Cottage is sure to spook

Cottage is sure to spook
February 18, 2010
By Naomi Smoot
The Journal

HARPERS FERRY - A Harpers Ferry home is slated to become the site of a new paranormal history museum and research center - called the "Haunted Cottage" because of mysterious occurrences there through the years.

"We've heard footsteps. We've had objects disappear, and reappear later," said Vince Wilson, head of the Harpers Ferry Society for Paranormal Research, and the guide of an international organization called the Paranormal Investigators Coalition.

Wilson said the museum - which already is partially open - will be located in the cottage, also known as the Booth House.

The property previously belonged to the family of John Wilkes Booth, who stayed at the site while visiting the area in 1859 to witness the hanging of famed abolitionist John Brown, Wilson said. At least 12 deaths have reportedly occurred in the home, he added.

The property's history piqued the coalition's interest, said Wilson, a professional paranormal investigator who has written three books about how to undertake such investigations. He said the coalition previously had an office space in Baltimore. "But it wasn't haunted, it was just an office we worked out of," he explained.

The group members also leased the Booth House in Harpers Ferry, and as they learned more about it, Wilson said their interest in the home grew. When the structure went up for sale, they immediately purchased it.

The building is home to a library on paranormal activity that contains nearly 500 volumes on ghosts and the science that surrounds their study, he said. Training sessions are held each week to help budding paranormal investigators learn more about the field.

Wilson said the courses range from "ghost hunting 101," to sessions that focus on specific topics, including the use of photography in paranormal investigations.

Wilson said knowing the ins and outs of the trade is important for those who are about to undertake an investigation. These tips often do not come across in the television shows that have recently raised the profile of ghost hunting and turned it in to a popular endeavor.

"We try to use common sense techniques ... lowest common denominator techniques," he said.

Part of the investigative process is realizing that if a story sounds like it's not true, chances are it probably isn't, he said. Those who are listening to a possible ghost story should consider whether it sounds similar to others that they have heard before. A story about objects moving around or apparitions appearing, he said, is far more likely to be real than one about a ghost watching the History Channel to find out how the Civil War ended.

Wilson said it is not uncommon for investigations to prove that a ghost story was false.

"We estimate that about 90 percent of the investigations that we've gone to over the course of a year are debunked," Wilson said.

So far, however, the ghost sightings at the Booth House have not been able to be debunked by Wilson and his colleagues. People have turned off the lights, only to return later and find them back on again, he said. Another time, the remote control for a television was somehow moved from one part of the house to another, its batteries removed and scattered around.

Wilson said the house gives investigators a place to try out their skills, noting that the space can be rented out by other ghost hunters seeking to try their luck on their own. The home can be used for birthdays, weddings and overnight paranormal investigations.

A museum is in the works on the property to show the progression of ghost hunting over time. Degrees of interest in the topic have been around for centuries. The official field of paranormal investigation came in to being nearly 120 years ago, he said.

Wilson himself began testing out his skills in the field 11 years ago, visiting bridges and taverns that were reportedly haunted.

"I was going on these little adventure tours with a friend of mine," he explained.

Wilson said the duo started applying scientific principles to their research. He used what he learned to write the book "Ghost Tech," and later "Ghost Science" and "Ultimate Ghost Hunter."

"It's my career of choice," he said of his vocation in paranormal investigations.

What he's seen through his work in the field has left him with a clear opinion on ghostly activity.

"We think that ghosts are an imprint on the environment," he said.

Now, he's hoping that he and others will be able to use Harpers Ferry's Booth House to teach a new generation of ghost hunters about the history of the field, and the skills needed to be successful.

More information on the Booth House is available at and more information on the Paranormal Investigators Coalition is available at
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