ShareThis Page
Fox Chapel

History Around Here: Supernatural stories surround Ross estate

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, 8:18 p.m.

Today, it’s difficult to even picture a house standing near one of our area’s busiest intersections, at Freeport and Fox Chapel roads. But The Meadows, a large Colonial Revival-style home owned by lawyer and former U.S. Sen. James Ross, once sat on the land now occupied by the busy thoroughfare.

Ross’s summer home, situated on 1,700 acres in what is now O’Hara Township, was built in1910, long before commercial development encroached on the idyllic riverside property. The Pennsylvania Canal, later taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad, cut through the edge of Ross’s parcel.

According to local author and historian Thomas White, the land may have been anything but idyllic after Ross — the namesake of nearby Ross Township — and his son, James Ross, Jr., died within four years of one another, in 1847 and 1851, respectively. White, who is the university archivist and curator of special collections at Duquesne University, has written 10 books on those parts of Pittsburgh’s history that can’t quite be verified.

“I’ve always been interested in folklore and how it intersects with history,” White says. “I’m trying to record as much of the folklore of Western Pennsylvania as I can.”

White says people would claim they would see the ghost of James Ross Jr. in the room he died in for decades after his death in 1851.

The source of many of the supernatural stories about the Ross estate is Joseph Weichel and his family, who acted as caretakers of the property after James Ross Jr.’s death.

Weichel told stories of coming home to find the entire front of The Meadows lit up, only to find no lights on once he entered the house. Weichel’s wife reportedly saw a headless woman walk down the hall, jump over the stair railing and disappear through the stone floor below without a trace.

The most famous story affiliated with the Ross estate, according to White, is that of Ross Johnston, a relative of the Ross family.

“Johnston committed suicide on the property in 1859,” White says, though the details of the death are curious. “He was found with his throat slit near the canal, but it was classified as a suicide.”

Afterward, Johnston’s ghost is said to have haunted the property, appearing more regularly around the date of his death.

But that wasn’t the end of the Ross Johnston story. White says one day, around 1885, a spiritualist — a member of a 19th-century religious movement based on communication between the living and the dead — arrived at The Meadows, claiming Johnston’s ghost had told him where to find $60,000 in gold buried on the property.

“Weichel let him dig for it, but after hours and hours, he never found anything,” White says.

The Meadows burned down in 1930, which seems to have put an end to the spooky happenings there, though it certainly hasn’t ended the public’s curiosity about the place.

Melanie Linn Gutowski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me