Jeff Jerome is often asked if he’s ever spent a night in The Edgar Allan Poe House. His answer has always been a whimsical, “No.” But any lingering regrets on the part of Jerome, the curator of the museum for almost 35 years, may have ended last Saturday night. That was when he hosted popular paranormal investigators, The Ghost Detectives, at the place where the legendary author of Berenice launched his prolific writing career.
The Ghost Detectives, whose television show airs on the Fox affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., investigated several sites of supernatural interest in Baltimore, including the Poe House, Westminster Hall and Burial Grounds, where Poe and his wife are interred, and the Admiral Fell Inn in Fells Point.
The detectives always had wanted to look into the late author’s haunts, but it was actually the inn which finally drew them to Baltimore. Arriving in a vintage hearse, emblazoned with custom graphics and neon lights, they invited the Baltimore Post-Examiner along for the ride.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
The Ghost Detectives consist of about 20 members. On hand on this particular Saturday evening for the Baltimore investigations were co-founder Bob Christopher, his wife, Kathy, and their 20-something year old daughter Katie.
With point man Steven Barry, the Christophers were joined by investigators Anthony Romano, Jr., David Conklin Jr., Kim Shiner, Mark Hromisin and Mike Curtis (who laughingly pointed out he is not the former Baltimore Colts great).
Katie Christopher, the detective’s Case Manager, responds to 25 to 30 emails per week and answers most of the telephone calls. Fielding so many requests for help, Christopher has learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. She’s always suspicious of people who start by saying, “I’m a huge fan of the show.”
One of the questions she always asks callers is, “Are you on any medications?”“Some meds make people hallucinate. If I suspect that’s what’s going on, I suggest they speak with their doctor.” Still, Christopher is patient with her callers. “You just never know.”
And she allows that, “3600 fans on Facebook isn’t bad for a local TV show.”Katie’s father, Bob, stated his interest in the paranormal started when he was just a boy. Bob makes it clear that ghost investigations are not an exact science.
“We prefer to leave things open to interpretation.” The elder Christopher also states that instances where a ghost is actually seen are extremely rare. In more than 300 investigations, he has only seen two apparitions; both were on the same night at the same location.
There is an entire lexicon, which goes along with paranormal investigations. Terms like AVP (audible voice phenomena) and EVP (electronic voice phenomena) meld with something called a “Ghost box” which scans the bands in between AM frequencies.
Some of the equipment the detectives depend on is standard Radio Shack fare, like portable voice recorders or the digital thermometer the team uses to establish base readings. A Sony digital camera with infrared night shot is also readily available and is a whole lot lighter than the cumbersome video cameras of the past. Thermal imaging cameras, which are used by police and firefighters, also come into play.
Then there are proprietary devices such as light vibration sensors, the HTO – trigger object detector, which uses any personal object (like a common house key or a child’s toy) to attract the attention of the deceased, or the Ovilus 1, a voice detector created with paranormal investigations in mind.
Much of the evidence the detectives collect can be quickly explicated. A strange sound may be a cat in the alley or the creaking of ancient floor boards. Radio waves or a power line can set off the sensitive electronic meters. David Conklin noted that the digital voice recorder is, “a really good tool for debunking.” But some of the evidence is hard to explain away.
When the team investigated the Black Horse Inn in Easton, Pa. – a tavern where, in 1928, a mobster named Johnny Farrara was gunned down by fellow gangsters – the Ovilus produced a word which is not in its programmed vocabulary. The word was “whacked”; a term gangsters used to describe a mob style execution.
On another investigation, where the team was looking into reports of the specter of a dead priest, the team discerned the word, “pray.”
Mark Hromisin, the group’s audio investigator, listens to hour after hour of tape. Has he ever deciphered a hidden message?
“Yes” he replies, “a voice saying, ‘We’re watching you.’”
A ROOM WITH A BOO!
The Admiral Fell Inn is listed on the website TripAdvisor.com as one of the most haunted hotels in America. Trip Advisor came up with the list by calculating which hotels had the greatest number of traveler comments referencing “ghosts” or “haunted”. The inn was the only hotel in Maryland to make the list of “rooms with a Boo!”
Steven Barry, a seasoned detective, said his wife took some pictures at the inn while staying there two years ago. Once home, she noticed on one print some sort of apparition. Intrigued, Steve called the inn to see if he could set up an investigation.
Larry Noto, who is the director of marketing for The Admiral Fell Inn, loved the idea and gave the detectives carte banche to carry on their work. The detectives ran a battery of tests in several alleged “hot” spots through the wee hours of Saturday morning.
From 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 4, the inn hosted a “meet and greet” with the Ghost Detectives. Passersby could converse with the crew, see much of the specialized equipment or buy a souvenir t-shirt or a mug. In the background, a regularly scheduled ghost tour was taking place.
Ted and Lynn, two hotel guests from Atlanta, wandered past the detective’s displays. When asked if they had ever had any kind of encounter with the supernatural, the couple shared: “When we checked into here, we discovered that every drawer in our room was open. Two night stands, a chest of drawers, every single one. We called the desk clerk about this and he assured us that housekeeping would have never left the room like that. We asked for a different room.”
HOP-FROGING HAUNTED BALTIMORE
After a profitable Friday night of screening at least five areas in the Admiral Fell Inn, the team was looking forward to checking out the two Poe sites. Unfortunately, they were unable to set up an overnight at Westminster Hall.
Undeterred, they made a quick twilight visit before moving on to the Poe House. Jerome, who was on hand for the meet and greet, was asked if the Poe House is haunted. He admits he is not so sure.
The curator describes himself as, “Someone who tries to keep an open mind.” He did recount several strange happenings in the recent history of the small, urban museum, like the reports from the 1970s of people feeling a tap on the shoulder in one particular spot. Or the time an actor, who had repaired to an empty room to change into period costume, was stunned by a window sash which seemed to fly across the room and land with a crash at his feet.
When Jerome heard the noise and rushed in to see what had happened, he found the ashen actor gathering his things while beating a hasty retreat to the door. Not everybody senses the spiritual at the Poe House. Lori, a student at University of Baltimore, took a tour with several out of town friends on Saturday afternoon. When asked if she perceived anything unusual, she reported no creepy feeling while inside the Poe House.
Her friend Mike, who was visiting from Norfolk, Va., also said he felt nothing strange while walking through the museum. However, Mike shared a scary experience he’d had while doing construction work at the site of an old Civil War hospital.
“I was in an area which had been excavated when I felt this eerie presence. I don’t know what it was, I didn’t see anything, but it just gave me the chills. I got out of there as fast as I could.”
John, from Westchester, Pa., who earlier in the day had stopped to visit the The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, Pa., brought his wife Mary, her mom and his niece, Alisa, to Baltimore for the Poe House tour. Also on their agenda was a trip to Westminster Hall and a viewing of the new movie, The Raven. When asked if they’d felt anything unusual while touring the tiny house, the group said no. But when asked if they knew that the Ghost Detectives would be conducting an investigation that night, the teenaged Alisa replied, “I wanna get out of here now.”
TAPPING AT MY CHAMBER DOOR
At 8:30 p.m., after a quick stop in the Westminster Burial Grounds, the Ghost Detectives set up shop at the Poe House. Once they had taken the ambient temperature readings and started some of the recording equipment, the party split up into two separate units. The first team included investigators Kathy Christopher, daughter Katie and Kim Shiner. Shiner later explained the reason why, on occasion, only the women enter a house. She said that some spirits, particularly those of women and children, seem more amenable to making their presence known to a woman than to a man.
After conducting their part of the investigation, the women (along with two other detectives) returned to the Admiral Fell Inn to continue their tests of that particular site. The second team then entered and carried out a series of probes. Interestingly, each time something triggered a meter or seemed a bit out of sorts, their first response was to methodically work through a checklist of natural explanations.
The Ghost Detectives are clearly comfortable with the role of skeptical scientists. A mysterious recording was considered on site, as was a hit on an energy meter. Was this proof that spirits were indeed in our midst? It was hard to tell. Both were deemed worthy of a comprehensive, computer-driven analysis. The team moved purposefully from room to room, but by midnight, their time at the Poe House had expired.
Bob Christopher ruefully sighed as he left the house, “I wish we had a little more time.”
So, do spirits hold forth at The Poe House or is it just another site where ordinary sounds send the skittish running? We’ll leave that for The Ghost Detectives to sort out. The episode will likely run sometime in June. In the meantime this reporter must agree with the take of another expert on the macabre, the late Vincent Price, who, after touring the Poe House many years ago, said, “This place gives me the creeps.”
(See Save the Poe House for more information.)
(All photos by Erik Hoffman)