This is the first part of a five-part series, “Ghost Stories,” to be published online and in print every Friday in October.
Clara Friedman was not known as the type of person who made people around her feel comfortable.
And 17 years after her death, some say that hasn't changed.
Friedman was a resident at 220 McKean Ave. in Charleroi, now Tim's Secret Treasures. She died in 1997 in an upper room. Her body was not found for several weeks, according to former shop owner Dennis Paluso.
“She only had one lightbulb in each room,” he said. “Only one heater. I think she probably froze to death.”
He said she kept to herself, spoke broken English and had an eerie habit of sitting in the front room and gazing out the window.
“You'd walk by and you'd always see a cat in the window. And every once in awhile, you'd catch a glimpse of her,” he said. “It was a little scary.”
Friedman was a niece of the store's early 19th century owner, Samuel Friedman. He and his wife, Rosa, ran a junk store there. Samuel emigrated from Austria in 1893, followed later by his wife, according to a book, “Prominent Jews of America.” It tells of his struggles to earn money early in America, saying he went broke in Brownsville and walked to Charleroi, where he was finally able to find work. He earned a living, then a fortune, working in the junk business in Charleroi.
“Success in life is largely governed by a man's willingness to 'pay the price,'” wrote author S.B. Goodkind about Friedman in 1918. “It takes effort, concentration and hard knocks, but if they are boldly withstood, he will eventually rise to the realization of his highest ambition.”
“He was worth over $200,000,” Paluso said.
Records collected by Paluso and the current owner, Rhonda Jaquay, show the Friedmans helped Clara, or Klara, emigrate from Poland in the early 1920s. She appears to have performed a similar good deed for her own niece, Karina Barthow, according to the records. Barthow was orphaned during the Holocaust, and came to stay with Clara as a young woman. Jaquay said Barthow is still living, now in Florida.
Paluso said he purchased the shop from Barthow. But Jaquay said the first time she encountered one of the family members it was Clara, and it was after she died.
“I got hugged up here, physically hugged,” she said, standing in the room where Clara's body laid for weeks.
Clara is just one of several ghosts said to haunt the 220 McKean Ave. shop.
Jaquay said multiple psychics and investigators have confirmed more than one ghostly presence in the shop. Some shoppers have had their own experiences, which corroborate the history and investigators.
In one room filled with toys, some visitors said they have seen a little girl playing. Jaquay said some feel her hanging on their legs like a small child holds onto a parent.
She said two shoppers once came downstairs to tell her a little girl was unattended in the room. She went upstairs to show them nothing was there.
Investigators at Aura Paranormal of Pittsburgh captured an electronic voice phenomena in that room of a young voice saying “Hi Daddy!”
Another apparition, who psychics called “George,” becomes more active around Halloween when more people come to the store looking for a scare. Jaquay said he wants his privacy.
“It's just 'Dennis the Menace' stuff with him,” she said.
She said he closes doors, clatters dishes and walks up and down the stairs where his portrait hangs nearby on the wall.
But a darker presence is in the oldest part of the building, which once housed a mule stable for the nearby coal mines.
“There are sensitives who come in here that don't like to be back here,” she said. “I myself don't like to be back here.”
She said in the back room, a man was hanged. And he is not a fan of company.
Jaquay said she could not find records confirming what the psychics told her about the hanged man.
But an old noose of unknown origins still hangs in the back room.