Spirits said to guard Mt. Pleasant mansion

| Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, 7:40 a.m.

Melodic whistling down the hall, the shuffling of shoes up and down stairwells and muffled voices behind closed doors are just some of the many sounds people swear to have heard inside the Samuel Warden Mansion in Mt. Pleasant.

The one thing all such reports have in common?

The sources of those noises are nowhere to be found.

And that doesn't begin to account for what people claim to have seen in the 125-year-old, three-story structure along South Church Street which, since 1960, has been owned by the Braddock Trail Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

Over the years, sightings of what is purported to be a ghostly, adolescent female clothed in a servant's cap and a full-length, black dress have grown so frequent there that the alleged, supernatural presence has earned a name: “Rebekah — The Spirit of the Warden Mansion.”

When members of the local DAR chapter first became aware of this alleged spirit, they named her “Margaret” after Margaret Warden, the wife of Samuel N. Warden, who built the mansion in 1886.

“At one point, a psychic walked around the house, and she said our spirit's name was Rebekah, not Margaret. We think she was a servant here long ago,” said Rosalind L. Ashmun, southwest district director of the Pennsylvania Society Daughters of the American Revolution and a long-standing Braddock Trail Chapter member. “The psychic felt Rebekah was a teenager and she liked to have her own way, to show that she was in control.”

Hence the strange sights and sounds which so many claim to have experienced there, Ashmun said.

“When things happen here, they often happen so fast you don't even realize it.”

In a booklet prepared by the chapter officials, including Fran Vas, numerous testimonies from members and guests in the mansion speak of odd and, at times, unsettling occurrences for which no explanations are offered.

In one of them, Ashmun and her sister, fellow chapter member Sue Hoke, speak of their first experience with Rebekah at the chapter's inaugural DAR Open House in 1989, when decorations originally placed on a mantel were found to have been inexplicably moved to the coffee table in front of the hearth, yet not a single item was broken.

In another, Ashmun recalls when she and Margene Wilczynski were decorating the mansion for an upcoming Festival of Lights celebration when a pillow of cold air came over her.

“I showed Margene the goose bumps on my arms,” Ashmun said.

The sightings and stories eventually attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh-based Peace of Mind Paranormal Society.

In May of 2008, Don Wagner, the society's founder and author of “Hauntings of Pittsburgh & the Laurel Highlands,” led a group of investigators to the mansion.

He came away with an array of photographs and video footage that contains what he called some rather convincing evidence of paranormal activity there.

“I've been to hundreds of locations, and it's one of the best. It's a pretty fascinating building ... we got a lot of evidence there,” Wagner said.

Among the group's findings was a photograph taken with a digital still camera of the empty, servant's bathroom on the mansion's third floor in which what appears to be a human face is visible in the window.

“You can never say with 100 percent proof that this is a ghost, but we didn't have any other explanations for that,” Wagner said.

In addition, a digital recorder picked up an eerie whistling sound.

“It's a very warm and inviting house, but it's a very active building, I should say.”

Scottdale's Nancy Wood, who is approaching the end of a 3-year term as the chapter's regent, said her one and only encounter with Rebekah came one afternoon in the early spring of 2008.

At the time, the chapter was meeting in the mansion's dining room and Wood was asked to go upstairs to fetch a space heater to help kill a lingering draft.

“I've always loved that house,” said Wood, who in 2007 retired from her career as an elementary school teacher at Southmoreland School District. “That house is warm and wonderful and we enjoy cleaning it and meeting there; there's nothing about it that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Upon reaching the landing on the stairwell, Wood said she caught sight of something that did ... to this day.

As she turned to continue up to the second floor, Wood said, she distinctly saw the side profile of a woman she claims to have been “tiny in stature and wearing a long, black dress.”

“She was looking at a little desk at the top of the stairs ... and then she was gone,” Wood said. “It was such a short, momentary thing ... I still get chills talking about it.”

Later that day, Wood told Ashmun what she saw ... a sight she said she hasn't seen since in the home.

“Roz said that's what everyone sees ... someone in a long, black dress.”

A.J. Panian is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

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