Ghosts of Pittsburgh

Ghosts of Pittsburgh

By Jesseca Muslin / Staff Writer

Halloween means ghosts, spirits and things that go bump in the night — or things that go bump in broad daylight while Pitt students are sitting in class. 

All Hallow’s Eve is a night when the spirits of the dead are said to walk among the living. Thousands of Pitt students study in or walk past haunted places on campus every day without even knowing it. 

Two years ago, on her annual Halloween evening ghost watch in the Early American Room on the third floor of the Cathedral, Maxine Bruhns was telling a story about being a young girl on her grandparents’ farm. 

“When I mentioned “Grandma,” the cradle rocked three times, no more. You cannot make it do that when you rock it,” Bruhns, director of the Nationality Rooms, said. “I can make the cradle rock, and it goes about 14 times.”

According to Bruhns, her grandmother haunts the Early American Room, one of the most well-known haunted rooms on Pitt’s campus. Her grandmother was Martha Jane Poe, a second cousin of Edgar Allen Poe, and is the resident ghost of the room’s secret bedroom. 

To get to the secret haunted bedroom, you have to enter a closet, push a hidden knob in the wall, climb through a hidden door and climb a staircase to the top.  

The bedroom is furnished with donations from Bruhns herself, including her grandmother’s wedding quilt that was made in 1850.

Bruhns said that once, a custodian was cleaning the room and fixed the quilt on the bed, only to turn and see it folded back with an indentation on the pillow. Another time, a carpenter who carefully wrapped and put away a picture of Martha Jane Poe found it broken later that day. 

She believes her grandmother’s ghost does not mean any harm.

“She’s playful and shows up when you least expect her,” Bruhns said. 

Bella Gnakou, a junior pre-med and natural sciences major, said she didn’t know the stories about the ghost in the Cathedral, and wasn’t sure if she believed them. 

“There’s not enough to convince me,” she said. 

Tim Murray, however, said he has seen his fair share of Pitt ghouls. 

A Pitt Law school alum who graduated in 1980, Murray is the founder and co-owner of Haunted Pittsburgh, a group that hosts walking ghost tours through Pittsburgh neighborhoods. 

While the Downtown tour is the most popular, Murray said, the tour guides’ favorite is the Oakland tour because “the Pitt campus is teeming with ghosts and tales of the unexplained.” 

“If you want to find ghosts — and ghost stories — you need to go where there’s vitality,” Murray said. “There’s no neighborhood in our region, and perhaps in any region, with more vitality than Oakland.”

Murray said many Oakland buildings “have some connection with the supernatural.”

In the Croghan-Schenley ballroom on the first floor of the Cathedral, Murray said “the spirit does the ghostly equivalent of waving to guests by swinging the massive chandelier.”

Murray also said there are tales of paranormal activity in the Union, Bruce Hall and even Holland Hall, where a group of girls decided to play with a Ouija Board in the late ‘80s.

Around Halloween, others might be tempted to break out a Ouija board and try to connect with those who have passed, or might want to do some ghost hunting of their own on campus. 

Murray warned against ghost hunting. If you want to have a paranormal experience, stick with the nationality room tour, as Murray said Haunted Pittsburgh also strongly opposes the use of Ouija boards. 

“If you dare to open the door to the dark side, you don’t know what you’re letting in,” Murray said.