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Is The Maryland Theatre haunted?

August 30, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

Editor's note: Click on the audio links below the photo at right to hear excerpts of recordings made by paranormal investigators inside The Maryland Theatre

HAGERSTOWN -- Paranormal investigators who spent time at The Maryland Theatre into the wee hours of the morning say they found evidence of paranormal activity, and some who work at the theater say an audio recording has made believers out of them.

The investigators would not go so far as to say the theater is haunted, but said sounds they recorded when they spent more than five hours at the theater in July make them want to return to collect more evidence.

Darryl Keller and Stewart Cornelius, founders of the Mason-Dixon Paranormal Society in Gettysburg, Pa., mentioned the desirability of another investigation on Aug. 19, when they presented their findings to a group that included a theater board member and employees of the South Potomac Street theater.

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Of the four types of hauntings -- residual, intelligent, poltergeists and demonic -- the investigators said they believe the theater, which opened as a vaudeville house in 1915, might be experiencing residual hauntings.

Keller described residual hauntings as those involving spirits that are trapped in time and repeat the same actions over and over while unaware of people's presence.

"Everything here is residual," he said.

At the Aug. 19 gathering, investigators shared several recordings -- called electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs -- which they said they made at the theater.

The investigation began July 24 at about 9:15 p.m. and was completed July 25 at about 2:45 a.m. Seven investigators, two theater employees and a member of the board were present during the investigation.

In one recording, which investigators said was taken in the theater's boiler room, investigators are heard talking among themselves. Then, what sounds like a woman, or perhaps a young girl, can be heard saying, "Can I have a pillow?"

No women were in the boiler room at the time the recording was made, Cornelius said.

Such electronic voice phenomena can be residual hauntings, Keller said. None of the EVPs they said were recorded at the theater were heard by investigators during that visit.

In another bit of recording from the boiler room, Keller is heard asking, "Do you like working here?" followed by "No." In another, investigators can be heard talking and then, after a pause, a curse word is heard.

Mickey O'Brien, the theater's technical director, identified a sound in an EVP said to have been recorded in the balcony that he said sounded like a baby whimpering.

"You're making a believer out of me," O'Brien said as the group listened to the various EVP recordings.

O'Brien said he's worked at the theater for 15 years, and was skeptical when he heard people talk about it being haunted.

"I don't think I'm a skeptic anymore," he said.

O'Brien, who was at the theater on the night of the investigation, made sure every light and every piece of equipment was off, so he knew the sounds in the EVPs were not made by theater equipment, he said.

Lea Ann Hudson, the theater's production director, said that when she's in the balcony, she gets the feeling she isn't alone there.

Hudson, who participated in the investigation, recounted a story about a lady who was cleaning the upper balcony, alone, earlier this year when she heard someone say her name -- twice.

Another time, an employee was sneaking a cigarette in the boiler room when he came running up, scared, and said he had seen a white, translucent vision, Hudson said.

Michael Harsh, who was the theater's executive director from 1979 through 1983, said if there is a presence in the theater, he feels it would be a protective one.

When a fire destroyed the theater's lobby and apartments in 1974, the fire went right up to the doors in front of the theater. For reasons no one can explain, it literally stopped at the doors, said Harsh, who is a professor at Hagerstown Community College.

Harsh said he always was comfortable working in the theater, even late at night and early in the morning. At times, he would hear whistling, but that could have been someone in a nearby apartment, he said.

What they do

The investigators said they have about $23,000 worth of equipment to record audio and video. They also have an infrared camera system, electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors and thermal-imaging equipment.

When they check out a site, the paranormal investigators first try to disprove claims of unusual phenomena before declaring there is paranormal activity, Cornelius said.

The two used equipment to measure for high EMFs inside the theater's boiler room, then searched for possible man-made sources of that energy. High amounts of EMF can cause hallucinations, headaches and sleeplessness, the investigators said.

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