A strange knock in the dead of night. A disembodied whisper that seems to beckon you. Shadows that move without the direction of light. The world can be a strange place, filled with unexplained phenomena. But behind every account of “high strangeness,” a term coined by astrophysicist Josef Allen Hynek during his UFO research as part of Project Blue Book, is a team of paranormal investigators searching for answers, even when they know they may not ever find them.
And our area is in no short supply of that strangeness. Dozens of paranormal groups have formed in the last decade or so to investigate supposedly haunted locations just in the tri-state area alone. Some search for answers to the unknown, inspired by the explosion of ghost hunting shows on TV, but for some it’s a calling that they can’t ignore.
New York: Ghost hunting gift leads to anguished phantoms
Spiritualist Bibi Rod, who lives in Chester, NY, has been ghost hunting since she was 10, but not necessarily by choice. From an early age she says she has seen what she describes as ghosts, or entities, a gift shared by many women in her family. She describes it as a gift passed on to the elders in her family, who originally hail from Spain.
Now, after serving in the U.S. air force for a stint and earning a master’s degree in criminology, she’s part of an Orange County-based paranormal group consisting of four other women, each with their own strengths. The group includes women like Rod who purport to sense or see paranormal entities, and others who use technology designed to track motion, temperature and sound not always detected by the human senses.
Rod recounted an investigation of an abandoned boy’s school in Goshen, NY, known as the Salesian. With permission from the police, her team investigated the location during the day. According to legend, a priest at the school threw a nine-year-old boy off the roof, who now haunts the grounds. Rod’s crew attempted to contact the priest by speaking in Italian, since many priests at the time spoke that language. As soon as they started asking questions in Italian, Rod said, “We started hearing walking in the hallway; then we thought we heard a young boy say ‘help me.’”
The Salesian operated as a boy’s school from 1925 to 1985. The town and village of Goshen purchased the property in 2002 for $1.26 million and turned a portion of its 51 acres into a park. Now all that remains is a concrete slab, a hidden altar in the woods, and a few staircases to nowhere.
Rod also recalled an investigation at a private residence in Goshen involving an entity disturbing a young couple’s baby. Each night the baby would wake up screaming and, after ruling out all the other reasons babies scream at night, the family put a camera in the baby’s room and saw what appeared to be a figure or shadow coming from the closet. The activity then intensified, with cabinets seeming to open by themselves and objects tossed about the house. That’s when the family called Rod’s paranormal team. Rod’s crew investigated the history of the house, and discovered that the property used to include a farmhouse owned by a man who had lost his baby and wife. Did his ghost now want to take the new homeowner’s baby for his own? This was the homeowner’s fear. So the other spiritualists in Rod’s crew performed rituals to “cleanse” the house of what they considered an angry entity, and even created a ceremonial shrine dedicated to the mother and child that died there. Rod says the entity has not returned; that baby is now around seven years old.
In another case, in Sugarloaf, NY, Rod described encountering a racist ghost who said it would not speak to “slaves,” after she attempted contact. The entity was reportedly a slave owner who would not let the spirits of his enslaved people leave the property. Rod said they couldn’t see more than the outline of a hat and shadowy movement, but its anger was evident. “Sugarloaf is very haunted,” she concluded. “There’s a lot of activity in Orange County.”
Just down the road from Sugarloaf stands another hot spot of activity: Museum Village in Monroe, NY. Dan Pacella, who co-founded Orange County Paranormal with his wife Emily, has been investigating paranormal activity for about eight years. He doesn’t claim to have any psychic ability and describes his paranormal pursuits more as a “really expensive hobby.” They had been trying to investigate the village for a while, and it did not disappoint. “We caught a few things... voices, things answering our questions,” Pacella says. He shares his findings on his official website: orangecountyparanormal.com.
For both Rod and Pacella, the most rewarding part of paranormal investigating, aside from sating their own curiosity, is when they can provide a homeowner with some validation, some closure that they aren’t the only ones experiencing unexplained phenomena.
New Jersey: Haunted cave, bridge and cannabinoid store
Heading further south, just over the border in West Milford, NJ, travelers will find Clinton Road, a winding, mostly wooded road that skirts Clinton Reservoir. A host of paranormal sightings, strange lights, dark figures, even menacing rumors of KKK sightings have been reported there. The publication “Weird NJ” has catalogued many of the tales, few of which have roots in actual history. One is of a ghost boy who hangs out under one of the road’s bridges and reportedly fetches coins that people toss into the water. Of course, this has led to the waterways being littered with coins and other trash, as well as graffiti.
Head west to Sussex County, and once again the history of the area includes rumors of several local hauntings. Some of these places have even capitalized on the rumors. The Haunted Vapor Room in Franklin, NJ, sells cannabinoid products such as CBD oil, gummies and vape products, but it also reportedly harbors a few paranormal entities. Customer Nancy Podkowka, who lives in Lafayette, NJ, has reported seeing ghostly figures inside: “A farm worker in the attic. A soldier in the basement. I couldn’t go into one part of the basement because I sensed fear in that area.”
The “Cave Grave” of Newton, which pays homage to three children who lost their lives while exploring the vast caves that lie underneath Sussex County, now has its own ghost story, brought to us by the folks at “Weird NJ:”
In 1909 a young girl named Margaret entered the cave and got lost. Her two brothers then went in to find her and also never returned. The bodies of the three children were reportedly never found, but a gravestone chiseled with their names now seals the entranceway to that cave. Some graveside lurkers have reported seeing the ghost of a girl wearing a dirty white dress and clutching her neck as if unable to breathe.
Some hauntings are derived from fiction and our own imaginations. Sussex County Historian Bill Truran recalled a story of an old Victorian-style house called the Martin House, in Wantage, NJ. Although it no longer stands, it once overlooked Route 23 across from the former Cardinal Coat factory, which now houses Franklin Sussex Auto Mall. Truran said neighborhood kids were fearful of the home, but not due to a haunting or some grisly death. He suspected the fear came purely from the house’s placement on a hill, and its uncanny resemblance to Norman Bates’ house in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho.” People don’t need to be haunted to feel haunted.
Pennsylvania: Spooky museum and missing head
Across the river in Milford, Pennsylvania, home of the Pike County Historical Society and Columns Museum, the museum is rumored to be haunted.
“Over the years, on more than one occasion, museum guests have experienced a ‘presence’ on the second floor. It is believed to be the ghost of Juliette Peirce — second wife of the philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce,” Museum Director Lori Strelecki said.
She noted that the second floor includes many items that belonged to the couple, including Juliette’s mourning attire, but she added, “As someone who has spent many years working in the museum, I can say I have never experienced any ghostly encounters with Juliette, or anyone else for that matter.”
Strelecki also recounted another wild piece of local history. “In other horrific happenings... a man named Herman Paul Schultz journeyed to Shohola from Brooklyn in search of his wife, Lizzie. She had left him and was trying to avoid him by changing her name and taking a job in remote Shohola at a boarding house. This was around 1898. Herman found her and she ended up dead — shot in the head — after an overnight visit from Mr. Schultz. He claimed she killed herself and went merrily on his way back to Brooklyn. Months later he was brought back and charged with murdering Lizzie. He was found guilty at trial, held in Milford, and sentenced to death by hanging.
“It is said that an investigation into the shooting called for the forensic folks to take a look at the entry wound caused by the bullet to her head that did her in,” Strelecki said. “Rather than transport her entire body to the coroner, it is said they simply lopped off her head, as that is the only part they really needed. The location of the wound proved unlikely to be self-inflicted and Herman found himself at the center of a murder trial--and found guilty. His last request was to have his wife’s head buried with him. Not granted. The mystery remains as to what actually happened to her head. It is said that it was kept in a box in the basement of the Pike County Courthouse. In years past there have been a few tales of a disembodied head floating around in that creepy old basement, and from very credible sources.”
Strelecki said that the noose used to hang Schultz and the gun that he used to shoot Lizzie are on display at the museum, but added, “We do not have her head. Sorry.”
Strelecki said the museum also includes a blood-stained American flag, some dead birds and “a creepy doll that seems to move on her own from time to time.”
The Columns Museum, located at 608 Broad Street, Milford, is open Wednesday and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“There’s a lot of activity in Orange County.” - Bibi Rod, paranormal investigator
“A farm worker in the attic. A soldier in the basement. I couldn’t go into one part of the basement because I sensed fear in that area.” - Nancy Podkowka, Lafayette resident.
“The mystery remains as to what actually happened to her head.” - Columns Museum Director Lori Strelecki.