Dead Man’s Hollow lines the Youghiogheny River outside of McKeesport. It has a long list of myths and legends dating back to the 1800’s. The area is now a nature preserve that spans over 400 acres owned by the Allegheny Land Trust, but was once an important part of Pittsburgh’s industrial history. Back then, the area was known as the Flemming Station along the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie (P&LE) Railroad line.
There are locations in the area where you can find eerie remnants of its industrial past. A concrete slab juts out of the riverbank as the only lasting piece of a ferry that used to transport workers and residents across the Yough. Pieces of forgotten kilns scatter the park. The P&LE Railroad water tank can also be found most easily on winter days along the paved portion of the Youghiogheny River Trail. Ruins of the Union Sewer Pipe Factory that burned down in 1925 appear to have been devoured by the nature that surrounds them.
1874: Origin of the Name
A group of boys were wandering through a remote area near the Youghiogheny River when they discovered a man hanging from a noose in a tree. The body was badly decomposed at the time, making it impossible to identify the victim. Some believed that it was an act committed by the Ku Klux Klan, but they were not prevalent in the Pittsburgh area during that point in history. Other versions of the legend claim it to have been the body of a woman and another alleges that it was a Native American. Many believe this tale is the reason for the name of the area.
The story is slightly similar to a documented story of a group of schoolboys discovering the body of George Barber in Lunger’s Hollow, Indiana in 1874. This area also came to be known as Dead Man’s Hollow.
We were unable to find any documentation to support the origins of the story in the McKeesport area.
1880: Gunned Down
Robert ‘George’ McClure owned a dry goods shop in McKeesport that had been robbed. McClure went on a hunt to find those responsible for the crime and discovered them in Dead Man’s Hollow. McClure fired shots at the criminals who fired back. McClure was killed in the encounter. Seven years later, gang leader Ward McConkey was convicted of McClure’s murder and hanged for the crime in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Jail. His alleged last words were, “Goodbye, all you murderers”. Some believe it’s his spirit that haunts Dead Man’s Hollow.
The New York Times reported that a man named George A. McClure was killed in February of 1880 in Dead Man’s Hollow. Ward McConkey was convicted of the crime in August of 1881, but was hanged in May of 1883. He was only 19 years old at the time of his execution in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Jail. The newspaper reported that McConkey’s last words were, “All I have to say, gentlemen, is that you hang me because you think I know something about the murder of George McClure and won’t squeal and the people of McKeesport want to see me hanged, but I’m innocent.” A white cap was placed over his face and just before the trap was sprung, McConkey said, “Goodbye, murderers, goodbye”.
1883: The Explosion
In March of 1883, four workmen at George Flemming’s stone quarry in Dead Man’s Hollow were killed when attempting to thaw frozen explosives by an open flame. The explosives ignited and the blast killed at least two of the men instantly.
The Wheeling Register reported the story on March 10, 1883. The article states that the workmen did arrive at the quarry and find their explosives frozen, but decided to place them near a fire that had already been built for their personal warmth. David Henninger was the foreman, accompanied by his brother George, Noble Gilkey, and an unidentified black man. David was closest to the fire at the time of the explosion and was killed instantly. His brother George was found near death and left in the quarry while the first to respond waited for a surgeon to arrive. He did not survive. The unidentified man received burns and was not expected to survive. Noble Gilkey was severely burned on his face and body, but was expected to recover.
The Bank Heist
Two men robbed a bank in Clairton and met in the hollow to split the money. One of the men shot the other to keep all the money. As the man was exiting the woods, he stashed the money in a secret hiding place. Legend says he was discovered at the opening of the woods by lawmen and gunned down. Some people believe the money is still in the hollow.
This story is undocumented. Duquesne University Archivist Thomas White has explained that it was common for newspapers to avoid printing certain stories to remain business-friendly in the public eye. A story such as this could have damaged the reputation of the bank and hurt business.
The Giant Snake
An elderly man by the name of Charles Brown went for a walk in Dead Man’s Hollow on a hot August day in 1893. He took with him a walking stick and chose a shady path for his stroll in order to stay out of the summer heat. He heard a strange noise in the brush and paused before he saw what he believed to be a massive snake. Brown fainted at the sight and upon regaining consciousness; ran into town and announced that he had seen a snake he believed to be over forty feet long.
Numerous reports dating back to the 1860’s describe a snake between thirty and forty feet long that lives within the woods at Dead Man’s Hollow. The snake has become a local Loch Ness Monster as people have reported sighting the creature.
There is no physical evidence to support the claims of the giant snake. Locals suspect that the legend began when the wooded area was popular among moonshiners who spread the rumors themselves to keep people away from their operation.
1887: Washed Ashore
Edward Woods drowned in the Youghiogheny River and washed ashore at Dead Man’s Hollow. Some suspected it was foul play and believe his spirit still haunts the area.
Edward Woods was a 74-year-old man from Elizabeth Township who had been crossing the Youghiogheny River on the McClure Ferry when he lost his balance and fell off into the river.
1905: Sacco’s Death
Mike Sacco was working at the Union Sewer Pipe Company when he was killed in an elevator accident. Some believe his spirit is still haunting the area.
Mike Sacco was leaving work on September 25, 1905. It’s been reported that he pulled the rope to lower the elevator, but it began to rise instead. He foolishly jumped from the elevator in an attempt to reach the second floor. His body became wedged between the second floor ceiling and the floor of the elevator. He was rushed to the hospital, but died before arrival.
Legends aside, Dead Man’s Hollow is an eerie place. The 400 acres of land hold grim reminders of the past tragedies that occurred within the woods. Perhaps the only way to discover the truth about the legends is to pay a visit and draw your own conclusions.
The area is now a nature preserve that spans over 400 acres owned by the Allegheny Land Trust.
By Meg O’Malley