Old Stone House’s “Spooky Stories” connects community with local history

Published by adviser, Author: Courtney Tietje - Rocket Contributor, Date: October 25, 2012
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With Halloween right around the corner, many college students are spending some of their time searching for entertaining and spooky local haunts – one of which being just minutes away from campus.

SRU’s Old Stone House, located just south of Slippery Rock along Route 8, hosted its Spooky Stories Program yesterday evening, and is hosting it once again tonight from 6-9 p.m.

According to assistant professor of history and curator of the Stone House Dr. Aaron Cowan, visitors will tour the house, stopping in each of the Halloween-themed rooms to experience a different activity.

“We try to emphasize the link between local history and the spookier side of that—some ghost stories that have some local [history],” Cowan said. However, Cowan stressed, “We’re very careful to say this isn’t a haunted house. It’s not gory. It’s very family-friendly. It’s a lot of fun.”
Jake Miller, 24, a graduate student studying history and assistant curator of the Old Stone House, listed just some of the many free activities that will be happening tonight, including a costume party for children 10 and under, and storytelling by professional storyteller Scott Pavelle.

“We’re going to have story tellers, we’re going to have The Center for Paranormal Study and Investigation (CPSI) doing some ghost investigating, Phi Alpha Theta, which is a history honorary here on campus, will be doing a historical skit, and they’re also doing a presentation on how early Americans viewed death and mortality,” Miller said.

The House’s history proves it a viable location for the Spooky Stories nights. It was built in 1822, and served as an inn along a coach route from Pittsburgh to Erie until the 1870’s. Thereafter, it was loaned out as a farmstead. After years of disuse, it fell into a state of disrepair, according to Cowan.

“In 1963, the western Pennsylvania conservancy reconstructed it, and they did, at that time, a pretty thorough reconstruction,” he said. “Any parts of the building that were still standing, they numbered the stones and put them right back where they had been before and used other materials to kind of construct the house along the lines of what they knew about the design.”

Cowan also mentioned that there are many strange, if vague, stories that have filled the Old Stone House. One such story that Miller described is known as the Wigton Massacre, the first capital punishment case to take place in Butler, Pa.

The story, according to Miller, follows Sam Mohawk, a Native American from the Seneca tribe. Mohawk allegedly had intended to stay overnight at the Stone House but, while intoxicated, wound up in a fight with the inn keeper and was kicked out of the house. Mohawk traveled two miles north to where the Wigton family lived. Mr. Wigton had left early that morning for his father’s house, and so Mrs. Wigton and her five children were alone when Mohawk entered the house and killed them all.

“He essentially confessed to [the murder] but plead not guilty at the trial for reasons of insanity,” Miller said. “They found him guilty, and he was hung and buried in Butler.”

Cowan said that the skit being performed by Phi Alpha Zeta will depict Mohawk’s trial.

Many of the stories connected with the house, according to Cowan, are only partly based on fact, and many are based solely on lore.

“[The House] got this sort of unsavory reputation by the mid-19th century. It was a place where criminals hung out, and there was a gang that used it as their location, sort of their headquarters where they slept,” he said. “But some of [the stories are] a bit vague if you read all the histories. They say many strange occurrences happened at the Stone House, and so it seemed that there was local lore and some of that we think now may have been the criminals that stayed at the Stone House making up stories about that house to keep people from going there because they didn’t want to be discovered.”

Whether you choose to believe the stories or not is up to you, said Miller, but he stressed the main reason for events like the Spooky Stories Program.

“The Old Stone House exists primarily to teach about history,” Miller said. “We want people to see that it’s not just a bunch of facts and a list of things to remember, but if you go to the Old Stone House, you can actually see the thing set up and get an idea for how people lived and hopefully that’s something that people will be interested in. A lot of people are. Just having the Stone House there is a way to teach people about history in a new and interesting way.”

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