Every day should be Halloween in Pennsylvania. With all those ghosts, monsters and bizarre beasts residing in the Keystone State, there is so much strange stuff that you can’t cram it all into one haunted evening. There are enough macabre mysteries, outlandish oddities and creepy cemeteries to fill an entire year ― or 272 pages, for that matter. Just leaf through Weird Pennsylvania, the latest title in the Weird series written by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, and you’ll see.
It’s a book with a history. According to the Foreword, the two Marks started sending out a homespun newsletter containing all kinds of news clippings, little-known anecdotes and urban legends from their home state of New Jersey, which quickly grew into a magazine. Armed with notepad and camera, they set out to investigate where those seemingly unbelievable stories about abandoned sites, tales of unexplained animals, cursed roads and UFO sightings were coming from, and if there was actually some truth to the local lore. After dozens of years exposing the bizarre, they wrote their first book about their investigations, called Weird N.J.: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets (2003). And they must have only scratched the tip of an iceberg. Soon, readers from all over the United States began writing letters, telling fantastic and freaky tales from their own states. So, in their quest for weirdness, Moran and Sceurman documented unusual and highly unimaginable phenomena from around the 50 states in Weird U.S. (2004).
Since you can only include so much in one book, the authors decided to compile a witty and intriguing encyclopedia of weirdness for each U.S. state from all of those leftover stories ― some scary, some hilarious. This year, the start of the individualized state guides to the most unusual places and people began with the release of Weird Florida, Weird Illinois and Weird Wisconsin. Weird Pennsylvania was published in July 2005.
This time, Englishman Matt Lake, an accomplice in weirdness who promised to drive on the right side of the road, was sent on a tour of Pennsylvania, the state that has become his adopted home. Strange stories and photographs were the result of his adventure. How about the picture of the wax model of Madame Dimanche that Matt found in the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, for example? The 18th century washerwoman’s replica has a horny growth protruding from the skin of her forehead, allegedly comprised of the same cells that make up our hair and fingernails.
Or take the close encounter with a giant granny holding a gigantic pie outside a motel in Frackville. She is made from painted fiberglass, but is very strange — and her daughter even more so, with an oversized head featuring a face of a full-grown man, including sideburns, and a headless doll dangling from her hand. If that is not bizarre enough for you, then perhaps the mighty Ogua — a legendary and monstrous amphibian ambushing unsuspecting divers in the Monongahela River — will do, or the albino cannibals of Ghost Mountain, Pittsburgh’s Green Man, the Screaming Lady in Fort Mifflin, the Phantom Priest of Millvale, the buried Corvette near Irwin or the abandoned Byberry Mental Asylum.
If you still dare to make the trip to Pennsylvania, this guide is not necessarily designed to go on the road with you. The hardcover edition, with lots of pictures and graphic art, has a rather bulky format and, unfortunately, there are no maps included for a geographic overview of the strangest sites. The book organizes weirdness according to themes: roadside oddities, cemetery safaris, local heroes and villains, fabled people and places. So you’d better read up on the sights that you plan to visit before embarking on your scary adventure. There is no information about recommended restaurants or accommodations, unless you find the description of the haunted hotels particularly inviting. For friends of the supernatural, the Logan Inn might be the perfect place to stay. At this haunted hotel in New Hope, windows regularly fling open in the middle of the night, and Room 6 is haunted by a former proprietor.
Weird Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the series, is the cure for the common (and oftentimes very boring) travel guide. There are more Weird books to look forward to: New England, New York, California and Georgia are either hot off the press or are expected to be published by February 2006. And the rest of the country still lies ahead .. .
By Matt Lake
Sterling Publishing Company
Publication date: July 2005
Hardcover, 272 pages