- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

SMOCK, Pa. (AP) - On a dark and stormy night, ghost hunters emerged from near and far to seek proof of life after death.

The coal patch town of Smock, marked by two ancient cemeteries, is home to a century old company store that stands by a somber creek in a valley deep within Menallen Township.

East Hills Paranormal, a ghost hunting group, spent several hours in the dark one night at that store recently.

“It’s kind of funny. When we don’t want to see them, that’s when things pop up that you can’t explain. But when you go looking for them, you can’t find them,” said Fred Broerman, one of the group’s lead ghost hunters.

The store was where miners came and went for decades with stories to be told of the struggle to survive deep within the ground before the mines closed toward the middle of the 20th century. The store, now home to the Smock Historical Society and Museum, catered to these weary men, who perhaps left a part of their souls behind for those seeking the answers about the afterlife.

Unafraid and unapologetic, Josh Shelton had the gear - cameras and sound recording equipment - to record the images and more of what East Hills Paranormal hopes to find.

“We want proof that there is life after death,” Shelton said as he checked the readings on the equipment. “We got started doing this by watching Ghost Hunters. We wished we could really get into doing something like that. Maybe hit it big because they never show anything on that show. We want the real thing. When we see all this stuff on television - is it ‘Photoshopped?’ Is it this or that? We want that proof - more than just an orb. We want something that can be proved.”

Nadine Sethman of the Smock Historical Society said she has never seen a ghost, but she believes people have seen things over the years and this is enough to give her pause. To her knowledge, no one has ever died in the building, but that doesn’t matter.

“For the past couple of years, there has been more and more activity,” she said. “People are telling us that when they are here, they feel more anger, more hostile. There has been a lot of readings outside in our yard. I don’t know what’s going on. There’s definitely something.”

Sethman said she is not necessarily a true believer in ghosts and openly admitted to being skeptical, but she was willing to search for the truth.

“I want an explanation,” she said. “I know there is a place after death. My thing with that is, I know it’s Biblical and that’s what I believe. My personal explanation is that I don’t know. We don’t know what lies beyond and there for us.”

But Sethman tells tales about strange happenings in the store. While she hasn’t personally witnessed anything, there are others who are afraid to step foot in the building.

“I’m not scared,” she said. “If I hear something, I think it is probably because the building is old. I never felt anything that was angry or made me afraid. But I know of people who won’t come into the building alone.”

Lady of the night

One story that Broerman and Sethman ponder close to midnight, dark and dreary, is of a woman, maybe not Poe’s lost Lenore, but perhaps a lady who wants to be remembered for evermore. Her story is that of a woman, dressed in a white cotton night gown that was customary of the times, who haunts a room on the second floor of the store.

“A couple of people upstairs got touched,” Broerman said. “There’s supposed to be a prostitute upstairs and she touches single guys, supposedly.”

Sethman rolls her eyes and says, “We don’t know if she was a prostitute. “

Broerman is convinced she is a prostitute because she contacts single men, and maybe a few married men, though not so much the ladies, to ply her trade.

While the group of ghost hunters sits quietly in the dark room where the lady is known to appear, Broerman suggests people whip out a dollar bill to attract her attention. Broerman taunts her, but the room remains dead quiet.

Either the apparition doesn’t like the asking price or she is a little more discriminating in her taste of gentleman callers.

Sethman said she thinks that just because the woman was dressed in a nightgown and trying to reach out to ghost hunters does not make her a prostitute.

While the ghost hunters seek a response from the woman in the dark, their equipment stays soft without spewing forth any electronic readings or highly sensitive premature shrieks of release.

“Nine times out of ten, we can debunk our pictures, but sometimes we can’t,” Shelton said. “One time, we got this red streak like a bolt of lightning going up and down in the road. It was raining. It wasn’t thundering and lightning. We couldn’t explain it at that time.”

The group peered into the dark room. They stood listening, but nothing tapped or rapped on that chamber door, not even the lost Lenore.

But who knows? Perhaps on a bed in the quiet side of the room, long after the group had left, there was an apparition with dark-colored hair, brown eyes, wide open and staring at the living who have invaded her space, again. Maybe a kind but cautious smile ran across her face. She lay on her left side, dressed in a loose, white and somewhat pleaded cotton nightgown that covered most of her arms and legs to her bent knees.

But maybe, there was darkness and nothing more.

Shadow man

Downstairs, ghost hunters seek out a ghost who worked in the store for many years.

Though not a member of East Hills Paranormal, Mike Carr has long been associated with the group because of his knowledge of Smock and Fayette County hauntings.

“Ghost hunting is a fun thing to do especially for the people who have heard about it, watched the shows and never really had an opportunity to do it themselves,” Carr said. “It’s something different and something that they can tell their friends about. It may turn a skeptic into a believer. It may be something big or something small. You can never tell. It’s all in how you perceive things. It’s all in how much you believe or don’t want to believe.”

Sethman shares the story of “shadow man,” a clerk long since passed away from his earthly bounds, who still walks the halls of that company store.

“The shadow man has been seen by many people,” she said. “The sightings aren’t just a once a year thing, but all the time. A woman was working here one night to prepare for a fundraiser. She screamed. We asked her what was wrong. She said there is a guy up there staring at us through that window up there. I laughed it off and told her that she was crazy. That there is nobody up there. She said it was a man with a white shirt and a black jacket. As for me, I haven’t seen anything all these years.”

The lights are off as Carr starts asking questions hopeful that shadow man will answer.

“If there’s anything in here that would like a cookie, hotdog or a brownie?” he asks. “How do you feel about presence being here? Do you not want us here or do you not mind us here?”

Not a sound in the room, but that’s not unexpected.

“If something happens, that’s most likely the kinds of things you are going to experience,” he said. “You are not going to see ghosts floating around like in Ghostbusters. You are not going to get slimed. It’s not like Poltergeist and they aren’t going to start throwing knives at you. That’s the common misconception that people get about ghost hunting.”

Nevermore?

For now, people will have just accept and maybe agree about those unnerving feelings about things that go bump in the night.

“A lot times, you will get a feeling, everyone’s experienced it, where you are sitting there, maybe in an environment that you are completely familiar with, when you get that feeling that you are being watched,” Carr said.

“You get kind of creeped out. It only lasts for a couple of seconds, but it happens. Little things like that happen on your own that you experience with no way to record it.”

Maybe Poe was onto that eerie alone feeling felt after dark, when he wrote in The Raven: “So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating, ‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door - Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; - This it is and nothing more.’”

Ghost hunters want to believe, so they won’t say “nevermore” to the search for answers.

“When you tell people about it, they say they’ve experienced some of the same things, too,” Carr said. “There’s no way to explain it. Everyone has had some kind of supernatural experience whether you believe it or not.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1tB1TTq

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Information from: Herald-Standard, http://www.heraldstandard.com/

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