Historic and Haunted?

Homestead Orphanage, Gettysburg, PA photo by Jeffrey B. Roth, used with permission

 Historic and Haunted?

I used to be a member of a paranormal team in Gettysburg, PA. In the beginning, when the group was still pretty new, we, for obvious reasons, found ourselves in historic buildings and locations near the battlefield or in town. The founder of the group talked about the link between history and location. He even spoke, way back when, before anyone was doing this, of trying to get a TV show that highlighted historic locations which were reported to be haunted, and fund raise for the preservation and support and renovation of these historic sites. We did that a few times. We ran group paranormal guest investigations of a few historic places, with proceeds going to the location. The TV show never happened, as they almost never do, but the idea was a great one, and other groups and TV shows have used that idea with much success.

The link between historic locations and hauntings is one that is advantageous to each group; the paranormal groups that want to investigate famous haunted locations, and the historical preservationists and societies, who need fund raisers for the support of their locations. Many of these organizations do work together for mutual benefit. Some with great success, some not so much.

Take Fort Mifflin, in eastern Pennsylvania.
 Some of the largest battles of The American Revolution were fought on the frozen, marshy ground within the stone walls of Fort Mifflin. Sitting just below the city of Philadelphia and across the river from New Jersey's Fort Mercer, the fort held the British Navy at bay, providing time for Washington's troups to arrive at Valley Forge.

 "For nearly six weeks in the fall of 1777, American troops in Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer frustrated British naval attempts to re-supply their occupying forces in Philadelphia. Early in the morning on November 10, 1777, the British took definitive action to reach Philadelphia via the Delaware. Daybreak brought a rain of cannon fire upon Fort Mifflin, beginning the largest bombardment of the Revolutionary War."
 Quote from the Fort Mifflin website: www.fortmifflin.us/

 While attending "The Gathering," a paranormal event in Gettysburg in August of this year, I met a woman who works tirelessly to raise funds to support Fort Mifflin, to keep it open, operational, and a historical site for visitors. The paranormal events held at the fort help to support this historical site. This is one of the first historic locations which have benefited successfully from such fund raising.
 Fort Mifflin charges $45 for a paranormal tour evening.

Many historic locations both raise funds and awareness of the history of their locations by booking paranormal events. Many do so strictly to maintain and support renovation projects. Many more do so for the pure commercial profit of the venture. One such place is The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. Paranormal tours will set you back $40 for two hours. An eight hour overnight guided tour will cost  you $100. Something called the "Light Painting Workshop" for photographers, costs $200. They offer everything, even special Halloween events. Here is what the website says regarding the cost of renovation:

"Despite being designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1990, the hospital has deteriorated to the point where its very survival is threatened. The entire facility and 300 acres were privately purchased in August of 2007 and renamed Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA) from The Weston State Hospital. With the aid of government grants, private donations, fundraising events, and a team of dedicated local volunteers, we are committed to restoring the TALA to its former grandeur, thus reviving the local economy and preserving an important piece of American history. To help, sign up to be a volunteer or make a donation. Come help us preserve our area’s greatest treasure. We need the support of the community to keep the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum standing and for the extensive repair work needed to preserve her."
quote from: trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com/

In my research I found many sites which claim that the notoriety of the TV shows which feature thier historic location has not benefited them at all. As a matter of fact, it has been detrimental, and even dangerous.

One such place is the Goldfield Hotel in Goldfield, Nevada. According to Angela Haag, a researcher for the Central Navada Museum and an officer of the Goldfield Historical Society, the supernatural claims and television exposure, have caused vandalism to the hotel to significantly increase.

 "It’s been vandalized multiple times since the last investigative show aired in 2008. Not just the hotel is targeted, but surrounding historical properties as well."

 “People think it’s a free-for-all,” Haag said. "The more vandalism that occurs to these old properties, the slimmer the chances of anyone coming up with the money to restore them–ghost stories or not."

The ghost stories may also be less than accurate or verified. According to Haag, the ghost stories are
“based on someone’s paranormal experience, not based on fact.”   Also, these ghost stories never emerged into the local–or national–scene until the 1980s when Shirley Porter wrote a book But You Can’t Leave, Shirley, about her purchase and attempted renovation of the Goldfield Hotel (and the ghosts therein).
source:  http://www.oldhouseweb.com/blog/ghost-stories-goldfield-hotel/ Story written by contributing writer JoVan Sotak. Article: The Goldfield Hotel: When Ghost Stories are Bad for Historical Locations."

This location has been featured on such paranormal TV shows as Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters. The publicity these shows afford the location can be a real source of money, but may also be a danger to the location.
The Jennie Wade House, Gettysburg, PA photo by Jeffrey B.Roth, used with permission

Personally, I have seen both benefit and harm to the financial enterprises which have risen from the claims of haunted history. In Gettysburg, where I frequent, Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Avenue have become tourist traps extraordinaire. A stroll down Steinwehr Avenue will remind you of the previous century and the hacks, barkers and fakers standing on the street calling out to you to "book a ghost tour with us!!"  Groups have little, gaudy shops along the Avenue, featuring immediate booking of ghost walks, tours, even pub crawls, for a pricy price. The "historic" tours are anything but. Don't trust these people with any accuracy of historic information. They are basically making it up as they go from legend, myth, and lies. It's like a carnival; colorful, cheap, intrusive, ugly, and obnoxious. Even formerly classy restaurants like the Dobbin House and the Farnsworth Inn are offering ghost tours on location with dinner, for a price. It sort of ruins the dining ambiance for me.
Sachs Bridge, photo my Pam Wellington

The battlefields of Gettysburg are not open to ghost tours of any kind. It is illegal to go onto the battlefield to investigate and you will be arrested and fined heavily for being caught there at night. The legends of hauntings in town are recent. My boyfriend lives near Gettysburg and grew up there. There were no rumors of ghosts in town until very recently, the past ten years. Before that, he used to go to Sachs Bridge to fish as a child. Many locals still do. It's a beautiful, peaceful place, until it starts to get dark. Then the tourists and paranormal enthusiasts flood the place, K2 meters in hand, flashlights blinking, camera flashes blinding you, talking into voice recorders to try and capture EVPs. There really are no ghosts at Sachs Bridge. At least I don't think there are. Maybe there used to be. The tourists who pack the place, especially on weekends, have chased the last of the wraiths away. Now it's screeching owls, and swooping bats at best, that scare the tourists. But you can get some great orb pictures. The bridge spans a stream, so it is always damp, foggy, misty and swarming with bugs,  perfect for that orb shot. In my enthusiast days, I thought I caught a picture of a Civil War Soldier at the bridge. I still see him, head to foot, mustache, gun, and all. No one else does, however. It's probably pareidolia. It's a shot into the woods and trees, foliage, shadows and branches mocking legs and arms and mustaches. Oh well.
"civil war soldier" ?? probably not. Photo taken by Pam Wellington

Do paranormal groups who run tours and walks benefit historic locations? Sometimes they do and sometimes they only benefit their own pockets. But it seems to me that interest in history is on the rise. So it's probably all around a good thing.


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