York, PA – Two glazed, beady eyes of a blonde-haired baby doll pierced the darkness, staring at Jan Klinedinst and Tom Shirey, as if to cry out, “Hey, I’m watching you.”
But silence — or so it seemed — filled the second floor of the John Wright Restaurant, a former warehouse built in 1916, as Shirey reached for his tripod and audio recorder.
“I wish I had a third hand to pick everything up,” he said, tucking the pink-clad toy, jittery eyelids and all, under his arm.
An audio replay of that moment reveals a young girl’s high-pitched voice seemingly squealing, “Let me see!” amplified using Audacity audio software by Tom Arnold, the team’s tech guru.
To some, it’s all coincidence — street noise or an intercepted cellphone transmission.
To this crew, it means one thing:
Ghosts are in their midst.
And they are In the Midst of Ghosts, a York County trio formed last year to “excavate” — not “hunt” — for spirits.
It starts with learning a place’s history. What happened there? Names. Dates. Times.
Next, they return after dark, cataloging each bump and disembodied voice like an artifact pulled from the dirt, said Klinedinst, founder of Down to Earth Archaeology .
Eight years ago, she said she developed a sense for the paranormal while working at the Dritt Mansion, a mid-1700s estate in Lower Windsor Township.
But don’t look for her crew in abandoned mental hospitals teeming with tortured souls or fields where thousands went down in bloody battle.
Those areas are “fished out,” Arnold said, whereas York County treasures, such as the Yorktowne Hotel, the Wrightsville House and the Goodridge House, are not.
These places, they say, stand to make a buck on those bumps in the night.
“I’m thinking outside the box to bring tourism to York, Pennsylvania, rather than everyone running to Gettysburg to go find a ghost,” Klinedinst said. “Along with that comes the knowledge and the history. … You need to show that you did your homework. Find who lived here and talk to them. Find out who that little girl was.”
The owners of Hykes Mill invested thousands converting their more-than-a-century-old stone structure into the house of horrors where Elmer and Gertrude Zimmerman slaughtered children more than 150 years ago.
Shrieks and moans still echo throughout the surrounding community.
That’s what they tell the more than 5,000 annual visitors to the Conewago Township Halloween park, open six weeks a year.
But what lurks inside the 16,000-square-foot former feed mill the other 46 weeks of the calendar has the hired help — normally in full swing this time of year — finicky, thanks to a visit from In the Midst of Ghosts.
“It’s a haunted house,” said manager Jesse Lapp, “but we’re just starting to accept the fact that, well, maybe it is haunted.”
First, Klinedinst researched the site, where a mill was initially constructed in 1788 by Martin Shetter.
The present structure was built in 1849 by Jacob S. Bear. It was last operated in 1956 by Harry Hykes.
“You’re talking thousands of thousands of people going through there for the Halloween entertainment not even thinking are there real ghosts here,” Shirey said. “We go in there and all of a sudden, from day one, we’re getting responses.”
In an analyzed recording, Klinedinst asks, “Do you live here in the mill?”
A few seconds go by.
A male voice seems to say, “Maybe,” she said.
Lapp supports the claim with other examples: an inkjet printer spitting out blank papers and overhead footsteps coupled with dust particles falling from the floorboard cracks.
Explanations were rationalized — “80-pound squirrels, I guess,” Lapp said.
“This is a family business. It provides revenue for the family and the property,” he added. “Any strange events have always been ignored, chalked up to coincidence and forgotten about.”
Even more prevalent, perhaps, than paranormal activity are the economic realities of running a seasonal attraction.
Family entertainment budgets are tight these days, Lapp said. The property’s 17 acres require year-round maintenance.
To offset costs, Hykes Mill is considering tours with In the Midst of Ghosts in its off seasons, Lapp said.
Why not? If you’ve got ghosts, flaunt it.
“If this can pay our property taxes, which are outrageous,” Lapp said, “I’d be happy.”
Liz Winand and her husband purchased the building at 2092 Long Level Road to house their outdoors store, Shank’s Mare Outfitters.
It rests on a part of the Susquehanna River so quiet the only interruptions arise from motorists, a gas fireplace humming in the rookery and Rottweiler paws patting against the wood floor.
Still, there’s “the distinct feeling that you’re not alone,” Winand said. “There’s a presence here.”
Klinedinst, a longtime customer, felt it, too.
In the 1890s, the former general store served as a turnstile for travelers along the Susquehanna Canal.
The rear served as a turn-of-the-century speakeasy. In the basement, they stored the hooch.
The general store closed in 1979, and the building remained vacant until 1988.
Klinedinst believes a life energy — a residual of the events that transpired there –still occupies the space.
“A couple theories would be if there’s a place of high emotion, when you’re living on the earth, that’s where you may end up,” Shirey said.
In the Midst of Ghosts certified Shank’s Mare as a “Haunted Heritage” site, a designation Klinedinst created to pinpoint paranormal activity, Klinedinst said.
Upon request, she said, the certification — along with ghostly evidence — can be entered in a site’s file with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
“The entities are the history,” she said. “If I come across an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) that has a man’s name who lived there, that is history. The way I record it is the same way I record artifacts found in a prehistoric site.”
At the 87-year-old Yorktowne Hotel, a housekeeper swears unseen hands open and close a curtain by the elevator on a certain floor.
Rick Cunningham, manager since 1985, won’t say which. He isn’t sure he believes.
“I’ve never been spooked,” he said. “I guess that would be the best way to put it.”
Six months ago, “pure curiosity,” he said, led him to In the Midst of Ghosts.
He allowed the group to investigate the York mainstay, never synonymous with ghoulish guests.
It’s not that people haven’t asked.
“Is this place haunted?” is something Cunningham hears at least once a month.
When a hotel is old, people just assume things, he said. “It’s not something they experienced while being here.”
But something’s brewing in the bowels of the structure in a former barbershop beneath the lobby that closed in the early 2000s, Shirey said. It is scheduled to reopen this summer as a spa.
There, Shirey said he heard voices talking and captured orbs — mysterious balls of light caught on camera.
Still, Cunningham isn’t quite sure. His usual answer for anyone inquiring about the Yorktowne’s ghosts is simple: “I don’t know.”
“If someone catches me in the lobby and asks about it, they might get a grin from me,” he said. “At this point, I’m not ready to market it the way you see Salem, Massachusetts, market it.”
The hotel he speaks of — the Hawthorne Hotel — is a colleague of the Yorktowne’s in Historic Hotels of America, a group promoting venues maintaining their original integrity.
Each summer, Cunningham said, the group encourages membership to come up with ghost stories and packages for Halloween.
It’s a double-edged sword — terrifying to some and a draw for others.
“If someone tells me they’ll come here if we have ghosts,” Cunningham paused, “maybe I’ll tell them we do.”
Arnold freezes in the corner of the Wrightsville House kitchen, launching questions at a dark, empty room:
“Who is here with us? Can you say that again?”
He casts a wide-eyed glance at Shirey and Klinedinst.
“I thought I heard a sexual,” he whispered.
“A lot of times we hear like … a sensual breathing or moan,” Klinedinst said. “They try to get your attention.”
The verdict is split on the origination of these exasperated exhales, sometimes captured by the team’s Zoom H2 four-channel handheld recorders.
“Who knows. It’s pretty obvious,” Arnold said. “There’s somebody around. They might be doing things you don’t know about.”
“I always say it could be someone eating a piece of chocolate cake,” joked Klinedinst. “I’ve made that sound eating chocolate cake.”
They all end up in the “sexual folder,” Arnold said.
Folders of other unexplained noises fill the computer in the basement of Arnold’s house, where the group puts on 40-year-old recording-studio-quality sound isolation headphones.
A movie poster for “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” hangs overhead.
“What’s that? Right before 2:15?” Arnold asks. “It sounds like somebody saying ‘Tom.'”
That name frequently pops up in electronic voice phenomena, Klinedinst said.
“It’s like they’re standing in front of them saying ‘Tom! Tom! I’m here!'” she said, waving her hands. “I get jealous because they don’t call my name.”
Arnold exports the clip as an MP3 and points to a spike in the waveform on the screen.
“Even if you whisper, you’ll see these,” he said. “If a ghost says something, it’s rounded.”
It might just be a camera clicking.
Or someone breathing.
“When it doubt, throw it out,” Arnold said.
The evidence made its debut at “Toast the Ghosts,” a dinner at the John Wright Restaurant, where director of operations Jim Switzenberg reports voices and materials in the kitchen flying off shelves.
“It only makes sense to capitalize on it,” he said. “Give people a good meal and introduce them to a cool restaurant they might not know is here.”
The event, held three times, highlighted history and featured 1700s period fare, including ham and butter bean soup with pound cake — the stuff John Wright himself might have eaten.
Diners also viewed the results of investigations at the Wrightsville House. The property, just up the street, is used by Donsco to host overnight clients and civic organizations.
Its notorious haunted tale comes from a Donsco summer intern who, during his stay, reported being stalked by a female ghost.
“He would sit in his room and play these most gorgeous songs of longing and desire,” Arnold said. “No wonder he had something coming after him.”
The Wrightsville House was built between 1806 and 1812. It was used as a hotel for travelers crossing the Susquehanna River on Wright’s Ferry or over the first bridge built in 1813-1814.
“How neat would it be if people could have a package deal to come down to the restaurant, have a historic dinner, watch a program?” Klinedinst said. “After the program, take them to the house, tell them the history and have them spend the night.”
A similar set-up might help highlight York’s other historic properties, such as the Goodridge House on East Philadelphia Street in York.
Part of the underground railroad, the house was owned by William Goodridge, a prominent African American businessman.
Today, it is owned by nonprofit Crispus Attucks, which needs about $250,000 to convert the structure into an underground railroad museum, said Carol Kauffman, community development director.
Its haunted status is “general knowledge,” she said, with guests reporting strange footsteps when no one is around. The organization is considering a fundraiser with In the Midst of Ghosts, she said, to help support the project.
“As soon as we can raise the money, we have the plans ready to go,” she said. “Our goal is to get it open so people can learn about York’s connection with the underground railroad and the interesting person that was William Goodridge.”
EVP: Electronic voice phenomena; a spirit voice or response caught on tape, but not typically heard at the time of the recording.
Orb: Balls of light caught on camera, but not seen at the time of the photo. They are believed to be ghostly manifestations, but are highly controversial. Similar images can be created through dust, rain or snow on a camera lens.
Paranormal: Beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.
Meet the team
Name: Jan Klinedinst
Home: Lower Windsor
Role: Sensitive; has a nose for ghosts.
Day job: Owner, Down to Earth Archaeology
Her story: Klinedinst worked as an archaeologist at the Dritt Mansion when she realized her ability to detect the paranormal — things like cold spots and tugs on single pieces of hair. “The key there, I think, is that you stop and acknowledge that there’s something going on that you’re not quite sure about,” she said.
Name: Tom Arnold
Home: East Prospect
Role: Tech guru. Bearer of equipment; knows how to identify and analyze EVPs using computer programs.
Day job: Owner, Everhart
His story: Arnold first delved into the paranormal after seeing what he believed to be a full body apparition of a girl in a field near his home. At the time, he assumed it was a neighbor girl. But she was moving slowly and appeared to walk straight into the horizon. His elderly neighbors said a girl died in the spot during the 1930s after being hit in the head with a snowball.
Name: Tom Shirey
Home: East Prospect
Role: Fearless. Known to spend nights alone in attics of creepy places. His biggest scare on an investigation? A rabbit running across his path in a cemetery. “If the gates of hell opened, with flames and wind coming out of it, Tom would walk in and say, ‘My name is Tom,'” Arnold said.
Day job: Nursing assistant, York County Nursing Home
His story: Seven years ago, Shirey’s son was in isolation at Hershey Medical Center after undergoing a second bone marrow transplant. He asked the doctors to bring him a laptop computer. That’s how Shirey first learned about the Internet. He asked his son to search for the show “Ghost Hunters.” By the end of the day, he was hooked. He bought a digital recorder and began snapping photos in cemeteries using a
1.2-megapixel cellphone camera, to start.