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Volunteers turn Old Stone House into spooky adventure in history

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

By Matt Donnelly

It's hard to tell who had more fun last weekend at The Old Stone House in Brady: the more than 500 people who braved the historic house's drafty, candlelit rooms waiting to be scared, or the people in charge of being scary.

During the special Halloween tours Thursday and Friday, visitors by the dozen were escorted through four rooms of the early-19th century former tavern -- which many people, including event organizers, insist is actually haunted.

In each room, visitors heard fireside yarns or saw ensemble performances, by volunteer actors assembled by Slippery Rock University professor David Dixon, the house's curator.

Among the actors was 11-year-old Brianna Wise, who performed with the Brookfield Storytellers Guild, a group of 10 sixth- through eighth-graders from Brookfield Middle School in Brookfield, Ohio.

Brianna said she enjoys storytelling because it puts her in control of otherwise frightening tales.

"People get really scared when we go through the story," said Brianna, who told the story of a witch trying to create a horrible monster. "People don't know what to expect."

In the other rooms, Elva Weston, a South Butler Primary School librarian, spun her tales seated at a fireplace; a pair of drama students from Slippery Rock University resurrected two local legends, the ghost of a woman who swore never to leave a university building and the specter of a man who killed a family of five; and a group of students from the university's history honors society dramatized a passage from Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

Amy Baverso, a graduate, said she and her acting partner got "the scare of their lives" while researching Emma Guffey Miller, the woman who haunts North Hall on Slippery Rock's campus, according to the lore.

When the actors visited North Hall, there were "bizarre" occurrences, like flickering lights.

"It might have been coincidence, I'm not sure what to believe," said Baverso, 22. "All I know is it freaked us out enough to motivate us to write the story."

The Old Stone House dates back to 1822 when it was built to replace a log cabin on the American Indian path known as the Venango Trail. It served as a stagecoach stop, a tavern and a house, according to the university's Web site.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission maintained the house until Slippery Rock University bought it in 1999.

With nearly 180 years of history within its cold, stone walls, it's the perfect place to talk about dark and mysterious things.

"It's full of genuinely haunting things," said Dixon, who teaches colonial American and Pennsylvania history. The event was also staffed by students from Slippery Rock High School, led by history teacher Brad Phlugh. A former student of Dixon's during college, Phlugh recruited more than 40 students from the high school's history club to help direct traffic, lead tours and set up the hundreds of extra touches that went into converting the facility into a haunted house.

Though most of the spooky effects -- fog machines, violin music, cobwebs -- were trucked in for the event, Dixon said the Old Stone House provides some supernatural touches of its own. Staffers at the house have heard mysterious noises and visitors have claimed to see ghosts in the upper rooms.

Sonya and Doug Tarica, of New Castle, took their 5-year-old daughter, Alyssa, to Friday's tour. Walking through the woods back to their car, Alyssa said she hadn't been frightened, but the way she clung to her father's neck indicated otherwise.

Alyssa, in her father's arms, wagged her head back and forth, and her mother said, "No, I don't think she was too scared."

"Well," said Alyssa. "Maybe some of the parts."

Matt Donnelly is a freelance writer.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 6, 2003) Amy Baverso, 22, a Slippery Rock University graduate, participated in a haunted house at the Old Stone House in Brady as part of an alumni acting troupe. An incorrect last name, age and graduate status were given for her in the Oct. 26 North edition.

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