of a rural garden cemetery, and is probably the most peaceful place in Georgetown.

Let the winding paths and terraces entice you to explore this quiet oasis in the midst of a bustling city. Chances are you'll encounter a black squirrel or a quiet deer.

 The cemetery is built into the side of a gorge descending down into Rock Creek valley. Almost the entire cemetery is under shade; benches placed strategically around the cemetery invite you to reflect on the fleetingness of life.

The cemetery was built in 1848 under the direction of William Wilson Corcoran, a native son of Georgetown (and unfortunately, a Confederate sympathizer), but he's more well known because of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. 

Corcoran made his millions by establishing Riggs Bank in collaboration with George Washington Riggs; however, during the Civil War Corcoran fled to Paris to wait out the conflict.


Still, we have Corcoran to thank for this gorgeous cemetery. He purchased the initial 15 acres and hired architect James Renwick Jr, who had also designed his mansion (although more famously, Renwick had designed St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, the Smithsonian Institution's Castle on the National Mall and probably Grace Church, nearby in Georgetown.

The one-story rectangular Gothic Revival chapel measures 23 by 41 feet and is placed on the highest ridge in the cemetery. You should note that the chapel's stone looks similar to the Smithsonian's Castle -- it's the same red Seneca sandstone.

Then, as now, Oak Hill was a cemetery for the wealthy, famous, and well-wed. Sure, there are a number of generals, admirals, doctors and lawyers. But there are also Confederate spies (Georgetown was swarming with southern sympathizers and traitors).

I was particularly struck by poet and fellow Penn Stater John A Joyce's grave. Not only was it a striking headstone, but quotes from his work was inscribed on the stone. But do a little digging, and you will discover he plagiarized the work of Ella Wheeler, specifically her poem "Solitude," which begins "Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone." He even had these lines inscribed on his tombstone! I admire the chutzpah but decry the theft of intellectual property.

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

I also came across the striking Savopoulos gravesite, recognizing the name from a true crime podcast I follow. This one is a sad story. On May 14, 2015, three members of the Savopoulos family -- Savvas, Amy, and their son Philip (as well as their housekeeper, Vera Figueroa) -- were killed at their Woodley Park home in Washington DC. But this wasn't a simple murder. 

They were held at least 24 hours; the 10-year-old child, Philip, was tortured to extort $40k from the Savopoulos'. During this time, they all sustained blunt force trauma, before dying. In addition, the child was stabbed repeatedly. Then the home was set on fire.

In 2018, Daron Wint, a welder fired from a company owned by Savvas Savopoulos, was found guilty of 20 counts of kidnapping, extortion, and murder; he's now imprisoned on four consecutive life-without-release terms.

Now the three Savopaulos family members killed that day lie peacefully on a hill in Oak Hill. Their tombstone is beautiful and striking in polished black granite, topped by two copper or brass large birds. A toy dinosaur and a toy car sit on the headstone above Philip's name. 

Nearby, a statue of a dog caught my attention. 

The Van Ness mausoleum.

The Van Ness mausoleum was moved to Oak Hill in the 1870s. It's one of the most beautiful mausoleums in a cemetery filled with beautiful mausoleums and holds the remains of John Peter Van Ness, a New York politician and the 10th mayor of D.C., as well as those of his family.


The Van Ness mausoleum and its inhabitants were moved to Oak Hill in 1872; they were not alone -- as D.C. expanded, numerous individuals interred at other burial grounds around the city were moved to the more secluded Oak Hill Cemetery.

The hearse carrying the Van Ness remains was pulled by six white horses; after the procession, while the horses were feeding, someone remarked that the horses appeared to have no heads.

That statement took hold as an urban legend, and since then, many have claimed over the years to have seen the six headless horses slowly walking from the old Van Ness mansion to Oak Hill Cemetery.

Corcoran's gravesite is the round Greek temple-like structure in the center.

Corcoran's gravesite is notable as well. 

A bridge forms a tunnel leading to a secret garden in the Willow Columbarium. 

A hidden flight of stairs leads you to a row of mysterious mausoleums, set into the steep slope; the sidewalk in front of them crumbles down into the gorge. It is quiet and it is creepy. 

What's really impressive about this beautiful cemetery is that the more recent interments echo the style and themes of the earlier interments. Weeping willows are inscribed on graves from the 1990s, and later.  

I found the image carved into the Biddle mausoleum interesting, even if I don't understand the symbiology of it.

This is a cemetery made for walking and exploring on foot -- and its 22 acres and winding paths and benches make this a respite from the hustling city just outside its gates. 

Know before you go: No dogs allowed, nor bicycles. Down load an interactive map to help you find famous folks interred there.

The dirt on this gravestone gives this one a particularly eerie effect.
Charles Ladlolans Council Rogers Bass is buried here, by his "disconsolate mother" in 1879.

Getting there: 3001 R St NW, Washington, DC

Hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (walk-in gate only); Sunday 1 – 4 p.m. (walk-in gate only) Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day


Looking for more tombstone tourism? Check out our other cemetery visits:

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