Normal? Or Paranormal?

Our intrepid reporter joins experts to find out if there really are ghosts at Frightland

I’ve seen every paranormal research horror movie ever made. They’re all the same movie at heart—a team of foolhardy ghost investigators enters a notorious murder house/long-shuttered orphanage/abandoned lunatic asylum to investigate the truth about the ghastly legends surrounding said site, only to disappear forever, the lone clue to their fates a video they left behind.

Ignoring the most important lesson I learned from watching such films—never go into a haunted building—I joined such an expedition, led by several intrepid members of Diamond State Ghost Investigators (DSGI), headquartered in Bear. On a chilly August night, we paid a visit to Frightland—a popular Halloween-season attraction in Middletown, and attempted to contact the spirit or spirits who purportedly haunt the barn on the property.

Feel free to scoff at the notion of real ghosts dwelling at one of America’s most highly touted Halloween theme parks, but Frightland really does have a macabre past. Some 200 years ago, then owner Clifton Davis, a farmer and family man, hung himself in woods on the property. Not long thereafter, Davis’ young daughter hung herself in the barn’s loft. Then there was the mysterious burning of the slave quarters, which occurred at about the same time. So spooky events have occurred on the property.

Let me state at the outset that the 18 members of the nonprofit Diamond State Ghost Investigators—which got its start in 2005 as Delaware Ghost Hunters—are objective professionals who take their work seriously. They’ve got all the latest ghost-busting equipment, and they’re neither dismissive of nor eager to prove the existence of spirits in our realm, letting the evidence fall where it may. That said, over the course of its many investigations, DSGI has gathered some rather unsettling data to support the premise that paranormal phenomena are no joke.

DSGI’s armamentarium of paranormal research equipment includes audio recorders to gather electronic voice phenomena (EVPs), as well as laser grids, motion detectors, still and video cameras, and Mel meters, which detect fluctuations in temperature (a sudden drop in temperature could indicate the arrival of a spirit) as well as shifts in the electromagnetic field (a spike in EMF activity is said to be similar to a drop in temperature). DSGI also boasts a central control computer that can record up to 16 cameras continually for more than 72 hours. You can listen to some of the more chilling examples of EVPs that DSGI has recorded at its website, DiamondStateGhostInvestigators.com.

A Gaggle of Ghostbusters

Alicia Lenoir, Mike Little, Andy Lendway (standing), Kyle McMahon and Fred Conkey watch the cameras set up at Frightland on a monitor at the central command center. Photo courtesy of the Diamond State Ghost Investigators (DSGI)

Alicia Lenoir, Mike Little, Andy Lendway (standing), Kyle McMahon and Fred Conkey watch the cameras set up at Frightland on a monitor at the central command center. Photo courtesy of the Diamond State Ghost Investigators (DSGI)

The paranormal business apparently is thriving. I count 15 “ghostbusters” in Delaware and a larger number across adjoining states. They go by such compelling names as Delaware Investigators of the Afterlife (Harrington), Spirit of the Sword Paranormal (Wilmington), and Delaware City Ghost Hunters (New Castle).

Like most such groups, Diamond State Ghost Investigators are there to help should you feel like you’re sharing your house with someone, or something, unknown. They will gladly travel anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic region free of charge should you, say, suffer the unfortunate experience of suddenly happening upon a floating head on the stairs. Sure, you can sell the house (“six bedrooms, sitting room, two bathrooms, floating head”), but why not try to get to the bottom of what’s going on first? It’s possible the floating head simply doesn’t like the new wallpaper. They can be choosy that way.

Unlike its sister organizations, however, DSGI is the only Delaware-based paranormal research investigative group to boast a contract with the state. To wit, DSGI operates Delaware Tours at spook-infested Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, where every October its staff sets up shop in various areas around the fort, teaching the stout of heart how to use paranormal equipment before letting them conduct their very own forays into the uncanny. It’s a wonderful way to amp up your Halloween season thrills and chills after you’ve visited Frightland.  

Do I believe in ghosts? I’ve never seen one—although plenty of people I know and trust have—so I suppose I’d have to call myself an agnostic on the subject. That said, does the idea of a face-to-face encounter with a malevolent spirit (or a friendly one, for that matter) scare me? You’re darned right it does. I paid close attention to every one of those horror movies I spoke of earlier, and I don’t want the only evidence of my horrific fate to be discovered on a creepy “found” videotape. So yes, the prospect of seeking out the ungrateful dead at Frightland gave me pause.

Tales of Terror

And I’m not alone. Kyle McMahon, the marketing manager of Frightland, told me he won’t go into the structure alone even during daylight hours. He’s not the only one; the property owner won’t either. And over the years that Frightland has been in operation, numerous employees have reported seeing the ghost of a little girl, or have said they feel like they’re being watched or followed. Some have departed the barn in terror, declining to return no matter how many other fellow living humans are on the premises.

As for McMahon, his refusal to tread foot by himself into the dusty old structure is based on hard experience. During a previous DSGI investigation at Frightland, McMahon and a DSGI member—the only people in the barn at the time—were doing a post-session check to make sure nothing had been left behind when, in his words, “A child’s toy that we had purposefully left behind was hurled at the back of my head. I was terrified; I’m sure you can hear me scream on the video. From that point on I swore I was never going to go in there alone, day or night.” Did the spirit of the little girl employees have reported seeing hurl it? One thing’s for sure: while it was a bit drafty in that old barn, it was anything but toy-hurling drafty.

McMahon’s story gave me something to think about as I joined him, DSGI staffers Alicia Lenoir, Fred “EVP King” Conkey, Andy Lendway, and Frightland employee Kim O’Neill for our late-night sojourn in the old barn that has been partitioned and decorated with loving attention to the last ghoulish detail to create a multi-roomed chamber of horrors.

The team set up its command center near the silo at the downstairs entrance to the barn, and hooked it up to their video cameras and an infrared grid in the barn’s loft, where young Miss Davis hung herself back in the early days of our republic. Lenoir also placed some toys—a small ball on a bed of flour, a small plastic car, and a stuffed gorilla—on the floor, in case the spirit was in a playful mood. During my time monitoring the screens from downstairs, I kept a close watch on these toys; had one of them moved by itself I’d have been out of there, pronto.

Our work that night was simple; while several team members watched the video monitor downstairs, the rest of us went up to the loft to try to coax our (perhaps) friendly ghost into making herself known. Lenoir and McMahon took turns asking questions (e.g., “Can you knock if you’re here?”) while I stared into the tiny corridor in which the infrared grid had been set up, waiting to see if a ghost stepped through its elaborate web of red beams (no dice). I also kept a close eye on the little set-up of toys, to discern if anything happened there (once again, no dice). Then we traded places and I watched the DVR below.

There were a few odd occurrences; while monitoring the DVR Lenoir distinctly heard a little girl humming, and the team picked up a few EVPs of what sounded like a man’s voice—interesting, since every prior story of the uncanny revolved around the little girl.

Did anything happen that would make me refuse to enter the barn ever again? No. We even held an impromptu flashlight session in the barn’s downstairs after hearing strange sounds emanating from near the silo, but if there was a spirit with us in the near total darkness it declined to make itself heard, turn the array of handy flashlights on or off, or activate a handy Mel meter.

Plenty of people scoff at the notion of our sharing this all-too-corporeal realm with spirits, and I understand their point of view. But that’s where groups such as DSGI come in. They use scientific instruments to gather evidence that, at the very least, raises the possibility that we have company, welcome or not.

My experience at Frightland didn’t knock me off the list of agnostics. But whether you’re an agnostic or a downright cynic, the evidence being gathered by groups like DSGI should give you pause even if you have never had the blood-curdling experience of hearing the piano playing Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” all by itself in the dead of night. Or run into a floating head on the stairwell. If you have, call Delaware State Ghost Investigators. Like I said before, the problem could just be your wallpaper.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.