“I just walked past the building and I thought I saw a woman standing on the balcony and when I looked back whatever it was, was gone! It was creepy!” -Kaleb Maruschok
THE STORY OF MARTHA, GRAND MIDWAY HOTEL’S MOST FAMOUS GHOST
In the beginning Martha was just a rumor. Local townsfolk would mention a terrible death that happened at the Grand Midway Hotel many years ago. A young woman had been watching fireworks on the 4th of July from the Midway’s earlier balcony. Supposedly, a rocket suddenly shot up and struck her in the neck, knocking her throat off. She died right there on the balcony. Some said you could still see her image in one of the third floor windows all these year later.
We tried to research the story. But there were no records of any unusual fireworks death at the Windber Firehall. And no newspapers sought reported the supposed once famous accident.
Many people claimed Martha was still here in the building. One day a man came to visit the hotel. He didn’t have any prior knowledge of the ghost research being done here. While he was walking around, he said, “Oh, this place is haunted. There’s a young woman up here.”
“Well, yes,” he was told, “There is supposedly a little girl spirit that is up here.”
“There is a little girl here too, but this is a young woman I’m seeing.”
How can you tell, he was asked.
“I can see them in my mind.” He answered, “There are a few others too. There’s a man, a real bastard. He has a mustache. But I can see this woman clearly.”
The hotel hosts were told so often of this death of a young woman from the balconies it just became assumed as real.
Finally, one day a very old man was brought to the hotel because he was there that day on the 4th of July. “It’s true! it’s true! I saw it with my own eyes. I was a small boy on the first floor when the rocket shot up. And it was horrible. It was like a shower of blood come down.”
Then a family member came from states away and brought us a few old photos. “This is my aunt Martha,” she told us. “We heard you were asking about her. She’s the one who died here.”
On the back the photo read, “Aunt Martha, died from fireworks accident in Windber on the 4th of July, 1911, Midway Hotel”
(A photo of Martha’s family here in Windber)
-MARTHA’S DEATH, THE COVER UP
Now with a date linked to the story the research could go forward. But again no newspaper article or paper trail could be found. The last surviving man of Windber’s historic Last Man Club, was interviewed about it. He worked at the Windber Firehall and long ago also tried to find records of that particular 4th of July in 1911. But he discovered all records of that season were missing from the files. When he requested why he was told they’d been “moved” into a private person’s home. That they are out, still intact and complete, just in someone’s attic. The idea behind this, he was to learn, was the Windber Firehall’s fear of being held responsible for Martha’s fireworks-related death. So all the records were hidden. And to this day have not resurfaced.
Martha Rose Scalese Stephen was born in 1912, the year after Martha died, and was named after her. She created a diary she called A Patchwork of Memories. Here are some of her diary passages from it. The wonderful journal is entitled: “A Patchwork of Memories”
WINDBER (Somerset County) is a small town in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Named after Berwind (there was already a town called “Berwind” so they turned the name around). The townspeople are a mixture of many nationalities: Scotch, Irish, german, Italian, Polish, Slavish, but very few black families. Chief occupation: coal mining. The leading town official was formerly called “burgess” but more recently is “mayor.” Several police are alert to ticket cars for overparking. (fine used to be 25 cents but now 50 cents). Also have an active volunteer firehouse -the sirens blow long and often.
I was born (August 1912). Josephine was born 2 years earlier. Afterthought: when Jo was born, her face was covered with a veil-like substance, which is an indication she is “lucky.” (or so Grandma Scalese contended). I remember seeing this “veil” which Mom kept in a box in a dresser drawer in her bedroom; it was then dry, thin, gray, and folded over in the box.
The streets were tree lined, with brick sidewalks. Not far from grandma’s was a creek -pretty odiferous at times but still an attraction to kids. We were admonished to keep away from it, but sometimes we sneaked down there to splash around, skip stones, and watch the dragon flies (“snake feeders”).
About July 1911 (before I was born), during a fireworks display in town, Mother’s sister (Martha Cerwinsky), then about 17 years old, was standing with a number of townspeople on a second floor porch of a hotel building on Midway, watching as the 4rth of July aerial fireworks were set off along the railroad. One bomb was set off in a pipe (their usual way of doing this), but the bomb exploded before it rose very high in the air as it was supposed to. A piece of pipe hurtled over to where Martha was standing, struck her in the throat, and severed her jugular vein; she bled to death, some of the blood dripping off the porch onto the floor below and into the baby carriage where baby Josephine was sleeping. When I was born the following year, I was named after her. (My middle name was for my father’s grandmother.)
Dad worked in the coal mines, as did most of the men in town. He had worked in the mines since he was 8 years old. dad would get up in the early morning darkness and get a fire going in the kitchen stove. Mother would fix breakfast and lunch bucket for dad, and I sometimes wakened early and sleepily sat on a stool till dad left for work. About 6 o’clock he’d come home in his work clothes and rubber boots, the carbide lamp on his hat, all sooted up from the mines, eyes gleaming whitely in his coal-dirty face, and wash all the dirt off at home. the hours he worked were long -leaving before daylight and returning when it was getting dark. the work was dangerous; sometimes they worked all day while standing in water. A number of times when he went back to work on Monday, he found the section had collapsed where he had been working and his tools were buried…
We had no pets except a bowl of goldfish which were eliminated when someone leaned back in a chair and knocked them over. Our living room (with its linoleum floor) was a favored play area in the evening. Overturned wooden dining chairs became a long tunnel and we’d drape some cloth over the table, converting it into a building. And we’d crawl happily on the floor to enter these magic places. Wooden clothes pins became imaginary guns, and we acted out all sorts of events. Outside hopscotch, tag, hide-and-seek, hoop rolling, and keeping house were popular.
Vaguely I remember early school days (teachers: Miss Thomas, Miss Coudriet, Miss Fleming, and principal Estelle Kinney). Like school, especially reading. I would pore over the story assignments, memorizing each page. When reading class came, I’d sit there pretending indifference as the students were called on to read. And if she called on me trying to catch me unawares, I’d stand up and recite away very casually. How about that for a show-off?
Jo and I had bobbed hair and bangs. We got our hair cut at our Uncle Sam (Gorgon)’s shop.
We had a Christmas tree with clip-on real candles which you lighted. We had a near tragedy when the tree caught fire. …Jo and I one year received beautiful dolls -China face and hands, real hair, and lashed eyelids that opened and closed over shiny glass eyes. Brother Bobby was intrigued by the eye opening-closing. He decided to investigate so got out a hammer and smashed the doll faces to see what made the eyes move.
In the summer, Jo and I sometimes took pails and we’d walk some distance through the uncleared woods to a clear cold spring to bring back all the delicious cold water we could carry. Grandma liked this ater, too.
Grandma Scalese was definitely the matriarchal type -temperamental, arrogant, fiesty, and demanding; coral earrings in her pierced ears; a regal refined appearance from the top of her stylized hairdo. She did not mind in the least confronting the Burgess of the town or anyone else) and shaking a fist at him, remonstrating about items or actions which displeased her.
Grandma had installed in her many ideas from the ‘old country’ about casting spells on people and such; e.g., to get rid of a sty in the eye, she’d rub a wedding ring over it (and maybe also say some incantation). And she believed certain people had the evil eye (maleocchio) and that some could concoct special potions to harm or help you. I recall when a woman (?Jenny) from Westmont drove into the neighborhood in a big black limousine; she was supposed to be on such an errand. Lots of stories grandma told us had such beliefs woven into them… Grandma made several visits to her home area in Italy (her family lived in Calabria) where I am sure she impressed her family with her grandiose manner. She brought back for us souvenirs from Rome (silk shawls, mosaic bracelets and pins, and statues of the pope)… And she made a trip to Mt. Clemons, Michigan to soak in the medicinal waters there -and brought back to us little baskets and items made of sweet smelling grass.
During the 1929 bank failures, Grandma lost most of her money in the banks that failed, and she never quite got over that… She arranged a life-time pass with Mr. Kough, manager of the Opera House theater. She attended the movies almost every night, usually in the same seat. Sometimes she and mr. Kough would argue about her ‘pass,” she concluding the argument by saying she was going to outlive him.
I continued to read a lot. Recall after the light were out, I’d read by bright moonlight coming in the window, or by flashlight under the covers. Also while vacuuming the bedrooms and hall, decided to combine reading while pushing the machine; was rather chagrined one day when Mother came upstairs and found me sitting on a trunk in the hall, with the vacuum running -reading, holding the book in my left hand, and pushing the machine back and forth with my right hand.
When times were especially hard because of the periodic coal strikes, Mother tried to help our finances by sewing (she’d get $1 or $2 for sewing a dress.) She once got $5 for a very elaborate long one of black velvet (for Anna Orlando) lined with pale yellow crepe, an uneven scalloped hemline and big stand-up collar. She also sold women’s silk hose door to door… the strikes were pretty bad -sometimes the mounted Pennsylvania state police were there, in uniform and prancing around on horses, billy clubs in hand, to keep order. During the longer strikes the Union would issue tickets to the striking miners to enable their families to pick up food supplies -flour, beans, rice, etc. I remember once Jo and I took the empty baby carriage to carry home our allotted supplies, the distributing center was on the other end of town. We got the items in the buggy and covered them with a blanket so as to give the impression we were riding the baby home. we were awfully embarrassed when an acquaintance of Mother’s stopped us so she could see the baby. We told her the baby was sleeping, and ran on home.
Italians are generally a happy bunch of people who enjoy get-together occasions- the table with heaping dishes of all kinds of food, desserts, and plenty of liquid refreshments. Sometimes after a night of conviviality we would be awakened by some neighborhood men serenading -playing mandolins and other instruments and singing away. Very enjoyable.
In the summer, the Berwind-White Coal Company treated its employees to a picnic in the park -free hot dogs, corn on the cob, and soft drinks… Another notable event each year was the church bazaar held in the church bazaar held in the church grounds around August 15. The atmosphere seemed electric to us. Many booths strung with lights, revolving chance wheels, refreshment stands, roasted pork sandwiches -greased flag post contest, the italian band playing, meeting friends and relatives.
And a real tragedy occurred while we lived on 22nd Street. Brother BOBBY, then about 10, was killed. He and some of his friends had been watching the development of a nest which some birds had built atop one of a string of big electrical towers being built on the hillside near the high school (about 2 or 3 blocks from our house). Just about each evening the boys would climb the tower to look at the nest and eggs. That particular evening, right after supper, the boys all dashed pellmell to the tower, trying to see who could get to the top first. Unknown to anyone, the electric power had been turned on fully that day, and unluckily for Bobby, he was first to the top where he was electrocuted and then his body dropped all the way to the ground. It happened so soon after supper we had a hard time believing the news when it was brought to us.
Two odd incidents occurred in the living room: (1) trying to ferret out the cause of an unusual noise emanating in the corner -it sounded like electricity snapping -we finally discovered a live bat under the piano; couldn’t get it out and was gnashing its teeth -never figured how it got in; (2) was sitting timidly in the room one day while a lightning-and-thunder storm was raging outside. Suddenly down the length of the radiator under the window darted a fireball (about 9 inches round) right into the living room. That’s all that happened but it sure scared me. (At that time, seems often a barn would burst into flames, having been struck with lightning; and shortly after, the fire sirens would start blasting.)
Alice slept with Jo one night; was awakened to find Jo, still asleep, hitting away at her. She shook Jo to waken her and asked what was going on. Jo merely said, “Oh, I thought it was Martha,” and went right back to sleep.
The rest of this journal is a fascinating read of little Martha and Jo’s adventures around Windber. It is filled with details of being raised in a coal town, the 1918 flu epidemic, Sunday mornings at St. Anthony’s, among many other gems.
-MARTHA AND THE MEDIUMS
The hotel hosts had spoken to several mediums in their research of the hotel. Then they’d cross referenced the different stories.
One conversation with medium Sally Morgan from England went like this: Sally first looked at the old photo of the exterior of the hotel, having no information about the hotel, and said, “Something significant about the front of this building has been removed.” -These were the balconies which no longer exist.
Then Sally looked at the photo of Martha, and said, “Something hot cut this woman’s throat. Something like a very hot knife. She died very quickly. Like she just all gushed out and it was over.”
Medium Sydney Mulligan, from California, without even seeing the photo, said this of Martha, “This woman died and was then immediately robbed. She has a very beautiful, valuable necklace on. I believe her father gave it to her. She was killed. And then her spirit from just above watched someone right there, perhaps the person who caught her, steal the necklace from her neck. She was angry about this.”
Sydney said that Martha was also very sensual. And that her energy effects the energy at times within the hotel. She pointed out that it was no accident that other young woman of similar age have chosen the front room on the third floor to live.
Today, Martha seems to be the strongest (?) or most consistent (?) spirit associated with the hotel. And perhaps now the most famous as well. Of all the potential spirits here, between her beauty and her unfortunate demise, Martha is the one most visiting guests want to ask about. They want to see her photo. They want to go to the upstairs floors and stand by the windows and look out over Miner’s Park.
-ONE FOURTH VICTIM OUT AT WINDBER: Piece of Exploding Pipe Kills Girl Standing on Porch Watching the Fireworks
Tribune-Democrat, July 5, 1911
So far as Johnstown was concerned, the Fourth of July was celebrated generally in a safe and sane manner. A canvass of the physicians in the city failed to find many serious accidents. The most serious yet reported from outside the city occurred at Windber, where a young woman was killed in a most peculiar manner.
Miss Martha Selinsky, eighteen years old, was standing with forty or fifty people on the second-story porch of the Midway Hotel, watching the display of fireworks put off under the direction of the Windber Fire Company, on Graham Avenue. A number of pieces had been discharged without accident. A large skyrocket was placed in a piece of heavy steel pipe, six inches in diameter and three feet long. The pipe was used to guide the rockets into the air. There was a deafening report. The rocket had refused to leave the end of the pipe, which burst into many pieces. One of the pieces was hurled with terrible force to the porch of the Midway Hotel and Miss Selinsky dropped to the floor. She was struck on the right side of the neck, just above the shoulder. So great was the speed of the piece of pipe that it almost tore off her head. The jugular vein was severed and the spinal cord injured. Friends pulled her out from under the porch swing, where she had fallen, and Dr. Smith was hurriedly called. The girl died within ten minutes.
The celebrators and the spectators, of whom there were probably 10,000 in front of the Midway Hotel, unaware that a girl had been killed, continued the celebration. When the news of the death spread, however, the gay crowd became hushed and the remaining fireworks were not set off.
A remarkable fact in connection with the accident is that no one else was injured by the pieces of pipe, as far as can be learned. Windows in the Midway Hotel, in the Big Four store, and in the Mills building were broken, and a large hole was cut in the weatherboarding of the Big Four store.
Miss Selinsky was very popular in Windber. For a number of years she clerked in the five-and-ten-cent store and for the past year was a clerk in the dry goods department of the Eureka Supply Company. Her father died about seven months ago. Her mother lives in Windber.
The remains were taken in charge by Undertaker Meek, but no funeral arrangements had been made yet this afternoon.
-GIRL KILLED, Newcastle News, July 5, 1911
Johnstown, PA., July 5 -Sitting on the second story porch of the Midway hotel, Windber, about 10 o’clock last night, Miss martha Savinsky, 18, was struck in the neck by a piece of pipe which exploded when boys discharged some dynamite in it. She was killed instantly. Windows in the hotel and adjoining buildings were shattered. A number of boys were arrested and it is probable that a murder charge will result.
“That was a great find. 10,000 people hushed by the death of one young Miss Martha. Could you imagine the chilling silence?” -Sarah Ireland
GHOST IN THE WINDOW
Last Halloween while giving a group a tour through the hotel, while standing by the balcony entry, a woman caught this potential figure in the right window…
-CHIP COFFEY, CELEBRITY PSYCHIC & MEDIUM FROM PSYCHIC KIDS & PARANORMAL STATE, VISITS
From these tracks, Chip Coffey claimed to see a woman in the upstairs window of the building. “I just saw a woman look out and pass in front of the window.”
Not knowing anything about Martha’s story, only seeing her photo, he confirmed this was the woman who looked out of the window. It is his belief that she is one of the spirits associated with this building, who can be seen from the window at times, and not going away.
THE HAUNTING SONG MARTHA
Pittsburgh jazz diva Phat Man Dee wrote a song about her. The lyrics go:
The ivy hides the window where we used to see your face
The lovely eyes of Martha no longer smile at us in grace
The neck so long and tender, sweet to kiss and stroke thats true
When the hot knife sliced your black pearls there were tears the long night though
We’d been watching the celebration, still taste lemonade so sweet
Then you fell before us and your life was far too fleet
In celebration of the nation’s birthday we stood too near
A white hot blade exploded and it took your life my dear
They think that you’re still with us, that you don’t know you’ve gone
But darling you died one hundred years before I wrote this song
They know someone truly loved you, for your grave stone stands so tall,
They know that you were lovely, there’s a picture in the hall
But whispering white and flashing lights can never show us all
The beauty of your being as you are floating down the hall……
The question of where Martha was buried after the accident was always unanswered as well. She had to have been placed somewhere. She wasn’t buried here within the hotel. Finally, some of us were taken on a road trip by a visiting family member to see Martha’s actual grave. The family member who brought them to this almost secret location explained that something Martha had done had caused the family back at that time to not bury her with the rest of the family in Windber. So she was placed alone in another cemetery far away. The details were unknown. This is her final resting place.
The woman who died on the original Juliette balcony was real. Martha Minnie Cerwinsky. Born Jan 4 1893. Died July 4, 1911. Mystery solved.