PITTSBURGH - Falling temperatures and falling leaves . it's time for apples and pumpkins, ghosts and goblins.
Desperate to enjoy the spectacular weather, we set our compass south and headed toward Pittsburgh, where three distinct experiences await fall sightseers. Do one for a long day-trip, or all three over a weekend. Fall foliage will be hitting its peak soon as you ride through the Pennsylvania countryside.
When we heard that Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Suri had ice cream last year at Soergel Orchards in Wexford, just north of Pittsburgh where Cruise was filming "One Shot," we had to check it out.
Situated in the hilly countryside (it's all hilly here), Soergel's is darling.
There's a main country store with outbuildings. The market is filled with Soergel's orchard produce, including its own variety of apples. On our visit, there were also tons of the now-popular Honey Crisps. Unlike in Western New York, the area escaped late spring freezes, so the apples are plentiful.
Gourmet products line market shelves. There are specialty cheeses, homemade baked goods and, of course, ice cream.
Right near the bakery is Soergel's deli cafe. Weekly specials, like the turkey, apple and cheddar on a pretzel roll with balsamic dressing we enjoyed, can be checked on the website (soergels.com). New this month is the "Back 40 BBQ," featuring pulled pork, ribs or smoked turkey breast. Take a cooler, as Soergel's also sells its own all-natural Angus beef. There's a small winery featuring Arrowhead wines of nearby North East, Pa., and a mini-kitchen gadget store.
A separate building called "Naturally Soergel's" is filled with an impressive selection of products that are organic, and gluten and allergen-free. There also is an Amish furniture shop, a garden center and a gift shop. Be sure to check out the real beehive in the gift shop next to Burt's Bees products!
The kids will like meeting thwe animals - goats, chickens and Dudley the Pig.
A short distance from Soergel's is the much smaller (but still worth the ride) Shenot Farm & Market. This sustainable farm sells fruits and vegetables, gourmet products, honey and maple syrup. Its famous homemade fudge comes in tons of varieties.
This month, Shenot Farm offers hayrides to its pick-your-own pumpkin patch, as well a corn maze. For information, visit shenotfarm.com.
Heading west from Soergel's, you could visit Mish Farms Meat Market (www.mishfarms.com) for all-natural beef and beef snack items like jerky, and even smoked bones for your dog. It's open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; until 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Heading south into Pittsburgh, you could visit the fabulous Pittsburgh Strip District, a food-lover's heaven, with coffee shops, gourmet stores, restaurants and the Pittsburgh Public Market. Take a trip to Primanti Bros. for their "Almost Famous" famous sandwich: meat, cheese, tomato, coleslaw and fries piled between two thick slices of bread. For more information, visit www.neighborsinthestrip.com.
History and hospitality
At the historic Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, the city's history comes to life. You can pick up a driving map and information at the main building and explore on your own. Painted color stripes help you navigate the 15 miles of road.
Allegheny was the sixth incorporated cemetery in the United States (1844), when there were only 26 states. Originally planned to be a "country" cemetery, its first "resident" was Margaretta DeBayard, whose father had owned the land. She has been joined by famous people and the 300 acres are filled with beautiful structures and statues.
Visit "Star of the Stage" Lillian Russell, whose private mausoleum bears the inscription "The World is a Better Place for Her Having Lived."
Industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie's parents are buried in very simple graves.
Also in a simple grave resides composer Stephen Foster, composer of "Oh, Susanna," "Camptown Races," "My Old Kentucky Home," "Beautiful Dreamer" and what's commonly known as "Swanee River."
"The Sugar Man" Stanley William Turrentine, R&B saxophonist, is buried at Allegheny. He recorded his last song in 1999, and died in 2000. Also there: legendary African-American baseball player Josh Gibson, most famously known for hitting a 500-foot home run in Yankee Stadium. Gibson died in 1947, impoverished and in pain from illness, at age 36 of a stroke. Sadly, his grave went unmarked, until 1975, when money was raised for a marker.
Allegheny Cemetery's administration building opens at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday, closing at 5 p.m. on weekdays, 4 p.m. on Saturday. Here you can pick up maps and information. Visit www.alleghenycemetery.com.
More to do: Allegheny Cemetery is located in the funky and historic Lawrenceville neighborhood (lvpgh.com), which was designed by Stephen Foster's father. There are tons of galleries, shops and restaurants. Baseball fans can visit Arsenal Field (40th and Butler streets), where Johnny Unitas played. From noon to 5 p.m. next Sunday is the Lawrenceville Hospitality House Tour (self-guided). The cemetery will be open that day, too.
Thrills and chills
Ranked as one of the scariest Halloween attractions by the Travel Channel and USA Today, Pittsburgh's ScareHouse - located in a former Elks lodge - awaits the brave of heart. Creative director Scott Simmons, a Pittsburgh native, opened the attraction with his wife, Barb, 13 years ago, with each year getting bigger and better.
They plan each area of the ScareHouse down to the last detail. A sociologist helps them devise scary themes, while other professionals create sound effects and lighting.
Simmons likes to rotate one of the three themes each year, while freshening up the others. New this year is the Creepo's Christmas in 3-D. Be prepared for scary gingerbread men, snowmen and "a homicidal clown who decides to celebrate the holidays" - retail retaliation against stores displaying Christmas trees in October!
Simmons notes that workers they employ love to scare people, yet none will work by themselves in the 1915 structure. Many have experienced real creepy events as they prepare for the Scare House.
Also featured at the attraction will be "The Forsaken" and "Pittsburgh's Zombies" - an ode to the city's connection to the zombie movies including "Night of the Living Dead," "Dawn of the Dead," and "Day of the Dead" filmed around the city. Look for famous Pittsburgh icons, including Andy Warhol "brain" Campbell's soup, a few Steelers jerseys and a gruesome Primanti Bros. restaurant scene!
The ScareHouse opens on select dates through Nov. 3, with more dates as Halloween approaches. Hours are 7 p.m. to midnight, on Fridays and Saturdays and until 10 p.m. weekly. Absolutely no children under the age of 7 will be admitted; 13 and older is recommended. Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online. A special "R.I.P." ticket will get you to the front of the line faster, and there is a "Behind the Screams" tour Oct. 14. Visit www.scarehouse.com for details and to watch video "Scare U," which examines lessons on what makes us afraid.
Need more scares? Also located in Pittsburgh is Hundred Acres Manor (hundredacresmanor.com), another haunted house with attractions like the "Manor Massacre" and "Brine Slaughterhouse."
For something less stressful, try a ghost walk with Haunted Pittsburgh Tours (www.hauntedpittsburghtours.com). If you'd like to see where "Night of the Living Dead" was filmed, you can stop at Evans City Cemetery on the way home. For information about the cemetery stop and other creepy places to visit in and around Pittsburgh, go to www.visitpa.com, and look under "PA Roadtrips" then the "Trip Ideas" tab for a "Ghost Rides" feature.