Altoona, PA

Halloween: Four haunting tales from a paranormal writer

Roger Marsh
Baker Mansion in Altoona, PA, is thought to be haunted.Credit: Wikipedia Commons

As a longtime paranormal writer, I’m often in situations and places where stories of high strangeness are told. My book, Sacred Dialogue: Tuning into Mother Nature’s Universal Broadcast Band, covers some of these cases.

In lectures, I’ve often said that I stay away from the famous cases or buildings or sites long rumored to be haunted. I tell my audience – the paranormal is everywhere. I made that point in a fun way in my NewsBreak story, Chicago streets harbor lost stories: It’s time to update those tired old ghostly tales.

I have a sneaky suspicion the paranormal is much more intelligent than we think, and often plays games and even throws in a bit of humor here and there. Sometimes the paranormal is right in front of you. But often it appears later in time or entangles itself in another part of your life.

Here are four spooky tales that may be coincidences. But I have thousands more cases to back myself up that – if you simply listen – the paranormal may be quite entertaining.

Baker Mansion

Baker Mansion is operated as a museum by the Blair County Historical Society in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The home is a great walk-through with original period furnishings and a rich history - but tour guides will gladly tell you that it's also haunted.

While I wasn't the first journalist to visit the home to write about its haunted past, I am sure many more have followed since the publication of my feature story in a local magazine in August 1982.

Although I was apparently "locked" inside an area on the second floor which housed the haunted wedding gown with several others, it was what happened after I left the house that concerned me.

A few days after I made the trip, I received a telephone call from my sister, Lolly, who was living at the time in North Bennington, Vermont. She said that the previous evening she had had a very strange dream about me which was still very vivid in her mind and full of odd detail.

Lolly said that she saw me standing on an open-air second-floor balcony of a mansion. The home, she said, had pillars in front and its walls were like sandstone. She said that I went into the house from the balcony and disappeared, and she felt as though I was in danger. In the dream, my sister walked to the house to look for me, but could not find me. She said that she stood in front of the house and decided to walk away from it in hopes of finding me in another place. She said she crossed an unpaved street and found herself surrounded by bleachers - so she looked under the bleachers. A tall, thin man with a long, white beard approached her and said, "You won't find him here."

End of dream.

My sister had correctly described the exterior of Baker Mansion, including the sandstone walls, its columns, and the second-floor balcony. And if you stood in front of the home and crossed the then gravel street, you would walk directly into the local high school football stadium where they have, of course, bleachers. And the man who spoke to my sister in the dream is an exact description of the son, Sylvester, who lived in the house until his death there.

Strange, but true.

To know exactly if this story has merit, one would have to know if my sister had any contact with me or anyone who knew about my visit to Baker Mansion prior to her telephone call. I of course asked if she had talked to any family member or friend who had knowledge that I was there writing about the place, and she responded by saying that she had no contact and no advance knowledge. I also did not help her along in the telephone conversation - you know, by adding words or phrases as clues. I think I was stunned then, and just listened as she told the story. When she was finished, I then recounted what I had been doing.

I thought that her description of the mansion that captured three main elements was excellent. Still, the story for me turns creepy when in the dream she walks across the street and into the local high school stadium area - with the bleachers, and encounters a tall, thin man with a long white beard.

Coincidence? I'm sure it could very well be. But humor me, I was a bit nervous when I returned to the house the following week to continue my research. The "danger" part of her dream caused the extended nerves, so you can be sure that I had a bodyguard with me at all times on both the property and inside the home.

I went to the last spot in her dream - standing about center on the second-floor balcony. In the dream, I then went into the house and the dangerous part of it occurred. Of course, in reality, there were eight or nine people surrounding me, and I went into the house with an entourage in tow, and nothing happened. I'm not sure what I was expecting - lightning bolts or colored orbs - but as they say, I wasn't taking any chances.

I mean, how many people lost their lives last year in haunted houses? Really, can you blame me? Okay, I'm laughing too.

I made several trips to Baker Mansion as research for a feature story that I was writing. The home has an interesting history. It was built by Baltimore architect Robert Carey Long, Jr. for iron baron Elias Baker, and his four children, Anna, David, Sylvester, and Margaretta. Both Elias and his wife, and children Anna and Sylvester died in the home - three of them passed using the same bed and bedroom. Slyvester passed on while lying on a couch in a first-floor room. It's also interesting to note that all of the family's original furnishings are still there as the home stayed in the family until sold to the historical society.

One of the many family tales is that Anna was set to marry a young man who worked in the family business but never made it to the altar. The wedding gown is kept in an air-tight case on the second floor, and some say it moves as though Anna is back and on the prowl for her suitor. I stared and stared and stared, but never saw the dress move.

The caretakers at the time invited me to "try" and spend the night in the home - sleeping in the bed where three of the family members passed away. Although I did not experience much strange behavior myself, I have to say I was very cautious about being sealed up in this place during the dark hours. I passed on the offer and chose to tour and question the staff during daylight hours.

My only possible strange happening here was while we were in a room on the second floor - a group of maybe five or six people that included the two caretakers. You entered the room through one door, and could then exit through a second door on the opposite side of the room. Someone had closed the first door behind us as we entered, then we paused to hear what the caretakers had to say about the room. I was closest to the second door, so when we were set to leave, I reached out and turned the door knob - but it would not open the door.

I don't recall if one of the caretakers referred to a "spirit" or "Anna" exactly, but she made some reference that our party was not being "allowed" out of the room. I turned the knob again, this time much more diligently. I have to admit that I recall being somewhat panicked, like a feeling of claustrophobia, but I was in good human company at the time. That door would not budge.

The caretaker then said, "Ask nicely."

Okay, I thought, we'll try it their way.

"Can we please leave the room?" I asked out loud. The group froze for a moment in silence, and I reached out, turned the door knob gently, and it opened.

Baker Mansion is a great place to visit, even without its haunted tales. But with the ghostly stories, I admit it's a bit creepy to the point where many people will not want to roam the rooms alone. I did not want to be up on either the second or third floors by myself, nor would I venture alone down into the basement, sub-basement, or sub-sub basement where the ice house and things like that were.

Now those are just personal feelings - nothing much extraordinary going on here. If you have a higher tolerance for this kind of stuff, then it's just an old house with equally old furniture and some kind people showing you around. Discount the tales, and it's a great place to step back in time and see how rich people lived in the 19th century.

Death Day Ruckus

My wife and I purchased a home in Chicago in the 90s. The couple moving out relocated to the Florida sunshine. About a month later, I took a week off of work to do some interior painting and decided to redecorate my daughter’s bedroom as the first project.

Our daughter was in school and my wife had gone to work. I was standing on a ladder in my daughter’s bedroom painting her ceiling when I heard what I thought was a baby crying. I stopped and listened and heard a crying and whimpering sound, which seemed like it was coming from inside the house. I knew that I was alone, but continued to listen for a few minutes. When the sounds did not stop, I climbed down the ladder and went to the first floor, walked through the rooms, then went to the finished basement and walked through each of the rooms on that level. I found no one and went back to my ladder perch and began painting again.

The sounds returned. I listened very carefully this time and again felt that it sounded like a baby crying or someone whimpering at times. This time I walked to the first floor and walked around the outside of the house, stopping and listening to see if the sound was coming from an adjacent property. I heard nothing, so again returned to my ceiling paint job.

A few minutes later, I heard what sounded like kitchen cupboard doors opening and slamming shut. I stopped and listened again very carefully. Then I heard what sounded like the silverware drawer opening and slamming shut rather abruptly. This continued for several minutes and I was convinced someone had come home and was working in the kitchen.

I walked to the top of the staircase and listened for just a moment, and then walked down the stairs and into the kitchen expecting to see who it was. But no one was in the kitchen. I walked through the other rooms and found no one. I walked down into the basement and searched each room and also found no one. I then returned to the kitchen and inspected the drawers and cupboards. Everything was in place. No doors or drawers hanging open. I could not understand how I could have clearly heard these noises and then found no one in our home. I returned to my painting but was quickly interrupted.

The sounds in the kitchen returned, but this time with a passion. It seemed as though every kitchen cupboard door was opening and slamming shut – all at once. I could hear the silverware sliding around as the drawer slammed shut. The sounds were so loud and viscous, and now thinking about how many times I had inspected the house, a chill ran up my spine. I panicked. I ran to the top of the stairs and listened to the escalating sounds in the kitchen. I stood there for only seconds, then took every other step on my path to the foyer, pulled the front door open, pushed on the storm door, and ran onto my front porch in a sweat.

Something had just terrified me to the point of abandoning my own home. I sat down on the front steps and composed myself. It was a bright sunny day with a beautiful blue sky. I peeked into the house through a glass window in the front door that looked through the foyer and into the kitchen. I could not see anyone or anything moving around.

Then I became angry. I stood up and decided that I had to confront whatever it was that was in my home. We had only purchased the home a few weeks before. We loved the place and I suddenly felt that something was trying to drive me away. I opened the front door and stepped into the foyer and stopped. I raised my voice and screamed, “Whoever you are. Whatever you are. This is my home. I will not be afraid of you or anything in my own home. We love this house and we intend to fix it up to suit our needs. Whoever you are or whatever you are. Please leave. This is my home and I will not leave.”

I stopped, almost expecting to hear a response. But I suddenly felt relief, that whatever was in the house had left as suddenly as it had appeared. I walked the stairs back to my daughter’s bedroom and began painting again. We never experienced any moment like that again in the house.

But a month later, I received a telephone call from a former owner. He called to inform me that his wife had passed away the previous month. I asked him what day she had passed away. After we hung up, I checked my calendar and discovered that the woman died on the same day that I was painting my daughter’s bedroom.

We could only wonder if the woman’s spirit came home one last time.

The Clock Ticks Again
Grandfather clock.Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Clock Ticks Again. Sounds like the title of a Hardy Boys mystery, but this simple story did fall into place one fall weekend afternoon about 1973. Charlie was one of my close friends since grade school, but his parents, as did mine, sent us to a private school for the seventh grade. While I returned home each evening, Charlie lived in a boarding school in a nearby town. Four years had passed and he spoke fondly of a couple who taught there and lived on campus during his time there. He told one story about how he would sneak out of the dormitory at night and into their home, where he would be allowed to smoke, and was even offered an alcoholic drink. Nothing sinister by today’s standards, just two nice people that he enjoyed spending time with and talking.

Since his year at school, the husband had passed away and the wife had relocated off-campus to a new home in the area. Charlie wanted to pay a visit to the woman this one day and invited me along for the ride.

Once inside the woman’s home, I also found her to be immediately comforting to be around, as he did, and the three of us lit up cigarettes and soon a sturdy mixed drink was offered as well. As we sat that afternoon exchanging stories, I wandered over to an old grandfather’s clock she had nearby. It was enormous and beautiful, but I noticed that it was not running.

“Doesn’t run anymore?” I asked the woman.

“No,” she said. “The clock was also a favorite of my husband, and it strangely stopped working on the very day he died.”

Ah, a mystery. I loved mysteries, so of course, had to follow up with a dozen questions. Of course, she had used the clock’s key to attempt to wind it many times. Of course, she had hired out the job to make it work again, but several experts came and went, each claiming they were stumped as to why the old clock would not tick. She finally gave in and decided it was an affectionate trick from the grave by her late husband. He wanted his time of death stamped forever on this clock.

I questioned the woman to see if she had ever tried to discuss the matter directly with her late husband and ask him if he would make the clock work again.

“No,” she said. “Never tried that approach, but if you’re game, go ahead and chat him up.” She took another swallow from her drink and closed her eyes.

So I stood there studying the clock for a few more minutes. I opened up the delicate glass door and peered inside to places where the winder key would fit. I took the key from its resting place on top of the unit, inserted it into the clock, and attempted to wind it, each time discovering that someone had apparently beat me to the winding years earlier.

I closed the glass door and stepped away from the clock, looked back at my friend and the woman, then back at the clock.

“Your wife would really like it if you would make the clock run again,” I said out loud. “She loved you and she loves this clock. Please make the clock tick again.”

All eyes moved to the clock, sitting there as still as it had been in several years. The three of us looked at each other again. And then the woman spoke.

“Look,” she said. “Look at the clock.”

Charlie and I looked again at the clock. It was ticking.

I walked back to the clock and observed close-up that the old timepiece was indeed ticking. I opened the glass door again, set the time, and closed the cabinet door again. The woman cried momentarily. “Thank you,” she said, although I was never sure if she was talking to me or her dead husband.

Charlie checked in with the woman a few months later, the last time I personally heard anything about her. The clock was still ticking.

The Student’s Grave
St. Clair Cemetery, Greensburg, PACredit: J Gipson

One Friday evening in 1973 at age 16 I picked up my girlfriend, Ellen, and a mutual friend, Karen. The three of us sat in the front seat of my mother's Pontiac and we took off for destinations as yet undecided.

Southwestern Pennsylvania was strung with never-ending arteries of twisting two-lane pavement through rolling hills and dense forest. Sometimes we just drove around looking for friends or parties. This evening Ellen and Karen told me the story of a young man in their class who they remember as limping through the halls for about a year before he finally died. Tonight, they said, was the anniversary of his funeral, a tragic past played out two years earlier in junior high school. Since I was a grade level above the two of them, a senior now, I hadn't known the boy, nor remembered him. They named the cemetery where he was buried, possibly the largest cemetery in the county, on a countryside hill halfway between two towns and just off Route 30.

I had been to the cemetery before to visit the graves of relatives and remembered it as a maze of single-lane pavements that wound around hundreds of gravesites. It was dark and I asked the girls to climb into the back seat and keep their heads down because I was going to surprise them with my destination. I turned onto Route 30 and drove the three miles, entering at the wrought iron gate and began weaving carelessly through the narrow lanes. The girls half sat up now and peering through the window noticed the gravestones and began screaming. I was driving too fast for conditions, but the screams made me want to move faster and turn corners sharper. I remember coming around a bend and heading down an embankment, and then quickly making a sharp turn and driving the car up onto the grass and stopping.

The girls had had enough, I thought. We were all laughing and jumped out of the car, kidding each other about being in a cemetery after dark. But then the girls turned and followed the headlight beam shining on a nearby grave and suddenly became silent. We had stopped at the young man's grave and our headlights were illuminating his gravestone.

This was not a situation where the grave was lit up nearby, but the car’s headlights were directly shining on the headstone just a few feet away.

It was too much of a coincidence for any of us to imagine. Part of us wanted to get out of the cemetery quicker than we had arrived and part of us wanted to approach the grave and say something. I remember touching the gravestone momentarily, but the feeling of fear was more overwhelming and we soon drove away.

Without a handbook on life’s little mysteries, there is no way to accurately explain what had just happened to us. Most likely it was a random coincidence. If we try to look to the paranormal for an explanation we seem to arrive at two theories.

The first would have the spirit of the deceased guiding the driver to his grave and the second explanation would have the thoughts of living relatives of the young man doing the guiding.

Either of the latter two theories raises more questions that we were not willing to consider while we were still in the cemetery. Some distance away and thinking more rationally we wanted to believe that a spirit had somehow guided us, but the more prudent explanation was just a wild coincidence.

Happy Halloween

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ROGER MARSH is a media content producer with works in print, film, television, web, and stage. His “UFO Traffic Reports” published more than 7,000 times since 2009. He was a case researcher for the History channel’s “Hangar 1: The UFO Files.”

Franklinville, NY

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