For many years, stories circulated about what was called the "most haunted house in America". To look at the place, where it was located on the north side of Pittsburgh, one might never suspect what dark secrets lingered inside. There were tales of bizarre murder, human experimentation and gruesome death told about the house and visits to the residence inspired horror stories and even a great inventor’s fascination with death and the afterworld. If any building deserved the reputation for being America’s most haunted house, it was this one!
In truth, the House on Ridge Avenue was not one of America's greatest haunts but one of it's greatest hoaxes instead!
The story of the infamous "House on Ridge Avenue" has always been one of my favorite tales of ghosts, horror and the supernatural. I ran across this story for the first time back in 1979 and never forgot it. It chilled me to the bone and perhaps because I was at such an impressionable age then, I never doubted that the story was true. In the years that followed, my interest in the story never faded and as time passed, I should have realized that something was not quite right about it, but I never did. Or perhaps I never wanted to realize it or to doubt that the tale was not an authentic one. I refused to see that the story of the "Original Most Haunted House in America" seemed almost too good to be true.
It seemed too good to be true - simply because it was.
I can't help but be embarrassed now as I look back and wonder how I didn't miss the signs in the first place. The story of the House on Ridge Avenue has appeared in at least one of my books on ghosts and I have even done magazine articles about it as well. By late 2003, my faith in the story had wavered and I became determined to try and track down the details of the story. It can sometimes be difficult to trace a story that occurred quite some distance away from you (which is my only excuse for being hoodwinked by the story for as long as I was) but I decided not to let the miles between Illinois and Pittsburgh stand in the way. If someone knew the facts behind this story, I wanted to find them.
As I began contacting people who should have been aware of the salient facts behind the story of the Ridge Avenue house, I realized that those who claimed knowledge were simply repeating back to me the same account that I had already heard. They cited the same sources and as far as I can tell, this "local legend" first appeared in the book Haunted Houses by Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn. As this had long been one of my favorite books, I was dismayed when I discovered that Mr. Winer was as fooled by the story as the rest of us were. I have been unable to discover where the authors may have first heard the story themselves.
As I continued my search, I found the same story regurgitated back to me over and over again. People who claimed to recall the details behind the events suddenly forgot them and witnesses who stated that they had information that went beyond the standard accounts became bewildered when the story did not match the historical details of the case.
All that I can say is that I hope you enjoy the recounting - and the debunking - of the legend that follows. This was not a story that I wanted to tell but as stated before, we cannot be afraid of the truth. If stories that are show to be fraudulent are reported as real, then how can we expect the real stories to be taken seriously?
THE LEGEND: PART 1
According to the stories, the House on Ridge Avenue was located in a quiet residential neighborhood in Manchester, on the north edge of Pittsburgh. A man named Charles Wright Congelier built it in the 1860's. He had made a fortune for himself in Texas following the Civil War and such men were commonly referred to in the south as "Carpetbaggers". They made a lot of money preying on the broken economy in the former Confederacy. Congelier left Texas by river steamer, taking with him his Mexican wife, Lyda, and a servant girl named Essie. When the steamer docked in Pittsburgh for coal, Congelier decided that the Pennsylvania town looked like a good place to settle. The three of them left the ship and Congelier purchased a lot and began construction of the house.
A few months later, the new brick and mortar mansion was completed. It was located at 1129 Ridge Avenue and was considered one of the finest houses in the area. From the expansive lawn, Congelier could look out and see where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers met to form the Ohio, offering a breathtaking view. The former Carpetbagger soon became a respected member of the local business community and his new home became a frequent site for parties and social gatherings. Then, during the winter of 1871, an event took place that would bloody the location for decades to come.
That winter, as cold and snow settled over the region, Congelier became embroiled in an affair with his servant girl, Essie. Whether she was a willing participant or not, Essie soon became a constant bed partner for her employer. For several months, Lyda Congelier was unaware of the affair, but when three people reside in the same house, it's only a matter of time before secrets are revealed.
One afternoon, when Essie did not respond to her call, Lyda went to the girl's room looking for her. As she came down the hallway, she could hear heavy breathing and moaning coming from behind the door. Knowing that her husband was the only man in the house, Lyda became enraged. She hurried to the kitchen and snatched up both a butcher knife and a meat cleaver. As she began climbing the stairs back to the servant's room, Lyda became screaming with rage, which naturally provoked a panic inside of Essie's bedroom. Before Congelier and the girl could dress themselves and exit the room, Lyda had already taken up a post outside. When the door opened, she brought the meat cleaver down on the head of the first person to open it. Charles Congelier fell to the floor, a cry on his lips and blood streaming from the wound on his head. As Essie reared back, bellowing in terror, Lyda proceeded to stab her husband thirty times.
Several days later, a family friend called at the house and when no one responded to his knock, he opened the door and peered inside. He called out, but there was no answer in the darkened house. However, as he entered the foyer, he could hear a faint creaking noise in the parlor. He called out again, but as there was no answer, he walked further into the house. Following the odd sound, he entered the parlor and saw Lyda Congelier rocking back and forth in front of a large bay window. The wooden chair that she rested in creaked with each backward and forward motion that she made.
"Lyda? Is everything all right?" he spoke to her.
There was no reply. Lyda continued to rock back and forth in the chair. As her friend drew closer, he could hear her softly crooning a lullaby under her breath. It was a child's nursery song, he realized, and he saw a bundle that was wrapped in a blanket in Lyda's arms. She held it close, as she would hold a baby, rocking it gently. The man felt a sudden chill course through him. He knew that the Congelier's had no children.
He spoke to her once again, but there was still no answer. Lyda stared straight ahead at the snow outside, her eyes glazed and unfocused. He gently leaned over and eased the bundle out of her hands. He carefully opened the pink blanket and then recoiled with horror, dropping the bloody bundle onto the floor! It landed on the wooden floorboards with a solid thud and the contents of the blanket rolled away.
THE REAL STORY: PART 1
Like most legends, the story of the house is a clever blending of fact and fiction, although in this case, there is much more fancy than fact. To start with, no one named Charles Wright Congelier ever existed and neither did his wife, Lyda. There is no record of any dealings in Texas and no record of his ever living in Pittsburgh. In addition, there are no police or criminal records that state that Lyda murdered her husband and the servant girl in 1871. The use of a date here adds solidity to the story but it also makes it easier to check the validity of the tale and there is none.
Secondly, the house that is described in the story was not a mansion. There really was a house located at 1129 Ridge Avenue but it was built in the late 1880's, not in the 1860's. It was a standard Manchester row house, commonly owned by working class people of the day. It must be mentioned however that the house was later owned by members of the Congelier family, even though Charles Wright Congelier, and the murderous Lyda, were figments of a creative imagination. This is a further blending of the truth, which will be discussed later.
THE LEGEND: PART 2
In 1892, the house was renovated into an apartment building to house railroad workers. Most refused to stay in the place for long. They constantly complained of hearing screams and the sobbing of a woman that came from empty rooms. Others spoke of the ominous sounds of a rocking chair and of a woman mumbling old nursery rhymes and lullabies. Within two years, the house was abandoned once again.
It remained vacant until 1901, when Dr. Adolph C. Brunrichter purchased the house. The doctor became something of an enigma in the neighborhood. Although he had been warned of the past history of the house, he chose to purchase the place anyway and after moving in, had little to do with the nearby residents. He kept to himself and was rarely seen by those who lived close to him. Everyone in the neighborhood watched and held their breath, waiting for something terrible to happen. They didn't have to wait very long.
On August 12, 1901, the family who lived next door to the Brunrichter mansion heard a terrified scream coming from the house. When they ran outside to see what was going on, they saw a bright red flash illuminate the interior of the mansion. The windows of the house shattered and glass shot out onto the lawn. The air was filled with the smell of ozone and the earth under the neighborhood trembled, cracking the sidewalks and knocking over furniture in the surrounding homes.
By the time the police and the fire department arrived, a crowd had gathered outside of Brunrichter's house. It was assumed that the doctor was still inside as no one had seen him leave, but none of the neighbors were brave enough to go in and check. Finally, a contingent of fire fighters entered the house in search of Brunrichter. They were unable to find him, but what they did discover was enough to send even the bravest among them running for the street outside!
||In one of the upstairs bedrooms, a gut-wrenching scene awaited police investigators. Lying spread-eagled on the blood-soaked bed was the decomposed, naked body of a young woman. Her head was missing and was later found in a makeshift laboratory that the doctor had set up in another room. From what the detectives could determine, Brunrichter had apparently been experimenting with severed heads. Using electrical equipment, he had been trying to keep them alive after decapitation. A fault in his equipment had evidently caused the explosion. The young girl's head was found with several others and the graves of five women were discovered in the cellar. Each of the bodies could be matched with one of the heads from the laboratory.
As for Dr. Brunrichter, there was no sign of him. He had apparently escaped during the confusion following the explosion and had vanished. A manhunt produced no clues. He had disappeared without leaving a trace.
In September 1927, an old man was arrested in New York's Bowery district. He was found wandering in a drunken stupor, living among the homeless and the street people. He was arrested and booked for public drunkenness and was taken to the local police station house. Standing in line with the other dirty and disheveled men, this particular vagrant seemed to give off what the officers would later recall as a "bad feeling". As the drunks shuffled along, the policemen entered their names into record one at a time. When the old man reached the head of the line, the officer asked him his name.
He replied in a harsh voice, slightly slurred with a foreign accent. "My name is Adolph Brunrichter," the man said. And soon, he began to tell stories to the officers at the police station and they were tales even the most hardened officers would not soon forget.
Brunrichter began by explaining to the officers that he was once an eminent doctor, a physician who worked diligently to prolong life. Unfortunately, he could only succeed with his experiments by ending the lives of certain test subjects. He told of how many years earlier, he had bought a house in Pittsburgh to which he enticed young women as guests. Anticipating romance, the women were instead beheaded and then used in experiments to keep their severed heads alive. Brunrichter told of sex orgies, torture and murder and then gave the locations of graves for other women who were not discovered in the cellar of the house. Authorities later checked the sites, but no bodies were ever found.
Brunrichter was kept behind bars for one month at Blackwell's Island. Despite newspaper stories that called him the "Pittsburgh Spook Man", the mad doctor was deemed "harmless" and was released. On the wall of his cell, scrawled in his own blood, were the words "What Satan hath wrought, let man beware." After those fateful words, nothing was ever heard from the man who claimed to be Dr. Adolph Brunrichter again.
THE REAL STORY: PART 2
The house was built in the late 1880's and while a working class home, was not used to house railroad workers. During this time, it was owned by Marie Congelier (who would go on to become the only recorded death associated with the house) and it was never purchased by anyone named Dr. Adolph Brunrichter. Like Charles and Lyda Congelier, he never actually existed. The only mention of Brunrichter that I have ever been able to find in my own extensive files and books about American crime is in connection to this house. This seemed rather odd to me since his crimes would have obviously have been gruesome and lurid enough to garner the attention of reporters and crime writers. However, there are no listings for him in any books that I could find.
Not content to let it go at that, I also contacted several noted crime researchers and asked them to check their own files for mentions or records of Brunrichter. None of them could find anything. Another check of newspaper and library archives for New York, where papers had allegedly written of the "Pittsburgh Spook Man" also failed to reveal any listings. The same problem occurred while trying to search for reports of the crimes in Pittsburgh as well. There is no mention of the "explosion" or the discovery of the bodies in the house in the Pittsburgh newspapers. In addition, there is not a single death record, real estate record or police record involving anyone named Brunrichter in connection with the house on Ridge Avenue. The mysterious Dr. Brunrichter vanished without a trace because he never really existed in the first place!
THE LEGEND: PART 3
After the horrific discoveries in the basement of the house, the Ridge Avenue mansion was abandoned. It stood empty again for many years, gaining an even more fearsome reputation. Those with an interest in psychic phenomena made occasional visits to the place and it came to be believed that the house was inhabited by a "fearsome presence". One medium who probed the house, Julia Murray, detected a horrible spirit there and witnesses who accompanied her to the mansion stated that "objects hurled by unseen hands barely missed striking her". Murray predicted that the entity would kill and would eventually extend out beyond the confines of the house.
In 1920, the stories about the mansion caught the attention of another man, one of the greatest inventors that America has ever known. His name was Thomas Alva Edison and in addition to creating the light bulb, he went to his grave in search of a device that would be able to communicate with the dead.
Read complete story at http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/HOUSERIDGEAVENUE.htm
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