Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Five Things I Learned on My First Ghost Hunt (and some really fun other stuff)

By Tamara Girardi

So, this month is spooky October. I love October. It's my birthday month; the fall colors are gorgeous, and the weather is perfect. But nothing beats Halloween.

One of my coolest ghostly tales involves my ghost hunting adventure at Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio. It's been a while, but the experience has stayed with me for sure. For your enjoyment, I'm reposting my blog entry from immediately following the ghost hunt. Enjoy!

1. I am nothing like Leia Angeletti, my brave, 17-year-old ghost-hunting heroine.

2. I am a big scaredy-cat.

3. Fear of heights and a cell block with a low railing do not mix.

4. I am not patient enough to hang out and wait for a spirit to manifest.

5. I'm a really bad ghost hunter!

The picture to the right is my favorite from last night. In it, you can see down the long hallway of the West Cell Block at the Manfield State Reformatory. If you notice the cells are on the right, and to the left is basically a cage.

The East Cell Block has no cage. There is simply a hip-high railing, and as you can imagine, several inmates were thrown to their death as a result.

The building itself is amazing. In the video posted here yesterday, a former prisoner compared it to Dracula's castle. That's an incredibly appropriate comparison for several reasons.

The exterior is spooky yet gorgeous. The architecture demands attention and fools new visitors into believing the interior could be palace-like. As you can imagine, though, that anticipation doesn't deliver.

Inside, paint is chipping from the cell bars, walls, and ceilings. Wooden floors in the former wardens' living quarters soften as you walk over them creating nearly as much fear and anxiety as the graffiti on the walls and the violent history the tour guide revealed, which plays in your mind throughout the night.

The Attic

As the stories go, an inmate was helping with work in the attic once upon a time. The guards left him, and he committed suicide by hanging. Although many of the members of Spirited Ghost Hunting have been to Mansfield several times, they had never been in the attic. It was too dangerous - because of the mess, not because of the ghosts.

But after scarfing some pizza, we headed for the attic above the East Cell Block in a group of 8 around 11 p.m. We wandered around in the dark, flash lights bouncing off the walls and lingering on massive holes in the ceiling where plaster was peeling and hanging low, feet shuffling against the mounds of dirt and dust.

Across the attic were what appeared to be shower stalls like this one, which brings me to our first point of investigation.

My husband and I were standing in this stall while other groups were in adjacent stalls. Everyone was doing their best to be still and quiet while we recorded some electronic voice phenomenon or EVPs.

Rachelle, Spirited Ghost Hunting's fearless leader, was asking questions such as why are you here, what year is it, and what is your name?

She asked if anyone was there could they give us a sign. We heard a bang on hollow metal. I recognized the sound immediately. A few minutes earlier another hunter Tonya and I had squeezed through a small door frame to find an old furnace and stairs to other aged heating or water devices. That area is on the other side of the wall from the shower stalls.

Rachelle asked more questions and again asked for a sign, a noise of any kind or movement in the room. At that moment, Dom moved next to me.

"Did you hear that?" he asked.

"Yeah, stop moving," I told him, fearing we were going to get yelled at for improper ghost hunting etiquette. We were supposed to be quiet!

"No, someone threw something at me," he said. I was standing in the doorway of the stall, so it didn't come from that direction.

The rest of the group came into our little stall. We flashed lights on the floor and found a piece of glass. Glass hitting the floor made sense with the sound both of us had heard. I assumed he stepped on something or dropped something, but he insisted the glass either fell through the hole in the ceiling of the stall or the hole on the wall.

Tonya and I insisted no one was in that room. We had just been back there. To investigate, we all filed through the doorway into the next room to find a few other ghost hunters enjoying the joke they'd just played on us!

A couple more things about the attic before we move on. The history in the building is obviously incredible. It was opened in 1896 and first housed youth offenders. They were taught trades and "reformed" before being released. Then around World War I, more serious adult offenders called it home. At one time, it housed Death Row. Although its capacity is 1,100 prisoners, the most it ever held was 3,600. Clearly, overcrowding was an issue.

That's one of the reasons why in the 1970s, officials were pushing to have it closed. The decision was made in 1978, and it took 12 years to transfer all of the prisoners before the doors closed to corrections in 1990. Now, it's privately owned and preserved as a historical landmark.

I'm not sure why so many prisoners were up in the attic or why the place hasn't gotten a paint job for 80 years. I guess it's always possible that someone got creative and jotted some notes more recently than that, but above, you can see one of the many "I was here" notes.

It's hard to make out the details, but it's from prisoner 30890, who was transferred from Cleveland to serve at Mansfield in 1933. Some of the notes included reasons for incarceration.

A number or name. A crime. A date. I guess in their everyday lives, those were the most relevant attributes.

The notes illustrate a desire similar to Brooks' need to be remembered in The Shawshank Redemption, which was filmed at Mansfield. The halfway house Brooks lived in when he left the prison was filmed in one of the prison's administration rooms.

But back to the attic. We had one more experiment for the spirits, if they were with us. Four people set their flashlights in the middle of the floor. We crowded around them.

We got our voice recorders ready, and Jami, a really nice guy and fun ghost hunter, started with the questions. The main request was for the spirit to use the battery power in the flashlights as energy, thus shutting the flash light off. A particular line of questioning yielded a flicker in one of the lights.

"Did your family not visit you? Were they ashamed of what you'd done?"

The flicker was very visible. Not groundbreaking research or ironclad proof of paranormal activity, but clearly visible. After a few questions, Jami went back to the family questions again, but no more flickers, and none of the lights were extinguished.

When you're hoping for something to happen, it's hard not to assume or conclude prematurely. For instance, take a look at this photo of Rachelle and Colleen in the attic.

If you look closely above both of their heads, you see orbs. You can see one to the left of Rachelle (who's in the brown shirt and black shorts) and one right above Colleen's head. Farther above them, you see a few other orbs floating around.

I'd conclude these are dust particles. The validity of orbs carries a heavy debate. Some people believe if there is any color to them, it means they are paranormal whereas colorless orbs are simply dust particles. Others rule them out completely. Some, still, jump at any orb in a photograph and are excited about the implications.

*If you're interested in the followup to this post and want to hear some spooky Electronic Voice Phenomenon, link to the post on my blog here.


Joyce said...

Very cool, Tamara. Sounds like a fun way to spend a night! I think the old penitentiary in Moundsville, WV gives ghost tours. Have you been there?

I've gone on the Ghosts of Gettysburg tour a couple of times. The stories are fun, but no one on any of the tours I went on saw a ghost. Kind of disappointing, but it probably would have scared the crap out of me if a ghost showed up.

Martha Reed said...

Great spooky post, Tamara. You're braver than I am!

How are things going for your paranormal sleuth?

Gina said...

I second Martha, Tamara. You are definitely braver than I am. I never seek ghosts out! Even at Lilydale, I feel uncomfortable during message services, even when they are held in broad daylight outdoors. I have stayed at the supposedly haunted hotel there, but I luckily saw/heard/felt nothing.

Laurie said...

Very interesting post, Tamara. It sounds like a great experience. I agree with Gina in that I would never seek a ghost, and I also hope that one never seeks me!

Happy Birthday!

Tamara said...

Thanks for the comments.

Joyce - sorry to hear about Gettysburg. That is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in America. You'd think you'd get something! Although at Mansfield, I wasn't certain I saw something, but I did feel some really odd things that couldn't be isolated for certain as having been caused by ghosts. I have not been to Moundsville, but I will go at some point for sure!

Martha, my paranormal sleuth is doing well. She is in business today, and I'm hoping I can finish all of my revisions today. It's just tying up some loose ends now. The PhD has really slowed me down, but I hope the agents who were interested still are. We shall see.

Gina, I love Lily Dale! It does have a unique ambiance. I stayed at that hotel too, and my sister swears she heard noises in the attic!

Gosh, I love spooky stories!!!

Tamara said...

Thanks, Laurie, for the birthday wishes!

I've always loved ghost stories and horror movies (although I used to force myself to fall asleep at the scary parts when I was a kid!), and ghost hunting often tells you more about yourself and your limits than about ghosts. I think anyway.

Jennie Bentley said...

You couldn't pay me to do that. Cool story, gorgeous building - on the outside - but wandering through there with a flashlight late at night? No thanks. I like ghosts, or the idea of them anyway, but I don't like being scared, and that's what it would amount to. Still, more power to you!

Ramona said...

Tamara, how fascinating. It is creepy to think of the secrets this Mansfield place still holds. Even without the paranormal element, I shudder at what probably went on there.

You are one intrepid writer to take on this kind of adventure!

Annette said...

Very creepy, Tamara.

Joyce, I notice you didn't mention the ghost tour of Baltimore.

(grumble, grumble)