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Green Man's legend continues to glow


Saturday, October 31, 1998

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If Halloween puts you in the mood for a creepy tale, ask a local old-timer to tell you about the Green Man.

The Green Man.

Just mention that to someone who grew up in Western Pennsylvania in, say, the 1950s, and there's a good chance he or she at least has heard of this monstrous creature, said to stalk remote roads at night, especially this time of year.

What's less widely known is, this regional myth is based on a true story that's even more macabre.

Depending on when and where you heard the legend, this man glows green as a result of being struck by lightning, or being shocked or otherwise transformed in some industrial accident, and he haunts South Park, or the North Hills, or the skinny country lanes around Washington, Pa.

"I've heard McKees Rocks, I've heard Brookline. You can pick the haunting of your choice," says Mike Diehl, the Allegheny County parks superintendent who's heard about the Green Man for the 25 years he's lived hereabouts.

He hands the phone to his assistant, Marie Werner, who grew up in Elizabeth Township and graduated from Elizabeth Forward in 1968. Long before high school, thanks to her older brothers, she knew about the Green Man. You had to beware of him along South Park's Snowden Road -- a twisty, woodsy, unlit stretch popular for necking and other pubescent tricks and treats.

"The legend goes that he roams that hollow late at night and chases the parkers and the loafers," says Werner, who admits to having gone there a few times.

"I never saw him," she adds, though many friends claimed to.

She is convinced the Green Man still is there -- at least in the imaginations of locals and the teens who still hang out along the road.

"Absolutely," she says. "Right now, it's a big topic in the high school. ... The legend is still strong."

To this day, confirms South Park historian Jo Pelesky, the nearby tunnel that Piney Fork Road and its namesake creek follow under the old B&O railroad is known as the "Green Man Tunnel." Like others, she describes it as a spooky-looking spot, though she knows that's not the only reason it gave adolescents gooseflesh.

"The guys used to take their girlfriends there, you know," says Pelesky, who grew up in that area in the 1930s when it was all coal mines. She's heard that one night back in the '40s or so, one guy, perhaps in a costume, was out there peeking in the steamy windows of the cars, "and scared them half to death." She's even heard that it was a mentally deranged person who was later institutionalized, but, "I can't verify that."

In her 72 years, Pelesky hasn't seen the Green Man. "Of course, I never parked in that tunnel."

However, enough people did that the Green Man of South Park tales earned a reputation, and a brief mention, in the 1994 book, "Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County."

When Pat Temple scoffs at all this, it's not because he doesn't believe in the Green Man. The West Deer resident actually saw, talked with and photographed him. But that was in the '50s in the area where the Green Man really lived: the outskirts of the Beaver County mill town of Koppel.

Temple, now 58 and a printer who works the overnight shift at the Post-Gazette, says the Green Man made such an indelible impression on him that he's written a story to keep it alive for his grandkids. His tale goes back to 1956 when he and Ray Griffin were 16-year-old Lawrenceville pals.

"One evening in June," he writes, "Ray and I were hanging out with two other friends -- Guy Muto and Jim Walsh -- and as we had nothing better to do, Ray suggested that we go up to see the Green Man. This was an offer I couldn't refuse."

They piled into Temple's '51 Ford and headed north for the Turnpike, which they took to Route 18, then followed that to the light in Koppel, turning left on Route 351.

"As soon as we started up the road," his story continues, "Ray announced that is the road the Green Man always walked on. There was a long silence and I could feel the goosebumps and when we finally did say something, we seemed to be whispering."

Perhaps inevitably, Temple recalls that "it was a bit foggy and the visibility was not real good at times." As they came around a bend, "Ray yelled, 'There he is!' and the car lights shined directly on the Green Man."

Temple, who was driving, describes nervously hitting the brakes, then the gas, then the brakes, while chattering with his similarly freaking friends.

They turned around and passed the Green Man once more, but were too terrified to stop.

Still, their exploit was impressive enough that older boys actually spoke to them about it. "We were still the same jerks that we were before ... but now we were minor celebrities."

That summer, Temple returned many times -- sometimes with those buddies, sometimes with others. In fact, he recalls traffic jams caused by cruisers who actually stopped to talk with the Green Man. The first time Temple did that, he got a parking ticket (he came to believe that "the local police used the Green Man to make the township a few extra dollars").

Later, after asking the Green Man if he could, Temple snapped some color photographs of him.

The pictures were the perfect pickup pretext, Temple writes. "I would have a friend go to the counter of a drive-in restaurant and mention within hearing range of a nice-looking girl that I had pictures of the Green Man, and the next thing you knew, there was a tap on the window of my car and a girl wanting to know if she could see the pictures. When they asked where he was located, I told them to give me their phone number and I would call them the next time that I would be going up. Sometimes it worked."

But Temple started to feel bad about this freak show, because he'd learned the Green Man was a nice human being. It was just that, as a boy, he had been severely shocked, and that's why most of one arm was missing and his face was so disfigured.

In fact, the locals referred to him as "Charlie No Face," which "I didn't think was too nice a name," Temple says.

He could remember that his first name was Ray, but not his last name or other details.

He's not even sure why people called him the Green Man, because he wasn't, but surmises that the plaid shirts he often wore -- as in his snapshots -- would reflect green in people's headlights.

Or in their imaginations.

"You have to realize how things were in the '50s," Temple says, recalling the prevalence of movies about flying saucers and aliens, inspired by real-life fears like that of being beaten by the Communists in the newly launched space race.

In July 1957, Temple joined the Air Force. After he got out in '61, he sought the Green Man several times, but never saw him again. He wonders what happened.

"This is part of Western Pennsylvania history," he says, and one he's never seen fully chronicled, which is why he urged this reporter to check it out.

Well, hard facts are scarce, but Temple's story does check out in Koppel. Mention the Green Man to folks of a similar age -- say, at the borough office, or at Ann's Market & Deli across the street -- and they well remember him.

"We used to go out and give him beer," says 60-year-old Pete Pavlovic, from behind the counter at Ann's. The former newspaper photographer, who once did a story about the Green Man for the old Koppel paper, says his real name was Ray Robinson, and he's long dead. (His curiosity piqued, Pavlovic called an area funeral home and found that Raymond T. Robinson died in 1985, at age 74, of natural causes.)

No obituary could be found at the Beaver Falls library, but workers there also were familiar with the Green Man story. The details vary.

Pavlovic says Robinson used to walk along Route 351 at night because of how he looked. He's not sure how or when Robinson was shocked, but he remembers how frightful his appearance could be.

People used to run into this same building, when it was his dad's market, and insist they'd seen a monster on the road. "They wanted to call the police. You'd have to explain. Then they'd usually go back up looking for him."

Even locals were scared of him when they were kids. Around 1940, the first time Frank Pellegrine delivered groceries to the family's house and saw Robinson, "I dropped the boxes and run."

Another store worker, Olive Cearfoss, actually shivers recounting the Sunday that she walked past the Green Man on her way back to town from a swimming hole down the road. "I was so scared it was unreal."

But once they got past his appearance, they realized he wouldn't hurt anyone.

"Helluva a nice guy," says 62-year-old Phil Ortega, who used to take his dates out to see "Charlie," and also took him Lucky Strikes. Apparently, some people used to regularly visit him and pay him other kindnesses. Ortega believes he liked talking with people on the road.

Still, many agree, it was a sad situation, and one that often got out of hand, says George Richner, who still lives along the road.

"The cars come from, Christ, as far away as Chicago one time," he says, pointing to one pull-off where gawkers gathered.

Like others, he wasn't aware of any living relatives, but he offered to take this reporter to the old Robinson house. There, even he was surprised when his knock was answered by Robinson's sister, Volaria Rice, who's also in her 80s.

She embraced her old schoolmate, and kindly invited the visitors in, but was adamant about not wanting to talk about her brother. "I just want to leave it the way it is."

Chatting with her briefly -- about how much she worried about her brother drinking on his walks out on that narrow road -- makes it easy to realize how painful some of her memories must be.

Today, her brother most certainly would get better medical treatment.

Perhaps he'd get better treatment from other people, too.

That he didn't may be the scariest part of the Green Man's lingering legend.

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