There are many ghost stories that might leave a listener mystified, and there are some that may leave a listener amused. Others make us scratch our heads and ask, “Isn’t that strange?” or “What are the odds?”
While many stories are easily debunked or explained by natural phenomena, other stories– such as the haunting of the Titus homestead in Luzerne County– seem to provide irrefutable evidence that the dead don’t always stay in their graves.
First settled in 1769, Plymouth was an early pioneer settlement in the Wyoming Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s location along the Susquehanna River and at the junction of several important Indian trails made Plymouth the ideal location for a trading post. When coal was discovered in the area in the early 19th century, Plymouth– like its neighbor, Wilkes-Barre– became a thriving mining town.
One miner who lived in Plymouth was Dennis Titus, who was one of three miners killed in October of 1885 when the Delaware & Hudson mine collapsed. He left behind a daughter, Cora, and a widow, Mary Titus, who remained in the family home on Vine Street until 1900, when she remarried and moved out of town.
Although four generations of the Titus family lived on this homestead, the name of the original owner has been lost to history, it was said to be one of the oldest houses in Plymouth, and had been constructed before the time of the Revolutionary War.
In May of 1897, Mary Titus, who had been living inside the house with her daughter ever since her husband’s death twelve years earlier, began experiencing strange and peculiar happenings inside her home.
Strange knocking sounds were heard throughout the house, at all hours of the day and night. These sounds seemed to emanate from the basement. Yet, whenever Mary or Cora descended the creaking wooden stairs, the knocking would cease, and they would find the cellar completely empty.
At first Mary attributed this knocking and pounding to some natural cause, like the settling of the house on its foundation. But when visitors heard the knocking sounds, they were immediately frightened out of their wits.
The knocks seemed to be coming up through the floorboards, and guests swore they could feel the pounding in the soles of their feet. No, this was not the sound of a house settling.
Neighbors who had witnessed the knockings and rappings inside the Titus home thought they had found a supernatural explanation, when it was learned that the strange sounds began shortly after company officials re-opened the portion of the mine where Dennis Titus had met his death.
Some of the miners of Plymouth visited the house on Vine Street to hear the eerie sounds for themselves, and many said that the knocks were identical to those heard down in the mines when workers were entombed after a cave-in.
Mary, however, did not buy this explanation. Her husband’s body had been recovered from the mine and given a proper burial, and whomever– or whatever– was haunting the Titus home seemed to have little interest in the widow. The unwelcome entity seemed to have a peculiar fascination with Mary’s daughter, Cora.
It was reported that Cora had been subject to fits of hysterics ever since the knocking began, and had been afflicted by that terrible disease known as St. Vitus’ dance, which causes the victims to twitch and jerk uncontrollably. Cora claimed that she had seen the ghost, and it followed her from room to room.
A Logical Explanation?
Mary Titus, however, eventually came to believe that Cora’s malady might actually explain the tapping noises. One day, while sitting at the kitchen table, there came the sudden sound of tapping from beneath the floor. Mary noticed that the tapping sound had been created by the involuntary twitching of her daughter’s foot. The mystery, it seemed, had a perfectly rational explanation.
Today, we know that St. Vitus’ dance is not caused by demonic possession or supernatural forces, but stems from a specific type of childhood bacterial infection. Eighty percent of cases involve patients between the ages of 7 and 11, and it is exceedingly rare in persons over the age of 16.
However, Cora was nearly twenty years of age when she first began experiencing these convulsions, and this would not explain why numerous witnesses heard knocking and pounding noises even when Cora wasn’t present.
Mary Titus eventually remarried and moved out of the neighborhood, settling into a new home on Courtright Street in the nearby borough of Plains. Her daughter, Cora, also got married and moved to Courtright Street, leaving the Titus homestead abandoned and stories of the haunted house forgotten. That is, until 1903.
Boys Sell Human Bones for Candy
In March of that year, a group of young boys were playing inside the abandoned Titus home. They were digging holes in the dirt floor of the cellar when they noticed a chunk of wood sticking out of the ground by the building’s foundation.
Further digging revealed that it was a wooden box, about three feet in length and one foot in width. With thoughts of buried treasure in their curious minds the young boys pried open the lid, and found a bundle of bones inside.
Rather than being frightened, the youngsters were disappointed. One of the boys thought the relics might be worth something, and so they gathered up several of the bones and approached a local junk dealer, who gave the children a few pennies. The boys immediately run off to buy candy. The junk man showed the bones to Dr. C.L. Ashley, who recognized one of the fragments as a piece of human breast bone.
When authorities arrived on the scene they found the bones to be so brittle they practically crumbled at the the lightest touch. It was believed that the house had been built atop a long-forgotten burial ground of a centuries-old homestead. But they also made another interesting discovery– over the years, as the house settled, part of the foundation had settled upon the lid of the wooden box, causing it to break.
Is it possible that the knocking sounds heard by Mary and Cora and dozens of visitors to the Titus home were caused by a spirit who was unable to rest in peace after the foundation of the house broke through the coffin? As strange as it may seem, this is the only explanation that seems to make sense.
Author: Marlin Bressi, source: paoddities.blogspot.com
Marlin Bressi is an author and history buff who currently resides in Harrisburg. As a nonfiction writer he has authored four books, the most recent of which are Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America’s Most Colorful Hermits and Pennsylvania Oddities.