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Tragedy's Trail

Pennsylvania, USA
March 2000

Igrew up in a small city hidden in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. An atmosphere of tragedy hangs over this town. It has thrice been destroyed by floods and during my boyhood (late 1970s-early 1980s) it was being destroyed by the unemployment and poverty that comes with failing steel mills and coal mines. Suicide and homicide were common themes on the evening news.

I lived in a wooded suburb about six or seven miles west of town. In the summers my friends and I would entertain ourselves by hiking and camping in the surrounding woods. I think I was ten years old when we discovered 'the Trail'.

We all heard (from the BIG kids) about this creepy footpath that lead from our end of town to downtown. The trail was reportedly haunted. We decided to be the judge of THAT!

The day we chose for our expedition was in early August, with the temperature and humidity in the low 90s. The first few miles of the trail were typical... thick clusters of pine with stretches of meadow, occasional laurel bushes and hardwoods. The hike was actually quite pleasant until we reached 'the Cliff'. Near the end of the trail the patch took on a steep decline as you descended the mile or so into town. The height from the top of the cliff to the end of the trail in town was probably close to one thousand feet. The trail began this downward portion after rounding an enormous rock that jutted out from the mountainside like a huge, angry face. At this point the story gets weird.

The first thing we all noticed was how COLD it was near this rock. Despite the tropical weather that day we could actually see our breath! The rock was also cold to touch, I mean PAINFUL to touch. Getting around this monstrosity was NOT easy. Along the trail about thirty yards beyond the rock stood a smaller stone outcropping. As we were passing by (silently and creeped out) one of my friends though he heard voices. Stopping to listen we all heard them - MANY voices, some not in English, all SCREAMING! Along with the voices were other sounds like blunt objects struck against stone. We tore off down the trail like the wind and never really spoke of the experience again.

Some years later I returned home for the 100th anniversary of the largest of the three floods that had destroyed my hometown. Driving in I noticed the mountainside from the highway AND THERE WAS THE ROCK STARING RIGHT AT ME. A local historical society was removing trees to create a historic walking trail, rendering the rock plainly visible from the highway. This vision prompted a curiosity in me, so I did some research. Here's what I learned.

1. In the late 1700s the local settlers in the Iroquois engaged in some bloody skirmishes around town. The Iroquois would often mutilate their victims and hurl them off a 'ceremonial rock' into the valley below.

2. In the early 1970s a jealous husband murdered his wife and her lover with a high powered rifle in broad daylight before turning the gun on himself. His sniper's nest? You guessed it.. the same rock.

3. In the mid 1800s a local coal mine collapsed, killed several dozen miners, many of them eastern European immigrants. The local historical society announced it uncovered the entry to 'an old mine shaft, circa 1840s'. The location of this shaft...?

I don't know if I believe that an object or a place can retain evil. Maybe it can. Or maybe an object or place can act as a nidus for evil. Who knows. I just know I'm never going near that place again.

Pennsylvania, USA
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