If ghosts exist anywhere in the United States, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is perhaps the right place to look for them.
The rolling green hills where the armies of the Union and Confederacy clashed still seem haunted by the more than 50,000 soldiers who were killed, wounded or went missing in the Battle of Gettysburg.
On November 19, Americans will commemorate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
, delivered after the decisive Civil War battle. It remains the bloodiest event ever on U.S. soil, and in recent decades the south central Pennsylvania town has become a magnet for people who believe in ghosts.
On a recent night, I joined a group of people there on an “Extreme Ghost Hunt,”
venturing inside an old dark mansion that we were told had been a casualty collection center during the fighting.
They were equipped with an arsenal of so-called ghost detection equipment, including thermal imaging cameras and electromagnetic frequency meters.
A guide took out a pen-like device that emitted a matrix of low-intensity laser beams.
“This is for capturing shadow figures,” he explained. “If something crosses in front, you see the shadow figure.”
I went around the house splashing walls with green dots, but did not see a single shadow.
But I was apparently alone in my inability to see ghosts. Tour participant Charlie Souders was convinced the static he picked up on one of the gadgets was what ghost hunters call “electronic voice phenomenon.”
“Wow!” he exclaimed.
by Baylor University in Texas estimates that 68 percent of Americans believe in ghosts or other kinds of paranormal manifestations such as UFOs or psychic abilities.
Souders said ghosts don't scare him. On the contrary, he feels comforted.
“It’s kind of curious to know how the afterlife is; maybe know a little bit more before I go,” he said, adding that he plans to communicate with his family after he dies and “let them know what’s going on.”
Ghost tours and paraphernalia may be a boost for a local economy that depends on battlefield tourism. And clients do learn some true history of the sites in and around Gettysburg.
But the paranormal business also offers answers about the hereafter that some people feel traditional religion doesn’t provide, says theologian Pamela Cooper-White of the Columbia Theological Seminary
“People are in a quest for a kind of certainty, and the more scientific or technological it seems, the better,” she said.
Cooper-White researched the Gettysburg ghost tours and will be presenting her findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion
in Baltimore later this month.
In an interview, she said its growth in recent decades can be linked to a reluctance by Americans to confront some of the “harder truths” of their history.
“I think in many ways the ghost that has not been laid to rest here is that in many ways we’re still fighting the Civil War, and the legacy of slavery and racism have by no means been solved.”
On a homestead outside Gettysburg’s center, author and psychic Laine Crosby walked through an empty field and engaged in an elaborate conversation with what she said were Confederate soldiers.
“James and Bartholomew and Bill and all the rest of you?” she called out. “Can you tell me how many soldiers are with you here today?”
She recorded the conversation on an early model digital voice recorder, and when she played it back her question was followed by unintelligible static.
“Did you hear that!?” she said.
Holding a pendulum, she spoke to a battlefield physician. “Doctor Robinson, can you move this in a circle if you are here?”
Crosby claims such spirits from the past appear vividly to her and that the pendulum and recorder are just to convince skeptics.
“It was just to prove to you all that there really was somebody here,” she said, “and that I’m not just some crazy person out here dragging you through a field.”
Clearly, many people don’t think that because her book Investigative Medium - The Awakening
is the No. 1 best seller in Amazon’s Kindle store’s occult supernatural category.