May 082014


Wendy texted me about a month ago because she saw a Groupon for some Pittsburgh ghost walk thing. She bought it and then told me I was going, because that is how my friendship with Wendy works: she fills my non-existent planner. We needed two other people for our group, and our friend Evonne was an immediate yes because paranormal is her thang. Finally, I was able to coerce Jeannie, which even Wendy was shocked when I presented her with Jeannie’s positive confirmation. Jeannie is a hater of all things that Wendy and I would possibly like, so we thought for sure her RSVP would be a “Fuck no.” But instead I got a reluctant “Fine.” I’ll take it!


Evonne picked me up and we were the first to arrive at the Omni William Penn downtown, which is haunted itself, but we were only just meeting the tour group out front because I guess the Omni doesn’t appreciate ragtag amateur ghost hunters scurrying through their fancy hallways.


That didn’t stop Evonne and me from utilizing their facilities,  though. PRE-GHOST TOUR THING SELFIE, WHADDUP UNWASHED HAIR. Then we went  back outside to try our best to not look like street walkers while waiting for Jeannie and Wendy to show up. Finally, I pointed to a small group of people standing next to the hotel entrance and said that they looked like they could be part of our tour. My clue was that one of the ladies was wearing tennis shoes, “like she’s prepared to do some walking,” I explained to Evonne. I’m a SLEUTH. We walked past them slowly, not at all suspiciously, and heard one of them say, “tour.”

And that is how we were acquainted with our tour guide, Andrew, with whom I felt an immediate kinship even though I fail at guiding people and have no clue what landmarks to point out when I’m showing visiting friends around. I found myself SMALL-TALKING with him and again I will ask you, my five Internet friends, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH ME? I think I might be outgrowing my surly, stand-offish years, god help us.

There’s this building I randomly stumbled upon last week when I was lost during one of my breaks at work, and the most I got out was, “I don’t know. I was walking down that Strawberry thing and then it was like bam, this brick apartment-looking this with a courtyard—-”

“The Harvard Yale Princeton Club,” Andrew answered without needing to know one detail more. “It’s actually right there,” he said, turning slightly and pointing down the street. I felt like the biggest Pittsburgh fraud ever. How have I lived here my whole life and worked in town for 4 years yet know so little? I guess because I just don’t give a shit.

Still waiting for Jeannie and Wendy, Andrew gave Evonne and me a brief run-down of what the tour was going to involve, which was mostly walking in a giant loop around part of the city and then concluding in the cemetery.

“Ironically, I just found out like two weeks ago that there’s a cemetery down here,” I word-vomited at Andrew and Evonne. “One of my co-workers was like, ‘What do you do on your break everyday, go sit in the cemetery?’ and I said I totally would if there WAS a cemetery down here! And that’s when I found out that I’m a dumbass.” I mean, I knew already I was a dumbass. But everyday I need a reminder. I honest-to-god walk past the cemetery EVERY DAY on my way to work and had no idea it was there.

Finally, our entire group was accounted for. In addition to the Wendy Party of 4, there was a family of 6: an older couple, their two daughters, and the daughters’ husbands (or husband and boyfriend, who knows, who cares). Because I can’t help but judge people instantaneously, I thought for sure the younger daughter was going to get on my nerves, but she was surprisingly quiet and inoffensive.

Andrew briefly introduced himself and gave us the condensed version of his credentials. He has a degree in art history, architecture and Pittsburgh history and is currently working on his Masters in parapsychology so I felt pretty confidently that we were in good hands. Also: HIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED.


When the tour officially commenced, I asked Jeannie if she was scared. “Should I be?” she asked dourly. God, Jeannie! I won’t go into extreme detail about the things we learned, mostly because I already forgot or was just straight not paying attention at times, but basically we would walk a block and then stop while Andrew told us about what Pittsburgh was like in the 18-somethings, with some actual accounts of ghost sightings thrown in here and there. One of the husbands was an extreme skeptic so Andrew made sure to explain that there were actual police reports backing up some of the weird shit people have seen in the Courthouse and the old jail. Or something like that.

We crossed lots of streets. I was glad that I had an entire entourage to buffet me because even though I might have recently boasted about suddenly being really good at crossing the street, I stepped out in front of a bus last week during my break at work, but my friend Natalie was thankfully there to pull me back onto the curb. I guess I just get overzealous sometimes, I don’t know.


“This building here used to be a brothel,” Andrew informed us, giving us some back-story about steel workers while I was hoping for something more brothelly. “And now it’s a law firm, as you can see.”

“So, people are STILL getting screwed in there,” one of the husbands said, and it even made me laugh kind of.

“Let’s hope there aren’t any lawyers in our group!” Andrew laughed.

“Oh, just two of us,” Jeannie chimed in sweetly, and we all laughed harder. (I don’t think Wendy heard though.)

Jeannie did seem genuinely stoked about getting to walk through a part of town that she never really goes to, so I made sure to make a mental note of that in case she tried to say later that it wasn’t worth her precious time.

We were on this one street where you could see things across the river and Andrew was like, “Do you guys see that big black shape in front of the Hard Rock sign?” and everyone was like “duh…what now?” but I knew what he was talking about!

“You mean that furnace thingie?” I asked and he was like, “Yeah sure” because I guess “furnace thingie” isn’t the right name for it. But the point is that back during the steel workin’ days, those things were filled with molten steel and if a person were to fall into it, their body would actually vaporize and then the steel workers would have to shave off a layer from the top to present to the widow so the family would have something to bury. Anyway, there was a particular story he was telling us about this happening to some dude and afterward I whispered to him, “Wait…I’ve climbed into that thing before. Am I OK?”

“Oh, you’re fine! That story happened in a different one, down there,” he said, waving down the river.

OK. I hope he wasn’t patronizing me. SOMETIMES IT’S HARD TO TELL.

Anyway, Andrew told us that he has actually come across some of those death tainted slabs of steel at estate sales and has had to tell the owners that they need to bury that shit post haste. Now I want to go looking for some!


The further we delved into our historical walk, the more annoying the other daughter got. For instance, we were reminded a number of times that they were here for her stupid birthday. And then when Andrew mentioned the date 1978 in one of his stories, she butt in to dramatically inform all of us that OMG THAT WAS THE YEAR SHE WAS BORN. Can you even believe it?! What does it MEAN!? 

I think it means all 35-year-olds on the tour need to think about shutting the fuck up.

A few minutes, we were standing on a corner near an SUV at a red light. Andrew was annoyed because he wasn’t able to talk to us over top of the SUV’s thumping bass line.

“It’s Wiz Khalifa!” the annoying broad screamed. At first I thought she meant the music, but then she said, “Because he’s from here, you know?” and then I realized that no, she was just being an asshole, because of course a random black guy driving an SUV with tinted windows would be Wiz Khalifa. God, STFU so hard! It was starting to feel like I was walking around with my 20-year-old self.

Dear Friends From 14 Years Ago,

I am so fucking sorry.


Slightly-Toned-Down Erin

By the end of the tour, we had almost made a full loop back to the start, but first we had to stop at the cemetery. Andrew and I walked together and he asked me if I was OK.  I had briefly explained to him earlier in the tour that while I’ve never actually been slimed or seen an apparition, I do spend a lot of time in various cemeteries and sometimes even the ones that are like home to me leave me feeling a bit uneasy and paranoid. There have been times when I’ve rolled up, gotten out of my car, felt that old familiar skin-prickle and then promptly turned around and left. There’s one cemetery in particular that I just don’t even bother going to alone anymore, where I have actually shivered and felt cold on 90 degree summer days. I’m not sure if I necessarily believe 100% that anything will ever happen to me, but I also know that I don’t want to tempt fate or fuck with any dead shit.

Especially after Andrew told us that one time he didn’t close the circle or something and someone was pushed down the church steps.


It was a little after 10PM when we got to the church that I pass every single day on the way to work. There were several homeless people all set up for the night and it was kind of awkward. Like, “Hey, I know you just fluffed your cardboard slat, but we’re going to tromp all over it right now and stand in a circle. Sweet dreams.” I don’t know, I felt like maybe we shouldn’t have been there at all. I’m sorry, homeless church dwellers :(


Some of us took a moment to take some pictures of the church. Birthday Bitch held up her phone at my group and, I’m not fucking joking, bragged about what an unbelievable picture she had just taken and that, “I can totally text it to all you, you’re welcome!” So Evonne held up her own phone and showed BB that she had basically gotten the same shot, which was similar to my own (above).

There’s one in every group, isn’t there?

Since I was Andrew’s favorite, I got to hold his hand when we did the circle thing. And Jeannie was to my right so I was sincerely grateful that I didn’t have to hold hands with anyone from the other group because I just didn’t have that kind of humanity left in me at that point in the night.

There weren’t enough dowsing rods for everyone, so Andrew asked for volunteers. I started to raise my hand but Birthday Bitch cried, “ME ME ME IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!” and practically cut off Andrew’s hands for them. He gave me a set next, one pair each for Evonne and Wendy, and then BB’s husband.

“This would be a good time to take pictures,” Andrew suggested. You know, the whole orb thing.

“Jeannie, will you take pictures for me?” I whispered, since I was too busy intently holding my rods.

She sighed and brought out her phone.

At this point, Andrew started asking general questions, like, “Is anything with us tonight?” I was hoping that George Washington’s BFF, who is buried in that cemetery OMG, was there. BB’s husband’s rods started to cross, and mine completely went haywire, turning all the way back around onto themselves until they were pointing over my shoulders.

“Hmm,” Andrew said. “Tell it to let it go.” So BB’s husband started singing that dreaded song from Frozen which made his whole dumb family crack up.

“WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO HIM WHEN I’M THE ONE WHO BELIEVES!?” BB cried, until her rods eventually started to cross too, prompting her to BABY TALK the spirits. It was grotesque.

I think she was really started to wear on Andrew, and he gradually lost control of the situation. There were so much commotion among their own private group that no one was really listening when Andrew was trying to ask questions, but when everyone’s rods veered over to my direction, you best believe attention was had.


Yes, we know. We’re not calling you Birthday Bitch for nothing! God.

I was just starting to feel like maybe I was possessed and all of these rods were quietly jabbing their accusations at me, when it started to rain.

“Jeannie,” I whispered. “Can you put my hood up for me?”

She sighed again. BUT SHE DID IT.

The rain kept falling progressively harder and ended up killing the circle. So Andrew said. I think he was totally frustrated with Birthday Bitch at that point and just wanted to wrap it up. It was just as well, because all I could think about was the homeless people who had nowhere else to go and I know, me and my stupid bleeding heart, but I hate seeing a person down like that. I already felt like an asshole standing right next to them and certainly would have felt like the world’s biggest douchebag if we got to the point where we started asking the spirits questions.

Andrew said a prayer to close the circle, and we all walked back to the Omni in small clumps, Jeannie and I with Andrew.

“I’m so sorry about that,” he apologized. “Once he started singing that Disney song, it was pretty much over.”

We understood.

“Do you want me to show you the Harvard Yale Princeton Club?” he asked, and of course I wanted to and surprisingly No Fun Jeannie said she wanted to come along as well. So after the other group parted ways with us (Wendy and Evonne had already made it back to the Omni without us; what if we had been overpowered by cemetery spirits? THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING WHILE THEY WALKED SUPER FAST AHEAD OF THE GROUP!), Andrew busted out his ghost hunting flashlight and I’m sure we didn’t look suspicious at all, poking around the dark courtyard of some prestigious club while Jeannie nervously hung back by the gate. I was glad that she was there though because some of my common senses started to trickle in after the fact and I figured it probably wasn’t the brightest idea to go traipsing around in the dark with a stranger. So, thanks for chaperoning, Jeannie!

Andrew finally returned us back to Wendy and Evonne and then we didn’t tip him because we’re all assholes who don’t carry cash. I felt so bad about it that I contacted the person in charge of the ghost walk company on Monday and told them  how fantastic Andrew is and how we felt like cheap motherfuckers for not tipping him except that I said “jerks” instead of “motherfuckers” because I’m trying to be more classy in my correspondence with people.

But let’s be real: if I had any spare cash, it would have gone into the hands of the homeless people first. God, I’m so terrible, I know!

My overall opinion of the tour is that it was a fun way to spend a Saturday night. I enjoyed walking around town at night and learning more about my city so that maybe now I’ll be able to tell my out-of-town friends things when they’re here instead of shrugging like I have a tic. But as far as the ghost-portion goes, I would recommend going on actual ghost hunts with local paranormal groups* because we didn’t really get to much investigating on this one.

*(When I went to an abandoned school with a local ghost hunting group in 2011, that was the real deal and I was legit scared. It was a really interesting experience, to say the least.)


After parting ways with Andrew, the four of us capped off the night with food and drinks at the Omni and it was good, you guys. It was so good that I somehow got drunk off two glasses of wine and then proceeded to puke my head off the next morning. Regurgitated wine or spirit expulsion: we may never know.


On Monday, A-ron asked me what I did over the weekend.

“Jeannie didn’t tell you?” I asked, acting appalled. (Musical side note: “Act Appalled” is one of my all-time favorite Circa Survive songs.) “I don’t know why she’s so embarrassed!”

“I guarantee you that she loved it and probably went home and journaled about it,” A-ron reassured me.

Now I want to do shit to make her think her office is haunted.


  5 Responses to “Ghosts & Grifters”

  1. Holy shit! This sounds like so much fun! The thing with the steel slab is crazy. Did he say that people knew what they were when trying to sell them?
    I can relate to the trying to class it up…I said “cocksucker” in front of my dad the other day and I still feel awkward

  2. Pittsburgh looks extra spooky at night – great pics! I probably would’ve throat punched that woman, so bravo for having some restraint.

  3. Why is there always the one dumb bitch who has to ruin everything? The spirits should have taken her away.


    Can NO experience just be COOL? Fucking singing and baby talk. That’s so tiresome.

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