Road Trip Road Trip II Road Trip III Road Trip IV Ghost Town Trail Yellowstone Hotel
Part I,   Dead Towns, Lively Cemeteries?
By Jon McClintock,

I suppose it struck me for the first time upon meeting the latest group of students for our Basics of Ghosthunting course at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Without fail, many of those younger in age have searched for spirits in graveyards.

Al Brindza and I show classes some of our best still camera pictures with anomalies, and some are graveyard shots. Then I started thinking out loud.

"What would any self-respecting entity be doing hanging around a plot of earth that probably meant little to him/her/it before death?"

Dead = Cemetery makes a lot of sense in an obvious way. But I've always preached that you're more likely to find an entity visiting your Thanksgiving Dinner at home than in a dull old grave. Now, lest you wonder why Road Trip 2004 starts out in a cemetery, I'll give you lots of good reasons for a visit to your local windswept hilltop.

  • I've heard spectacular from-the-grave voice recordings (EVP) captured by a friend visiting the grave of a young man killed swiftly.
  • Cemeteries are like museums. You'll often find one in these parts that's nowhere near an active town, and from that you can infer what gave a community lifeā€¦and death.
  • There's a lot of emotion and color and tragedy to be found in the dates and epitaphs of the older stones. One feels very mortal looking back at four sleeping generations, even a sense of longing for the peace that must come in knowing one has run and finished his race in this difficult life, and is now at rest.

    A beautiful and cool June 26th coaxed Al and Jo and Marty and I into the car. Our destination was St. Vincent's in Latrobe, but Al had a treat just a few minutes away in Westmoreland County. Our GPS told us we'd ventured off Route 711 onto the "Old Johnstown Road." Soon, near Furnace Road, we drove up a rutted, stone turnpike and found a well-hidden cemetery.

    The Brindza's found the place in total disrepair in the past, with weeds past one's waist and a centuries-old tree uprooting stones. On this day it was placid and well kept, and it was apparent that some new stones sat atop older graves, while bits and pieces of aged monuments couldn't be assigned to many unmarked graves. The oldest memorialized death was in 1851, while new ones appeared to end in the 1930's.

    Mute testament to a dead town were several stones for those born more than 110 years ago, whose departure date was never noted. Did, in fact, the remains of one's spouse rest next to the other, or is this a memorial to a surviving spouse who moved elsewhere and passed on? Who are buried in the unmarked mounds, and did the shards of planted stones (painted white for the sake of the groundskeeper) truly represent the locations of mortal remains?

    Answers are hard to come by, for this is a place for the dead from a dead town. Ironically, a much older - and better-preserved - monument is just down the road, across from an Amish farm. It's an iron furnace (ca. 1810-1830) in remarkable condition. Since several dot the landscape in the county, our best guess makes this one Laurel Hill Furnace. Baldwin, Poplar and Powder Mill run flow south and east from New Florence near here. Each waterway boasts a furnace or two - and the now-departed communities that surrounded them pre-date even the stones in this cemetery.

    Our next stop was St. Vincent's in Latrobe. Founded in 1790, Saint Vincent Parish was the first Catholic parish in Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Mountains.

    The church was first named Sportsman's Hall Parish after the 300 hundred acre tract of land "Sportsman's Hall Tract" it was built on. We found several tombstones referring to this at nearby St. Vincent Cemetery.

    A new parish was dedicated in July 1835 and was put under the patronage of St. Vincent. In 1846 the monastery was founded, (the first Benedictine Monastery in the United States). From then on the parish was inseparably linked with the Benedictine Monastery and the college, which shares its name.

    The college and the monastery are said to be haunted by spirits of former monks. Footsteps can be heard on the steps of the bell tower, supposedly haunted by a monk that was killed in a mill accident. Father Boniface, the founder of the college is rumored to appear regularly at an Advent Mass. There are also rumors of the spirits of monks wandering the cemetery and on the grounds between St. Vincent's and nearby St. Xavier's.

    Our psychic (Al), tape recorders, cameras and EMF equipment failed to tell us anything paranormal was at work on this particular day.

  • Jon McClintock