WINCHESTER, Ind. (AP) - The rooms on the second floor of the Randolph County Infirmary are painted in red light as the sun sets in Winchester. The dimming glow catches on warped glass, wispy curtains and the odd shapes protruding from the decayed walls of the hospital.
In a few moments, there is only impenetrable darkness.
A woman screams.
The sound muffles through old floorboards. The encroaching darkness seems to trigger whatever is happening in the building’s basement.
Down creaky stairs, at the end of a dusty, stone and concrete corridor, eight figures huddle in the infirmary kitchen near a waist-high wooden block once used as a base for chopping raw meat. The woman who screamed, Jamie Toney-Terharr, rejoins the group after a short retreat into an adjacent dining area.
“Something pulled the back of my shirt!” she yells. A few people in the kitchen laugh.
A man standing near the center of the group, Scott Felger, holds a device that crackles as it emits a multi-color light display, casting angular shadows against the frayed wallpaper of the kitchen as it cycles backward through radio frequencies. Occasionally, it sounds like someone is trying to speak through the device. They call it a spirit box.
The group grows silent as Felger asks the room a question.
“How did you hurt your head?”
They wait. No response.
“We want to know,” Felger says more intently, “how did you hurt your head?”
Something appears to answer.
The sound of small objects smacking the linoleum floor reverberate from opposite corners in the kitchen. It’s impossible to tell what source the noises are coming from in the dark. The sounds inspire another scream and a quick retreat from Jamie.
This is one of many encounters the two overnight tour groups have inside the infirmary. The investigation teams capture bizarre audio recordings known as EVPs. One group witnesses a plank of wood being tossed across the cavernous space of the building’s attic. Some hear footsteps, some say they see “shadow people” trudging between doorways in the darkened basement hallway.
These are experiences Adam Kimmell, who purchased the building with Dan Allen and Chris Musgrove, was counting on when he and his fellow investors made what Kimmell calls the “super risky” decision to purchase the nearly 50,000-square-foot, 120-year-old structure from the county earlier this year.
“I realize when you buy a place like this and say you’re going to make profit through ghost tourism people have a hard time believing you,” Kimmell said.
So far, the risk has paid off.
The infirmary is the third vacant historic site, following a jail and former speakeasy in Hartford City, Kimmell acquired in Indiana. He said the infirmary has already become the most popular of the three allegedly haunted locations.
“You never realize how big the ghost-hunting community is,” he said. “I knew the second I said this place was open for business people would flock in. It’s a subculture of hardcore fanatics willing to travel all over the country to pursue their passion.”
Kimmell, who is a veteran paranormal investigator himself and executive producer of the ghost-hunting show “Resident Undead,” said the reason his target market is hard to measure could be because of the stigma attached to the ghost-hunting hobby.
“There are few people who will openly admit to being interested in this; some see it as taboo, that it’s wrong to do these things,” Kimmell said. “I think there’s nothing wrong with the pursuit of trying to understand the world around us.”
The perceived stigma is the reason participants in Kimmell’s ghost tours are permitted to remain anonymous.
Getting the infirmary habitable required the cleaning and construction efforts of around 40 volunteers plus an additional $20,000 to $25,000 on top of the building’s purchase price of around $369,000.
The original infirmary (alternatively known as the county home or poorhouse) was constructed in 1851 but was destroyed two years later in a fire. A second infirmary was constructed on the same spot in 1857 but was also closed two years later - this time demolished due to unsanitary living conditions. The third infirmary, built in 1899, is the structure that stands today on U.S. 27 south of Winchester, across the highway from the Randolph County 4-H Fairgrounds.
The Randolph County Infirmary provided housing and care for individuals who were unable to work, including the mentally and physically disabled, single mothers, the elderly and orphans. County homes were offered as a solution to local poverty before social welfare programs were created largely during the Great Depression.
The infirmary was officially closed in 2008 and spent its final years serving as a storage facility for the county.
Little was done to prevent the building’s gradual dismantling by nature and vandalism since its closure.
Somewhat ironically, the historic site’s reputation as a conduit for the dead is what allowed Kimmell and his team to resurrect the failing structure.
“In my experience hospitals, jails, asylums tend to be the most active locations,” Kimmell said. “These are places where, for whatever reason, spirits are more open to communication.”
Kimmell said the infirmary has already been booked by more than 60 film crews this year and has been reserved every weekend through 2017. People interested in taking ghost tours or performing their own investigations can still do so on weekdays.
“You would be surprised at the people who show up to a ghost hunt, from all corners of society,” Kimmell said. “Police officers, lawyers, doctors . I think a lot of people want to validate what they believe about the afterlife.”
Based on the volume of reported experiences, Kimmell said the site provides one of the more reliable means of coming in contact with the other side.
Kimmell, who said he isn’t sure if supernatural experiences are evidence of the afterlife or simply a reality not currently understood, has had personal run-ins with whatever seems to occupy the infirmary.
“Once I was alone in the hospital and I hear three distinct footsteps coming up the stairs,” Kimmell said. “Then the door handle in the room I was in started to turn and shake violently. . I’m a grown man and that was enough to make me want to run out of the building.”
Kimmell is looking forward to two major events at the infirmary. A well-known television program he couldn’t name due to a nondisclosure agreement is planning a filming session in the near future. Additionally, in what could add significantly to the building’s existing notoriety, the “Resident Undead” team plans on using ground-penetrating radar to peer into what is believed to be a large section of unmarked graves at the back of the property. Kimmell hopes to film the gravesite project for a documentary.
To preserve the original, creepy aesthetic of the building and due to certain agreements Kimmell, Allen and Musgrove made with the county regarding upkeep, they have no plans to modernize the infirmary.
Kimmell said most of Winchester was excited about the prospect of the ghost tours bringing visitors to the town’s local businesses. He said support he has received from the town and county commissioners has made the infirmary his favorite site.
“I love Winchester,” Kimmell said. “The whole community has been amazing.”
Kimmell’s investment plan when it comes to local landmarks like the infirmary usually starts out with a town hall meeting to address possible concerns. Kimmell said, given how strange proposing re-purposing a historic site for paranormal investigations might seem, he expects some skepticism.
For Kimmell, however, chasing the unknown and intangible is as natural as any other endeavor.
“The world is much crazier than any of us think,” Kimmell said.
Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/1Scgspu
Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com
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