The Mysteries of Downtown Pittsburgh

We're not whistling past the graveyard when we tell you that some Downtown Pittsburgh workers, residents and visitors have experienced encounters with ghosts and orbs. After all, with such a rich and majestic history more than 250 years long, you can bet there are more than a few dispirited souls from the netherworld roaming the city's streets, buildings and imaginations.  While we're pretty sure that Market Square remains specter-free, aside from the annual ZombieFest, Tim Murray and his crew of ghost hunters will track down a phantom or two on weekly tours of Haunted Pittsburgh that start in the center of the Square.

A Downtown lawyer named Tim decided to chase down apparitions in his hometown after enjoying similar tours in other cities. And once he began researching local ghost stories, he discovered that Pittsburgh was blessed — or should we say cursed — with a treasure trove of such eerie tales. Many of those yarns from the dark side trace their shadowy origins to some of Downtown's most famous landmarks, including one prestigious hotel where the ghosts can check in anytime they like but they can never leave.

And then there's the story of the celestial child who saved the life of a noted steel industry magnate at his Downtown Fifth Avenue office. Despite suffering two gunshot wounds to the neck and a stab in the thigh, the industrialist managed to wrestle his would be assassin into submission. Years later the man of steel credited the miraculous appearance of a departed young daughter whose brilliant aura blinded the would be assassin. You could say the guy never had a "Frick"ing chance.

Broken hearts often turn into lost souls. When Kate Soffel fell head over heels for Ed Biddle, she should have known better. After all, she was the wife of the County Jail warden and Biddle was a notorious area criminal awaiting the executioner on death row. Still, Mrs. Soffel aided Biddle's ill-fated escape from H.H. Richardson's landmark structure. Not long after the jail break, Biddle was shot to death, and his star-crossed lover spent the rest of her life in prison. Rumor has it that the wailing ghost of Mrs. Soffel still roams the former jail's corridor. If you stand under the Bridge of Sighs on Grant Street, you might just hear her spine-chilling moans.

And there are even more things that go bump in the night, such as the curse of the Wabash Railroad Bridge, the dead judge who dons his robes to deliver verdicts from beyond the grave, the former brothel turned restaurant, PaPa J's Centro, where the ghouls are "boo-tiful" and otherworldly legends of a totally honest president who logged a night's rest at the western end of Smithfield Street.

While many of the stories will make the hairs nearly jump off the back of your neck, there's plenty to learn along the way about Pittsburgh's history and role in literally building an America that became a world power. Still, bizarre is the theme of these weekly, 90-minute spook search tours, which start  in the Square each Saturday at 7 p.m. for the next few weeks before switching to Fridays on July 7. It's such a shock to the system that you just might want to return to the Square to sit down with some friendly "spirits" to calm your rattled nerves.

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