Indiana County Ghost Stories Part I

As we enter into the spooky Halloween seasons, we thought it would be fun to share some local ghost stories that were collected by Frances Strong Helman.  They are just that stories, but as with many stories passed down through the generation there is some truth to them. These stories are reprinted as they were originally published in 1963, should you have any local “ghost stories” we would love to hear about them in the comments.

The Ghosts of Watt’s Hill

Watt’s Hill is located west of Indiana on Route 422.  As early as 1889, travelers on that section of road reported seeing strange things.

One story was that a little hunched figure could be seen several yards back from the road, and one young woman felt sure that she had seen the apparition as she rode along the road with her father when she was a very small child.

From another family came the tale about the little hunchback.  It was recalled that a family lived just at the foot of the hill, and the crippled child was a part of the household.  It was not known if he was their very own or if he were a homeless waif they allowed to share their roof.  The little fellow received very cruel treatment at their hands, and finally one day after an unmerciful beating he crawled away into the woods.  Except for the little hunched figure sometimes seen at a distance – over a period of many years – nothing more was ever known about the unfortunate little boy.

The second ghost attached to the hill always made its appearance nearer the top of the hill.  A man was hanged from a tree near that spot – some say he was a peddler.

Before 1890, a group from Indiana saw this ghostly figure.  They had driven by horse and buggy to Shelocta for supper.  It was a fine fall evening and they were in no hurry to return home, and it was after dark when they started back to the county seat, but after they were half way up Watt’s Hill the fun ended for most of the group.

They all claimed to have seen the famous ghost of the hanged man.  The young people had passed by when someone noticed “the thing.” At first a few of the couples were brave, got out of the buggies, and started walking back down the hill to investigate, or hold a consultation with the ghost.  The ghost seemed to move forward to meet them.  That was all that was needed to complete the investigation! They turned and ran back up the hill.  One of the young ladies fainted and had to be carried to her buggy near the top of the hill where she was revived.  Except for being scared they arrived home safely.

The entire group declared the ghost was eight to ten feet tall, it floated along six feet from the ground, and it was all white.  The wind seemed to blow it backwards and forwards just as the remains of the hanged man must have swayed in the breeze.

Years have passed, the route of the highway has changed, and the settlers responsible for what happened on Watt’s Hill have gone to their reward.  The ghosts of the woe-begone creatures must be satisfied for they are seen no more.

The Fiddling Ghost of Mahoning Valley

Indiana County’s musical ghost inhabits a little house at Smicksburg, in West Mahoning Township, and has been named the “fiddling ghost of Mahoning Valley.”

The story begins in the days when the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was being built through the township, soon after the turn of the century.  Two cronies came to work on the railroad and took up their abode in the little house with its high steep roof.

One of these fellows played a fiddle.  He played everywhere he was asked to play; at any neighborhood gathering he had toes tapping with his rollicking tunes.  He also played at the temporary diggings in the little house; and he played without invitation from his friend – early in the morning and late at night.  Finally, there came a day when the friend could stand no more.  When the fiddler and his companion did not show up for work some one went to the house.  The musician was found stabbed to death, his violin broken, and the companion gone, bag and baggage.

When fall arrived, strange stories were whispered about.  Yes, there was “something funny” about the little house.  A few folks swore they saw and heard the dead fiddler, and of all places – he was sitting astride the house roof.

As years rolled along it was found that on frosty nights a vapor seems to envelope the top of the house, and as an unfelt breeze clears it away the old fiddler is seen on the roof and the weird tunes are faintly heard.

As late as 1955, the old boy was heard if not seen.  It was just about Hallowen when George Swetnam aired the almost forgotten yarn in the Sunday Pittsburgh Press.  A group of students from the Dayton high school decided to visit the old house just for kicks.  The weather was exactly right, and as they came to a halt near the building, the eerie strains of a violin was heard.  Not one of them bothered to look up at the roof as they tore out of the area.  One boy fell while leaping across a ditch for a near-cut and almost broke his leg.

Without question the fiddling ghost of Mahoning Valley is the noisiest in the county.

Headless Apparitions

Two headless apparitions have been reported in the county.  The first was seen in the Starford neighborhood, out in Green Township.  This one was a traveler who walked along the road carrying his head under his arm while in the opposite hand he clutched a rolling pin.

The first man who saw him ran as fast as his legs would carry him until he reached the village store.  There he babbled incoherently about the “awful sight” until someone brought the minister who managed to quiet him, and the unbelievable story was told.

The story seemed true for soon others declared they met the headless ghost walking along the same stretch of road, still carrying his head under his arm and swinging the rolling pin.

This restless spirit must have wrought vengeance upon the proper person or persons for he is seen no more.

The second headless man made his appearance at the foot of the Trimble Hill on Route 286, between Indiana and Clymer.  It is said that this was the ghost of a murdered peddler.  He did not get busy until exactly midnight in the dark of the moon.  Then he stepped from the side of the road and grabbled the bridles of passing horses.  A sharp cut of the whip was all that was needed to throw the ghost of balance.  The writer never fails to think of the headless peddler on dark nights, but either the time has been wrong or he dislikes automobiles.

Haunted Indiana 2017

Our October Halloween themed events went incredibly well. We ended up either selling out or having a full house for many of the events. There was plenty of collaboration between multiple organizations to make all things possible. The month was a fun one between the investigations, School Spirits, and the Specters Reveal. Needless to say October was an incredibly active month at the HGSIC.

The School Spirits event was a collaboration between the Historical Society and The Young Professionals of Indiana County (YPO). The lecture presented the evidence of the paranormal that has been collected at the now demolished Keith and Leonard Halls on IUP’s campus. The YPO spearheaded the creation of the event and donated a sizeable portion of the proceeds to the Society. We are grateful for their generous donation and look forward to working with them in the future. Special thanks to Crisp Entertainment for providing a superb video and audio setup. The quality equipment made the evidence that much more chilling. Due to the success of this event, the Society already has future programs in the works with the YPO. It is great to see a group take interest in the preservation and presentation of history in Indiana County. Stay tuned for more to come!

Haunted Indiana
Laurel Black giving a presentation about paranormal activity at Keith and Leonard Halls.

The Society was also thrilled to work once again with the Paranormal Society of IUP (PSIUP) and Ghost Researchers in Pennsylvania (GRiP). Both groups contributed the content, equipment, and personnel for the paranormal investigations that took place, as well as the reveal on October 28th. Participants were able to investigate both of the Society’s historic structures while utilizing proper ghost hunting equipment. At the conclusion of the investigations, Dr. Laurel Black from IUP provided multiple lectures for both the School Spirits and Specters Reveal. We are grateful for her contribution and are thrilled at her willingness to work with the Society. With October now over, the ghosts will need to wait another year for investigators to once again make their ways through the Society’s halls.

The happenings this month were all enjoyable, however, the Society also believes in supporting other community organizations. With that in mind, a portion of the ticket sales from the investigations and the reveal will be donated to the women’s imaging center located at IRMC as in previous years. It was great to work with other community organizations and we look forward to collaboration on future events. With that being said, the spirits of the Society can rest for another year, until the chill of October once again brings visitors back to explore the spookier side Indiana has to offer.