My girlfriend loves ghosts and Abraham Lincoln trivia. I often eat cereal for dinner. So when our powers combine… we are an awesome 11-year-old boy!
From the holidays through Valentines Day, the two of us became locked in an arms race of increasingly elaborate, idiosyncratic presents for each other (homemade baked goods, hand painted ceramics, a professionally-rendered album cover based on an inside joke, a subscription to the Pie of the Month Club, etc.). For her birthday, I developed the gift-giving equivalent of the Manhattan Project; I booked us a trip to go to Gettysburg, PA for an “Extreme Ghost Hunt” on a Civil War battlefield.
The Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, we set off through Pennsylvania. We worried that the holiday would bring a crush of traffic towards a town filled with so much history. It did not. Apparently, not everyone has the same nerdy passions that we do. Whatever! That just means less time waiting in line at the wax museums. If you are asking yourself whether there actually were multiple wax museums…yes, yes there were. Take that Paris, France!
Most of the weekend was spent visiting various museums. Talking presidents statues? Yes, please! Silent statues of the first ladies displaying their fashion on inauguration night? Kind of sexist, but we’ll take it! We saw an entire museum devoted to model trains and sat on a replica of the train Abraham Lincoln took on his ride to Gettysburg to give his famous address. What was the significance of that train? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe that it was awesome.
We visited the memorial cemetery. We rode on horseback across battlefields. We ate at two restaurants where the servers dressed in period costumes. Please contain your jealousy as best you can.
The centerpiece of the weekend, however, was the Extreme Ghost Hunt. A quick piece of background information about me: I do not believe in or care about ghosts. But I do love a. my girlfriend and b. anyone with an intense passion about something unproven. Ghosts, string theory, God, whatever. I really admire people who place a great deal of faith in the unknown or unknowable. Plus, I am always willing to be proven wrong if it means that world would be more awesome, and clearly, a world with ghosts is (to use a technical term) “way awesomer” than a universe where no ghosts exist.
At 11 p.m. we met up with our tour guides in downtown Gettysburg. In Gettysburg, downtown is the neighborhood with the highest concentration of wax museums. The guides informed our hunting party of about fifteen that we would get to use all the tools that we had seen television ghost hunters employ. My inquiries regarding proton packs earned me an elbow in the ribs from my girlfriend. (I was similarly prodded when I started chanting “BOO! S! A! BOO! S! A!” in response to one of our guide’s wearing an American flag bandana.)
We caravanned out to an abandoned mansion on the outskirts of town. (The outskirts of Gettysburg are where there’s the lowest concentration of period costume restaurants.) When we arrived, our two guides gave us some historical context for the house. Union soldiers had used the basement as a morgue, and they employed a small adjacent room as a holding cell for captured Confederates. Also, something terrible happened in the attic, but we’d have to ask for more information privately. That was pretty interesting. Then our guides passed out the ghost hunting instruments while I stifled the urge to say, in a totally deadpan voice: “There’s something strange in this neighborhood.”
The other guide gave us a few tips on spotting supernatural activity: “Spirits tend to come out when they’re more comfortable. So you can walk around if you want, but we find people tend to get the best results if they sit and wait. We can’t make any guarantees, but that tends to get the best results.“
The way to find a ghost, it seems then, is to just hunker down and keep your eyes open. So a ghost hunt is like a goth whale watch, if maybe whales didn’t exist.
We walked through the house, trying to steer clear of the other hunters. In the basement, our EMF (electromagnetic field) detector registered a couple of blips but nothing serious. We split up for a while. I went outside and wandered the mass unmarked grave of Union soldiers. It was dark and a little creepy but mostly quiet and soothing, which is probably weird of me to say.
I took some pictures with my phone’s camera. Several had shapes on them that looked like either glowing balls of spirit energy or a thumb smudge on a camera lens. Apparently “orbs” of supernatural energy are the most prevalent kind of supernatural phenomena. Coincidence? You be the judge. (The answer is no, though.) When I showed my pictures to the guides, they claimed that they were “definitely supernatural” and I “didn’t even need to e-mail them the photos.” I don’t know if I believed the first part, but I certainly agreed with the second part. I did not feel the need to e-mail them any pictures.
I met back up with my girlfriend, and we went to the attic of the house. She sat on the steps, and a wave of anxiety came over her. She told me she felt sick and nauseated and that there was someone else in the room with us. I didn’t know what to do. The attic was hot, but I didn’t feel anything other than that. How do you offer support for someone dealing with a ghost? I was nervous. I wanted her to feel better, but I barely understood her malady.
The anxiety subsided in time, and we left the attic. The guides filled us in on the room’s history. A woman, thinking her fiancé had lied about joining the military to run off with another lover, had hanged herself. Only later did it come to light that he had been captured during fighting overseas and was unable to contact her. My girlfriend felt certain it was the uneasy presence of the dead woman’s spirit that she felt.
My guess is, she was right. I hadn’t experienced anything, but she did, and others certainly have. There’s probably some sort of “placeboo effect” (you’re welcome) going on in certain instances, but I can’t imagine that every alleged supernatural phenomenon is a hoax just because I haven’t witnessed them.
When I was a kid, I could never see the 3-D images in the “Magic Eye” posters. I tried and tried, but I failed to relax my eyes the right way. I stared and stared, but my technique was all wrong. There was no way for me to transcend my rigid, two-dimensional view, despite the overwhelming evidence that I was missing out on something. Then, as I got older, I gave up. Weirdly, though, the next time I came across one of the “Magic Eye” posters, I was able to see the 3-D image effortlessly.
Even though I have never had a paranormal experience, I don’t discount that they could be legitimate. I am not a believer, but I’m not quite a skeptic. I’m just envious of those with faith. But maybe it’s not that I haven’t been trying. It could be that I haven’t been trying the right way. Maybe once I stop looking for something I don’t understand, I’ll be honestly open to an unexpected experience.