Seemingly, the scariest thing that can happen to a road in Pennsylvania is closing for construction. But author and Duquesne University archivist Thomas White has made driving in Pittsburgh much more frightening with his new book “Haunted Roads of Western Pennsylvania.” White sat down with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to talk about the book and its ghastly contents.
From gypsy kings to phantom coal miners to Green Man, White’s book covers many local legends from over six counties. However, White’s book takes a slightly different approach.
“I don’t try to prove whether ghosts are real or not,” White said. “Instead, I chronicle the legends and then I try and place them in kind of historical or cultural context and also see what is historically true behind the legend and what we would kind of classify as an urban legend.”
For example, in the chapter titled “Shades of Death Road: Washington County,” White covers a story of phantom coal miners who would supposedly appear on the sides of the road. While these tales of specters may sound scary enough on their own, White reveals the tale has a basis in history.
In 1922, a coal miner strike hit Pennsylvania, close to the West Virginia border, White said. The strike grew violent and many miners, as well as the country sheriff, were killed in the combat, dead bodies being left on the sides of the road. White believes it is likely this event inspired the tales of ghostly miners.
That is not to say White has not had his own run-ins with strange occurrences.
“I’ve been collecting these stories and going to these places since about 1999 and over the years, I’d say about 90 percent of the time, nothing happens when I go to these places,” White said. “There are some times when weird things do happen.”
One such example occurred when White, who teaches a class on legends at La Roche College, took a class to Blue Mist Road, which is covered in the book. While walking back from the trip at night, White and his class heard strange noises in the woods nearby. They found a dog without a leash on running in and out of a creek in a repetitive pattern, as well as a couple with a completely blank stare and no source of light on them. White said the encounter left the group unnerved the remainder of the outing.
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