Haunted Pittsburgh shares city’s haunts, history
Friday, November 22, 2019 | 12:52 PM
by Ashley Llaneza, Shaler Area High School
Have you ever wondered about the history behind some of Pittsburgh’s oldest buildings? If you’re interested in learning more about the chilling secrets behind our city’s most dated landmarks, haunted Pittsburgh will not only appeal to your inner history nerd, but it will also give you trouble sleeping at night.
Haunted Pittsburgh is a tour held in the heart of Pittsburgh from May to early November. The tour goes all around the city, starting at the Richard Caliguiri statue by the City County building and ending at the old morgue, which is currently the County Health Department.
The Haunted Pittsburgh tour uses a different approach to informing yinzers of the history behind their city. While the tour is intended to leave the audience feeling somewhat frightened, the greater purpose is to leave them feeling educated. Haunted Pittsburgh prides itself in offering crowds true stories about Western Pennsylvania’s creepy history.
“We’re not ghost hunters; we just tell stories. Our tour started when the fellow who owns the tour took tours all over the country with his wife and thought he could do better. He spent decades pouring through old newspapers in the library and old magazines and books and interviewing people to get our stories,” tour guide Haydn Thomas said.
The tour is a hot commodity during the weeks that surround Halloween. Crowds tend to vary from 20 to 70 people per tour. During the weeks leading up to and following Halloween, crowds reach their upper limit of about 50-70 per tour.
Thomas takes pride in his storytelling techniques and thoroughly enjoys entertaining the tour groups.
“Every crowd has its own personality. You can tell right away; if they laugh at the first joke then they are going to laugh and react to everything. They’re going to be with you. Sometimes, they just stand there because they don’t want to be the one who’s laughing. The whole night it’s like pulling teeth trying to get a reaction from people,” Thomas said.
Thomas, 69, has been working for Haunted Pittsburgh for seven years. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and still currently resides in Munhall. Prior to touring with Haunted Pittsburgh, Thomas worked at an automotive plant and was a member of the UAW. Even though he attended college and got his degree, Thomas took this job because he liked having a union on his side.
Thomas loves nothing more than touring large crowds and entertaining them with his impeccable storytelling abilities. After retiring from the UAW, he was inspired by his daughters to become a storyteller.
“It took me 60 years to figure out what I was good at — turns out it’s telling ghost stories,” Thomas said.
Thomas has traveled to many countries, including Germany and the United Arab Emirates, where he has experienced a variety of tours. One tour that specifically inspired him to pursue his storytelling career was the “Hitler’s Munich” tour in Munich, Germany.
Surprisingly, Thomas does not particularly believe in ghosts. While he has had some strange experiences at places such as the Carnegie Library of Homestead and S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes located downtown, he has not been one to see ghosts throughout his life. He just tells the stories as he is supposed to, and that doesn’t have much of an effect on his personal beliefs.
“I never much thought one way or another about ghosts. I just thought it would be cool to be a tour guide,” Thomas said.
However, according to Thomas, many people who tour with him tell him afterwards about their personal experiences with ghosts. Although he cannot personally relate with most of the people, he said that he can sense the fear in their eyes when they recall their experience.
Although Thomas himself does not feel a certain way about ghosts, he did not hesitate to give his opinion on the most haunted location in our beloved city.
“We say it’s the old jail. Personally I think it’s Randall’s,” Thomas said.
After hearing of multiple ghost encounters at Randall’s, Thomas talked about his own experience. He was on the third floor asking one of the employees if she had ever seen anything. She told him that for a week when she came in, a particular book was on the floor, although she had always made sure that it was on the shelf before she left the night prior. When she was telling her story, out of the corner of his eye, Thomas saw a shadow from behind the bookcase where that book was located. He described it as “a spreading ink blot”. However, when he turned to look, the shadow disappeared. To this day, Thomas is unsure if what he saw was just a smudge on his glasses rather than a ghost. However, he finds it rather peculiar that he experienced such a thing while he was having a conversation about that specific topic.
The Haunted Pittsburgh Tour is an experience that is sure to make you sleep with one eye open and leave your brain feeling crowded with new historical information.
Haunted Pittsburgh also has another tour called the Long Lost Pittsburgh History Tour which is very similar to the ghost tour besides the fact that it focuses more on historical facts.
“The Long Lost Pittsburgh History Tour has great stories from Pittsburgh’s history. I love that tour, but it’s a much harder sell to get people to take a history tour than it is to get them to take a ghost tour.”