The leaves have all changed color, the days are getting shorter, darkness swoops in early and the nights get colder and grow longer. During the Halloween season, popular tales and legends resurface once again. Through these stories, people delight in the chance to entertain their primordial fears.
Every region, city, and town has its tales. In New York City, it is said that the Empire State Building is haunted – over the course of the building’s history, it is documented that there were 14 suicides that were attempted from the observation deck as early as its construction. And it is said that those that died after leaping from the deck still haunt the building today.
Erie is no different.
From the Gudgeonville Bridge, where a little girl named Darlene fell 225 feet face-first off the cliffs by the bridge and still haunts the land around it today, to Axe Murder Hollow, where a young mother and her children were hacked to death in their own home by her husband, in a jealous rage. Legend has it that the husband still roams the area and oftentimes appears on a rainy night where you can actually see his ax glistening in the rain.
So, as All Hallow’s Eve approaches, we welcome you to read about some other chilling tales – some proven true, some steeped in legend and myth – about odd occurrences in our area.
Just be sure to leave a light on.
The Vampire Crypt
Located on 21st and Chestnut streets, the Erie Cemetery has existed for over 160 years now. Within its fenced boundaries lies a classic stone burial ground that showcases many ornate and elaborate burial structures. However, one crypt stands out from them all.
Although its real name is “The Brown Vault,” (offering no initial air of mystery), it’s become known over the years as “The Vampire Crypt,” mainly because of the strange “V” carving above the entrance. To further add to the mystery, no names are inscribed on the vault, and unlike all of the other crypts, The Vampire Crypt appears darkened, as though exposed to fire.
According to Robin Swope, author of “Eerie Erie, Tales of the Unexplained in Northwest Pennsylvania,” there are many stories and myths that surround the vault. “Stories have told of a wealthy man who fell ill after a trip to Romania and soon after returning to Erie, died suddenly,” Swope explains. “He was buried in the crypt and within a week strange things started happening. Dead bodies were found in the suburbs that surrounded the graveyard – their blood had been drained and there were classic teeth marks on the neck.”
Other tales suggest a young teen had broken into the vault to find a desiccated corpse in a rotted wood coffin. To prove he had been there, the teen stole a ring off of the withered body and went to show his friend. The next day, a group of friends showed up at the teen’s house to get a look at the ring, but when his mother went to get him, she found him dead, colorless with eyes wide open and mouth frozen open in terror – with his ring finger literally ripped from his hand.
In actuality, the crypt is owned by the Brown family – though no Browns are buried there. Within its walls are seven bodies all with the last name Goodrich, and the last recorded burial was in 1880. But the mystery still remains though as to why a “V” is on the front of the vault, and why no names are listed anywhere.
Legend has it that vampires – should they truly exist – don’t reveal their real names, and since they are evil, whoever knows their true names has power over them. As for what could still reside within its walls, nobody really knows. It’s been decades since anyone has entered the “cryptic” walls.
Death by Wax
Have you ever seen the show “1000 Ways to Die?” For those that haven’t, it’s a TV program that recreates unusual supposed deaths and debunked urban legends. The following true tale would have been a fitting episode for the program.
About 7 or so years ago, a truck driver, carrying a tanker of molten paraffin wax, was traveling down I-80. After losing control of his vehicle, he crashed, rolling the truck over in the median. The impact immediately ejected the driver into the median as the wax came pouring out of the trailer.
You can imagine what happened next.
The wax flowed over his then unconscious body and engulfed him. According to County Coroner Lyell Cook, “By the time we had got him, the wax had hardened and the fireman had to cut a large block of wax around him to bring him here for autopsy. Once we chiseled away and conducted the autopsy, we learned he hadn’t died from the accident, rather from inhaling the wax into his lungs and stomach where it ultimately hardened – and killed him.”
Once upon a time, back in the early 1970s, there lived an abominable creature in our neighboring town of Waterford. When spotted, this creature was said to have a somewhat human form – a biped, walking on two legs – yet was covered with fur with large horns atop its skull and Devilish hooves stood in place of where feet would have been.
This creature would become known as the Sheepman of Waterford.
Herb Kinney is a Waterford native. He had a friend who was, sadly, a victim of the creature. On the Examiner.com, Herb recounts the story in his own words:
“It was always said the Sheepman lived in a cave on Baghdad Road (in Waterford). He was known to frequent the covered bridge southeast of town on East Street. He was said to hide up in the rafters of the old bridge and jump down and terrorize young lovers that had parked in the bridge.
“Two couples from Erie were traveling into the bridge late one summer night in a dark blue Ford Mustang convertible with the top down. It had started to rain so they pulled inside the bridge to put the top up when they were attacked. The boys fought off the creature and peeled out filling the bridge with smoke from the burning rubber of their tires. The roof to the car was damaged and mangled to the point it had to be replaced. All four of the young people insisted the incident really happened. The parents, fearing embarrassment, would not allow any police report to be filed.”
Herb reports that the Sheepman was described as over six feet tall with light gray hair covering its body. The creature had two very large horns atop of its misshapen head and long canine teeth. Instead of hands, the monster had sharp claws. Although by this description many would tend to associate the Sheepman with a type of werewolf creature, Herb firmly asserts that the creature was never associated with any other creature and has always been known by its moniker as the Sheep- or Goat-man. Over time, hundreds of people have come forward claiming they saw this creature, but nobody knew where it came from or if it was actually real.
With hundreds of sightings and no true proof of existence, Erie County historian and paranormal investigator Heidi Kirclich LaDow decided to conduct her own investigation. At the height of her study, she concluded it was probably a legend – one that originated in the Vocational Agriculture students’ heads – that grew until the general public adopted it as a local legend.
So, was this a trick that locals had come up with to frighten the residents? Was it a fable told amongst friends that had grown into an urban legend? Or was it truly something unnatural and sinister, created to invoke fear and terror into what was simply a charming and quiet community?
After the 1970s, there would be no other reported sightings of the creature. However, eerily, the average lifespan of a sheep is only 10 to 12 years, so, if it really truly existed, we really couldn’t have expected to see it beyond that time.
Bird of Death
Eight years ago a Middle Eastern family was driving along I-90 in Springfield, Pa. and stopped at a truck stop to refuel. As they were getting back on the Interstate, they came down on the exit, and for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, crossed over to the other lane. A truck came around the corner and hit the vehicle head on, killing all six individuals in the car instantly.
According to Cook, “During the autopsy, a sparrow flew into the office. This may not seem like a big deal, however, I have been in this office since 1972, and in all those years, nobody could recall a bird flying in. So, we got to talking about it amongst the group and found out the sparrow is actually connected to Middle Eastern and some other religions. My colleague learned the sparrow is not only an omen of death, but a catcher of the souls of the recently deceased. We haven’t seen one since.”
The Dark Day
September 24, 1950 started out like any normal Sunday in the fall. However, early that afternoon, a strange phenomenon occurred. Out of nowhere, the skies over Erie began to darken, giving it an eerie, ominous appearance. Some wondered if a bad storm was on the way, but no rain was in the forecast. Around 1:30 p.m., the sky started to turn from a sickly yellow to an almost pitch black, and shortly thereafter the Weather Bureau issued a special advisory.
Erie was not alone in this. A huge swath of Canada and the tri-state area was similarly affected. Lights were turned on in the Cleveland ballpark, the Jamestown Sun took 200 calls in one hour about this phenomenon, local afternoon ball games were cancelled, and most street lights turned on at 2:15 in the afternoon.
Erieite Mary Smith recalls it clearly. “I remember it like it was yesterday. Everything went black – as night. I didn’t see smoke or anything. I just remember standing in my mother’s hall in our house on 27th Street. I remember it being between 2 and 3 in the afternoon,” Mary says. “Afterward when it cleared up, I had heard that it had come from Canada, but nothing was ever explained. I had even thought it might have been an atomic bomb,” she adds.
Others claimed to have seen a star-filled sky. Some wondered whether the world was coming to an end.
Ultimately local officials explained that a forest fire had occurred in Canada and that that caused the blacked-out sky. However, no forest fire had actually ever been recorded on that date, and according to those who witnessed the event, there was no smoke involved in the darkened skies, much like one would see in any other forest fire. And if the stars truly did shine that day, this explanation would make little sense since a sky blanketed in smoke leaves little visibility for stargazing.
Since that day, nothing like the darkening of the skies has occurred again…yet.
UFO Landing on Presque Isle
Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) that was conducted by the United States Air Force starting back in 1952. The project had two goals: To determine if UFOs posed a threat to national security and to analyze UFO-related data. By the time they concluded this study in 1972, the task force had investigated close to 13,000 reports of UFOs.
Although most of these cases were debunked, there were a handful of cases that defied explanation. One of these cases actually occurred in Erie – on Beach 6 at Presque Isle. It was docketed as case number 10798.
“It was Sunday, July 31, 1966. That afternoon, six people had come from nearby Jamestown, N.Y. to enjoy a visit to Beach 6 along the northern edge of the park,” Swope explains. “Somehow during the evening, their car became stuck in the sand in the east end of the beach parking lot and they could not dislodge it.”
According to accounts in the August 1, 1966 issue of the Erie Times News, witnesses claim a shiny star-like object approached. It was said to be mushroom shaped with a narrow base object briefly hovered over the area before landing. A beam of light came from the craft and moved along the sand in a straight line as the craft disappeared behind the tree line.
Police officers approached to help dislodge the car and the witnesses explained the situation and offered to show them where the object had landed. Soon after, two women waiting in the car identified a large, shadowy figure walking towards them. At first, they thought it might have been an animal, but the size quelled that notion. According to their accounts, it looked to them to be a black featureless creature over six feet tall and covered with hair, and it was making its way right towards them. They sat, frozen in fear as the creature first circled the car and then began to claw at it. Shocked out of their fear by the piercing sound of claws gashing into metal, they honked the horn and screamed, sending the creature slithering back into the brush. The UFO took off immediately.
By 7 a.m. the following morning, a special team, including members of the Air Force, assembled to investigate the area. They found tracks leading in a straight line directly to the victim’s car. Strange indentations were found in the sand. These depressions were about eight inches wide, five to seven inches deep and five to eight feet apart. They also found some unusual hairs of an unknown species – and the hairs were actually found at an incredible height – over six feet – up in a tree. After the investigators had conducted a thorough analysis, they deemed the case officially unexplained.
In recent years, the official verdict has been challenged. According to Swope, “A couple of years ago, local reporter Brian Sheridan conducted a segment in his ‘Erie Flashbacks’ series on WJET-TV. A boy had come forward claiming that he had launched a papier-mâché hot-air balloon from his house located at 1817 W. 22 St., and he believed he may have been the one that caused all the uproar.”
However, upon comparative investigation, it was determined impossible that the balloon could have made it to Beach 6 that night. Even if it was able to be carried that far, the wind direction would have caused the balloon to miss the peninsula entirely.
After all these years, these witnesses hold true to their story. And they’re not the only ones. Since the initial reports, several others have stepped forward claiming that have also seen the unidentified flying object on that very Sunday night.
Case 10798 remains open to this day.
Lake Erie Phenomena
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes. While other lakes boast depths upwards of 1,300 feet at their deepest point, Lake Erie only averages a depth of 62 feet. Most of this depth offers limited visibility because of the sediment that permeates most of the lake. Although not the greatest in depth, it gives a perfect place for underwater clandestine activities.
According to Ohio Historical Society, in 1882 and 1942, huge waves came onshore on the north coast of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In both of these instances, the lake was calm just before the waves arrived.
In 1882, the wave was more than eight feet high. Much like a tsunami, the wave destroyed everything in its path and inland. Huge logs were carried hundreds of feet and barges were tossed onto the ground.
The wave in 1942 was even worse. This wave towered at 15 feet high and claimed the lives seven people. As was the case with the previous wave, the lake was eerily calm until it reached shallow water and took aim.
There was no earthquake reported either of those days – although many claim freak thunderstorm winds caused the waves. But even with unpredictable weather patterns, such huge waves without a massive storm are hard to imagine. Some believe something crashed into those waters on those days. Whatever the cause, strange things continue to happen on and the waters to this day.
South Bay Bessie
Legend has it that Lake Erie may be home to our own modern Loch Ness monster. Many have laid claim in seeing this legendary aquatic serpent swimming along its shores. A nearby community even held a “name the monster” contest – and thus “South Bay Bessie” was born.
First reported in 1817, Bessie was said to be a grayish, brown, or black serpentine creature that is about 25 to 40 feet long and at least 12 inches in diameter. Since that first reported sighting, this creature has taken on a life of its own.
On July 21, 1931 there was a story about the monster being captured in Sandusky Bay. Two visitors from Cincinnati were in a rowboat when they saw her. After clubbing the lake monster, they brought it onto their boat and put it in a crate. A man by the name of Harold Madison, then curator of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, journeyed to Sandusky and pronounced the “sea serpent” an Indian python – debunking the capture of Bessie. The two men quickly left town.
Afterward, the stories and sightings of the monsters persisted, by hundreds of witnesses, until 1990 when a flurry of reports occurred all within that year, including a sighting by two Huron firefighters. Bessie even was blamed for an attack that killed three people in 1992.
To this day, many believe she still roams our great waters. There have been sporadic sightings over the last decade, but nothing like the flurry of activity in the 1990s. And whatever theory you may support, the fact remains that something may be lurking in the water of Lake Erie to this day, allowing the legend of Bessie to live on in the hearts and minds of locals and outsiders alike.
So as we step out in the night’s cool air, seeing the leaves having all changed colors from green to yellow to red to orange, we feel the wind whip across the back of our neck. The hair rises, and we quicken our pace. The sound of leaves crackling beneath our feet envelops us and we shuffle along the streets with a head filled with tales both true and mythical. And as All Hallow’s Eve approaches, we delight in the supernatural, the odd, unidentified, and the terrifying in our region. From Ax Murder Hollow to Vampire Crypts, from molten wax to Sparrows flying overhead, from UFOs to lake monsters, from blacked-out skies to unearthly creatures, we delight in these tales and our fears but still cringe, wondering whether we left the light on at home.
Rebecca Styn can be contacted at rStyn@ErieReader.com
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