Historic Rices Landing the site of “uncommon hauntings”

October 30, 2014
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Alyssa Choiniere / Observer-Reporter
The fire hall in Rices Landing, which some believe is haunted Order a Print
Image description
Alyssa Choiniere / Observer-Reporter
The sign in front of the Rices Landing fire hall, which some believe is haunted Order a Print

This is the final part of a five-part series, “Ghost Stories,” published every Friday in October.

Rices Landing is known as many things.

First, it was known as a bustling industrial town. Then, it was known as the location of a young girl's unsolved murder. Now, it is known for a concentration of supposed hauntings.

Rices Landing is a small, quiet town along the Monongahela River in Greene County.

But some say the little town of fewer than 500 has some residents not in the population count.

“In my six years, I've never seen anything like it,” said Western Pennsylvania Paranormal Hunters co-founder TJ Porfeli.

He said he completed six investigations in Rices Landing, and every time, he found something new. He and his team investigated historic buildings, including the borough building, fire hall, W.A. Young & Sons Machine Shop and Foundry and the former jail.

The town first got its haunted reputation from “The Legend of Stovepipe,” a longstanding legend that if a person visits Rices Landing near Pumpkin Run Park on a dark and rainy night and shouts “Stovepipe” three times, a headless apparition will appear and take his or her head.

Porfeli attributes the concentration of hauntings to a rich history and a theory that flowing water draws paranormal activity.

“Rices Landing was a bustling town,” he said. “It had more going on than Pittsburgh did.”

Rices Landing flourished as an industrial town. The foundry repaired steamboats that landed on the river shore.

Visitors could spend the night in the town's hotel.

“It was such a bustling town that there could be so much of a past that we don't know about,” he said.

The population declined in the 20th century, and Rices Landing became known more for its history than for its present.

But the murder of an 8-year-old girl in October 1973 rocked the small town. The body of the girl, Debbie Makel, was found strangled under a pile of leaves and brush.

Forty-one years later, the murder is still unsolved.

Investigations began with the foundry, which is now a museum.

The current curator, George “Bly” Blystone, called in Porfeli because he believed his predecessor in the job, “a dear friend,” never really left the building, despite his death.

“He passed the keys to me before he died, and he's definitely one of the ones down there,” Blystone said.

Porfelli said he believes there are several spirits at the shop.

“We've captured there many different types of voices, from grown men to children,” he said.

He said one voice sounds like a young child saying, “Let me go.”

They also believe they heard a voice whistling while he worked at the shop.

The team captured a video of a flashlight inexplicably rolling off a table.

Down the road at the borough building, Porfeli said he and his team captured a recording of a voice saying, “Marion.”

The building was the former lockhouse for steamboats. Porfeli said the lockmaster would have lived there with his family.

Further from the river is the town's fire hall. Mayor Ryan Belski invited the team after several reports of unexplained noises and sightings.

He said part of the building was originally a farmhouse in the 1800s, and parts are made from old mining material.

Firefighters became acclimated to strange occurences, like hearing footsteps. He said they would joke about someone leaving the lights on.

About half of the fire department is skeptical anyone haunts the hall.

“The other half absolutely believes in ghosts,” he said.

Chairs and tables are often moved in the hall, he said, and frequently when firefighters are in the living area, they will hear someone coming up the steps. But the footsteps stop when they get closer, he said.

A curtain on the center window on the second floor in the fire hall is often pulled back, he said.

“It's like someone is looking at you,” he said. “As you can see, it's always open for some reason.”

He said they attribute some of the hauntings to a tragic death in the 1940s. Walter Toland was a firefighter who was responding to a call when the fire truck crushed him against the side of the small garage.

Belski said people have seen ghostly figures in the garage. He said during a bingo night, some workers went to the vending machine in the garage to get drinks.

“They came up, and they were pure white,” he said. “You can't make that up.”

But for Porfeli, his strangest experience as an investigator was at the former jail. There, he said, he had a 45-minute conversation with a ghost through a K-II EMF meter. The meter identifies electromagnetic frequencies through lights on the display.

“The theory is that spirits can manipulate it by going up to it,” he said.

He said he asked many questions which were answered with a “yes” or a “no” through lights on the meter. He said the ghost identified itself as a 10-year-old girl.

He said the jail cell was the former location of a schoolhouse.

“I don't know if it's the spirit of a child who used to go to school there, or if it's a spirit who roams this area,” he said.

Through the course of the conversation, he said he asked some odd questions to try to keep the child's interest. One of them was whether she liked pies, and he said she told him her favorite was apple.

“I said, 'Next time we come back down here, I'll bring you some apple pie,'” he said with a laugh.

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