HARMONY — The paranormally curious who lingered at the Sleepy Hollow Festival until the Witching Hour were treated to sessions of authentic ghost hunting in the Harmony Museum's cramped and creepy historic buildings.
The ghost hunt was the final event in “An Evening in Haunted Harmony,” a paranormal conference from 4 to 10 p.m. Oct. 12 at the museum during the town's weekend Sleepy Hollow Festival.
Those who paid a nominal fee were treated to the event, which was sponsored and led by Steel Town Paranormal. Prior to the ghost hunt, various speakers, metaphysical booths and paranormal displays were available.
About 30 brave individuals met in the purportedly haunted Stewart Hall at 11 p.m. to be divided into six teams and given instructions by Steel Town Paranormal's founders, Chris and Melanie Durish.
Each team of excited pseudo-ghost investigators was assigned a guide, all of whom were experienced investigators with Steel Town Paranormal.
The teams alternated between six rooms in the historic structure, which was built in 1804-05 by a German religious sect known as the Harmony Society and sold a decade later to Mennonite leader Abraham Ziegler.
Various accounts of strange activity have been reported for years in all six rooms: the wine cellar in the museum's basement, the library on the museum's second floor, the “Christmas Room” in the museum's gift shop next door, the gift shop itself and two showrooms in the Bottlebrush Gallery adjacent to the museum.
Before the investigation began, team members chatted and shared their reasons for attending the investigation.
Savannah Ziegler, an investigator with Steel Town Paranormal and descendant of Mennonite Abraham Ziegler, said Harmony holds a special place in her heart because it was the home of her ancestors.
“Also, to me, it's the most active place, where I've had the most (paranormal) experiences I've ever gotten,” Ziegler said.
Katlin Stello of Freeport said Steel Town Paranormal had investigated her father's house in Tarentum, where lights turn on and off, battery-operated toys begin sounding on their own, cold spots appear and disappear and footsteps can be heard on the floors on most nights.
Stello said when an investigator asked if her mother is a good cook, a voice on a digital recorder said “Good cook.”
Stello also said she once saw a full-body apparition of a blond woman in a green Victorian dress in the house, floating a few inches above the surface of the floor.
She said she and her family were very pleased with Steel Town Paranormal's investigation and results.
“Those people are the real deal,” Stello said. “I didn't believe these things until I experienced them for myself.”
Chris Durish said Steel Town Paranormal has completed about 60 investigations in four years. He said most take place at restaurants and bars, but few at private residences because of hoaxers looking for entertainment.
“We've had people pretend they're possessed,” Durish said wearily.
Mark Cupps of Baden in Beaver County said he attended the investigation in Harmony because of his interest in the paranormal.
He has attended one other investigation, at the Strand Theater in Zelienople. He said investigators were able to communicate with a spirit using a flashlight and K-2 meter, which lights up when spirit energy is present, according to paranormal experts.
“The unexplained is intriguing,” Cupps said.
Once the investigation began in Harmony, a Steel Town Paranormal member waited in each of the small, creepy rooms to be investigated to demonstrate a piece of electronic ghost-hunting apparatus to the teams. The only light in the rooms emanated from the muted streetlights outside.
One team of erstwhile ghost hunters crept up the dark, narrow staircase to the Christmas Room, which purportedly boasts the most paranormal activity reports. It was announced the entity could be that of a small Harmonist child who died in the room.
The instrument being demonstrated in the Christmas Room was the FLIR thermal imaging camera, which uses infrared technology to detect hot and cold areas of a room.
The Steel Town investigator in the Christmas Room said during one investigation, he once filmed an apparition of a blue mist on the FLIR at the same time a psychic detected the presence of a little girl.
The participants asked the “entity” questions while the FLIR was slowly panned back and forth across the room.
“Why are you here?” “How old are you?” and “What year is it?” were a few of the questions team members asked in hopes of eliciting a response.
While nothing was seen on the FLIR during the team's 40 minutes inside, one participant experienced chills, nausea and a generalized creepy feeling while in the room.
That team then made their way down the creaking staircase into the darkened gift shop, where Ziegler reported that she saw unexplained lights and a darting shadow just minutes before. She said an alarm that is said to detect spirit energy sounded as well.
Ziegler demonstrated a laser grid, a light that shines hundreds of green laser points in a large area. If any shadow or apparition movement occurs, the lights will undulate.
Participants again asked random questions in hopes of catching paranormal evidence, but no responses or unusual activity were forthcoming.
After the team left the gift shop to wait in the parking lot for their next destination, another group exited the museum talking and gesturing excitedly.
They Had just left the library, where a spirit box was being demonstrated. Steel Town Paranormal's spirit box scans hundreds of FM radio stations per minute, and paranormal experts believe spirits can use the FM frequency to communicate.
The animated group members reported that no fewer than two dozen questions were answered during their spirit box session, including one male participant being called a familiar expletive after asking “What's my name?”
In addition, a humanlike form appeared on the FLIR camera in the library while the spirit box activity was going on.
When the team asked the form to wave its hand in front of another apparatus that lights up when it detects movement, an armlike appendage appeared on the FLIR screen and moved up and down above the apparatus, the stunned participants reported.
They also said that when the entity was asked if it could whistle, a noise that sounded like a flute emanated from the box.
However, as the Durishes are aware, paranormal activity comes and goes as it pleases. The next group to try the spirit box asked several questions but received only one quick voice, which sounded like the word “out.”
At the Bottlebrush Gallery, which is connected to the museum, participants tried to contact a woman in period clothing that workers there see at the foot of and on the staircase leading upstairs.
Melanie Durish demonstrated a digital voice recorder, which paranormal investigators say can pick up spirit voices that cannot be heard by the ear alone.
Durish and others asked questions, like “Are you a Harmonist or a Mennonite?” “What is your name?” and “Are you able to leave this house, or must you remain here?”
When played back, faint, unintelligible whispering was heard on the recording.
Chris Durish led the team into the pitch-dark wine cellar, where the FLIR and digital recorders were turned on. No unusual activity occurred, but Durish said he and his crew would listen for sounds or voices on the digital recorders later.
Durish said it would take his team several weeks to peruse the various recorders and other apparatus to determine if anything paranormal was discovered in Harmony.
The investigation ended about 1:30 a.m.
Durish said the $1,800 raised during “An Evening in Haunted Harmony” will be donated to Historic Harmony.
More information and evidence caught during several investigations can be found at www.steeltownparanormal.com.