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Ghost Busting Is a Year-Round Gig

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Photo by Jared Castaldi

Joseph Pratt III may have died in 1788, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still hanging around. At least, a few among the living are convinced that he occupies the oldest building on Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, a preserved 18th-century farmstead in Ridley Creek State Park. 

One time, a door slammed in the circa-1690 stone house. Perhaps it was a sign that Pratt—one in a line of three inheritors, all named Joseph—didn’t want anyone snooping around? “We thought about that,” says Jenn Dalgarn, case manager for Delmarva Historic Haunts. “To be safe, we tell [the ghosts] what we’re doing so they’re not offended. We tell them we have guests coming and ask them to be polite.”

DHH’s ghost-hunting team has also encountered Mary Jones, the second wife of Joseph Pratt Sr. Dalgarn believes Jones —who died childless in 1776—was stirred by her pregnancy.

There’s also been paranormal activity from slaves once kept on the property. In the main house, cast-iron pots have blown off shelves. A 10-year-old girl who fell to her death down a flight of stairs in the house has frequently appeared near a fireplace in the kitchen. Sounds of moving furniture are not uncommon upstairs in the children’s bedroom. All are claims no one had investigated prior to August 2012.

This year’s Sept. 6 event will be the third plantation ghost tour open to the public. Four groups of 12 will rotate stations on the working farm. The “lab” will be set up in one of the two barns.

In the springhouse, DHH gets equipment readings when a once-notorious gentleman from town, Sandy Flash, shows up. One electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) taken from there is posted online. This and other clips are available on YouTube and the DHH website. (Listen for yourself, and draw your own conclusions.)

DHH’s third-year team of nine members—all from Delaware—focuses on the historical aspects of the locations it investigates. “It’s one of the reasons we’re drawn to Colonial Plantation,” says Dalgarn, a fifth-grade special education teacher in Newark. “It has the history, but it’s also being preserved as living history.”

After matching history with evidence, the team brings the public along on these investigations. “It’s not just for us; it’s for everybody,” says Dalgarn. “Not everybody gets this opportunity, so we feel the responsibility to bring the public with us —and help the historic site, too.”

The ghost hunt at Colonial Plantation isn’t an isolated event. The husband-wife team of Paul and Hillary Murdoch are founding members of the Paranormal Research Society of North America. They’ve worked on the ghost claims at Duffy’s Cut in Malvern, among other projects. 

Both work for Vanguard, and several of Hillary’s coworkers had been begging her for an investigation. This past January, she obliged. The Murdochs took their Vanguard cohorts to Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia for an introduction to a paranormal investigation. “We hadn’t been active in four years,” Paul says.

The Murdochs had considered living in the Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe. The original Carbon County lockup has been considered haunted ever since the public hangings of seven unionized Irish coal miners. The lingering controversy has remained as unsettled as the ghosts said to roam the jail. The commute to Vanguard, however, would’ve been ghastly.

Paul was so moved by the story of Duffy’s Cut—where an 1832 mass grave of Irish immigrant railroad workers was found—that he returned to Immaculata University for a degree in organizational leadership last December. His true interest is paleontology and digging for fossils. In fact, he may soon get credit for a new species of whale.

Paul volunteered his time at Duffy’s Cut and was even asked to run the dig, which he declined. While he was there, his paranormal group did an investigation at a memorial monument. An odd EVP registered at the site. The recording bore true: “Help us!” 

“It was incredible,” says Paul. 

Other reported sensations and sightings there include a woman in black and even the men themselves. “Obviously something’s going on,” Paul says.

The Murdochs find the science behind ghost hunting to be the most appealing. Hillary took an interest in 2001, after her father had died a year prior. Her mother passed in 1988, when Hillary was 18. She claims she often feels their presence.

In 2001, the couple embarked on its first official ghost-hunting trip to Point Lookout Lighthouse in Scotland, Md., which has a wicked history as the site of a Civil War prison camp. An EVP registered 27 different apparitions during a séance at the spot, and the Murdochs fostered a relationship with other kindreds.

Shortly thereafter, they formed the Paranormal Research Society of North America, organizing two trips a year. “We’ve never felt anything that we considered harmful or malicious, but there are certainly some things that would creep you out—things you couldn’t explain,” Paul says. “We’ve felt cold spots. Hairs rise on the backs of our necks, but we’ve never felt threatened or in danger.”

The group filmed an episode for Proof Positive, a show previously on the Syfy network—though the experience turned them off to television. “It was fake,” Paul reports. “They wanted us to read off a script. Really, when this all went mainstream, it killed the interest for us. Our interest was always in trying to get the equipment to back up what we were feeling. Plus, it was a lot of work. Hillary often would have to go through 800 pictures and 20 hours of night vision [footage].”

The filming for the show was done at Spangler’s Spring in Gettysburg over one day, then boiled down to a 20-minute segment. “They had a nice piece of video,” says Paul. “We were able to get the sound of steps—almost like a horse. They would fade out and then come in hard again, then go away again.”

To believe in ghosts or spirits, must you be open to believing? Is it your faith that allows it? 

Paul Murdoch has encountered all types. He was even involved in a General Wayne Inn investigation on the last day the infamous Main Line haunt was open. In some cases, he’s had to settle discrepancies between what homeowners were taught by their religion and what they were actually experiencing. Ninety-eight percent of all evidence is audio. Video is extremely rare. 

“I believe that there’s something out there,” he says. “We’ve experienced these things. They’re not hallucinations. We’re physically getting something. We’re hearing a voice. We’re recording an electrical abnormality. Maybe that’s your soul. Who really knows?”

Still, Paul hesitates to fully commit to the idea. “I’m not saying I 100-percent believe it, but Hillary believes it more—and she’s more analytical than I am. She’s skeptical of everything. She’s always trying to disprove it,” he says.

Paul says he’s only ever seen one ghost—in a 17th-century home in Maine. He’s still not convinced it wasn’t a shadow, though the apparition matches what others have also seen there. “[It’s like]you’re at a party, and you see a person you don’t know in a room,” he says. “Then you leave the room and return right away, and that person is gone.”

The PRSNA hasn’t done much collaborating with other groups, as there’s generally a conflict of objectives. “We want to back up what we’re seeing and hearing with science,” Paul says. “We’re not just there to be scared and make money. That’s really what it became.”

Delmarva Historic Haunts runs 13 team investigations a year, plus 10 weeks of fall tours at various locations. Colonial Plantation is the only site not in Delaware. DHH wants more Main Line locales.

DHH uses K2 meter detectors that measure electromagnetic frequencies. “The science says that spirits can disrupt the frequencies,” says Jenn Dalgarn.

Her team also uses Maglites, which turn off and on, based on activity. “We call them torches for [the spirits] because they don’t know what a flashlight is,” Dalgarn says. “We ask them, ‘Can you turn it on?’ We ask, ‘Do you know you’re
dead?’ But they’re living their lives, so they don’t know.”

A number of factors makes a ghost-hunting investigation successful. “Our team asks a lot of questions that we don’t have the answers to,” says Dalgarn. “We want to know why they’re still there. Is there something they want to tell us? It’s the only way of getting to their story—and getting it right from them. We learn something every place we go every time.”

For those who think they might be living in a haunted house, Paul Murdoch has some take-it-or-leave-it advice. He’s often made the simple, if somewhat corny, suggestion to engage in a conversation with the spirits: “This is my place now. Please stop scaring the dog and my kids. Let’s coexist.” 

Visit www.paranormalinvestigators.com and www.delmarvahistorichaunts.com.

 

 

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