Luzerne & Lackawanna Counties Ghosts, Legends & Lore

February 22, 2009 - Luzerne & Lackawanna Counties Ghosts, Legends and Lore (Charles J. Adams III). This book is another entry in Adams' series of compilations concerning spooky tales from in and around eastern Pennsylvania. Last year, I read and enjoyed his book about the ghosts of Coal Country (mostly Carbon and Schuylkill counties). This time, his focus is NEPA, specifically Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.

I started reading this book in late December 2008, just before Christmas. I finished it on the date above. It only has 182 pages. You can read into that what you will.

As you might guess from the title, the book is broken down into three sections: ghosts, legends and lore. The section on ghosts is by far the largest; legends make up a much smaller section, and lore smaller still. No matter which section stories are in, however, they all share one common trait: none is particularly scary. Only a few, I feel, are interesting as ghost stories. A few more are interesting because of their historical context, and I would have liked the author to delve a little more into that aspect of those stories.

Overall, the book suffers on two main points. For one thing, the proofreading was poorly done. The book contains several errors that should not have slipped by an editor. It's very distracting. Secondly, many of the stories lack specifics. Most are very short - only a page or two. It seems the author went more for quantity than quality. In addition, the sources of the stories are usually anonymous, and the ghosts or spirits or energies in question are often faceless and nameless. There are too many stories here in which someone saw or felt something, but what they saw or felt lacks detail. As a consequence, most of the stories are not interesting enough to be scary or even credible.

For example, in the "Legends" section, the author includes a brief story titled Pookas and Banshees in Archbald? He notes the borough's Irish heritage and says the immigrants who settled there might have brought pookas (ghostly horse-like creatures) and banshees (shrieking hags) with them. Did they? Adams' only evidence is to cite a 1916 book that supposedly details the doings of pookas and banshees in Archbald. Adams shares none of these details nor does he offer up any more recent sightings. However, he does warn you to watch out for them if you ever go to Archbald. Thanks.

As I mentioned earlier, the most interesting parts of the book concern the historical aspects of these stories. Two in particular stand out. One deals with the supposedly haunted ruins of the West Mountain Sanitarium in Lackawanna County. A man named Dick Smith died there in 1935. Before that, while at the sanitarium, he wrote the lyrics for the now-classic holiday tune, "Winter Wonderland."

The book also provides some interesting facts about Frances Slocum. Her name is known all over Luzerne County. There's a state park named after her, schools, etc. Turns out, she was born in the Wyoming Valley in the 1770s, a time when settlers and Indians often clashed. One night, in 1778, some Indians raided the Slocum home, killed several family members and took little Frances away to live with them. She stayed with the Indians for the rest of her life, ending up in Indiana, married to a chief and going by the name "Mocanaquah." Fascinating. Her real life sounds much more interesting than any of these ghost stories.