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Monongahela's spooky history comes alive during annual 'Ghost Walks'

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 9:04 p.m.
Jim Ference | Trib Total Media
Susan Bowers of the Monongahela Historical Society gets set to lead the annual Candlelight Ghost Walk in Monongahela.
Susan Bowers of the Monongahela Historial society leads the annual Candlelight Ghost Walk tour along West Main Street as a crowd of participants listens. Jim Ference/The Valley Independent

Retired Ringgold School District teacher Susan Bowers co-authored a book, “Monongahela City,” about the history of her hometown.

But Bowers admits she knows what her epitaph will say about her after she passes.

“I'm not going to be remembered as an educator for 33 years, and I'm not going to be remembered as an author. After my demise, the kids are going to say, ‘Look, she still walks with her lantern on the streets of Monongahela.' ”

For the 15th year, Bowers will lead the annual Candlelight Ghost Walk, sponsored by the Monongahela Area Historical Society. Planned for Oct. 12, 13, 19 and 20, the tour through the city's downtown features tales of ghost sightings in some of the city's 18th-century homes. The tours begin at 7 p.m. with participants meeting in the library parking lot on Main Street.

Bowers was motivated to begin the tradition in Monongahela after taking similar tours in the historic communities of Gettysburg and Williamsburg.

Coming home on a bus after one of those tours, Bowers began to think about the history of the buildings in her hometown and wondered if she could organize a similar tour. It started with the stories.

“I started asking around. When people first opened up — which they would not do at first — it snowballed,” Bowers says.

A common thread of the stories was sightings in antique buildings recently renovated — as if the changes to the 18th century structures “spooked up” some old spirits.

“What makes us unique is that when you have a big tourist town, these types of (ghost) tours are ongoing all year long,” Bowers says. “Even though we do it once a year, the people keep coming back. I call them the ‘repeat offenders.' ”

One new item added last year and continuing again this year, is a VIP tour of the John Blythe House, located in the 800 block of West Main Street.

Blythe was a 19th-century architect who designed many of West Main Street's most renowned buildings, including the Longwell House and the Bethel A.M.E. Church.

Visitors have reported odd sounds and smells in the house and even visions of Blythe.

The tour given by homeowner Dr. Tom Soltis includes a map of all sightings. Hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be served by chef Chris Somales. Tour participants are welcome to stay afterward for a group discussion. Bowers says last year, participants brought cameras and captured strange reflections in the mirrors and orbs in their photographs.

“People last year just loved it,” Bowers says.

VIP tours can be arranged at other times of the year for groups of 15 or more, she says.

Bowers is in the process of collecting new ghost stories for the tour. The new stories keep the tour fresh and brings back participants.

Participants tell Bowers later when they drive through Monongahela, they look at the buildings in a different way.

The tour is not aimed to scare people — like haunted houses.

“This is spooky because it's always there — it's not set up,” Bowers says. “It's always lingering there.”

Ironically, the woman who has entertained people for years with ghost stories of Monongahela is herself a big chicken when it comes to the paranormal.

“I'm a real scaredy cat,” Bowers says with a laugh. ”

Bowers has never seen any spirits in all of the years of conducting tours — or she wouldn't do it.

Some have told her there have seen sightings in her house. And her daughter and son-in-law, Ashley and James Manges, have told Bowers they heard the sound of someone walking on another floor of the house. But they've never materialized for Bowers, who explains it this way

“The ‘ones' in my house know I'm scared,” Bowers says. “Of course, that may have something to do with why I keep my TV on all night.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com

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