Society Looks to the Future of Ghost Hunting after Keith and Leonard Are Gone
Members of the
Paranormal Society of IUP periodically enter campus buildings late at night, sit in the dark, and try to see what they can find. Or, more accurately, try to find what they can’t see.
The evidence this student-run organization collects could unnerve even the staunchest of skeptics. Members have recorded disembodied voices and eerie sounds, spotted shadowy figures and moving black masses, and reported being touched when no one was around them. No one with a pulse, that is.
They’ve found that Keith and Leonard halls, which will be razed in the spring, are a veritable beehive of paranormal activity. The group regularly investigates those venerable academic buildings and other campus sites, documenting ghostly encounters with an array of scientific equipment: video cameras with night-shot or low-light capability; digital cameras; thermometers; electromagnetic field meters that detect spikes in energy, thought to indicate the presence of spirits; and tape recorders, which typically provide the most compelling evidence.
PSIUP has gathered a multitude of electronic voice phenomena—commonly known as EVPs—defined as unexplained voices or noises recorded on audiotape that are not heard at the time by the human ear. Such as a curious snippet captured during an investigation in Keith when Nathan Forbes, who founded PSIUP in 2008 and served as its first president, was a student.
Daryl Klingensmith filmed while using a doll as a prop to interest child ghosts in Leonard Hall.
“We were upstairs, trying to make contact with a spirit,” said Forbes, a 2012 graduate who works as a special-education teacher at the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit in Greensburg. “There’s an EVP where we ask, ‘What’s your name?’ It answers, ‘William. Call me Bill.’”
PSIUP recordings suggest that unseen entities occupy several campus buildings. In fact, a gaggle of ghostly tenants apparently roams the halls of Keith, constructed in 1939 and once home to the campus’s laboratory school, where student teachers instructed children from the community. Small wonder, then, that so many of the voices heard on EVPs belong to youngsters. Like Mary Ann.
“That was the name given us by a sensitive, and we’ve had multiple people who claim to be intuitive describe her the same way—which is, kind of plain,” said English professor Laurel Black, PSIUP’s faculty advisor. “She’s wearing sort of a jumper dress, and she has brown hair. She’s about 10 or 11 years old, and we hear her voice repeatedly [on EVPs]. It’s very high-pitched and echo-y. In one, we are talking about a photograph that didn’t come out right, and she says, ‘Let me see it.’”
Laurel Black, with night-vision video camera and KII meter in hand, in front of Keith Hall. The paranormal society she advises uses the KII to try to communicate with ghosts.
PSIUP members often try to draw out the spirits of children during investigations in Keith by scattering a selection of toys, rolling balls across the floor, playing ring around the rosy—even offering to “race” ghostly residents through the halls.
“On one of my first investigations with the club, we decided to have mock races,” said junior anthropology major Samantha Jacobs, PSIUP’s historian. “One of the guys, who was one of the tallest people in the group, raised his hand and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ So one girl goes [to the spirits], ‘Okay, he’s going to race you. He’s got nice long legs, so you’ve got to run fast.’ Listening to the tape recorder, a few seconds after she said that, you hear a very high-pitched little girl’s voice go, ‘nice long legs.’ Hearing it sends shivers down your back.”
One of the more fascinating EVPs captured in Keith evokes a long-ago era, when students customarily arrived on campus in something other than cars.
“You have this rushing and roaring noise, a hissing sound, then you hear the screeching of something,” Black said. “There’s a rumbling and grumbling noise that goes along with it. I played it at a continuing education workshop on ghost hunting, and there were some older members in that class who said what they thought I had on this tape was the sound of the old steam train that used to come right past Keith Hall and stop where the HUB is today. It’s a good one, because it’s so odd.”
Keith qualifies as the epicenter of odd on campus. Investigators have seen a black mass appear in the back of a classroom, make its way down the aisle to the front of the room, and then vanish; spotted shadows moving; heard the sound of doors slamming even though they were locked; and, perhaps most unsettling of all, been touched.
“We were in one of the classrooms, and everyone was sitting near the front,” Jacobs said. “I decided to sit toward the back, just to see what would happen. Everyone’s talking, and nothing’s going on at that point. All of a sudden, it felt like somebody put their hand on top of my shoulder.”
Jacobs assumed a group member was trying to get her attention. She turned around, and…no one was there.
Hunting ghosts in Leonard Hall, Sharon Layton ’06 dressed the part.
Leonard, where mischievous spirits rarely fail to reveal themselves, rivals Keith as a paranormal hot spot. Investigators regularly peek out of classrooms after hearing footsteps or talking in the hallways, only to find them empty. Blinds fly up after they’ve been tied down, doors slam shut, shadow figures appear, and strange sounds pierce the nighttime silence.
“There’s a women’s bathroom on the second floor, and across the hall, in one of the classrooms, there were four men in a group, and they heard somebody sobbing hysterically in the bathroom,” Black said. “It sounded like Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter. And they had a big debate: Do we go into the women’s room or not? What do we do? They finally decided to go in and see if she needed help. And the moment they touched the door, it all stopped. There was nobody in there.”
Investigators have captured numerous EVPs in the building, constructed in 1953 on the site of the original Leonard Hall, which was destroyed by fire.
“We have one of an older female in an elevator saying hello,” Black said, mimicking the entity’s speech by lowering her voice and drawing out the word. “Most people find it very creepy.”
Another EVP was recorded late one night when several women from Black’s continuing education ghost hunting class left Leonard and headed toward Keith. Someone else unexpectedly chimed in as the women carried on a conversation.
“It was a group with all adults,” Forbes said, “and you hear a little girl’s voice. It says, ‘Come play with me.’ And then, as they continue walking, you hear a whimper.”
The youngster apparently followed the group, because the volume of her voice never varies.
The Stapleton and Stabley library buildings have also yielded some intriguing EVPs. Former PSIUP president Gabby Lehigh, a 2013 alumna who is now a graduate student at the University of South Florida, recalled one that defied explanation.
“I was in an all-female group, and we were coming down from the second floor to the main floor of the library,” she said. “There was another member of the group that was supposed to show up for the investigation, so when we saw some random guy standing by the entrance doors and looking in, we kind of made a joke, like, ha, ha, ha, so-and-so’s locked outside, he can’t do the investigation. When I went to review my tape later, you could hear this male voice in the background laugh and say, ‘I know.’ It was a really awesome EVP because there was no one there but us females.”
Forbes recorded his own awesome EVP while investigating on the third floor.
“Normally we tell a spirit not to leave, don’t follow us, that sort of thing,” he said. “On the tape, you hear a male voice, almost like he’s responding to us, say in a whisper, ‘I’ll stay here.’”
PSIUP has explored other campus buildings, too, though less thoroughly than Keith and Leonard, chiefly because of access issues. But, based on first-person accounts, Sutton, Waller, Wilson, and Breezedale feature paranormal activity. Custodians have reported disquieting experiences in those buildings, where they often work late at night, alone. For example, they’ve heard music in the stairwells of Sutton and the sound of people running down the hallways on the floor above. One custodian, perturbed by the racket, began wearing headphones to block it out.
A shadow figure reportedly wanders around in Breezedale, the Victorian mansion that houses IUP’s
Alumni Relations office. A custodian who spotted the apparition was so convinced he’d encountered a flesh-and-blood intruder that he summoned security. No one was found.
“I was a member of the IUP Ambassadors, and some of our leadership had an office on the very top floor of Breezedale,” Lehigh said. “One of the officers was sitting at a desk, and all of a sudden all the drawers in another desk just flew open. There was no one else up there. He just gathered his stuff and left immediately.”
PSIUP members welcome the sort of encounters that send others bolting for the exits, hearts pounding and hairs standing at attention. They approach investigations—at sites both on campus and off—with scientific rigor, critically evaluate the evidence, and try to reach valid conclusions. Explainable? Paranormal? Sometimes, they’re just left scratching their heads.
“As skeptics, we should be debunking whatever we can until we are left with something we can’t answer, we can’t account for,” Black said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s paranormal. Some people would say, well, maybe it’s something we just don’t know about yet. Maybe it’s something we haven’t thought of. Others might say, well, we’ve ruled out everything that we can reasonably think of. What is keeping us from saying that this is paranormal? Is it a set of beliefs? Is it fear? These kinds of really thoughtful discussions are hard to come by in other locations on campus.”
They’re what galvanize PSIUP members, who will continue to investigate their school’s seemingly haunted halls—just not those in Keith and Leonard, whose demolition date is fast approaching. Soon the sturdy walls that sheltered generations of students and faculty members—and perhaps a community of ghostly inhabitants—will be reduced to heaps of rubble.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Lehigh said. “Those buildings are valuable resources for PSIUP, because they’re so active. It’s really hard to see them go. I’ve investigated other places on campus, but I just feel like Keith and Leonard are kind of the heart and soul of the paranormal at IUP.”
Alas, PSIUP members will no longer walk their darkened halls, trying to see what they can find. Or find what they can’t see.