Region's ghoulish tales in new books

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Even the titles of the chapters are creepy: "Ghosts and Curses at the Old Quaker Church"; "A Ghoulish Home."

James F. Titus Jr. gathered most of his spooky stories from friends and colleagues and his personal accounts; Thomas White used a wider, folklore-ish and anthropological approach, although he has augmented his interviews and research by visiting the sites of many of his stories.

But the results are similar: Two locally written collections of ghost stories from southwestern Pennsylvania, out just in time to raise the hair on the back of your neck for Halloween.

Mr. Titus' book, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd., is titled "Supernatural Pittsburgh and Its Suburbs" ($14.95). Mr. White's, a product of Haunted America, a Division of the History Press, is "Ghosts of Southwestern Pennsylvania" ($19.99).

Both are fun reads, whether you believe in the netherworld or not.

Mr. Titus, 64, of Robinson, who taught parochial school and also worked in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette classified advertising department, says he has been interested in the supernatural all of his life. "I remember listening on radio -- the music and voice were scary on the show 'Inner Sanctum.' " Later he helped to terrorize his younger brother when they watched the television version of the show together.

"What kid doesn't like to be scared?" he asked. He hopes the same is true of the adults who pick up what is his first book. "I hope you find this full of fear and laughing. There's a lot of humor in the book," he said. "But it's rooted ... with fright."

That includes his own. One of his favorite stories, "The House on Robinson Hill," is part of the aforementioned "A Ghoulish Home." It's based on his experience as a kid exploring a scary old Oakland house with his playmates. A dark, cavernous basement and doors that open too readily are prominently featured.

Mr. White, 35, of West View is an adjunct history professor at Duquesne University and La Roche College. He also is the university's archivist and curator of special collections. His historical perspective is apparent in the background woven around his stories.

"I don't want to just tell a story, but I want to have a little bit of context for it besides it simply being another ghost story and keep it interesting enough to shoot for the popular audience interested in having a little more detail," he said. "I call it the History Channel audience, people reading about history for fun but wanting to learn a little bit along the way."

His two favorite stories fill the bill.

In "Ghosts and Curses at the Old Quaker Church: Fayette County," he weaves in history about the early 19th-century meetinghouse and its eerie cemetery with tales of strange incidents connected with them. In "Cries at the Black Cross: Butler County," the history lesson is about the mass graves in West Winfield Township of immigrant victims of the 1918 Spanish flu. A black cross that a priest had constructed marked the site for decades and became the center of many legends, such as the sounds of babies crying and muffled voices coming out of the ground. Bad weather and vandalism destroyed the cross, which in recent years was replaced by a burial marker, but the folklore endures.

Asked if they actually believe in the supernatural sixth sense, ghosts or the fourth dimension, the authors both say they can't dismiss any of it.

"I believe there is no way to disbelieve it. There are too many things that happen that defy explanation," Mr. Titus said. "I hope [his book] will give people comfort that there's something more than us."

Mr. White said, "It's a difficult question. It's interesting to think about. ... I try to keep an open mind with a little skepticism to see if I can explain it away first."


Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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