Curated ghost stories or factual warnings?

Photos Courtesy of the Detre Library and Archives | A J&L Steel Company Roll Shop Crew in 1908. Found in the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation Photographs of the Detre Library and Archives, Heinz History Center.

Kaitlyn Hughes | Staff Writer

With Halloween upon us, it is the perfect time to recollect the hauntings that have occurred within the city of Pittsburgh.

For Duquesne’s archivist and curator of special collections, Tom White, this is a busy season full of sharing local occult narratives with surrounding communities.

White, who has a passion for the weird and supernatural, has been professionally collecting ghost stories and legends since 1999. He has also published a vast amount of cursed tales that elevate the eeriness of the season.

Among his most extensive research has been the steel mills, which are notorious for their ghostly activity thanks to their historic significance to the Pittsburgh area and their dangerous working conditions.

“Ghost stories can also carry warnings about what is socially acceptable at a time,” White said. “What is perceived danger, it may not necessarily be real danger but the perceived danger.”

The hazardous environment of the mills led to cautionary tales in the form of ghost stories.

Ghost in the Mill

Jim Grabowski was an immigrant steel worker in the 1920s. He worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation’s Two Shop in the South Side.

The working conditions were hot. Large vats of molten steel at high temperatures lined the floors of the mill. There was scaffolding that allowed employees to work on the high ceilings to check for impurities below.

Workers were required to wear a heat suit due to the dangerous temperatures at the top of the building.

One day, Grabowski was working at the top of the scaffolding in scorching heat. He looked over the railing, doing the daily impurity check, when he tripped over a rigging hose, causing him to plummet into one of the vats of molten steel.

Due to the heat, his body turned to plasma before it even hit the vat. By the time Grabowski’s body made it to the steel, he was completely dissolved.

Though disturbing, this was a common event that occurred at the mill. The working circumstances of the mills were more treacherous than one can comprehend.

In 1907, there were up to 7,000 steel mill casualties, solely in Pittsburgh. There were procedures put into place to deal with these specific incidents.

The entire contents of the vat containing human remains had to be cooled and removed from the facility.

There was a graveyard designated specifically to hold the consequences of these accidents, which resulted in several deaths per year.

Additionally, the victim’s families were given a nugget of this steel so it could be properly buried.

After the prime production of weaponry diminished at the end of the Second World War, Two Shop was repurposed to help rebuild structures around the city.

Found in the corner of the mill was a forgotten block of steel–a block of steel containing Grabowski’s remains from his
tragic death–that was never transported to the Mills graveyard where it was supposed to be laid to rest.

In the midst of repurposing the mill, Grabowski’s steel was cut up to be used in a project. When the piece was severed, it is believed that Grabowski’s ghost was released.

According to multiple accounts, Grabowski’s ghost, a white, pale and melted figure, now haunts the J&L mill. Hysterical screams and cries, allegedly coming from Grabowski, were reported by numerous workers inside Two Shop.

The sound of his feet slamming against the ground has also been reported, and it is believed that he continues to run through the factory and through the walls.

Grabowski’s ghost enjoyed tormenting the rigging crew because it was one of their own rigging hoses that took his life. The crew was forced to walk around the building instead of quickly passing through the scaffolding because of the ghostly torture.

About 30% of the workers at the time believed the ghost was real.

Grabowski was a real person. Hundreds of men died the same way he did.

Some say the ghost of Grabowski is a way to remember those who died in this tragic way as well as serve as a cautionary tale used to impose fear onto new workers.

While the story might be used as more of a local tale than anything historical, on multiple different occasions, people have claimed to see the same distorted figure of Grabowski running amok in the mill.

Slag Pile Annie

The Jones and Laughlin Mill’s Hazelwood plant is home to another of Pittsburgh’s phantom citizens.

A Pitt student came upon a strange figure while working as a hopper cart driver who shoveled the remnants of steel from the mill.

The figure was a woman wearing work clothes and a bandana and standing much too close to the area where the crew was pouring molten steel. However, when the student alerted the woman that she was in the danger zone, she responded eerily.

She said, “I can’t get killed, I’m already dead.”

The student thought there was a crazy person on the loose, and he decided to tell the foreman, but according to the foreman, this was not the first time Slag Pile Annie had been spotted in the area.

Annie worked as a steel slag carter, the same job as the young college student, during WWII. Annie had died five years prior to the student’s arrival at the mill.

Her time came to an end when an impurity in the steel being poured above her head formed a bubble that eventually exploded.

This bubble caused scorching hot slag to land on Annie’s head, and she melted to the ground.

Slag Pile Annie has haunted that corridor ever since, and she serves as a symbol of how quickly jeopardy can occur in the mill.

According to White, these stories were important to members of the steel mill. They were a way to raise awareness of the life and death situations that could have occurred.

Embedded in the horrific fantasy of these tales is truth.

Paranormal activity is a creative way to teach and oftentimes has a greater effect on an audience.

“Ghost stories are important because they tell us about history,” White said. “Maybe not traditional history, but often about people who are not normally remembered.”