Washington Co. Historical Society frightens visitors with grizzly frontier tales

October 19, 2013
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Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter
Dan Ragaller portrayed a highwayman, or common thief, at Washington County Historical Society’s “Fright on the Frontier” fundraiser Friday and Saturday at Washington Park. Order a Print
Image description
Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter
Volunteer Bryan Cunning, right, and Clay Kilgore, director of Washington County Historical Society, told grisly stories Friday and Saturday during walks led through the “haunted” Frontier Settlement at Washington Park. Order a Print

Every day was scary on America’s frontier in Pennsylvania for settlers living on the edge of a sprawling forest in constant fear of Indian massacres.

As a result, frontiersmen focused more on survival than making time to have fun on Halloween or even mark Christmas, said Clay Kilgore, director of Washington County Historical Society.

“They really didn’t celebrate it. You don’t see that on the frontier,” Kilgore said Saturday, when the society conducted haunted walks through its Frontier Settlement in Washington Park to create a fun, creepy experience to tell the region’s early-American experience.

The society over the weekend held its first “Fright on the Frontier” fundraiser, where its volunteers spooked visitors with chilling true and fake stories about Indian massacres and ambushes while dressed in period clothing.

“We scared some people. Some people came away with an appreciation of the area,” said Dave Budinger, a society board member.

Budinger said people living on the frontier “actually believed in ghosts and nobody went out in the night in the woods.”

Guests here were led into the woods to a clearing where they found Bryan Cunning telling the true story of an American soldier and surveyor, Col. William Crawford, and his capture in 1782 by Indians in Ohio, where he was tortured and burned at the stake.

Cunning wove into the story a false story that he witnessed the events from afar and failed, as promised to Crawford, to put him out of misery when his gun aimed at the burning officer failed to fire. For that, Crawford “cursed” Cunning’s character named Alexander.

Nearby, in the frontier fort, visitors would find a fake, but real-looking skull soaking in a jar on the tour’s final stop.

“We have this great fort,” Cunning said.

“We have to get people out here and are looking for different ways to showcase living history.”

The re-enactors in conjunction with the Bassettown Paranormal Society will conduct ghost walks from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, beginning at the Bradford House, 175 S. Main St., Washington.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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