Tyrone native pens book on area paranormal sites

Several Altoona area railroad-related sites are featured in a new book about the paranormal written by a former Tyrone man.

Now of State College, Matthew L. Swayne recently released his fifth-paranormal-themed book entitled “Haunted Rails: Tales of Ghost Trains, Phantom Conductors and Other Railroad Spirits” published in in mid-September.

It is his fifth book with a both a historical and supernatural theme. A former reporter for the Daily Herald, Tyrone, and the Centre Daily Times, State College, Swayne’s latest book is a compilation of ghostly encounters in Pennsylvania and other states. He selects the featured places based on published records of incidents — not just hearsay and folklore.

Born on Halloween, Swayne, 52, said he’s been naturally drawn to reporting on Halloween-themed stories his journalism career.

“I’m a pack rat, so every time I came across a published story about an unexplainable event I kept it and then I started compiling it by subject matter,” said Swayne whose day job is as a science writer at Penn State University.

“I approach these books as a journalist and someone who is interested in folklore and not as a ghost hunter or paranormal investigator,” he said. “I leave myself out of it. I try to play devil’s advocate and play the skeptic’s role. I am always looking for other explanations.”

He often interacts with paranormal investigators such as John and Beth Karles of Altoona, co-founders of JABA Investigations. JABA is a local group that looks for “best evidence” in places reputedly haunted. The local group is featured in the book along with the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, the tunnels near the Horseshoe Curve historic site.

“Haunted Rails” also conveys the tale of a possessed caboose on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and a Civil War-era rebel ghost train; museum hauntings at the Georgia State Railroad Museum in Savannah apparitions at Vancouver’s Canadian Pacific Waterfront Station and the haunted presidential trains of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The author believes railroad-related hauntings abound — he’s documented 50 hauntings in 19 states — because of the sacrifices workers and their families made, in general, and because there are a lot of traumatic wrecks.

“It fascinates me and what I’ve found is that Altoona, especially, and Tyrone were centered on the railroad. … It’s important to preserve and talk about theses stories and get them written down and into the public record.”

Swayne interviewed the Karles about their investigation into a little girl who haunts the Railroaders Memorial Museum Gift Shop by taking games off the shelves and stacking them neatly on the floor, and several others. One spirit, called Frank, is often seen in the elevator — he looks like a worker depicted on the first floor — often tourists think he is another visitor, Karles said.

With the approach of Halloween, Karles said, “Haunted Rails” makes for a timely read.

Mirror staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.