Elliot Jones is a big, bearded Grizzly Adams-type of guy who says he's not afraid of anything.
Yet the West Mifflin resident admits to once getting "really freaked out" by a spirited guest at the Valley Hotel in Jefferson Hills.
Some years back, Mr. Jones, 52, made monthly visits there to gather empty aluminum cans from a basement recycling chute. Then one day, as he was bagging up the cans, he heard a faint but distinct woman's scream behind him. And he was alone.
"It sounded like she was screaming for help," Mr. Jones said. "I didn't even finish what I was doing; I just said 'I'm outta here.' I never went back."
His is among a number of incidents reported to Valley Hotel owners Jo Ellen Oggier and Bill "Duel" Deemer since they bought the place in 2004. The married couple from McKeesport said the reports, plus personal experiences, have them convinced the building is haunted.
"They're not unfriendly or evil spirits, they're just here," said Ms. Oggier, 59.
Mr. Deemer, 64, agreed. "If something started throwing knives at me or whatever like in the 'Amityville Horror,' then I'd leave. But they're peaceful. They don't bother anyone."
The Valley Hotel, located at 1004 New England Hollow Road, is now a musician's bar with a stage, a grill and sleeping rooms.
It stopped being a hotel in 2007. Since the building was built before 1949, the owners were granted an exemption from a hotel license requirement that rooms be available for rent nightly.
The hotel owners still hold a license, but the 10 rooms on the second floor are now used for storage and as sleeping rooms rented at their discretion.
The couple first suspected ghostly goings-on shortly after opening the bar. Orbs would show up in photos only above the head of family friend Dan Prokop, whose band played at the bar.
Mr. Prokop is the grandson of Robert Medvidovich, who owned the hotel from 1964 until his death in 1986. Ms. Oggier said he "idolized Danny."
Orbs are transparent floating or moving balls of light. Those that show up on film and video can be shutter-speed issues with dust, bugs and such, but some people think they can be spirits of the dead.
"I believe [the orb] was my father, even though people would probably say I'm crazy," said Mr. Prokop's mother, Dolly Prokop of Elizabeth Township.
Months later, while watching the bar from home through a surveillance system with infrared cameras, Ms. Oggier saw orbs of varied sizes floating in an arc formation over the bar-to-kitchen doorway. She called her husband at work and asked him to turn on his computer.
"I said, 'Are you seeing what I'm seeing?' And Duel said, 'It looks like they're having a volleyball game.' We never saw them again," Ms. Oggier said.
On the second floor, room guests have reported hearing unexplained voices and footsteps, and seeing moving shadows, all in the hallway, she said.
One past guest said her cat repeatedly lunged at a wall, at something invisible. Another complained that after waking at 3 a.m., he couldn't fall back asleep because someone with heavy boots was deliberately stomping on the floor in the room above his.
"I just let him ramble on and on. Finally I said, 'There is no third floor. It burned off [in an electrical fire] in 1971, and no one can get up to the roof.' His face turned white," Ms. Oggier said.
Not much is written about the hotel's history, so no one knows "who" the alleged spirits might be. Ms. Oggier said she ran into roadblocks during light research, but learned that the building, originally called Hotel Granger, was built in the mid-1800s. Owner William Granger brought his family over from Scotland to work and live there, she said.
She wonders if building renovations -- ongoing since the 1970s -- brought on the spirit activity, as paranormal experts claim often happens.
The basement, which is not used much due to flooding from the nearby Monongahela River, has remnants of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she said. Among them: a short, decorative cement wall thought to be part of an animal stall; support beams made of tree parts; walls of quarried limestone; dirt floors; and coal chutes.
Maintenance man Bert Wright, of Jefferson Hills, thinks the basement is "downright eerie." He always looks over his shoulder when making plumbing repairs.
"I'm scared to go down there by myself. I am," said Mr. Wright, 62. "I go down as quick as I can, do what I gotta do, and leave. I make sure the door is locked behind me, too. I'm sorry, but it scares me."
A paranormal group that once investigated the hotel told Ms. Oggier that the spirits of former servants still live in the basement. The group also reported witnessing a mirror panel move back and forth from a wall and slam to the ground on its own, she said.
The spirits don't bother bar customers, but they do play practical jokes on the bartenders, Ms. Oggier said. Shift hand-off notes and sundry items will disappear from drawers and then reappear days later. A small rubber ball kept by the cash register "just to see how often the spirits take it" goes MIA for months at a time, she said.
Mr. Deemer said he hears mystery knocks near daily in his first floor sleeping quarters.
"It's not the building settling or cracking," he said. "The knocks are a pronounced on-wood-knuckle-knock, followed by three more knocks. I check the door or the camera system, but no one's ever there."
In that same room, Misty, the couple's belated German shepherd collie mix, sometimes would stop short in the middle of the floor during runs across the room. "She'd stop like something was right there, walk sideways, turn around, and go back shaking, actually shaking," Ms. Oggier said.
For more, visit www.valleyhotelbar.com.
Freelance writer Kathy Samudovsky can be reached in care of firstname.lastname@example.org .