Tony Lavorgne likes to dig deep into local ghost stories and legends, looking for that kernel of truth he knows is there.
“I have met a lot of interesting folks,” he said during a presentation Wednesday night at Jennings Environmental Education Center, Brady Township.
Lavorgne, author and podcast host, was the guest speaker during the monthly meeting of the Moraine, McConnells Mill, and Jennings Commission, also known as 3MJC.
He doesn’t consider himself to be an expert, and he’s not a ghost hunter like the ones featured on television; he’s always had an interest in local history, which is often a big part of legends and folklore.
His research has taken him to many parts of western Pennsylvania, which is how he met Zane Barger, president of 3MJC. Barger has listened to some of Lavorgne’s podcasts, and they connected at the Butler Paranormal Conference.
When trying to piece together certain stories to figure out what really happened, Lavorgne likes to look at both the good and the bad. There are a lot of legends that got started because of a crime or accident.
Many of those stories change over time as they’re shared over and over by word-of-mouth, books, or the internet, said Lavorgne, who has been researching for nearly 30 years.
He noted that many families have come to western Pennsylvania from other countries, bringing their own legends with them. Sharing such stories help create a common bond and sense of community.
“These tales become a non-traditional part of our history,” he said.
Lavorgne recalled one of the first legends he studied – the murder of Betty Knox years ago in the Ligonier area.
She made daily trips with her cattle and wagon, and the path they wore is still visible. People have reported seeing her apparition at Kentuck Knob, he said.
When the mill at McConnells Mill State Park was still in operation, it was rumored that a worker died there when a piece of equipment malfunctioned; his apparition has been spotted in that area, and people have reported hearing screams.
In another part of the park, there is a well-known covered bridge over Slippery Rock Creek. A story keeps circulating about a young woman who died in a crash on the bridge.
It’s told that if you park your vehicle on the bridge, turn off the engine, and honk the horn three times, the woman will appear in your rearview mirror, Lavorgne said.
It’s probably not a good idea to stop your vehicle in an area where there might be traffic, he added.
Over near West Winfield Township off Sasse Road, it’s believed that there are several mass graves, where flu epidemic victims were buried in 1919.
No one knows how many of those people were buried at the Black Cross Cemetery, also known as the Wooden Cross Cemetery, but residents have claimed to see apparitions walking around, Lavorgne said.
Near Erie, folks have seen an apparition of a man carrying a bloody axe, which matches the story of the farmer who murdered his wife and kids after he suspected she was having an affair.
Lavorgne wrapped things up with a closer look at “the Green Man,” known to many as “Charlie No-Face.”
A few people in the crowd offered different versions of the “Green Man” story, playing off of Lavorgne’s observation that stories change over the years.
“The Green Man’s legend has lasted over five generations... Each generation puts another level onto this legend,” he said.
There’s a tunnel in South Park, Pa., currently being used for road salt storage. It used to be drivable, and local youth often dared each other to approach the opening to summon the Green Man – though no one was certain he had ever been spotted there.
Lavorgne was among those who tried and failed to have the man appear.
He detailed the Green Man’s story, starting in 1919, when Ray Robinson was born in Koppel, Beaver County.
When Robinson was 8 or 9, he was walking to a local swimming hole with friends. They urged him to climb a pole to reach a bird’s next, thinking it was a telephone pole.
It turned out to be connected to a power line for the trolley system, and the shock knocked Robinson to the ground.
“He should’ve been dead,” Lavorgne said.
Robinson survived, but he lost his eyes, his nose and part of his left arm. As he got older, he walked through town and along trails late at night, wanting to hide his disfiguration.
He could no longer use the trails when World War II began – the military needed coal from those areas, forcing Robinson to walk along the shoulder of the road.
He wore a green coat and hat, which Lavornge said likely led to his nickname. Others called him “Charlie No-Face.”
Local high school students who encountered Robinson enjoyed visiting with him, and people from other states eventually came to see the local legend.
“So it became a rite of passage,” Lavornge said.
An acquaintance of Lavorgne took a photo of Robinson before leaving for the Vietnam War; that photo hasn’t been circulated much, and it can be found in one of Lavorgne’s books, “Haunted Roads of Western Pennsylvania,” which he wrote with Thomas White.
Robinson died in 1985, and his story is the “epitome of folklore and legends.” People still talk about him, often painting him as a sinister figure, which was not the case, Lavorgne said.
He stressed common sense and caution for those who decide to explore legends and ghost stories on their own, especially when visiting places like cemeteries.
“Keep those places sacred with dignity,” he said.