These stories are dedicated to my dad, who was an inspiration for me to put these tales into written words so that you too someday can get the chills reading these stories to your family and friends, as I did, while sitting around a dim campfire late at night..
They say that dreams are like reality but did you ever think that reality could be a dream? Think about it the next time you fall asleep and wonder are you really here, on Earth, in your house, or instead, in the Twilight Zone. –Rod Serling Twilight Zone
Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum…Mr. Sandman…bring me a dream. Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen. – The Chordettes
Many times on warm summer nights, my family would build small campfires at the end of our backyard and share stories and food with family and friends. As the sun set over the mountain in the evening, the deep woods beyond the yard would feel a bit menacing and sometimes the stories’ would would turn scary and I’ll never forget the night when my dad told me about the Cruster…
Does anyone have a scary story to share? I do.
There were times in my youth where I’d seek out anything involving ghosts, demons, witches, folklore…you name it. Much of my fascination with the paranormal started with a story my dad shared with me when I was a kid. He swears to me to this day that it’s true and that it’s the only time in his life he was truly terrified and that nothing since then ever compared to it.
This resonated with me, even to this day, as I sit here and type this out in my late 30s. My dad was muscular and large and worked many years in a steel warehouse, loading and unloading heavy steel. I always thought of my dad as invincible, especially as a young child. For him to be scared of something and admit it to me was not something he ever did.
He hasn’t been in good health the last few years, but about 20 years ago, I sat down with him to document his recollection of this story that he first told many many years ago around a late night campfire in our backyard.
I used to get so scared hearing it, especially when the fire burned down to embers and I was all alone getting ready to walk back down the yard to the house for the night. My story here doesn’t really do it justice, but here it goes….
My dad grew up two houses up from where I grew up, in Llanfair, PA. It’s a small village of a few dozen houses on the side of the mountain that overlooks the larger village of Dunlo. My grandmother’s parents moved there from Czechoslovakia to work in the coal mines. They said the area reminded them of the Carpathian mountains, back in the old country where they originally lived.
At the time of this story, it was early 1960’s and my dad was about 5 years old. He was part of a large family that included 6 siblings, his parents, as well as his mothers parents, who all shared the house together. The house was a simple two story house that was built by the local coal company to house miners. The house, like many of the rest in the neighborhood, was divided in two parts, with another family living next to them. This led to a small amount of room for all of them and forced the kids to share sleeping space on the first floor back porch near the kitchen.
Late one night, while they were all asleep, something woke them. No one knows for sure who saw it first, but my dad and his two older sisters, my Aunt Diney and Aunt Kathy all saw it. My dad said he will go to his grave swearing that what he saw was real and my aunt’s, even to this day, all stand by what they saw.
What they saw first appeared as a set of glowing eyes peeking out of the cellar door in the kitchen through the darkness. It then appeared seated on the third step of the kitchen stairway leading to the upstairs. It was some kind of manlike creature, completely covered in short black hair and had a set of white fangs protruding from its mouth. It was wearing a top hat, cape and was holding a cane. It sat there in silence watching them.
It sat there for what seemed like forever, gazing at them. It gave off an immensely menacing evil feeling. It then began clawing at them with beast-like hands. My Aunt Kathy, who was the oldest of the children, led them all in prayer and they began praying the Hail Mary over and over until it vanished. My dad ran hysterically screaming and crying in terror into his parents bedroom, yelling over and over again that “There’s a Cruster in the house! There’s a Cruster in the house!”
To this day, he doesn’t know why he called it that or what Cruster even means. All he knows was that he was never more terrified of anything in his life and that nothing will ever scare him again because of it.
I know that even now, it deeply affects my dad and it got me searching for what that could have been. My Aunt Diney said that for years after, she never liked to go upstairs or be anywhere near the 3rd step of the kitchen where she saw it. When she would go upstairs, she’d ask her mom to wait near the bottom so she wouldn’t be alone.
Years later I remember my Aunt Kathy talking about it and she said that on that night my great grandfather, my Zedo, died in hospital, which would have been in 1962. I don’t know if this was a strange coincidence or it was somehow connected with his death.
Even stranger, when my Bubba and Zedo, my grandma’s parents, first moved into the house many years earlier, my Bubba saw some kind of creature at the end of their bed trying to lift the covers. She screamed and it vanished. My Zedo then sprinkled holy water around the bed to try to ward off whatever it was and it never came back.
For it to have affected him and my aunt so badly all these years, it really makes me wonder what that was. Either way, I think it makes for a good scary story and maybe it’ll keep someone up scared tonight after reading this.
The Little Black Man
It was the early 1950’s, and back in those days most of the houses in my childhood village of Llanfair were two-story colonial duplex homes, built so that two families could live separately under one roof. Each side had its own entrance, bathroom, kitchen and other rooms.
To this day you can still see what they looked like, as many houses in present day Mine 42, a few miles away, still look this way. Some houses are separated to the point of having different sides, roofing and features on each half. The homes were cheaply built in many ways, originally built by the coal mining company of the time to house immigrant miners.
The mining company owned and operated everything those days, from the power plant in the nearby village of Dunlo, to the company store, which was the primary, and sometimes only source of food and goods for the workers. My grandmother, who grew up in one of these houses, would tell me they were so shabby that snow would drift in under the doors and that rooms were lit with single bulbs hanging from a wire that flickered due to the low quality power. They even would use newspapers as a type of wallpaper to help cover the walls.
The word Llanfair is of Welsh origin. English and Welsh families owned and operated many of the mines in the area, which is likely how the village was named. My grandparents would refer to anyone with English origins as Johnny Bulls, in a generally derogatory manner. My grandfather said they usually got the best jobs in the mines and often looked down on them as second-class citizens.
The families hired desperate immigrants who were fleeing extreme poverty from central and eastern Europe, where my ancestors came from. My grandmother told me her parents were so poor they couldn’t afford shoes growing up and would go so far as putting their bare feet in cow manicure to keep them warm when working in the farm fields of Slovakia where they grew up. They thought the United States would offer them a much better life.
In the 50’s my grandparents shared their house with Mrs. Single. She was a little old lady who lived in the other half of the house. Her husband had died years earlier and her children were all grown up and moved out. My grandfather told me that she and her husband used to board miners for extra money. My grandfather angrily verified this years later when they remodeled the upstairs and found urine stains and damaged wood under the floorboards, likely from the tenants failing to use the bathroom.
As the story goes, it was a chilly fall evening. Church services were being held that evening at the Roman Catholic church in the nearby village of Dunlo. Mrs. Single, being a very religious woman, would frequently attend services there. This particular evening, she got dressed up, like she always did for church. She put on her coat, scarf, babushka and started out of the house and down the road towards church. She walked to church most times because she didn’t drive, as many women didn’t in those days, including my grandmother.
The sky was starting to turn black as the sun set over the mountain. That night there was no moon and only the twinkling stars above. About a quarter mile down the road from her house, the road curves sharply and gets steep as you make your way off of the mountain and down Llanfair hill into the outskirts of Dunlo. This stretch of road is heavily lined with trees. As a child, I remember walking it while trick-or-treating and it used to frighten me because it was very dark and without street lights.
The air was crisp that evening and she could see her breath as she steadily walked down over the hill. The leaves had long since fallen from the trees and the only sounds heard were that of an occasional dry leaf scraping across the road as the wind blew. It was late and most people were inside their cozy homes readying for bed or supper.
At the bottom of Llanfair hill were train tracks that crossed the road and if you followed them, they went down into Dunlo and Salix in one direction and up to Krayn in the other direction. Along the road was a path that followed the tracks and sulfur crick into Dunlo and was a nice shortcut that would take you directly behind the Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, which is where she was headed.
As soon as she stepped off the road and made her way into the woods, that’s when she started hearing footsteps in the distance. She turned her head around slightly to see who it was and caught a figure in the shadows out of the corner of her eye. Figuring it was only someone else out that night walking, she paid no attention and kept on walking.
As she kept on walking though, the footsteps began getting closer and closer. It was to the point she could hear whoever or whatever it was breathing behind her. She got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and her instincts screamed that something wasn’t right. She started walking faster and was almost to the point of running. She glanced behind her and could now see what it actually was.
Behind her was a small man, but it wasn’t a man, it was more like a creature. It was covered in dark fur and had fangs sticking out of its mouth. It wore a type of bandana cloth over its head and had a single gold earring dangling off its ear.
It got up beside her, and paced next to her, trying to get her attention. Every time she glanced down, hoping it was gone, it was still there. It got angered that she wasn’t stopping and it kicked her in the feet causing her to trip and fall and injure her leg.
She quickly picked herself up off the road, reached into her pockets to grab the rosary beads she brought with her and kept praying and running, praying and running…trying to get to church as quickly as possible, never looking back at it, only trying to concentrate on getting into church alive.
She finally made it to church, she ran inside, slammed the door behind her and sat there sobbing in the pew in total fear. She held out her hands and the rosary was covered in blood from scraped hand, but she made it and prayed extra hard that she was lucky to escape whatever it was that followed her to church.
My father conveyed to me that she was a very religious and trustworthy woman and would not have lied about something like this. The story was originally told to my grandmother who then passed it on to my dad.
No one knows who or what it was that followed and chased her that night or if it’s still out there somewhere, waiting for the next lonely traveler walking at night……
A few houses up the road in Llanfair from where I grew up sits a vacant lot, where long ago a house used to stand. Legend has it that a family once lived there who were expecting a beautiful healthy baby, but sadly it was stillborn. Not only was it still born, but something else was horrifyingly wrong with it. The doctors gasped with horror as nurses began screaming and crying and leaving the room. Instead of having hands and feet like a normal child, it was born with hooves like a pig or goat. People say that the family was cursed and that Satan somehow got hold of the child while still in its mother’s womb and possessed it, causing it to be born like that. The family soon left Llanfair and the house fell into disrepair and was torn down. The story reminds me of the Jersey Devil and is a cautionary tale for those who believe Satan.
An Otherworldly Evening Walk
Back in the 1800s, small family farms dotted the landscape around Cambria County and the rest of the country. Even to this day, on the side of the hill above Llanfair, are a few large fields that light up like gold in the summer sun, fields that were and are still used for farming corn and hay. Back then some of these fields were farmed by the Shable family.
The Shable’s were your average American farming family of the time. They had a few children and raised dairy cows, chickens and pigs. Their house and farm was located somewhere near Lamer’s field where there used to be an old water tank that supplied Llanfair and Dunlo with drinking water before the 1970’s. If you want to see where the water tank was, take a stroll up some lazy afternoon on the hill off of Gdula Street and you’ll find an old concrete foundation in the middle of the field with brush growing in it where the tank used to stand. Most of the field is now used to keep horses.
My great grandparents used to live below that field long ago but later moved up the road because there weren’t enough Slovak speaking people around in that area. Oh how the world has moved on since those times.
One night, when the Shable family was asleep, a candle or lantern must have fallen over and caught the house on fire. The fire quickly spread and burned the house completely down. No fire stations or trucks were available in those days and tragically no one escaped the fire’s deathly grip.
Many years later, in recent times, my Great Aunt Vern was visiting my grandparents at their house, which is down the road and off the hill from where the Shable’s lived. Llanfair, being at the edge of a mountain, meant the sun set particularly early. She ate supper and decided to take a walk around the yard before the sun went down over the mountains.
She made her way up behind a bunch of old pine trees at the end of the yard and started walking back to the house along the large vegetable garden my pap used to always plant that would run the length of the yard. As she was walking, she heard people talking in the distance. At first she thought nothing of it. But as the voices got closer and louder she began looking around only to discover no one was in sight. It sounded as if there were a few people, including some kids. The voices passed directly by her and continued on down the yard and out to the road without anyone ever being seen.
She ran into the house shaken and thinks this may have been the Shable family taking an evening stroll through the eternal dusk that is death.
My uncle is of Croatian descent, and his family, like many others in the early 20th century, immigrated to the United States for a better life. Thousands settled in the Cambria City section of Johnstown, PA, where they lived and got jobs in the thriving steel mills and mines of the area.
Cambra City is rather small, but is a dense urban area that fills the valley about a mile or two directly downstream of the Conemaugh River below the center of the city of Johnstown.
It’s rich in many ethic cultures, such as Slovak, Polish, German, Serbian, Hungarian and many other ethnic groups. Many of these groups built their own churches, which were used not only for worship, but as vitality important community gathering places. Nearly every street corner in Cambria City has a church on it or ethnic club. There may well have been nearly a dozen churches at one point.
When my uncle was a young, he was an altar boy at St. Rochus Croatian Catholic Church. He and another boy stayed late after church one morning to clean before they went home. Everyone had left the church except for them and as they were finishing up, the organ in the church began playing.
They turned around expecting to see someone, but no one was there. Both of them ran out of the church terrified and would never stay alone there again. They later found out that others had similar experiences in the church and that many claim the church is haunted.
The Faceless Woman
Our family would get together over my grandparent’s house every week. She would usually make spaghetti for everyone to eat and the grandkids would all get together and play outside in the driveway, while the adults chatted and caught up on the family events of the last week.
Both my Aunt and Uncle showed up one night and looked like something was terribly wrong. They sat down at the kitchen table and said they had something important to tell us all and that we probably wouldn’t believe them.
It all started the night before at their place in Elton. I was only a kid at the time I heard this, maybe 10 or 11 years old, but I’ll never forget this story. I’ve tried to get my uncle to tell me more about it, but he refused to talk about it to me.
Their dog, which they had chained up outside to a dog house, started barking wildly in the early morning hours. Naturally my uncle woke up to see what all the commotion was. He figured it was maybe another dog that wanted into the yard or maybe even a raccoon. My uncle got out of bed and went down the hall to the dining room window and peered out from behind the curtain. What he saw shook him to his core.
Floating above the dog house was what appeared to be the ghostly bluish-white figure of a woman. Its face was blurry and you couldn’t make out any details other than that it had on a flowing dress and had long hair.. It was hovering up and down in mid air in a bluish white haze. The dog must have seen it because it was going crazy barking wildly.
He ran into the bedroom and told my aunt to get out of bed and come see something. Fear gripped her and as she made her way to the window and got a glimpse of what was outside, she went hysterical and wanted to call the police because she was so frightened. My uncle talked her out of it and wanted to watch it for a while to see what it would do. He wanted to get a better look at it so he grabbed his hunting rifle to look at it from his scope.
Being that it was the early morning hours, a garbage truck pulled up by the road. As soon as this happened, the apparition disappeared.
They couldn’t figure out what they saw and couldn’t believe it. A woman who my aunt worked with died in a car wreck that week and there’s speculation that it could have been her spirit paying my aunt a visit from beyond the grave.
Some say maybe it was Becky Kring from Becky’s grave. She was an alleged witch from the 1800s that was hanged and who some say now haunts Snavely Cemetery where she was laid to rest. She is related to my mom’s side of the family and appears in our family history books. History has it that her grave was actually moved to the cemetery next to my aunt and uncle’s house. Could this have been the ghost of Becky?
My uncle was leaving the house early one morning. It was a typical day and he usually left early before sunrise. As he was walking out to his car he looked up in the distance and saw giant saucer shaped spacecraft hovering above the hillside. It was completely silent with bright flashing lights around it. He never saw anything like it before. A few seconds after seeing it, it took off into the sky and disappeared.
When he got to work later that morning, told one of his friends there that he wouldn’t believe what he saw this morning. His friend looked at him and said, “You won’t believe what I saw this morning.” and went on to describe exactly the same UFO he encountered that morning.
Beast of Cox Monument
Before I tell this story, I want to let you know that this story involves the sighting of a supposed Bigfoot or Sasquatch. I’ve heard many stories of Bigfoot over the years and I’ve always come to the conclusion that there is no such thing because how can something like that live in this modern world undetected to science. This all changed for me on a cold Saturday night in January of 2006.
My dad’s good friend, Ron, stopped by the house with his teenage son to visit and have some pizza and wings with us while we watched TV and talked. Ron lived a few miles away over in the village of Beaverdale, which was another coal mining community a bit larger than Dunlo.
He was tall with gray shoulder length hair and thick glasses. He was very friendly and loved to talk football with my dad. My dad told me he was a star football player in high school when he used to play for Forest Hills and played on the same team as my Uncle Joe. Somehow we started talking about the supernatural and ghosts, goblins, and UFO’s and soon the conversation turned to a much more serious story.
He told us, “You’ll never believe this and I don’t care if you do or not because I know what I saw….”. Ron then delved into a very intense and terrifying story that involved him and friends one night back in the early 1970’s when they were teenagers.
He recalled this event took place in 1972 over the course of maybe a half hour when he and his high school friends were camping alongside the road near Cox Monument in Bedford County. Cox Monument is a locally famous location where two young children were found dead after being lost in the woods back in the 1800s. It’s located deep in the woods off of Route 869 near Bob’s Creek. It’s a very sad and tragic, yet fascinating story that involves someone having a dream of the location where the boys were later to be found dead.
Ron went on to say that they started a small campfire and were hanging out enjoying the night and sharing stories. As the night went on, they heard some rustling in the woods and thought that it might be a person wandering around.
They called out to ask if anyone was there, but no one responded. Ron said that he used to make a loud hoot noise like an owl to get his friends’ attention. When he made this noise at whoever they thought was in the woods, it responded back to them.
They began getting very scared because whoever or whatever this was still wasn’t talking to them and they could hear it getting closer and closer as it was making its way through the woods. As the noise of it approached, they started smelling an awful stench of whatever it was.
Soon the sounds of it walking towards them stopped. They called out again to ask who it was, but instead of hearing something in return, they started getting hit with stones being thrown at them from the darkness of the wood. They got frightened and ran off to their car for protection.
Once inside the car, their fear turned to laughter as they started thinking they must be getting a joke pulled on them by someone who found out they were camping and that someone was trying to scare them away. Soon the laughing turned to anger because all they wanted to do was enjoy a night out in the woods and didn’t want to be messed with.
All the guys out that night were rather large football player types and they got out of their vehicle and walked back towards the fire yelling at whoever it was to show themselves. As soon as the got back to the campsite, they heard tree branches breaking and a large hairy creature emerged from the woods. It was covered in short black hair and it grabbed a tree next to it and angryling pushed it aside, toppling it over.
When they saw this, they bolted back to the car and drove off as fast as they could. The drive home was a quiet one and no one knew what to say. Once they were back in town, they talked about what had happened and made plans to go back up the next morning to collect their belongings and see if they could find out what it was they saw.
The next morning they set off, but this time they took some hunting rifles with them in case whatever they saw was still up there and tried attacking. As they drove down the long narrow dirt road towards Cox Monument, they came across a young boy holding onto a tree and shaking in terror.
They got out of the car and asked him was wrong and he frantically began crying and telling them that he got lost the night before in the woods. He told them he was camping with his scout troop when some kind of beast tried to get into his tent. All he knew to do was run out the back of the tent as fast as he could. He made it as far as he could down the road. He grabbed a tree in terror and didn’t want to turn around out of complete fear of seeing whatever it was trying to get him. He held the tree all night, hoping and praying that whatever it was wouldn’t find him
Ron went on to say that he thinks whatever it was they saw that night could have been a sasquatch or Bigfoot. Even stranger, he said the local Johnstown TV station, WJAC, aired a report about someone seeing a hairy manlike creature cross Route 22 up near Ebensburg.
What is Bigfoot? Was it someone dressed up playing a terrified prank on campers in the woods? We might never really know, all we know is that something terrified a lot of people that night and makes you wonder what might lurk beyond the edge of the campfire at night.
Part II: The Exorcism Chapters
It is my personal opinion that the ancient stories of exorcism and demonic possession are authentic in some way. The stories I have to tell you are true as told to me first hand by people I would consider very reliable sources. I feel that the Catholic Church and Eastern Rite Churches are somehow still connected with exorcism. Exorcism prayers are said over babies during baptism to drive away original sin and evil. I’ll never forget one of my former priests, Father Kolcun, telling me he could actually see Satan himself leaving the body of the child during one baptism. He said you could just see it in the eyes.
The power of Christ compels you! –Father Merin “The Exorcist”
The Random Demonic
I know a Russian Orthodox priest outside of the city of Pittsburgh. He told me every Saturday morning he would go down to church to replace candles and clean up so that church was ready for weekend services.
One morning, he began his cleaning routine and opened the front doors of the church to let some fresh air in. Soon after, a strange man showed up in the doorway and stood in the entrance. He started screaming and yelling saying he was possessed by a demon and didn’t know what to do. The priest took what the man said seriously and hurried to the back of the church and got the Baptismal prayer book.
For those of you reading this that don’t know about Othodox Christian baptisms, let me explain. Although actual exorcisms are rare, they are not like in the movies. Due to the Christian beliefs that Adam and Eve’s original sin is present with a child when it is born, the child must have all evil/original sin removed. This is typically accomplished during baptism when the priest makes the sign of the cross over a child and recites verses of the exorcism.
He placed his hand on the man’s head and began reading the exorcism verses from the book. As this was happening, the man was screaming and moaning and started going into convulsions. As the last line of the prayers were recited, all the doors and windows of the church blew open with one big burst. The man got to his feet and walked out the door never to be seen again, leaving the priest, sweaty, tired and in total shock and disbelief at what occurred.
Encounter from Hell
Many years ago, when I was an altar server at church, the priest at the time told the congregation an absolutely chilling story that I’ll never forget.
One Sunday there was a gospel reading about the demonic man terrorizing a cemetery. Christ came along and drove the evil spirits out of him and into a nearby herd of swine. The swine then ran off a cliff killing themselves because the demons could not take living inside an animal’s body. Father told us that this reminded him of an encounter with evil many years ago during his seminary days, when he was studying to become a priest.
He told us he and some fellow priests were traveling up near Cleveland, Ohio for a retreat. In the morning, they would sometimes go out to get breakfast at a local diner before starting the day. One morning as they were sitting down to eat, a strange man came up to the table. He looked extremely distressed and Father said from that instant he knew something wasn’t right.
The man noticed they were clergy, from the black shirts and collars some of them had on that day. He staggered up to the table, bent down and asked, “Are you priests?” One of the priests seated at the table responded, “Yes we are. Is there something I can help you with?”. The man said he needed to talk to one of them right away outside. Father told us no one wanted to go speak to him because they sensed something wasn’t right with him and it filled them with dread. One of them finally got up and walked out with the man. A few moments later, the priest that went with the man came hurrying back in and said they desperately needed to get him back to the church.
All of them quickly got into their car and drove off. When they got the man inside the church, he dropped to his feet in front of the altar and began violently choking himself with a tie he was wearing. Some of them stood by in disbelief as to what was happening but one of the older priests demanded someone bring them a baptismal prayer book, which held exorcism verses.
One priest placed his hand on the forehead of the man while another priest blessed him with holy water. When the ritual was over the entire church shook, as if there was an earthquake and the man and building immediately returned to a calm state.
Father told us he believes this man was possessed by the devil and the physical shaking of the building was a sign of the devil escaping the man’s body and entering the environment and roam Earth once more for his next victim.
Below is a link to separate page I wrote that covers story behind the legendary Becky’s Grave in Adam’s Township outside the village of Elton, PA.
The Lost Children of the Alleghenies
Below is a link to a separate page on the story behind The Lost Children of the Alleghenies. It’s a sad, yet fascinating story that I think fits right in with the legends and lore of the Dunlo area.