Mythical Monday:  The Ghosts of Baker Mansion by Mae Clair

Today, I’m shining the Mythical Monday spotlight on an infamous residence located within my home state of Pennsylvania. The Baker Mansion is a Greek Revival-style house, located in Altoona. Built in 1849 for Elias Baker, a prominent local ironmaster, this twenty-eight room home has a colorful assortment of ghosts residing within.

Baker Mansion in Altoona Pennsylvania

Baker Mansion in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Image by Pubdog (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Most of the attention goes to Anna, Elias’s daughter. A beautiful girl by all accounts, Anna fell in love with one of her father’s workers. The young man presented Anna with an engagement ring but when the happy couple shared the news with her father, Elias flew into a rage and drove off Anna’s suitor. A rich, powerful man, it’s believed Elias thought the poor boy unworthy, of lower breeding.

Heartbroken and bitter, Anna vowed if she couldn’t marry the man she loved, she would become a spinster. True to her word, she died single and alone in 1914. Many say she remained angry at her father all of her life for stealing her single chance at happiness. Perhaps that’s why her ghost haunts the home he prized, with particular attachment to a wedding dress displayed in her bedroom.

In 1922, the Blair County Historical Society made the mansion their headquarters and turned it into a museum. One of the items placed on display was an antique wedding dress worn by Elizabeth Bell, the daughter of another wealthy ironmaster.  Although the dress has since been removed to preserve the fragile fabric, over the years it gained a reputation for being “haunted.” Sealed in a glass case, the skirts of the gown were often seen swaying as if to the stroll of a woman’s light gait. Other times, witnesses observed the dress rocking violently, the case shaken so badly it was feared the glass would shatter.

Some speculate Anna’s ghost is at fault for these outbursts, reacting to the presence of a gown she never had a chance to wear. But Anna isn’t the only ghost haunting Baker Mansion. Her brother, David, once a crew member on a steamboat, prowls the basement.

Why there?

In the winter of 1852, David met his end in a steamboat accident. Because the ground was frozen, his body was stored in the cellar until the soil thawed enough for him to be buried. Some visitors have reported hearing chill screams coming from the basement; others tell of seeing a man in a steamboat uniform lurking in the shadows.

And then there is Hetty, Elias’ wife. An older woman dressed in black has often been seen on the stairs and roving about the third floor hallways. Many think this particular phantom is Elias’ wife. The ironmaster himself is known to make occasional appearances in the dining room. Ghostly figure descending steps

Finally, Anna’s brother Sylvester prefers to linger in the parlor where he died of a heart attack. Legend says he stood up from the sofa to retire one evening, suffered a fatal heart attack and collapsed. Pressure pads under the carpet—part of a security system installed in the 1980s—have been activated in that area when no one is present. The spot where Sylvester collapsed has even been crushed, as if someone had fallen on it.

Once, when a police officer responded to an alarm with his K-9 German Shepherd, the dog reacted as if sensing an unseen presence in the parlor. As trained, it immediately began sniffing and searching for a prowler but when the dog reached the parlor, it froze in the doorway, quickly turned, and fled from the house. This highly trained service animal could not be coaxed back inside.

Cold spots, moving furniture, knocking raps, orbs reflected in mirrors, even a music box that randomly plays and stops—all these events and more have plagued the Baker Mansion. Listed as one of the nine most haunted houses in America by Life Magazine in 1981, it continues to draw interested visitors and those hoping to experience a shiver of the supernatural.

Have you ever visited a haunted house? As much as I enjoy mythical stories, I wouldn’t want to set foot in one! How about you?

Mythical Monday: The Lore of Ley-Lines by Mae Clair

You’ve undoubtedly heard the term “ley-line,” but are you able to define exactly what a ley-line is and what it does?

It is believed many of the old places of the Earth resonate with power—fairy paths, shadowy forests, pre-Reformation churches, and wind-ravaged hilltops among them. Think of misty long-barrows, standing stones, crossroads, hill forts, stone wells, and old funerary paths….the list goes on. When these sites or “ley markers” align in a geographical pattern, they create a hypothetical link capable of releasing powerful energy.

A ley-line.

Old stone draw well in the forest

The term was coined by Alfred Watkins in 1921. An English author and amateur archeologist, Mr. Watkins was standing on a hillside in Hereforshire, England, when he noticed an odd peculiarity in the British landscape—many ancient sites seemed to be arranged on a straight line with others nearby. He hypothesized these lines may have been used in prehistoric times as navigation routes for trade or religious rites. The concept of the ley-line was born, though the awareness was far older–dating back to the Druids, then later, to Native American Shamans, who referred to them as “spirit lines.”

While there is no scientific proof ley-lines exist, many believe this grid-work of energy encompasses the globe. In a similar manner to the way stars connect to form constellations, ley markers scattered throughout the Earth, connect to form multiple pathways of ley-lines. UFO sightings have been attributed to areas where ley-lines are prominent, and many new age practitioners and psychics claim to draw on their energy.

Who hasn’t felt a spiritual hush while standing at an old crossroads, visiting a burial mound, or venturing into a circle of wind-pitted stones? The next time you walk the same path as an ancient funerary procession, stop to consider the energy that may be flowing beneath the ground. Whether you believe in ley-lines or not, the concept is certainly a fascinating one.

Have you ever visited a site that could be considered a ley marker?

Mythical Monday: Scotland’s Dog Suicide Bridge by Mae Clair

In searching a topic for today’s Mythical Monday, I happened upon a strange tale that will certainly strike at the heart of any pet lover.

Many people love to take their dogs for a walk. Whether it’s a turn around the neighborhood, a stroll down a country lane or a jaunt through the park, it’s a relaxing experience for owner and companion. If you have a dog, you may have even meandered across a bridge or two, your best friend trotting happily at your side. The image certainly conjures a quaint picture.

Unless you happen to be walking your pet on the Overtoun Bridge in Scotland. 

Overtoun_Bridge_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1024544

Looking across Overtoun Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia. Lairich Rig [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked into the countryside, near the town of Dumbarton, the Overtoun Bridge is a gothic looking structure that carries a much darker name—the Dog Suicide Bridge. Built in 1895, it soars fifty feet over a placid stream below.

Since the 1960s more than fifty dogs have leapt to their death from the bridge. Making that anomaly even stranger is the fact all of the dogs have jumped from the exact same spot, and each apparent “suicide” has occurred on pleasant, sunny days. All of the dogs involved have been “long-nosed” breeds—collies, labradors and retrievers.  A few, fortunate enough to survive the fall, returned to the top of the bridge and leapt from the same spot again, as if compelled by a supernatural force.

Why this horrifically odd behavior from man’s best friend? Is it possible a dog can suffer depression and commit suicide? Or is the bridge cursed, as some speculate?

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Overtoun House, Photo courtesy of Wikimedia. By dave souza (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s long been believed animals have a keener sense of the spirit world than humans. Perhaps the dogs in question sensed a malevolent presence in Overtoun House, a nearby residence rumored to be haunted. Or perhaps they detected something extraordinary in an area considered a “thin place.” According to legend, Overtoun exists in a region where Heaven and earth are nearly joined.

The most practical explanation to date involves the presence of mink below the bridge. In marking their territory, it’s believed the mink emit a scent powerful enough to lure the dogs to their death. Overcome by the odor, the dogs react instinctively. Blinded by the wall rising beside them, they fail to realize the height from which they plummet.

Why, however, would any animal that survived such a fall, willingly return to the bridge and jump again?

Perhaps the answer will never be known. Thus any dog-owner should be wary when taking their pet for a stroll across Scotland’s Overtoun Bridge. I certainly would!

Mythical Monday: The Brier Hill Monster

The autumn of 1926 was by all accounts a regular Pennsylvania autumn in Erie County. The trees were dressed in vibrant shades of orange, cinnamon and gold, with the nip of the coming winter biting at the air. Neighboring farms stretching between Brier Hill and Masontown looked postcard perfect—pastures slowly browning with the tint of fall, and curls of woodsmoke rising from the chimneys of picturesque homesteads.Farm field in autumn beneath a stormy skyThis placid atmosphere was shattered when a farmer found his chicken coop had been broken into. The carnage was gruesome, many of the chickens partially devoured. It seemed unlikely a dog or fox had been the culprit, and the farmer suspected a large predator. Still, others shrugged it off. Chickens were often the prey of wild animals, especially if the coop wasn’t adequately secured. Perhaps the farmer had been negligent in protecting his stock. And if not . . . well, wasn’t that the price of farming?

But within days, other chicken coops were attacked and several pigsties were breached as well. The unknown predator made short work of half-grown hogs, literally ripping them apart. More and more, it seemed some unusual animal was at fault. As the carcass count continued to grow, the creature was dubbed “The Murderous Monster of Brier Hill.” Parents feared letting their children outside. Any creature large enough to kill a hog could do the same to a child, possibly even an adult.

Fear rose to a feverish pitch when a farmer reported losing a cow and a horse to the beast. Both were found disemboweled, their carcasses ripped apart. Though they appeared to have struggled fiercely, even these large animals could not fend off their attacker.

Men quickly banded together in armed possess in an attempt to track the monster. For several weeks the carnage continued, and although blood trails were discovered leading to Brier Hill on two occasions, no evidence of the beast was ever found. After a while, the killings stopped. People latched onto the hope that the creature had tired of the area and moved on. Life eventually returned to normal for the farmers and the residents of neighboring towns, but the memory of that bloody autumn remained.

To this day, no one is certain of the true identity of the Murderous Monster of Brier Hill. Some insist a gorilla escaped from a circus in Brownsville around the same time, but there is no evidence to support an escape. Gorillas are also herbivores and would have no reason to slaughter and partially devour so many animals.

I came across this story in the book MONSTERS OF PENNSYLVANIA by Patty A. Wilson. Have you looked to see if there is a “Monster” book from your own state? It’s amazing the folklore tucked away in murky campfire histories. I wonder if the Monster of Brier Hill could have been a rogue black bear. Though you’d think farmers would certainly have recognized bear tracks. Still . . . it makes for interesting reading and speculating.

What do you think?

Mythical Monday: Tommyknockers by Mae Clair

Ancient mining tools and basket full of rocks inside a tunnel in a mineStephen King made the name famous in his 1987 science-fiction novel. But people of the Old World, and those who worked in coal regions, knew about Tommyknockers long before then. Some believe them to be the spirits of departed miners, others insist they are sprite-like creatures who cast an eerie blue glow as they move through darkened mine shafts.

Whatever their nature, Tommyknockers dwell in the shadowy recesses below ground. Like many supernatural beings they can be helpful—digging industriously and assisting miners in locating ore—or harmful if not treated well. As a result, workers frequently left pans of water and food, occasionally even coins as gifts to these gnomish mine-dwellers. In the event of an impending cave-in, Tommyknockers alerted the miners by a repeated sharp rapping sound. They were even known to lead rescuers to injured workers or guide men clear of dark shafts seconds before collapse.

It is believed the Tommyknocker legend grew from the tales of Welsh immigrants who arrived to work the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. After the California gold rush of 1848, the legend spread west.

Often simply called Knockers in Welsh and Cornish folklore, Tommyknockers were the equivalent of the Irish leprechaun or Scottish Brownie. Mischievous as well as helpful, they had a fondness for unattended tools. Thus most misplaced items or petty thefts were blamed on the creatures. Welsh mine workers believed so strongly in these fey spirits, they would not work in a mine until assured by the owners that Tommyknockers were already in residence.

As late as the mid-twentieth century, mine workers clung to the superstition. When a large mine was sealed in 1956, workers petitioned the owners to reopen it in order that the Tommyknockers could be set free and find a new mine. The owners complied.

Today, though many scoff at the idea there are Tommyknockers, others who live in the vicinity of mines insist they still see blue lights weaving among the dark passages, and hear the sound of industrious workers digging away.

Or perhaps steadily knocking . . .

Mythical Monday: The Phantom White Wolf of French Creek

When I think of folklore, there are several creatures particularly suited for the mystical and eerie trappings of legends. Owls, cats, crows, and wolves immediately spring to mind. For today’s Mythical Monday, I stumbled over a a fireside tale about a town in West Virginia that was plagued by a mysterious white wolf.

In the mid-1800s an albino wolf began attacking and slaughtering livestock in and around French Creek. The residents hadn’t seen a wolf in years, leading many to believe the creature must be supernatural—especially given its ghost-white appearance. Fear blossomed and spread quickly, fueled by growing rumors.

a white wolfOne local farmer who lost several sheep to the wolf,  claimed he’d shot the beast three times, but the bullets had no effect. (Hmm…perhaps he should have used silver). Later the same month, the wolf was shot at close range, but again bounded away without being harmed. In the meantime, farm animals and pets continued to fall prey to the animal’s nighttime raids.

One of the farmers who lost a cow was a man named Bill Williams. In earlier years, when wolves dominated the countryside, Bill had been renowned for his prowess as a hunter. He’d killed hundreds of wolves, the bounties he’d collected allowing him to retire a wealthy man. Eventually turning from the practice, he took up farming, vowing never to hunt the majestic creatures again.

But the slaughter of his cow drew him from retirement. The townspeople and other farmers were relieved when he said he’d find and kill the albino wolf, putting an end to its reign of terror. Loading his rifle, he headed for an area the wolf was known to haunt. He took a small lamb with him and tied the helpless animal to a stake. Then he sat back and waited for the wolf to arrive, certain he would have an easy kill.

But fate was not kind to Bill.

When he failed to return the next day, several townspeople hiked to the area they knew he’d staked out. They found Bill with his throat mangled, his head nearly ripped from his body. In direct counterpoint to the grisly scene, the lamb was unharmed, still tied to the stake. Even stranger, there were no signs of blood or paw prints anywhere in the vicinity.

People believed the white wolf had exacted vengeance on Bill for breaking his vow to never hunt its kind. Others said the creature was a demon, for surely only a demon could do something so heinous and leave no trace of its passing. But why spare something as innocent as the lamb if that was the case?

A wolf in silhouette howling at the moonIt is unclear whether the white wolf continued to haunt the people of French Creek after Bill’s death, but tales of white wolves still circulate in remote areas of West Virginia.

According to legend, the ghost-like creatures slip from the darkness on nights illuminated by a full moon. They are impossible to catch or kill, and will simply vanish if cornered . . . only to return again when the full moon rises.

It makes you think twice about walking through the woods alone!

Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Hoodoo Train, Engine 1313 by Mae Clair

Before launching into today’s Mythical Monday post, I invite you to visit me at the blog of Kristi Rose where I’m sharing ECLIPSE LAKE and also news of my next two releases. Do hop over if you get a chance. You can find the post here. As for Mythical Monday, today’s topic isn’t about a beastie or mystical place, but a cursed train tucked into Pennsylvania history. As a “Keystoner” I’m always intrigued by legends related to my home state. Thus, I invite you to ride on the hoodoo . . .

Most people are a little freaky about the number thirteen. Even if you’re not superstitious, most are conscious of the ill omens associated with a number tied to bad luck. Given that connection, it’s surprising the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had no qualms about rolling out Engine 1313 in 1888.

Many muttered no good would come of it, but the railroad wasn’t interested in superstition or idle gossip tied to ancient folklore. The engine went on the line with high aspirations, all quickly squelched when the train struck and killed two children during its maiden voyage. The engine was examined, found to be in perfect working order, and placed back on the track. It failed again when the train plunged off a railroad bridge killing twelve people including the train’s fireman and engineer. A month later, it collided with another train, resulting in the derailment of several cars and injuries to numerous passengers.

steam train with smoke exiting funnel rising up hill ** Note: Slight blurriness, best at smaller sizesPuzzled, inspectors thoroughly examined the engine but could find nothing wrong. Surely, the catastrophes couldn’t be tied to the assignment of an ill-fated number.

The train was placed back on the track, only to have its boiler blow as it laboriously chugged up a mountain. The train’s fireman was blown out of the car and badly injured. Once again the train was examined and once again, the engine passed inspection. Despite growing grumblings from railroad workers who whispered of bad tidings and ill omens, the train was returned to the line. For several months all went well, and the hoodoo taint of 1313 seemed a thing of the past. Then, when arriving at Manor Station, its brakes failed, causing it to ram another train. The fireman for Engine 1313 was injured in the accident just as many of his predecessors had been.

Officials at PRR pulled the train off the tracks and had their mechanics scour it for defects. Despite all the stories about brake failure, they couldn’t find anything wrong. The train was returned to operation, but it wasn’t long before catastrophe stuck. Engine 1313 failed to stop at a station when the engineer applied the brakes, resulting in the death of three people. PRR’s mechanics took the train to task but found nothing wrong.

Placed on the tracks yet again, 1313 was rolling through Sang Hollow when its oil can suddenly exploded, burning the fireman and engineer. The last straw for most of the workers, they beseeched PRR to pull the train from commission. The company finally complied. Whether or not PRR believed the jinx associated with Engine 1313, it was abundantly clear workers wanted nothing to do with Pennsylvania’s hoodoo train.

Which brings me to my question—how do you feel about the number thirteen?

I readily admit it’s one I don’t like, and I’m highly superstitious about it. By the same token, it’s my street address/house number, which doesn’t bother me at all. What a strange parallel. Could it be because one is mystical and the other mundane and common place? I’d love to hear your thoughts on hoodoo thirteen—and Pennsylvania’s Engine 1313. Please share!