A persistent ghost story..
The story of 13 Bends is well known in the Pittsburgh area, and is the perfect example of how a loose collection of facts, exaggerations and locations can weave together to form an urban legend. For those not familiar with the general premise, the 13 bends legend typically involves a spooky, curvy road in a remote area, in which the number of curves in one direction do not equal the number in the opposite direction. For some mysterious and ghostly reason the number of curves do not add up. Some versions of the story suggest 12 vs. 13 curves, others 6 vs. 7 (adding to 13).
The most well-known version of the story is situated in Coulterville, PA, southeast of Pittsburgh, surrounded by the Youghiogheny River just south of its confluence at McKeesport. This area was originally known as Alpsville, a small coal mining patch along the river and railroad. Because of the secluded nature of the area created by the river bends, there is only one road in and out of the town. Known as Coulterville Road, this is often the subject of the urban legend, even though it is not so curvy! Legend has it that an orphanage burned down years ago at some spot along the road, and the ghostly activity of the young victims can be sensed at certain times.
The rumor of the orphanage is partly true – an orphanage for boys was situated in Alpsville at the far end of the town, adjacent to St. Patrick’s church and cemetery. The orphanage has long since been torn down and the church closed. The church and cemetery are still there, along with foundational remnants of the orphanage. Note that it did not burn down in tragic fashion, but was removed after becoming obsolete. Some versions of the legend insist that the young victims are buried in the cemetery, and that the church and grounds are also haunted…
A quick internet search for “13 Bends” will return all kinds of information, most of which is disjointed and conflicting, but this indicates the fluid nature of the urban legend. For a full, well-written account of the story of 13 bends, pick up a copy of Haunted Roads of Western Pennsylvania by Thomas White & Tony Lavorgne. Their account weaves together the history and legends in logical and presentable fashion!
How did the legend grow?
There are many aspects about the Coulter / Alpsville location that lend themselves to being the home of a haunted legend. The secluded location created by the river bend and the single access back road set the stage. But the location of the long-gone orphanage at the edge of town, adjacent to an old cemetery, undoubtedly helped to create the legend. It would be all too easy to connect the cemetery to the missing orphanage, and on cold, crisp October evenings, creepy stories can easily arise.
The site’s proximity to the Boston Bridge also may have helped to anchor the legend in place. This is because people may have referred to it when discussing the legend. (For example, “there was an old orphanage down near the Boston Bridge somewhere.”) This is evident in that some folks regard Renzie Road as the home of 13 Bends, which winds its way up and down the hill next to the Boston Bridge. The legend has even traveled to nearby Happy Hollow Road in Elizabeth Borough.
Locations rumored to be home to 13 Bends
It is interesting to see how the legend has spread to several locations, and to wonder why and how this came about. Locations connected to the legend of 13 Bends include:
• Coulterville (Alpsville), PA
• Elizabeth, PA
• Boston, PA
• White Oak, PA
• McKeesport, PA
• Harmarville, PA (Cambell’s Run Road)
• Fox Chapel, PA
• Pittsburgh, PA
You can see that most of the locations are not too far from Coulterville, suggesting that the rumor is still centered there but with some degree of uncertainty. The inclusion of Cambell’s Run Road near Harmarville / Fox Chapel is interesting since it is miles away, near the Allegheny River. However this location is similar in that is secluded; a winding road leading up the hill, ending in a dirt road through the woods. It is interesting to see how these legends pop up and jump around, situating themselves in various places!