By Hallie Lauer | Staff Writer
“And now, if you will follow me, we can cross to the other side… of the street,” said our tour guide Kat as the crew of middle-aged thrill seekers laughed at the first of many death-related puns that would be made throughout the night.
Each year from May to November, an event called “Haunted Pittsburgh,” can be found lurking the streets of downtown at night. This tour recaps the stories of the dead, and undead, of Pittsburgh. The tour lasts between 85 minutes and two hours. It’s more historical than spooky, but don’t be discouraged thrill seekers: There are plenty of stories told on this journey that will leave you pondering late into the night.
The tour meets at the City County Building on Grant Street but officially starts at the old Allegheny County Morgue, which, ironically, is now the county health department. Many tales of spirits haunt this morgue. The employees joke that the spirit everyone keeps seeing is just the ghost of Jake Freeman, the former janitor, who quiped that when he died he would haunt the morgue.
One of the more famous stories, which was even covered by The New York Times in 1907, comes from the old Allegheny County Jail. This ghost story was also made into a movie starring Mel Gibson and Diane Keaton called “Mrs. Soffel.”
Mrs. Soffel was a real woman who was married to the warden but ended up having a Bonnie and Clyde-esque love affair with Ed Biddle, one of the inmates.
Mrs. Soffel would read Bible passages to the inmates, and during her time with Ed, they planned his escape. Late one evening, Mrs. Soffel chloroformed her husband and snuck Ed and his brother Jack out of the prison. This maneuver ended in a Wild West-like shootout, and Mrs. Soffel ended up serving a short prison sentence.
A former deputy of the prison had his office in her old bedroom. He had reported seeing pictures move and hearing what sounded like sand moving through the walls and ceilings. The deputy swears that the only thing that could be doing these things was the spirit of Mrs. Soffel.
Later on in the tour, we stopped at S. W. Randall Toyes and Giftes. The toy store is said to be the home of multiple different apparitions. The staircase up to the third floor has been described as “a portal to another dimension.”
A warning to thrill seekers: don’t go looking for these spirits. A few years back, two Point Park University students went to the toy store to try and film some of these spirits, recreating their own Ghost Adventures. Not long after setting up their cameras, one student turned to say something to his cohort and saw all the color had drained from her face.
She said it was as if something had glued her to the floor, pinned her arms to her sides and was “sucking the life out of her.”
The final stop on the tour is a story from the top of Mount Washington (which you don’t actually walk to).
There is a house where a young girl used to live. As a child she used to see a black shadow standing at the foot of her bed. As time went on, the girl’s things started going missing: toys, clothes, anything to which she showed special attention.
One year she received a ring from her parents, and she never let on how much she loved it. Nevertheless, one evening she accidentally let slip to her friend that it was her favorite piece of jewelry.
So that night, before she went to bed, she put the ring tightly on her finger, made her hand into a fist and wrapped her hand in a sheet. The next morning, the ring was gone.
A few years later the girl moved out, but her house had a water break so her mom suggested she stay a few nights back in her old bedroom. The girl, now a woman, had just gotten an iPhone for Christmas, and as she lay down in her childhood bedroom she set the alarm and kissed her iPhone goodbye, knowing it would be gone in the morning.
Much to her surprise, she awoke with a start from her alarm going off.
But later, while she was showing a friend photos of her new dog on the iPhone, she accidentally swiped too far and found pictures from the night she had stayed in her old bedroom. Photos of her, asleep in bed.
So if these eerie stories of Pittsburgh sound intriguing, these and many more can be heard on the tour.
Tickets can be ordered online from the Haunted Pittsburgh website, and tours run Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and in October there are 9 p.m. tours on Saturdays. So for all those people interested in the unnatural world, take a look at this haunted tour. Be warned, though, you might just learn some things that will keep you up at night.