OAKLAND, Md. — What better place to search for ghosts than a train station that’s more than a century old?
It was a dark and stormy night recently at the Oakland B&O Railroad Station and Museum, and the heavy rain and wind set an appropriate tone for the students in paranormal investigator Steve Hall’s class at Garrett College to come out in search of evidence of otherworldly activity.
Hall is an experienced paranormal researcher, and in the past has conducted investigations at the Washington Street Library in Cumberland and the Paw Paw Tunnel, as well as other locations in the region like Puccini’s restaurant and a Cresaptown residence. He’s taught paranormal investigation classes at Allegany College of Maryland before, but this was his first time teaching at Garrett College.
The Oct. 21 investigation was the second time the class met, Hall said. The previous week, they met at the college to review some of the basics of paranormal investigations and the tools used to find evidence of otherworldly activity. This week, they met a final time to review their findings.
“I crammed as much as I could cram into a two-hour class,” Hall said.
Tools like specialized voice recorders to pick up electronic voice phenomenons (EVP), digital thermometers and electromagnetic field (EMF) readers can all help ascertain the potential presence of spirits, Hall said, but it’s important to first try to account for any real-world causes before attributing a phenomenon to the supernatural. A building’s age, the weather outside and many more factors can all bear an effect, he said.
“There’s pretty typical, pretty common stuff,” Hall said. “And just in a few rare cases, you actually do come across something that is totally unexplainable, that will even leave you stumped and just kind of frozen in your tracks like ‘OK, what was that?”
As the B&O Railroad museum is housed in the old station, which dates to 1884, volunteer Terry Delbert said, it’s rife with both history and the potential for haunting. The station was also the site of a fatal train accident in the 1890s, he said.
Hall’s group wasn’t the first to come in search of spirits at the museum, Delbert said. One group came in 2013, and a team from Maryland Paranormal Research visited in 2015.
“There was activity both times, but they found a lot of activity in 2015,” Delbert recalled. “We wound up going to the basement, and that’s where we actually carried on conversations with a male and a female. We got specific answers to specific questions.”
Because of timing issues, Hall said, the investigators have been able to do a sweep through the building to get baseline levels established for the EMF reader. Instead, he noted all potential sources of interference.
Cellphones are a likely cause for high EMF readings, Hall noted, and there was a “slim chance” that fluorescent lighting in one room would skew the meters’ findings. It was also important to note background noises and conversations on the recording, he said, to parse the people from the paranormal.
Hall had the students split into two groups. One remained in the back room of the train station, above the entrance to the basement, while the other traveled toward the front of the building to investigate the former ladies’ waiting area, armed with digital voice recorders and EMF readers.
In the waiting room, some swept the wooden benches and other fixtures with EMF readers and thermometers, while others sat on them in the center of the room, asking questions of any potential otherworldly visitors, like whether they enjoyed having visitors and if they were former employees of the railroad, and what signs to search for to find their presence. In the back room, the rest of the participants sat around a radio and other tools, asking similar questions and hoping to hear back from the spirits.
After a while, the two switched places before reuniting to head to the basement. At the end of the night’s final EVP recording session, while still seated in the basement, Oakland couple Josh Lear and Sonya Thomas said they’d expected a good, seasonal time when they signed up with family and friends for the class, and weren’t disappointed.
They have a mutual fascination, Thomas said, with the paranormal “and trying to decipher whether it’s real or not. Having this as scientific as it is, it’s very interesting, and I think we were interested to see how scientific it really is.”
Thomas said she’s “a skeptic, but definitely on the believer end” in the paranormal, while Lear said he’s a little more skeptical. Both said they were looking forward to seeing the results.
“It’s still really easy to explain away a lot of things, which is what I’ve liked about Steve,” Thomas said. “It’s not sensationalized.”
A few days after the class, Hall shared some of the results by email. While the recorders picked up some words, the data collected didn’t return much conclusive evidence. He noted that the results of investigations are often hard to prove.
“The one group seemed like they had pretty good success with the PSB-7 device, as there are several more responses from the same session,” Hall wrote. “Without a means to conduct control experiment or several repeat investigations with the same group for comparison, the class investigation can be considered largely inconclusive. I stress this is a pseudoscience.”