Indiana County Ghost Stories Part II

Hexes and Tokens

Once there was a watering trough about half-way down the Trimble Hill on Route 286, near the same locality where the headless peddler used to make an appearance.

It is said a band of gypsies camped there and told fortunes of the travelers on the road. Some of the farmers in the community were displeased and drove the gypsies away at gun point.  Before leaving they hexed, or put a curse, on the spring that supplied the trough.  From that time on horses that drank from the trough became sick.  It’s so, for Uncle Isaac watered his horses there, and both became sick and one died.

Tokens were considered a warning that something unpleasant was soon to happen, usually a death.

For example, I will relate a story I have heard many times.  Back in 1876, a mother and here three-year-old daughter were alone in their home.  The mother was sewing in the early evening, the little girl played on the floor, and all was quiet.  Suddenly they heard the slight rattled caused by the old grandfather placing his cane beside their door.

The mother raised her head and looked toward the door expecting the visitor to enter, and the child got up from the floor gayly crying, “Grandpa, grandpa.”  The door did not open and mother and child went together and opened it.  A light snow lay on the ground, but no visitor waited at the threshold.  There were no tracks in the snow.  The next day the mother received word that here sister Sue had died at the same time she had heard the rattle of the cane that was not there.  That was a token.

The Shadowing Hand

The quietest, yet the uneasiest spirt in Indiana County is the one that hovers over a stone house near the Lions Health Camp in White Township.  The house was built before the Civil War.

The story begins long ago with two brothers who lived in the stone house.  They argued and bickered constantly.  During the summer months when they were busy and were often separated by their various duties they did not come to blows.  But long hours indoors after the long northern winter set in resulted in a horrible end to their quarreling.  One brother struck the other dead.

The brothers had not been very sociable with their neighbors, and so were not missed until early spring.  A neighbor seeking to barter for seed corn went up the hill to the stone house.  He noted how neglected the place appeared; there was not a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney although fire was still needed for comfort.  His loud knocking on the door went unanswered.  The neighbor went to the log barn and found the cow and her calf dead in their stall probably for want of food and water.  There was no sign of the horse.  The pigs were found later foraging for themselves in the woods.

Back to the house went the neighbor, this time intent upon traying to look through a window.  Crossing the dooryard he stopped aghast at what he saw.  It was a man’s hand protruding from the earth!

The man hurriedly made his way over the hill and down the hollow for more neighbors. They returned with him except for one who went for the constable.  When the earth was carefully removed the body of the murdered brother was found where he had been buried just under the surface of the frozen earth.  No one had seen the other one leave on horseback, and his fate remains a mystery to this day.  But the old stone house began its peculiar history.

It had a series of tenants, but none remained long.  They did not complain of seeing or hearing anything strange, but they were unhappy and never seemed to improve the location to any great extent.  The dooryard grew up in weeds, the shutters flapped in the wind, and the spring ran willy-nilly down over the side of the hill.  The old log barn fell into ruins until only the foundation stones remained.

The story was brough to life by Leslie Pattison, well-known local artist.  Knowing the report of the murder he tied the idea of the unhappy ghost into a landscape.  He painted the old house and over the structure was the shadow of a great hand.

For a time the Beverage Association of Indiana County had possession of the place, named it Dogwood Park, and turned it into a picnic spot.  At this time the story was being told and retold, and it took on the title of “The Shadowing Hand of Dogwood Park.”

The Ghost with the Lighted Lantern

The village of Strongstown, on Route 422, half-way between Indiana and Ebensburg, was once a stage coach stop on the old pike; later it was the center of a rip-roaring lumbering industry.  There was probably many reasons for a restless “spirit” to wander in the area, but this one carried a lighted lantern.

The last report of her appearance was early int eh spring of 1897.  A young man returning to Strongstown quite late on a Saturday evening met the “thing” near the spot where the south end of Susquehanna street becomes a township road.

As the young man came near the approaching figure he noted it was a woman, or something that looked like a woman, and was carrying a bundle in one arm and had a lighted lantern.  Thinking it was a neighbor, he prepared to speak, but the lantern was quickly shielded behind her long, very full skirt.  While he stood open-mouthed in surprise the figure quickly passed him going toward Dilltown. While he was actually watching in the direction in which it went the ghost vanished.

It seemed to have come from a house where a man had died not long before.

That Poor Simpson Boy

It all happened here in the county over eighty years ago. A Helman family lived exactly twelve miles from Indian, but in which direction is not known.  Near their home was a watering trough for the horses driven along the road that led to Indiana.  Taking a turn to the left near this spot was a lane that led to the home of a Simpson family.

The only son remained at home in the Simpson family was such a nice young fellow.  He often stopped by the Helman house and assisted with the heavy outdoor chores when Mr. Helman was absent from home.  Simpson would repeat glowing stories he had heard of opportunities to build up a fortune in “the West.” In some manner he accumulated $300, and arrangements were made to go to Kansas to homestead a tract of land.

Young Simpson planned to meet two other local residents at the watering trough at 4 o’clock on the morning of his departure.  He would ride on their wagon as far as Indiana where he would board the train for the West.  Later he would return for the old folks and taken them with him to Kansas.

The day of departure came, and as he approached the watering trough, he made it a point to pass by the Helman home for the family was much interested in his venture.  Mrs. Helman and her little daughter slept in a downstairs bedroom, and the traveler knocked on the bedroom window and called, “Goodbye, Aunt Lindy!” “Goodbye, boy, and God bless you,” replied Aunt Lindy.

A reasonable length of time went by, but a letter did not come from Kansas.  Thinking the young man was only busy getting settled on his land his parents were content. But weeks rolled along, and three months went by, and the parents and neighbors now feared something tragic had happened.  They hoped each day would bring some message.  The winter season arrived, and one night long after the Helmans had been asleep the mother and little daughter were awakened by someone knocking on the window.

“Yes, yes,” called the mother sleepily, “who is it?” Then she turned toward the window, and it appeared that the visitor had been carrying a lantern for they could see the color of his suit, the watch chain across the vest, and his necktie, but the window shade seemed to have been drawn down just far enough that the face was not visible.

“Do you know of a family named Simpson living around here?” queried the visitor at the window.

“Simpson? Why, yes, there’s a family just back of us by that name,” explained Mrs. Helman.

“Well, can you tell me how to get there?”

“Yes,” she said, “you go down the road out there for just a little way to the watering trough, turn left and follow the lane to the Simpsons.” All was quiet for a moment, and the person at the window did not move.  Then he said, “The watering trough, ah, yes, the watering trough, the watering trough, the watering trough.” The voice became stronger. “Thank you very much. Goodbye.”

“That’s alright. You’re welcome. Goodbye,” answered Lindy. The figure moved away from the window, and could be dimly seen as he went toward the gate. “Hmmm,” remarked Lindy as she sat up in bed, “the moon must have come up.” Just then the light vanished.  Naturally poor Lindy did not sleep much the rest of the night, and the whole episode was reviewed to her husband in the morning, telling him the visitor wore a brown suit and had a watch chain across his vest. It so happened this description fit the Simpson boy as he was last seen.

“Uh-huh,” said the husband with a look of amazement on his face, “that must have been Simpson.” His wife continued her story telling of the light suddenly disappearing, and that she had since made sure it was the dark of the moon. “There’s a lot of youngsters around here,” commented the husband as he noted the attentive children.

Later Mr. Helman announced, “I’m going hunting this morning.” As you have probably guessed – he hunted in a direct line across the field to Simpsons. The Simpson boy was not home, nor had his parents seen anyone during the night. Helman felt he should relate the story and did so.  Poor, old Mr. Simpson was bewildered, but the mother wept bitterly, sobbing, “He’s dead. That settles it, now I know he’s dead.”

It was learned through cautious inquiry in the right places, the men who were said to have taken Simpson from the watering trough to Indian seemed to have unusual amount of money to spend after his departure.  No charge was ever made, and Simpson never came back.

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.

Invisible Assets

There are a few things you should know about the ghosts of Indiana County.  First, that they are quite tradition-minded, conforming to age-old classics of type, habit and hangout.  Second, that they are a patriotic lot whose habits change abruptly when war is declared.  And third, that their age and popularity are directly related: the older the manifestation, the more willing we are to believe in them.

Traditions?  Our ghosts got ‘em covered: spurned lovers, suicides, the wrongly condemned and guilt-ridden souls of every sort.  We’ve two spirits of the headless variety, one of whom carries around his noggin and a rolling pin; there are three “ladies in white,” four hanged men and no fewer than five bridge-haunters.  Some are crossovers, like the headless lady-in-white who favors Allen Bridge in Cherryhill Township.  And one – a despondent chap who hangs around in Eliza Furnace on the Ghost Town Trail – even boosts Indiana County tourism.

Like all good Pennsylvanians, our spooks respond when the bugle calls!  During the Civil War and WWII, the words “ghost” and “haunt” all but disappeared from our county newspapers.  Whereas some 28 local ghosts were mentioned here during the Depression, they vanished from print between Pearl Harbor and VJ Day.  Hmm.…  Enlisted, or just busy with war work?

Surprisingly, we seem to have been less credulous about ghost stories in the 19th century than we are now . . . or at least our newspapers were.  Typical of papers back then, the Weekly Messenger quipped in 1882 that “Brookville claims to have a ghost which drops out of sight through the pavement when approached.  We are not surprised.  Individuals much more real are likely to go through that town’s pavement!”  Conversely, our current journal prints ghost-hunters’ claims at face value, and more of us than ever seem willing to suspend disbelief – especially about the oldest stories.

When it comes to classic types, one of the world’s oldest must surely be the predatory innkeeper.  And boy, did we have one!  John “Yank” Brown came here from New England and settled in West Wheatfield Township, opening an inn on the Huntingdon, Cambria and Indiana Turnpike.  Soon, rumors spread that not all travelers riding in to “Yank’s Tavern” rode out.  John, brother Lewis and son John Jr. were convicted as members of an interstate horse-theft ring in 1856.  In 1874, an elderly accomplice confessed on her deathbed that victims’ horses (temporarily) and bodies (permanently) had been stashed in Nugen Cave between Armagh and Blairsville.  What’s more, “two kegs of gold and silver and a bushel of watches” remained in that long-hidden den.  Many a treasure hunter sought the stash, but after some (it was said) encountered Yank’s ghostly gang driving their herd though the darkness, most stopped looking.  Those who didn’t . . . well, let’s just say they may still be up there.

invisible assets.jpg

Our county has several ghost towns, at least one of which earned that title the hard way.  The wild mining town of Whiskey Run had 26 violent deaths over its lifetime.  Perhaps the most notorious was that of Moiden Nune.  Paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet, he accused his landlady of shooting him in revenge for refusing to elope with her.  Mrs. Mancanelli was arrested and imprisoned with her baby.  Just before dying of his wound, Nune confessed: it was he who’d been rebuffed and then shot when he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Old-timers would later claim that Whiskey Run was abandoned by its citizens in the next decade not just because the mine was running out but because Nune’s limping phantom roamed the streets, wailing as it sought Mrs. Mancanelli and absolution.

If there’s a Top Ten list of Indiana County wraiths, the Mahoning Valley Fiddler must be #1 with a bullet . . . or knife.  In 1899, two friends came to work on the B&O Railroad’s line through West Mahoning Township.  They rented a house near Smicksburg where the tracks crossed Mahoning Creek.  One of them was an accomplished violinist who earned extra income by playing at dances, barn-raisings and the like.  One autumn day, the two didn’t show up for work; the fiddler was found stabbed to death at home, his beloved Guarneri shattered beside him and his housemate long gone.  Jealousy?  Robbery?  An argument over volume control?  The killer was never found.  But not long after – and for many autumns after that – folks would hear a mournful fiddle-tune when passing the house at night.  And if conditions were right, they claimed, the moonlit fiddler could be seen playing astride the rooftop.

The house survived into the 1950s, but the legend had almost been forgotten when historian and columnist George Swetnam wrote it up in the Pittsburgh Press on the day before Halloween, 1955.  Said he: “If you go there tomorrow night, you may see the ghost yourself (and) catch the strains of ‘Hell’s Broke Loose in Smicksburg’.”  Some Dayton High seniors did just that; as they approached the house, an old-time fiddle tune was heard, and the boys retreated in such haste that one of them was injured.  Not saying, but you don’t suppose a respected history-columnist would…?  Nah!

Whatever the case, we’re indebted to a handful of writers who collected and published Indiana County’s ghost stories before they were forgotten.  Just as the coming of written works once doomed the oral transmission of history, our collective memory has nowadays been abbreviated (and distracted) by the Smartphone and its kin.  So in a way, our spirits’ survival can be credited to the likes of George Swetnam, Clarence Stephenson and Frances Strong Helman.  And yet….

Something that usually doesn’t happen when writers record a ghost story is “organic development,” the buildup of narrative depth over time as each re-teller adds their own embellishment.  So as a tip of the hat to all those Indiana County raconteurs since the days of Fergus Moorhead, this article’s author has introduced one new element to each of the three preceding yarns which, while not drawn from (or contradicting) known fact, makes them tastier.  Bon appetit!

Finally, where better than a museum for Peter Venkman’s real-world counterparts to seek lingering legends?  Both the Allegheny Mountain Ghost Hunters and IUP’s Paranormal Society have visited HGSIC.  At the Clark House, a whispering shade is said to have obliged the Paranormals’ request to make an electric light fluctuate, and the Ghost Hunters claim they saw Silas’ daughter Clara in a rocking chair there.  Each sought evidence of rumored hauntings at the Armory – a patricide and a basement-dwelling Librarian – using a detector called an EMF Meter.  Who ya gonna call?

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.

October 2017 Society Happenings

Fall is in the air, Halloween is approaching which means times for ghouls, ghosts, and goblins. It is also a busy time for everyone at the Historical Society and we have a lot of events planned that may be of interest to the public. 


With the coming of fall also means the beginning of the Society’s annual membership campaign. We encourage you to become a part of this fantastic organization. We are constantly planning new events and programs; it is your membership helps the Society remain open to the public to provide these programs to inform the community about the history and culture of Indiana County.
Membership comes with many benefits which include:
·        Receipt of the month newsletter “The Clark House News”
·        Invites to special members only events
·        Discounts to event tickets
·        Notice of events
·        Free use of the library for research
We would ask you to consider becoming a member at any of the following levels:
Annual Membership:
·        Individual – $25
·        Family – $30
·        Sustaining – $60
·        Small Business/Professional – $60
·        Corporate – $125
One-Time Gifts:
·        Life Membership (Individual) – $500
·        Life Membership (Couple) – $750
·        Society Benefactor – $1000


Looking to start genealogy research, but unsure where to start or have already started but don’t know where to turn to next?  Join Gary Clawson and Vince Beatty, Historical Society board members and long-time genealogy researchers, for a genealogy workshop.

This 3 part genealogy class will benefit both beginners and serious researchers alike, focusing on resources that have just become available to the public in recent months along with resources that have been available for some time. Each class will take the form of a lecture, followed by a help session where attendees can receive assistance in their family research. The classes are free to Society members and $5 per session ($15 total) for non-members. Each class will last approximately one hour and will take place in the Helman Library. The classes will take place on October 12, 19, and 26 at 10am.

A reservation is required for all workshops and attendance is limited to 16 people, please call the society to reserve your seat or for more information.


Ever wonder what the inside of a museum looks like at night? Ever want to be a part of a paranormal investigation?  Now is your chance!! Join the Historical Society and the IUP Paranormal Society as they investigate the Clark House on October 7 at 6 and 8 pm. Space is limited, so reservations are necessary. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling the Historical Society at 724-463-9600 or by email at

Did you miss the paranormal investigations or were you a part of the investigations and want to find out what was found in other investigations? Join us on October 28 at 5 p.m. to learn about what was found during the Paranormal investigations held at both the Armory and Clark House. The cost to attend is $5 and free for those who participated in the investigations. Tickets will be available at the door. As always refreshments will be provided. It is sure to be a “haunting” good time.

We hope you will join us at the museum this month whether it is to join us for the various events, coming in to renew or join as members, or coming to tour the museum. We look forward to seeing you and assisting you in all your needs related to the history of Indiana County!!