Part of an occasional series in which the Times republishes popular and notable stories from our past. This story originally appeared in the Times on March 11, 2007.
Ask 10 people about the legend of Charlie No Face, aka the Green Man, and you’ll hear a different story each time.
He’s a ghost. He’s a bogyman. He’s a poor factory worker who fell into a vat of acid. He was hit by lightning. He worked for a power company and was zapped while climbing a utility pole, or while climbing a tree as a boy to retrieve a kite, or to look at a bird’s nest.
He haunts Koppel-New Galilee Road in Big Beaver, or a deserted industrial area near New Castle, or an old railroad tunnel in South Park, or any one of a half-dozen other places around the Pittsburgh region.
He was one of the kindest human beings on the face of this earth, despite his horrible disfigurement.
That last one is the truth, according to a relative, but the truth has been obscured by decades of hyperbole.
The true story of Charlie No Face, which is how Beaver Countians typically refer to him, is a little less sensational than the legend.
His real name was Raymond Robinson. He lived in Big Beaver for most of his life and had a habit of walking a lonely stretch of highway between Koppel and New Galilee for pleasure.
He did this at night because the injuries he suffered at a too-young age were so horrific that he probably would have caused mass hysteria otherwise.
Robinson’s nocturnal wanderings, which spanned parts of at least five decades, attracted the attention of local folks, who told their friends. Friends told other friends, and the story spread across western Pennsylvania and neighboring states like ripples in a pond.
Robinson became a supernatural creature who haunted isolated country lanes and railroad tunnels from Youngstown to South Park.
More than 20 years after his death, people are still gabbing about him in local coffee shops and beer gardens and via Internet chat rooms. At least two Web sites contain in-depth, albeit highly exaggerated, accounts of his deeds and those of people who went to see him.
Someone has featured his character in a play. A college professor wrote a poem about him. Magazines dedicated to folklore and the paranormal have featured Robinson in their pages.
A folklore specialist from Pittsburgh regularly features Robinson in talks.
But very few people, if any, actually know how Raymond Robinson became Charlie No Face.
Raymond T. Robinson was born Oct. 29, 1910, in Beaver County, but little is known about his early years. He was a son of Robert and Louise Robinson, and the family lived on the outskirts of Beaver Falls. Robinson’s father died in 1917, when Raymond was 7.
His widowed mother married her brother-in-law, who was a widower. Between them, they had at least seven children, including Raymond.
Until the spring of 1919, Raymond Robinson was a typical kid. He swam the Beaver River in the summer, hung out with his playmates around the Morado section of Beaver Falls and, like a typical boy, took dares.
On June 18, 1919, he and several friends were heading for a swimming hole on the Beaver River when they came upon the Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler and New Castle Railway Co. bridge spanning Wallace Run. The bridge, which was torn down years ago and has been replaced by a Route 18 highway bridge, had connected Beaver Falls and Big Beaver.
The Harmony Line, as it was known, had regular daily trolley service between Ellwood City and Beaver Falls. It crossed the Beaver River at Koppel and paralleled the river as it made its way south into Beaver Falls. It came to a dead end just over the Wallace Run bridge in Morado, where passengers transferred to Beaver Valley Traction Co. trolleys serving Beaver County.
Both trolley lines ceased operations in the 1930s.
Bill Fronczek of Peters Township, who has done extensive research on the Harmony Line for the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pa., said Harmony trolleys were powered by 1,200 volts DC. The line from Ellwood City to Beaver Falls, which opened in 1914, also featured a main transmission line carrying 22,000 volts AC.
The Wallace Run bridge would have carried both voltages, Fronczek said.
The massive wooden structure was an attraction for local youths. In September 1918, another Beaver Falls boy – Robert Littell, 12 – died from electrical burns he received while playing on the bridge with friends.
Robinson and his four companions knew about that fatal accident when they ventured onto the span at twilight on June 18, 1919. But a newspaper account the following day reported that the boys had spied a bird’s nest high on the bridge structure.
The Beaver Falls Evening Tribune re-created the following conversation between the boys:
“Who will see how many birds are in that nest,” young Robinson said.
“Not me, for there are electrical wires up there and a little fellow was nearly killed up there six months ago,” one of his companions replied.
“Well, I will find out,” Robinson said, and he began climbing a “girder” (The Daily Times of Beaver reported that he climbed on a box).
Robinson was horribly burned by high voltage. The Beaver Falls paper gave him little chance for survival: “Morado Lad, 8, Shocked By Live Wire, Will Die,” blared the headline.
Both newspapers carried periodic updates as Robinson hovered between life and death at the former Providence Hospital in Beaver Falls. After a month, he began to improve.
Doctors called it a miracle.
He survived, but his face looked as if it had been melted with a blow torch. His eyes were gone. His nose was gone. His lips and ears were terribly disfigured. His left arm was burned off at the elbow. His upper torso was scarred.
“Yet, in spite of all his affliction, the boy is in good humor,” the Daily Times reported in its last story about the accident, dated Aug. 16, 1919.
Robinson would carry that trait for the rest of his life, according to a nephew.
Robinson spent considerable time in Pittsburgh hospitals after his release from Providence and had numerous surgeries that did little to improve his appearance, according to the nephew, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear that curiosity seekers would show up at his door.
Family members cared for Robinson until the last years few years of his life, when he moved to a nursing home.
The family didn’t talk much about how he looked, and nobody really thought much about it. Uncle Ray was Uncle Ray, and that was that, the nephew said.
“He never discussed his injuries or his problems at all,” he said. “It was just a reality, and there was nothing he could do about it, so he never spoke about it. He never complained about anything.”
Robinson wore a prosthetic nose that was connected to a pair of dark glasses. He also received some help from the sparse social services available at the time.
He knew rudimentary Braille and passed his time at home weaving rubber door mats and making leather wallets and belts. He also had a collection of metal puzzles consisting of horseshoes and other hardware that he deftly worked to the amazement of his young nieces and nephews.
He loved to listen to the radio. He kept a shortwave in his bedroom and an old Philco on a stand by his favorite easy chair in the living room. He spent hours listening to them.
Most of his time was spent indoors, but he occasionally ventured outdoors to “help” with chores. Robinson liked to push an old-fashioned manual mower across the family lawn. He missed spots, but his relatives never minded going back over them.
One of his favorite pastimes was hiking the woods around his home.
He carried a stick and guided himself by walking with one foot on the path and the other on the edge of the path. He would later use the same system while walking the Koppel-New Galilee Road: one foot on the pavement and the other on the gravel berm.
Robinson lived in obscurity. Neighbors and other locals knew him, or about him, but they never bothered him.
It remained that way until Robinson started appearing at night on the Koppel-New Galilee Road.
CHARLIE NO FACE
No one can pinpoint the exact date that Robinson began walking the road running between Koppel and New Galilee, also known as Route 351.
His nephew said it started after a coal company stripped property behind the Robinson home, obliterating their walking path.
After that, Robinson established a routine. Several times a week in good weather, he would grab his walking stick around 10 p.m. and head outside. He walked for miles, and he usually stayed out until after midnight.
Robinson’s mother and stepfather hated it.
“Why do you have to go?” Louise Robinson would plead with her son.
But he would go anyway. He was an adult, and his family couldn’t stop him. Whether it was for exercise, or to talk with people other than his relatives, the family never knew for sure. What they do know was it caused no uncertain amount of worry and anguish for the family.
His mother couldn’t sleep until he returned. If he came home before 11 p.m., things were fine. If he didn’t, the entire household was out looking for him. The nephew recalled family members walking the road in the middle of the night.
Sometimes Robinson would be gone all night.
Word soon spread about the strange man who walked the road, and people – at first it was local teenagers – began driving out there trying to get a look at him. The story snowballed, spreading across the region.
Somebody – nobody knows who – coined the name Charlie No Face. In outlying areas, people began calling Robinson the Green Man.
Scores of cars loaded with kids from all over the region were soon driving up and down Koppel-New Galilee Road in search of Charlie No Face. They brought beer and cigarettes, which they used to barter for a few words with the legendary figure.
Robinson’s family never understood what drew the crowds. They resented the derogatory nicknames and particularly disliked the fact that people gave him booze. Alcohol was never consumed in the Robinson home.
Robinson would occasionally get drunk and lose his way. Once his family found him on the side of the road. He had spent the night in woods and crawled to the roadside after hearing traffic. Another time, they found him lying in a farm field. The incidents only served to increase their worry.
No matter how innocent, gawkers drove the family crazy.
People would pull up to the house at all hours and honk their horns, shouting, “We want to see Charlie.” One time during a carnival in Koppel, one of the owners came to see whether he could hire Robinson for the freak show.
“He was lucky to get out of there alive,” the nephew said, adding that he nearly came to blows several times with people.
RITE OF PASSAGE
Jim Tripodi of Beaver considered Charlie No Face a friend.
Tripodi, 57, grew up in the College Hill section of Beaver Falls in the 1960s and began visiting Koppel-New Galilee Road when he was in high school. He and his buddies made numerous trips to see Robinson in the late 1960s.
The visits began as curiosity, Tripodi said, but as time wore on, they realized Robinson was just a lonely guy who wanted company. They like to think they befriended him.
They always treated Robinson with dignity. Others weren’t as kind.
Stories have circulated about people picking up Robinson and taking him for rides to local bars. None of the stories has been confirmed, but Tripodi and several others said Robinson told them personally that people were nasty to him.
For Tripodi, the visits usually began as he and his friends were sitting around on a summer evening with nothing better to do.
Somebody would say, “Let’s go see Charlie,” and they’d pile into a car, drive out to the Ohio line for quarts of beer and cigarettes, and then motor off to Big Beaver, hoping to see Robinson.
Similar scenes played out time and again across the region over the 30 years or more that Robinson walked the highway.
Joe Nardone, 80, of Koppel remembers kids visiting Robinson in the 1940s; Bob Zahorsky, 67, who grew up in Aliquippa, remembers the same thing from the 1950s; and the late John “Butch” Maranciak, 51, who grew up in Hopewell Township, remembered in a 2005 interview that he and his friends would drive out to see Robinson in the 1970s.
“I guess like everybody else, somebody had a friend, who knew a friend, who knew about this individual, who roamed the road at night out there,” said Zahorsky, who now lives in Fort Myers, Fla. “We’d be sitting around the State Soda Grill, or someplace like that, and somebody would say, ‘Let’s go out and see that guy.’ You’d just roll down the window and talk to him as he stood outside of the car.”
Robinson typically remained in the shadows and often hid when cars approached. He would talk, but it was hard to understand him. And he appreciated the beer and cigarettes.
“He wouldn’t come out for everybody,” Maranciak said in 2005. “When you saw him on the road, he used to hide behind trees. We used to pull over by an oak tree on the side of the road. I think there was a spring there with a pipe stuck in it. Once he got to know you, he’d come over to you. He’d talk about the weather, how hot it was, things like that. We never asked about his disability, and he never brought it up.”
Tripodi said he and his friends sometimes took dates to scare the daylights out of them. It was a way to get the girls to sit closer, Tripodi said. They had a code name for it: COD (Come Over Darling).
Going to see Charlie No Face became a rite of passage for Beaver Valley teens. They christened landmarks along the road “Charlie’s Rock” or “Charlie’s Tree” after places where they would pull over and talk to him.
“On Friday nights, especially after football games, it was a parade of cars going out there,” Tripodi said. “There were times when there were policemen there because of the flow of traffic.”
MAN OR MYTH?
As decades passed, the Charlie No Face story spread far and wide.
Ann Steele, 71, of Koppel wrote to local soldiers stationed overseas during the Vietnam War, and they would ask her about Robinson in their letters. She said some of them told her they prayed for Robinson, who was struck several times by cars while walking the road.
“They would say they had pictures of him over there,” she said. “The pictures went all over the world.”
The Charlie No Face story was passed along from generation to generation. With each telling, it changed a little, according to Tom White, archivist and curator of special collections at Duquesne University, who has done much research into local folklore.
White, 31, researches local urban legends and is particularly interested in stories about Charlie No Face and the Green Man. The Green Man, he said, grew out of the Ray Robinson legend.
Green Man stories always involve a man who was electrocuted or injured in some type of industrial accident. He is called the Green Man because the accident left him with a greenish tint to his skin. He typically haunts deserted, out-of-the-way places. To get him to appear, people have to do something ritualistic such as blow a car horn or yell, White said.
White has documented purported Green Man sightings at various locations across the Pittsburgh region, including North and South Park, Brookline, McKees Rocks, West Mifflin, Ross Township and New Castle. The Green Man also pops up around Youngstown, Ohio.
Tripodi remembered a carload of people from West Virginia pulling up at a local pizza shop one time and asking for directions to the Green Man.
A story passed down for years by residents of Pittsburgh’s South Hills has the Green Man haunting a deserted South Park railroad tunnel. The tunnel is known as Green Man Tunnel. South Hills kids have been visiting the spot for decades.
Such pilgrimages are known as “legend trips,” White said.
“It’s where people, especially young people, seek out some contact with the supernatural as a test of their bravery,” he said. “Ultimately, they know it’s really safe. They don’t really think there’s going to be some green monster walking down the road.”
White, who gives talks about urban legends, always includes Charlie No Face and the Green Man.
“I’ve encountered (teenagers) who have heard versions of this story,” he said. “They’re often shocked to hear that it was based on a real person.”
Ray Robinson died on June 11, 1985 – seven days before the 66th anniversary of his accident – at the Beaver County Geriatric Center, now Friendship Ridge, in Brighton Township, where he spent the last few years of his life. He is buried in Grandview Cemetery, overlooking the site of the old Wallace Run trolley bridge.
Robert Littell, the Beaver Falls boy who was fatally burned on the bridge nine months before Robinson, also is buried there.
Robinson stopped walking Koppel-New Galilee Road several years before he moved to the nursing home, but his legend is permanently ingrained in the folklore of western Pennsylvania.
“Going to see Charlie was a part of summer, like going to Hank’s (frozen custard) and American Legion dances,” Tripodi said. “It was a Beaver County tradition.”