Tag: ghost

The True Story of the Litch House

Just past North Fork Creek in the sleepy hamlet of Brookville, Pennsylvania, a local legend stands overlooking historic Main Street. The Litch House was built in the 1850s for the lumber baron Thomas Litch and his growing family. Today the residents of Brookville know the stories, but the history of the home is so twisted that few know the true story of the Litch House.

In the years before the Revolution, Western Pennsylvania saw an influx of white settlers into what was nominally recognized as Indian land. The following account of the Brookville area comes from A Survey of the Indian Countries, Being an Account of the Travels of Col. Joseph Paxton Among the Indians of the French Territories:

“At the Head of a Forked Creek there stood a Bluff upon which gloomy Pines held the high ground. My guide led our party away from the wooded Hillock and east toward the Ohio Country. The Indians hereabout hold that these Woods are inhabited by sundry Spirits and ravenous Beasts – Devils, the Parson might deem Them. My Guide related an Incident to me in which an unwary Brave hunting in the Forest was taken up by some Fiend that it was said lurked in the very Trees.”

The following account of the Litch family comes from Recollections of the Allegheny, a first-person history of the 19th century Allegheny Plateau published in 1901:

“In those days the pines still stood thick and gloomy and lured proud men with promises of easy wealth. One of those men, Thomas K. Litch, came up from Pittsburgh and established himself among the leading men of the town. He raised here a family, three fine sons and a daughter, and built for them a great house upon the hill above Old Fork Creek.

“Mr. Litch had purchased an enviable swath of woodland after having heard about the remarkable opportunities in the lumber trade, and he commenced to build the largest and best kind of sawmill yet seen in that part of the country. Soon the woods were abuzz with the sound of the saw-men as the pines were felled and cut to size and sent down the river to Pittsburgh.

“The youngest Litch boy, Edward, was said to be a bad seed and spent his time walking the woods like an Indian and his father was wont to send him to take up a trade in Pittsburgh. Before he could, the boy ran off to take up with a tribe of Iroquois or some such people for a month or more before his father could fetch him.

“When young Edward was seen among the people of Brookville, he seemed a changed man, gaunt and wild-eyed, babbling nonsense and Indian-talk about the spirits of the rocks and the trees. No one paid him mind and he rarely strayed from the empty guest house Mr. Litch had constructed on the estate grounds.”

Unknown to most historians, the Litch family receives a mention in the infamous, always-lost manuscript Mystery of Mountain and Tree, known in occult circles as The Lignis Manes. Ostensibly a history of the culture of Appalachia, The Lignis Manes is best remembered for its extensive recording of mountain black magic practice and its peculiar interest in secret histories and places of supernatural power. The provenance and publication date of The Lignis Manes is unknown but is first mentioned in print in the late 19th century:

“Upon a hill above the serpent’s tongue, Master Litch broke open the trees and gathered the secrets from the creaking logs and he called upon Old Nick, that Evil Spook, to grant his boon and the spot where the Devil’s foot had trod has never known sun’s warmth nor spring’s green nor winter’s touch.”

From an 1895 article in The Lantern’s Light, a monthly publication of the Philadelphia Ghost Club, a short-lived spiritualist society:

“Another legend of the region concerns the so-called Litch House, a manor of extraordinary dimensions built almost fifty years ago, where a number of restless spirits are said to communicate. The manor’s unhappy former master, Thomas Litch, is said to roam the upper chambers and walk through the walls at his whim, while the adjacent guest home is thought to have been visited by Satan himself one cold winter’s night. It is said that Mr. Litch’s son conjured the devil with Indian magicks and thereby lost his soul to burn in the Pit. There is a place near to this house where local legend has it that the Devil tripped on a tree root and fell to his knee, and the spot is now forever barren of vitality and the snow melts as it touches this ground.”

From the suicide note of J. Randolph Bish, resident of the Litch House until his death in 1932, provided by his heirs to this grateful author:

“In the trees, in the pines, the voices I have heard as I walked among them! They told me about him, how he walks with them now, about the times long ago, about their prison and the prisoners they keep in turn! In the trees, in the pines, the cold wind is blowing and the trees are howling! I can hear it in this house, the trees are here in this house, here inside with me!”

From the private correspondence of Dr. William “Big Bill” Kester, prominent Brookville resident, to a friend, dated December 1, 1949:

“I hope you will find this story worth the telling, C___. In October of this year, as I was taking my evening walk along the river, I saw an old woman blocking my path. She didn’t seem to notice me, fixed as she was upon the old Litch house. I could see she was dressed oddly, like one of those old mountain grannies we used to see when we were kids. As I approached, I touched my hat and offered some pleasantries. Without taking her gaze from the house, she asked in a rather crude mountain drawl if the old place was occupied. ‘No,’ I told her, as it stood empty just then, ‘but the Moorhead family is moving in next month.’ The old crone spat into her hands and said, ‘Body made of wood, house made of wood, wood made of body,’ and then stalked off mumbling more hoodoo bunk.”

From the confidential papers of Detective Frank Bailey of the Pittsburgh Police Department, dated February 1967:

“Tuesday: Got a call from the chief of Brookville, little place up north. Heard about me from someone Jerry knows. Asked me about black magic. Says they got a haunted house, maybe more than that. I told him maybe some local kids pulling pranks, painting pentagrams and elder signs and whatnot. He says he deals with kid pranks all the time and this ain’t kids. Little girl went missing in the woods in November; walked out of the woods without a scratch in January. Said she’d been in the trees – inside the trees – talking and playing with them the whole time. I sent a message to Iroquois John. Maybe he can tell me what kind of damn trees those are.”

From an interview with Asaph McKitt, 101 year-old self-described mountain man and at one time the longest-living resident of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. Recorded in 1971 for the local PBS documentary show, Pennsylvania Profiles, the footage was never aired:

Interviewer: “What stories did you hear about the house?”

McKitt: “What my granpappy tol’ me was that Tommy Litch, Master Litch he was called, built himself a house. A fine, big house it was, but it weren’t a house for him and it weren’t for his family.”

Interviewer: “Wh-what, who was it for, then?”

McKitt: “It was for them, them of the trees, you see? In the gloom, in the pines, they walk behind! Old Litch did what none could do, and he walked along with them, with the trees!”

Interviewer: “Uh, OK? What else do – “

McKitt: “Whatever was in them trees, it still is. Up in the house they walkin’ now.”

From Ed Jessop’s “Out ‘N’ About” column appearing in the March 1978 edition of The Jeffersonian Democrat, Brookville’s weekly newspaper:

“It seems folks have gotten their drawers in a bunch over the doings at a certain prominent local home. The lady of the house was seen running up the street late one morning this past week, screaming and carrying on like she had seen a ghost. Although the poor thing was returned to her home no worse for wear, a little bird tells me that she did in fact see a real live ghost in her storied abode. Check with local agents if you’re looking to move, as this columnist has it on good authority that a grand home known for its beautiful woodwork will soon be on the market!”

Under the bridge that crosses Brookville’s North Fork Creek, this graffiti was found and recorded by a concerned citizen in 1982:

“In his house dead Litch waits dreaming!”

From the records of Harvey J. Rearick, president and founder of the Jefferson County Extra-Historical Society, the now-defunct folklore project:

“My research is nearly complete; one more foray into the Litch house before I close this case. It is my opinion that not only is the house haunted, but a large part of the surrounding woods is as well. There are things in those woods that I can’t explain, things I have seen but wish I hadn’t. It’s connected to the trees somehow, as if the trees are haunted by something, but what? Is it some nature spirit like the Indians used to call on, or can the trees be haunted by ghosts of people? What people, though, I don’t know.

“Here’s what I’ve pieced together so far: Thomas Litch found something in the woods long before he bought the property. I think his son, Edward, figured it out later, got scared, and never went back to the house. I think Edward even tried to stop whatever it was in the house and the supposed magic circle that shows up in all the stories is really the only spot that Edward was able to cleanse with the spells he had learned from the Indians. One little spot where nothing grows (not even the trees) was the only protection against whatever was haunting (is still haunting!) the Litch House.

“What I need to do is get in that house and confirm that it’s made from the same wood. And if I can, I’ll see if I can capture any evidence that Thomas Litch’s ghost is in there somewhere, too.”

Harvey, a dear friend, disappeared in 1999 the very night he wrote the note above. What was left of his papers were entrusted to me and from them I have culled everything I present here. This is a case for a history of a haunting, not grainy videos or blurry photographs, but an authentic archive of the supernatural, what Harvey would have called the true story of the Litch House.


Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

The Midnighters: All Hallows

For over thirty years, Jerry worked as a police officer in Pittsburgh. In his time on the force, Jerry had seen some bad things, some worse things, and some downright evil things. Cleaning up when people got mad or got crazy was part of the job, but there were other things that Jerry saw, things that most people never see, things that prowl the night, things that refuse to die.

I interviewed Jerry several times in 2002. The following incident is just one of the many stories Jerry shared in hours of audio recordings. I have transcribed them just as they were told to me by Jerry.

“This must’ve been about 1970 or thereabouts, right around Halloween, when Frank and me – that’s my partner, Frank – we were investigating this homicide, well, it was more like a missing persons case at that point, but we had a hunch – Frank had a hunch – that there was more to it.

“The story behind it all was that in October this girl disappeared and she used to be real friendly with Mayor Flaherty which is a big problem, right? Well, that ain’t the half of it, ‘cause the real problem was she also used to go with Johnny LaRocca who ran the gambling and girls and the whole mob there in Pittsburgh.

“So, the girl goes missing and it’s kind of a mess for all the muckety-mucks, but of course this poor girl’s family are wondering are they ever going to see her again. Well, the girl – her name was Rosie – she was last seen downtown near the Liberty Bridge with a couple of shady guys, then she just up and disappeared.

“Frank and me, we were helping out on the case on account of all the heat from the mayor’s office. I was thinking the girl skipped town or was hiding out but Frank, he was pretty sure she came to a bad end. The problem was, nobody knew where she was and the blame was going around and people were getting antsy.

“Now it’s the night before Halloween, right, and we’re all working overtime and Frank, he pulls me aside and says let’s go for a drive. I’m like, sure, I could use a coffee or something but Frank takes me up the Boulevard of the Allies there and at Grant he pulls over and he shuts off the engine.

“Now, I’m like, this is all fine, Frank, but we got work, right? But Frank, he’s just staring off and I can tell he’s got something on his mind. Frank points up at the street signs and he says, where are we, Jerry? And I say, on the Boulevard at Grant, so what? And Frank says, right, Jerry, we’re at a crossroads.

“I’m like, big whoop, so it’s an intersection, who cares? But Frank, he says, no it’s a crossroads and he tells me how a crossroads is a place where ghosts and stuff hang out or something ‘cause it’s a place between two places…I’m not really saying it right, but intersections are spooky places is all I mean.

“Then Frank says, what day is it? And I say it’s the 30th and Frank says, no, it’s after midnight, it’s Halloween. And then he tells me how on Halloween, the wall between us and them ghosts is thin, as thin as it gets all year, and sometimes you can see the ghosts.

“So, Frank had a double whammy here with it being Halloween and us being at that crossroads and I’m wondering what Frank has up his sleeve but he just tells me to wait and I say, wait for what? And Frank says, for Rosie.

“It must’ve been two hours we were on spook stakeout there and I was falling asleep and Frank gives me a nudge and points down the Boulevard and I look and there’s this mist come rolling down the street, right?

“Now, I’ve seen some heavy fog before but this was something else and it just came like a flood down the Boulevard and up over the car. Frank and me, we’re just quiet, watching and waiting, and then after a minute or so, the mist starts to thin out and then I see that, yeah, there’s people in there.

“They was moving down the street, the Boulevard, in a big group – a parade, I guess – and I say they was moving, not walking, ‘cause I didn’t really see any walking going on. They were whitish like they were covered in chalk dust or something and they were kind of see-through. I mean, they were ghosts, right?

“There must’ve been hundreds of ‘em and every kind of person, right? There were guys and ladies, adults and kids, some looked like they died yesterday and there was some looked like cavemen and must’ve died a thousand years ago.

“I saw a guy, he looked like he might be a Revolutionary War soldier, and there were lots and lots of Indians all marching together. There were men in suits and top hats and others in rags and all bloody. They just stared right ahead and kept moving down the street.”

“But there were these other ones, right? I don’t know what to call them exactly, but some were big, bigger than people ought to be, and they were black and shadowy – hard to make out – with what looked like big bat wings, and there were some were smaller, but they had these big claws and teeth and they looked more like animals than people.

“I said to Frank, what are those things? And Frank says, I got no idea, Jerry, but let’s hope they don’t notice us sitting here. And none of them did, in fact, I don’t think any of them moving down the street even looked our way once.

“I said to Frank, what are we doing here Frank? And Frank says, we’re waiting for Rosie, and I’m thinking if she ain’t dead, she ain’t here, but I know Frank thinks she is.

“Well, we watched all this go on for a good twenty minutes – longer than anybody ought to – and then Frank says, look, and he points and there in the crowd is a little figure, and I can see it’s Rosie, I recognize her from her picture, and, I mean, you know, jeez, she’s just a girl, and she’s as white as the rest of them and soaking wet from head to toe.

“Well, we watch her pass on by up the Boulevard and the whole crowd starts to thin out and then that’s it, they’re all gone with the fog. Frank and me, we’re both a little shell shocked here. I don’t think Frank even expected all that to happen, but now we know, right, now we know that Rosie’s dead and she’s in the drink somewhere, in the river.

“We can’t exactly go back to headquarters and tell ‘em what happened, but Frank fudges a bit about a tip we got and he gets them to search the Mon River there around the bridge and after a couple of days, they find her down there with a chunk of concrete tied to her legs.

“Things cooled down between the mayor and the mobster after they buried the poor girl and that makes me think they were all in on it and that girl must have known some bad stuff about everybody’s business.

“Frank and me, we never been back to that intersection – the crossroads, right – but I guess if someone wanted to, they could go down there on Halloween, wait for Rosie to walk by, and ask her what happened. Couldn’t hurt, I guess.”


Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

The Night Road

The American highway system is the largest in the world with four million miles of road. Every year it claims the lives of roughly 40,000 people. For those who don’t make the trip home, there is sometimes another road they must travel, a dark and lonely road that traverses lands unseen and leads to destinations unknown.

Carlos writes to tell me the story of an event that he witnessed late one night in 1991. Carlos drives a big rig and spends a greater part of the year on the road. His job usually takes him from the west coast, where goods are unloaded at the Port of Oakland, California, to the distribution centers that dot the Midwest.

On that fateful night in 1991, Carlos was running a load east along Interstate 80. It was late and very dark as Carlos drove along the nearly deserted highway. “I was in Wyoming, heading toward Cheyenne,” Carlos tells me.

There are stretches of roadway in Wyoming that are downright beautiful, gorgeous examples of the planet’s natural wonders. There are times, however, when those same places can send a cold chill down a man’s spine.

“There’s a place, after Green River but before you get to Rawlins,” Carlos says, “that is a sight to see in the daytime. But at night, it always gave me the spooks.”

Carlos was driving this stretch of roadway one night when he found himself to be the only driver on the road. “It’s not like it doesn’t happen,” Carlos tells me, “but out there, you can see a long way up and down the road, and I didn’t see nothing.”

It was late and Carlos was trying to push through to Cheyenne, and the dread he felt out there alone were helping him stay awake. And then suddenly, he saw the headlights behind him.

“Maybe I dozed off, who knows,” Carlos recalls, “but all at once there was a car right behind me.” As headlights flooded the truck’s mirrors with light, Carlos slowed his rig. The lights grew brighter, brighter than any kind of car Carlos had seen before.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and raced forward. “I thought it was a maniac trying to ram me,” Carlos remembers. “But then they came up alongside.”

Carlos could see a black sedan coming up beside his truck. It was an old fashioned model, a classic in good condition. Trying to keep an eye on both the car and the road, Carlos was distracted enough not to notice the speed that the car was traveling.

“This was like a Model T car or something,” Carlos tells me. “I look down and see that I’m going 80 and it’s passing me fast.” As the vintage roadster roared by, Carlos caught a glimpse of its passengers.

“There was a man and a woman inside,” Carlos tells me. “And the only reason I could see them  was because there was this strange glow inside the car.” It seemed to Carlos that the passengers were lit from below with an unearthly green light, a pale fluorescence that cast deep shadows, making the car’s driver and his passenger appear gaunt and skeletal.

The old car charged past Carlos’s truck and then everything went dark. “It’s like they shut off their lights,” Carlos recalls, “but I knew that car was gone because it was a ghost car being driven by ghosts.”

Before Carlos could process the strange event, another set of headlights suddenly appeared in his rear view mirror. This time, Carlos could see right away that it was another rig coming up behind him.

“I was calling on the CB to see if this guy saw what I saw,” Carlos tells me, “but it was just dead air.” The rig started coming up fast, faster than any truck Carlos had ever seen before. Carlos started to worry.

The lights drew closer and Carlos could hear the sound of the oncoming truck’s engine groaning and screeching like a wounded demon. Carlos gave his rig a bit more gas, trying to put some distance between him and whatever was coming from behind.

It was no use; the truck changed lanes, moving to pass Carlos, so Carlos slowed down to oblige. In the brief moment that followed, Carlos wished he had raced on to Cheyenne or driven off the road or, at least, closed his eyes.

For, although the truck that passed by looked like any ordinary tractor trailer on the road today, the driver, lit from below by the same ghastly green light Carlos had already seen, was of another order of phantom than Carlos had previously encountered.

The truck’s driver was huge and pale, sitting high in his seat like a giant; his skin was like the surface of the moon, pitted and gleaming, reflecting the ghoulish light, and from the scars that covered his face, blood trickled and oozed. He turned briefly in Carlos’s direction and his eyes glimmered with a baleful red light as he smiled.

“I stayed on the road somehow,” Carlos tells me, “but I don’t know how.” Reeling in shock, Carlos had no time to react before he was hit with the image that still haunts his dreams and unsettles his waking hours.

As the cab of the truck passed him by, Carlos could see the dismal load its fiendish driver was hauling. “It wasn’t a regular trailer, it was a fenced-up one,” Carlos recalls, “like what they use for cattle.”

The great bulk of the truck slid by in the night, and, lit by the running lights of his own rig, Carlos could see the hands and fingers and faces – some rotted and bleeding, some stripped of all flesh, some just ghostly shades  – through the small openings in the trailer’s enclosure.

“I try not to drive at night anymore,” Carlos tells me. “But I have trouble sleeping at night anyway.”

Although Carlos refuses to drive that particular stretch of road anymore, many millions do. How many of those drivers pay attention to the cars that pass in the night, the ones that seem to come from nowhere and quickly speed off to their fates? How many of the cars that pass by are weary travellers heading home and how many are travelling a different kind of road, a road that is crowded but lonely, a road that cuts straight through the night but never arrives at morning?


Read more stories of the paranormal and unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

In Darkness We Wait

The following story is found in The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts by J. Allen Randolph, published in London in 1959:

The American Civil War killed hundreds of thousands of soldiers, far more than any other war fought in America, indeed, more than any other war fought by Americans. If a violent death is a prerequisite for a haunting, then the American Civil War must have produced a plethora of ghosts or at least as many ghost stories.

One such story comes to us from a correspondent in the American state of Tennessee. Civil War ghosts are as numerous as the stars, but this particular tale struck me as intensely intriguing, resonating as it does with a mythic past almost forgotten on these shores.

In April 1862 the Battle of Shiloh was fought for two days in southwestern Tennessee. On the first day, the rebel army of the Confederates almost overran the federal Union line, but on the second, reinforcements turned the tide.

Our correspondent – my friend – is an avid historian, albeit an amateur one, and his interest drew him many times to the site of the battle. On one such occasion, he was exploring an unusually dense thicket with a tragic past.

It seems that on that bloody first day, as the Union lines retreated, small bands of brave men gathered here and there and held their positions so that their fellow soldiers could regroup and repel the quickly advancing rebel army.

One such stand was made in the lonely thicket by remnants of the 9th and 12th Illinois regiments. These men steadfastly refused to retreat and their rifles never stopped firing. It was their courage and the courage of others like them that saved the Union army that day.

Unfortunately, history does not record a happy ending for these particular soldiers. As the Union line solidified behind the thicket, a plan was hatched by an officer to use the thicket’s advantageous position to surprise and repel the oncoming enemy soldiers. Once the Confederates passed the thicket, the Union soldiers were ordered to attack them from the rear.

It seems, however, that no one thought to tell the Union artillery of the plan. The thicket was quickly mistaken for an enemy holdout and the heavy Union guns rained hell upon it.

Of the three dozen soldiers in the thicket, only one lived long enough to tell the tale of the lonely last stand in the thicket and how the soldiers there died waiting for the order to advance and rejoin their line. Only pieces of these soldiers were found.

Seventy years later, our intrepid correspondent enters the scene. The Shiloh battlefield is well-known in America, but the story of the last stand in the thicket is not. My friend, however, was well aware of it, being a connoisseur of history’s mysteries, and was determined to uncover its exact whereabouts.

Surveying the battlefield, our correspondent quickly perceived four candidates and began his explorations.

What was he looking for? I am not an historian and I do not pretend to share their particular variety of perspicacity. Whatever my friend was looking for that would provide evidence of a battle some seventy years old – whether bullets or bones – he did not find it in his examinations of the first three thickets.

The fourth thicket stood alone. Apart from spindly trees and thorny bushes, it seemed to shelter only deep shadows and a bitter chill that rebutted the balmy May afternoon. Our correspondent, however, with his preternatural sense of the historical, had a feeling he was in the right place.

The sunlight seemed to disappear in the cool air of the overgrown thicket. My friend walked slowly among the trees, carefully examining the wild undergrowth for hidden signs from long ago.

As the shadows lengthened, one could not say whether the sun had set yet or not, but my friend did not care, for as he leaned his back against a sturdy trunk, he looked down and at his feet, he saw a cracked, yellowing skull staring up at him.   

Our correspondent was certain that he was in the right place and carefully examined the remains without picking them up. He left the skull where it lay and ventured further into the trees.

As my friend walked through the thick grove, he looked down and saw bones and skulls, scraps of long-decayed cloth, bits of rusted rifles and twisted canteens among the roots and undergrowth.

He stopped to contemplate the significance of his grisly find and thought he could almost smell the smoldering flesh and hear the bugles and terrible cries of the dying men. Then he saw something move.

Behind the trees shadows moved, crowding the few open spaces. They were men – or shadows of men – that surged toward our correspondent, and as they did, he could see the outline of the Union caps and the long barrels of the rifles carried by federal soldiers.

They swarmed among the trees but stopped and lingered a few meters away. My friend could still only make out their dark shapes and the countless sets of dim silver light that he took for eyes.

The shadows stood quietly, seemingly contemplating the living intruder in their place of rest. My friend could only stand his ground, struck as he was with both fear and wonder at the strange assemblage before him.

A gust of icy wind whipped through the trees and one of the shadows seemed to lean forward. My friend heard the voice as if it came from far away, from long ago, but he knew it was the shadow before him that whispered, “Is it time? Is it time yet?”

My friend staggered under the weight of the sudden burden that had been thrust upon him. “No,” he answered. “Not yet.” He immediately regretted his response, but he appreciated the immediate effect as the shadows retreated and quickly dissolved in the darkness.

My friend’s heart was pierced with terror and sorrow at the poor wretches who lingered in the world long after it had abandoned them. Had he given the right answer? Had he released the spirits from their bondage, what would they have done? My friend believes that only more tragedy would follow.

There exist numerous stories of sleeping warriors in the British Isles. In Ireland, the hills are said to be filled to the brim with them. It seems these stories, like many others, have crossed the Atlantic. The last warriors of Shiloh remain, waiting, as King Arthur and his knights slumber in Avalon, to fight again when their country calls upon them once more.


Read more stories of true encounters with the paranormal in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

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