Pennsylvania has some of the most famous haunted locations. From the Gettysburg battlefields to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to the bloody handprint inside the Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, we have our fair share of ghost stories. And as Halloween approaches, this is the best time to delve into some of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s best ghost stories and urban legends.
Smurl Haunting (West Pittston, Pa.) – The Smurl haunting is perhaps the most well-known ghost story in NEPA. In 1974, the Smurl family of West Pittston made claims that their double block home was inhabited by a ghost. Their claims ranged from loud noises and strange odors to more violent acts, like a family member being thrown down a flight of stairs and a ceiling fan falling, narrowly missing their daughter. After years of torment, the family brought in famed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. Following months of investigation, the Warrens concluded the house was indeed haunted by three ghosts and one very demonic entity.
After receiving the confirmation they needed about the house, a priest was brought in to remove the spirit. When he performed two unsuccessful exorcisms, the family turned to the local media for help. This move opened a floodgate of press coverage, and the house became an instant tourist attraction. The family spoke to several television shows and newspapers, and a third exorcism was performed. The third time seemed to have been the charm, but it only lasted for about three months – the demon had appeared again and the violent acts returned.
The family, growing tired and hopeless, decided moving to a different town would help the situation. Shortly after their move, a book entitled “The Haunted” documenting their ordeals went to press. One final exorcism was performed on the house after the release of the book, and it finally seemed to give the family the peace they truly needed. In 1991, a movie based on the book was released.
Welles Street House (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) – Built in the 1800s, this house has seen a handful of mysterious deaths. Numerous suicides and strange deaths have dubbed this house as the area’s own “Amityville House.” Articles ran in the Times Leader dating as early back as 1979, with the previous resident, Walker Bennett, claiming to have seen several ghostly figures and pools of blood in the living room. In one account, Bennett witnessed his daughter trip on the staircase and then mysteriously float in slow motion to the bottom and land on her feet, unharmed.
After enough crazy encounters, Bennett took down a wall in his bedroom, only to discover a box containing red ribbon, a human molar, and chicken bones tied together to form a cross. He also found photographs of the original owner, Augustus C. Lanning, who he believed was one of the figures he had seen within in the home. Eventually, the family fled the house, leaving behind all their personal belongings, never to return again.
In 1982, Katherine Walker purchased the house and remained there until her death on Oct. 26, 2012. Her daughter had inherited the house and decided to put it up for sale.
The house was purchased by Tim Woods, founder and lead investigator of LiveSciFi, in December 2013. Since his purchase, he has conducted several investigations inside the ghostly house. He collected evidence that shows pools of blood, weird scratches, and a video of an investigator’s shirt being tugged. This evidence can be viewed on a website Woods has set up, welleshouse.com.
Suscon Road (Pittston, Pa.) – The Suscon Screamer is also a well-known urban legend in NEPA, and if you’ve ever driven down Suscon Road in Pittston at night before, you know it’s creepy enough to have a few ghost stories surrounding it. The former Susquehanna Railroad Bridge, or the “Black Bridge,” used to be on this road. It was a very narrow bridge that allowed only one car to pass at a time. Drivers would have to slow down and honk their horn to warn other motorists they would be crossing the bridge.
The legend claims that if you honked the car horn three times, a young woman in white, who many say was a bride that was left at the altar, would appear, sometimes outside the car, sometimes in the rearview mirror, and let out a scream. Another account claims the woman is actually a teenager who was killed on the road on her prom night while searching for a ride home. Others say it is a mother and child who died in a car crash on the way to the hospital. And yet another account claims it is the ghost of a young girl who escaped from a mental institute and leaped to her death from the bridge.
To add some validity to the story, on Oct. 4, 1969, a father and son made a gruesome discovery by the bridge; they found the body of a 15-year-old girl from Avoca. The young girl was last seen in an Avoca soda shop four days prior. She had been hitchhiking and received a ride from a 26-year-old man who killed her and dumped her body near the “Black Bridge.” The man was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Today, the bridge is now long gone, which makes it tricky to find the exact location that the Suscon Screamer haunts. But next time you are on the road, beware of a ghostly woman you may encounter.
Scranton Cultural Center (Scranton, Pa.) – The Scranton Cultural Center was originally built as the Masonic Temple and Scottish Rite Cathedral in 1930. Today, the building operates as a hotspot for regional performances and cultural events.
The building is regarded as one of the most gorgeous architectural structures in NEPA, but it also houses a few ghostly visitors who can’t help but admire it. A.C. Bernardi’s book, “Haunted Scranton: After Dark in the Electric City,” discusses the ghost of a young girl who the workers refer to as Sarah. Throughout the years, many have witnessed unexplainable sights in the orchestra level of the theater or the rear balcony. Staff members and guests have described seeing eerie lights, shadows and even a transparent image of the girl looking at the stage.
Several paranormal groups have also investigated the Scranton Cultural Center and have had unexplainable encounters. “We were in one of the Mason rooms, and within maybe 5-6 minutes, the temperature dropped from 71 degrees to 65 degrees. And it was a big room,” says Alicia VanDuzer, member of the Society for Paranormal Research and Investigation (S.P.R.I.). VanDuzer also spoke of an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) her team was able to capture. “We got a voice saying what we thought as, ‘Are you speaking for us, Tyler?’ There was no one in our group or employee named Tyler. We found out later on that Tyler is actually a Mason title, not a name. It is the person who sits outside the Mason meeting room and relays messages from the outside after a meeting has already started.”
Who knows? Maybe the next time you are taking in a show at the Scranton Cultural Center, you may have a few ghostly visitors in the audience with you.
Andy Gavin’s Eatery and Pub (Scranton, Pa.) – This 1800s building opened as Andy Gavin’s Eatery and Pub in 1988 and has become a beloved Scranton establishment. Customers frequent the business for their large selection of wings, sandwiches, and beers, but the establishment is also frequented by a ghost named George. He seems to have an enjoyable time playing with the customers as well as the employees.
“Glasses fly off the shelves; tables get moved while no one is the room. The bartender will put the chairs up on the tables after they’ve closed and everyone has left, and when he comes back up from the basement, the chairs will be back down again,” VanDuzer says of the some of the incidents that have occurred in the pub.
When customers visit Andy Gavin’s Eatery and Pub, they are sure to enjoy good food, good beer, and maybe even a friendly visit from George.
Marion St. House (Dunmore, Pa.) – Located at 1217 Marion St., Dunmore, this house went viral when owner Greg Leeson listed it on Zillow’s website as a Victorian-style home built in 1901 that was “slightly haunted.” The house seemed like a dream home at only $144,000, with four bedrooms and two and a half baths, hardwood floors, a study, and a wet bar. The listing, however, went on to describe the various unexplainable incidents that have occurred: the sound of footsteps, a faint scream that can be heard one or two times a week at 3:13 a.m., and a ghost lurking behind you in the second floor bathroom mirror, but it humorously proclaimed it was nothing too serious.
The listing attracted the interest from ghost hunters, those who were curious, and legitimate buyers. The house is currently no longer listed as “For Sale.”
West Mountain Sanitarium (Scranton, Pa.) – The West Mountain Sanitarium (originally named the Lackawanna County Tuberculosis Hospital) opened its doors in 1903 as a hospital to help patients suffering from tuberculosis. During the time it was operational, it seemed to be ahead of its time in treatments. The hospital had state-of-the-art radiology and laboratory departments, its own fields and farms, an artesian well, and it was noted for its open air treatments.
The hospital closed in 1971, and the now decrepit sanitarium is filled with rumors of those who had lost their lives there that still haunt the grounds. Its remote location has attracted mischievous teenagers who have covered the grounds with graffiti and set the property on fire. It has also become a hotbed for paranormal investigators, many who have captured EVPs and ghostly images.
NEPA Paranormal had a particularly odd evening there. As they were investigating a basement within the men’s quarters, one investigator had asked, “How did you die?” As the question was asked, the team was able to smell smoke. They looked out and witnessed smoke billowing into the room and could see flames directly behind it. They ran as fast as they could to the main path of the sanitarium. Once they turned around to comprehend what they had witnessed, the fire was gone. Katie Christopher, case manager and co-founder of NEPA Paranormal, states, “We could still feel the smoke in our lungs,” even though there was no smoke to be seen.
Hollenback Cemetery (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) – This cemetery is the one of the oldest in the city of Wilkes-Barre and holds some of its most famous celebrities, such as Kirby and Stegmaier. The majority of those buried in the cemetery are from the 19th and mid-20th century. The burials have significantly dwindled since the 1970s due to a lack of space.
During the day, NEPA Paranormal did a walkthrough of the old cemetery. There was a strange wind pattern within the cemetery, even though it was a clear, sunny day. As they were walking, they noticed something even stranger. “We had what looked like a mini cyclones of leaves following us. Whenever someone would turn back and look at them, they would fall to the ground,” said Christopher.
Avondale Colliery (Plymouth, Pa.) – Located in Plymouth sat the Avondale Colliery. The colliery contained a single 327-foot shaft that allowed miners to gain entry to a desirable amount of anthracite coal with a breaker situated on top. The shaft, lined with wooden timber, also helped keep small fires burning at the bottom to create better air circulation for the miners. There was only one entrance and exit from the mine, and that was through the shaft.
On the morning of Sept. 6, 1869, a disastrous fire broke out at the colliery. Sparks from the fire ignited the timbers inside the shaft, engulfing the entire breaker in flames. The breaker collapsed into the entranceway of the shaft, leaving the miners trapped 300 feet below ground.
In what became known as the Avondale Mine Disaster, the final death toll was 110, including young boys and volunteers attempting rescue. It was documented as the worst disaster in the history of anthracite mining. As a result of this horrific incident, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania passed a law that forbids the construction of breakers atop or near mine entrances.
It only seems natural that with such a tragedy there would be numerous ghost sightings. According to the book “Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties Ghosts, Legends and Lores” by Charles J. Adams III, many of the miners who had returned to work after the bodies had been removed refused to reenter the mines. Many feared the ghosts of their fellow workers haunted the tunnels. There were miners who flat out demanded the owners “remove the ghosts before they would go back to work.” The mine owners determined that what the miners were actually seeing was the flashes of miners lighting matches against their coats and the moaning noises were actually the sounds of water pumps and the wind.
Today, stories still range from the smell of burning and smoke, moaning noises, strange lights, and ghostly figures of coal miners roaming the area.
If you can’t get enough local ghost stories, join Katie Christopher and her team on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at the Marian Sutherland Kirby Library (35 Kirby Ave., Mountain Top) at 6:30 p.m. They will be there to offer chilling evidence of paranormal activity and will also have ghost hunting equipment on hand. All proceeds from this event will benefit the Kirby Library.
All photos by Lora Kormos, except the Scranton Cultural Center (courtesy of SCC)
by Lora Kormos
Swoyersville born and raised, Lora is a photographer, craft beer nerd, self-proclaimed foodie, and movie addict.