Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Hunting What Haunts Martinsburg's Apollo Theater

We got the opportunity to conduct a paranormal investigation at the Apollo Theatre in Martinsburg WV. It was a hot and stormy night -- the thunder and lightening fueled the ghosts inside and lent a particularly spooky atmosphere to the ghost hunt.

The theater is currently being renovated, even as performances are still being scheduled.

Martinsburg’s Apollo Theatre was an early design success for Reginald Geare, in company with local architect Chapman E. Kent. It's distinctly different from other theaters of the time period because it was designed specifically for that new fangled motion picture craze. Despite that, it has a generous stage -- large enough to accommodate live performances -- and many vaudeville shows were performed there.

Stories of the Apollo’s haunts have circulated for decades. 

At the beginning of the evening, we were given a tour of the "hot spots" by theater staff.

The oldest stories date back to the mid-1970s. There are no records of deaths within the theater, the building may have been used as a hospital during the 1918 influenza epidemic. There also are rumors, although unconfirmed, that a stage hand fell from the catwalk and passed away from his/her injuries.

An old stage prop stands guard in the ballroom.

Apparently, there are several spirits here, two of which are known as "Charlie" and "George." In 2008, a theater board member described his run-in with George in the early 80s: “During the curtain call I saw an old man in the back of the theatre, in a plaid shirt with a cigar. No one but me saw him and suddenly he was gone.” A Civil War re-enactor -- a woman dolled up in a Civil War-era type gown encountered George in the ladies room: George is not a very polite ghost.

Local residents have seen a figure wearing a fedora pulled down over his eyes, standing hunched over with the collar of his coat pulled up around him outside of the theater. This figure is believed to be Charlie, a former caretaker.

There was quite a bit of mist in this photo -- not
present in any of the other photos I took of the area that evening.

Hangers have flown off shelves in dressing rooms; heavy footsteps have sounded walking across the ballroom and sounds of laughter and dishes or glasses clinking when the place was empty. People have reported being touched by something invisible in the restrooms.

Despite the storm and the ghost stories, we really didn't get much activity until we descended into the basement, a claustrophobic, damp space. There was some weird energy there. We got some reactions to the dowsing rods and the Phasma Box app indicating there were some illicit hook ups there. 

When we emerged and shared this with the folks running the theater, they laughed and told us that the basement had been used as a bordello. I have to admit, I'm a bit skeptical. I guess I've been in too many places that claim to have a history of being speakeasies or bordellos to believe that. It just didn't seem accommodating to that particular activity, with puddles of water pooling in the floor and just the sheer number of bugs.

The cat ball lights up in response to a question.

Other areas where ghost hunters in our group got a lot of activity were the rest rooms (please, no jokes!) and the entrance to the catwalk from the ballroom on the third floor. 

Getting there: 128 E Martin St #4306, Martinsburg, WV

Website: https://www.apollocivictheatre.org/

The costume room was very spooky!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Discover the Hidden Beauty of the New Cathedral Cemetery

The New Cathedral Cemetery is a Roman Catholic cemetery, with 125 acres, located on the westside of Baltimore.

Established in 1871 in the Victorian rural garden cemetery style, it is the final resting place of 110,000 people, including numerous individuals who played important roles in Maryland history.

As you explore this cemetery, you can't help but notice the strong influence of the Roman Catholic church, with numerous crosses, mournful angels, and other religious icons, and that makes sense, as this is the only cemetery owned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. 

In particular, we noticed a lot of palm frond iconography -- so much so, that the palm fronds stood out. I don't believe we've noticed palm fronds in other cemeteries, or at least, not nearly so many.

But since this is a Catholic cemetery, that makes sense. Palm fronds are a Christian symbol of death and eternal peace. They reference Palm Sunday and symbolize Christ's victory over death. Palm fronds are often incorporated into other symbols on a grave marker, such as a wreath or a cross. 

The cemetery also contains the remains of people who were previously buried in two older Catholic cemeteries: St. Patrick’s Kirkyard and Cathedral Cemetery.

You'll also notice a lot of shamrocks and Celtic crosses accompanying very Irish-sounding names, but the cemetery helps preserve the memories of folks from other heritages and ethnicities, including Italian, French, Black and African American, German and English.

For baseball fans, it is known as the only place in the country where four baseball Hall of Fame members rest for eternity. Three are of Baltimore Orioles’ fame: Ned Hanlon, Joe Kelley and Wilbert Robinson; the fourth is John J. McGraw who managed the Orioles for three seasons before moving over to the New York Giants.

Other notables in the cemetery include John Surratt, one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators who heartlessly left his mother to take the full rap while he fled to Canada; she was hanged with several other conspirators in July 1865 (Mary Surratt was buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington DC).

On a more positive note, Ephraim Francis Baldwin is also buried there. Although his name isn't as well known as Surratt's, it's likely you've seen at least one of the buildings he designed, among which are the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's roundhouse in the Mount Clare neighborhood of Baltimore and the incredibly long B&O Railroad's warehouse, now incorporated into Camden Yards Baseball Stadium.

For ghost lovers and ghost hunters alike, the only thrill you're likely to experience at this tranquil cemetery is from the view of the city, looking over toward the Inner Harbor. In fact, it's worth coming to this cemetery, and climbing up its central hill, just to enjoy that view. If you want to check out a haunted Baltimore cemetery, then head toward the Westminster Burying Ground!

Tombstone tourists will appreciate the beautiful headstones, such as the Key (as in, Frances Scott Key) family plot, although the author of the National Anthem himself is buried in Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery). The angel on top looks as if she's about to take off in flight, toward eternity.

I also was struck by Florence and Adolph Meyers' headstone -- the copper or brass sculpture on the front was beautiful.

Although both Loudon Park and Greenmount Cemetery are larger and have a lot more monuments, no exploration of Baltimore's famous dead is complete without a visit to the beautiful New Cathedral Cemetery.

Getting there: 4300 Frederick Avenue, Baltimore MD

Hours: Daylight

Website: https://www.newcathedralcemetery.org/

Looking for more tombstone tourism? Check out our other cemetery visits:

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

More Than History Haunts the Old Essex Police Fire Station

We joined about 20 other paranormal enthusiasts recently to investigate the hauntings of the 101-year old Essex Police Fire Station, now a museum run by the Essex Historical Society documenting the history of the Essex Middle River area, during an event sponsored by Ghosts N'At.

Built in 1920, the building was intended to house both a fire and a police station for the local community, which had sprang up in the area just over a decade previous. Originally, the fire station was just one-bay, with a bunk room and lockers upstairs. 

In the 1950s, a second bay was added, and the building continued its dual service until July 1970, when a new fire station was built as well as a new police station. Four jail cells -- three for men, one for women -- held criminals and delinquent individuals between the 1920s and 1970s. 

When the police and fire departments moved out, a local family -- the Baumgartners -- thought the building would serve excellently as a historical society headquarters and museum, and negotiated with Baltimore County to obtain the property. By 1974, the Essex Historical Society had obtained a 99-year lease and moved in; the museum opened to the public in 1975.

The Baumgartners and the other volunteers of the Essex Historical Society immediately began experiencing paranormal phenomena. The Moaning Man Sculpture is the most famous. This hand-carved wooden statue was excavated out of the mud of the Back River in 1971 and was one of the first artifacts collected by the historical society. Volunteers and employees of the Historical Society, as well as former police officers, have heard the statue's moans, particularly when the museum goes dark and there's just one living entity left in the building!

Other experiences include hearing ghostly music emanating from the "music room," a museum display that includes an organ, a piano, a violin, a phonograph, and other artifacts that belonged to inhabitants of Essex - Middle River. 

Many individuals have heard the clomping steps of a tired fire fighter, climbing the stairs to return to his bunk on the second floor.

A view of the back of the museum, of the jail cells. The
building held criminals in the cells between 1920s and early 1970s.

Originally, the unincorporated town of Essex comprised of 10 blocks between Mace Avenue to Marlyn Avenue, just outside of Baltimore. It's hard to imagine now, but it was country then, wide-open spaces. The Taylor Land Company marketed Essex in 1909 for Baltimore residents who wanted a place outside the city limits to grow a garden or pursue some other rural activity. Land was cheap and the area was well-marketed for the time, with pamphlets and other advertising. 

Looking up into the fire tower. Note the old ladders to
the left in the photo and the old hose hanging in the center.

Companies seeking a good base of workers soon followed. The Glenn L. Martin Company was the most responsible for spurring the rapid growth of Essex - Middle River. Employment at the company peaked at more than 53,000 workers during World War II. In the years following, industry in the area dwindled, and much of the original Glenn L. Martin facility became the property of the State, including Martin State Airport. The remaining aerospace business followed a progression of corporate mergers and today is owned and operated by Lockheed Martin.

Sadly, the era of plentiful jobs didn't last. The area began declining when a devastating fire in August 1957 destroyed an entire block of businesses on Eastern Boulevard; the business district never fully recovered from that catastrophe. The ten-alarm blaze caused a half million dollars in damages, and, in the time it took to repair the buildings, new shopping centers were built elsewhere: consumers' buying habits changed.

After splitting into four small groups, we headed to our first stop -- the "Avenue," located in the two former truck bays of the fire station. There we set up our cat balls (of course), as well as a teddy bear that lights up in either green or red, and began conducting an spirit box session. The spirit box rotates rapidly through radio station frequencies; often, if you ask a question, you can hear voices answer in brief one or two word responses.

Because of the building's location right on Eastern Avenue, a major thoroughfare leading directly into Baltimore, conducting EVP (electronic voice phenomena) sessions was not practical. Although this is a favorite ghost hunting technique, it's impractical when in a noisy environment. So we depended on spirit boxes, or spirit box apps. 

Throughout the evening, we experienced a variety of things: a rope and stanchion protecting an exhibit suddenly began rocking back and forth, although no one (visible) was near it. We heard odd bangs coming from rooms where there weren't any people. And some names came through the spirit boxes: Ralph, Greg, Alfred, Jim, Freddie, among others. When asked how many spirits were in the building, the answer was a very clear "twelve."

The jail cell hallway seemed to be the most active, and was where I caught the only interesting photo of the day, possibly of an orb. We heard rustling in one of the adjacent cells, but we couldn't rule out a mouse or rat foraging through. It was still creepy. 

I remarked to a friend of mine recently that ghost hunting isn't at all like the horror movies would make it seem -- there's no "starting incident," nor a logical or gradual build up of momentum leading up to a final climax. There's instead, maybe a blip or two, tantalizing you. And then a lot of nothing. You wait. You ask some more questions, you try a different "tool" (none of which, by the way, have been at all reliably proven to be at all successful in either communicating with spirits or reliably indicating their presence. 

But it's fun. And there seem indications, whether via EVPs or spirit boxes, or to lights, that intelligently respond to the questions we ask. And that, I guess, is what draws us to explore these cool locations after dark, when those who walk there, walk alone.

Getting there: 516 Eastern Blvd, Essex

Hours: The Historical Society Museum is open monthly for visitors; please check the museum's website, below, for hours. For future ghost hunts, please check the Ghosts N'At website below.

Websites: Essex Museum http://www.essexmuseum.com; Ghosts N'at https://www.ghostsnat.com/

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Scariest Place I've Ever Been: Ghost Hunting in the Old Mid-Orange Boy Reformatory

The Warwick State Training School for Boys, near Chester NY, opened in 1914 as the New York City Farm, a rehabilitation center for alcohol and drug dependent men. 

It then became the State Training School for Boys in 1933, focused on the rehabilitation of young men, and then transformed again into the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in 1977. It closed for good in 2011.

Since then, its inhabitants have been left in more or less peace, although the ceilings are beginning to crumble and bits and pieces have fallen to the dust-covered floor.


The original buildings are all dark red brick, which glow as the sun sets and darkness begins to settle in amongst the buildings.

Places like this are a ghost-hunters dream: an abandoned place with a long and violent history, with a record of enough deaths on the premises that it almost comes with a guarantee of being haunted.

Although the buildings are no longer in active use, the compound is owned by the Hudson Sports Complex. In the yard, there's a full-size soccer field, with high netting that prevents errant balls from landing too close to the haunted places.

Now just an hour's drive away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, in 1912, when the City purchased farmland to establish a "colony" for men addicted to alcohol, it was a longer drive to this rural setting.

"The Farm" was meant to serve as a rehabilitation center, offering innovative treatment plans for alcohol and drug-dependent inmates, but disappointing results caused the city government to discontinue The Farm in 1918.

However, it re-opened just 2 years later to house drug-addicted inmates of the New York City Department of Correction. In 1929, the facility was transferred to the State of New York’s Department of Social Welfare, and the facility was rebranded as the New York State Training School for Boys. 

By 1931, it housed 103 youth living in 16 cottages, or dormitories, where the boys lived on the first floor in individual rooms while the supervisor and his wife lived on the second floor.

As with most such facilities, it began with such good intentions. The boys would gain practical skills that could lead to jobs: printing, shoe repair, mending, upholstery, and barbering were among the skills taught. In addition, the boys received a full education, worked on the farm, and swam and fished in the adjoining Wickham Lake.

Eventually, though, the Training School changed. By the 1970s, the boys sent to the facility were frequently violent, repeat offenders who often escaped from the premises. In 1976, the state closed the boys school in 1976, but re-opened it a year later as the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. The property was enclosed by a security fence and several new buildings added to the prison.

The reported paranormal activity at the facility ranges from slamming doors to grey aliens. We experienced unexplained knocks, doors being slammed, screaming EVPs (electronic voice phenomena), and rolling cat balls (without any obvious reason for the light up cat ball to roll). One individual in our group broke out in terrible rash.

Laser grids help detect movement during a ghost hunt.

Actually, the rash isn't surprising. What is surprising is that more of us didn't emerge with terrible rashes. No one is maintaining these buildings. Certainly, no one is cleaning them.

Strips of paint -- most likely lead paint, given the era it hails from -- hung in spirals from the ceilings and flaked off the walls. As we walked the floors, we trod on the bits of paint, grinding it into a dust and then, as we shuffled around, our footsteps stirred up that dust.

And, I imagine, asbestos, once touted as a fire retardant, probably forms part of the ceiling tiles and pipe surroundings.

One of my favorite ghost hunting tools is a light up cat ball.

Ghost hunting can be risky business. It doesn't seem as fun to hunt ghosts in clean, well maintained office buildings than in sketchy buildings with piles of debris throughout...

Laptops, phones, and tablets are also helpful tools during a ghost hunt.

We were part of a larger group of about 45, although we were split up into smaller groups, rotating between four three locations: 
  • Dormitory A3, reportedly haunted by a Charles McBride and a Richard (last name unknown). Supposedly, McBride, one of the boys that came to the facility during the more violent era, had committed suicide by hanging himself, although the autopsy indicated multiple bruises on his body, including a slap mark on his face. Mist figures have been witnessed. In addition, this is a rich spot for EVPs, door slams and unexplained knocks and bangs. We heard several loud, unexplained bangs and knocks.

  • Third floor of the Administrative/School Building. The third floor was devoted to a series of chapels or worship spaces for different religions and is said to be haunted by shadow figures. While there, we experienced unexplained footsteps and rustlings. In fact, while we were investigating alone on the third floor, our cat ball lit up, then rolled a foot toward us. (Which was enough -- we picked up our toys and fled.)

  • The basement of the Mess Hall, where the kitchens and refrigerators and freezers are located, are said to be haunted by shadow figures and full-body apparitions. People have been scratched. EVPs are common, and during our group session there, we heard screaming EVPs.

There was a lot of sadness, too, during the ghost hunt. In Room 309, our group encountered the spirit of a little boy who had been hurt and who seemed to be scared. 

This room was particularly active throughout evening with heavy footsteps, light up cat balls, flashlights going on and off seemingly in response to questions, a lot of movement by the dowsing rods. 

When we were investigating up there along, we heard unexplained rustling noises, although thankfully, we didn't witness the shadow figures others have seen and photographed. But the cat ball did light up and roll toward us. That was when we learned we were not very brave ghost hunters.

In the basement of the Mess Hall building we heard screaming EVPs; the group before us captured the EVP response "fun" to the question "do you like us here?" But when the question was asked again, there was a scream in response to same question.

Getting there: Hudson Sports Complex (which owns the abandoned building); 

Hours: Check website below

Website: Hudson Sports

Can't get enough ghost hunts? Check out the following ghost hunts and paranormal investigations we've participated in!

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