In pursuit of the supernatural

In pursuit of the supernatural
August 16, 2009

Katrina Weidman has a starring role in the A&E reality series "Paranormal State," but the Doylestown native's otherworldly encounters extend beyond the show.

"I grew up in a haunted house."

Katrina Weidman makes the statement with matter-of-fact candor.

Though she says she didn't have any encounters herself, she does have vivid memories from the house on Wood Street in Doylestown Borough, where she spent her first six years, before her family moved to Plumstead:

? Electronic toys going off by themselves.

? The man her older sister would see walking into the bathroom at night.

? The little girl her sister saw one evening, mistaking her for Weidman until she found her younger sister sitting at the bottom of the stairs.

"All the houses on that street were built in the early 1900s. Ours was a twin house - looked completely normal on the outside, but we had a lot of strange experiences there," says Weidman.

But even though the 2001 Central Bucks West High School graduate recalls being so terrified by such happenings that she slept in her sister's room until she was 12, she also was fascinated.

"I was the girl who, while all my friends were reading Teen Cosmo or one of those magazines, I'd be reading ghost stories and books - like those Christopher Pike books (including the popular children's series 'Spooksville') - and bringing my Ouija board to sleepovers," says Weidman.

Then there was the unique ability that surfaced when she was 18, one also shared by an aunt and her great-grandmother: "I started having dreams that would come true," she says. "I could tell when someone was going to die or when someone was going to get pregnant."

And so it's not really surprising that Weidman, also the only one among her siblings to have an imaginary friend as a child, is one of the primary investigators of the Paranormal Research Society, a professional organization, headquartered in State College, that is dedicated to exploring the supernatural from both a spiritual and scientific perspective.

PRS, as it is more commonly referred to, also is the star of "Paranormal State," the A&E reality series that chronicles its investigations as its staff travels across the country, probing real-life mysteries involving ghosts, hauntings and other strange and terrifying phenomena.

When it comes to discussing what she does, Weidman anticipates the skepticism and even criticism.

"I call myself an open-minded skeptic," she says. "There have been too many eyewitness accounts and too many things have happened to me for me to remain ignorant and think that I have it all figured out."

The bulk of those experiences in recent years have been related to the show, which will enter its fourth season in December.

Among the episodes that stand out is "Room 37," in which Weidman was jolted by the sensation of a presence in an historic Tennessee bed and breakfast, from which guests have fled in the middle of the night, claiming they saw a young girl cowering in the corner of what is reported to be the inn's most haunted room.

"I slept in the most haunted room," says Weidman. "There were no scary ghosts or demonic feelings, but that constant feeling of someone watching over you, of always having to look over your shoulder, of someone watching you while you sleep - that's what it felt like. I hadn't been that scared since I was 15."

She never expected when she joined PRS in 2006 while a student at Penn State University that she would one day be among its full-time employees.

A student club at the time (it was founded in 2001 by then 19-year-old Ryan Buell), PRS re-invented itself as a professional organization in 2008, drawing on a membership of both graduate and undergraduate students, as well as Penn State faculty and staff.

"Paranormal State," which premiered in 2007 when its cast members were still undergraduate students, has followed that original team, including Weidman and Buell, through its professional transition.

But Weidman, who grew up in an artistic family - mom Kimberlee Arnott-Weidman has written several original musicals and plays for local playhouses - initially had her sights set on a career in theater. She graduated from Penn State in 2007 with a dual degree in theater and integrative arts.

"I always wanted to do it all. I always wanted to be an actor," she says. "But if I ever have a time when I try to get away from (PRS), I can't give it up. Something always draws me back to it. It's not an easy job. Financially, it's not an easy job, either. But at the end of the day, I feel like I'm helping somebody out.

"Plus there's this gnawing feeling inside, where you just want answers for yourself and the people you come in contact with. That's how I started out - wanting answers for myself and my own experiences."

Given that a primary duty of her job is to conduct interviews, she does believe her acting skills have come in handy, helping her to read others, to easily communicate with clients and to be comfortable in front of the camera.

Her own intuitive abilities also have helped the team, which often works with renowned psychics, demonologists, psychologists and counselors, to unravel more than one mystery.

For instance, there was the woman who supposedly committed suicide by walking off a cliff into the water below her home.

When a psychic suggested that Weidman hold an object belonging to the woman to see if she picked up any information about her - in this case, a small clock - Weidman kept hearing the name Jimmy.

It turns out that Jimmy was the woman's oldest son.

"Then 10 minutes into sitting there, I started getting cold, my face was becoming numb. I had this weird sense that I was floating. It felt almost like I was drugged," recalls Weidman. "The woman, it turns out, had taken sleeping pills and weighted herself down until she drowned - and the water was freezing."

But not every case leads to such insight nor is every one legitimate.

While the PRS team relies on a series of client and eyewitness interviews, experiments that communicate with the dead or otherwise confirm what a client has reported, as well as other research to prove or disprove a case, one of the most telling signs of supernatural activity is if PRS is contacted as a last resort.

"What helps us determine if it's legit is when the clients themselves have looked for rational reasons. If they're having physical symptoms, they've gone to the doctor. If it's an electrical problem, they've called an electrician. If they're having suicidal thoughts, they've seen a psychologist," says Weidman.

"A lot of these families are wrecked by the time we get to them. They're not sleeping. The kids are not doing well in school. The parents are fighting. + I think everybody believes they're in danger."

If she and her colleagues can alleviate such turmoil or thoughts of delusion while helping a client to feel comfortable with whatever the situation is, then they've effectively done their job.

And whether others believe or not, if "Paranormal State" gets them to at least talk about the unfathomable, then that, too, is valuable.

"We don't do this to be on TV. We don't do it for fame," says Weidman. "People think we're still these crazy kids in college who drink all the time. But we do work really hard, our hearts are in the right place - and for every person who criticizes us, there are also three who stand up for us."

Naila Francis can be reached at 215-345-3149 or
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