It’s no secret that some people think parts of D.C. are cursed – and not just the city’s sports teams. From Foggy Bottom’s Octagon House, where visitors have reported apparition sightings, to the White House, where Abraham Lincoln’s spirit supposedly roams, the District’s haunted history dates back further than “The Exorcist.”
Here at GW, some students may have had unsettling encounters while doing late-night laundry alone in a residence hall basement. But could those occurrences have been supernatural?
We asked the Chesapeake Paranormal Researchers if they could help us find out. The team wasn’t available to come to campus, but Jon Thume, the head paranormal investigator, gave us instructions on how to complete our own ghost hunt.
First, we had to locate a possibly haunted area that was clear of any noises – especially electronic ones, like beeping or text notifications. Then we asked possible ghosts questions, recording the answers with audio equipment. Thume warned that we might not be able to hear the ghost’s answers with our ears, but sensitive equipment would pick up noises that we could analyze later.
After trying unsuccessfully to get access to three different fraternity houses, we turned to Old Main, the looming brick academic building with a porch and columns on the corner of 20th and F streets. A lobby full of dated furniture, a fireplace and a chandelier give off a creepy vibe.
We found a mini-library and conference room where we could converse with potential spirits. After dimming the lights, which helped eliminate a buzzing from the lamps, we announced aloud that we wanted to have a conversation with any spirits that might be present.
We took turns asking questions like “Who is with us right now?,” “Why are you here?,” “How and when did you die?,” “How are you feeling?,” “What is your unfinished business?” and “What is the afterlife like?” In between each question, we remained as silent as possible for about 20 seconds to allow the voice recorders to detect any noises that might indicate an answer, according to Thume’s rules.
We repeated these steps at Mitchell Hall, the subject of a 2006 Hatchet article that debunked rumors about its creepy past. Built in 1929 and acquired by the University in the 1960s, its location on 19th and E streets isn’t far from a former orphanage. In a 2007 post in a thread on a website called “yourghoststories.com,” a former resident reported hearing loud footsteps, despite the building’s carpeted floors, and sensing presences in the rooms.
Finally, we moved on to The Hatchet’s townhouse at 2148 F St. near some fraternity houses, FoBoGro and across from South Hall. The 116-year-old building has changed hands numerous times during its long life.
After playing back all three of the recordings, we didn’t hear much that could have been ghosts. In between each question, we only heard white noise.
But at one point during our conversation in Mitchell Hall, we inquired about what the ghost did while they were alive, some grumbling was audible – though it may have just been water passing through pipes in the building.
Our strangest experience occurred as we were closing our conversation in The Hatchet’s townhouse. A phone in the room rang, but when we picked it up, we heard only silence.
The experts’ verdict
After running our findings by Gregory Crump, one of the founders of Chesapeake Paranormal Researchers, he said that the groaning was far more likely to be of supernatural origin than the mysterious phone call but that we shouldn’t rule anything out.
“That would be the first time I have heard of anything like that happening,” Crump said of the phone call in an email.
Of course, not everyone believes in ghosts, and our search for the paranormal may have failed because ghosts do not exist.
Susan Johnston, a professor of anthropology who teaches a class on religion, myth, magic and death, said she doesn’t believe in ghosts because there is no scientific finding to prove that they exist.
“I do not see any scientific mechanism by which ghosts could occur,” Johnston said. “No one has demonstrated evidence of ghosts that is broadly acceptable.”
Despite lack of scientific evidence, our culture is fascinated by ghosts because of humans’ inherent belief in things unseen, she added. Johnston explained that ghosts are the logical next step after believing in concepts like a soul, dreams and consciousness – all of which most people accept.
Belief in life after death is a comforting notion for many people, Johnston said.