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Contacting Spirits at Heart of Paranormal Investigations

Photo courtesy Ghosts N’at

While many people look forward to the chills and thrills of visiting haunted houses in October, knowing that the ghosts and other terrors haunting the homes are just people in costumes makes the experience a little less frightening. But what if the spirits were real?

Two Pittsburgh groups—the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society (PPS) and Ghosts N’at Paranormal Adventures—explore homes and buildings that are truly thought to be haunted, attempting to document visitors from the afterlife. And sometimes members of the public can take part in the investigations as well.

The Pittsburgh Paranormal Society

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Paranormal Society

The Pittsburgh Paranormal Society was started in 2006 when its founder, Shawn Kelly, became intrigued after attending a ghost tour in Gettysburg, PA. He and his friend, Carmen Van Jacobs, went on to see if others wanted to take part in paranormal investigations, and the group of ghost hunters started visiting cemeteries and other ‘haunted’ locations on weekends.

“Then a friend told me about a house in Elizabeth, PA that was supposed to be haunted and we investigated, and things just took off,” said Kelly of the group that now offers their investigative services to private residences and businesses. “At that time, the show Ghost Hunters was big and people were intrigued; now we do about two or three investigations a week.”

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Paranormal Society

Kelly said that people contact them after hearing strange sounds at night or seeing shadow figures, or finding that things keep getting misplaced. “Most spirits will express themselves not with anger, but by doing things to drive you crazy like opening up cupboards and stealing keys,” said Kelly. “Unlike what you see in Hollywood movies, demons aren’t causing bad things to happen.”

PPS investigates to determine what’s going on in the home. “We have a lot of equipment, including infrared cameras and different gadgets that we use to communicate,” said Kelly. “But I’m an old-school paranormal investigator. For me, a digital camera and digital voice recorder (EVP) is all I need.”

While some groups who investigate private residences make the homeowners leave for the night, Kelly works with them during the investigation. “I believe that they should be there, since the situation affects them,” he said. “Usually we come up with answers while they are there.”

Over the past 17 years, PSP members have had a number of exciting experiences, including getting a photo of a full-body apparition at the New Brighton Cemetery, and a photo of a female spirit in East McKeesport. “The sad part about it is that even though you’ve got a full-blown apparition in front of you, people try to tell you it’s not real,” said Kelly of skeptics of their work.

While you would expect older properties to have more hauntings, even new buildings can house spirits, according to Kelly. “We investigate activity at a lot of new housing plans because the spirits may not have lived in the house; they could actually be the settlers that lived on the land before the houses were built,” he said, noting that his group has also investigated spirit activity in two of the Carnegie libraries, Prospect Place in Ohio, Hinsdale House in New York and Penn Brewery.

While the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society used to invite the public on ghost investigations two days a year, they now work with people by individual request. Kelly also participates in two podcasts to educate people about the paranormal; Chasing Prophecy on and Into the Night with Shawn Kelly. To learn more, visit the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society on Facebook.

Ghosts N’at Paranormal Adventures

Ghosts N’at was founded in 2015, and originally provided paranormal investigations to homeowners and businesses. “People would ask to come with us, but we couldn’t take them into someone’s home, so we started doing public ghost tours,” said founder Brett McGinnis, who co-owns the paranormal adventure company with Patty Henderson.

McGinnis first got interested in paranormal investigation in 2007, and in 2010 was on the cast of Ghost Hunters Academy on the SyFy channel. After filming was complete, he returned to Pittsburgh and finished his film and TV degree, and teamed up with other paranormal investigators to explore the supernatural.

“We do events year-round,” said McGinnis of the business that offers ghost hunting experiences at several different locations. “We pair a small group of people with a paranormal investigator, and they try to make contact with the other side.”

Ghosts N’at offers tours at Castle Blood in Monessen, PA, which is a former funeral home, the Hotel Conneaut, New Castle’s Hill View Manor, and Bethel Park School House, among other locations. The company also has branches in Baltimore, MD, Ocean City, MD, and in western New York and New England.

“People come for different reasons—the majority of them have seen ghost hunting on TV and want to try it, but doing it on your own is difficult because you need expensive equipment as well as access to the location,” said McGinnis. “Some people really love history and most of our locations are historic, so they are interested in that aspect of the hunt.”

McGinnis adds that when working with historic societies and locations, they provide them with an additional revenue stream that can help keep the sites open and operational as well as introduce new patrons to the historic locations. “We like knowing that what we do is having a positive impact on the community,” he said.

While some people come to be scared, for the most part, McGinnis said that they are serious about experiencing something paranormal. He said that guests have had all sorts of experiences from seeing ghosts, to catching voices on recorders, to watching doors open with no one there.

“One incident that got me was in 2007, when we were investigating with digital cameras. One friend’s camera died with a full battery, and then another person’s camera died. Then the next person’s camera died,” said McGinnis, noting that messing with electronics is a sign of paranormal activity. “After we left, the cameras worked fine.

“Recently, at Castle Blood, a girl in her mid-20s was sitting in front of a set of windows on a bench, and something was playing with her hair, which happens a lot during ghost hunts,” said McGinnis. “Five minutes later, I’m staring right at her, and her head slams back into the window. She was pretty freaked out—she sat on her dad’s lap for the rest of the hunt.”

Ghosts N’at has a few events coming up for intrepid ghost hunters. A tour of the Bethel Park School House will take place on Oct. 22, and at the Hotel Conneaut on Oct. 28-29. A ghost hunt of Hill View Manor in Newcastle will take place Nov. 5.

“Despite the fact that we approach it seriously, our events are a lot of fun,” said McGinnis of the tours that range from $40-$60 per person. “We love what we do, and we’re proud of that fact that while we’re investigating paranormal activity, we’re also helping to preserve history.”

To learn more, visit

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