Two people who want to believe, reporters Kevin Stairiker and Blayne Waterloo addressed their (dis)belief in ghosts after going on separate spooky outings. Stairiker joined the Harrisburg Area Paranormal Society on an investigation at a private residence, while Waterloo went on a test run of the downtown Lititz ghost tours.
Did the two confront the spirits they sought? Read on.
B: So, let’s start this off with the disclaimer that I would like to believe
in ghosts, while Kevin, you absolutely don’t. Why is that?
K: Well, I think this is where we’re similar, because I would like to believe, too. I’ve had a theory for a long time that most people would like to believe, too, because it would be so much easier. You wouldn’t have to doubt anything. I fall roughly into the “seeing is believing” camp, which can be limiting, because we don’t end up seeing a lot, generally speaking. Have you ever seen a ghost or felt any sort of “other” presence?
B: I guess I should have phrased that differently, as you tend to come off a little more skeptical than I do when we talk about ghosts in the office. But I have to agree with you, it’d be nice not to doubt whether that squeak in the floor was your late Aunt Tilly or “just the wind.”
There have been a few instances when I’ve felt something or seen something that led me to believe in the existence of spirits. For instance, at a part-time job this past spring – after being told there were ghosts in the building – I was putting fresh towels in the bathroom and the shower curtain pulled back a little. Now, I can’t be sure if an air vent did this, or if I was just paranoid after hearing about the ghost. But I’d like to believe there was something there. What about you?
K: I am a skeptic by nature, which isn’t always great, because like I said, believing would be cool, in theory! But when you look back in history and see where certain myths about ghosts come from, it’s hard to not give somewhat of a side-eye. I think pop culture also plays a big hand in this.
As for my own ghostly experience, I lived the classic little-kid tale of having the door to the attic in my childhood bedroom. On certain windy nights, I’d hear the occasional creak or settling noise, because the house was ancient. I remember an especially noisy night, working up the courage to go upstairs with a flashlight, and to my complete and utter terror – the window had been left slightly ajar!
That was probably the moment my personal skepticism was born.
B: You recently joined the Harrisburg Area Paranormal Society on an investigation. How did you fare there?
K: It was an interesting night. Because this is still technically an ongoing paranormal investigation, I’ll try to stay scant on details. I accompanied John Curley and Carl Spencer from HAPS to a house just outside of Harrisburg.
The current homeowners contacted HAPS after they heard the usual marks of a ghost – footsteps, unearthly voices and certain cold spots in the house. The last straw was finding one of their kitchen knives in the basement ceiling. Fairly spooky stuff! When the homeowners initially moved in, they were told by neighbors that a double-murder suicide had occurred in the back of the house, coincidentally where an additional bedroom had been added in recent years.
Watching John and Carl set up what they described as “thousands of dollars” worth of equipment, I was shocked. These are guys who do investigations on a volunteer basis, ostensibly to help homeowners plagued with ghostly concerns. It was not lost on me that I was the only one getting paid to be there.
They set up four cameras in the “problem areas” of the home, which were all tethered back to a central computer and external hard drive, so that every minute of each room could be recorded and catalogued.
Within the first hour, John compared paranormal investigations to fishing. Within the next six hours, that comparison became more and more apt. The brunt of the work is alternately sitting quietly and asking spirits questions in the dark. What sort of questions do you ask ghosts? The kind that will get them to answer back.
We each took turns asking things that might spur the ethereal uninvited guest to start talking.
“Do you know that you’re dead?”
“Can you knock three times to let us know that you’re in the room with us?”
“I just want to be pals, I’ll say ‘hello’ back.”
I’d like to stress that I really did take everything we did seriously. It would have been easy to go in, make fun of everything and leave after an hour. John and Carl were welcoming and seemingly glad to talk about their own paranormal experiences, and how they too were skeptics before encountering presences themselves. Carl told me that he didn’t believe in ghosts until a case where he heard a disembodied voice whisper his name into his ear. Since then, his mind has been a lot more open.
As for if I saw anything…well, let’s keep the suspense building. You got to have something of a walking ghost tour around Lititz, how did that go?
B: HAPS was really accommodating in allowing you to join them – they seem pretty cool to interact with. But the fact that they use so much equipment out of their own pocket and on a volunteer basis is incredible. However, I always wondered how much that equipment deters spirits, due to technology jargon that I don’t understand.
Anyhoo, my ghost experience wasn’t so much an investigation as it was a 45-minute ghost story-telling tour that was not only entertaining, but eye-opening to downtown Lititz and its history.
Cory Van Brookhoven of Historic Lititz Walking Tours, LLC, was kind enough to have me on the practice run for their Lititz Ghosts and Departed Spirits Tour (tours continue to sell out, but you can check lititzwalkingtours.com for added dates), which begins at General Sutter Inn on Main Street, and ends at the Moravian Church. In between? Van Brookhaven stops at several places you wouldn’t expect to be haunted, and recounts stories that the owners or residents experienced sounds, presences and voices.
At one of the buildings, Van Brookhoven tells the story of a local passing by the window one night and seeing a figure in colonial garb relaxing in a rocking chair. When the resident mentioned it to someone the next day, they were told that no one was there that night. The building was closed for the day.
At another, several people have reported feeling cold spots throughout the shop, and hearing chains and footsteps.
Many of the sites on the tour have been visited by paranormal investigators, who have confirmed a spiritual presence.
So, while I didn’t have the opportunity to experience a haunting firsthand, hearing locals’ encounters in our own backyard was pretty thrilling. It also helped that, while showing me around, Van Brookhoven told me of his own experiences in some of the places, and how he no longer wants to be alone in some locations.
As someone who desperately wants to believe in spirits, and something other than logic and humans lurking in the dark, the tour definitely fueled that fire.
How did your night with HAPS affect your beliefs, KBone?
K: This kind of relates to something I was talking to the HAPS guys about. Namely, that a lot of buildings and properties in Central PA are old enough that the odds of someone dying inside or around a “normal” spot are probably very high. It just seems like a numbers game.
Ghost tours are interesting, because they seem to rely squarely on your imagination to picture a presumably fine upstanding place and envision an old-fashioned ghost wandering the halls.
As for the HAPS experience, at the very least, it gave me a new appreciation for the act of paranormal investigating. Obviously, the investigators have a personal stake in their jaunts, because they’d like to prove beyond a shadow (or a whisper, or a set of footsteps) of a doubt that there is some kind of presence. The one point that John hammered home throughout the night is that “there are things that can’t be explained.” I think that is as far as I’m willing to go.
During the seven hours we spent in that house, I felt no presence, no inexplicable chill and heard no unearthly whispers. HAPS explained that because there are multiple cameras and audio recorders set up around the houses they’re investigating, there’s a
good chance that any ghostly cameos might show up only on there, not apparent to us in the moment. When the physical investigation is done, there are still hours and hours of tapes that must be carefully reviewed so nothing is missed.
John estimated that each individual case creates roughly 24 hours of solid work. This doesn’t even account for the fact that most houses require multiple visits to fully vet any ghostly behavior.
I remain where I was before: content believing that when you die, you take your unfinished business with you. However, I’ve probably got a shortlist of people to haunt if I end up being wrong…
I can’t imagine your mind was changed one way or the other in Lititz, right?
B: When I was growing up – and even now, to my husband’s chagrin – I was fully engrossed in TV shows and books dedicated to confirming the existence of ghosts and an in-between after we die. An appreciation for people and organizations who put their time into these investigations and tours is sown deep in my heart, in a Wednesday Addams kind of way.
In Lititz, I think what struck me most about the stories told during the tour was the passion that the town has about its history, and the hope that it’s still (in a way) alive. The historical foundation pores over records of soldiers and war efforts dating back to the 1700s, and does its best to preserve its historic buildings as they were back in the day, even if that means harboring spirits that make the living anxious. The respect for Lititz and what its ancestors have left behind gives the tour a personable feeling, which, in my opinion, makes it even creepier.
To answer your question, though, no – overall, my feelings toward the paranormal didn’t change; there’s a larger part of me that believes there’s something more out there than the part of me that doesn’t.
My only hope in life is that if I were to become a ghost, that I could choose to haunt the Fly After 5 office – specifically Mike Andrelczyk’s desk.
K: I know he would love that.
I think the most important takeaway I got from my brief time as a paranormal investigator is that above all, it’s important for people to feel safe in their own homes. Every one of those HAPS cases – and they’ve been on hundreds – stems from people being scared, for whatever reason. Maybe it was a ghost, maybe it was an old house settling – the initial query doesn’t really matter. These aren’t guys purporting to vanquish ghosts or seal them into a little box, they’re really just in the business of calming people’s fears. That is something I definitely believe in.