Slag Pile Annie: A Story from the Steel Mill

For decades, the steel mills were the main livelihoods of countless men and women in Pennsylvania. Of course, the job came with its own set of spooky stories. From Supernatural Lore of Pennsylvania, Thomas White tells the story of Slag Pile Annie, a former mill worker who still haunts her place of former employment. 

For well over a century, the economy of western Pennsylvania was dominated by the iron and steel industries. Though only a few mills remain today, the stark industrial leviathans drew thousands of workers and immigrants to the Greater Pittsburgh area, defining the region’s life and culture. Like any other business or institution that impacts the lives of many people, the mills developed their own set of folklore and legends. Some of those legends were ghost stories.
Working in the steel mills was dangerous. Before better safety measures were implemented, thousands of workers would be killed or maimed on the job every year. Even after safety precautions improved, there were still numerous injuries and deaths. As one might expect, tales of ghosts and hauntings have been linked to those horrific accidents. One of the most popular of the steel mill “ghosts” is Slag Pile Annie. Several variations of her story have been told over the years, but the most common version was recorded by local folklorist and writer George Swetnam in the early 1960s.
In the early 1950s, a local college student who was attending the University of Pittsburgh got a summer job in the Jones and Laughlin Mill in Hazelwood. He was assigned to drive a buggy that pulled empty hopper cars through a tunnel that ran under the blast furnaces. After the furnaces were empty, the young man drove through and picked up the hot slag that had spilled during the steelmaking process. When he filled his hopper cars, he took the material to the slag dump.

One of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks in Pittsburgh.
One of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks in Pittsburgh. Reprinted from Supernatural Lore of Pennsylvania: Ghosts, Monsters and Miracles by Thomas White, courtesy of the Library of Congress (pg. 43, The History Press, 2014).
One day, while making his run through the poorly lit tunnel, the young man spotted a woman who was wearing work clothes and a red bandanna in her hair. She was in her late forties or early fifties. He pulled his buggy up beside her and warned her that she could get killed in the tunnel if she was there at the wrong time. The woman looked directly at him with an unnerving stare and said, “I can’t get killed, I’m already dead.” The young man was not sure what to do, so he continued his run. When he finished, he approached the foreman and told him about the woman. After the young man described her, the foreman told him that he had met Slag Pile Annie.
Annie had started working in the mill during the Second World War. Many women had filled the mill jobs that were left vacant when the men went off to fight. When the war ended, she continued at her job, which happened to be driving the buggy and collecting slag. About five years before the young man came to the mill, Annie was killed in an accident. Details of the incident are vague, but somehow Annie was burned by the hot slag. In the years after the accident, Annie’s ghost was often reported in the tunnel where she met her demise.
The story of Slag Pile Annie, whether true or not, served other purposes in its retelling. Such stories were a warning and reminder of the constant dangers of the mills, even for those who performed rather mundane jobs. Slag Pile Annie’s story also carried part of the mill’s history. It was in essence a memory, or commemoration of sorts, of the important role that women had played in industry during the war and the sacrifices that they made in the process.