Pittsburgh ghost tour explores the dark history of South Side


Shreya Singh | Staff Writer

Café Du Jour and Dunbar’s Place on East Carson Street in the South Side, two stops on the Pittsburgh Ghost Tours.

By Shreya Singh, Staff Writer

From abandoned steel mills and factories to refurbished burial grounds, it’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is home to a countless number of paranormal sightings. 

Offered year round by US Ghost Adventures, the Pittsburgh Ghost Tours is a walkable tour that costs $30 per person. The company oversees more than 50 ghost tours across different cities in the U.S. The tour takes guests through East Carson Street in the South Side, while retelling some of the most infamous tales of paranormal activity in the area.

Apart from walkable ghost tours, US Ghost Adventures also offers a virtual ghost tour known as GhostFlix. The virtual tour takes people through different locations across the U.S. in real time, remotely.

Chayna Sellers, the lead regional manager of US Ghost Adventures, said there’s a lot of leg work involved in providing guests the best educational experience possible.

“We choose our locations based on if the area has the demand to open a tour, as well as enough paranormal activity in a mile area to create our tour route,” Sellers said. “We will hire a local writer in the area to research the area, make connections and write the stories out for us to give to our guides so that they may then tell them to our guests.”

During the tour, Mary Akpadock, a tour guide for the company, said the history of Pittsburgh is what makes the hauntings around the City so important.

“A lot of history originates in the South Side of Pittsburgh,” Akpadock said. “There were a lot of steel mills and there were factories and all those are pretty much desolate now. Mr. [Henry] Frick and Mr. [Andrew] Carnegie added so much to Pittsburgh’s rich history with the libraries and museums, but of course, with great history comes great hauntings. This tour offers an insight into the stories that have been left behind.” 

The tour consists of seven stops, starting at the George K. Cupples Stadium and ending at Cindy Esser’s Floral Shop. The stops in between include Café Du Jour, the now condemned Dunbar’s Place, Mario’s South Side Saloon, The Smiling Moose and Buffalo Exchange.

According to US Ghost Adventures’ research, George K. Cupples Stadium used to be a cemetery before the City invested more than $2 million in the early 2000s to renovate the space into what it is now. 

Akpadock said the local high school used the stadium to put on a haunted house around Halloween and there have been unexplained sightings on the field.

“Over the years, they got feedback of sightings that didn’t quite make sense,” Akpadock said. “One year, there was a sighting of a beheaded clown. At the end of the attraction, the staff asked for feedback, and several people mentioned that they found the clown scary. Of course, the organizers were like ‘What clown? We don’t have any clown.’” 

Akpadock said Dunbar’s Place used to be an industrial factory before a freak accident caused the death of eight employees. 

“In the mid-1800s, it used to be a factory that produced industrial materials,” Akpadock said. “It had an assembly line and unfortunately, one of the machines malfunctioned one night and blew up, causing a chain reaction. Since all the machines are connected, the reaction caused a terrible fire in the factory. Eight employees died that night.”

Akpadock added that people have reported seeing individuals wearing factory uniforms over the years. Dunbar’s Place is now closed indefinitely due to an accident last year.

According to Pittsburgh Action News and the Dunbar’s Place Instagram page, last year, there was another fire in the building. An ambulance took Joe Traynor, the third floor tenant, to the hospital in critical condition due to the fire. 

Akpadock said Traynor died from his injuries and the cause of the fire remains unclear. 

“The interesting thing about this place, and you can obviously tell due to the structural damage, is that there was a fire last year,” Akpadock said. “That’s what caused this place to be condemned, and there have continued to be fires at this location. Mind you, this is the only affected building, and fires travel fast so you would think it would spread to the connected buildings, but no. It’s just this place.”

During the tour, every tour guide carries an EMF detector that signals the level of paranormal activity in a given area. The detector starts at a “safe” level, before moving to “caution” and then “danger” to indicate a strong paranormal presence. 

Akpadock said she usually witnesses the most activity on the EMF when the tour approaches Mario’s South Side Saloon

“The EMF gives another visual during the tour,” Akpadock said. “Usually on the way to Mario’s, there tends to be more activity. Every year, Mario’s hosts a Halloween party, and there’s this cowboy that shows up every year. He’s rowdy and he’s completely harmless, but he’s just annoying. There are cameras in the bar and you never see him enter and you never see him leave.”

Sellers said one of her favorite parts of working on the ghost tours is hearing about other employees’ own paranormal experiences. 

“One of our prior guides was a former employee at Mario’s South Side Saloon and had shared his experiences with me from his time in the kitchen,” Sellers said. “That is one of my favorite parts of the job, when guides tell me about their experiences. Past and present.”