Ghost Hunt Locations
Mid-September. When I pull into the lot by Heritage Rail Trail in York, Pennsylvania, a circle of soccer moms in jogging outfits hover near my car and discuss whose house is better for their kids to get drunk in the basement. I pull on my coat, cover my face with a mask, and stuff a notebook in my pocket.
“I am missing that crucial supply,” Halmat says regretfully.
When I ask them where our guy is — the ghosthunting guy — the reason we’re here — Sanford assures me that Bill “WooFDriver” Helman is on the way. His dogs are pulling his vehicle here as we speak.
“He mounts the huskies on either side of this electric bike —
“This is what he’s doing right now?”
“This is what he’s doing right now.” Sanford seems to have a permanent smile on his face, even while wearing a mask.
The sun is setting. The lot is getting as dark as it is getting empty. A park ranger asks if we have a permit to be doing — what is it you’re doing exactly? — on the trail after sunset.
We admit that we don’t know. Maybe Helman has one. Do they make permits for ghosthunting?
As if on cue, Helman comes down the road in a recumbent bike with two huskies on either side, slowly pulling him into the parking lot. The dogs glide into the lot like clouds with legs. They pant from permanent smiles on their face.
“Oh my god,” I say outloud. “That’s the guy.”
As Helman pulls into the parking lot, the red glow from the headlights illuminate his long frizzy hair, poking out of his cap. His smile is jovial and relaxed. The entrance is just as dramatic as if he were the main character from a Disney movie about mushing, or maybe Santa Claus’ second cousin arriving to save Christmas.
Helman is as much as an enigma as he is an eccentric. He has a long list of vocations and hobbies that loosely relate with one another as long as you’re squinting.
Helman began urban mushing 25 years ago as a way to keep his huskies entertained. The recumbent vehicle design became steadily more advanced as the years went on — to fit more dogs, to even include a motor to help the dogs up steep hills. But the jobs Helman juggled during the day — pet business, real estate, urban mushing Internet personality — meant that he would sometimes have to take the dogs on rides at night.
Helman started getting curious by the historic trails and abandoned buildings he and the dogs would pass by in the dark.
And so here I am, in a parking lot in York, Pennsylvania, surrounded by huskies and getting harassed by a park ranger, preparing for my first ghosthunt.
Plans change. Everyone assures me this is normal when hunting for ghosts.
Next stop is the Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre De Grace, Maryland. As we pack up the cars, the recumbent bike is stored in a container trailer and the dogs are escorted into an extended six-door Ford Excursion that Helman calls “the dog limousine.” Each one — Lola, Zarro, Chase, and Jag — has their own assigned seat. The cupholders have been customized to fit water bowls. The smiling clouds promptly go to sleep.
An hour and a half later, the WooFDriver squad parks on the side of Lafayette Street, across from the Decoy Museum.
Curtis Wimer — carpenter by day, paranormal investigator by night — leads the group towards the lighthouse. A snow-white beard flows underneath a bright orange hard hat fixed with a GoPro camera. His sentences are short and he speaks with a slight twang.
Wimer grips tightly to what he calls an “SB7” — a Spirit Box 7. The Spirit Box works by cycling through radio frequencies, scanning across both the AM and FM bands, and picking up on any consistencies. It emits white noise, which spirits are supposedly able to speak through. As he turns it on, it sounds unsettling, like static fading in and out from a television left on late at night.
Concord Point Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Maryland, having served as a beacon for boaters where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay for almost 200 years.
As we gaze up at the 36-foot structure, it’s hard to imagine that this granite nub served as the only emblem of light for this entire area. The waxy yellow light emitting from the lens is completely outshined by streetlights. Evan Snyder steadies a video camera on it while Helman and the others evaluate how many memory cards they have.
Snyder is younger than the others. He’s in his early thirties and works in IT, but when I ask him what his role is here, he adjusts his glasses and pauses for a second.
“I don’t know,” he admits. “Data wrangler?”
Snyder was suctioned into the paranormal investigating world through his wife, who refers to herself as Para Anne.
Para Anne — blue hair, technical writer, podcaster — has a different approach from the others. While Helman and Wimer set up their equipment in different spots around the lighthouse, she is wandering by the docks, or sitting patiently on the ground. She calls out but doesn’t press for a response. In her hand is just a simple voice recorder.
“Most of what you find isn’t until after you get home,” she tells me. “When you go back through everything you recorded.”
Anne was a child of the Goosebumps generation. A fascination with ghost stories quickly became an obsession, and by the time she was 16, her parents arranged for her to do her first investigation with the founder of the New Jersey Paranormal Research Association.
“That’s when I got my first EVP,” she says, beaming.
EVPs — or electronic voice phenomenon — are voices that are found in electronic recordings. EVPs are like bass to fishermen, or bucks to hunters. You always remember where you caught your first one.
Wimer places a K2 meter on one of the Potato Battery cannons — the same cannon that the first lighthouse keeper, John O’Neil, used to defend the town against British forces in 1813. The meter promptly glows green — a good sign for ghosthunters.
Lots of things carry electromagnetic energy: radio waves, micro waves — even sunlight. Spirits are also believed to have a strong association with electromagnetic energy.
“Date. News.” Something starts speaking through the calm, female voice that assists you through airport terminals or automated calls. It’s coming from the device Helman is wearing like a fannypack called an Ovilus. The Ovilus translates electromagnetic frequencies into spoken word through a “Dictionary” mode.
“What are you trying to tell us?” Wimer asks, moving towards the locked door of the lighthouse. “You can communicate through the Ovilus, or light up the K2 there.”
“What’s your name?” Helman asks. “I’m Bill. This is Curtis. Anne’s here with us. Somewhere.”
Sanford crouches against the lighthouse to aim the camera at the doorway. One hand on the granite, the other on the camera.
“Voice. Nine,” says the Ovilus calmly. “Doug.”
Sanford’s eyes widen and lock with mine. Everybody gasps.
“It said my name!” Sanford says, in shock.
The voice continues. “Snap. Cake. Plan. Tesla.”
“Did it say Tesla?” Snyder asks. “We were just talking about Elon!”
“…Elon could get lost in a rusty rocket,” chuckles Wimer.
Sanford’s eyes are still frozen wide. “It said my name!”
“And it said ‘snap.’ You’re a photographer, that’s perfect,” says Wimer.
“It clearly said my name!”
“When are you getting a Tesla, Bill?” Wimer laughs. “Will the huskies pull us around in one?”
Next stop, The lighthouse keeper’s house, which was built across the street the same year as the lighthouse in 1827. In 1994, the body of Lance Alan Miles was discovered inside the lighthouse keeper’s house with bullet holes in his head and abdomen. According to the Baltimore Sun, Havre De Grace police believed that his body was dumped in the house ten days before it was discovered.
“It was like a drug deal gone bad,” Anne suspects.
The house is white, with shutters painted green and chimneys on either side. It stares out at the water with dark windows. During the day it serves as a gift shop, but tonight, it looks as if it hasn’t been occupied in years. Spiders make homes in the window panes.
Wimer places the REM-POD on the fence attached to the side of the house, underneath the second-story window of the room that Miles was supposedly found inside about a quarter of a century ago. The REM-POD, which looks a bit like a couple of stacked hockey pucks with an antenna, starts to indicate that the immediate area is getting colder. Wimer glances at the temperature sensor, which indicates that 53.1 degrees Fahrenheit has dropped to 53 degrees.
The temperature drops again.
Is it a spirit? Or is it just getting late?
“Is this Lance?” Wimer asks. “Or is this Ike?”
The spirit lovingly named “Ike” has a habit of interrupting moments like this when Helman’s Ovilus has been set for “Phonetic” mode — which instead of forming fully formed words in the calm, female voice, translates energy into basic building blocks of speech. Instead of well-pronounced, distinguishable words like “window,” “cup”, or “sad,” it stammers and stutters strange unintelligible syllables.
Like it’s doing now: “Ike. Eh. Uh. You.”
“There is anybody else here with you, Ike?” Wimer asks. “We always appreciate you talking to us.”
“Ik,” it says. “Ah. Ear.”
“We ran into Ike at Pennhurst Asylum when we did hunt there,” explains Helman.
“He was a mental patient at Pennhurst,” Wimer says. “He had a coloring book in the basement that apparently he was obsessed with and wants Bill to go back and buy.”
“Ike” suddenly falls silent.
“If you’re not here then you need to stop talking about your art,” Wimer snickers.
The silence continues.
“Is that you, Ike? I didn’t mean to upset you, I’m sorry.”
A small crowd of nighttime strollers and Pokémon Go players have gathered on the other side of the street. When explained to them the nature of our business tonight, they don’t seem phased at all. In fact, they have their own stories to tell.
“I live right over there,” Walt says, pointing down at the end of the street. He has been cruising on the sidewalk on a hoverboard since we were at the lighthouse, taking curious looks at the cameras and other equipment. “I leaned over to get something out of my dresser once, and my brother was like ‘ow!’”
“I was like, ‘what?’ He was like, ‘Did you scratch me?’”
“When he pulled up his shirt, there were three scratch marks on his back.”
Last stop, Rock Run Grist Mill. John Stump III built this mill around 1800, one of many he owned in the local area, to grind wheat into flour. The mill passed through the ownership of several families before the Maryland Department of Forest and Parks purchased it in 1960.
The mill has a threatening presence at 1am in the morning. It waits for us along a dark, single-lane dirt road. Standing four stories tall, it shines under streetlamps.
It sits along the Susquehanna River, which tonight is completely invisible unless Halmat or Sanford flashes a light onto it. We can see reflections of insects dancing on the inky black current.
For this location, it’s Chris Wehner’s time to shine.
Wehner is like Anne — he prefers to go off on his own with a voice recorder to see what strange voices he can find in the air. Sporting a headlamp and jeans, he looks more like a dad on a camping trip than the tech-wearing ghosthunters around him.
“I didn’t use to believe in any of this crap,” he says.
Wehner had recently accompanied Helman and the huskies on a trip to the C&O Canal in the middle of the night — one of their first true ghosthunting expeditions. Helman was intrigued by a lockhouse found along the path, and Wehner watched footage acquired from a thermal imaging camera inside.
“He’s filming, and I’m watching the video. And we notice something up on the top of the stairs that shouldn’t be there.”
Now, he breaks out the Necrophonic app on his phone and connects it to a set of speakers, which he places the ground by the side of the Mill. As he sets up, Snyder is walking across the gravel path with his camera.
“This is exactly where I got my first EVP,” Snyder says proudly, pointing at the gravel underneath our feet. “Clear as day.”
The Necrophonic app works very much like Wimer’s SB7 — it quickly cycles through bands on the radio wavelength and tries to pull out the consistencies. The Necrophonic app is hooked to a device called the “Portal,” which uses a reverb pedal and an amplifier to supposedly amplify EVPs. The combination produces a strange sound effect — like an echo, but choppy. Suddenly the air fills with voices.
“Why do they sound so angry?” Sanford whispers.
“Sometimes they get angry because they can’t talk,” Wehner says.
“Are you angry? Or are you evil?” Helman asks.
The voices are cutting in faster, overlapping one another, as if someone is flying through channels on a television. Screams bleed into bursts of static.
The words “—you want it—?” cut in.
“No thank you!” Helman laughs.
The aggression in the voice seems to escalate. At times, it almost seems as if expletives are bursting from the device.
“—uck you!” a voice calls out. Wimer laughs.
“We only want to talk to you if you say nice things!” Helman says to the voice.
“Did it go well?”
“The date went well,” Sanford says. “She did not go well.”
It’s 2 in the morning and it’s time to pack up. My notebook is filled with the names of strange devices I have never heard of before tonight. My phone is filled with recordings of voices coming from the air — sometimes making little sense — but once, actually naming a person from our crew. Cameras are packed away, REM-PODs are stored, and memory cards are exchanged.
Before I leave, I can’t resist peeking into the windows of the Ford. The huskies are snoozing — happy, content. Not too concerned about ghosts in the least.