- Associated Press - Sunday, October 30, 2016

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) - There’s nothing particularly scary-looking about the Sanford Center in Moundsville.

On Third Street, the repurposed elementary school looks like just another building built during the boom years after World War I. It’s a cheerful but ordinary-looking place that saw generations of first- and second-graders before being closed years ago and then turned into a community center by the city in 2009.

These days, the old school houses a community gym, a dance studio and a business that offers massage therapy.

It’s also the new home of the Archive of the Afterlife, Steve Hummel’s National Museum of the Paranormal.

Hummel is a paranormal investigator and part-time tour guide at the former West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville.

“I’m an empath,” the broad-shouldered and beefy Hummel said. “I’m sensitive to energy. I can walk into a room and pick up positive and negative energies.”

Sometimes, he said, he can get a good sense about the history of a particular place, a specific object or even someone he’s just met.

Hummel got into paranormal investigation after working a few years as a guide at the penitentiary. He made friends with a couple of the guys he worked with, and eventually they started talking about spooky stuff.

It made sense. They worked in a place that gave ghost tours and saw visits from paranormal-themed reality shows.

“So we shared notes, compared stories,” he said. “Nothing all that crazy.”

The shared interest led to investigations.

The museum followed.

Hummel, a war history buff, began collecting artifacts and other items along the way.

As a way to both store and display them, in 2012, he created the museum, which was originally part of a hot dog stand Hummel owned.

“It was more of a mini-museum,” he said.

The business got attention. Hummel’s hot dog stand and mini-museum were even featured in The Wall Street Journal.

Ultimately, hot dogs and ghosts didn’t mix, and Hummel closed the stand. Eventually, he moved the museum to the former school.

“It was just more cost efficient,” he said.

Hummel doesn’t charge admission to his museum. It’s strictly on a donation basis, but he does have a tiny space devoted to a few souvenirs and T-shirts.

The Archive of the Afterlife is less of strict business venture and more of a passion project.

It is also a riot of weird.

Next to a window overlooking a closed courtyard, an old Ouija board sits in the shade beneath a bassinet full of weathered-looking dolls.

Nearby, there’s a case displaying mourning jewelry, items worn by the bereaved.

Close to the door is a small collection of pictures of dead children.

Into the early part of the 20th century, it wasn’t unusual for grieving families to sometimes pose with and take pictures of the dead.

The piece he talks about the most is a 19th-century photograph he says is haunted by a ghost named Annie.

“I found the picture in an antique shop I used to visit in Wheeling at the market,” Hummel explained.

As a World War II history enthusiast, he said he stumbled on the turn-of-the-century photo while looking to increase his collection of war memorabilia.

“I was up there three or four times and felt pulled to the picture,” he said. “It just felt kind of odd.”

Hummel said, after he saw the picture, he thought about it a lot, but when he visited the antique shop in Wheeling again, the shop was gone.

However, the picture remained.

He brought it back and eventually worked out some of the details of the photo, which he said is haunted.

Hummel said she’s very “active” and kind of watches over the museum.

Among the other items for viewing, the Archive of the Afterlife has an old embalming table and a pump from a funeral home, a salvaged prison cell door on loan from the West Virginia State Penitentiary, and a mail room shelf that holds tightly sealed jars of dirt, reportedly collected from the graves of H.P. Lovecraft, serial killer Ed Gein and from the allegedly mystical Stonehenge.

One corner is lined with crosses, crucifixes and images of Jesus Christ.

There are also pages posted explaining the use of burning sage as a way to cleanse a place of spirits.

“I’m a Christian,” Hummel said. “I believe in the power of prayer, but my views differ some from some of the people I work with, but we get along.”

Some of the displays are a little more light-hearted.

Hummel has a vintage vinyl record from the 1968 Disney comedy, “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” sitting next to an old record player. There’s also a 12-inch-tall action figure of Winston, the character played by Ernie Hudson in the 1984 film, “Ghostbusters.”

He’d have liked to have all the “Ghostbusters” toys he had when he was a kid. Some of them are worth hundreds of dollars now, but the record has special meaning to Hummel.

“I have ‘Blackbeard’s Ghost’ because it’s awesome,” he said.

Spooky doesn’t have to necessarily mean scary. It can also be fun.

For more information about the Archive of the Afterlife, visit it on Facebook or at archive-afterlife.weebly.com.

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