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History and Culture

Beware "Schwaboo": Ghost Tales From Blair County And Penn State

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Pat Mansell
/
Penn State

It's Halloween: time for chilling tales of local hauntings.  And in the interview below, Matthew Swayne delivers the goods. Swayne, originally from Tyrone, Pennsylvania,  is a science writer for Penn State's Institute for Computational Sciences.  He is also the author of "Haunted Valley: the Ghosts of Penn State."

TRANSCRIPT:

ALLEN: You wrote a book on hauntings at Penn State.  How did you get interested in that?

SWAYNE: Well I got interested in that because I was born on Halloween, and I was a reporter for the Tyrone Daily Herald, and I wanted to do a good feature story one Halloween.  So I ended up going back to my time as a Penn State student, remembering some of those tales.

ALLEN: Did you say you catalogued some ghost stories in Tyrone? 

SWAYNE: Yeah.  Actually there are a few ghost stories from around that area. They’re mostly what I call ghost lore: which is folklore, legends, based on spirits.  And there’s a couple famous ones right outside of Tyrone.  And one is the ghost of Sylvia that haunts an area that we call “the pike.” And there are a few of those stories that circulate up and down the mountains of this area of Pennsylvania. K Can you tell me about Sylvia?  MS So one of the stories is that Sylvia was in a car crash on this area, which is a pretty mountainous road that leads outside of Tyrone that leads to Philipsburg and those areas. And she was in a car crash.  And after the car crash, she ran into the woods, injured, and they never recovered the body. And so now, if you’re a teenager, or older, or however old you are, and you drive up onto the mountain, some people say you light a lighter three times, and say the name Sylvia every time you light the lighter, she will appear. Other stories, you have to flash your headlights three times, and she’ll appear. 

ALLEN: Do we know what she looks like, when she appears?

SWAYNE: They say it’s just – you’ll see this white form.  This woman in a white dress, is one of the descriptions.

ALLEN: Hmmm. That seems like an archetype.  I grew up in Chicago, and we had Resurrection Mary, a hitchhiking ghost in a white dress.

SWAYNE: What I think people do, is take these archetypes, as you would call them, and they imprint them on their own areas. So you’ll find around Altoona I think it’s the white lady of the Buckthorn, which is a similar story. So they appear.  It’s almost like you take those legends and you put them in your own time and space

ALLEN: The other thing you notice about some of these ghost lore stories is they morph over time, to reflect the times. So with the lady of the Buckhorn, it starts out that she was injured in a wagon accident. And then she was in a car with a moonshiner. And then later you’ll get into the car crashes and things like that.  So they evolve over time, to reflect the era.

ALLEN: What’s the most haunted place at Penn State?

SWAYNE: Well I would say if you’re looking at ghosts per capita (laugh) you would look at Schwab Auditorium. It’s allegedly haunted by three or four gho sts, depending on how you want to count these. First, there’s the legend of “Schwaboo,” which is a nickname the students coined for this kind of weird activity at Schwab. And some of the stories are that you’ll put an item down and it will disappear.  Or that some people claim to hear footsteps going across the stage. That’s one of the ghosts that are there.  There are stories like that, and then there are others who’ve had personal encounters. There were a few articles that I came across where people said they actually saw the ghost – or a bunch of ghosts – at Schwab.  In one case, a student claimed that he saw these ghosts hovering.  And again, they were filmy white apparitions.  They call that Schwaboo. Now there’s other people who believe that it’s the ghost of a revolutionary war soldier.  And one person who worked on the crew there claimed to see this apparition of a man who had very long hair.  It looked like he had a revolutionary war uniform.  Who walked across the stage and then disappeared right into the wall.

If I could get a gig as a paid consultant to avoid ghost stories on campuses, I think I could do that job pretty well.  And I would have advised Penn State not to put a grave on campus.  Because there’s a lot of ghost stories around that. The ghost of George Atherton supposedly haunts Schwab auditorium because his grave is right next door.

And finally the last kind of spectral suspect would be Charles Schwab himself.  The legend behind that is Andrew Carnegie was Schwab’s mentor in life.  But then later they had a falling out.  And this story says that Charles Schwab is very envious of Andrew Carnegie.  And the reason why he haunts Schwab, besides it’s his namesake building, is because the Carnegie library, at that point, was across the street.  And he would keep an eye on his former mentor, and then later, tormentor.

There are many more stories in Matthew Swayne's book, Haunted Valley: the Ghosts of Penn State.  You'll hear more of those stories tonight from 8:00 p.m. to midnight during Fright Night on WPSU-FM.