What if, after you died, a close friend of yours made a bust commemorating you, spending years trying to make the piece of art capture your very essence? What if some of your ashes were put into said statue, which was then displayed in a prominent public area? Might you haunt that statue? Well, that's what happened to Jason Miller, Scranton native and the actor who played Father Karras in The Exorcist. And Scranton residents have claimed that things have gotten weird.
That's just one of the many strange stories I explore in this episode about some of the most interesting haunted sites in Scranton, PA.
- A grand masonic temple with many ghost stories
- A haunted trolley car (!!)
- A gruesome murder
P.S. This episode has nothing to do with Scranton's lost Luna Park but I covered the park earlier in the series and I wanted to draw its old gate so here you go anyway.
Check out the others episodes in this series about Haunted Scranton:
- Sleep Paralysis in Scranton
- Ghosts of Nay Aug Park and the Lackawanna Station Hotel
- Ghosts in the Museum
DISCLAIMER: I'm providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn't been proofread, so please excuse typos. (Especially because I use dictation software for a lot of my script writing!) There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script—some of this transcript may feel a bit incomplete. Please treat the episode audio as the final product.
Main source for this episode: Haunted Scranton: After Dark in the Electric City by A.C. Bernardi
Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple
Location: 420 Washington Ave.
The masonic temple opened in 1930. It's a very grand neo-Gothic and Romanesque building, designed by the same person who designed Rockefeller Center in New York City, one Raymond Hood. It is built out of Indiana limestone and has carvings of dragons and Masonic symbols. The author of Haunted Scranton: After Dark in the Electric City speculates that the limestone that the building is constructed out of might have something to do with its paranormal aspects.
Apparently this is a huge building: it is 180,000 ft.², 10 stories tall, but only five of those stories are accessible via elevator for some reason. It has two theaters, several meeting halls, and grand ballroom, in addition to a lot of other stuff. It also has a subbasement that stretches 60 feet below the basement floor. Psychics and mediums who have walked around the building have claimed that there are secret chambers hidden in the walls. And some people think that there are treasures or interesting relics hidden away there.
According to NEPAscene.com, multiple groups of paranormal investigators have observed strange phenomena. (https://nepascene.com/2014/10/9-most-haunted-places-nepa/)
Several paranormal groups have also investigated the Scranton Cultural Center and have had unexplainable encounters. “We were in one of the Mason rooms, and within maybe 5-6 minutes, the temperature dropped from 71 degrees to 65 degrees. And it was a big room,” says Alicia VanDuzer, member of the Society for Paranormal Research and Investigation (S.P.R.I.). VanDuzer also spoke of an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) her team was able to capture. “We got a voice saying what we thought as, ‘Are you speaking for us, Tyler?’ There was no one in our group or employee named Tyler. We found out later on that Tyler is actually a Mason title, not a name. It is the person who sits outside the Mason meeting room and relays messages from the outside after a meeting has already started.”
Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Theater
One of the theaters in the building has a seat that is reserved for a ghost named Sarah. She's often seen sitting in a seat in a private balcony on the left side of the stage. I love this; it's very Phantom of the Opera. Sarah is a young white girl, between 8 and 10 years old, and people think that she is some relative of a prominent Scranton area resident from the 1930s and 1940s. (Not a specific resident; just someone wealthy and well-known.) They see her most often during performances when that part of the theater isn't being used by guests. But other staff and the cleaning crew have also glimpsed her after hours.
People have also seen weird lights and shadows. One person saw a faint bluish white light glowing in the dark balcony.
Since the 1960s, people have seen an apparition on the second floor in a room that's now known as the Casey Library. Sometimes people walk in to see a man dressed in a dark cloak with the hood pulled over his head sitting in one of the chairs in the library. Usually this happens when someone has just walked through the library. Then they go to walk back through and there hadn't been anyone there before, but now this guy's there. Apparently his clothes look sort of like a Masonic robe. He never seems to notice the person who's walked in. Then he just disappears. People don't seem to feel threatened by this figure, though they tend to feel a little freaked out. The room was a quiet study room when it was used by the Masons.
Lackawanna County Jail
The Lackawanna County Jail was built in the 1880s. It was originally meant to hold hundred and 10 prisoners, but in 1999, they expanded it to hold 1200 prisoners. The new part of the jail is built on top of an old burial site. People have claimed that a former warden still patrols the area in ghostly form.
There's also a story about a female guard who heard screaming coming from a nearby cell. Though she expected to see a fight, when she got to the cell, she didn't see anything. Instead, she saw a frightened female prisoner in the corner of the cell. The prisoner said that she had been sleeping and then awoke to see a man's face pressed up against the glass of the window on the door of her cell. He didn't say anything to her, but he stared at her really intensely and had a threatening vibe. Sure that he wanted to harm her, and was afraid that he would get into the cell, the prisoner started screaming.
But, of course, after hearing the story, the guard said that no one had gone in or out of that cell block all night. And the guard hadn't seen anyone in the hallway when she was going there. The prisoner said that other female inmates had seen this ghostly man; he was fairly well known in the jail.
Haunted Car # 46
Location: 300 Cliff St.
Scranton's Trolley Museum is inside a former machine shop for the Dickson Manufacturing Company, which made locomotives and stationary steam engines. At its height, in the late 1890s, the Dickson manufacturing company had 1,200 employees, and they made 100 locomotives every year, and they distributed nationwide.
It's now part of the Steamtown National Historic Site, which is at the old railyard, and in 1999, they opened the Electric City Trolley Museum.
Inside the museum, there is a trolley—car number 46—that's supposedly haunted. It's a double truck, double and, closed car. It was one of 22 similar cars that were built in 1907 by the St. Louis car company, and which ran on the Philadelphia and Western Railway. It's the last car that still exist from this generation of trolley cars, which ran on a high standard third rail system between Upper Darby and Strafford, Pennsylvania.
People believe that the car is haunted by a woman named Nancy. The story goes that she was very sick and was riding the streetcar to her family's place in Philadelphia. But she died in transit. People say that because this was emotionally difficult thing for her—both dying, and the fact that she couldn't get back to Philly to see her family before dying—she still haunts the car.
People have heard a woman's voice called their name while they were alone in the building. Employees heard heavy doors slamming shut, even after the museum was closed to the public. Mediums have claimed to see a woman sitting in the back of the car. Once, someone asked the spirit whether she was trapped in that car and wanted to leave, and they heard a disembodied sigh in the car. However, researchers have been unable to prove Nancy's existence from historical documents.
People have also encountered other paranormal things in the museum. They've had similar experiences in the room next to the room that car 46 is in, near statues of an early 1900s coal miner and breaker boy. Supposedly there is a male spirit who roams freely within the building, and the story goes that he was one of the original builders of car 46. He likes to play tricks on people and surprise people, and has moved items around throughout the building.
Location: the corner of Mulberry Street and Jefferson Avenue (401 Jefferson Avenue)
This was a fancy Victorian mansion that was built in the 1870s. Eventually, the house was sold, and in 1963, the building became the home of a funeral director who also ran his mortuary business out of the house for at least 10 years after that. At the same time, the second and third floors were used as efficiency apartments (efficiency apartment is like a studio apartment but less nice—it sounds like a New York City studio apartment).
In 1979, the parlor had to be moved because of zoning issues so then it was just used as a home and apartments. Then in 2006, the home was purchased and renovated and now it is an event venue and bed and breakfast.
As often happens, the renovations seemed to awaken something paranormal. First, when they were taking pictures of the building to prepare for renovations, a boy showed up in the pictures, even though there had not been a child around while they were taking the pictures. The young boy was standing on a side porch, looking right at the person taking the photograph. He had dark hair and seemed like he was maybe eight or nine years old, and he was dressed in white knickerbockers and white knee-high stockings, which are obviously very dated. Supposedly his spirit likes to run around the building, jump up and down the beds, and has a special liking for the front bedroom on the south side of the house.
A medium has since visited and said that they sensed the presence of a child. They don't think that the kid died in the building, just that he lived there for a while, and perhaps he returned to the building because he liked it so much.
Murder near the courthouse
Location: 231 Raymond Ct., which apparently is near 126 Franklin Ave today
One story about Courthouse Square involves a November 1932 murder. One Joseph Kosh had just been released from a prison in Auburn, New York, and he met Victoria Smolinsky, alias Marie King, a woman who owned a brothel in town. They seemed to get along at first and they had Thanksgiving dinner together, but he wanted to spend the night, and she didn't want him to, so the next morning he came back to her place with a 15-inch long bread knife, that he had stolen, and he stabbed her 20 times. Then he was arrested and I guess really fought back, and he tried to kill himself a bunch of times, before being executed.
The gallows were apparently where the John Mitchell memorial statue is nowadays, behind the courthouse on Adams Avenue.
Many people have claimed to see ghosts in the courthouse. Those include overnight workers seeing lights turning on and off again in locked rooms that no one was inside. The third floor office that used to be the marriage license office apparently is particularly haunted. People hear footsteps in hallways that are empty, there are cold spots, and in the bell tower, sheriffs have supposedly said that they'd seen moving shadows and they felt like they have been watched.
In the early 2000s, one janitor saw a lady in white in a dark hallway on the second floor. It's unclear who this woman in white is supposed to be. But the worker who saw her said that he had just finished working, and he was about to leave. Then he remembered he'd left some of his stuff on the second floor. Nobody else was around, but on the second floor in the hallway he saw a "white semitransparent figure" that appeared to be a woman floating toward him slowly. He was freaked out, but didn't run. The woman in white passed overhead and didn't seem to see him. Other workers have said they've seen her and had similar experiences. Apparently a transparent man and a ghost couple have been seen on the first floor the building, as well.
205 North Washington Avenue (across the street from the courthouse)
This building is across the street from the courthouse, and apparently the ground floor is a Subway restaurant, and then the two floors above that have some lawyers offices.
Some of the office workers have claimed to see ghosts there. One lawyer said that he heard shuffling noises and footsteps in the hallway at night after everyone had left. He'd get up to see if anyone was there, and of course there wouldn't be anyone. This happened so often that he just got used to it whenever he was there late at night. Some workers also said that they have experienced cold spots and they've heard keys jingling even though no one was around. The author of Haunted Scranton suggests that may be this is some sort of ghostly janitor.
Bust of Jason Miller
This might be my favorite of the Scranton hauntings.
Jason Miller was a playwright and actor who played Father Karras in The Exorcist. He was from Scranton and moved back there when he was older, dying there in 2001 when he was in his 60s. And now there's a bust of him in Scranton. But this isn't just any bust.
From the website oddthingsiveseen.com: https://www.oddthingsiveseen.com/2008/12/jason-miller-bust.html :
> far from merely being honored with a random hometown-boy-turned-marginally-notable bust tucked away in the lobby of some local theater due to the earnest efforts of some minor lobbying group coinciding with the whims of some local politician, Miller was the entire inspiration behind the recent creation of the Piazza dell’Arte, a courtyard-like monument directly beneath the Spruce Street side of the looming tower of the Lackawanna Courthouse.
Apparently the bust is hollow and contains Miller's ashes. However, wikipedia claims that Miller's ashes appeared on set in a 2011 Broadway revival of That Champion Season, a play that Miller wrote (which was set in Scranton), whereas the bust was built in 2008, so I'm not sure exactly where his ashes are now, or if maybe they were divided
The bust was sculpted by Miller's friend Paul Sorvino, who was an actor who was in a bunch of things. (Probably most notably, he was Paul Cicero in Goodfellas.) But he was also a talented cast-bronze sculptor; who would've guessed?
There's an interesting article that talks about the amount of effort and attention Sorvino put into the sculpture, which I think is relevant from a paranormal point of view.
As a professional sculptor, Sorvino was asked by the city to create a bronze bust of his longtime friend, unveiled in December of 2008. It took him a year to capture his friend as he remembered him, giving it three separate tries and countless hours of studying his pictures and pausing his films. . . .
“Any competent sculptor can make something look reasonably like the subject. The question is, ‘When is it going to be born? When is it going to have life?’ I must have worked on those eyes for a month alone,” Sorvino said. . . . He said he wanted the statue to_be_Miller, not just resemble him, and as much as the bust overlooking Courthouse Square encompasses Miller’s passion for the city, it also represents the passion of its sculptor.
“It was almost a mission for my dear, dear departed friend and for all those people who wanted this in Scranton. In a way, it’s my love letter to him, but it allows me to let Jason keep giving his love back to them. He loved Scranton very, very, very much. It was the only place he felt home,” Sorvino continued.
“I’m very happy that I got a chance, the opportunity, to express that to the town, which I love, and to my dear friend, who I loved.”
Even today, it still brings him back to that one fateful meeting, that one singular “haunted” look, over four decades ago.
“The face on the statue, if you look directly into his eyes, is almost exactly the impression of the face that I saw the first time I laid eyes on him.”
I find this quote interesting, because when you hear about supposedly haunted statues, they aren't usually made by a close friend of the person they're commemorating. And you can tell that Sorvino put so much attention and care into the work—could that give something a "haunted" aspect, or enhance a haunting?
The sculpture is also located really close to an apartment building where Miller lived for a bit.
From the article Ghost walk tours highlight Scranton's weird, grisly history by Nissley, Erin L. Times-Tribune, The (Scranton, PA). 07/06/2010. (AN: 2W62060597568)
They also stopped at the bust of actor/playwright Jason Miller, a Scranton native who died at Farley's bar May 13, 2001.
Mr. Jaye told the group that some people swear they can hear the bust whisper "the power of Christ compels you," Mr. Miller's famous line from "The Exorcist." Several of the people on the tour took turns leaning close to the sculpture, but no one reported hearing anything.
All this being said, I tend to think that anything associated with The Exorcist gets associated with stories of hauntings (see my episodes about Fordham). But still, I don't think that means that the bust isn't haunted. Maybe the weirdness surrounding The Exorcist really stretches far enough to cause far-flung hauntings.
Andy Gavin's Eatery and Pub
Location: 1392 N. Washington Ave.; this is right across the street from the Lackawanna County prison
This is a really beautiful, Victorian looking house that has three stories and tower and it was built sometime between 1887 and 1890.
Since the 1980s, people have reported that there have been ghosts at this location. A previous owner said that he encountered some weirdness while he was renovating rooms on the second and third floors, turning them into apartments to rent out.
He was painting a room and it was really hot, and suddenly he felt some very cold air blowing on him. He said it felt like he had walked into a freezer. But he couldn't figure out what was going on and couldn't find a source for the cold air. He looked around to see if someone could be playing a prank on him somehow (it's unclear to me whether this had central air, but I would be very surprised if it did), but he didn't see anybody. So he went back to work, and the chill went away. But of course it came back. In this time, in addition to the cold air, he heard a man's voice very close to his right ear. He couldn't understand what the man was saying, but he said it sounded gruff. And he ran out. He never went alone to the second or third floors of the building again. And then he sold the building in 1988.
The current owner bought it in 1988, and one night the owner's son and some of his friends were having a party and played with the Ouija board and they wanted to try to communicate with whatever ghost lived in the house. When they asked the ghost what his name was, the board spelled out George. Through further Ouija board sessions, they learned that George was supposedly a coalminer who lived there in the late 19th century, who supposedly killed himself in one of the top floors of the building. As they continue communicating with George to the Ouija board, things got scarier. And after a while, it sounds like they're getting a bad enough vibe from George that they stopped using the Ouija board indicate with him. And of course, when the owner's son asked a priest what to do with the board, he blessed the board and he told him to burn it, and he did that. Supposedly the owner with the help of several priests has tried to get rid of any spirits in the building, but it sounds like George is still around. But employees seem to find him pretty harmless, it's only he's more just mischievous.
There has supposedly been some poltergeist activity in the building as well. Stacked chairs end up getting unstacked, tables are moved, the jukebox turns on and off, silverware jumps off the tables on its own. There've also been reports of an apparition. And supposedly people feel uncomfortable in the restroom and feel that they're being watched. Some people have said that the door of the bathroom stall has closed itself and latched itself on its own, and the toilets has flushed by itself.
People who have rented the apartment on the second floor have claimed to experience cold spots and having the furniture moved.
From NEPAscene.com: (https://nepascene.com/2014/10/9-most-haunted-places-nepa/)
“Glasses fly off the shelves; tables get moved while no one is the room. The bartender will put the chairs up on the tables after they’ve closed and everyone has left, and when he comes back up from the basement, the chairs will be back down again,” VanDuzer says of the some of the incidents that have occurred in the pub.
West Mountain Sanitarium
From NEPAscene.com: ( https://nepascene.com/2014/10/9-most-haunted-places-nepa/ )
The West Mountain Sanitarium (originally named the Lackawanna County Tuberculosis Hospital) opened its doors in 1903 as a hospital to help patients suffering from tuberculosis. During the time it was operational, it seemed to be ahead of its time in treatments. The hospital had state-of-the-art radiology and laboratory departments, its own fields and farms, an artesian well, and it was noted for its open air treatments.
The hospital closed in 1971, and the now decrepit sanitarium is filled with rumors of those who had lost their lives there that still haunt the grounds. Its remote location has attracted mischievous teenagers who have covered the grounds with graffiti and set the property on fire. It has also become a hotbed for paranormal investigators, many who have captured EVPs and ghostly images.
NEPA Paranormal had a particularly odd evening there. As they were investigating a basement within the men’s quarters, one investigator had asked, “How did you die?” As the question was asked, the team was able to smell smoke. They looked out and witnessed smoke billowing into the room and could see flames directly behind it. They ran as fast as they could to the main path of the sanitarium. Once they turned around to comprehend what they had witnessed, the fire was gone. Katie Christopher, case manager and co-founder of NEPA Paranormal, states, “We could still feel the smoke in our lungs,” even though there was no smoke to be seen.
Archived page with more info: https://web.archive.org/web/20181022042940/http://www.nepaparanormal.com:80/page13.php
Judge and Jury Bar
Location: 503 Linden St
From the article Ghost walk tours highlight Scranton's weird, grisly history by Nissley, Erin L. Times-Tribune, The (Scranton, PA). 07/06/2010. (AN: 2W62060597568):
The group that stopped at the corner of Linden Street and Dix Court on a recent overcast Saturday evening attracted more than a little attention from passersby, mostly because of the man wearing a dapper top hat and carrying what appeared to be an old-fashioned miner's lantern.
The man in the top hat, Dave Jaye, ignored the stares and the Bruce Springsteen song pouring from the Judge and Jury bar as he launched into the first of many ghost stories he will tell on a 90-minute ghost walk in downtown Scranton.
The group fell silent as he and fellow paranormal enthusiast T.K. Gillette talked about inadequate fire escapes and rapidly spreading flames that led to dozens of deaths at the Imperial Underwear Co. on Jan. 17, 1908. Plastic gadgets handed out to some of the ghost walk participants flashed and beeped quietly, alerting the group to the presence of possible supernatural activity.
This is an old mine in Scranton's McDade Park, which you can go down into and tour.
The website ghostsoldiers.tv claims that the mine is haunted. They say they've captured EVPs and got a photograph that included an orb. I'll include a link in the shownotes where you can read their full report and listen to the EVPs: