Area towns have ghost stories to tell
This 2000 file photo shows Williamsport's "Veiled Lady," portrayed by Johnna Maravelis, telling ghost stories at the Williamsport Town Museum. (File photo)
“I’ve heard that,” daughter Elissa Slayman said of her father’s benign haunting. “And they hear him walking and his keys rattling.”
“He just loved that town,” Slayman said of her father, who served as town clerk for 42 years before being elected mayor and dying while in office.
Legend has it — which is a great phrase to kick off any ghost story — there are some other spirits that roam the halls of Town Hall, as well as the streets and historic buildings, along with Doubleday Hill and Riverview Cemetery in Williamsport, which tour guide Alan Redding expounded upon during a chilly night’s tour through the town.
However, Elissa Slayman, who has spent plenty of time in Town Hall and lived most of her life in town, does not believe in ghosts.
“Never have, never will,” she said.
People told her the house she once lived in was haunted by the spirit of a woman who, grief-stricken over the death of her son, took her own life. The tale included details like a swinging chandelier in the dining room, though Slayman noted the dining room didn’t have a chandelier until she had one installed.
In Riverview Cemetery, muffled moans and distant screams could be heard, and shadows slipped between weathered tombstones. I felt a hand lightly touch my shoulder and turned to see the figure of a woman, clad in black from head to toe.
The story of this “Veiled Lady” floating through town at night has some factual roots, Slayman said. There once was a woman who dressed in black and prowled the night trying to catch her cheating husband.
Slayman said mischievous kids picked up the act following the woman’s death, dressing up in black and slinking about at night to perpetuate the Veiled Lady story.
Some of the other figures playing with the imaginations of those on the tour were Jennie Weschler, Faith Smith and Councilman William Green. For anyone planning to take the tour tonight, it would be unfair to say more about what they might see.
“I’m a skeptic,” said Green, although the investigations of the town by a clairvoyant, a local paranormal investigator and The Rhode Island Paranormal Society (TRIPS) have given him second thoughts.
Nudging Green toward the “maybe” column are images of “orbs,” circular light anomalies captured on hundreds of digital images, moving about the building. Spirits, or explainable optical anomalies due to dust, moisture or flash reflection? That’s a debate for another time.
On her iPhone, Jennie Weschler had something interesting to show us, a photo the teenager took in Farnsworth House in Gettysburg, Pa., a place famous for its ghosts.
It appeared to show a dimly defined figure crouching by a window, the outline of a musket visible. Not much imagination was needed to see a Civil War soldier.
In the Town Hall basement, which still has jail cells, paranormal investigator Gary Pensinger of Halfway, founder of The Other Side Ghost Hunters, explained how a “spirit box” works. Essentially, it’s a modified radio that scans through the frequencies and allows spirits, who are electromagnetic in nature, to speak, he said.
The spirit box crackled this night, but no discernible messages came across.
Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) devices, electromagnetic field (EMF) meters and night-vision cameras are among the equipment used by ghost hunters. Those who go to the GhostStop website can order a “Learner Ghost Hunting Kit” for $89.99.
It includes an EMF ghost meter, EVP audio recorder, a flashlight and a book, “How To Hunt Ghosts.”
“Got any ghosts here?” I asked the fellows over at Antietam Volunteer Fire Co. in Hagerstown. The city sent out a press release for its City Center ghost tours stating: “It has been reported (another good way to start a paranormal tale) that horses continue to warn firemen of terrible fires by their clopping steps and jingling harnesses in the old firehouse ...”
Turns out I was at the wrong firehouse. Volunteer Daniel Young said the one I sought was the former Junior Engine Co. No. 3 firehouse.
Young, who counted himself a skeptic, said there were some mysterious happenings at the Antietam station, perhaps related to an apparatus driver who apparently died there in his sleep.
“That was quite some time ago. Must be 15 years,” said Donnie Boward, retired after 50 years as a volunteer, but still hanging out in the building.
“Last night there were some strange noises going on, but this is an old building,” Young said.
Volunteers have told tales of the television turning itself on or changing channels.
“Old firehouses like this, they have all kinds of stories,” Young said.
Lots of towns now host ghost tours and, if there was ever a time to make a living off the dead, it’s now.
Probably at no time in recent history have tales of the paranormal cast such a spell over the Nielsens and at the box office. Forget Casper, Don Knotts’ comedic masterpiece “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” or even “Ghostbusters.”
This is the Golden Age of Ghosts.
From “Celebrity Ghost Stories” and “Ghostly Encounters” on the Biography channel to “Ghost Adventures” (the Travel Channel), “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Hunters International” (both on SyFy), the spectral, wraithlike and ectoplasmic have never enjoyed such popularity.
Animal Planet has a show called “The Haunted” that “chronicles true, chilling and terrifying stories of animals and their owners who are experiencing the unexplainable,” the website states.
That media popularity has translated into ghost tours in communities around the Tri-State. This Halloween season, Hagerstown, Sharpsburg and Williamsport in Maryland, Charles Town and Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, and Waynesboro and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania have hosted them.
Just about any burg with more age to it than Levittown, N.Y., can boast a few hauntings, and the post-mortem population increases if the town was the scene of a battle, or unfortunate enough to be known for a grisly killing or two.